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coffee at midnight

Chapter Text

He stands in front of the mirror, the full length one that’s leaned up against his wall because he’s too scared to get out a hammer and nail and hang it up properly.

It works just as well like this. He can see himself from head to toe in a frankly alarming amount of detail. He can take in the legs that are slightly gangly still and the complexion as pasty white as skin can get without having some sort of albinism. He can take in the way little handfuls of soft flesh are pushed up at the hips by his new swim shorts. He can see chest hair and a droopy black quiff and massive boat-like feet.

He can see the scars on the front his forearm, pink and conspicuous in the light of his bedroom. They’re almost healed now, and the grafts took beautifully, according to his doctor.

They’re not things he loves staring at for any great length of time, but they don’t bother him, really. Mostly he’s just glad he’s still here at all - and that the bathing suit fits him well enough to be wearable in public.

And to his swimming lessons which start in… He checks his phone.

An hour and a half.

His heart does a weird little double pump of nervousness and he reaches for the shirt he’s got waiting for him on the bed.

-

Jimmy’s waiting in the kitchen with a mug of hot tea for him. He hands it to Phil as he takes a seat opposite him at their little glass table.

“This isn’t coffee,” he says by way of thank you.

“Astute, you are.”

Why isn’t it coffee?” Phil clarifies.

“Reckon you’re jumpy enough without a bucketload of caffeine to make it worse.”

Phil rolls his eyes and gives himself away by not denying it. He’s not scared, exactly, he’s just… Phil.

Namely, anxious about nothing and everything all at once. Eager for experiences that he’s terrified to have to actually physically partake in. He’s a walking contradiction of himself.

But he’s here. He’s doing it. He’s going to do it, because life is short and he only gets one and he’s going to make the most of his second chance.

-

It’s not that he doesn’t know how to swim at all, he just doesn’t know how to do it well.

And he wants to learn. He wants to be able to swim out into the sea when he joins his parents on their yearly trip to Florida. He wants to know what it feels like to disappear under the surface of the water and be weightless in a place of quiet beauty.

He definitely didn’t come to this conclusion after spending hours last week stood in front of a fishbowl watching the two little black tetras he bought as a gift for Jimmy (that was mostly just a gift for himself) float around their little sunken ship without a care in the world. He didn’t. That would be ridiculous.

He’s got his shoes on and he’s following Jimmy out the door when he asks, “Did you remember to feed Ninja and Pirate today?”

Jimmy rolls his eyes. “Why don’t you just put the bowl in your room, mate?”

Phil shakes his head. “They’re yours.”

“You named them.”

“You said I could!”

Jimmy reaches out and pats Phil’s shoulder. “You’re a sweet sweet man. Next time you want to get me a pity companion, try Grindr.” He pulls the door to their flat closed behind him and locks the door.

Phil scowls. “That’s not gonna make you feel better. You don’t need a rebound.”

“I don’t need one, but it’d be a really nice distraction, wouldn’t it?”

“No,” Phil huffs. He reckons he’s just as upset about Jimmy’s recent breakup as Jimmy is himself.

He liked Tom. He liked how happy Jimmy was with Tom. It’s nice to have Jimmy back as his flatmate, but it’s a steep price to pay.

“C’mon Phil.” Jimmy tugs on Phil’s shirt. “Stop pitying me or you’ll make yourself late for your first lesson.”

“Pity and compassion are not the same thing, James.”

“Stop compassioning all over me then, yeah?” Jimmy says, elbowing him. “You’ll compassion me to death one of these days.”

“Fine. Be sad. Have meaningless sex with strangers. I’m not bothered.” He hitches his backpack higher on his shoulder and sticks out his tongue for good measure.

“Are you wearing sun cream?” Jimmy asks as they step into the lift.

Phil rolls his eyes. “Yes mum.”

-

Jimmy gets off the tube before Phil does, because he’s got his job at the radio station. Technically Phil still works there too, but he’s on a leave of indeterminate length and certainly not ready yet to go back.

There are a lot of things he’s not ready to do yet.

But swimming is something he wants to do. He leans his head against the train window and closes his eyes to the sound of London commuters on their way to work.

Life goes on, and that’s a comforting thing to him. His hasn’t gone on the way it had done before, but he’s not lost hope that he can get back there someday. For now he’ll learn how to swim.

-

By the time he gets to the pool the sun on his shoulders is warm enough that he’s glad he’d put on his sun cream before leaving the house. In the spirit of his recent push to try new things he’s gone and gotten his guns out for the lads by wearing a sleeveless shirt. He’s not sure how he feels about it yet, but at least whatever colour his skin manages to collect today won’t go only halfway up his arm.

The grounds of the pool are surrounded by huge willow trees creating a kind of oasis around the sparkling blue rectangle of water. There’s already a class of children splashing away and their happy shrieks are like music to Phil’s ears. Nothing is more life affirming than the uncomplicated joy of little humans playing.

He checks his phone, trying not to be anxious about the fact that his lesson is meant to begin in two minutes. He pulls his shirt and shoes off and scans the grounds until he spots the picnic table under an umbrella where all the lifeguards are sat chatting and laughing and looking intimidatingly comfortable in their surroundings.

Phil reckons he’s the only adult here who isn’t an instructor or a parent, and he just doesn’t know how not to feel awkward about that. He looks down at his phone again when it buzzes with a message from Jimmy that reads: good luck philly!

-

“Can I help you with something sir?”

If it were possible to shrivel up and blow away in the wind for the mortification of it all, Phil would definitely be adrift on the breeze right now, but alas, he remains stubbornly corporeal stood in front of a table of tan and fit young adults looking back at him like he’s lost and wandered into a place he definitely shouldn’t be.

“Um, I’ve got a lesson. Supposed to start at ten.” There’s a giant clock stuck to the brick wall behind them that reads 10:01.

“Oh.” One of them stands up, a tall guy with brown curly hair and sunglasses that he pushes up onto said curls to look at Phil with big dark eyes. “Are you Phil?”

Phil nods and the guys walks over to him. “Sorry, mate. Most of my clients are…”

“Not in their thirties?” Phil offers, trying to break the ice by acknowledging the strangeness of the situation.

The guy laughs. “I mean… yeah.”

“S’ok.”

“Anyway.” The guy holds out his hand. “I’m Dan. I’ll be the one teaching you how to swim.”

-

Dan hops into the water and Phil follows. If he happens to notice how long Dan’s legs are, he’s not going to dwell on it. He has a job to do here, and it isn’t to ogle how fit his teacher is.

The water isn’t as cold as he had been anticipating. It feels nice, actually. It doesn’t even come up to his waist in the shallow end, so he bends his knees and dips down to submerge his torso up to his shoulders. He figures he has time to chill there since no one else has shown up yet, but Dan looks at him and asks, “You ready?”

“Is it just me?”

“Yup. No one else signed up for this session.”

“Oh. That’s… good, I guess?”

“Probably less weird for you than being in a class with a bunch of kids,” Dan offers.

“Yeah,” Phil says. “Just… more pressure.”

“Nah.” He dips down as well. “It’ll be chill.”

“Chill isn’t really a word people use to describe me very often,” Phil admits.

“No?” Dan asks. “What is?” He starts moving towards the deeper part of the shallow end and Phil follows.

“Mm. Clumsy. Weird. Anxious. You?”

“Depends who we’re talking about,” Dan says.

“Well, let’s say mates. People who like you.”

Dan sucks a breath in through his teeth. “Ain’t got many of those.” He’s walking backwards in the water so he can stay facing Phil while they talk.

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

“Because you know me so well?”

The heat of embarrassment flashes across Phil’s stomach. “Sorry, I—”

“I’m taking the piss,” Dan says easily.

Phil frowns. “You’re chill and I’m anxious, see? Proved it already.”

Dan dips back down into the water. “You’re not really thirty, are you?”

“No.” He pauses for maximum dramatic effect. “I’m thirty two.”

“No way.”

“I can get out and show you my I.D. if you want. Is there an age limit for the class or something?”

Dan chuckles. “No, you just don’t… you look younger.”

“Well… thanks. I moisturize.”

Dan laughs again. He has a nice smile and a very deep, very cute dimple - but Phil’s not looking at that, of course.

To distract himself he says, “You still haven’t answered my question.”

Dan lifts his eyebrows. “Hmm?”

“What words do people use to describe you?” Phil asks.

Dan studies Phil’s face rather deeply for a moment, probably judging what kind of answer he deems appropriate for a perfect stranger. “Tall. Loud. Depressed.”

Phil’s got no idea what to make of that, so he just says, “People call me tall too.”

“And do they call you bad at swimming?”

Oh right, Phil thinks. Swimming. The reason he’s here.

I do.”

“How bad are we talking?” Dan asks. “Like ‘can’t even stay afloat’ bad?”

-

Phil can float. Kind of.

Right now he’s floating with his face to the sky and Dan’s disconcertingly big hands under his back keeping him from sinking to the bottom.

“This is ridiculous,” Phil says. If he doesn’t say it he’ll just be thinking it and he has to do something to try to get in front of the slight humiliation of it all somehow.

“The fundamentals are important, mate.”

“I don’t know why I thought this wouldn’t feel ridiculous.”

“I think it’s cool.”

Phil cracks one eye open to try to look at Dan’s face, but the sun is too bright. “You do?”

“Yeah. Most people wouldn’t even consider putting themselves out there like that.”

It’s quite a peculiar feeling to have one’s perspective completely shifted as a result of a few words from a stranger, but that’s exactly what’s just happened.

“Thanks,” Phil says. It feels inadequate, but that’s not exactly a feeling with which he is unacquainted.

“Think you can do it if I move my hands?”

His chest locks up in fear for a moment, but he can’t let himself give in to that feeling anymore. That’s the whole point.

“Let’s give it a go.”

He’s sad to feel those hands pull away, but almost as quickly overcome with something like pride in himself when he doesn’t immediately sink.

“Hey!” Dan says encouragingly. “You’re doing it.”

-

The lesson flies by, coming to an end what feels like five minutes after it began. They hop out of the pool and Phil waits awkwardly for a moment, not sure what to say.

Dan fills the gap effortlessly, like his brain isn’t constantly wracked with the pervasive kind of anxiety that turns every social interaction into a minefield.

“I usually give the kids high fives at the end, but…”

Phil ignores the urge to make a self deprecating joke. “I’ll take a high five.”

Dan grins and holds his palm up for Phil to smack. “Good job today, buddy. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Phil smiles right back and it doesn’t even feel like a mask. “Tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Phil’s stood at the kitchen counter grinding coffee beans when he hears a croaky voice behind him say, “Morning.”

Phil jumps, because of course he does. “Why’re you sneaking?”

“M’not,” Jimmy mumbles, dropping his head a bit and digging his chin into Phil’s shoulder. “You’re just jumpy.”

Phil grunts. He’s too tired to come up with a feasible argument against what he knows to be fully and completely accurate. “Didn’t know you were home,” he says instead.

“Course I am. I do live here now, had you forgotten?”

“Shut up. You weren’t here last night.”

Jimmy yawns and wanders over to open the fridge. “Only technically speaking. Got in ‘round two.”

“Alone? Or is there a hungover stranger in your bed.”

“That sounds an awful lot like judgement, Lester.”

Phil shrugs. “Just wanna know if I need to make an extra cup of coffee.”

“You should make zero cups of coffee. You’re high strung enough as it is.” He pulls out some leftover spaghetti and starts eating it out of the tupperware with his fingers.

“I need the caffeine to carry me through the awkwardness of being a grown ass man in a class meant for literal children.”

“Oh yeah, swimming.” Jimmy seems to perk up at that. “How’d it go?”

“Embarrassing but surprisingly alright. My instructor is cool.”

“Yeah? She a teenager?”

“It’s a he, and no, I don’t think he was a teenager. I didn’t get that impression.”

“Is he fit?”

Phil rolls his eyes. “Why are you—

“So he’s fit, then.”

Phil pours himself some coffee. “Yes, ok? He’s fit.”

“Is he single?” Jimmy asks.

“Funny enough, I didn’t manage to work that into conversation what with trying not to drown and all.”

Jimmy grins and reaches up into the cupboard for a mug of his own since Phil had so conspicuously failed to do it for him. “I’m sure hunky swim instructor man would save you.” He winks.

“Yeah, I’m sure he’s really enticed by adult men who can’t get in a one metre deep pool without almost dying. Not like he’s made a whole career out of teaching people to swim or anything.”

Jimmy pouts and comes to join Phil at the table. “You’re no fun in the morning.”

Phil sighs, wrapping his hands around the warm porcelain of his mug. “Sorry. Didn’t sleep great.”

“Again?”

Phil nods.

Jimmy’s voice has softened considerably. “Dreams?”

Phil nods again. “S’fine. I just have a bit of a headache.”

“Have you talked to the doctor?”

“It’s fine,” Phil says again. “I’m sure it’ll just… I dunno. Stuff like this takes time.”

“I s’pose.” He doesn’t sound convinced, but Phil is glad for the fact that he doesn’t push it further than that.

-

He’s floating on his back again, this time with Dan’s hands under his shoulders to help keep him up as he ‘practices his kicking.’

He’d snorted when Dan had said that, but to be fair it’s exactly what he’s doing.

“Big kicks, big kicks!” Dan shouts over the noise of it. “Splash the water all the way up to the sun!”

Maybe it should feel infantilizing, but really it just makes Phil laugh.

A lot.

Which makes his stomach muscles hurt, which makes it difficult to splash the water all the way up to the sun.

“Come on man!” Dan exclaims when Phil has to stop because he’s wheezing too hard to kick at the same time. “Big kicks!”

“I can’t do it when you’re making me laugh!” Phil stands up and clutches his belly. “My poor abs are confused.”

“Your abs should thank me,” Dan says, wiping the water from his face that Phil had splashed there with his woefully under-reaching kicks. “Now you can eat pizza tonight without guilt.”

“Unfortunately I am shameless. I eat my Dominos without… shame.”

Dan chuckles.

“I ran out of words.”

“You shamelessly eat your Dominos without shame,” Dan says. “Redundant but it gets the point across.”

“Pizza is one of the best things in the universe and should never be eaten with shame,” Phil says matter-of-factly. “And this is coming from someone who doesn’t like cheese.”

“Mate.” Dan gives him a look of pure bewilderment. “What?”

Phil shrugs. “I told you one of my words was weird.”

“And I told you one of mine was depressed,” Dan says. “But maybe it should be one of yours, too.”

“You’re a cheese lover, then,” Phil surmises.

“I am. Or— I was. I mean, I am but I don’t actually eat it anymore.”

Phil frowns, confused.

“I keep forgetting I’m vegan now,” Dan says.

“God. You can keep depressed. That definitely belongs to you.”

“It’s possible I still sneak a cheeky slice every now and then. I am nothing if not extremely skilled in the art of cognitive dissonance.”

Phil smirks. “Is that an art?”

“Is your mum an art?” Dan quips.

“Wow.” Phil shakes his head in mock disappointment. “Real professional.”

Dan just laughs and says, “Alright, mate. Show me your big kicks.”

-

Dan gives him another high five when the lesson is over. “Good kicking today, little man.”

Phil accepts the high five but scowls at the moniker. “I’m like, maybe an inch shorter than you.”

“I’ve literally never taught anyone older than twelve. Don’t bully me, I’m trying to encourage you.”

“Maybe you’re bullying me,” Phil says, getting his knee up on the ledge of the pool and hauling his not-so-little body out of the water. “Maybe I’m self conscious about my chicken legs.”

He turns around to watch Dan follow him out. He stares, and he tells himself it’s because he’s fascinated by the way Dan makes the movement look graceful - definitely not because of how high up his thighs his swim shorts have ridden.

“Your legs are fine,” Dan says. “And I’d throw myself in traffic before I’d ever bully anyone.”

He says the last bit without a hint of humour, and Phil’s stomach sinks to think he’d said something wrong.

“Oh. I’m—”

Dan cuts him off with a closed mouth smile and hand to the shoulder. “I’ll try to adjust my teaching style to your advanced age, grandad.”

Phil scrunches up his face. “Let’s go back to little man.”

Dan laughs. “I reckon that’s another thing people would say about me - I don’t do middle grounds. It’s one extreme or the other.”

Phil’s not sure exactly what to say to that, as he’s pretty sure his entire life has been lived trying desperately to achieve middle ground status.

That’s in the past though, he reminds himself. Now he’s trying to live life out loud, even if it feels scary sometimes. He’s meant to be trying the new thing of being himself without worry for how others will perceive it.

“I like that,” he says after slightly too long a pause.

He’s not sure if he’s imagining the split second of surprise that flashes across Dan’s face before it’s replaced with something more neutral. “I’ll tell that to my therapist. She reckons I need to try to achieve more balance.”

“Balance is hard,” Phil offers. “And I know that because I do yoga. Badly, but still.”

Dan raises his eyebrows. “Do you?”

Phil nods. “My brother’s girlfriend takes me. She’s a lot more bendy than me.”

“I do yoga too, actually,” Dan says.

It doesn’t escape Phil’s attention that they’re both just stood there on the pool deck dripping water onto the floor. There’s no reason for them not to part ways now and go back to their lives, but Dan looks so comfortable. Not awkward like Phil feels, arms crossed over his chest and shivering slightly at the breeze that nips at his wet body.

It makes his nipples hard, and he hopes his arms are covering them. For some reason he doesn’t want to think that Dan would have noticed, even though a cheeky flick of the eyes tells Phil that Dan’s are in a similar state.

“You’re probably better at it than me,” Phil says, forcing himself out of his own head.

Dan shrugs. “I started because my therapist told me I should do exercise. For the endorphins.”

Phil just nods.

“It’s relaxing, I guess,” Dan continues. “Better than going for a run or lifting weights in a gym full of hench assholes.”

Phil laughs. “Definitely. Don’t think you could pay me to do that. But doesn’t swimming count as exercise?”

“Reckon she meant something outside of work. Something with zero stress.”

“Does zero stress even exist?” Phil asks. “I kind of always feel like I’m in meerkat mode.”

Dan smiles at that, a real one that shows off his teeth and that extremely adorable dimple that Phil is absolutely not staring at. “That’s cute.”

Phil’s stomach goes all swirly, which is his cue to panic. He can’t be taking a fancy to his swim teacher who is likely straight and just taking pity at how awkward and embarrassing Phil is.

“Anxiety is one of my words, remember?”

“Right,” Dan says. “Is yoga good for that?”

“I dunno,” Phil admits. “It’s good for making me sore in muscles I didn’t even know I had though.”

“That it is.”

Phil waits for Dan to move away or say a quick goodbye, but he doesn’t, and Phil doesn’t know how to without sounding clumsy, so instead he asks, “Does it give you endorphins?”

Dan shrugs. “Maybe a few. Definitely not my preferred method of serotonin boost, though.”

“What is?”

Dan smirks. Phil stands there like an idiot waiting for Dan to explain until he finally gets what Dan’s hinting at.

“Oh.”

Dan laughs, full on, and puts his hand on Phil’s bicep, squeezing as he drops his head and continues to giggle at Phil’s naivety.

When he lifts his head up his smile is radiant and Phil reckons he’s powerless to stop this crush from blooming no matter how inappropriate it might be.

“Laughter is actually even higher up on the list than sex, so thank you for that,” Dan says, dropping his hand from Phil’s arm and wiping at his eyes. “See you tomorrow?”

Phil takes a backwards step toward the towel he’s got waiting for him in the grass. He’s smiling when he says, “Not if I see you first.”

Chapter Text

Day three of Phil’s endeavor to learn how to swim like a fish dawns a cloudy grey. He forgoes the usual slathering of sun cream and takes his coffee to go just for a bit of warmth on his journey to the pool. He sips it on the tube next to Jimmy, whose eyes are closed and whose head is tilted back against the window.

He’s hungover. Again.

Phil had had the good sense not to mention it. Some days Jimmy wakes up ready to make jokes about the state he’s in and some days he really doesn’t, and Phil could tell with one look that today fell squarely in the latter category.

He’ll talk to him later. Maybe tonight, if he actually comes home before the wee hours of the morning.

Or maybe he’ll just stay up. He hasn’t been sleeping that well anyway. He could make a night of it, camp out on the sofa in the lounge with snacks and Fortnite.

They’ve not had a proper chat about… well, all of it. And if Jimmy never wants to, that’s fine too, but Phil would be remiss if he didn’t at least try. He knows his friend is hurting and he’s not sure that friend really knows that it’s ok to talk about it if he wants to.

He believes what he’d said; Jimmy doesn’t need a rebound, and he doesn’t need to be staying out late drinking every night. He needs time to process, to heal.

Just like Phil did.

Or does. His own trauma is not too far in the past that he can pretend it doesn’t still have a grip on him.

Maybe he needs a chat as much as Jimmy does.

-

He gets to the pool early, about fifteen minutes before his lesson starts, so he lays out his towel and sits to watch the children’s class that takes place before his. He almost laughs at the thought he has, which is that at the very least he’s better at swimming than they are.

Then there’s a voice right beside his head. “Hey.”

He nearly jumps out of his skin. Dan is crouched down beside him, laughing.

“Sorry, mate, I wasn’t even trying to scare you.” Phil is stunned into confused silence as Dan sits in the grass next to him and pulls his knees up to his chest.

“Please don’t ever try,” Phil says once he’s caught his breath. “I think you’d actually kill me.”

“Well we can’t have that.”

He’s still smiling. He doesn’t give a reason for coming to sit with Phil when he could be at the lifeguard table, and Phil doesn’t ask. He’s too busy trying not to act like a socially anxious fool.

Dan looks tired today. Phil notices it right away, probably another sign that he spends altogether too much time studying Dan’s face.

There is the telltale darkness of a sleepless night ringed beneath his eyes and Phil can’t help but wonder what exactly put it there. He hopes it was something nice, but he can’t quite bring himself to believe it.

Then he does something stupid and puts words to thoughts that should have stayed inside his head.

“You look like you were up all night.”

Dan turns his head to look at Phil straight on and takes a moment before he answers. “So do you.”

“Not all night,” Phil says. “Slept a bit in between all the wake ups.”

Dan doesn’t look away. “What’s that about?”

Phil shrugs. “Brain won’t shut up.”

Dan presses a hand to chest. “Aw, same!”

Phil’s not sure what to say to that. His mind is racing but it’s not coming up with any kind of response that would be appropriate.

He hates his brain sometimes.

Luckily Dan’s brain seems pretty good at keeping conversation going. “I hope you don’t think that means I’m going to take it easy on you out there.”

Phil smiles. “No more back floats?”

“Front floats today, mate. With your face in the water. Getting into the real shit now.”

“Is this you adjusting your teaching style to my advanced age, then?” Phil asks. “Cursing?”

Dan smiles and drops his head down briefly before looking back up. “Not your teacher yet. Right now I’m just a guy.”

-

Phil likes the front floats. He likes that Dan gets on his knees in the water and holds Phil under the shoulders so his arms bracket Phil’s head. He likes how peaceful it is to lie there with his face submerged. There’s no apprehension involved when he’s got big hands on his body, ready to pull him up if suddenly he can’t handle the vulnerability.

He can handle it, though. It feels nice.

Dan doesn’t even really move away when Phil lifts his face to take a breath.

“Alright?” he asks.

Phil nods, water dripping into his eyes. He wants to keep them open because Dan’s face is close to his, but it stings and he has to squeeze them shut again.

“You’re doing really well,” Dan says. His voice is different than it had been the last two days. Quieter, a touch deeper. Maybe he really is trying to adjust his style. “Are you sure you even need these lessons?”

Phil brings his feet down to the bottom of the pool but he stays crouched so his shoulders remain under the water. Dan doesn’t move either, except to drop his hands from holding Phil up.

“It’s possible these lessons were more about a reintroduction to swimming than learning for the first time,” Phil admits.

“So you know how to swim.”

“Kind of.” He shrugs. “It scares me in a way it didn’t when I was younger.”

“Did something happen?”

Phil has to look away. He wasn’t expecting a chat about his issues to happen with someone who doesn’t really know anything about him.

He doesn’t actually answer the question, because he doesn’t know how to say that yes, something did happen, but it didn’t have anything to do with swimming.

“I know how to swim enough not to drown,” he says. “I want to learn how to swim.”

“Ok. Let’s keep practicing the floating?”

Phil nods.

“On your own this time?”

He hesitates, and Dan says, “I’ll be right here.”

-

He feels good about his ability to float on both his front and his back by the time the lesson comes to an end. Dan doesn’t give him a high five, but he does touch Phil’s arm when he tells him again that he did a good job.

“You should come back later,” Dan says.

“Later?”

“For the evening swim. Starts at six.”

“Oh.” Yet again, he’s got no idea what to say.

“The more time you spend in the water the easier it’ll be,” Dan says. “Practice makes perfect and all that.”

“I don’t know if—”

“I’d be there,” Dan interrupts. “Like, I’ll come if you want more practice.”

“You’ll come back to help me practice?” Phil knows he sounds stupid but he feels like he must be missing something. “Like… private lessons?”

Dan laughs. “No, like… friends, I guess.” He says it like he’s resigned to Phil saying no.

“Ok,” he says quickly, before Dan can change his mind.

“It’s fine if you’re busy or—”

“I’m not. I’ll be here.”

“Is that weird?” Dan asks. “I’m not trying to be weird. Maybe that’s inappropriate.”

Phil shakes his head. “It’s not. I appreciate it.”

“Ok, cool. So I’ll see you at six?”

“Yeah.” Phil’s insides feel like they’re melting or maybe just about to explode, but somehow he manages to keep it together - as long as Dan doesn’t notice how hard his hands are shaking. “See you then.”

-

“Come home after work.” He doesn’t even say hello, just launches into it as soon as Jimmy answers the phone.

“What, why? I was gonna—”

“No. Come home. I’m not asking.”

“Since when do I take orders from—”

“Come home because I’m asking you to,” Phil says firmly. “You can go out and get drunk every other night and I won’t say anything.”

Jimmy’s tone changes then into one of concern. “Did something happen? Are you alright?”

“Yes and yes.”

“Well what happened? Don’t leave me hanging.”

“It’s nothing,” Phil insists. “I need you to come with me somewhere so I can’t have a panic attack and back out at the last minute.”

“Come with you where?”

“To the pool.”

“Mate,” Jimmy says, clearly done with not being given all the information.

“I’m meeting Dan there,” Phil says quietly.

“Who the fuck is Dan?”

Phil sighs. “My swim instructor.”

“Wait, what?” His tone shifts yet again, and this is what Phil had been hoping to avoid: nosy Jimmy. “You’re meeting hunky swim man at the pool after hours?”

“It’s not after hours, it’s the evening swim.”

“Is it a date?” Jimmy asks. “Phil, what the—”

“It’s not a date. Shut up. He’s going to help me practice.”

He can’t see Jimmy of course, but he can perfectly picture the look on his face when he says, “Oh right. Mhm. Definitely. That makes perfect sense.”

“He’s taking pity on me, I reckon. Or else he’s just really lonely. He did mention once that he doesn’t have a lot of mates.”

“Who invited who? Whose idea was it?”

Phil doesn’t want to answer, so he doesn’t. But that’s pretty much an answer in and of itself.

“Did he also mention that he wants to fuck you?” Jimmy asks bluntly.

“I’m going to hang up on you now.”

Jimmy laughs. “I’ll see you after work.”

-

Sometimes he really hates Jimmy. Because now he’s got thoughts in his head that he didn’t give permission to be there, thoughts of Dan in his little black swim shorts that are definitely not friendly or professional.

And he knows that’s not what’s happening. He knows that Dan is just a nice person. Maybe a person with above average levels of empathy who’d picked up on the emotional vulnerability Phil had let slip this morning.

And this happens. Phil gets crushes on guys he can’t have. They fade, and sometimes those guys even become friends.

Like Jimmy. That had been a big crush and now they’re as good as brothers.

So Dan is fit. So Dan has very pretty brown eyes that seem to look back at Phil’s with more than a usual amount of attention. It’s fine. He can get over this bit, the bit where he gets fluttery inside when Dan touches his arm.

They can be friends. He’d love that, and it wouldn’t be a disappointment. He reckons Dan would be a great friend. He’ll teach Phil to swim and maybe Phil will learn how not to be a nervous wreck about it.

Maybe. Probably not, but he can add that to list of new things to try.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you want me to come?”

It’s too late. They’re already on the tube. They’re already halfway there.

“Yes,” Phil says, exasperated. His knee is bouncing up and down rather energetically, his pulse racing.

Jimmy puts a hand on his thigh. “It’s going to be fine, Phil.”

Phil nods.

“He wouldn’t have asked you if he didn’t want to spend time with you.”

“It’s not like that.”

“So you keep saying.”

Phil crosses his leg over the other to keep it from starting to bounce again. “We had a… moment.”

Jimmy cocks an eyebrow, but thankfully waits for Phil to elaborate.

Even though he doesn’t really want to elaborate. “A human connection moment, not a romantic connection moment.”

“Ok… so why are you so nervous?”

Phil just gives him the look. The ‘come on, mate’ look. The ‘how long have you known me?’ look.

“Right,” he says. “Daft question.”

-

Phil actually does change his mind - the moment they get to the pool entrance.

He turns to face Jimmy, who’s digging in his pocket for his wallet to pay the two pound fifty it costs to get in.

“James.”

Jimmy glances up through his wavy fringe with a look that says he already knows exactly what Phil’s going to say.

Phil can’t say it.

Jimmy doesn’t need him to. “You’re a right wanker, Lester.”

“I don’t want him to think I’m weird.”

“You are weird.”

“Well…”

Jimmy waves his hand. “It’s fine. I knew you’d do this. I’m meeting Chels in half an hour.”

Phil scowls. “What if I’d actually needed you?”

“You did. For the train ride. And now you don’t.”

Phil wants to be angry, but it’s futile. Jimmy is exactly right, as he so often is. It’s infuriating, but in a way that makes Phil grateful for having a mate who knows him so well.

“You know I’m worried about you, right?” Phil asks.

“You need to worry about yourself, Phil. I’m fine.”

“So am I.”

“You’re not.”

Phil frowns. “Well… neither are you.”

“I’m gonna go get sloshed and talk shit with Chels until things feel livable,” Jimmy says. “And you’re going to face one of your many, many fears by letting a bloke you’re probably already fancying teach you how to swim.”

He hates hates hates how often Jimmy is right.

“I’ll see you in the morning? Coffee date at the kitchen table?” He reaches out and touches the underside of Phil’s chin just briefly.

“Yeah,” Phil says, letting his snows melts a little. “See you then.”

-

Phil doesn’t have time to stew in his nerves, because Dan is already there when he arrives, sat waiting in Phil’s usual spot under the biggest willow on the grounds.

His heart still pounds as he makes his way over to join him, though.

The clouds from the morning have actually cleared and some sun shines through, weak enough in this evening hour that there’s no threat of burning but warm enough to feel nice. Dan’s wearing sunglasses, leaned back on his hands with his long legs stretched out in front of him.

“You made it,” he says when Phil drops his backpack next to him.

“I did. Did you think I wouldn’t?”

Dan shrugs. “I wasn’t going to be surprised either way.”

“Because you’re chill,” Phil says. He sits down in the grass and mirrors Dan’s posture, trying in vain to exude the same air of nonchalance.

Dan smiles. “If you say so.”

“I made my flatmate ride the tube with me,” Phil blurts.

Dan turns his head. “Yeah? They here now?”

Phil gives up trying to be casual and leans forward, hugging his knees to his chest. “No. I had a crisis about being awkward and sent him off to get drunk with his other best mate.”

“Reckon that still makes you awkward,” Dan says playfully.

“I know. I don’t know why I told you that.”

“You scared of me?”

Phil turns his head to look at Dan’s face. “I’m scared of looking stupid in front of you. I’m always scared of looking stupid in front of anyone.”

“Because you’re anxious.”

“Right.”

“I’ve seen you swim, mate,” Dan says. “Also I already told you I think it’s brave.”

Phil looks away at that, out at the pool and the people swimming in it. It’s easy to see happy faces and tell himself that none of those people have problems like he does. None of those people wake up sweating in the middle of the night gripped by panic so overwhelming they forget how to breathe.

That’s not necessarily true, of course, but it’s just another way his fears try to isolate him.

“Thanks,” he says, looking at Dan again. “I’m trying.”

-

They start out in the shallowest part of the pool and Phil dips down right away to submerge his shoulders. He’s more nervous now than he is in his lessons, and the water feels like a blanket even if it is completely transparent. It’s a strange thing, to be afraid of and comforted by something at the same time, but it seems to be a space Phil finds himself in rather often.

“You gonna make me do kicks?” Phil jokes after Dan’s followed him in.

Dan smiles. “Nah. Your kicks are good. Plus you’re on your own time right now. I’m not gonna make you do anything.”

Phil nods, because he doesn’t know what else to do. It’s so weird to be in the pool with Dan when there are so many other people in the water as well; he doesn’t know how to act.

“I’m really not always chill, you know,” Dan says, interrupting Phil from internally reflecting on all the ways in which this situation makes him feel awkward.

“Why do I have a hard time believing that?”

“I reckon there’s something about your lack of chill that brings mine out.” Dan smirks.

“Oi,” Phil says, kicking a leg out under the water and making gentle contact with Dan’s calf.

“What? It’s an endearing quality.” He starts walking backwards, still facing Phil but moving toward the deeper end of the pool.

Phil wonders if it’s a tactic, if maybe he’s not supposed to notice. He does notice, but he follows anyway. It’s not scary right now.

“So you have a flatmate,” Dan says

“I do.”

“So you’re not like, married with two point five kids, or whatever?”

Phil snorts. “God, no. Are you?”

“Absolutely not. All I have is a room I rent from two rich old lesbians.”

“Wow,” Phil says, continuing to follow Dan slowly deeper. “Is there a story there?”

Dan shrugs. “I used to work at a law firm. Winnie was my boss. I was shit at the job but she took a liking to me. She and her partner Ada offered me a room in their place when my…” He hesitates, just for a moment but Phil catches it, “... flatmate kicked me out.”

“Wow,” Phil says again.

Dan nods. “It’s a nice place. And a nice room. And the rent is dirt cheap. I got lucky. Don’t know if it was worth the three miserable years of my life I spent earning that useless degree, but…” He shrugs again. “Worked out in the end.”

“Now you’re a lifeguard,” Phil says.

“Sometimes. Sometimes I’m other things.”

Phil cocks his head to the side. He wants to ask what things, but then Dan is saying, “What about you?”

“Me?”

Dan laughs. “No, the guy next to you. Yeah, you.”

“Unfortunately I don’t live with two rich lesbians,” Phil says, deliberately missing the point. “Just the bloke I met at uni at a Halloween party.”

“Are you a failed law clerk too?” Dan asks.

“Failed radio host, actually.”

Both Dan’s eyebrows quirk at that. “Seriously?”

“Well, not really failed, just… paused.”

“Paused,” Dan reiterates.

Phil knows he’s hoping for an explanation, but that’s too much baggage to share for having known someone only three days. “On hiatus.”

“On a ‘learning to swim’ hiatus?”

Phil smiles faintly. “Among other things.”

“Mysterious.”

“That’s my middle name.”

“Phil Mysterious Lester,” Dan muses. “Your parents must be real characters.”

Phil frowns. “You know my last name?”

“It’s on file,” Dan says.

“Oh right,” Phil says, feeling sheepish. “What’s yours?”

“My what?”

“Your middle name,” Phil says.

“James.”

Phil huffs a surprised little laugh. “Oh.”

“What?”

“No, nothing, I just kind of thought you’d say something clever.”

Dan shrugs. “I’m not usually all that clever.”

“James,” Phil says. “That’s my flatmate’s name.”

“Yeah?”

“Mostly he’s called Jimmy, though.”

“What’s he like?” Dan asks.

It’s only at that moment that Phil realizes they’d migrated deep enough that the water is midway up his chest now, right at the line of his nipples. This guy is good.

“He’s funny. And smart. Mostly. Well, usually. Right now he’s being stupid, but I’m hoping he’ll stop soon.”

“What’s he being stupid about?”

Dan is looking right at Phil’s face like he actually cares about the answer. Like he’s actually interested in learning all this random crap about Phil.

That doesn’t make much sense to him, but he’s trying desperately not to think of all the teasing things Jimmy’s been saying. Just because someone is nice to him doesn’t mean there’s something there.

“His boyfriend dumped him,” Phil says. “So he moved back in with me and he goes out and gets drunk every night and I’m guessing sleeps with random strangers and I’m worried about him.”

“Yikes.”

“Yeah,” Phil says sadly, because now he’s thinking about it again.

“He’s lucky to have someone like you looking out for him.”

Phil’s not afraid of the deepness of the water enough not to feel the effect of a compliment that sincere flutter in his stomach. “He won’t actually let me look out for him right now, so I don’t know how much good I’m actually doing.”

Dan shakes his head. “Trust me, you are.” He takes a step forward, closer to Phil. “You ready?”

Phil’s heart beats out hard like a kick drum. “What?”

“To practice,” Dan says with a hint of a smile playing around his mouth.

Phil swallows against his instinct to scurry back towards the shallower water. “It’s deeper here,” he says, not able to hide all of the apprehension.

Dan nods, reaching out his hands. “Front float. You can do it.”

“Can I though?” Phil’s voice has pitched up a bit.

“Mhm, you can.” He takes another step and slips his hands under Phil’s arms.

There’s no way Phil can chicken out now. He reaches out and puts his hands on Dan’s shoulders. Dan gives a little nod and Phil pushes up from the bottom of the pool until his legs and torso are parallel with the surface of the water.

He doesn’t put his face in. He keeps it up and looking at Dan, who smiles and takes a few steps back until he’s holding Phil up by the hands alone.

They’re holding hands. It’s not really like that, but Phil’s brain is screaming it at him anyway.

“See?” Dan says softly. “I told you you could do it.”

-

He practices lots of floating before the whistle blows - too soon - to tell them and everyone else it’s time to get out of the pool.

“Do you want a high five?” Dan asks, after they’ve gotten out and are stood in the grass with towels wrapped around their shoulders.

“Only if you think I’ve earned it.”

Dan holds up his hand. Phil grins and smacks it.

Chapter Text

Rubber squeals hot and loud against the concrete. Phil can’t see what’s happening but he feels something lock on his chest, crushing the air from his lungs. Glass shatters and rains in his face and there’s a moment of pain, like a thousand needles in his arm. He can’t move. He’s not even sure he’s alive. He tries to move his arm, to reach out with the other hand and touch it.

There’s nothing there, nothing that isn’t meant to be. No blood, no shattered bone, no needles. Just arm and the intricate pattern of scar tissue where someone else’s skin has been fused to his. He sits up in bed and feels the sweat on his back as it peels off the sheets.

He puts his hand to his heart to feel his chest and the muscle that pounds erratically beneath his ribs. It hasn’t stopped; it’s still going. It’s being abused by a surge of adrenaline he can’t control but it hasn’t given out yet or been squashed flat under the grip of a seat belt he’s glad every day he’d been responsible enough to buckle in place when he got in that car.

Air comes to him eventually, when his pulse slows enough to take in little gulps of oxygen. It burns in his lungs and makes his head spin, so he lies back down and fumbles for his phone, opening up the gif he’s got saved in his camera roll for occasions such as this. He watches the circle that expands and contracts and tries to synch his breathing up to it.

It takes a long time, but he’s been here enough times to know his patience will pay off. Eventually.

When he finally, finally feels in control enough to close the gif and check the time, he knows right away there’s no hope in hell he’ll be able to get back to sleep before the sun rises and it’s time to get up and start his day.

So he gets up and starts his day. He strips out of his sweaty pjs and has a shower. Drinks some water. Gets dressed. Brews a pot of coffee and eats two bowls of cereal and watches two episodes of Brooklyn Nine Nine.

He takes his second mug of coffee out on the balcony and watches the sun rise. It’s ludicrously beautiful, and his coffee goes cold as he takes a hundred pictures trying in vain to capture photographically the depth and texture and colour that dawns in the sky before his eyes.

When he goes back inside he runs into Jimmy stumbling sleepily into the kitchen. He narrows his eyes at Phil and then rubs them under his glasses. “Why’d’you look so awake?” he croaks in the thick Brummie accent he’s not awake enough yet to temper.

“Reckon ‘cause I am,” Phil says. “You want coffee?”

“Please.”

He fills a mug and plops in on the table in front of his clearly hungover flatmate, sitting next to him and slapping him on the back. “Y’alright?”

“No.” He sticks his face over the rim of the mug and inhales the scent of it dramatically.

“How’s Chels?”

“Loud as ever,” Jimmy says, pushing the coffee away and laying his cheek against the glass top of the table.

“Rude as ever?” Phil asks.

“Course.”

“Fun night?”

Jimmy nods.

“Worth the way you feel right now?”

“Oh piss off, Phil.” He lifts his head back up and takes a sip of coffee without actually touching the mug with his hands.

Phil decides to switch tactics. “I woke up at four this morning.”

Jimmy frowns. “Dreams?”

Phil nods.

“Bad?”

He nods again.

“That’s why you’re so awake.”

“I told Dan about you.”

Jimmy perks up a bit at that. “Oh?”

“Told him I made you ride the tube with me and that Tom dumped you and that you’re spiraling.”

“Ugh.” Jimmy scowls. “Dumped is such a harsh word.”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“It wasn’t like I was blindsided.”

“I know.” Phil reaches across the table and pats Jimmy’s head. “Tom’s an idiot.”

“He’s not,” Jimmy says miserably. “He plays the guitar. And has perfect lips.”

“And in the end he wasn’t right for you,” Phil reminds him.

“Maybe I wasn’t right for him.”

“Is there a difference?”

Jimmy shrugs. “I miss him.”

“I know,” Phil says, voice softening a little around the edges. “And I miss you.”

Jimmy sits up straight, rigid against the back of his chair. “Can we not?”

“Ok.”

Jimmy pushes his tortoise shell glasses up into his wavy fringe and digs the heels of his palms into his eyes. “I’m right here, ok? Don’t guilt trip me on top of everything else.”

“I’m not trying to do that.”

“Well what about you?” He flips his glasses back down onto his nose.

“What about me?”

“What happened last night? With that’s his face?”

Phil frowns. “Dan?”

“Dan, right, yeah.”

“We went swimming…?”

“Really?” Jimmy asks. “That’s all?”

“Yes, James. Like I said. He’s teaching me how to swim.”

There’s a frown on Jimmy’s face, but he doesn’t try to argue. “Alright then.”

“Alright?”

He shrugs. “I guess he’s just really passionate about hopeless cases.” He picks up his mug and takes his first proper drink of coffee.

Phil rolls his eyes. “Thanks.”

“Just… agree with me that he’s a bit too nice.”

Phil doesn’t bite back his sigh. “Fine. He is… very nice.”

“And you like him,” Jimmy says.

Phil sits up a little straighter then, too. “I don’t fall for straight guys.”

“Oh no?” Jimmy asks. “That’s great. You don’t know he’s straight.”

“It’s a reasonable assumption.”

“How very heteronormative of you, Lester.”

“It’s safer to assume he’s straight.”

Jimmy smiles smugly, the crooked grin Phil can’t resist no matter how much of a tosser Jimmy’s being. “Because you like him.”

“He’s nice,” Phil says. “And pretty. And I have eyes.”

“And desperately need to get laid,” Jimmy adds.

“Do you actually think that?”

They stare at each other. Phil folds his arms.

Eventually Jimmy sighs his defeat. “No.”

“Then what?” Phil asks. “Why are you pushing this?”

Jimmy opens his mouth, then closes it. Then opens it. Then closes it again.

“I don’t bite,” Phil says.

“Maybe I want you to be happy so I can live vicariously through you.”

“You can be happy.”

“I can’t, Phil. Right now I just can’t.”

“I’m trying to be happy,” Phil says quietly. “I’m trying to be… braver.”

“I know,” Jimmy says softly. “You’re dealing with your shit better than me, ok? I admit it.”

“I’m not sleeping much.”

Jimmy picks up his mug and clinks it roughly against Phil’s, spilling coffee out onto the table. “Cheers to that.”

“You know you can talk to me,” Phil says. “I think you know that, yeah?”

Jimmy sets those aqua eyes on him. “You can too. To me.”

Phil nods. “I’m just… scared. Of everything.”

He doesn’t elaborate, but he reckons he doesn’t need to. Something scary happened and now he’s scared, and the only way he knows how to push back against that is to dive in headfirst.

-

Not literally diving, though. He's not there yet.

He’ll have to learn how to tread water first.

He’s getting there, he thinks. Slowly.

But at the end of each lesson Dan gives him a high five or touches his arm or tells him he’s doing brilliantly. Phil believes him. It’s not like he has any reason to lie.

And the water is starting to feel a whole lot less frightening. Where he used to look at it and see something dangerous, now he sees the place he gets to spend time with Dan.

He’s still hoping to progress to a point where he sees what Pirate and Ninja see: calm, quiet. A place he can be suspended in weightlessness.

That’s what he thinks he sees when he watches Dan in the water: peace. And he wants to experience that so badly. He can’t even remember what it’s like.

-

There are no lessons on the weekend.

Phil wakes up early anyway, unsure of what to do with himself. Jimmy will likely be useless until late afternoon and Phil can’t justify going to the pool when Dan hasn’t invited him. Maybe Dan is off on Saturdays, but if he isn’t Phil doesn’t want to risk looking like a full on stalker.

And he’s not really made enough progress to like the idea of swimming alone, anyway.

He calls Cornelia instead. They go to yoga and get lunch and she tells him he looks tired and he lies and says he’s fine, he just had a late night.

When he gets home Jimmy is just getting out of the shower, walking out into the hallway in nothing but drops of water and a puff of steam.

“Jesus, my eyes.”

Jimmy doesn’t even flinch. “You’re welcome.”

-

Somehow Jimmy convinces him that a night out is exactly what he needs. He lets Jimmy dress him in a white and burgundy striped button up and expensive cologne and tries not to panic about the fact that they’re going to a gay bar.

It’s not really the gay part that freaks him out. He’s been out since uni, open but not ostentatious about it. Hanging out in queer spaces doesn’t feel particularly good or bad, really. His apprehension tonight is more about the giant crowd of drunk sweaty strangers and the taxi they have to take to get there.

His shoulders are knitted with tension within five minutes. Jimmy squeezes his leg and watches his face for most of the ride, murmuring, “It’s alright,” and, “You’ve got this, mate,” every few minutes.

They could have taken the tube. It would have been cheaper and almost as fast.

They didn’t need to call for a car. Phil knows what Jimmy’s doing, and he lets him do it tonight because facing your fears sometimes means you have to be really fucking terrified for a little while.

When they get to the club they meet up with mates from the radio station. Everyone seems happy to see Phil again and mercifully none of them ask him when he’s coming back to work.

Jimmy massages his shoulders while they wait in line to get in.

-

It only takes one drink for him to realize he’s made a mistake. He doesn’t want to be here. It’s too hot and too loud and the drink makes his stomach hurt. Someone tries to hit on him and he’s too awkward to know how to say he’s not interested, so instead he just says, “I need the toilet, I’ll be right back,” and quietly heads for the exit.

He pulls out his phone to let Jimmy knows he’s leaving when he sees a text from a number that isn’t in his contacts.

howdy stranger

For a moment Phil panics thinking he’d blacked out and given his number to that bloke at the bar who told him he had strong cheekbones.

Then another text comes in from the same number. on days off from the pool i moonlight as a cowboy apparently

Phil’s heart rate spikes instantly. dan?

that’s me

how do you have my number?

it’s on file Dan texts.

Phil is grinning as he says, unprofessional

Dan got his number from his file at the pool. Phil doesn’t know how not to feel giddy about that, even if it is a serious breach of privacy and confidentiality and all that.

should i pretend i had an urgent reason i needed to get in touch with you? Dan asks.

no thank you. urgency stresses me out

wuu2

For a good five seconds Phil considers thinking of something that would make him sound cooler than the truth, but maybe trying new things also entails letting people see him for how uncool he really is. sneaking out of the gay bar jimmy dragged me to

not having fun? Dan asks.

um
some bloke who looked about fifty asked me what my sign is and i panicked and told him i needed a wee
so yeah i’m making a stealthy retreat

you can’t see me right now but i’m laughing very hard. i feel like i can picture your meerkat face perfectly

Phil actually giggles down at his phone. His whole body feels all weird and tingly and he knows it’s not because of one overly sweet watered down drink he didn’t even finish.

peak awkward indeed he replies. clubs and phils don’t mix

what about coffee shops and phils?

This time Phil’s heart palpitations are of the distinctly nervous variety.

you want to get coffee with me?

He watches the dots that mean Dan is typing, his pulse pounding in his ears.

that’s a great idea :)

Chapter Text

“You made it.”

Dan is leaned against the brick wall of the exterior of the only coffee shop Dan said he knew for sure was open at this hour. He shoves his phone into the pocket of his jeans and pushes off from the wall.

He looks happy to see Phil.

“Did you think I wouldn’t?” Phil asks.

Dan laughs. “Why does this feel familiar?”

He looks good.

Too good. Deliciously, distractingly, ridiculously good.

Why does he almost look better in clothes than out of them? They’re so simple, a black t-shirt and black jeans with rips in the knees and one of the thighs. They make his legs look about a mile long.

Also the hair. There’s something different about it. The curls are… curlier. Softer and less frizzy than when Dan’s been dunking them in chlorinated water.

Phil feels silly in a shirt that isn’t his. It’s not his style.

Dan looks like he knows exactly what his style is, and it works for him. It really, really works.

Maybe Jimmy’s right. Maybe it’s been too long since Phil got laid. He doesn’t usually feel all wobbly and warm and wanting inside just from looking at someone.

He’s ready for this part of his friendship with Dan to fade, the part where he’s just so incredibly attracted to him. The part where he has butterflies when Dan smiles.

“You doubt me,” Phil says. “I said I’d come.”

Dan shrugs. “Didn’t necessarily mean you would.”

“But I did.”

“You did. And I promise I won’t ask you your sign.”

Phil’s mouth falls open a little, but he hasn’t prepared any actual words to say.

Dan laughs. “Do you want a coffee?”

Phil nods. “More than I can say.”

-

“I’m an Aquarius by the way,” Phil blurts once they’re stood in line.

Dan looks at him with an amused expression. “Yeah?”

“In case you wanted to know when to buy me a birthday present.”

“I don’t actually know anything about horoscopes so I’m still clueless about when that is.”

“It’s not til the end of January,” Phil says. “Lots of time to save up.”

“Maybe for now you could settle for letting me buy you a coffee?”

“Oh. Really?”

He doesn’t mean to make it awkward. He just… really wasn’t expecting that.

Dan nods. “You’re doing me a favour, it’s the least I can do.”

“Am I?”

Dan doesn’t answer, because it just so happens to be their turn. He orders a cappuccino and asks Phil what he wants.

“Something with sugar.” It makes him feel a bit childish to say that, but he’s being brave enough not to pretend that he wants a plain, grown up coffee. He’s letting all his uncool chips fall where they may.

Dan looks at him thoughtfully. “Do you like chocolate?”

Phil snorts a bit. “Um, yeah. Definitely.”

“You go sit.” He nods to a sofa by the window. “I’m gonna surprise you.”

-

Phil is definitely surprised when he takes an experimental sip from his straw. He looks at Dan with an ‘oh my god’ face and Dan smiles.

“Good?”

Phil answers by taking a longer sip. “Is it orange?”

Dan nods.

“It tastes like Christmas.”

“You get chocolate oranges for Christmas?”

“From Santa,” Phil says. He’s too busy having a transformatory experience with his iced orange mocha to realize that makes him sound like a five year old.

Dan just laughs. It would seem he’s actually amused by Phil’s utter lack of finesse. “Is it sweet enough?”

“I usually go for sweeter, but this is so freaking good.”

“Can I try?”

Phil hopes his face doesn’t give away the explosion of nerves he’s experiencing on the inside of his body. He pushes the cup in Dan’s direction and Dan leans forward to wrap his lips around the straw and Phil forgets that he probably shouldn’t stare at that quite as intensely as he does, but he reckons he’s safe because then Dan is making the same ‘oh my god’ face with the raised eyebrows and the parted lips that Phil had made before.

“Right?” he says excitedly.

“Oh my god. I should’ve just gotten two of those.”

“Next time?” Phil says, not unaware of the hint of hopefulness he lets slip into his tone.

“Fuck yeah.”

Phil smirks.

“What?”

“You swear a lot.” He pulls his cup back in front of him and takes a long sip. Coffee this late at night is undoubtedly going to mess up his sleep schedule even more than it already is, but right now he definitely doesn’t care.

“Oh. Yeah, I do. I forgot you know me as your swim teacher. That’s so weird.”

“Swim teacher who moonlights as a cowboy on weekends,” Phil reminds him.

Dan smiles sheepishly. “Shut up.”

“What? It’s an endearing quality, I like it.”

“Stop using my own words to embarrass me.”

“Hmm,” Phil muses, smirking even though he’s trying not to. “I’ll consider it.”

“I’ll consider your mum.”

“I think she’s taken, actually.”

“Your parents still together?” Dan asks.

“Yours aren’t?”

Dan shakes his head.

Phil looks down at his hands. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Mum’s better off without him.”

Phil looks up to see that Dan’s already looking at him. He doesn’t seem upset, but Phil still feels like he’s ruined everything and he doesn’t even know how he did it.

“Seriously, it’s fine,” Dan assures him.

Phil feels a kick to his leg under the table and breathes out a relieved little huff.

“I promise never to hit on your mum.”

“I definitely won’t hit on yours either,” Phil promises.

Dan shrugs. “You might want to. I’ve been told on numerous occasions that she’s well fit for a mum.”

Phil can feel the horror written on his face. “What like, by your mates?”

Dan laughs a little. “Well, one mate. And she’s a girl so it felt a little less gross than it would’ve if it was a bloke.”

“Still,” Phil says. “If any of my friends told me they fancied my mum I think I’d die.”

“Mums are people too, Phil.”

“Not people I wanna hit on.”

Dan snorts. “Fair enough.”

Phil shakes his head. “This is a weird conversation.”

“Somehow that feels fitting for us, don’t you think?” He cocks his head to the side the tiniest bit as he waits for Phil to answer.

“S’pose you’re right.” He drinks some liquid Christmas and remembers something Dan had said earlier. “Can I ask you something?”

“If you give me another sip of that.”

Phil pushes his drink at Dan and says, “You said I was doing you a favour.”

“Mm.”

Phil’s not sure if that was a hum of agreement or just Dan appreciating how good the drink is, so he presses on. “What’d you mean by that?”

“Sometimes my head gets loud when I’m just sat at home alone doing nothing. Winnie and Ada had to cancel on game night tonight, so you’re saving me from the very real potential of a depressive spiral.”

“But will you be able to sleep after having a bunch of caffeine?” He reaches out to pull his drink back before Dan finishes it.

“No, but I wouldn’t have been sleeping anyway. Like I said, loud head.”

Phil nods. “My head’s been pretty loud lately, too.”

Dan nods knowingly. “Hence the learning how to swim?”

Phil nods.

“And letting your mate drag you out to gay bars?”

Phil laughs quietly. “Yeah, exactly.”

“And accepting offers of coffee with strangers in the middle of the night?”

“You’re not a stranger.”

“Aren’t I, though?”

Phil shakes his head. “You’re Dan the swimming cowboy. You’re depressed and you know how to order good coffee. Your parents are divorced and you used to be a law clerk and you hated university.”

“I like things too.” He sounds defensive but only in a playful way.

“What do you like?”

Dan laughs. “Like just a random list?”

“The first…” Phil pauses a moment to think. “... five things that come to mind.”

“PG version?”

Phil’s not sure exactly what his face does with that, but it makes Dan laugh.

“Ok, PG version. Um… food. Laughing. Binging tv shows. Music.” He pauses. “And sex.”

“Sex isn’t PG,” Phil points outs. His stomach feels funny.

“Just saying the word sex is perfectly PG.”

“Now I’m curious what the non PG list would’ve been like.”

Dan keeps a flawless poker face. “I don’t think you’re ready for that.”

“Do you have a secret sex dungeon in your basement?” Phil asks, frowning.

“I don’t, but only because I don’t have a basement.”

“Winnie and Ada don’t share your weird kinky vision?”

“I like to pretend they’re asexual,” Dan says. “They’re practically my parents.”

“Maybe they are,” Phil says. “Lots of people are ace.”

Dan shakes his head. “I’ve heard… things.”

“Oh god.”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s talk about something less disturbing,” Phil says.

“You’re the one who brought up sex dungeons!” Dan’s voice is a shout that rings out through the shop, and before Phil’s even thought about what he’s doing he’s slapping his hand over Dan’s mouth to shut him up.

Dan is laughing under Phil’s palm, not a chuckle or a giggle but a full on laugh.

Phil is mortified, because there’s definitely at least one person staring at them now, but another thought registers in his brain, and that’s that at least his humiliation gave Dan one of the things on his list.

Phil pulls his hand from Dan’s mouth and uses it instead to hide his face. “I hate you.”

“Yeah, I have that effect on people.”

He looks up from his hands. “I was joking.”

Dan changes the subject. “What’s on your list?”

“Um. Coffee.”

Dan smiles. “Good start.”

“Board games.”

“You should come next time my pseudo mums don’t ditch me to have an actual social life.”

“As long as you’re prepared to lose at everything,” Phil teases.

“You can’t beat Ada, I promise you. She always wins.”

“Always?”

“Always,” Dan says. “Me and Winnie know she cheats, we just haven’t been able to catch her in the act yet.”

“At everything?” Phil asks.

“Everything.”

“Now I’m intrigued.”

“You need three more things,” Dan prompts.

“Horror films. Um… food. I’m gonna copy you and say food. And laughing, that was a good one.”

“Interesting,” Dan muses.

“I actually kept mine PG.”

“Maybe that’ll be the list for the next time we hang out,” Dan says, taking a sip of his cappuccino. “Eighteen rated.”

“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to take you seriously as my swimming instructor now,” Phil admits. “Not now that I know your dream home would include a—” He drops his voice down to a whisper. “—sex dungeon.”

“Technically it wouldn’t, though, because I think my dream home would be a penthouse apartment, and those definitely don’t have basements.”

“Isn’t a sex dungeon more of a state of mind, though?” Phil asks. “Like… any dank dark room with handcuffs and whips and swings and like… ball gags or whatever—”

“Ball gags!” Dan squeaks quietly. “Jesus christ. You’ve given this more thought than I have.”

“I told you, I watch a lot of horror films.”

“What would your dream home have?” Dan asks.

Phil takes the last sip of his mocha and feels genuinely sad that it’s gone. “I don’t know that I have a list for that. I like houseplants a lot. Even though I’m crap at actually keeping them alive. I buy them and Jimmy keeps them from dying.”

“Do you like living with Jimmy?”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “It’s a bit weird because he was with Tom for years, so in some ways it kind of feels like we’ve both regressed back to our uni days or something, but yeah. He’s a nice guy to live with. He’s gone a lot. It might actually be nice if he was around more.”

“You don’t like being alone?”

He has to stop and think about it. “I guess sometimes it’s good. But mostly I think I don’t. Like, I don’t wanna be surrounded by people. That’s a nightmare. But people I know and like, yeah. I like having them around. Especially since—”

Oops. He’s getting altogether too comfortable, blurting out things he doesn’t even talk to his mum about.

“Since?” Dan prompts.

“I was in a car accident,” he says simply.

Maybe if he stops treating it like a big bad secret it won’t continue to feel like it has so much power over him.

“Shit. Was it bad?”

Phil takes a breath and pushes up his sleeve to show Dan the scars.

“Fuck.”

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t realize— I mean, I saw the scars, I see you in a swimsuit every day, but… shit.”

Phil nods. “Yeah. Anyway. I’ve been a bit… off. Since it happened.”

Dan opens his mouth - and then closes it again when Phil’s phone starts to ring.

Phil’s not about to answer it - until he remembers he never actually told Jimmy he was leaving.

“Shit,” he mutters under his breath, pulling it out and confirming his suspicions. He looks up at Dan. “Sorry, one sec.”

Dan nods and Phil answers. “Hel—”

“Mate where the fuck are you?”

There’s still loud music in the background. Jimmy has to shout just to be heard. It hurt Phil’s ears.

“Um. I left. Sorry. Forgot to—”

“You left me? Without saying anything?”

Phil rolls his eyes. “You’re a big boy, reckon you can handle it.”

“Are you back at the flat?”

“Uh. No. I’m… out.” His eyes flick up just for a brief moment to see if Dan’s listening.

He is.

“What?” Jimmy shouts. “Out where? Are you all by yourself? Are you lost?”

“What? No, of course not. Stop shouting in my ear you’re giving me a headache.”

“I’m not shouting!” He is, in truth, shouting. And he sounds hammered.

“You’re drunk,” Phil says.

“Yeah, course I am, Phil. That’s the whole point of going out. You’re meant to be as well.”

“I’m drinking coffee, actually.”

“By yourself?” Jimmy asks again.

“No, I’m with a…” His eyes flit in Dan’s direction again. “Mate.”

“Who? Who was so important that you—”

“I’m having coffee with Dan,” Phil says loudly.

“Fuck off.”

Phil plasters on a smile. “Ok well thank you James for checking in. I’m going to let you go now.”

“Holy piss and shit Phil, what the fuck. Are you on a bloody date with hunky swim man?”

“I’ll see you back at home later,” Phil says, forcing the cheer and ignoring Jimmy completely at this point. “Don’t stay out too late, yeah? Make good choices.”

“You sound like your mum.”

“Bye Jim!”

He hangs up.

Dan is smirking.

“You couldn’t… could you hear him?” Phil asks, his heart suddenly racing.

“Nah. Just vague loudness.”

Phil nods, turning his phone on do not disturb mode and jamming it into his pocket. “It’s late,” he says. Like an idiot.

But Dan is so cool. He says, “Yeah. You need to get going?”

“No.”

“You hungry?”

Phil says, “Always,” and it isn’t even a lie.

“Should we go hunting for something salty and/or fried?”

Phil nods enthusiastically, then a thought strikes him. “Hey, aren’t you vegan?”

“Shh.” Dan stands up and takes Phil’s cup to put in the bin. “Standard rules don’t apply after midnight.”

“Don’t they?

Dan shakes his head. “I’ve decided they don’t.”

Phil really, really likes the sound of that. His own set of standard rules would try to keep him from saying yes and trying new things and facing his fears and all the things he’s actively trying to do now, and he reckons he’ll be just fine without them for a little while.

He smiles. “Perfect.”

Chapter Text

He spends his Sunday sleeping, not waking up until late afternoon when Jimmy jumps on his bed inquiring if he’s dead.

“Not technically,” Phil croaks. “But I might as well be. Go away.”

Jimmy ignores him as fully as is humanly possible and lays his stupid heavy body across Phil’s. “Too much wild sex will do that to a person.”

“We didn’t have sex. We had coffee and then kebabs. And he’s not gay.”

“Maybe he’s bi.”

“No.”

“How do you know?” Jimmy asks, rolling over and digging his chin into Phil’s bicep. “Did you ask?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know?”

“I don’t know,” Phil admits. “It’s just safer to assume.”

“He asked you out.”

“He asked me to hang out,” Phil clarifies. “People can do that without having sex, you know. You do it with Chels all the time.”

Jimmy sighs noisily. “So no sex? Really?”

“No sex.”

“But you were out late. I heard you come in.”

“We talked,” Phil says, shoving Jimmy off of him and sitting up. “We ate food. It was fun.”

“You’re meant to be giving me vicarious thrills.” He sits up too, and scootches to the edge of the bed to watch Phil fumble around his messy bedroom for a t-shirt.

Finally he finds one and gives it a quick sniff test for cleanliness before pulling it over his head. “I never agreed to that.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jimmy grumbles. “Just tell me one thing.”

“What?”

“You would, right? If he wanted to?”

Phil sighs. Again. Not gently.

“I think you fancy this bloke,” Jimmy says. “I know you’re trying to do things you normally wouldn’t, so I hope dating falls into that category as well.”

“I date,” Phil says defensively.

“Where?”

“I’ve dated.” That’s a little closer to the truth.

“Not for ages.”

Phil’s stood in his bedroom doorway, more than ready for this exchange to be over. He’s got an all-nighter hangover and he’d kill someone with his bare hands for a cup of strong coffee.

“Dating eventually leads to not dating, which never ends well.” He gives Jimmy a pointed look that he knows is unkind, but he’s getting awfully tired of always having the same conversations.

“Wow.” Jimmy stands up. “Tell me how you really feel.”

Phil’s anger wilts instantly. “I’m sorry, ok? I just…”

“Just tell me if you want to fuck him or not,” Jimmy says bluntly.

Phil sighs. Yet again. “Obviously I do.”

“Ok, great. Now take me to Starbucks.”

“No,” Phil says. “You take me.”

Jimmy rolls his eyes. “Fine. Let’s go.”

-

Dan texts him in the evening, when he’s sat on the sofa watching a livestream video of adopted kittens and eating dry Special K Red Berry straight out of the box.

<first five things that come to mind when i say fave tv shows go>

<buffy>

He doesn’t have to think about that one.

<very 90s i like> Dan says.

<friends>

<you’re the nostalgic type eh>

<it’s possible> Phil types. <ummm

lost>

<ending was shit don’t you think> Dan asks.

<oh definitely. don’t even get me started> 

<two more>

<this is weirdly hard Phil> says.

<yeah. being judged is scary>

<you’re judging me??>

<only a little ;)>

Phil hates the little stab of anxiety he feels at that.

<ummmmmmmmm
game of thrones?>

<are you asking or telling>

<depends on your judgement> Phil says.

<game of thrones is great>

<ok. good.>

<you know i’m joking yeah? i want your honest answers> Dan says. Phil can actually feel the fondness building in his chest.

<x files> Phil says.

<i’ve never watched that one actually>

Phil’s heart pounds as he sends the next message. <we should watch together sometime>

Dan doesn’t make him wait for a response. <i’ll bring the popcorn>

Phil has to sit there for a moment and just live in the giddiness those words make him feel. With or without Jimmy’s teasing, he’s already doing the dangerous thing. He’s already got a crush.

<i can’t let you make an offer like that before telling you i’m a notorious popcorn devourer. maybe i’ll bring the popcorn. i’m curious what the home of two rich old lesbians who take pity on a down on his luck law clerk looks like>

He sends the text and then immediately regrets it. Did he just invite himself over to Dan’s?

<as long as you’re ready to answer Winnie asking you every approximately thirteen seconds what’s going to happen. i don’t have a tv in my room and if we watch in the lounge they’ll definitely insist on joining us>

Does that mean if he did have a tv in his bedroom he’d be ok with watching it with Phil… on his bed?

This is why he doesn’t date. This is why he doesn’t even think about dating anymore. It gives him freaking heart palpitations.

<that doesn’t sound that bad to me tbh>

<yeah ngl watching stuff with them is fun if you’re in the right mood>

<jimmy never wants to watch stuff with me. he likes going out better>

Phil wonders if that reads as whiny to Das as it does to Phil.

<what a freak> Dan says.

<i think he’d say it’s me who’s the weird one>

<extroverts like to pretend they’re better than us>

Phil smiles. Us. He likes that. <they do, the wankers>

Their conversation lapses after that, and Phil goes back to watching his kittens, but he’s definitely distracted now. He keeps his phone in his hand and tries to pretend it isn’t because he doesn’t want to miss it if Dan happens to text him again.

-

It’s midnight when Dan does text him again. Phil is brushing his teeth, and the loud buzzing sound of his phone against the bathroom counter makes him jump.

Phil spits and rinses and then checks his phone. It’s just an alien head emoji.

<where’d you get that photo of me?> Phil texts back.

<you’re up>

<i am, and i’m gonna be a zombie at lessons tomorrow, sorry>

<i’ll bring you a coffee> Dan says.

<yeah?>

<yeah. i’m gonna need one too. some guy kept me up til unspeakable hours last night>

<yeah but you loved it so…>

Phil wonders idly what it is about Dan that makes him forget that he’s not the kind of person who flirts with potentially (probably) straight guys.

<touché> Dan texts back. <what do you take in your coffee>

<milk and two sugars plz :)>

<alright
see you tomorrow phil>

-

He barely sleeps that night, which isn’t terribly different from every other night, but it feels a little nicer to be awake because he’s got fluttery feelings instead of frightened ones.

-

Phil is aware that this coffee doesn’t actually taste better than it would if he’d bought it himself, but his taste buds are sneaky traitors who haven’t seemed to get the memo that Phil doesn’t have a crush.

Because he doesn’t.

It’s just really good coffee.

That Dan bought for him.

And brought to the pool and handed to him in front of the picnic table of tanned teenagers.

And then he’d followed Phil over to his spot in the grass under the willow and they sat there and drank their coffee until it was time to get in the water.

“I think I forgot everything over the weekend,” Phil says, stood on the edge of the pool dipping his big toe in the water. It feels too cold.

“You didn’t. Come on. Today we start the real shit.” He hops in like it’s nothing.

Because to him, it is. He knows what he’s doing. He does it every day.

Phil suddenly feels like his heart is going to explode. “I can’t.”

Dan frowns. “Come on, Phil, it’s fine. I’m right here.”

Phil shakes his head. It came out of bloody nowhere, but his chest hurts and his hands are shaking and the pool might as well be filled with fire or broken glass for how impossible it feels that he could just hop in.

He takes a step back, and then another, quickly because he’s lost all grip on rationality and he’s afraid Dan might actually pull him into the water.

But the deck that surrounds the pool is slippery and Phil’s feet are wet and before he can register what’s happening, he's on the ground and his ears are ringing and there’s a sharp pain in his elbow.

And Dan’s face right in front of his, brows furrowed, mouth speaking words that Phil can’t quite make out.

The first real thought that comes to him is that Jimmy was wrong - Tom doesn’t have perfect lips.

Dan does. They’re big-ish but not, like, ostentatiously so.

Well, maybe just the bottom lip.

But they’re very pink. And a bit chapped, actually. Maybe because of all the sun. There are little teeth marks in the bottom.

Ok, maybe they’re not perfect. But Phil likes them a lot. They’re a nice distraction from the fact that he’s just managed to have a panic attack and immediately eat shit so hard he’s not entirely convinced he hasn’t given himself a concussion.

Dan’s hand is on his shoulder. His face is filled with worry.

“Phil.”

“What?” Maybe if he pretends it didn’t happen he can convince Dan, too, and he won’t have to live his life knowing he humiliated himself as thoroughly as was humanly possible.

“Can you hear me?”

“Yeah,” Phil says. He tries to sit up, but he feels not unlike a turtle that’s flipped over.

Dan slides a hand under his back to help him up. His face is still pinched in a way that shouldn’t make Phil feel happy.

“What hurts?”

Phil notices then that most of the other lifeguards are all huddled around him as well.

“I’m fine,” he says. “I must have… slipped.”

“Yeah, but…”

Phil shakes his head. “I’m clumsy, I told you. Happens all the time.”

“You’re bleeding,” one of the other lifeguards says.

Phil touches the back of his head, but Dan reaches out to pull Phil’s arm forward gently.

Phil hisses. He looks down and there’s blood on his shorts and the pain in his elbow has intensified.

“Ow.”

A voice from behind Phil asks, “Should we call an ambulance?”

Phil looks at Dan with naked pleading. He can’t think of anything he wants less. He just wants to go home and sleep and try not to die of embarrassment.

“I’ll take him to the first aid station and check him out first,” Dan says.

“I’m fine,” Phil says a little more forcefully.

“It’s just the policy, sir,” some girl who doesn’t look a day over eighteen says to him. She’s stood above him and looking down and he feels small and stupid. “If someone injures themselves on pool property we have to make a report of it. Even if it’s just a scrape.”

Phil actually feels like he’s going to cry now. As if he needed any more reason to feel like an idiot.

He forces himself to stand up and brushes Dan’s hand away when he reaches out to help. He feels dangerously wobbly but he’d sooner pass out (again?) than show any more signs of weakness right now.

He walks back over to the grass and grabs his stuff before letting Dan lead him where he’s obligated by policy to go.

-

Dan makes him sit and hold up his elbow, wincing when he gets a good look at it.

“You fucked yourself up, mate.”

“That what you gonna write in your report?” There isn’t even a trace of humour in his tone. At the moment he genuinely doubts he’ll ever find anything funny again.

He doesn’t miss the effect his words have on Dan’s face.

“Sorry.”

Phil shrugs. “Can I go?”

“No, I need to clean it, Phil. Seriously, it’s a mess. Also you hit your head, I really think you should—”

“I just want to go home.”

Dan twists around and reaches into the drawer of the little desk that’s sat behind him, pulling out a red giant kit with a white cross on it.

“If you won’t agree to go to hospital you’ll have to sign something.”

“Fine,” Phil mutters, turning his head so he doesn’t have to look at Dan anymore.

He can’t look at him. He can’t do any of this.

His throat is tight. If he doesn’t get out of here soon Dan’s going to see him cry whether Phil likes it or not.

“This is gonna sting,” Dan says gently, and a moment later Phil is crying out, because, yeah. Sting was an understatement.

“Sorry,” Dan says. “Looks like you went through a meat grinder. You must’ve landed with all your weight on your elbow. Probably good news for your head but… I really think you should get this checked out by someone who actually knows what they’re doing.”

In a way, the pain is a relief. It’s clearing his head of all the emotional rubbish, boiling things down to ‘ow that fucking hurts’ and ‘please dear god make it stop.’

“I feel too stupid,” Phil says in a very quiet voice.

Dan throws out the ball of cotton wool now stained a deep red and reaches for another one, dumping some kind of liquid on it that smells like chemicals. He has blood on his hands.

“You’re not stupid, Phil.”

“I couldn’t even get in the fucking water.”

Dan doesn’t know this, but Phil never swears. Not unless he’s playing video games or having sex, and right now he’s decidedly doing neither.

“Did I do something?” Dan asks. “To, like… trigger you?”

Phil looks away again. He shrugs. “I thought things were getting better,” he whispers. “I thought I could do it.”

“You can. Recovery isn’t a straight line.”

Phil looks at him, and the surprise must be written all over his face because Dan says, “My therapist has to remind me of that all the time. It’s an important thing to remember.”

Phil makes a little sobby choking noise. He can’t help it.

Dan throws another bloodstained cotton ball into the bin beside the desk. “Can you bend it?”

Phil tries, and immediately regrets it. “Fuck,” he hisses. “Ow.”

“You might’ve jammed something up in there,” Dan says, biting his lip. “Will you just please let me take you to hospital? Or even a clinic?”

Phil frowns. “You’re at work.”

“Not bothered.”

“Don’t you have other classes later?”

“Someone’ll cover for me. I’m the supervisor, Phil. I can leave if I want.”

“I’ll feel too guilty,” Phil argues.

Dan pulls a giant plaster out of the first aid kit. “I’ll feel too guilty letting you go home knowing you may have serious internal injuries.”

“The only thing seriously injured is my brain. And not in a concussion way,” he adds quickly.

Dan sighs deeply as he fits the plaster over Phil’s elbow. “I don’t want to keep arguing if it’s going to make you hate me.”

“Good.” He stands up and grabs his t-shirt to pull over his head. He can wear his swim shorts home.

He slings his backpack over his shoulder. “Sorry for being a disaster. Thanks for the coffee.”

“Phil…”

Phil isn’t strong enough to hang around and hear what Dan has to say.

“See you later,” he says, and walks away.

Chapter Text

Phil doesn’t cry.

He takes the tube home and goes straight to bed and sleeps for five hours.

When he wakes up there’s blood on his sheets and he can’t move his arm. He gets out of bed and takes four ibuprofen and texts Jimmy to come home right after work.

He has a bunch of texts from Dan, all asking in one way or another if Phil is alright.

Phil texts back and leaves his phone in his bedroom when he goes out to the lounge to watch Friends before it gets taken off Netflix. He has it on DVD somewhere but those are such a hassle he knows he’ll probably never go to the trouble.

His hands aren’t shaky anymore. His heart isn’t racing. He feels hollow, and somehow heavy at the same time. Empty of everything that makes a person a real person and weighed down by… something. He doesn’t know what. He doesn’t know anything.

He doesn’t know why he’d suddenly panicked at the idea of getting into the water. He doesn’t know why he has bad dreams, why he can’t seem to pick up and move on from the trauma of the accident.

He survived it. All told, he got very, extremely lucky. No lasting injuries beyond the scars on his arms and the memories in his head.

But now he’s afraid of everything.

Maybe it was stupid to try to push back against it. Maybe he was just deluding himself. Trying new things only works if the fear of those things doesn’t kill you first.

-

When Jimmy gets home he takes one look at Phil’s arm and calls for a car. He won’t hear Phil’s arguments, and gives him one of Tom’s old sleeping pills from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom so Phil can sit in the taxi without a repeat of this morning’s outburst.

They wait in A&E until one in the morning. A doctor x-rays Phil’s arm and cleans and bandages his wound and examines him for concussion.

He doesn’t have one, and his elbow isn’t broken, but there’s damage to the tendons in his shoulder and he has to wear his arm in a sling for a few weeks.

Jimmy blindsides Phil when he asks the doctor about medication for Phil’s anxiety.

“I reckon he has PTSD.”

He hadn’t even told Phil he was going to say that. Phil wishes he could melt into a puddle of goop on the floor until someone with a mop came along to put him out of his misery.

The doctor tells Phil he’ll need to make an appointment with his GP and be referred to a mental health professional licensed to prescribe medication. Phil says he’s fine, just clumsy and a little overtired.

Phil refuses to take a car home, even though it’s the middle of the night. Jimmy tries to make him see reason but Phil just walks away. They take the tube and it feels like everyone is staring at his stupid sling the whole time. Jimmy sits next to him on the train and somehow manages to radiate anger and concern at the same time.

When they get home Jimmy asks if Phil wants a takeaway. Phil says no and goes to bed without brushing his teeth.

His arm hurts like hell and there’s a bump on the back of his head. His phone is still on his bedside table.

He has three missed calls from Dan.

He turns his phone off before climbing into bed and falling asleep.

-

He’s not allowed to go swimming again until the wound on his elbow has healed. That’s what the doctor told him.

Not that he would have anyway, but at least it’s nice to have an excuse that’s not just him being a coward.

-

He turns his phone back on in the morning.

There are no missed calls or messages from Dan. Phil is almost as relieved as he is disappointed.

 

He rolls over and goes back to sleep.

-

When he wakes up the second time he goes to the kitchen to find coffee in the pot and Jimmy left for work. He pours himself a mug and goes into Jimmy’s room to feed Ninja and Pirate. Jimmy might’ve already done it but Phil’s not bothered.

He sits cross legged on Jimmy’s bed and sips his coffee while he watches the fish swim around their little bowl. He knows fish aren’t known for their intelligence, but still he wonders if they realize they’re confined to a few litres of water in a glass cage. Do they feel as peaceful as they look? Or are they screaming on the inside.

Do fish even have thoughts? Personalities? Does Ninja get sick of having to spend all day every day with Pirate? Does Pirate stay up too late worrying that their bowl might get knocked over one day?

Do fish sleep?

He hopes they’re as dumb as everyone says. He hopes they’re dumb and happy with their multicoloured stones and their sunken ship and their little fish flakes. He hopes they aren’t scared by Phil’s big pale face when he stands in front of the bowl to get a closer look.

-

It’s been over twenty four hours now. His arm hurts and so does his pride. He’s hungry, but he’s not sure he trusts himself to keep anything down. He wants to talk to someone, but he also doesn’t. It seems like so much work.

He rings his mum.

“Child.” Her standard greeting.

And then his. “Mum.”

“Alright, love?”

He could lie, but what’s the point? She’ll hear it in his voice anyway, so he says, “Not really.”

“You sound tired.”

“I am.”

“You sound… off.”

He sighs. “I am, mum.”

“What’s happened?”

What a question. Where to begin.

“I fell at the pool yesterday and hurt my arm.”

“Badly? Is it broken?”

Phil shakes his head, even though she obviously can’t see him. “No, but it’s in a sling. I landed on my elbow. It’s all gross and scraped up and it hurts a lot.”

“Did you see a doctor?”

He bites back the sigh that wants to escape at that. “Yes. Jimmy came with me.”

“Good. Good that you got it looked at.”

Phil shrugs. “I guess? They didn’t actually do anything. Just told me it’s not broken.”

“And thank god it’s not. What if it had been?”

Phil rolls his eyes. “I saw a doctor.”

“And you’re alright?”

“I’m… not going to die.”

“Phil.” Her voice is uncharacteristically stern.

“Sorry,” he mutters, pulling his legs up to his chest. “I’m just having a hard time.”

“You should come home.”

“I am home,” he reminds her.

“You should come here. The sea breeze is healing, you know. The fresh air’ll do you good.”

“I can’t.”

“Did you go back to work?”

“No.”

“Then why can’t you?”

“Because…”

He doesn’t know how to tell her that his insides feel fundamentally broken. That the idea of getting on a plane makes him feel physically ill.

She seems to understand, at least, that he can’t articulate the exact nature of his trepidation. “The offer stands permanently, you know. You don’t need an invite.”

“I know,” he says softly.

“I do worry about you, love. Every day.”

“I miss you,” he says. “And dad.”

“Are you eating?”

He has to smile at that. “Sometimes. Usually I do.”

“That’s not an answer.” He can actually hear the frown in her voice.

“I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning. I feel sick.”

“Philip Michael.”

He doesn’t understand how he can be so like his mother, and at the same time completely different. She’s bold in everything she does. At least as far as he can tell, she doesn’t lose sleep over the kind of infinitesimal worries that he does. She probably wouldn’t understand not being able to eat because his brain and belly are full of useless adrenaline.

Maybe he gets it from his dad.

“I’ll eat something.”

“As soon as you’re off the phone.”

“Yes.”

She sighs. “You know it’s as good as torture for you to tell me you’re hurting when I can’t do anything to help you, yeah?”

“You can do something,” he says quietly. “Just talk to me.”

“About what, love?”

He shrugs. “Anything. What you did yesterday. The weather today. What you’re gonna make for dinner. Anything.”

She talks. It’s not hard for her to think of things to say. Phil sits on the sofa with a second cup of coffee and listens for a full hour before she has to return to her life.

He doesn’t get up for food. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.

-

Jimmy comes home after work, and for once Phil wishes he hadn’t. He can’t look at him right now.

“How’s your arm?” he asks, sitting next to Phil where he’s still sat on the sofa. He only got up once, to use the toilet.

“It hurts.”

“How about the other stuff?”

Phil keeps his gaze focused forward to the tv screen. He’s already on season 3. “What, my PTSD?”

“Oh.”

Phil’s not usually mean. In fact, he pretty much never is, especially not to Jimmy. But Jimmy doesn’t often give him cause to be genuinely angry.

“I’m just worried about you, Phil.”

“Worry about yourself,” Phil says. “I’ll be—”

“Don’t say fine. You can be a bell end if you want, but don’t lie.”

Phil presses his lips together. He doesn’t actually want to row with Jimmy. He knows that only going to make him feel bad later.

“You’re cross with me, yeah?” Jimmy asks.

Phil nods.

“You think I crossed a line. But you know I did it because I love you?”

Phil can feel his frown deepening as he nods.

“Alright, then. I’ll leave you alone for now. Alright?”

“Fine.”

“Can I do anything for you?”

Phil huffs. “Give me a bloody hug.”

Jimmy shuffles over and wraps him up tightly with both arms. Phil doesn’t hug back, but he leans his head again Jimmy’s shoulder and closes his eyes. “I messed up.”

“How?” Jimmy murmurs. “Besides the obvious?”

“Dan tried to be nice and I pushed him away.”

“How bad?”

Phil takes a breath and breathes it out. “Bad.”

“Well… that sucks.”

“Yeah.”

“Not a big deal though, yeah?” Jimmy asks, his voice perking up hopefully. “You were just mates. Only hung out once.”

“I like him,” Phil says plainly.

“Oh, mate.” Jimmy squeezes harder.

“I’m an idiot.”

Jimmy lets Phil go, but keeps an arm around his shoulders. “Look, I know you don’t want my advice right now.”

Phil laughs weakly.

“But if this bloke is worth your time, he’ll understand.”

Phil shrugs. “He has no reason to.”

“He likes you too, Phil. Even if it’s not the way I was pushing before.”

“So you admit you were pushing.”

Jimmy rolls his eyes. “He clearly doesn’t mind spending time with you, that’s all I’m saying.”

“Yeah, maybe. Before.”

“I’m not gonna push anymore. But if I were you I wouldn’t give up yet.”

Phil doesn’t say anything to that. He tilts his head back against the sofa. “Maybe I’m meant to be an island.”

“You’re not,” Jimmy says, standing up. “No one is. That’s mental.”

“What are you doing tonight?”

Jimmy folds his arms. He looks nice today, but tired. That’s Phil’s fault.

“Depends on how much of a mess you are,” he says.

“I’m—” He stops himself from saying fine. “I’ll be alright. The worst of it is over. This part is just like… a hangover.”

“Do you want me to hang around?”

Phil shakes his head. “Go. Do your thing.”

“You’ll ring me if you need me?”

Phil nods.

-

Jimmy gets changed and asks Phil twice more if it’s okay before he eventually leaves.

Phil waits about ten minutes before pulling out his phone and clicking the still unfamiliar number in his contacts.

“Hello?”

“Hi.”

“Hey.”

“It’s Phil.”

“Yeah,” Dan says, perhaps a hint of a smile in his tone. “I know. How are you?”

“My arm hurts like hell. And I’m trying not to think too hard about how stupid I made myself look yesterday.”

“You didn’t, Phil.”

“You’re probably annoyed with me,” Phil says.

“I’m not.”

Phil sighs quietly to himself.

Try new things. Face your fears. Don’t let your trauma dictate the rest of your life. You only get one.

“What are you doing tonight?”

“Nothing,” Dan says.

“Come round mine. Watch X-Files with me.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “Bring popcorn.”

Chapter Text

Dan brings popcorn. And Tangfastics. And iced orange mochas.

In fact he’s got a whole backpack of snacks slung over his shoulder when Phil answers the door for him. He’s wearing black Vans and black and white plaid shorts and a black hoodie.

“Do you ever wear anything that isn’t black?” Phil asks.

“I try not to.”

“Very goth.” He steps aside to let Dan in.

“I never had the balls to go full goth,” Dan says, handing one of the coffees to Phil. “I was vaguely emo for like a year when I was fifteen. And I had a very daft looking fringe for years after.”

“Me too, when I got to uni. Never did ditch the black hair, though.” He takes a sip of the drink the instant he closes his hand around it, and after so many hours of nothing, the flavour explodes in his mouth like a firework. “Shit that’s good.”

Dan chuckles. “As good as last time?”

“Better.” He flops onto the sofa to give his full attention to the drink.

Dan sits too, on the other end of the sofa, and puts the Haribo in the space between them. “You dye your hair?”

Phil just nods. He’s too busy hoovering up the coffee to bother with actual words.

“I guess I should have figured, what with your vampire skin and shoulder freckles and all. Are you a ginge?”

“Kind of.”

Dan gives him a long, considering look. “I think you suit black. It makes your eyes pop.”

“Thanks.” He’s still halfway in that hollow place, so the compliment doesn’t hit him the way it normally would, but it’s still nice.

He’s glad Dan came, and not just because he brought an array of Phil’s favourite things with him.

“How’s your arm?”

Phil shrugs and the movement tugs on his shoulder painfully. “Ow.”

“Guess that answers that. I’m glad you got it looked at, though.”

Phil kicks his legs out onto the coffee table. “You sound like my mum.”

“Sorry.”

Phil looks at him. He’s not as good at filtering himself in the immediate aftermath of a panic attack. He prefers to just say nothing at all, because usually if he opens his mouth the words that come out feel all wrong.

He shakes his head. “I am. I was a div yesterday.”

Dan smiles. “A div?”

Phil narrows his eyes. “Are you making fun of me?”

“A little.”

“Shut up, I’m from the north.”

“You don’t say,” Dan teases.

Phil silently and very calmly reaches for the packet of sweets, opens it, and proceeds to chuck a cherry gummy right at Dan’s nose.

“Wasting Haribo is a chargeable offense,” Dan informs him, picking it up from where it fell on his thigh and popping it in his mouth.

“What’s the punishment?”

“Uh…”

“I win,” Phil declares. His voice is stubbornly deadpan, but he doesn’t have the strength at the moment to worry about how Dan’s going to interpret that. He picks out a key and throws that, too.

“Who’s the div now?” Dan asks, retrieving it from his lap and eating that one, too.

“Still me.”

Dan’s face falls. “Oh yeah. Sorry.”

Phil shrugs again. “Ow, crap.”

Dan’s hand reaches out tentatively for a moment before falling back to his side. “Stop doing that,” he says instead.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.”

“Okay,” Phil says. “Sorry.”

Dan sighs. Phil manages to find it within himself to feel bad about it, but he’s not sure how to fix it. It’s just proof of what he already fears, that he’s annoying and overall just wrong on days like this.

“You’re not a div, mate,” Dan says. “I was joking.”

“Okay.”

“I’m sorry if—”

“Should we put on the show?” Phil interrupts. He really, really doesn’t want Dan to apologize. He’s got nothing to be sorry for.

“Sure,” Dan says, but Phil can tell he’s already dulled the other man’s shine.

Phil puts his feet on the floor and is about to stand up when Dan says, “No, don’t. I’ll do it.”

Before Phil can argue Dan is up and making his way over to the DVD collection Phil has on the bookshelf. He finds what he's looking for and pops it in, and somehow manages to get it set up without having to ask Phil about which remote to use and which buttons to press.

“Wow,” Phil says, as Dan sits down again. “Even I sometimes forget how to do that.”

Dan shrugs. “I had to fend for myself a lot as a kid, especially when it came to technology. I’ve got a sixth sense for it now.”

Phil catalogues the ‘fending for himself’ thing as something he needs to ask Dan about later, when he’s feeling more like himself. He picks up the remote again and presses play.

The theme music starts and Phil risks a side eyed glance at Dan. He’s snuggled down into the corner of the sofa with his legs pulled up to his chest and his coffee in hand.

“Thanks for coming,” Phil blurts.

Dan turns his head to him.

“I’m kind of… messed up. At the moment. And… just. Yeah. Thanks.”

“You don’t have to thank me,” Dan says. “I wanted to come.”

Phil smiles. For the first time in two days. “Okay.”

-

Two episodes in, they’ve both long since finished their coffees, and they get down to the business of eating the Tangfastics.

Four episodes in, Phil pauses the show so Dan can make them each a bag of popcorn.

Five episodes in, Phil feels like he hasn’t eaten a single thing in… well, in almost two days.

He pauses the show in the middle of a scene and turns to Dan. “What kind of vegan takeaway can we get?”

Dan smirks. “You still hungry?”

“Enough to eat a horse.”

“That’s not vegan,” Dan says.

“I wish I’d saved some sweets for ‘throwing at Dan’s face’ purposes.”

“My face is glad for the break.”

Phil looks at his phone and his heart sinks. It’s nearly midnight already. “Oh, it’s late.”

“Yeah,” Dan says, like he already knew.

“Guess you have to leave?”

Dan shrugs. “If you want me to.”

Phil looks at Dan’s face and can clearly see the signs of fatigue there: heavy lids, dark circles. He should be polite enough to let Dan go home and get some sleep. He has work in the morning, after all.

“I want to order a vegan takeaway.”

Dan smiles. “Great. I know just the place.”

-

They order chana masala and garlic naan and masala chais and Phil eats too much too fast and feels a bit sick after, but he doesn’t even care. He feels full and warm and something like happy. Definitely better.

Dan doesn’t finish his, but he puts the leftovers in Phil’s fridge.

-

Seven episodes in and Phil’s afraid to look at the time. He knows it’s late beyond reason and the only reason Dan’s still here is because he’s feeling guilty - or maybe he just pities Phil that much.

And Phil should tell him he can go. But Jimmy never came home and the idea of being alone makes Phil feel ill in a way that’s much different from the kind where he’s eaten too much delicious food.

He doesn’t want to be alone. He knows he’s not great company at the moment, he isn’t really making conversation at all anymore, but he can’t bear the thought of being alone tonight.

He makes peace with the fact that Dan is an adult and if he wants to leave, he can say so. He’s sure he’ll feel guilty about it later, when he’s fully recovered, but for now it soothes him enough to put it out of his mind and lean his heavy head back against the sofa and bask in the peace of sharing space with a new friend while he watches one of his favourite shows.

-

When he wakes up, the tv is off and the sun is low in the sky casting pale light through the window and over the lounge. He’s laid down against the arm of the sofa and his duvet is thrown over his body.

Phil’s heart spikes painfully and he lifts his head to look around with wide eyes.

Dan’s not here. Phil sits up and looks over to the mat at the front door. Dan’s shoes aren’t there and neither are Jimmy’s.

God, his arm hurts. And his mouth tastes like garlic and dirty socks. He needs to get up and take some painkillers and brush his teeth and have a shower. He reaches for his phone to check the time and he’s got two messages, one each from Jimmy and Dan.

He reads Jimmy’s first. <i’m staying over at chels’ tonight hope you’re ok ring me in the morning plz luv you xx>

Huh. Phil doesn’t remember getting up for his blanket. Why didn’t he just get into bed at that point?

Next he reads Dan’s.

<hey man sorry i left without saying anything i didn’t have the heart to wake you. i put a blanket on you bc you looked like weirdly fragile all passed out with your slinged arm? sorry if that was weird. anyway thanks for having me over i had fun. i left the food in your fridge so i hope you eat it for breakfast. your door is unlocked so hopefully no weird pervs came in and touched you while you slept. ok i’m being weird now sorry i’m a bit knackered anyway see you later>

Phil gets up. He drinks two glasses of water and takes three ibuprofen and brushes his teeth. He has a shower and gets dressed. He changes the bandage on his elbow and feeds Ninja and Pirate and puts a load of laundry in the wash.

He makes coffee and takes it out to the balcony to watch the cars on the streets below. He rereads Dan’s text so many times he loses count.

Then he goes back inside. He’s got some Indian leftovers to eat.

Chapter Text

“Bout time, mate, jesus.”

Phil feigns innocence “What?”

“I said ring me in the morning!” Jimmy shouts down the line. “I was about to send a search party.”

“I’m on holiday, I can have a lie in if I want.”

“You’re not on holiday.”

“I know that,” Phil says. “The polite thing to do is let me pretend.”

“Is it?”

“I dunno.”

“Well I’m glad you’re still alive.”

“I sat my ass on the sofa all night, you’re the one who goes out drinking and doing god knows what in the middle of the night. I should be the one worried about you.”

“You already are worried,” Jimmy points out.

“Yeah.”

“Anyway, we didn’t even go out. We just got pissed in her bedroom talking shit.”

Phil rolls his eyes. He’s allowed. Jimmy can’t see him right now. “She’s good at that.”

“You’re good at quietly disliking her.”

“Eh,” Phil says noncommittally. “I don’t dislike her, I just don’t want to spend time with her.”

“You’re antisocial.”

“I’m an introvert. There’s a difference.”

“Is there?” Jimmy asks. If he were here Phil would definitely stick out his tongue, or maybe even flip him off.

“Dan says you extroverts like to act superior.”

Jimmy’s voice changes completely then. “Oh, Dan says, does he? Are we talking about Dan again?”

“No.”

“You are though.”

“It was relevant to our discussion.” Phil’s sat out on the balcony again, belly full of Dan’s leftovers. It’s nice out today, a bit cloudy with a warm breeze that almost makes him wish he could be back at the pool again.

“So you didn’t take my advice?” Jimmy asks.

“What advice?”

“Not to give up on hunky swim man.”

Phil takes a second or two to consider not telling Jimmy about last night. He’s not sure he’s got the energy to deal with all the teasing.

But he and Jimmy don’t lie to each other. It’s a big part of the trust they’ve built between them over the past decade and a half.

“I did, actually.”

“Wait, what? Really?” He sounds genuinely surprised. “Did you text him.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, fuck, Phil. What did you say?”

“I said ‘come round here.”

“Fuck off.”

“No thank you.”

“You invited him over?” Jimmy asks, voice pitching up with the stress of it all.

“Yes.”

“When?”

“Last night.”

Jimmy makes a loud frustrated sound. “Well did he come?”

“Yes.”

“Dan came round. To our flat. Last night.”

“Yes,” Phil says again. He’s actually rather enjoying torturing Jimmy like this.

“The one night I decide to go out.”

“You go out constantly,” Phil reminds him.

“Did you… you know…?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah?” Jimmy sounds like he’s about to pop a blood vessel in his eye or something.

“Yeah, we watched X-Files and ordered Indian and I fell asleep.”

“I fucking hate you.”

Phil laughs. It feels nice to laugh again, to even have the capacity to do that. “I know.”

“But you hung out,” Jimmy says.

“Yeah, it was… I dunno, I was probably awkward but it was nice.”

“You’re always awkward.”

“Oi.”

“It’s part of your charm,” Jimmy assures. “You know I want to know every detail, yeah?”

“There’s not much to say,” Phil says, standing up, keeping his phone sandwiched between his ear and shoulder as he opens the balcony door to head back inside the flat. “We ate and watched tv. We didn’t talk that much. I was still kind of dazed.”

“Did he stay over?”

“No, not unless he left super early. I fell asleep around two, I think.” He pauses a minute, again to consider omitting a certain detail, but he gives in to the perverse desire to hear Jimmy freak out a little. “He put my duvet on me before he left. I slept the whole night out there.”

“Oh, wow, well fuck me. That was…”

Phil smirks unabashedly. He can tell how hard Jimmy is trying not to do said freaking out, and Phil loves him for it.

“What a polite young man,” Jimmy finishes. “A right… gentleman.”

“He said my black hair makes my eyes pop,” Phil offers.

Jimmy sighs. Deeply. “Phil. Are you trying to cause me pain?”

“Maybe a bit.”

“Well mission accomplished.”

“He’s nice. It was nice.”

“I can’t say anything,” Jimmy says. “I literally can’t say anything.”

“You could say ‘I’m happy your antisocial ass has made another mate.”

“I am, as long as he’s not a replacement for me.”

“He’s not,” Phil says. “Don’t be stupid.”

“Can I say one teeny tiny little thing?”

Phil rolls his eyes, but his smile hasn’t faded any. “Go on then.”

“Does he know you’re gay?”

“No. I mean, I haven’t told him.”

“Maybe you should.”

“Why?”

“Mate. You know why.”

Phil has wandered into his bedroom by now. He has a not unpleasant nervous energy that he’s really not sure what to do with. He sits on the edge of his bed and swings his legs lazily back and forth. “He’d probably think I was hitting on him.”

“Yeah. And maybe he’d like it. Maybe he’s as uncertain about where the two of you stand as you are.”

“I’m not uncertain,” Phil says. “We’re friends.”

“Has any bloke ever acted like Dan does when it was strictly a friendship with no crush-y feelings?” Jimmy asks. “I’m not trying to be a dick. Genuinely wondering.”

“Maybe not,” Phil admits.

“You don’t have to just blurt it out. You could work it into conversation. Mention an ex boyfriend or the raging hard on you have for Chris Hemsworth’s abs.”

Phil flops backwards. “What if I just make things awkward and he doesn’t wanna talk to me anymore?”

“Then he’s a homophobic wank fuck and good riddance.”

“He’s not. He lives with two elderly lesbians. He calls them his pseudo mums.”

“God, Phil. Just marry him already, please.”

“Is that what you call not pushing?” He’s not actually that annoyed. He’s starting to wonder if Jimmy is right.

“Fine, I’ll stop. But you know I’ll still be thinking it.”

“I do.” He gets up off his bed and wanders over to the mirror above his dresser, leaning in and pushing his glasses up onto his forehead to examine his face in uncomfortable detail.

Is this what eyes popping look like? It doesn’t look that special to him. They’re just the same old eyes they’ve always been, blue-ish with weird specks of yellow-y green.

Not like Dan’s. Dan’s are dark and deep and warm, like coffee before you put the milk in.

“Hey Jim?”

“What?”

“I think I like, proper fancy him.”

“Yeah,” Jimmy says. “I know.”

-

He works up the courage to text Dan back a few hours later, by which time it’s mid afternoon and he’s trying not to be overly anxious about whether or not Dan’s lost whatever interest he had between this morning’s text and now.

<the takeaway was even better this morning than it was last night :D>

That’s lame. Especially the stupid emoticon. Who uses emoticons anymore? It’s not 2009 anymore.

Dan doesn’t answer immediately, and Phil’s brain threatens to make that into a bigger deal than it really is, so he forces himself to do other things. He plugs his phone in to charge in his bedroom and goes to put the laundry in the dryer and take the rubbish out to the bin room. He tries to do the washing up as best he can with only one hand.

When he returns to his phone he hasn’t got any messages, but he’s got a missed call from his mum, so he rings her back. She happily obliges his request for more talking about inane subjects and makes sure to ask him approximately three times in half an hour when he thinks he’ll be able to make the trip up to visit.

“You’ll need to go back to work soon, love. Might as well come while you have the time off.”

He should probably tell her the extent of how ill it makes him feel to imagine going back to the radio station, but he bites his tongue. He doesn’t need to worry her. He’d probably already taken years off her life with the stress of the accident.

After he’s found an excuse to say goodbye to his mother, he makes some toast and eats it on the sofa in front of the tv, crumbs be damned.

His arm hurts. His shoulder hurts. His elbow hurts. The pain is constant, never letting him fully escape from how embarrassed he still is, how pervasive the feeling is that he’s never going to recover from this perpetual state of fear he’s living in.

He takes some painkillers and goes to bed. At least if he’s napping he’s not thinking.

-

He wakes up to the sound of his phone ringing, and he groans as he twists around in his burrito of duvet to grab it off the bedside table and answer without checking who it is.

He assumes it’s Jimmy, so he’s simultaneously surprised pleasantly and incredibly anxious to hear Dan’s voice on the other end of the line.

“Did I wake you?”

“Um… a bit,” Phil croaks. “But it’s ok.”

“I forgot my phone at home this morning, that’s why I never texted.”

Phil smiles, rolling over to smush his face into his pillow. “That’s ok.”

“I was so fucking tired.”

“I bet,” Phil says, rolling back over. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

“Thanks for making sure I didn’t freeze to death overnight.” He takes a breath to gather the bravery needed for his next statement. “Next time you can just stay over. If you want.”

The two seconds of silence before Dan responds is excruciating.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, for sure.”

“When’s next time?” Dan asks.

Phil’s stomach flips. It literally flips. “You liking X-Files that much?”

Of course he has to ruin it. Of course.

But Dan laughs.

“Next time can be whenever you want,” Phil says.

“What do you want?”

Try new things. Face your fears.

“Tonight,” Phil says. “Right now.”

Chapter Text

Phil only tries on six shirts before he settles for the dark blue one with the little corgis on. He reckons it could’ve been a lot worse. His hair is hopeless; he doesn’t even bother trying, and he decides the glasses will do. He can’t bear the thought of trying to get contacts in right now.

When Dan arrives, Phil forces himself to wait ten seconds before answering the door. (Which is probably a completely moot gesture as he’d basically begged Dan to come, but whatever.)

He’s wearing a black and white striped shirt and black trousers cuffed above the ankles. He’s got a giant Starbucks cup in his hand.

He looks as good as ever. Phil should probably stop being surprised by that.

“Hi,” Phil says.

Dan tilts his head to the side just slightly, just enough for Phil to see that he’s doing it. He gives Phil a considering kind of look and says, “Dark colours are good on you.”

He holds the coffee out for Phil to take, and doesn’t seem to be awaiting a verbal response from Phil, which is good because anything that came out of his mouth at the moment would be flustered and incoherent, without a doubt.

“Where’s yours?” Phil manages to ask, stepping back to let Dan in.

“Drank it already. Sorry, couldn’t wait.”

“Did you get any sleep at all?”

Dan laughs as he toes off his shoes. “If you’re feeling guilty, stop.”

“But it’s what I do best.”

“I could have been not sleeping at my own flat,” Dan says. “It was more fun to do it at yours.”

Phil smiles. Dan can’t see him because he’s walking into the lounge, so Phil lets it take over his face for a moment. He’s trying not to dwell on any of the things Jimmy said, but it’s getting a little harder now.

For many more reasons than one, Phil hopes Dan at is at least curious, because he’d feel like a pretty rotten mate for blatantly staring at Dan’s ass like he is now if Dan was strictly heterosexual.

His eyes snap up when Dan turns around. “You have games.”

Phil hadn’t even noticed that Dan was stood in front of the shelf that holds his video game collection.

“I do.”

“You never told me you were a gamer.”

“I guess I didn’t.” He takes his first sip of whatever’s in his cup and hums appreciatively at the burst of sweetness. “Haven’t actually played anything in a while. Jimmy never wants to and…”

Dan lifts an eyebrow in question at the way Phil trails off.

Phil shrugs. “Haven’t had the stomach for anything violent since the accident.” He says it quietly, like it’s a confession. He supposes in a way it is.

He sits on the sofa, not wanting to see whatever the reaction may be on Dan’s face.

A few moments later the sofa dips as Dan sits next to him, much closer this time than last night. “I was gonna say let’s play Mario Kart but that’s probably the last thing you’d wanna do.”

Phil smiles. “Actually, that sounds good.”

“Yeah?”

He nods. “Maybe it’ll be therapeutic. I can crash as many times as I want and nothing bad will happen.”

Dan frowns, but Phil waves his hand dismissively. “Seriously, that sounds good. It’s been so long.”

Dan still looks unsure. “I have to warn you, I’m really good.”

Phil snorts. “And modest, too.”

“Usually I am, to the point of actual self hatred, but I can’t pretend I’m not really really good at fake go-karting.”

Now it’s Phil’s turn to frown. Dan’s self deprecation is so casual, so matter of fact, but it makes Phil’s stomach sink.

“Wait, isn’t that gonna hurt your arm?” Dan asks.

“Yeah,” he answers simply. He’s already decided it’s worth it. “It’s fine. We’ll call it physio.”

“So it’s therapy for your mind and body? Score. Should I set it up?” Dan asks.

Phil nods. “Please.”

“So polite.” Dan chuckles to himself as he gets up off the sofa.

Phil drinks some more coffee to distract himself from wondering if Dan’s laughter is more condescending or fond.

But then he makes himself anxious anyway wondering if he should be doing more to make these hangouts a little less boring. Like maybe instead of coffee they should be drinking beers or something. Most people their age like beer, he reckons. Does Dan like beer?

“Do you like beer?”

Dan turns around from where he’s crouched setting up the switch. “What?”

“Beer,” Phil repeats, feeling stupid.

“Uh, it’s fine.”

“We could… I mean, I’m ok with like… drinking. If you would prefer that.”

Dan frowns. “What?”

Phil shrugs.

“I’m the one who’s been bringing you coffee,” Dan says, seeming to catch on to what Phil’s suddenly and inexplicably feeling weird about.

“Yeah, that’s true, eh?”

“Would you prefer that?” Dan asks. “You said coffee was one of your favourite things, so I—”

“I wouldn’t,” Phil says quickly. “Prefer it. I guess I got randomly worried you would. I spend too much time with Jimmy, I guess.”

“You also worry too much.” Dan gets up and returns to the sofa with the controllers, one of which he hands to Phil.

“Yeah. Textbook definition of anxiety.”

“Right,” Dan says. “Sorry.”

Phil has to look at the tv to be able to ask what he asks next. “I guess hating yourself is the textbook definition of depression?”

“Mm. One of them, yeah.”

“So I shouldn’t say that you shouldn’t hate yourself.” His heart is beating uncomfortably fast, but he turns to look at Dan to check he’s not pissed him off.

“Are you saying that?” Dan asks quietly.

“Yes.”

Dan looks down at his hands and smiles. “Thanks. I’m trying.”

“I can try to stop being weird and awkward now,” Phil says.

Dan shakes his head. “I think it’s really important for people to be true to themselves. Living your truth and all that.”

They look at each other for a tense second and then Dan smirks and Phil can’t help joining in, and they share a little laugh that helps push Phil’s nerves to the side.

“You’re a dick,” Phil says, still grinning from ear to ear.

“Yeah,” Dan agrees. “And I’m not going to try not to beat you at Mario Kart.”

Phil slips his arm out of its sling. “Fair enough.”

-

Dan is exactly as good at Mario Kart as he’d warned Phil he was. Phil manages to beat him a time or two, but only when Dan is distracted or incredibly unlucky. Phil practically makes a home of the ‘item clusterfuck’ as Dan calls it, but it’s worth it for the howls of taunting laughter it elicits from the man next to him.

Dan just gets so into it. He’s leant forward on the sofa with his elbows dug into his knees, gloating immodestly every time he finds himself victorious.

(But the few times that Phil manages to beat him, Dan is equally enthusiastic with the praise and congratulatory shoulder squeezes.)

(He has quite big hands. Phil had somehow forgotten exactly how big. He probably won’t again, though.)

“I think I give up,” Phil says after a particularly brutal defeat that means he won’t even get a third place trophy.

“Tired of eating my dust?”

Phil scrunches up his face. “No,” he says petulantly. “My arm hurts.”

“Oh, fuck.”

Phil waves the other arm in the air. “S’fine. I’ll just take a boatload of ibuprofen.”

“They didn’t you a prescription for something stronger?”

Phil shakes his head.

“You should’ve let me take you.” Dan is frowning. “I wouldn’t have let you leave before they took care of you properly.”

Phil’s stomach does that thing again. “I didn’t think to ask.”

“Course you didn’t, you were…”

“A mess,” Phil offers.

“Not yourself.”

“I think ‘mess’ describes me perfectly.”

“It doesn’t,” Dan says firmly. “I’ve gotten enough therapy to know that beating yourself up for things you have no control over is a destructive way to frame your mental health.”

Phil looks away, down at the little blue controller still clutched in his hands. “Sorry.”

“How do I tell you not to apologize without making you feel like you need to keep apologizing?” Dan asks.

Phil looks at him with a little smile. “Reckon that’ll do.”

“Good.”

“I’m hungry,” Phil says, eager to change the subject. “Are you hungry?”

“Yeah.”

“What should we eat? What else can we get that’s vegan and tasty?”

“It doesn’t have to be vegan,” Dan says. His voice sounds warm, like he really appreciates the gesture.

“Yes it does.” Phil chews on his lips as he thinks. “What about… hmm. Thai? Can Thai food be vegan?”

“Yeah,” Dan says. “I think so. I don’t actually get much takeaway because Winnie is vegan too so she cooks for me usually.”

“Wow, lucky,” Phil says. “I miss my mum’s cooking. She’d laugh in my face if I ever asked for something vegan, though.”

“My little brother is kind of militant about it,” Dan says. “I mostly took it up just to get him off my back. He hasn’t broken me yet on long distance running, though.”

Phil crinkles his nose. “My brother is athletic too. And socially normal and just generally good at most things. I’m not jealous at all.”

Dan leans over and touches Phil’s arm. “I bet he’s not as funny as you are.”

Phil’s afraid he might actually swoon soon. “He kind of is.”

“He sounds like a wanker,” Dan says, and then quickly adds, “No arguing allowed.”

Phil pretends to zip his lips.

“So… Thai?”

Phil nods.

-

Turns out vegan pad Thai is delicious.

And playing video games for hours with messed up tendons in your shoulder is a bad idea that results in rather agonizing pain.

Watching X-Files with Dan and having to rewind every other scene because they talked through it the first time is a nice distraction, though, and the painkillers take the edge off enough for him to get by.

At some point Phil shivers and Dan notices. He gets up without a word and walks away, and when he comes back he’s got Phil’s duvet in his hand.

Phil has a moment of panic for the fact that Dan’s seen how messy his room probably is, but it’s quickly replaced by more than one kind of warmth when Dan drapes the blanket over Phil’s body. “I’ll be an expert at tucking you in in no time.” He smiles and his dimples are so freaking adorable that Phil loses himself for a moment just looking at Dan’s face.

“Are you staying over tonight?” he blurts.

“That was the plan, wasn’t it?”

Phil nods.

“Is that still ok?” Dan asks.

“Of course. I want you to,” Phil says, before he has time to think about how weird that is for one mate to say to another.

Dan doesn’t seem to find it weird. He’s still smiling with those dimples and that distractingly wide mouth. “Good.”

“Good,” Phil echoes.

It’s then that there’s a noise at the front door, and the knob jiggles.

“Someone’s trying to break into your flat,” Dan says.

Phil’s stomach has sunk as low as it can go. “It’s Jimmy,” he croaks.

“Oh, cool.”

Is it? Phil’s brain screams at him. Or is it a recipe for disaster? If Jimmy is drunk there’s no telling what he might say.

The door swings open and Jimmy steps in and Phil and Dan are watching him as he looks up from kicking his shoes off.

He jumps. “Bloody hell, wasn’t expecting an audience.”

Dan laughs. “Sorry.”

Jimmy’s whole face changes in an instant. “Is this…?”

“This is Dan.” He turns to Dan. “This is Jimmy.”

Dan waves.

“Hey mate, good to meet you.” He walks over to the couch and holds his hand out. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Phil’s already holding his breath.

“Ditto,” Dan says, accepting the handshake.

Jimmy frowns. “What, really?”

Phil interrupts, hoping to change the subject. “You’re home late.”

“Went out with work people. They say hi by the way. Wondering when you’re coming back.” He sits in the space beside Dan.

It’s also technically the space beside Phil, but that feels irrelevant at the moment.

Phil shifts uncomfortably on the cushion. The show is still playing, so he reaches for the remote and pauses it reluctantly.

“So what’s going on, then?” Jimmy asks cheerfully. “Just hanging out?”

“Yep.” Phil tries to send Jimmy telepathic messages of ‘bugger the hell off’ but honestly, even if Jimmy was receiving them he’d probably just pretend he wasn’t.

“Netflix and chill?”

Phil could murder him. He could actually commit a homicide in this moment.

Then Dan says, “Actually, it’s a DVD.”

Jimmy laughs. Phil is relieved, but not enough to join in. He’s still fantasizing about ways to put an end to Jimmy’s fuckery once and for all.

“Reckon I’ll leave you to it, then,” Jimmy says, clapping a down a hand on Dan’s thigh. “I can’t be watching this alien shit again. Once was enough for a lifetime.”

“What a shame,” Phil says. “Goodbye James.”

Jimmy eyes the takeaway boxes as he gets up off the couch. “You save me any?”

Phil hands him the food he hadn’t finished. He just wants him to go away so he doesn’t have to worry about… well, about Jimmy.

“Sorry, I’m a human rubbish bin, so mine’s long gone,” Dan says.

“You probably had Gregg’s on the way home anyway,” Phil grumbles.

Jimmy smirks. “Yeah but if it’s not ham and cheese does it even count, really?”

“Yes,” Phil says. “It does. Now go away. Some of us like this alien shit.”

Jimmy leans down and plants a fat wet kiss right on Phil’s forehead. “Night, hun.”

Phil just grumbles again.

He turns to Dan once Jimmy’s gone.

“Sorry.”

Dan is smiling. “For what? You two are adorable. Like an old married couple or something.”

Phil scoffs. “He wishes.”

He feels his phone buzz in his pocket. He knows with absolute certainty that it’s a text from Jimmy, so he ignores it. “You do like this show, right? It’s ok if you don’t.”

“I said I did.”

“Yeah, but. If you just didn’t want to hurt my feelings—”

“I like it, Phil. I’m not actually that nice, you know.”

Phil’s voice gets quieter. “You’re always nice to me.”

“Yeah, but not because I’m trying not to hurt your feelings.”

“Do you wanna keep watching?”

“Yes,” Dan says. “Until one of us falls asleep. Or both of us.”

“You’d tell me if you wanted to watch something else? Or do something else? Or just… change your mind and go home?”

“Phil.” He gives him a stern look, holding his gaze with his deep dark eyes. “Yes.”

“Okay.” He presses play again.

-

He sneaks his phone out later and checks Jimmy’s message.

<TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW>

Phil replies: <don’t out me, you dick>

<don’t even say that>

<netflix and chill??> Phil texts.

<it was a joke!! and he had the cleverest answer!! i approve!! also he’s fucking GORGEOUS why didn’t you tell me how gorgeous he is?>

<i told you he was fit>

<you didn’t tell me he was THAT fit>

<leave me alone. i’m nervous enough>

<don’t be. that bloke likes you. i was already pretty sure but now i’m convinced.>

<you’re not helping>

“Texting your girlfriend over there, are you?”

Phil jumps. “What?”

Dan is smirking. “You seem engrossed.”

“I was text shouting at Jimmy, actually,” Phil says, putting his phone on do not disturb and shoving it deep into his pocket. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”

This would be a perfect opportunity to mention that he’ll never have a girlfriend. That the last time he had a girlfriend he was sixteen and it lasted exactly as long as it took to get to the kissing, at which time it became abundantly clear that he had no business trying to kiss girls.

Dan says, “Me neither.” He’s still smirking, or maybe it’s just a hint of a normal smile now.

Maybe Phil doesn’t need to say anything. Maybe it’s obvious. Maybe Dan’s known all along.

-

Time passes. Phil’s not sure how much, but he doesn’t much care. The show plays on and it’s dark in the lounge but for the glow of the television. Phil is curled up in his duvet, and Dan has a blanket of his own now, too.

It’s cozy. They’re not talking, and Phil thinks he’s probably drifted in and out of sleep a few times over the course of the last episode. His eyes are heavy and his head is full of clouds. He thinks he might be touching Dan’s leg with his foot, but he’s too nervous to check, so instead he assumes he is, and floats in the happy potential of what it means that Dan hasn’t scootched over to claim his own bubble of personal space.

His eyes are closed when he hears Dan’s voice, quiet and gravelly and warm and lovely and something he knows he’s going to crave like air to breathe the next time he’s lying alone in his bed.

“Hey Phil?”

“Yeah,” Phil whispers. He doesn’t know why he’s whispering.

“I was thinking about something.”

“What something?”

“About how you called Mario Kart therapeutic.”

“Yeah?” He keeps his eyes closed. He’s not sure it’s even a choice at this point, he’s feeling so sleepy that it’s hard to even form words in his mouth.

“Yeah, so you know what I think?” Dan asks.

“Hm?”

“I think you should come to the pool with me tomorrow.”

Phil only vaguely registers that as something he can’t do. “Hm?” he murmurs again.

“You don’t have to go in the water, I know you’re not supposed to. But I was thinking maybe even just being there could be like… I dunno. Like exposure therapy, but nicer.”

“Mm.”

“You paid for lessons. I’m not doing anything else with that time,” Dan says. “We could just sit on the edge of the pool, maybe put our feet in the water.”

Phil’s response isn’t even a hum anymore, just a hint of a deep grunted noise in the back of his throat.

“Maybe I just want to be spending time with you…”

Dan’s words come out whispered then, and Phil’s as asleep as a person can be without really being asleep. He hears it but he doesn’t hear it.

He’ll have forgotten it by morning. It will blend into the fabric of his dreams like different colours of paint on an artist’s canvas, but it doesn’t matter. It’s in his head now, and he knows as he loses consciousness for real that his morning will be spent at the pool next to Dan with their toes in the water.

Chapter Text

Phil wakes up with a crick in his neck and an ungodly pain in his shoulder, but his first thought is still reserved for looking over to the other side of the sofa to see if Dan’s still there.

He is, sleeping soundly.

Phil feels a moment of happiness so simple and incandescent that he wouldn’t be surprised if he was still dreaming, or letting his mind wander off to places where beautiful soft haired men with chapped pink lips fall asleep next to him and are still there in the morning.

He’s afraid to move. He’s afraid to breathe too deeply and break the spell. Because that’s kind of what this feels like: it feels like magic.

He feels calm. He can’t remember the last time he woke up feeling calm.

Then there’s the sound of shuffling footsteps that means Jimmy is awake. Phil stays still and waits.

Jimmy comes over and drapes himself over the back of the sofa to kiss the top of Phil’s head. He smells nice, like shampoo and cologne.

“Alright?” Jimmy whispers.

Phil nods. He doesn’t bother trying to hide the fact that he’s still looking at Dan.

“He really is gorgeous.”

Phil nods again.

“Seems nice, too.”

“He is,” Phil says, his voice barely more than a breath. “He’s lovely. Like, the loveliest.”

“Aside from me, of course.” Jimmy noses Phil’s hair.

“Of course.”

“You want coffee or tea?” Jimmy asks.

Phil frowns. “I don’t know if he likes tea.”

“I’ll make both.”

Phil tilts his head up and gives Jimmy a smile.

“He’s got work, don’t he?” Jimmy asks, pulling Phil’s limp fringe off his forehead.

Phil nods. “Reckon we can let him sleep a little longer.”

Jimmy clicks his tongue. “You’re not even his boyfriend yet and you’re already better at it than I ever was.”

“That’s not true.” He doesn’t bother correcting Jimmy about the inevitability of the boyfriend thing. Perhaps he’s ready to be brave enough to let himself think it might happen. “You were good to Tom. You were good to each other.”

Jimmy shrugs. He looks sad suddenly, sad in a way Phil knows he’s been, but also in a way Phil knows he’s been trying to hide.

“Let’s hang out tonight,” Phil says. “Just us, here.”

Jimmy nods. “Yes please.” He walks away and Phil sinks back into the sofa. The more awake he gets the more the pain in his arm screams itself at him, but he’s quite content to ignore it for as long as Dan remains peaceful beside him.

At the risk of making himself look a proper creep, he watches Dan sleep. It feels indulgent to be able to look at that face uninterrupted by real life and all of its distractions and rules of social acceptability. He can hear Jimmy puttering the kitchen and he just wants to live inside this moment forever.

And then the alarm on Dan’s phone goes off.

He frowns without opening his eyes and digs his hand into his pocket, groaning at the offending sound.

Phil can’t help smiling. It’s just really freaking cute.

He’s still smiling when Dan opens his eyes. He’s too happy to worry about whether or not that makes him look weird.

“Morning,” he says. His good mood saturates his voice, making it soft and probably too intimate for just friends.

“You’re awake,” Dan croaks.

Phil nods. “I should’ve told you you could take my bed last night.”

Dan’s stretching his arms over his head and yawning. “Nah,” he says. “This was good.”

“Yeah? Did you sleep?”

Dan nods. “More than I have in a while.”

“Me too, I think.”

“I don’t wanna go to work,” Dan says, tucking his arms back under his blanket. “I don’t wanna get up.”

“Jimmy’s making coffee,” Phil offers. “And tea. Breakfast is probably too much to hope for but we can caffeinate at least.”

“Mm,” Dan hums appreciatively. “Good flatmate.”

“Good mate,” Phil says. Then, “D’you still want me to come to the pool?”

Dan nods. “Course.”

-

Jimmy says a quick good morning to Dan and then a quick goodbye to Phil, slipping out of the flat decidedly earlier than Phil knows he needs to. Phil really loves him for that.

He and Dan relocate to the kitchen where Phil has coffee and Dan has tea. Phil makes toast and eats his with jam. Dan has peanut butter.

Phil excuses himself afterwards to brush his teeth and change his clothes. He’s mostly not nervous, but there’s still a hint of something under his skin that makes it feel unlike just any other day. Maybe it’s just excitement.

-

When they get to the pool, it starts to feel like fear, but it has nothing to do with Dan.

“What if I can’t do it?”

They’re sat in the grass, only having gotten as far as taking off their shirts and shoes.

“Then we’ll sit right here,” Dan says.

“The other lifeguards must think I’m a freak.”

“I don’t really know what the other guards think,” Dan says. “And I don’t really care. Do you?”

Phil’s hugging his knees to his chest. He digs his chin into his forearm and looks over at the table where they’re all sat. “I dunno. I guess a little. Are they not your friends?”

Dan shakes his head. “Most of them are teenagers. I don’t…” He looks away from Phil as he trails off.

Phil knocks his knee against Dan’s. To comfort him or prompt him, he’s not even sure, but Dan looks at him and smiles, just a little quirk in the corners of his mouth.

“Teenagers remind me of being a teenager. And I try not to touch those memories with a fucking ten foot pole if I can help it.” Dan shakes his head.

Phil adds it to the mental list of things to ask Dan about on a day he’s feeling brave.

He doesn’t feel remotely brave at the moment.

But then Dan puts his hand on Phil’s knee and asks, “Do you want to try?”

“Just our feet?”

“Whatever you want,” Dan confirms.

Maybe, with Dan next to him, he can try to be brave.
-

Dan sits first and dips his feet in one at a time. “Feels nice,” he says, looking up at Phil. “Refreshing.”

Phil’s arm is throbbing, but his heart rate feels remarkably stable. He knows nothing bad is going to come from him sitting on the ledge of a one meter deep pool, and his brain isn’t playing any tricks today to make him forget it.

He sits - awkwardly, because of the arm and the pain - and plunges both feet right in.

Dan grins. “I wanna give you a high five but I don’t want you to feel patronized.”

“Telepathic high five, then.”

Dan stares at him, right in the eyes. His gaze is focused like a laser beam.

“Did you get it?” he asks.

Phil barks a laugh. “Yeah.”

Dan doesn’t laugh. “You’re kind of, like…” He looks down at where he’s kicking his feet back and forth lazily in the water.

Phil could die for how badly he wants Dan to finish that sentence, so he waits.

“I’m just impressed,” he says finally.

“I’m literally not doing anything. It’s not scary to me today. That’s what’s so frustrating.”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“Do you?” Phil asks, incredulous.

Dan looks at him for a moment before looking back down again. “Yeah. I do.”

“Oh.” Phil’s stomach clenches. “Sorry.”

“It’s not the same for me, obviously. But I definitely understand being at the mercy of a brain that doesn’t always work properly.”

“You seem to be better at keeping it under control than I am.”

Dan makes a sound that’s half laugh and half scoff.

“Sorry,” Phil says quickly. Again. “I’m good at putting my foot in my mouth.”

Dan shakes his head. “If I come across that way to you, honestly, I’ll take it. I’ll prove you wrong if you stick around long enough, but for now it’s nice to hear you say that.”

“If I stick around?” Phil echoes. “Where do you think I’m going?”

“You’ve only got four days of lessons left,” Dan says.

Phil frowns. “You slept on my sofa last night.”

Now Dan laughs a little. “I did.”

“Are we not— I thought we were…”

Dan’s smile drops. Phil’s stomach goes with it.

“Mates?” Phil manages to say. “Beyond the lessons.”

“Oh. Yeah. Course we are. It’s just… it’s usually hard for people. Eventually. I’m hard to… deal with.”

Phil ignores that. He doesn’t want to accept the fact that he’s ruined this time he has with Dan by making him sad without even really knowing how he’d done it.

“Feels like it’s been a lot more than a week since I started lessons.”

Since I met you are the unspoken words that hang in the air between them.

“It really does.”

“Been a weird week.”

Dan smiles. He’s looking down at the water.

“I busted my ass and made a fool of myself, but it’s still been the best week in ages.”

Dan looks up. Phil forces himself not to look away.

“For me too,” Dan says.

“Did you mean it when you said you don’t have many mates?” Phil asks.

Dan nods. “Even if I include Winnie and Ada, I can still count them on one hand.”

“Does that include me now?”

Dan shoves him. “Yes, idiot.”

Phil grins. He really likes it when Dan touches him.

“So I can stop being nervous that you’re going to decide I’m too weird or too nerdy or too… whatever?”

“You can definitely stop being nervous about that,” Dan says. “Though I guess that’s kind of your thing, ain’t it?”

“Unfortunately yes.”

“Will you sign up for more lessons once you’re all healed?” Dan asks.

Phil shakes his head. “You’re gonna teach me for free.”

Dan chuckles. “Am I, now?”

“Yup. I’ll pay you in X-Files binge sessions and Mario Kart tournaments.”

“Which you’ll lose,” Dan says.

Phil smiles. “Which I’ll definitely lose.”

-

“I might do something stupid soon and tell him.”

Phil is laid across the sofa while Jimmy drinks cheap red wine and tries to DIY some kind of fragrance diffuser. The whole flat smells intensely of ylang ylang, which Phil didn’t even know was a thing until Jimmy started dumping it into a vintage glass pharmaceutical bottle full of almond oil.

It’s not what he thought they’d be doing tonight, but it’s just as well, really. Jimmy is happy to guzzle merlot and faff about with reeds and essential oils while Phil moans.

“It’s not stupid,” Jimmy says.

“What if it is, though?”

“Don’t make me punch you,” Jimmy threatens. “Seriously.”

Phil sighs quietly and chews his lip as he watches Jimmy spill oil on the coffee table and mutter, “oh piss and shit,” to himself in that very Midlands type of way he does when he’s on his way to being properly drunk.

“What if I’m just supposed to be happy with this?”

Jimmy turns around to give Phil his full attention. He’s frowning. “What is that supposed to mean, ‘supposed to?’ There is no supposed to. It’s your life, Phil. You decide what you’re happy with.”

“I am happy with this. I’m happy spending time with him.”

“But you want more.”

“I don’t wanna ruin things. Things are good. Like… it feels good. To want something. You know?”

“It feels better to get what you want,” Jimmy says.

“Maybe.”

Sometimes he’s really not good with words. He knows that. He can feel something so simply in his own head, he can understand it and still not know how to articulate it for someone else to understand. He’s not sure if that’s what’s happening now or not, but either way it seems clear that Jimmy doesn’t get what he’s trying to say.

It’s almost as if he became a different person the instant the car crashed, and ever since he’s been living a life where the most he could hope for was to get through each day without succumbing to the fear that took root somewhere deep and impenetrable inside him. Any desires he had were about wanting to be free of that cloying sense of dread.

But wanting Dan is something different. It’s something so completely different. It’s yearning for something as opposed to desperately hoping to avoid it.

And that must be something Jimmy just can’t grasp. Phil doesn’t want to stop wanting. As long as he can feel that, he can believe there may be hope he won’t always feel quite so broken.

“But I’m not pushing,” Jimmy says.

Phil pushes gently on his arm. “Course not.”

“It’s just like… I don’t know. Maybe I’m jealous.” Jimmy abandons his diffuser and picks up Phil’s feet so he can sit on the sofa, dropping them in his lap. “I want to want something I can actually have.”

Phil bites his tongue. It’s not about him anymore, and it sounds like Jimmy might actually want to talk.

“To see you push back against something I’d kill for…”

“You really miss him, yeah?” Phil asks.

He tips his head against the back of the sofa. “Yeah. I miss… us. I miss the idea of being, like, a unit. Having that future. The house…”

“Yeah,” Phil says softly, sitting up so he can cross his legs underneath himself and reach out to touch Jimmy’s leg.

“Don’t.” He pushes Phil hand away. “You’re just gonna make me blubber like a twat.”

“You can, you know. If it helps.”

“It doesn’t. It just makes me look splotchy and gives me a headache.”

Phil can’t help laughing just a little.

“It’s fine.” Jimmy sits up a little straighter and scootches to the edge of the couch so he can recommit himself to his project. “I’ll be miserable forever and that’s fine. Smiling gives you wrinkles anyway.”

“You don’t need Tom to have a future,” Phil says. “I know you miss the idea of that future, the one where Tom was part of it, but you’ll make a new one and it’ll be brilliant.”

“Yeah, maybe.” He turns to look at Phil and give him a cheeky smile. “Maybe this was all predetermined because I’m meant to be with Harry Styles.”

“Yes, that’s it.” Phil rolls his eyes. “Be sure to keep your expectations realistic.”

“I’m a sucker for a pretty musician, what can I say?”

Phil lays himself back down and gets comfy again, his eyes drifting closed and his nose burning with the floral scent that now permeates their home.

“Did you ever think it was meant to be us?” Phil asks after a long moment of shared quiet.

Jimmy turns to him. “What, you and me?”

Phil nods.

“That’s so weird.”

“Thanks.”

“You don’t think it is?”

Phil shrugs. “It is now.”

“It is always. We’re mates.”

“I fancied you a bit,” Phil admits. “Like a million years ago. When we first met.”

“Of course you did, Phil. Back then you fancied every gay guy who was even passably attractive.”

Phil opens his mouth to argue, and then quickly shuts it again when he realizes he’s got no good rebuttal. Uni had been a time of finally allowing himself to really feel all the things he’d kept a leash on back in Rossendale. It was a whirlwind of crushes that faded nearly as quickly as they began, of dating apps and awkward dates that usually lead nowhere, of overly wet kisses and eager fumbling hands - and a lot of bravery.

He almost can’t fathom how brave he was back then.

“It wasn’t meant to be us,” Jimmy says. “We’re soulmates, definitely, but not like that.”

“Yeah,” Phil agrees. Because he does agree. He’s glad he never has to worry about the potential of a break up between them.

“Chels thinks we should fuck.”

“M’not surprised,” Phil mumbles. “She probably thinks you two should fuck.”

“She does think I should be with a girl once,” Jimmy admits. “To make sure I’m not into it.”

“Did you tell her that’s homophobic?” Phil asks, watching Jimmy pull his phone out of his pocket.

“She’s not. She’s just… Chels.”

Phil doesn’t answer. Chels gets away with a lot under the protective umbrella of ‘Chels will be Chels.’

Jimmy snorts. “I just told her I’m saving myself for Harry and you know what she said?”

“I’m afraid to ask.”

“She asked if I’d bottom for him.”

Phil rolls onto his side and props himself up on his good arm. “Would you?”

Jimmy sighs a deep contemplative sigh. “Yeah,” he admits. “Reckon I would.”

“It’s fun, you know. If you do it right.”

“How can you even remember?”

Phil reaches out and tugs on Jimmy’s hair, who laughs even as he says, “Ow! Fuck off.”

“Pretty much anything you can do with another person you can do on your own these days, James.”

Jimmy’s eyes go wide. “That’s the filthiest thing you’ve ever said in your entire life.”

Phil shrugs, but he smirks at the scandalized look on Jimmy’s face.

“When you say you’re gonna tell Dan, does that mean tell him you’re gay or tell him you fancy him?”

“I dunno. Probably neither.”

Jimmy sighs in frustration. “You’re out to literally everyone else. It doesn’t even make sense not to tell him that.”

“I know.”

“Just tell him,” Jimmy says. “Tell him that, at least.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“I’ll try,” Phil says.

“Well I s’pose that’s all I can ask for, innit?”

Chapter Text

Phil goes back to lessons the next morning. And the next, and the next.

He doesn’t get scared. Not of the water, and not of seeing Dan. There are nerves, yes, but the fear that he’s going to say something stupid or otherwise do something to make Dan turn away dissipates a little more each day.

The butterflies don’t dissipate. The way he feels when he looks at Dan all long and tanned and shirtless certain doesn’t fade, if anything it gets more intense.

Sometimes Dan catches him looking, and Phil has taken to not acting embarrassed when he does. He’ll let his eyes linger a second or two after he’s been found out, and once he even sees Dan smiling down at the water afterwards, a beautiful rosy patch of skin just above his jawline.

Sometimes he catches Dan looking back and his heart races. He doesn’t need Jimmy to tell him what it means; he reckons he’s ready to let go of the idea that it could only ever be a platonic connection.

He’s not rushing to do anything about it, though. The looking is nice. The mutual lingering eyes, the way Dan smiles when Phil gets to the pool, the way Phil’s stomach flip flops when he sees Dan’s name on his phone.

He’s been waking up early every morning to go to the pool and then coming back home and sleeping until late afternoon. He spends his evenings and into the nights talking with Dan, once even waking up the next morning with his phone still tucked under his ear.

Talking to Dan is so easy. Unlike with almost anyone else, he never has to scramble for something to say to keep the conversation from dropping off into awkward silence. He always has something to say to Dan - and Dan seems to feel the same.

Dan talks so much, especially late at night, like he has a filter during the day that comes off in the wee hours. ‘No rules after midnight,’ Phil remembers he said that night at the coffee shop, and it seems to be a personal mantra for Dan.

He could rant about anything. He could and he does. He has a lot of opinions, and Phil loves hearing them. Most of the time he agrees, sometimes he’s not fussed either way. It’s rare that they find their views fully at odds, but when they do it just makes for playfully ribbing.

He learns a lot more about what kind of movies Dan like, what genres of music and tv and video games and food. They trade a lot of top five lists back and forth, and Phil tries to commit them all to his memory. He’s building a palace in his mind for all things Dan, and it’s growing rapidly by the day.

-

On the very last day of lessons he gets back in the water. The wound on his elbow has healed enough that it’s not at risk of infection anymore, and his shoulder is feeling better enough to abandon the hassle of his sling.

It still takes some coaxing. “The water will be good for it,” Dan says. “Swimming is kind of magic. Whenever I wake up with aches and pains they always go away after a nice long swim.”

Phil scoffs in disbelief, but the relief from the twinging in his arm is dramatic as soon as he submerges himself up to the neck.

“Wow.”

Dan looks smug. “Told you.”

Phil lays back on top of the water. “Look coach, a perfect back float.” The sound of his voice is distorted by the water in his ears, and he can’t hear whatever Dan’s response is, but then Dan’s hands are on his back and words become kind of pointless.

He doesn’t need help to stay afloat anymore, but he hopes Dan keeps his hands there forever.

Unfortunately, reality never seems willing to bend itself to his selfish desires, and eventually Dan is pulling Phil upright again. Phil pouts, but Dan’s answering smile is brilliant enough to soften the blow.

“I’m a proud coach. What a back float that was. Ten out of ten.”

“Was it ace?” Phil asks, laying his accent on thick, like it was before he made his escape from the north.

It makes Dan giggle. Giggle. “Well ace.”

“I’m sorry I went mental before you could teach me the real shit.”

Dan shrugs. “Like you said, I’ll teach you for free.”

“You don’t actually have to.”

“I want to,” Dan says, splashing water at Phil’s chest so gently that it feels like a caress.

(Or maybe Phil’s just that desperate.)

“I wanna be able to go swimming with you for real,” Dan says.

Phil feels all the jittery, fluttery, tingly feelings he’s become so recently accustomed to. It’s not just the words but the way Dan says them, like they’re a secret meant only for Phil’s ears, like they’re getting away with something cheeky.

Phil wants so badly to get away with something cheeky with Dan. He wants… well. He wants a lot more than that, a lot more than cheeky, but he can’t think about that right now. Those thoughts are reserved for alone time in bed or the shower, when he can deal with the consequences without anyone being the wiser.

(It’s possible he’s been wanting a lot lately. Like every morning and every night a lot.)

He has to distract himself. “Teach me something new,” he blurts.

Dan smiles. “Yeah? You sure?”

Phil nods, bending his legs to dip himself further down into the water. Dan’s standing up and they’re shallow enough that Phil can see that Dan’s nipples are hard and there are little droplets caught in the hair that runs from under Dan’s navel down inside his swim shorts.

God, he really needs to get it together. He’s not a bloody teenager anymore. He hasn’t felt this hormonally deranged since he was thirteen.

“How about gliding?” Dan asks.

Bless him. Just the kind of distraction Phil needed, actual swimming where he’ll have to try not to drown or get ten gallons of water up his nose.

-

It’s the most productive lesson yet. It’s as if a dam has broken inside his brain, and the water that rushes out just doesn’t feel all that scary anymore. He’s gliding beneath the surface like a fish before the half hour is up. He’s like a Ninja. Or a Pirate.

Sort of. He’s still in the shallow end. He still has the safety blanket of knowing he could stand up at any moment if he wanted to, but he’s got a taste of what he wanted out of these lessons now and it feels amazing. He wishes he could keep going.

He tells Dan as much as they’re climbing out and heading into the grass for their towels. He’s feeling pumped up, fueled by adrenaline but in the way that feels good. The way that makes him feel like he can be brave.

“We should go swimming this weekend,” Dan says brightly. “Tomorrow?”

“Could we do the evening swim?” Phil asks. His heart is jackhammering against his ribcage knowing what he’s going to ask next.

“Yeah, sure,” Dan says. “Of course. You busy during the day?”

Leaping off a cliff would be less scary than this, but he says, “Yeah, hopefully you are, too.”

Dan looks confused. “What?”

“I’m hoping you’re gonna be at the cinema.” Miraculously his voice doesn’t break. “With me.”

“Oh,” he says, smiling. “Yeah. I am.”

“Cool.” Phil’s voice isn’t breaking, but it’s definitely awkward now.

“Cool,” Dan says back. “I’ve gotta get to my next lesson, ring me tonight? Well done today, mate.” He’s already hurrying away before Phil can really say anything.

-

He rings Jimmy as he waits for the tube.

“Who died?” Jimmy asks when he picks up instead of being a normal person and saying hello.

“What? No one.”

“You never ring during the day. Unless you’ve busted your arm at the pool. Have you busted your arm again?”

“No, I tried to ask Dan out.”

“If this is a joke it’s not funny, mate.”

“It’s not.” Phil says as the train announcer voice lady tells him to mind the gap. There aren’t many people using the underground at this time, so he finds a seat far away from other people and sinks into it.

“Jesus, did he say no?”

Phil sighs. “He said yes. I just don’t think he knew I was asking him out out.”

“Jesus, Phil.”

“I thought you’d be proud of me.”

“I am!” Jimmy squawks. “I just… how could he not know?”

“Well, I dunno. Maybe he does.”

He can’t see Jimmy, but somehow he just knows he’s shaking his head. “What did you say?” He sounds long-suffering, like a man much older than his thirty some odd years.

“He asked if I was busy tomorrow and I said ‘yeah and hopefully you are too’ and he looked at me like I’m an alien and I said ‘I was hoping you’d be at the cinema with me’ and he smiled and said ‘yeah I am.’”

“Huh.”

“Bad?”

“No,” Jimmy says. “I’m actually well impressed with you right now.”

Phil smiles. “Yeah?”

“Quite smooth for a huge nerd such as yourself.”

“Shut up. Does he know I meant it like a date?”

“You would know better than me.”

Phil sighs. “You’re supposed to know stuff.”

“I wasn’t there!”

“D’you reckon you’d have thought it was a date? If someone asked you that.”

Jimmy takes a moment to think. “I guess it’d depend on the tone.”

Phil lifts his head a bit to thunk it back down against the glass. “Great. So now I don’t even know if we’re dating.”

“You could ask,” Jimmy suggests.

Phil just shakes his head and makes a long suffering sound of his own. “I'm an idiot.”

“Don’t talk about my best mate like that or I’ll kick your ass.”

Phil has to smile a little. “Why, because only you’re allowed?”

“Exactly.”

-

Turns out, worrying about whether or not he’s got a date tomorrow is a moot point, because Dan doesn’t answer Phil’s calls.

Not the one Friday evening, or the two more later in the night. He doesn’t even respond to the goodnight text Phil sends against his better judgement after forty five minutes of deliberation.

There are no missed calls or texts waiting for him when he wakes up, but there is a hungover Jimmy stumbling into his room and demanding they go out for cheap greasy breakfast, so Phil gets dressed and pockets his phone, hoping he hasn’t gone and ruined everything by asking for more than Dan wanted.

He picks at a muffin while Jimmy inhales a full English. The smell of the sausage is off putting, so he leans back in his chair and drinks mug after mug of bitter, over-sugared coffee. Luckily Jimmy is feeling too rubbish to notice how weird and fidgety Phil’s being. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t even really want to think about it, but with a brain like his, that isn’t really an option.

When it’s four in the afternoon and Phil still hasn’t heard a single word from Dan, he rings up Martyn and Corn and asks if they’re free to hang out.

They aren’t, of course, but they invite Phil to the Glowing Palms set at Dalston Superstore. This Dan thing must be eating away at him more than he thought, because he agrees straight away.

As soon as he’s off the phone he finds Jimmy and begs him to come with.

Jimmy makes a face. “Your brother’s music is weird. I don’t understand it.”

“I don’t either,” Phil says, “but there’ll be alcohol there. And people.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be at the cinema?”

Phil sighs. There’s no way around admitting it now. “He never answered my calls.”

“What?”

Phil shrugs. “Guess he knew it was a date and didn’t know how to say he didn’t want that.”

Jimmy’s frown deepens by the second. “That’s bullshit.”

“Clearly it’s not.”

“Maybe something happened.”

Phil scoffs. “So I’m supposed to hope he fell down the stairs or got pneumonia or something?”

Jimmy opens his mouth, then closes it again. He gives Phil a look of pity that Phil really freaking hates.

“It’s a gay club,” Phil adds.

“What time is the show, then?”

-

Phil regrets his decision the instant they arrive. He’s just not cut out for places like this. They’re loud and crowded and the floor is kind of sticky and everyone here is just so… gay.

Phil feels kind of guilty for not feeling more at home. He supposes there’s a kind of safety in it, a kind of solidarity, but mostly it just makes him feel like he’s not enough. He’s not loud and proud enough to feel like this is a place he really belongs. It makes him feel like a fraud.

Which really is quite ridiculous. He’s about as gay as gay gets.

Maybe it’s because that part of himself has remained almost solely inside his head for so long now. It’s been ages since he actually touched another person in a way he couldn’t do in public, and even longer since he had anyone to touch on a regular basis. He’s not actively closeted, but his sexuality doesn’t really affect his day to day life in the eyes of anyone passing by him on the street.

It would be different if he were here with someone, someone who wasn’t just a mate. Someone he fancied. Someone he wanted to touch.

If he were here with Dan and he were brave enough to tell Dan that he’s super gay and fantasizes about all the ways he’d like to touch him—

He’s got to stop thinking like that, though. Dan didn’t even want to go see a film. He definitely doesn’t want to make out and grind up against Phil in a sweaty gay club while Phil’s brother DJ’s weird tropical synth beats or whatever the hell his music is.

Actually, maybe the loudness is good. It does a good job drowning out the spiral of disappointment Phil’s sure he’d be wallowing in if he were somewhere more quiet.

Jimmy leads them to the bar and orders them each two shots of something vile that burns Phil’s throat on the way down. Then he grabs Phil’s wrist and leads them downstairs to the stage and the dance floor. Phil feels like a puppy just following Jimmy around, but it’s better than being on his own.

He can feel the effects of the alcohol travelling through his bloodstream already. He hadn’t eaten much all day and he always has been a lightweight. He finds himself staring at people as he walks past, but no one seems to pay him any mind. He’s probably the most boring looking person in the whole place.

Jimmy runs into someone he knows almost immediately, which shouldn’t be surprising but still feels kind of awful. Phil stands there awkwardly as they shout-chat to be heard over Martyn’s music. He doesn’t even try to join in their conversation, and Jimmy doesn’t seem to notice.

Phil pulls out his phone to text Cornelia and wanders away from Jimmy and his mate, who’ve started to dance. Phil doesn’t dance. He doesn’t do clubs. He doesn’t know why he’d agreed to come here. He’d wanted to feel different, like someone who hadn’t gotten stood up by someone he really really likes, but being here like a fish out of water just makes him feel it even more keenly.

He wants to go back to his water, both literally and not. He wants that feeling of peace he’d tasted so briefly this morning, when Dan was next to him and he was gliding weightless through water that burned his eyes. He wants to float on the surface with Dan’s big hands on his back.

Dan’s hands. They didn’t have to be there. Phil hadn’t needed those hands to hold him up, and Dan had given them to him anyway.

Where is he? What is he thinking?

Cornelia texts Phil back and tells him to come backstage. He walks through the crowd and slips between the people like he’s walking through water. They don’t even have faces to him, they’re just scenery, just one collective obstacle teeming with life that he doesn’t have and doesn’t know how to get.

He looks up at the stage and watches Martyn for a moment. He’s wearing a hawaiian shirt and a big smile. He’s in his element here, living out a dream that takes him away from the corporate dayjob he hates. He spots Phil and smiles even wider, gives him a wave. It’s not hard for Phil to mirror the enthusiasm with a smile of his own. He’s happy for his brother. He can be happy and envious at the same time, he’s been doing it his whole life. It’s not Martyn’s fault they’d been born opposite sides of the same coin.

Cornelia is all red curls and teeth as she hugs Phil and tells him in that soft musical accent that she’s glad he was able to make it, that she’s been missing her yoga partner and isn’t this place great? He smiles and nods because he’d like to pretend he’s the kind of person who can have a good time on a night out like this.

Maybe he needs to be drunker. Maybe he needs to get properly pissed and find a stranger to hook up with. Maybe he needs to channel some of his university era bravery and grab the first bloke he sees who gives him a look and just drag him to the toilets and do something reckless.

He might as well grow wings. He’s never going to do something like that. He knows he’d just feel sad and empty afterwards, and he’d still be thinking about Dan.

He’s always bloody thinking about Dan.

And suddenly it doesn’t feel nice.

“I think I need a drink,” he says to Cornelia.

“Oh, me too, please.”

-

Jimmy meets back up with them at the bar, this time accompanied by a bloke who looks strikingly like Tom. His name is Alfie, apparently, and Jimmy tells Phil they’ve met on a number of nights out in the past few months.

If Phil was in a good mood he’d say it’s a sign from the universe. Tonight he just thinks it means they both go out too much.

But Jimmy looks happy, so Phil tries not to be a downer. He drinks the nasty shots Jimmy orders for them and gives Jimmy a cheeky thumbs up before following Cornelia back downstairs.

His phone buzzes in his pocket. He assumes it’s Jimmy texting to rant about how fit this Alfie bloke is, so he’s already rolling his eyes as he pulls his phone from his jeans.

His heart nearly leaps out of his body to see Dan’s name there. Luckily Cornelia has found her friends again and is engrossed in watching Martyn do his thing, so she’s not noticing Phil stood rooted to the spot and starting to sweat as he stares at the screen.

He’s scared to open it, scared to read the rejection that took Dan a day and a half to formulate. He wishes Jimmy weren’t trying to get into the pants of his ex’s doppelgänger. Maybe then he could just hand the phone off and get Jimmy to let him down gently.

But he can’t do that, so he swipes his finger and opens the text because being brave and facing his fears is still something that’s important to him. He can’t give up on that just because he fell for a straight boy.

The text reads simply: <phil>

So Phil texts back simply: <hi>

What is surely only five seconds later, his phone starts ringing. It’s Dan.

He answers it. Like a masochistic idiot.

Dan can’t hear him. Obviously. Phil can’t really hear Dan either.

“What is that?” Dan shouts.

“Glowing Palms,” Phil shouts back.

“What is glowing palms?”

“My brother.”

“What?” Dan shouts.

“Nothing.”

“Are you at a party?”

For a split second Phil thinks Dan might be angry, but then he remembers Dan’s the one who blew off their plans first, so the guilt threatening to rear its head is unfounded. “A club.”

“Are you there with someone?”

Phil can hear the subtext, and it makes him want to weep. Dan is jealous, no two ways about it.

He could milk it. He could lie, or at least tease.

“Just Jimmy.”

“What club?” Dan shouts.

Phil tells him.

“I’m coming, ok? I’ll be there as fast as I can. Phil?”

Phil is smiling. He can’t help it. “Yeah?”

“Don’t leave. Not without me.”

Chapter Text

Phil has to go to the toilet after Dan hangs up. He has to splash cold water on his face and sit on a closed lid and remind himself to breathe in and out slowly.

Don’t leave without me.

What the fuck does that mean?

He’d said it with such… feeling. Don’t leave without me. As in, don’t leave with someone else?

As in, I want you?

Phil’s stomach writhes around in his body like it’s an entity entirely separate from the rest of him. He’s not sure if he’s too drunk or not drunk enough. Maybe if he was pissed, this wouldn’t feel so scary.

Or maybe he’d just feel sick.

He doesn’t text Jimmy. He doesn’t try to find Cornelia. He stays sat in that surprisingly not gross toilet for ages, until his phone is ringing again.

He answers it with a shaky hand.

“Phil? Where are you? You didn’t leave, did you?”

“I’m hiding in the toilet.”

“What? From what?”

“I dunno. I don’t like clubs.”

“Neither do I,” Dan says. “So why are you at one?”

“My brother’s the DJ,” Phil says. And then, “And I didn’t want to be at home tonight.”

“Fuck.”

Phil barely hears that. It’s not shouted like the rest of their conversation. He does hear it though.

“Can you come out?” Dan asks. “I’m here now.”

Phil’s not sure if he’s happy or just terrified. “Why?”

“What?”

“Why are you here now?” Phil asks. Maybe he’s more drunk than he thought.

“Because we made plans.”

“We didn’t make plans to meet up at a gay bar in the middle of the night,” Phil points out.

“I wanted to see you,” Dan says.

Phil absolutely hates his body’s reaction to those words. It makes him feel like he could fly.

“But not earlier?” Phil asks, because he can’t help himself. “Not when we said we would?”

There’s a long moment where all Phil can hear is the music through Dan’s phone and the bass pounding against the walls and floor.

Then Dan says, “I’m just an idiot, ok? I told you I was hard to deal with.”

Phil’s stomach sinks. “We don’t have to hang out. You don't have to say yes to things just because—”

“Phil. Stop. Please. Just come out of the toilets.”

Phil doesn’t say anything. He feels glued to where he’s sat.

And then Dan hangs up.

And then there’s a knocking on the toilet door. Phil jumps, his heart shooting up into his throat.

“Phil. Come out.”

Phil stands up. He comes out.

Dan looks… actually, he looks a bit of a mess. Tired and rumpled. His eyes are red. His hair could use a wash.

He’s still beautiful, though. He still makes Phil’s breath catch.

“Alright?” Dan asks.

Phil feels like an idiot. “I’m a bit drunk,” he says. It’s only a little bit true, but maybe that’ll excuse him acting like a lunatic.

Dan smiles. Phil feels the axis of his whole world tilt just a little.

“I’m not,” Dan says, “but I’d like to be.”

Phil wants to ask him where he’s been. He wants to ask what all of this means and where they stand and why he didn’t ring Phil back and why he sounded jealous on the phone. He wants to know why Dan hurried over here like it mattered and now that he’s here he’s just stood there looking tired and frankly, a bit sad.

“Would you?” Phil asks.

Dan closes his eyes for a moment and breathes out deeply. His shoulders sag a little.

He opens his eyes. “I don’t know.”

“Do you even want to be here?”

“I want to hang out with you.” His voice has gone quiet now. He’s not looking at Phil, but down at his shoes.

It’s the first time since they met that Phil feels like he has more control of the situation than Dan does. He doesn’t know what to do with that. He’s used to being the mess to Dan’s calm.

“I came here to distract myself,” Phil says, leaving out the last bit: from thinking about you.

Dan looks up. “Did it work?”

Phil holds his gaze. He looks into Dan’s eyes and hopes Dan knows that it means something to him. “No.”

Dan smiles. Again Phil feels that strange sense that the earth is moving beneath his feet.

“I’m sorry,” Dan says.

“Are you?”

It’s bold, a lot bolder than he’d normally find himself capable of being.

“I’m sorry I gave you a reason to need to distract yourself,” Dan says slowly, like he’s still considering his words even as they’re coming out of his mouth. “But no, I’m not sorry it didn’t work.”

“I rang you like a hundred times.” Phil’s voice is quiet, and that brief moment of control he’d felt is already slipping through his fingers. He doesn’t know how to be cool. That’s just not him.

“I know, I… I’m sorry. I am sorry about that.”

Phil waits, but Dan doesn’t offer any more explanation. “So… you wanna get a drink?”

“Okay.”

Phil starts walking. It’s his third pilgrimage to the bar, so he knows exactly how to get there now, even though the music is loud and disorienting and there are coloured lights flashing in his eyes.

They walk past two men kissing, one pushing the other up against the wall, the other with his hands threaded through curly blonde hair. Normally Phil regards a public display like this with disdain… but public displays like this are almost never ones of which he could imagine himself being a part.

It’s hot. He has to tear his eyes away so as not to stare.

He wonders if it’d caught Dan’s eye, too. He wonders if Dan finds it hot. He wonders if maybe Dan could imagine himself kissing Phil as easily as Phil can imagine kissing Dan.

He’s still not sure. Nothing feels any clearer than it has any other day.

And then there are fingers closing around his wrist, tugging gently on his arm.

Phil turns and Dan is there, right there behind him. Dan leans in even closer, his mouth dangerously close to Phil’s ear so he can speak without shouting. “I don’t wanna get a drink.”

A shiver runs up Phil’s spine. He just felt the warmth of Dan’s breath on his neck. Dan’s hand is still clutching his wrist.

“You don’t wanna dance, do you?” Phil asks, ruining the moment and completely failing at disguising his horror at the possibility.

Dan snorts.

And lets his forehead drop down onto Phil’s shoulder. Just for a second, but still, it happens.

And then he says, “Fuck no.”

Phil breathes a sigh of relief. He’d sooner lie down on the bar and invite strangers to take body shots off him than reveal to Dan exactly how inept he is at moving his body in any kind of rhythmic or seductive way.

“Good,” he says.

“I’m not good at dancing. Unless it’s the revolutionary kind.”

Phil frowns. “What?”

“DDR?”

A grin spreads across Phil’s face, the fondness threatening to swallow him whole. “God, you’re a nerd.”

“Never said I wasn’t, mate.”

He’s still holding Phil’s wrist.

“What do you want?” Phil asks.

Dan bites his lip. It should be illegal, especially when he’s still touching Phil, and looking at him like that, with eyes so deep and dark Phil reckons he could get lost in them if he looked back long enough.

“Bit of a scary question, that is,” Dan murmurs.

Phil waits for an elaboration, but it never comes. “You know I’ve got no clue what’s going on, yeah?”

Dan looks down at his shoes. “Sorry.” Then he looks back up at Phil, his expression completely changed. “What time is it?”

Phil pulls out his phone to check. “Quarter after twelve.”

“So it’s after midnight.” He smiles. Phil would say it’s a cheeky smile if Dan didn’t make him doubt everything he thinks he knows about… well, everything.

“Yeah.”

“Can we leave?” Dan asks. “Would that be rude to your brother?”

Phil shakes his head. “I’ve been to loads of his shows, he’s not bothered anymore. He’s got mates to hang out with after, plus Corn. He definitely doesn’t need me.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Remember when I said I hate clubs? I wasn’t joking. I hate them.”

“You seem to end up at them a lot. Especially gay ones,” Dan adds.

Phil knows he’s not properly drunk then, because if he was he’d probably tell Dan there’s a reason for that. Instead he just shrugs and says, “Yeah, I guess.”

“What about Jimmy?”

“He’s off snogging some bloke.”

“Is he alright?” Dan asks. Phil loves him for it. As if he needed to feel any more feelings like that.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “Reckon his breakup broke his brain a bit.”

“Poor sod.”

Phil smiles. “Yeah. I’m trying to… I dunno. Be there for him. He doesn’t seem to notice much.”

“I bet he does,” Dan says. “Even if it seems like he doesn’t. Sometimes people are bad at showing how much things mean to them.”

Phil tilts his head a tiny bit and looks, just looks at Dan like maybe he’d never been looking properly at all before now. He doesn’t see what he usually sees.

He doesn’t see someone chill. He doesn’t see someone happy, someone who knows what they’re doing.

“Where should we go?” Phil asks.

-

“We’re going to get arrested,” Phil says.

Dan’s fumbling with a key in the lock on the fence while Phil holds up the flashlight on his phone.

“We’re not,” Dan says, distracted by his efforts.

Phil is strangely at peace despite knowing with absolute one hundred percent certainty that if anyone catches them here they’re going to get in deep, deep shit. His hands aren’t even shaking.

“You wanted an evening swim, so I’m gonna give it to you.”

Phil huffs a laugh. “Yeah, evening. Technically this is a morning swim.”

There’s a satisfying clicking sound and Dan exhales noisily, relieved by his triumph. “Got it.”

“Have you done this before?” Phil asks.

“No rules after midnight,” Dan reminds him, ignoring the actual question.

“Tell that to the cops.”

“There’re no cops here, dude.” He grabs Phil’s forearm and pulls him through the now open spot in the fence. “Come on.”

The pool looks so different at night. The only light comes from the round lamps inside the water, making it look like some kind of glowing aquamarine portal to another world.

“We’re not going in there,” Phil says.

“Yes we are.”

“We don’t have swimsuits.”

Dan laughs. He’s lit up in light blue and shadows and Phil wants to reach out and touch him more than he’s ever wanted anything else in his entire life.

“Are you wearing pants?” Dan asks.

Phil’s heart stops for a split second. “Um. Yes.”

“Then you have a swimsuit.” He doesn’t wait for an answer. Phil stares as he reaches back to grab his shirt and pull it over his head.

Phil’s seen him shirtless nearly every day since they met. This feels entirely different. He has to remind himself to breathe.

He continues to stare as Dan’s hands move down to unbutton his trousers. When he pushes them down off his hips he stops and looks at Phil.

“Enjoying the show there, mate?”

Phil is losing track of how many opportunities Dan has gift wrapped for him to come out. This one would be equally effective at making crystal clear Phil’s feelings for Dan, specifically, but still all Phil does is drop his gaze and mumble, “Shut up.”

“Are you coming in with me?” Dan has to step on his jeans to get them off his ankles, but then he does and he’s stood there in his underwear. Not boxers even, but briefs that are small and black and do nothing to hide the shape of Dan underneath them.

There’s something on his thigh that Phil has never noticed before. Something black.

There’s no way Phil would have missed a tattoo. He’s been stealing looks at Dan’s body for two whole weeks now.

“You don’t have to,” Dan says when Phil still hasn’t answered his question.

Phil pulls his shirt off and drops it at his feet. It hurts his arm, as it does every time he puts on or takes off his clothes, but right now he barely even registers it.

“I’m scared,” he admits, getting his fly unzipped.

“We can just sit on the ledge if you want.”

“Maybe just to start.” He wants to be brave. Tonight feels like a precipice, like every little decision he makes carries the weight of his entire future.

Dan is watching him undress just as he’d watched Dan.

“Enjoying the show?” Phil asks in a soft voice.

Dan doesn’t answer. Phil kicks his jeans off and tries not to think about all the ways he wishes his body was more worthy of being looked at by someone who looks like Dan.

Dan doesn’t look away. Phil can’t take it. He walks awkwardly toward the pool and sits, letting his legs dangle over the edge. The water feels warm. He wishes he wasn’t wearing stupid plaid pink boxers.

Dan sits next to him. Close. Not enough to touch, but enough that if Phil wanted to, all he’d have to do is open his legs a little bit wider.

“It looks so much bigger when there’s no one else here,” Phil says.

Dan nods.

“It’s peaceful.”

“Yeah.”

Phil watches the way their feet look paler under the water. He watches the way Dan brushes his foot against Phil’s.

Phil looks up and over at Dan. “Have you ever brought anyone here before?” he asks.

Dan shakes his head.

Phil’s throat feels tight. Everything in his body feels poised for something big. He wants something big, but he doesn’t know how to make it real. He doesn’t know if is real, even. Maybe it’s all in his head.

He doesn’t look away. He lets his eyes follow the juts and curves of Dan’s body, his hunched shoulders and long legs. He looks at the tattoo inexplicably materialized on Dan’s thigh since yesterday morning, a big black triangle.

He reaches out, following the instinct he has to touch it. He traces its lines with his finger and the contact of his skin against Dan’s feels electric.

Dan doesn’t ask him what he’s doing. He doesn’t shrug away from the touch. Phil’s eyes flick up to look at Dan’s face, and he nearly dies when he sees that Dan’s eyes are closed.

It’s not all in his head. It’s not.

“Is it real?” Phil whispers.

“No.” His voice is hoarse, deeper than it normally is. “Just sharpie.”

“Does it mean something?”

Dan laughs quietly, a sad sound that makes Phil’s chest hurt. “I draw on myself sometimes. As a distraction, usually. This time…”

Phil waits, but Dan doesn’t speak again, and Phil feels afraid to ask. He bites his tongue and pulls his hand away before he does something stupid like touching Dan for real. He doesn’t trust himself right now.

So he hops into the water, dunking all the way down until his head is under the surface. He opens his eyes to the glowing blue and pushes off from the side of the pool to glide along the bottom. He keeps going until his lungs burn and his eyes sting.

He stands up and gulps in oxygen and rubs his eyes, pushes his dripping wet fringe off his forehead. When he can see again he turns around and Dan isn’t sat on the ledge anymore. Instead he’s stood by the deep end, looking back at Phil.

He dives in, his body long and graceful as it enters the water with hardly a splash.

It feels like forever before he surfaces, and when he does, it’s right in front of Phil. His chest heaves as he breathes and water drips down his face. He’s stood close enough that Phil can see the drops in his eyelashes.

They stare at each other, and Phil’s never been so sure of anything: it’s not in his head.

“There’s something I should tell you,” Phil says quietly.

“Don’t.”

Phil frowns.

“Just… not right now. Not tonight.” He steps forward and presses his forehead against Phil’s, sucking a breath in and breathing it back out shakily. He closes his eyes, so Phil closes his too. He’s trembling, and there’s no way Dan doesn’t feel it.

“I’m sorry,” Phil whispers. He’s not sure for what, but it feels like he needs to say it.

Dan shakes his head. He just shakes his head.

And that’s Phil’s limit. Just like that, he’s had enough of this rollercoaster. He wants off - or at least a break enough to stop the vertigo.

He takes a step back. “I think I should go.”

“Please don’t.”

But something in Phil has snapped. He knows it’s not in his head, but Dan doesn’t seem to know exactly what’s in his. It’s something, but Phil can’t stomach the whiplash of waiting for him to figure it out.

He turns around and heads for the edge of the pool to haul himself out.

Dan doesn’t move from where he’s stood, but he says, “Please, Phil.”

Phil shakes his head. “It’s late, I’ve— I should go. We shouldn’t—” He stoops down to grab his clothes. “It’s my fault.”

“No it’s not, Phil. It’s not.”

Phil’s not listening anymore. He can feel that old familiar panic pounding in his chest, twisting his stomach into knots. “I have to go.”

He pulls out his phone to call for a car. He doesn’t turn around to look at Dan again as he walks away, and Dan doesn’t follow him.

Chapter Text

There’s a text from Jimmy waiting for him when he finally feels brave enough to look at his phone, namely, when he’s sat in his uber and doesn’t have the option of changing his mind and going back to the pool. The message is so riddled with typos it’s a wonder Phil can make out the meaning behind them, but somehow he does.

Jimmy’s not coming home tonight. And apparently Alfie is a really good kisser.

Phil doesn’t even bother replying. He jams the phone back into his pocket and then bites into his hand just for something to do with all the pent up adrenaline coursing through his body. Not only is he having a panic attack, but he’s sat in a car with no Jimmy next to him squeezing his hand and telling him it’s alright.

By the time he gets home both hands are pink and throbbing and covered in teeth marks. They’ll be bruised in the morning for sure, as will his brain and his heart and everything in between.

Now he’s glad he’s alone. Now that he’s safely out of the car, he can’t fathom the pain of having to explain what just happened to Jimmy. He wouldn’t even know where to start.

He can’t even explain it to himself.

He goes to the bathroom, turns on the shower and peels off his damp clothes while he waits for the water to heat up. He can’t tell where the shivering stops and the nervous shaking begins, but he hopes hot enough water will be the cure.

He looks at his phone once more before he gets in. He’s not sure why he expected to see a message from Dan, or maybe even a missed call, but there’s nothing. Nothing but cold, deafening silence.

He stands under the steaming water until it runs cold, then dresses himself in pajama pants and his old York hoodie. He digs through the medicine cabinet until he finds the prescription strength muscle relaxers left over from when Jimmy hurt his back. That was years ago and the tablets have long since technically expired, but he figures it’s worth a go. His heart is still racing and his mind’s going even faster, trying to convince him that every bad thing that’s ever happened to him is all his own doing and exactly what he deserves.

He just wants out. He wants out of his brain for a little while.

What he really needs is to sleep, and he knows that’s not going to happen tonight without pharmaceutical aid. He pops the pills and climbs into Jimmy’s bed, burying his face in the pillow and breathing in the scent of Jimmy’s cologne.

Still, when he closes his eyes all he can see is Dan. Dan at the club, tired and sad but stood there outside the toilets and looking at Phil like maybe he was what Dan needed to feel alright.

Dan at the pool pulling his clothes off and watching intently as Phil did the same.

Dan with his eyes closed as Phil traced a finger over the smudged black lines of a sharpie triangle.

Dan as he told Phil no, please Phil, not tonight.

Not tonight.

-

He wakes up at midday with a headache like a stampede of wildebeests pounding against his skull. He’s hungover in more ways than one - maybe even in more ways than he cares to think about.

The panic is gone, at least. His heart beats as it should, slow and steady. He can take drugs for the ache in his head. He can brush his teeth so his mouth doesn’t taste like reheated dog shit. He can shower again so his skin isn’t covered in a thin sheen of leftover sweat.

His brain is another story. There isn’t much he can do for the knowledge that things are even more weird and confusing than they’ve ever been. The images circling in his head before he passed out last night are still there, still taking up more than their fair share of his mental faculties.

He forces himself to eat some dry cereal after he’s done all he can to make himself feel human again. He’s in that heavy place again, but he doesn’t want to be. He doesn’t want to wallow. He doesn’t want to lose any more time to feeling like he has no control over himself and his life.

The cereal sits in his stomach like a brick, but he’s not going to be sick. He makes strong coffee and fills it with ice so he can get as much into his system as quickly as possible. It helps with the headache, and it gives him enough buzz in his veins to feel just a little bit less hollow.

He rings Jimmy.

“‘Ello?” He sounds even worse than Phil feels.

“Oh good, you’re alive.”

“Barely,” Jimmy croaks.

“Just tell me you’re safe. Tell me you didn’t make any epically bad decisions last night.”

“Christ, my head.”

“James,” Phil says, exasperation bleeding out into the word.

“What?”

“You spent the night with a stranger. Tell me you’re alright.”

Jimmy must sense Phil’s complete lack of amusement. “I am.”

“Good.”

“Are you?” Jimmy asks.

Phil looks down at his hand. As he suspected, it’s dotted with tiny little purple bruises. “I’m the one who came home last night.”

“Fuck off, mum,”Jimmy mutters, perhaps losing patience with Phil’s impatience.

“Right,” Phil says tersely. “See you later, then.” He hangs up before Jimmy can say any more, then immediately goes to his parents’ number in his contacts.

“Child.”

“Mum.”

“What’s wrong?”

“How do you know something’s wrong?” He holds his hand out and spreads his fingers so he can get a good look at the damage he’s done.

“I’m your mother, I can tell.”

Sometimes it’s annoying, the way she’s usually right about stuff like that. Today it feels nice to know there will always be at least one person on this earth who knows him and still loves him unconditionally.

“I had a hard day yesterday,” he admits.

“Love, you tell me that every time I speak to you. You’re doing my head in.”

“I’m doing my own head in.”

“Come home. Let me take care of you for a little while.”

Phil bites his lip, trying not to give in to the sudden urge to cry. “Okay.”

“Really?”

He nods, then remembers she can’t see him and says, “Yeah. Reckon I might be about to fall apart.”

“Oh Phil.” She sounds like such a mum.

“I have to go,” he says, definitely not succeeding in hiding his sudden swell of emotion.

“I love you,” she says. “Buy your tickets right away, please.”

“I will,” he chokes. “Bye mum.” He hangs up quickly and tosses his phone onto the sofa.

He lets one pitiful sob wrack his chest before taking a deep breath and forcing himself to calm down. He goes to the kitchen and makes more coffee, then pulls out his switch and settles into the couch with Zelda on the tv screen.

He’s going to live in another world today. His own feels altogether unbearable.

-

Jimmy comes home hours later, shutting the door a little more firmly than he needs to. He kicks off his shoes and doesn’t say anything to Phil, so Phil doesn’t say anything either.

They don’t row often. They’re not there yet, but Phil can feel it coiling in the shadows waiting to erupt, like a lion stalking prey.

He really doesn’t want to be mauled by a lion right now. He can’t even have a chat with his mother without feeling like a house of cards that’s about to collapse, he definitely can’t handle a blowout with his best mate.

“I love you,” he blurts into the tension between them.

Jimmy’s face changes in an instant. “I love you too.”

“If I act like a git it’s only because I’m scared.”

“I know,” Jimmy says quietly.

“I worry about you so much.”

Jimmy walks over to the sofa and sinks down right next to him. “I’m fine.”

“Did you sleep with him?” Phil’s voice has gone quiet too.

Jimmy nods.

“Were you safe?”

Jimmy nods again.

“Are you cross with me for asking?”

“I was,” Jimmy says.

“And now what?”

He shrugs. “Maybe now I just feel like shit.”

“I don’t want you to,” Phil says. “That’s the opposite of what I want.”

Jimmy sighs and lays his head down against the back of the couch.

“Was it fun?” Phil asks.

Jimmy shrugs again. “In the moment, I guess.”

“Are you gonna see him again?”

“I don’t know.” He turns his head against the cushion to look at Phil. “I don’t wanna talk about my shit anymore. Can we talk about yours instead?”

Phil’s stomach clenches. “God. Please no.”

“That bad?”

Phil nods. “Worse, even.”

“Fuck.”

Phil lays his head back too. He’ll tell Jimmy about everything that happened last night, he will. Just not right now. “Sorry that I’m so annoying.”

“S’alright. You wouldn’t be my Phil if weren’t.”

Phil doesn’t laugh, but he feels a twinge of it on the inside. “Thanks.”

“You’re supposed to say I wouldn’t be your Jimmy if I wasn’t such a tart.”

“You’re not a tart. You’re just sad.”

Jimmy does laugh a little at that. “On that note, I’m gonna go shower the sex off me.”

Phil crinkles his nose. “That’s vile.”

“That’s why I need a wash, stupid.”

“Go, go.” Phil shoos him away.

He presses play on his game again as Jimmy walks away. He tucks one of his legs under his ass as he hears the door to the bathroom click shut. Just as the sound of the water turning on hits his ears, there’s a knock at the door.

He doesn’t answer it.

This time the doorbell rings. Phil ignores it again. He’s hoping Jimmy will deal with it, or whoever it is will understand that there’s no one home who wants to answer it.

He’s fully meerkat-ing into the sofa when he hears a voice from the other side of the door.

“Phil?”

His insides shift instantly to panic mode, freezing him to the spot.

“Phil, I know you’re in there, mate, I can hear Breath of the Wild.”

Miraculously, the humour of it is able to break through the pure adrenaline coursing through his body and he cracks a tiny smirk. “If you’re here to tell me to give you some space, don’t bother,” he calls out. It sounds harsher than he meant for it to.

“Just open the door, idiot.”

Phil’s feet take him over to the door. He can still hear the shower going, so at least Jimmy won’t be privy to whatever humiliation is about to befall him. He looks down at what he’s wearing and silently curses himself. Sweatpants and the ratty old York hoodie again - but at least he’s showered.

“Phil,” Dan says, voice muffled by the door, but sounding so maddeningly close. “Please.”

Phil takes a breath and holds it in as he opens the door slowly.

Dan looks even worse than last night. His hair is somehow flat and frizzy at the same time, clothes rumpled, eyes red and holding some strange kind of desperation behind them.

Phil stares into them, marveling at how someone can look so beautiful while still objectively looking a total mess. His eyes are still warm chocolate, and they’re boring holes right into Phil’s soul with the intensity of their returning stare.

Dan is on him before Phil even knows what’s happening. He slams into Phil’s chest and pushes him backwards into the flat, kicking the door closed behind him as he holds either side of Phil’s face and licks into his mouth.

Phil is stunned for a fraction of a second, until he feels the almost alien warmth of Dan’s tongue against his, and then something within him breaks. His hands find Dan’s waist and grip like his life depends on it, pressing all his weight against Dan’s chest until he’s got him pinned against the door.

Dan feels so good. He’s solid pressing back against Phil, breathing heavy and groaning in the back of his throat. He smells like chlorine and he’s got a hand gripped tight around the back of Phil’s neck and he’s kissing away all the doubt Phil ever had.

The confusion is still there as much as ever, if not more, but in this particular instant Phil could not possibly give less of a fuck.

“Fuck, Phil,” Dan moans quietly, and Phil’s blood is pumping so hard and fast he can taste it.

Actually it’s possible he’s gone a bit mad. He can feel every nerve ending in his body singing. Dan’s hands move down and push up under Phil’s t-shirt and his fingers are warm as they knead Phil’s back.

He makes a noise because he can’t help it, and pushes his hips into Dan’s because he really can’t help it. He’s hard and aching in a way he didn’t even remember he could be, and if anything the sensation gets more desperate when he feels that Dan is in a similar state.

Dan groans again and slides his hand down Phil’s back and past the elastic band of his sweatpants. Phil hadn’t bothered with boxers after his shower this morning, which means Dan’s now got a palm pressed to Phil’s bare ass.

He seems to like it. His lips go slack as he squeezes, and Phil has to move his mouth down to Dan’s neck and sink his teeth in for a way to release some of the rapidly building tension inside him.

Dan moans, like proper moans, and the sound finally jars Phil into remembering who he is and how things are between them. He jumps back from Dan like he’s been electrocuted, the tips of two fingers pressed to his lips like he can’t actually believe what they’d spent the last few minutes doing.

Dan’s lips are red and shiny and his eyes are wide like he can’t actually believe it either. They stare at each other for a moment that feels like forever. Phil’s whole body feels like a string stretched so tight it’s surely about to snap.

“What…” He trails off.

Dan says, “Fuck. Oh my god, fuck.” Phil frowns, but Dan’s already reaching behind his back and fumbling with the doorknob.

“I don’t know what— I didn’t—” He gets a hold of the knob and twists, wrenching the door open. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”

Suddenly, watching Dan trying to run away without explanation, yet again trying to leave Phil holding the ball and wondering what the fuck they are to each other, Phil is angry. He surges forward and pushes the door closed, hard.

The water in the bathroom turns off then, and Jimmy shouts, “Phil? You alright?”

“I’m—” His voice comes out thick and unintelligible, so he clears his throat and tries again. “I’m gonna go out for a bit,” he shouts back.

Dan looks like he’s about to have an aneurysm. Or like maybe he’s already had one.

“What, now?” Jimmy says. “Why are you slamming doors?”

Phil gives up trying not to act suspiciously. He stoops down to grab his shoes and just says, “I need some air, I’ll ring you later!” He opens the door and grabs Dan’s arm, pulling them both out into the hallway. He registers vaguely that his injured arm feels like it’s on fire, but he doesn’t have the mental capacity to be bothered at the moment.

“Where are we going?” Dan croaks as Phil mashes his feet into his trainers.

“I don’t know. Somewhere we can talk,” Phil says gruffly, heading for the lift. “Come on.”

-

“You seriously live here?” Phil asks. “In freaking Notting Hill?”

They’re stood in front of a ridiculously pretty sky blue townhouse. The one next to it is purple, and the one beside that a soft yellow shade. In fact the whole street, the whole goddamn neighbourhood is like some kind of pastel dream.

But the blue one is Dan’s. Or, Winnie and Ada’s anyway, according to Dan, though Phil remains stubbornly convinced that Dan is just taking the piss.

“I told you they were rich.” Dan’s posture is stiff as it has been since Phil insisted they flee from being found out by Jimmy. He’s looking down at his feet, hands shoved deep into his pockets while Phil marvels at the picturesqueness of it all.There’s even some kind of flowering bush in the garden beside the steps that lead up to the front door.

“Why’ve you been slumming it at my place?” Phil murmurs. He looks down at himself, realizing with a burn of shame that he couldn’t possibly fit in less here, with his sweatpants and decade-old lime green hoodie.

“I told you, Winnie took pity on me. I wouldn’t even be able to afford to look at this place on my own.” He pushes open the gate. “C’mon. They’re not home, so…” He turns and looks at Phil. “Good place to talk?”

And suddenly Phil isn’t distracted anymore. He nods, heart hammering as he follows Dan up the steps and into the baby blue dream house.

Phil tries hard not to be overwhelmed by the fact that it’s even nicer on the inside. It seems to make Dan uncomfortable, and there’s enough of that between them right now without Phil making it worse. They take off their shoes and Phil follows as a very silent Dan leads them to the kitchen.

“You want a drink?” he asks, reaching into the cupboard for a glass.

“No,” Phil says awkwardly. “Like alcohol? No.”

Dan shrugs. “Like whatever you want. I didn’t mean a drink drink. Although it might not be the worst idea. Booze might make this conversation easier.”

Phil’s stomach rolls over itself anxiously. “Dan.”

Dan abandons the glass and turns around, looking like he’s been caught doing something awful. Stricken, even. He leans back against the counter and scrubs a hand down over his face, sighing. “I’m sorry, okay? I fucked up.”

Now Phil’s stomach just sinks. “Oh.”

“I’ve been fucking up a lot the past couple days.”

Phil shakes his head, praying to god he can keep himself from breaking down right here and now. “Look, you didn’t— It’s fine. You don’t have to do things just because you think it’s what I want.”

Dan frowns. “What?”

“I mean, I heard you. Last night, when you said… when you said no. And it’s fine.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Any confidence Phil had previously possessed about deserving an explanation has completely vanished by now. He wants to shrink down into an ant and crawl between a crack in the floorboards so he doesn’t have to endure a second more of this excruciating rejection. Or whatever the hell it is.

“You told me not to say anything.”

Dan shakes his head. “Fuck,” he mutters to himself. “I’m still fucking things up.”

“We can be mates,” Phil says. “It’s fine, I won’t—”

“Phil.”

Phil snaps his mouth shut.

“What about me sticking my tongue down your throat and groping your ass makes you think I want to be just a mate?”

He feels all the blood in his body rushing up to his face, so he drops it and stares at the tiles on the floor. “I don’t know what’s going on,” he says quietly, though a very small part of him is trying stubbornly to be elated about the implications of what Dan’s just said.

And as always, Dan doesn’t provide any clarification. He just says, “Yeah,” and puts his hands in his pockets again.

Phil looks up. “I’m gay.”

A hint of amusement ghosts across Dan’s face. “Okay. That’s cool.”

“And I like you. In a not friendly way.”

Dan looks at him with that soul-destroying stare again.

“Just so you know,” Phil says. “So I don’t have to keep wondering if you know my big secrets. Oh and also, when I asked you to see a film with me, I was asking you out. Like on a proper date.”

“I know,” Dan says softly. “That’s why I freaked the fuck out.”

“Oh.”

“Fuck,” he mutters, putting his hand on his mouth and looking away. “It’s not like how it sounds.”

“Then how is it?” Phil asks.

Dan looks at him pleadingly. “I like you too.”

“Yeah?” Phil asks, incredulous.

“Mate, you don’t even… You don’t even get it.”

“No, I don’t!” Phil exclaims.

“I’m fucking, like… obsessed with you, Phil.”

Phil stands there mute for a good thirty seconds just looking at Dan’s face before he says, “No you aren’t.”

Dan pushes off the counter and walks forward until he’s pressed up against Phil’s chest again and it’s as if no time had passed between now and the moment Phil answered his own door. Dan’s hands are big and he sneaks them up under Phil’s shirt again as he and Phil lose themselves in the kiss that was so rudely interrupted earlier.

Phil pulls away sooner than he wants to, clutching handfuls of Dan’s shirt so he won’t go anywhere, their faces still close enough to touch. “Why did you blow me off?”

“Because I’m a fucking mess. And I got scared. Really fucking scared, and I just… lost my shit.”

“Why?” Phil asks again. “I’m not scary.”

“You are,” Dan whispers. “You’re the most terrifying…” He trails off. “I can’t even tell you.”

“I don’t understand. Don’t you know that I— I like you. I… I want you, Dan.” He closes his eyes. Even now it feels like such an earth shattering admission. “You shouldn’t be scared of me.”

“I’m not out,” Dan blurts.

“Oh.”

“Not to anyone except Bryony, my mate who thinks my mum is fit. And Winnie and Ada. They know, but we don’t talk about it.”

“You don’t have to come out,” Phil says. “It’s not like I’d make you—”

Dan shakes his head, pulling free of the grip Phil has on his shirt and taking a few steps backwards.

“Don’t do that,” Phil says quietly. “I feel like you never stop running away.”

“You ran last night,” Dan points out. “You left me.”

“I’m sorry.” Phil’s voice is starting to wobble. “I was… I was embarrassed. I felt like I’d ruined everything and you were just too polite to tell me you were straight and super not interested.”

Dan snorts. “You didn’t actually think that.”

“I didn’t know what to think,” Phil says. “I still don’t.”

“I’m not straight. And I’m very interested.”

“Then why do I still feel like I’m being rejected?”

Dan shakes his head. “It’s not like…” He huffs. “God, it’s such a long stupid story. It was so long ago. I just… I have… issues.”

“You’re depressed.”

“It’s more than that.”

“I know,” Phil says, but he doesn’t. He still doesn’t know anything.

Dan brings both hands up to his face and just hides in them. Suddenly he looks so small and fragile that Phil doesn’t care about anything but trying to make sure Dan doesn’t feel small and fragile.

“Hey,” he says, trying to infuse his voice with as much warmth and comfort as he can. “Why don’t we just… forget about all this shit for now.”

Dan frowns, but Phil carries on. “Let’s just do something fun. Something… chill.”

Dan smiles at that, and nods. “Will you stay here tonight?”

“Do you want me to?”

“Yes.”

Phil smiles back. “Then I will.”

Chapter Text

Phil takes Dan up on a drink, though definitely not one with alcohol. Maybe it would help loosen his strings a little, but he doesn’t want to risk losing control of himself.

Tonight is important.

So he asks for Ribena, and Dan makes one for each of them.

“So,” Dan says. “What should we do?”

Phil brings his drink up to his lips and says against the glass, “Think that’s up to you. We could watch something?”

Dan makes a noncommittal noise. “Don’t think I could focus.”

“Go for a walk?”

“I don’t wanna be around people. Just you,” Dan says quietly.

“I’m not people?”

“People suck. You don’t.”

Phil looks down at his feet. “Even after last night?”

“Phil.” Dan puts his drink down on the counter. “Don’t make me being an idiot into your fault.”

“I’m just… I’m so bloody scared. All the time. Of everything.”

“I hate that I put myself on that list,” Dan says quietly. “I don’t think I was ready for… I wasn’t ready to make sense last night. But I was scared too. Scared you’d give up on me.”

Phil laughs wetly, blinking back the moisture in his eyes. “You really are an idiot.”

“Thanks.”

“You had to know how much…” Phil trails off, not sure if he should really be making any more declarations with things feeling the way they do.

“I didn’t,” Dan says. “I didn’t know, but I hoped. And then you asked me out and I just…” He mimes his head exploding.

Phil shakes his head and looks away. “We’re not supposed to be talking. We’re supposed to be chilling.”

“Maybe I want to talk after all.”

“Do you?”

Dan crosses his arms over his chest like he’s trying to hug himself. It makes Phil want to gather him up and hold him like a little child.

“I don’t want you to feel rejected,” Dan says. “It couldn’t be further from what I want.”

“What do you want?” Phil asks. It’s a shitty, unfair thing to ask, especially in this moment. He knows it, and he asks anyway.

“You.”

His chest squeezes tightly against his heart and lungs. It makes breathing difficult, but it’s also the best feeling in the world. “Okay.”

“And I want it to be as easy as it should be for how much I fancy you, but I know my fucked up brain isn’t going to let it.”

“My brain’s fucked up, too,” Phil reminds him. “I don’t make anything easy, either.”

“Can we just… go to my room?”

Phil must not do a good job hiding his shock, because Dan adds quickly, “Not like that. It’s just it’s the only place in this house I actually feel like myself.”

They leave their drinks untouched in the kitchen and Phil follows Dan up a twisting staircase and into a room that instantly feels different. The walls are a soft grey and there are fairy lights strung over the headboard of the bed frame. The bedding is heather grey and there’s a mirror on the wall that looks like a moon. On the desk in the corner is a collection of candles and a keyboard.

It smells like amber and musk and clean laundry. Everything is neat and almost minimalistic, nothing like the whirlwind of colour and laundry and knick knacks that Phil calls a bedroom.

The bed is no bigger than a double. There’s a tv on the wall across from it, but Dan said he didn’t want to watch anything, so Phil is stood there taking it all in and wondering what exactly they’re going to do. He feels like a creep for even thinking about it, but the bed is seriously not very big. They’ll definitely be touching each other in some capacity if they both get into it, whether they mean to or not.

“It’s nice in here,” he says. “Feels like you.”

“Thanks.” Dan’s voice is flat and it makes Phil’s chest ache for wishing he knew how to make everything feel okay for the both of them.

Then Dan starts unbuttoning his jeans. Before Phil has time to internally freak out too much, Dan asks, “You don’t mind, do you? I hate wearing trousers in bed.”

“We’re getting in bed?”

“Oh.” Dan drops his hands. “Is that… is that too much?”

Phil shakes his head quickly. “It’s fine.”

“You can take yours off, if you want,” Dan offers.

“Do you want me to?”

Dan actually cracks a little smile at that. “You’re really cute when you’re nervous.”

“I’m always nervous.”

“Exactly.”

Phil breathes out a little laugh and looks down at his feet sheepishly. “Shut up.”

“This feels so weird,” Dan says, but his voice sounds different now. Happier. “Feels weird not to have to pretend not to be charmed by you.”

Phil makes a very unbecoming noise that’s somewhere between a squeak and a snort, then slaps his hand over his mouth.

“Like that,” Dan says, pushing his jeans down his legs and stepping on them to pull them off his ankles. Mercifully he’s wearing boxers today, but Phil can still see the faint lines of sharpie on his thigh, and the darker ink of ones he must have added since.

“Are you gonna take yours off?” Dan asks.

Phil feels his cheeks flush. “I’m not wearing pants.”

Then he watches Dan’s eyes drop down to stare obviously at Phil’s crotch. There’s a flash of pink between his lips as Dan’s tongue darts out to wet them.

Phil feels like he’s going to melt. Or maybe burst into flames.

“I can give you a pair,” Dan says finally.

It takes a superhuman amount of willpower for Phil to shake his head. “I can’t lie next to you in bed when we’re both in our underwear,” he says quietly. “Not until…”

Dan nods. “Okay. I’m sorry.”

Phil shakes his head again. “I’m charmed by you too, Dan. I’m trying to be good here. I don’t wanna scare you away.”

“I’ll keep my shirt on then, yeah?” Dan asks, smirking.

“I hate you,” Phil says. He’s smirking too. “You’re right, this is so weird.”

“I like it, though.”

“Yeah,” Phil says. He does. It makes him feel like a teenager. Or like how he thinks it would’ve felt as a teenager if he hadn’t spent his entire adolescence pretending to be straight.

“Do you wanna watch tv?” Dan asks, climbing up onto the bed and leaning back against the headboard.

Phil follows and mirrors Dan’s posture, hoping he looks more casual than he feels. “I don’t care. You said you don’t, though.”

“I don’t.”

“Do you wanna sleep?” Phil asks.

Dan laughs. “I’ve got you in my bed, Phil, the last thing in the world I want to do is sleep.”

Phil slides down to lay flat on the mattress and rolls onto his stomach to smush his face into the pillow. It feels like a dream hearing Dan say stuff like that. Literally, he’s been dreaming about this exact kind of situation - though granted they’re both usually wearing less clothing.

Then he feels Dan’s fingers in his hair, combing through and stroking down the back of his head to cup the nape of his neck. Phil lifts his head so he can look at Dan and make double sure it really isn’t a dream.

“I’ve never done this before,” Dan says softly.

Phil’s breath catches in his throat. “What, like… with a bloke?”

“Not like this. Not with a bloke who mattered.”

Phil can’t help asking, “I matter?”

Dan laughs loudly then, letting go of Phil’s neck and rolling onto his back. “Why won’t you just accept that I like you?” he asks, shaking his head.

Phil’s not sure how to answer, and Dan’s smile slowly fades. “Oh right. ‘Cause I acted like a fucking freak.”

“It’s okay.”

“I’ve not really… I haven’t let myself feel like...” He reaches out for Phil and slips a hand into the front pocket of his hoodie and pulls him in closer. “This.”

Phil scrapes together every ounce of courage he’s got left. “You like me.”

Dan closes his eyes and nods.

“So… what happens now?”

“I don’t know,” Dan says, his voice gone hoarse. “I’m scared of how much I like you.”

“Why?”

Dan smiles ruefully. “Long stupid story, remember?”

“I’ve got time.”

He barks out a laugh. “Stop being so perfect.”

Phil marvels at his body’s ability to completely lose its shit every time Dan compliments him. He’s trying not to dwell on the giant question mark that looms in front of him - in front of them. If this is all he gets, he’s going to make the most of it. He puts his hands behind his head and says, “Why don’t you come over here and make me?”

Dan closes his eyes again. “You’ve got to stop with that.”

“With what?”

“With being all sexy and shit.” Dan throws an arm over his eyes and groans. “Can’t you see I’m having a full on sexuality crisis over here?”

Phil frowns. “You’re not really, are you?”

“No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know, fuck.”

“You kissed me,” Phil says. He feels like an idiot, but he leans into it anyway. “You groped my ass, remember? You don’t want to be just mates.”

“I don’t,” Dan agrees, his tone emphatic.

“So is it, like…”

Dan lifts his arm and turns his head to look at Phil with an eyebrow cocked questioningly.

“Friends with benefits?” Phil finishes.

“No, Phil, fuck. I like you. If I wanna fuck someone all I have to do is open Grindr.”

Phil hates that. He hates that rather violently, actually, even just the image it puts in his head, even though Dan isn’t remotely his to feel possessive over.

But he feels it anyway. He feels it so deeply that he can’t not say it. “I really don’t want you to do that.”

“I don’t want to.” There’s no hesitation in his voice. “I just want to be normal. You make me wish I could be normal.”

“Normal is boring,” Phil says. “Normalness leads to sadness.”

“Pushing away something I want because of shit that happened a million years ago is what leads to sadness,” Dan says in a small voice.

Suddenly Phil sees clearly how exhausted Dan looks, how weary. He just wants to take that away. “You’re not pushing. I’m here.”

“I said stop being perfect.”

Phil gives him a look. “You know I’m not. Neither of us are.” He rolls onto his side to face Dan and Dan does the same. Their faces are so close. It’d be only too easy to lean in and kiss him.

“It sounds like we’ve both got some skeletons in our closets,” Phil murmurs.

Dan snorts. “My closet’s fucking crowded as shit. There’s barely room for me.”

“I want to make an R. Kelly reference but I’m too tired to be clever.”

Dan smiles. “That’s okay. R. Kelly is a creep anyway.”

“Do you wanna take some stuff out of your closet?” Phil asks. “I’ve been told I’m a good listener.”

“You are, I can tell.” Dan shuffles forward and presses his forehead to Phil’s. “I’m not ready,” he whispers.

“Okay.”

He means it. Even though nothing feels certain, it doesn’t feel so uncertain anymore. It’s not confusing, it’s just… hard. But he can deal with that. He knows how to deal with that. And he’s pretty fucking sure Dan is worth it.

He shifts his arm a little and feels something digging into it. “What—” He reaches under the duvet and fumbles around until his fingers close around something hard and cylindrical.

He pulls it out. It’s a clickable sharpie.

“Oops,” Dan says.

“Did it work last night?” Phil asks, clicking the pen open and then shut again. “To distract you?”

Dan shakes his head. “There was only space in my head for you. And how bad I was fucking things up.”

“You were just trying to… I dunno, communicate boundaries, yeah? That’s good. That’s a good thing.”

“I wish I didn’t have to,” Dan says quietly, his eyes searching Phil’s face. “I wish I could just have what I want without feeling like…”

“You can have it,” Phil whispers. “You can have it.”

“You want it too, right?”

“I want it so bad, Dan.”

Dan smiles, and turns his gaze toward the ceiling. Phil watches a tear roll down his cheek. “Why does this feel so fucking intense?”

Phil clicks the pen open and closed, open and closed. He doesn’t know how to answer that. He doesn’t understand it either.

“Can I draw on you?” he asks.

Dan nods.

“Take off your shirt?”

Dan quirks an eyebrow, but doesn’t hesitate to sit up and reach back to pull his shirt over his head and toss it over the foot of the bed.

He lies back down and Phil stares blatantly.

“I probably shouldn’t have asked you to do that.” He sounds breathless already, which would be embarrassing if he wasn’t wholly distracted by Dan stretched out all long and tan in nothing but his pants.

“You see me in nothing but shorts nearly every day,” Dan says, but his face is smug at the way Phil’s looking at him.

“This is different,” Phil croaks. “You know it is.”

“I feel like this is too unbalanced. You should take something off.”

Phil clicks the sharpie open. “Shut up.” He shuffles closer, resting his weight on his elbow as he leans down over Dan’s chest. “What should I draw?”

“Penises,” Dan quips without missing a beat.

“I really hate you.” He brings the tip down on Dan’s skin without a plan, dragging it in a circle on his ribs.

He doesn’t miss the way something flits across Dan’s face, something that makes Phil’s stomach feel tight.

“Tickles,” Dan murmurs, lifting his arms up and sliding his hands under his head.

Phil is struck by how much he likes the hair under Dan’s arms, and the firm swell of muscle in his biceps, the flatness of his chest. He hasn’t looked at anyone like this in so long, and even though he’s known for sure that he likes boys and only boys since he was sixteen, it still takes him by surprise sometimes just how fundamentally true it is.

He leans down and ghosts his lips along the base of Dan’s throat. He can’t help it. He can’t not do it. Dan’s neck is long and beautiful and he tilts his head back for more. Phil breathes against Dan’s skin and Dan shivers.

“You’re gonna kill me, doing that,” Dan says, voice barely more than a whisper.

“I can stop,” Phil replies, making no move to pull away.

“Don’t want you to.”

“No?”

Dan shakes his head. Phil kisses his skin.

Dan sighs. Phil clicks the pen closed and lets it get lost in the sheets again. Dan moves his arms down and pulls Phil on top of him.

“You’re not nearly naked enough,” Dan says, and Phil can feel the vibrations of his voice where his mouth is attached to Dan’s throat.

He kisses slowly up to Dan’s ear. “I think I am.”

Dan’s hands sneak up under Phil’s hoodie. He rubs Phil’s back, slow and and warm with his big palms and long fingers, and Phil shivers too. How strange it feels to shiver when he’s warm all the way to the core of his being. But that’s what Dan’s touch is doing to him, making him feel all the things, even when they contradict. Even when all he’s doing is stroking Phil’s back.

“I think you’re not naked, which means you’re not naked enough.”

Phil laughs breathily and pushes his forehead against Dan’s neck. “Look, if you get me naked I’ll have no choice but to sleep with you.”

Dan moves a hand to the front and slides it up to feel Phil’s chest. “I’m failing to see the problem there.” He thumbs over Phil’s nipple and suddenly everything is hot and real and he’s dangerously close to fucking off all the restraint he’s somehow still managing to cling to.

He lifts his face off Dan’s neck and tries not to notice how dark his eyes are, how he’s biting his lip and touching Phil’s skin and just generally looking like an absolute sex god. “We can’t.”

Dan whines.

“Don’t.” Phil drops his forehead onto Dan’s shoulder. His lovely broad shoulder. He tilts his head so he can bite that sunkissed skin with its maddeningly endearing little constellation of freckles.

“Why not?” Dan purrs.

“Because…” He groans in frustration, because every impulse in his body is telling him he needs to press his naked skin to Dan’s and see what Dan looks like between his legs and watch his face as Phil takes him in… every impulse except the one he’s been trying for months not to listen to, the one that tells him to be cautious to a fault. “Fuck.”

That stupid impulse might actually be right for once.

“Because fuck?” There’s laughter in Dan’s voice.

“Because… I like you,” Phil says softly. “And I want this to be real.”

“Fuck,” Dan murmurs, reaching a hand up to cup Phil’s cheek. “You really are perfect.”

Phil doesn’t argue. He doesn’t agree with Dan’s assertion, but he’d rather kiss Dan’s mouth than argue. He leans down and presses their lips together.

It’s soft and slow and lovely and it helps with the sheer intensity of wanting in Phil’s gut. Phil shifts so he’s lying on his side again, painted up against the side of Dan’s body. His ears are full of the sounds their mouths makes together and the way Dan breathes.

Eventually the kissing fades away and Phil lays his head on Dan’s chest and Dan wraps his arm around Phil’s back. Phil presses his body to Dan’s as tightly as possible and hitches his leg up on Dan’s thigh. His lips are tingling and his whole body feels heavy, like the one and only time at uni that Jimmy was able to persuade him to split a joint.

“I’m so tired,” Dan murmurs. His eyes are closed now. “I haven’t slept in two days.”

“You should sleep. We both could.”

He shakes his head. “I don’t wanna miss anything.”

Phil has to laugh. “I would make an Aerosmith reference but I think you already did.”

Dan smiles sheepishly. “Stop bullying me.”

“I’m not. It’s cute.”

“You think I’m cute?”

“Dan.” Phil wraps his arm around Dan’s lower back and pulls him in. “I think you’re everything. I’m obsessed with you too.”

“Stop,” Dan whispers. Phil can tell he doesn’t mean it.

“You’re gonna have to get used to it.”

“Gonna get used to your mum,” Dan mumbles.

“Oh.” Phil suddenly has an idea, a very impulsive one that he wants to follow without having to apply his typical amount of otherthinking.

So he does. “Hey, have you ever been to Isle of Man?”

“Mm,” Dan hums sleepily. “Don’t think so.”

“Would you like to?”

Chapter Text

“Wait, seriously? Isn’t that where your parents live?”

“Yeah. I guess that’s weird, isn’t it.”

“You want me to meet your family?”

Phil can’t tell if Dan is freaked out or not, so he decides to actively withhold his panic until he knows it’s valid. “I rang my mum earlier and told her I was on the verge of a breakdown and agreed to come up for a while. I’m pretty close with my family and I’ve only seen them once since the accident and she’s been practically begging me every time I talk to her and—”

“Phil.”

Phil snaps his mouth shut.

“Do you actually feel on the verge of a breakdown?”

“Uhh… I dunno. I definitely did when I said that.”

“And now you don’t?”

Phil shuffles over into his own side of the bed and sits up. “I feel a bit better now.”

“Do you mean it?” Dan sits up too. “You actually want me to come?”

“I mean… yeah. I do. I’d like that.”

“Are you— do your parents know?”

Phil frowns. “About you?”

“I meant about you.”

“Oh.” Phil laughs, relieved. “Yeah. They figured it out when I moved home after uni. I never actually came out to them, they just put two and two together eventually. Never brought any girls ‘round, so…”

“Wow.”

“Yeah. I’m basically out to everyone, like… I live out.”

“But you didn’t tell me,” Dan says quietly.

“I…” He hesitates, not sure what the right answer is. “I didn’t. I’m sorry.”

“You obviously don’t have to apologize for that. It’s just… did you not trust me? I told you about my mate who likes girls and my landlords who are lesbians.”

Phil shakes his head. “It wasn’t like that. I just… I dunno. Sometimes when you tell blokes you’re gay it just… changes things. They automatically think you’re gonna try to get in their pants. Or they just treat you differently, you know?”

Dan smiles ruefully. “I don’t, actually.”

Phil’s stomach clenches. “Right. Sorry.”

“You seriously apologize way too much, Phil. It’s fine. But yeah, the only blokes who know I’m… whatever, are the ones I’ve fucked.”

Phil’s body reacts with involuntary hatred for that statement, but he forces it down to nod understandingly.

“And I don’t keep in touch,” Dan continues. “So this is… new.”

Phil smiles. “How does it feel?”

“It’s… good. This feels good, this…” He gestures between them. “Right now it feels good. Then I think about being basically anywhere besides my bedroom and it feels really fucking terrifying.”

“Oh,” Phil says quietly. “Like coming up north with me.”

Dan looks pained. “I want to. I really want to.”

“I didn’t mean it like— It’s not like a ‘meet the parents’ thing,” Phil says quickly. “I’m not a freak, I’m not like—” He cuts himself off to take a breath and gather his thoughts. He promised himself he wouldn’t panic. “I just want to be spending time with you.”

Dan’s face melts into the warmest, most gorgeous smile Phil’s ever seen.

“I would never say anything to anyone,” Phil murmurs. “I’m not asking you to out yourself. I just know I have to leave London for a while and I hate that that means leaving you.”

“I don’t want you to leave.”

“Then come with me. We’re friends, yeah? Come up north and be my friend.”

“I don’t wanna be your friend,” Dan says, his voice dark and intense.

“Be my friend until after midnight,” Phil says. “Be my friend until everyone else is asleep and the rules don’t apply anymore. Please.”

Dan closes his eyes. “Yeah,” he says. “Okay, yeah. I’d like that.”

“My mum will bake for us. She loves baking.”

“That works for me,” Dan says. “I love eating.”

“She’ll also make us go on hikes.”

“Less keen on that.”

“I know,” Phil says. “But it’s a really beautiful place. Big cliffs and big sea.”

Dan chuckles. “Big sea.”

“Big blue sea.”

“Like your eyes,” Dan says quietly.

Phil covers his face with his hands.

“Sorry. Cheesy.”

Phil shakes his head. He can feel his cheeks burning, and he knows he won’t be able to look at Dan’s again until he changes the subject. “I’m afraid of the sea.”

“Reckon I am too,” Dan says.

“Really? Mr. lifeguard?”

Dan shrugs. “Pools are so… finite. Shallow. Even in the deep end you can see the bottom. There’s nothing hiding in there. No monsters lurking ready to bite your feet off or whatever.”

“I always think there are monsters lurking everywhere,” Phil says. “Sometimes monsters are invisible.”

“Sometimes monsters live inside your own head,” Dan says quietly.

Phil frowns. He hates when he makes Dan sad without even knowing how it happened. “We don’t have to go in the sea. Or even near it. I can tell my mum I’m on a hike strike. No cliffs. No big blue sea. Just cakes.”

Dan shakes his head. “I’m a notorious people pleaser. I’ll do nearly anything to get in your parents’ good books.”

Phil smiles at that. How can he not?

“I’m thirsty,” Dan says.

“Thought you were tired.”

“I’m more thirsty that tired. And hungry too, maybe. Haven’t eaten in… a while.”

“Me neither,” Phil admits.

At that precise moment they hear the sound of a door opening and then voices.

Dan smiles. “Maybe Ada will cook for us.”

-

Ada cooks for them.

Dan and Phil sit at the table in the kitchen drinking tea with Winnie while Ada cooks for them.

Ada moans the whole time about how impossible it is for her to make food taste good without any of the things needed to make food taste good.

Phil loves her instantly. Her hair is cut close to the scalp though it hints at curl, a shock of white next to the dark brown of her skin. She looks elegant. Posh, but not in an obnoxious way. She looks about twenty years younger than Winnie, though Phil’s not sure whether or not that’s actually true.

Winnie is elegant too. Maybe it’s impossible to be a lawyer and not look like you know exactly what you’re doing. Her hair isn’t white, but matte silver like a dull spoon. It looks nicer than that sounds, but Phil thinks in his head that it’s a rather perfect description of the colour. She’s white, much whiter than Ada is black. She’s even more white than Phil, a rare feat.

Winnie tells Ada, “God didn’t put animals on this earth to suffer for our taste buds.”

Ada tells Winnie, “God gave us free will, and my will is to eat some bloody bacon. And have cream in my coffee.”

Dan tells Phil, “They have this argument at least once a day. At least.”

Ada tells Dan, “Don’t be cheeky or I’ll sneak butter in your potatoes.”

Phil tells Ada, “You can sneak some in mine. I won’t tell anyone.”

Ada laughs. Winnie laughs too. Dan doesn’t laugh, but he smiles really wide. He tells Ada, “You can sneak some in mine, just don’t tell Winnie.”

Winnie reaches across the table and smacks at his arm. “You’re a blinking traitor, you are.”

-

Ada is wrong; her food is delicious, even without the things she claims are needed to make food delicious. Phil tells her so.

“Sweet child,” she says, patting him on the head. It makes him think of his mum. He’s glad he’ll get to see her soon.

She and Winnie never once ask him who he is and what he’s doing in their house. They don’t ask him why he’s dressed like a slob or why he and Dan emerged from Dan’s bedroom with bedhead and empty bellies. Winnie just says, “Oh, so you’re Phil,” and Ada says, “Lovely to finally meet you.”

Dan looks down at the ground with a sheepish smile when they say that. Phil smiles too, so wide his cheeks hurt.

Ada pours them each a glass of whiskey after dinner. Phil doesn’t say anything about how much he dislikes whiskey. He takes small sips and swallows down against the way it burns in his throat. But it makes him feel warm, and for a little while he forgets to be anxious.

“Phil was gonna stay over, if that’s alright,” Dan says.

Phil is in love with the fact that Dan asked permission. It may be the most endearing thing he’s ever witnessed.

“Of course,” Winnie says. “I’ll make up the spare bedroom.”

Dan doesn’t argue. He says, “Thanks Win.” Then he looks at Phil. “I’d offer to do it, okay, don’t think I’m being rude, she just wouldn’t let me. There isn’t even a point in offering.”

“Well I still have to offer,” Phil says, looking at Winnie. “I wouldn’t be the son my mother raised if I didn’t.”

Ada makes a kind of snorting noise. “Stop, I’ll choke on all the manners.”

“You could learn something from them,” Winnie says to her. “And no, Phil, love. You’re our guest.”

“He’s my guest,” Dan points out.

“Don’t argue with an old lady.”

He smiles and holds up his hands in a show of surrender.

“Well this old lady is off to bed,” Ada announces. She walks over to where Winnie is sat and leans down to kiss the top of her head. “Don’t take too long, now. You know I can’t sleep without your cold wrinkly toes on my legs.”

Dan pretends to be horrified. Phil feels so happy he could burst.

-

They stay in the lounge once Ada and Winnie have gone off to bed. Dan’s poured them each another glass of whiskey, this time with ice, which Phil thinks makes it a little more palatable. The tv is turned on but they aren’t actually watching anything.

“Do they know the details?” Phil asks.

Dan shakes his head. “Just that we’re mates. I didn’t actually realize I talked about you that much. Sorry.”

Phil frowns. “Sorry? Why sorry?”

Dan doesn’t answer. He looks at Phil and asks, “Are you offended I didn’t tell Winnie you could sleep in my bed?”

“No.”

“I’m out to them, like I said. They know, we just… We only talked about it once. The night I moved in.”

Phil cocks an eyebrow. “I’m guessing there’s a story there?”

“There is,” Dan says quietly. “Just not one I wanna tell right now.”

“Okay.”

“Are you offended again?”

“I wasn’t offended the first time.”

“But you probably are, a bit,” Dan says. “You tell me more stuff than I tell you.”

“It’s not a competition.”

“Maybe it’s like… like I just wanna live in the present right now,” he says. “The past is full of pain but right now isn’t and I wanna live in that world. I’ve already spent too much time in the past.”

Phil nods. “That sounds really good.”

Dan is quiet. He takes a sip of his drink, then immediately takes another, longer sip. “The bloke I was living with before kicked me out when he found gay porn on my laptop,” he blurts.

Phil’s heart hurts. “Fuck.”

Dan nods. “Friend of a friend.” He puts his now empty glass on the coffee table. “Friend of a former friend.”

“Good,” Phil says. “Screw them.”

Dan smirks. “Think that’s what he was afraid of, actually.”

“He should be so lucky,” Phil spits. It’s not often he feels genuine rage, but right now he can totally imagine punching a total stranger right in the gob.

“I like you, Phil,” Dan says. “I like you so much.”

“You don’t have to tell me things,” Phil says. “Your skeletons are your own.”

Dan nods. “Have you told Jimmy?”

“About us?”

“About me.”

“No,” Phil says. “I mean, he knows I fancy you. But I haven’t told him any of the… new stuff.”

Dan nods.

“Should I not tell him?” Phil asks in a very quiet voice.

Dan doesn’t answer right away. Eventually, he asks, “You tell him everything, don’t you?”

“Not everything. But… a lot of things.”

“Most things.”

Phil bites his lip. “Most big things.”

“Have you ever been with him?”

“No. I fancied him for like, two minutes, when I first met him. But that was another lifetime.”

Dan just nods.

“I won’t tell him,” Phil says. He doesn't know how the hell he's going to keep that promise, but once he’s said it, he knows for sure that he will. “I will never out you to anyone, Dan.”

He says the last bit with an intensity that makes Dan really look at him, the questions written all over his face.

Phil just nods. Dan doesn’t have to ask. “When I was twenty. A mate from back home found me on a stupid dating website and sent a screenshot to everyone.”

“Fucking hell.”

Phil nods. “I don’t like to think about it. I just mean to say, I would never do that. To you or anyone.”

Dan sighs. “I don’t want to come between you and your best mate.”

“He’d understand,” Phil says. “I think every guy who likes guys has a story. Or at least most of the ones I’ve ever met.”

“Just…” Dan looks so tired again. “Let me have some time to think,” he says.

Phil swallows over the sudden lump in his throat. “Should I leave?”

“What? No, that’s not—” He reaches out and grabs a handful of Phil’s hoodie. “I meant let me think about telling Jimmy. Don’t you fucking dare go anywhere.”

Phil grins. “Alright. I’m here. I’m staying.”

“Are you tired?” Dan asks.

“Yes.”

“Me too.”

“Should we sleep?” Phil asks.

“No. I don’t want to yet.”

“Okay. Me neither.”

“Can I made a weird request?” Dan asks.

“Go on.”

“Can I just… watch you play a video game?”

Phil smiles. “You don’t wanna play too?”

Dan shakes his head. “Don’t wanna use my brain.”

“Okay,” Phil says. “What should I play?”

-

He plays Fortnite. He’s crap at it, but it’s fun, and it’s funny to him the way Dan gets so into it. He shouts encouragement and frustration in equal measure, and Phil wonders if it would hardly be any more energy for Dan just to play in a duo with Phil, but he’s happy to do whatever Dan needs.

He’s happy. It’s as simple as that.

He won’t think about the possibility that he’ll have to lie to Jimmy. He can’t think about that at the moment.

-

He doesn’t win. Mostly he doesn’t actually get anywhere close. Eventually he’s too tired to keep going without being immediately gunned down, so he takes to hiding in the bushes. Dan teases him for it mercilessly, but he actually survives a lot longer as a pacifist than as a soldier.

He wonders if that says something about him. It probably does.

-

Slowly the game gets abandoned as they both grow sleepier. Phil’s still playing, but his reaction time becomes nearly non existent, and sometimes it takes them a while to even notice that Phil has been eliminated.

Phil falls asleep at one point, waking up when the controller falls from his hands and onto the floor. His eyes pop open and Dan is looking at him.

“You’re so fucking pretty,” Dan murmurs. He’s curled up in the corner of the sofa, wearing a long black jumper and form fitting grey sweatpants. He makes them look like so much more than what they are, which is basically pajamas.

“No,” Phil says. “You.”

“I wanna kiss you.”

“Then kiss me.”

“Too tired to move,” Dan slurs.

Phil’s tired too, but he can’t imagine ever being too tired to maneuver himself in a position where he could press his mouth to Dan’s, so that’s exactly what he does.

Dan wraps his arms around him as soon as he’s within reach, and the kiss is warm and slow and heavy.

Phil pulls away after about a minute, his blood pumping a little faster, his skin buzzing under the surface. “I’m going to bed now.”

Dan frowns. “What? No.” He can’t even keep his eyes open.

“Yes. Winnie made it up for me.”

Dan groans his disapproval, but doesn’t argue.

“You need sleep,” Phil says. “Come get me in the morning.”

“I want you.”

Phil stands up off the sofa and holds his hand out to pull Dan up. He laces his fingers in between Dan’s and they walk upstairs like that together. Phil pecks his cheek chastely outside the doof of the guest bedroom. Dan looks like he’s going to collapse from the exhaustion.

“Goodnight, Dan.”

Dan doesn’t answer, he just stumbles into his own bedroom.

Phil’s just getting into bed when his phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out to a message from Dan.

next time you’re sleeping with me. goodnight

Chapter Text

Dan wakes Phil up too early.

But then, that voice whispering his name isn’t Dan’s, is it?

It’s Ada’s. Her hand is gentle but heavy on his shoulder. His heart jumps up into his throat, but she smiles at him and whispers conspiratorially, “I made eggs. And sausage. You game?”

She still looks elegant, even at half seven in the morning in her nightgown. He smiles back. “Hell yeah.”

-

There’s coffee too, strong and rich and creamy. She winks as she sets it in front of him.

“Will Winnie be cross?” he asks. He takes a sip. It burns his tongue a bit but it’s probably the best coffee he’s ever had.

“Only if she catches us.”

Phil doesn’t even like breakfast sausage that much, he prefers something a little sweeter in the morning, but the fact that this woman whom Dan refers to as a pseudo-mum is letting Phil in on a secret after knowing him for little more than a few hours makes him so giddy that he shoves them into his mouth greedily.

“Growing boys need real food,” she says, watching him with a proud look on her face.

Phil laughs. “I haven’t been a growing boy for like a decade. I’m older than my dad was when he had me.”

“You don’t look it.”

“I’m older than Dan.”

“Well, everyone looks older than Dan.”

Phil smirks. “He does have a baby face, doesn’t he?”

“A very sweet and handsome baby face.”

“Yeah,” Phil agrees before he can think better of it. He freezes mid-chew and wonders if she’s noticed.

“Thought so,” she says quietly.

Safe to say she noticed.

Phil swallows his half chewed egg with a swirling uneasiness in his stomach. “I mean… he’s alright.”

She reaches over and pats his arm. “I’ve been gay longer than your parents have been alive, dear. Can’t hide from me.”

“I told Dan I’d never out him,” Phil almost whispers.

“You didn’t. Surely he told you we already know?”

“Yeah but not about…” He clears his throat. “Me. Us.”

“Dan doesn’t bring people home,” she says. “He certainly never brings anyone into the kitchen and asks me to cook for them. When he said you were spending the night I nearly had a heart attack.”

Phil looks down at his plate and hopes he doesn’t look too pleased. It’s not new information, but it feels nice to have it confirmed by an outside party.

“It’s safe to say he must think you’re a very special person,” Ada continues.

“I think he is too.”

“He is,” she agrees. “He’s a wonderful young man. I’m rather protective of him.” She gives Phil a look. “If you know what I mean.”

“Oh.” He can barely get the word out.

“He’s the closest thing I’ll ever have to a son. And he’s… fragile. He’s… he feels things, you know? The capacity in that boy’s heart for feeling is…” She puts her hand over her own chest. “I’ve never known him to share his heart with anyone in the way he seems to want to share it with you. Not even Winnifred.”

Phil nods. His own heart is feeling quite a hell of a lot right now too.

“Just treat it with care. That’s all I’m trying to say. You seem like a decent man. A kind man.”

“I think I am,” Phil croaks. “I try to be.”

“I don’t reckon Dan would fall for anything less.” She smiles.

“I dunno if he’s fallen.” Phil can’t look at her. He’s so nervous he feels sick.

“You have, haven’t you?”

He forces himself to look up at her. He nods. She’s like the oracle from The Matrix or something. What good would it do to lie?

Then there are footsteps on the stairs. Phil gives Ada a stricken look, but she’s so calm that he can’t let himself freak out too much.

It’s Dan’s sleepy face that greets them when the footsteps arrive at the kitchen door. He yawns and sticks a hand up under his t-shirt to scratch his stomach. “Winnie’s gonna kill you,” he says in a rumbly kind of morning voice.

“Don’t know what you’re on about.” She pats the chair next to her. “There’s more on the stove. Come sit.”

Dan looks at Phil. “Morning,” he says, and his voice is softer then.

Phil can feel the blush on his cheeks knowing that Ada knows. “Morning.”

“Sleep well?” Dan asks, making his way over to the stove. “Holy shit, Ade, sausage?”

“Language.”

“She’s going to kill you twice for that,” Dan says, plucking one up out of the pan and taking a bite.

“Kill her for what?”

They all turn to the kitchen door again to see Winnie fully dressed and looking pleased at the surprise she’s caused.

“You’re like a ninja,” Dan says.

“I have a fish called Ninja,” Phil says.

Dan laughs.

“I’m a lawyer, you know,” Winnie says. “I know how to kill someone and get away with it.”

“So you won’t drink milk but you’ll murder your own wife?” Ada asks, taking a big bite of eggs.

“We’re not married, darling.”

“Fighting in front of the kids will leave them with permanent emotional scarring,” Dan interjects. “I know that better than anyone.”

Phil looks at him with a frown, but Dan appears casual, leaned back against the stove and still watching Winnie.

“Does that make you and Phil brothers in this scenario?” Ada lowers her head to look at Dan over the frame of her glasses.

Phil’s not sure if he’s allowed to laugh.

“Me and my brother are going to go upstairs now,” Dan says, grabbing another sausage.

“My brother and I,” Winnie corrects.

Dan rolls his eyes.

“Take some coffee up with you,” Ada says. “It’s from Ethiopia.”

-

“Winnie’s not actually cross, is she?”

“No, don’t worry. She knows Ada will never go vegan. I mean, the fact that she makes vegan meals more than half the time is already kind of a miracle. Winnie just likes to tease.”

“Ada is cool,” Phil says, settling himself cross legged on Dan’s bed with coffee in hand. “Bit intimidating.”

“What’d she say to you?”

“Nothing.” He takes a sip of his coffee right away. He’s not very good at lying, but he’s not going to tell Dan about his conversation with Ada.

Dan narrows his eyes. “You’re full of shit.”

“I’m full of sausage and egg. And really good coffee, why is this coffee so good?”

“They’re rich, they can afford the good stuff.” He sits next to Phil. “I know she said something. She wouldn’t have just cooked for you early in the morning like that without a reason. She likes a lie in. And I know you do too.”

Phil shrugs. “Maybe I had bad dreams. Maybe she did too.”

“Did you?”

“No. But I do a lot.”

“What are they about?” Dan asks.

“The accident, mostly.”

Dan puts his coffee on the table beside his bed, then reaches over to trace a fingertip lightly over the scars on Phil’s arm. “It must have been scary.”

“It’s more scary now,” Phil says quietly. “When it happened I think I went into shock right away.”

“Do you wanna tell me what happened?”

Phil shrugs. “I was in a taxi and it was rainy. The driver was going too fast.”

“Shit.”

Phil nods. “He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.” His voice has gone hoarse. He’s never said these things out loud.

“Was he okay?” Dan’s voice is different too.

Phil shakes his head. Those are words he still can’t say. He doubts he ever will.

Dan takes Phil’s coffee and puts it next to his on the table. Phil’s glad. His hands are shaking.

“I’m sorry, Phil. I shouldn’t have asked.”

Phil shakes his head. “It’s like it got stuck to me. Everything that happened, it’s like… like I was outside my own body when it happened and the whole thing just attached itself to my ribs and now I can’t get it out.”

“I’m sorry,” Dan whispers. He closes his hand over the scars.

Phil leans in and kisses him. He doubts anything else would come close to making him feel better right now.

Dan kisses back, but he lets Phil set the pace. He only kisses when Phil kisses, doesn’t push, just sits there with his hand on Phil’s arm and lets Phil find comfort in his lips.

Phil kisses down to Dan’s neck. He wants a reaction. Suddenly he wants nothing more in the world than to remind Dan that he’s more than just a victim. He turns his body to face Dan’s and pushes him back against the bed, climbing onto his lap to straddle him and kiss the side of his throat.

It works. Dan makes a noise like a sigh of relief and puts his hands on Phil’s hips. Phil feels greedy for that noise; it sparks inside his stomach and down lower, leaving no room for any of the clinging tragedy. At least for now.

He pushes his hands under Dan’s t-shirt and up, running his palms over Dan’s stomach, up to his chest and over his nipples. Dan squeezes where his hand is wrapped around Phil’s hip bone.

“How do you do that?”

“What?” Phil murmurs against the thin damp skin of Dan’s neck.

“Just… make me feel like that.”

Phil smiles. “Just trying to make you feel what you make me feel, I guess.”

“Can we stay in my bed forever?” Dan asks.

“Yes please.”

“Do you actually want me to come to Isle of Man with you?”

Phil kisses Dan’s neck. The urgency has faded, but it’s still nice. Dan’s skin is soft there. “Yes.”

“When?”

“Whenever you want. I’ll buy a ticket for you.”

“You will?”

Phil nods and goes back to kissing Dan’s mouth.

“You like me, don’t you?”

“No,” Phil says. They’re half speaking half kissing now, murmuring against each other’s lips. “I think you’re terrible.” He lays himself down on top of Dan’s body and Dan’s hands go up the back of his shirt like an instinct.

“Ada knows, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “But I didn’t tell her.”

“Reckon I should have expected that.”

“Are you upset?”

“No. It means I don’t have to sneak into the guest room in the middle of the night when you have sleepovers.”

Phil drops his face down on Dan’s shoulder. “You can’t just say that.”

“I can,” Dan argues. “I just did.”

“You’ll be responsible for explaining to my mum why I died of blue balls.”

Dan sneaks a hand between their bodies to press to Phil’s clothed crotch. “Is there some kind of unwritten rule that I can’t do something about it?”

Phil lifts up his head. “I thought you were… unsure.”

“Not unsure about how I feel. Just unsure about my ability not to fuck things up when I get scared.”

Phil appreciates the candor, even if it makes him feel anxious as hell.

“I guess that scares me,” Phil says quietly, sitting back on Dan’s thighs.

Dan props himself up on his elbows. “I guess that’s fair. Are you bailing?”

“No.”

“I’m gonna try.”

“You better,” Phil says. “Ada will kill me if you end up sad. Probably even if it’s not my fault.”

Dan flops back and hides his face in his hands. “I knew she said something to you.”

“She loves you. It’s nice.”

“It’s embarrassing,” Dan mutters. “Like I’m a teenage girl whose modesty needs protecting.”

“She just wants you to be happy.” Phil gets off Dan’s lap and lies against his side instead. He puts his head on Dan’s chest.

“I am,” Dan says softly. “Right now, I am.”

“Let’s stay here forever,” Phil says.

“Good idea.”

“Can I tell Jimmy?”

Dan’s fingers find Phil’s hair. He plays with it for a long time before he says, “Okay.”

“I won’t tell him anything you don’t want me to. I just want him to know that it feels like fireworks are going off in my chest when you kiss me.”

Dan’s hand stills in Phil’s fringe. “Oh god.”

“What?”

“I’m going to fall in love with you, aren’t I?”

Phil hides his smile in Dan’s shirt. “I hope so.”

Chapter Text

Phil has a shower when he gets home.

A long one. A long hot one, in more ways than one. He has a lot of pent up tension to relieve, after all.

Jimmy’s at work. Phil is dying to talk to him, but nothing he’s got to say would do to say over text, so instead he makes himself comfy on the sofa and rings his mum.

“Child.”

“Hi mum.”

“You sound better.”

He laughs. “How do you know so quickly?”

“I told you, I’m your mother.”

“I’m feeling better.”

“I know.”

Phil chuckles. “Of course you do.”

“You still have to come up here,” she says. “Don’t think you’re getting out of that.”

“I’m not trying to. I actually wanted to tell you I’m gonna bring a mate. If that’s alright,” he tacks on at the end.

“A mate? Do you mean James?”

He rolls his eyes. “I do have other friends.”

“Ones you want to bring up here?”

“Well… he’s a new friend.”

“He?”

He knows exactly what she’s insinuating. “Yes, mum. He.”

“Just a friend?”

“Just a friend.”

“Oh, well. Alright then.”

He sighs. “Don’t sound so disappointed.”

“I just hate to think of you being alone, love. I want you to be happy.”

“I’m not alone, mum. Jimmy lives here again, remember?”

“I remember. And do you two find… companionship in each other?”

Phil makes a face. “Mum! He’s my best mate.”

“I know, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t—”

Mum!”

“I know I’m old, but I still know things. I know that gay men tend to be more promiscuous—”

Kathryn,” Phil says in the most authoritative voice he can muster.

“What?”

“Stop.”

“Am I wrong?”

“Yes,” Phil says, pushing his glasses up onto his forehead so he can pinch the bridge of his nose. “You are. And even if you weren’t, you can’t just… say stuff like that.”

“Why not?”

“It’s homophobic, mum.”

“It’s not,” she says, sounding taken aback. “I have nothing but love and respect for gay people. You know that”

“It doesn’t matter. You can have good intentions and still be homophobic. Stereotyping a whole group of people is always bad, mum. It’s like saying all black people are criminals or all asians are bad drivers.”

“Don’t even say that, Phil.”

“I’m just telling you. You can’t do that, mum. It’s like saying all straight people are monogamous. Some are and some aren’t. Some people are promiscuous and some aren’t. It has nothing to do with sexuality. And Jimmy and I aren’t ‘gay men,’ we’re Jimmy and Phil. We’re practically brothers.”

“Well… alright, I see what you’re saying. I’m sorry, love. You know I didn’t mean any harm.”

“Yeah, I do. But other people might not.”

“I’ll not do it again.”

“Good.” If only everyone who spewed bigoted ideas like they were facts was so quick to apologize and learn from their mistakes. “Thanks.”

“So this mate…” she prompts.

“Dan.”

“Dan,” she repeats. “Is he gay?”

Phil’s stomach clenches immediately. He can’t really blame her for asking, as most of his close friends over the years have been decidedly not straight, but he hadn’t actually been expecting to have to lie so directly. “We… haven’t discussed how he labels his sexuality,” Phil says awkwardly. It’s not technically a lie.

Then he thinks of the perfect way to distract her from that line of thinking. “He’s the guy who taught me how to swim.”

“Is that right?”

“Yeah. He’s a good teacher. Easy to talk to.”

“Well I look forward to meeting him. He’s welcome, of course.”

“Thanks mum.”

“When are you coming up?”

“I haven’t bought tickets yet. I forgot to ask him when he can get time off work.”

“Well ask him and get back to me. I have to make sure the house is ready. And do some baking.”

“The house always looks great, mum,” Phil says warmly. “And I already told him about your baking and he’s well excited.”

“Oh, you shouldn’t have! Too much pressure for an old woman.”

“You’re not old,” he says. “Mental, yes, but not old.”

“Oh shut up, cheeky boy.”

Phil laughs. He really does feel better. He almost feels like a different person than he was the last time he talked to her. “I love you, mum.”

“And I love you.”

-

He eats some cereal and does some tidying in the kitchen. He throws in a load of laundry and trims his fingernails. He looks up ‘stretches for sore shoulders’ on youtube and follows along for two minutes before the agony in his arm forces him to stop and take some painkillers. After that he gives up on being productive and plays Zelda.

Or tries to, anyway. He can’t focus on anything for more than a few minutes.

He’s just… giddy. He can’t stop thinking about Dan. He can’t stop thinking about the fact that Dan seems to want all the things that Phil has been wanting. Dan wants to spend time with him. Dan wants to kiss him. Dan wants to come up north with him.

Phil’s legs feel like jelly every time he remembers Dan pushing him up against the door and shoving his hands down the back of his pants. He can’t focus on exploring Hyrule or even menial tasks like loading the dishwasher when the reality of Dan keeps smacking him in the face.

He wanders around the flat aimlessly until Jimmy finally comes home. The poor guy has barely gotten inside the door before Phil is there in his face just aching to talk.

Luckily, Jimmy seems just as eager for this particular conversation, if not even more so. “You bloody arsehole,” he says, skipping the customary hello altogether.

Phil scrunches his nose. “Ew, bad visual.”

“You didn’t come home last night! And you were acting weird when you left! And you didn’t answer any of my fucking texts!”

“I wanted to talk to you in person!” Phil shouts excitedly.

Jimmy’s mouth drops open. Phil is practically bursting at the seams. He can’t contain his smirk.

“No!” Jimmy explodes. “Fucking no way!” He hasn’t even taken his shoes off yet.

Phil giggles like a child and squeaks, “Yes!”

Jimmy seems to forget about his shoes, charging at Phil and grabbing his shoulders. “You better not be fucking with me.”

“I’m not.” He pulls the collar of his shirt down to show Jimmy the faint red mark Dan had left right above his collarbone as a parting gift.

“Holy fuck,” Jimmy murmurs. “I fucking knew it.”

“You’ve said fuck like a hundred times.”

“Fuck you! There, now I’ve said it a hundred and one times. Get used to it, wanker!”

Phil can’t wipe the stupid smile off his face.

“I knew he was into you.” Jimmy shakes his head. “Was he here yesterday?”

Phil nods. “He came to meet me at Martyn’s show, too.”

Jimmy’s eyes go wide. “You didn’t tell me.”

“Because it was an actual full on disaster. We left and broke into the pool and went swimming in our pants and I tried to tell him I liked him and he basically blew me off and then I had a panic attack and ran away. I took a car home and had some of your old muscle relaxers when I got home and passed out in your bed.”

Jimmy stands speechless for a moment before he says, “I need a drink.”

-

They go out. Jimmy wants drinks and Phil wants food, so they compromise and end up at a pretty pub by the river with fish and chips and pints. It’s nice. Phil doesn’t care much for beer but it’s been ages since he and Jimmy did something like this, just the two of them.

Jimmy is all business, though. “Tell me fucking everything.

Phil nibbles a chip. “He came over yesterday without warning and just… kissed me.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah. It was… I’m not gonna lie, it was really hot.”

“No shit, the bloke is fit as fuck. Almost as pretty as Harry.”

“Prettier,” Phil argues. “Way prettier. Harry Styles has got nothing on Dan.”

“That’s sacrilege.”

“Do you want details or not?”

Jimmy shuts up after that.

Phil tells him everything about the kiss, about the groping and the way it made Phil feel like a helium balloon filled with fire - and about how abruptly Dan had tried to run away.

“I didn’t let him,” Phil says.

Jimmy is looking at him in awe. “I’m so bloody proud of you, Phil.”

“I mean, I don’t blame him. I was pretty freaked out.”

“So what happened then?” Jimmy sounds like a kid asking their grandad to tell him a story or something.

“We went to his. Oh, guess what? He lives in Notting Hill.”

“Shut up.”

“S’true. His house is big and blue and gorgeous. You’d love it.”

“Did you have sex?” Jimmy asks. Apparently he’s lost patience for letting Phil set the pace with the recounting of events.

“What? No, of course not.”

Jimmy narrows his eyes. “Is that a dig?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

“You’re such a prude.”

“You’re a tart,” Phil fires back.

“I thought I was just sad.”

“Changed my mind.”

“Are you boyfriends, then?” Jimmy asks. “Eternal lovers, together forever, soul mates in this life and the next?”

Phil scowls. “You don’t have to be mean.”

“Sorry,” he mutters, picking up his pint and taking a swig.

“We’re not boyfriends. I don’t know what we are.”

“Hey, don’t be cross.” Jimmy reaches across the table to squeeze Phil’s arm in apology. “I’m just a bitter jealous cunt.”

“It’s not that,” Phil says. “It’s just, I genuinely don’t know what we are.”

Jimmy shrugs. “You’re dating.”

“I guess.”

“Why aren’t you excited?”

“I am,” Phil says. “Like, so much. But also it’s terrifying.”

“Why, because love is a lie and we all die alone?”

Phil rolls his eyes.

“Because it’s been a while?” Jimmy asks.

“Mostly because I reckon he’s probably gonna break my heart at some point.”

“So… because love is a lie and we all die alone.”

“Because he’s got some serious internalized homophobia,” Phil blurts, and then immediately wishes he hadn’t.

Jimmy looks thoroughly sobered. “Really?”

Phil shoves a handful of chips in his mouth, forcing himself to think before he can speak again.

“Isn’t he our age?” Jimmy asks.

“Bit younger. What does that matter?”

Jimmy shrugs. “It doesn’t, I guess, just usually blokes who actively snog other blokes have accepted themselves by the time they’re this old.”

Phil frowns. “I don’t think we should talk about this anymore.” Suddenly he feels ill. These things aren’t Phil’s to discuss with someone who doesn’t even know Dan.

“I’m not trying to be a bell end.”

“He wasn’t even fully comfortable with me telling you anything,” Phil says. “He’s not out.”

“To anyone?”

“Only to the women who rent him a room and his best friend.”

“Fuck, Phil.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Phil says. “I don’t have to tell people.”

“Yeah, but…” He trails off, and Phil knows it’s because Jimmy doesn’t want to say something that’s going to piss Phil off.

“What?”

“That can be hard. Like, for you. For the both of you as a couple. For one to be out and the other not.”

“We’re not a couple,” Phil says automatically. “And you were the one pushing for all this in the first place.”

“I didn’t know there’d be… complications.”

Phil frowns. Suddenly he feels like he might cry. “He likes me and I like him. We can figure the rest out.”

Jimmy looks pained. He looks like he wants to say more, but he’s actually physically biting his lip.

“Just be happy for me,” Phil says quietly. “Please? I just need you to be happy for me.”

“Okay.” He reaches over again and squeezes Phil’s hand this time. “I am. I’m really happy for you. I just—”

Phil shakes his head. “No just.”

“I wouldn’t be your best mate if I didn’t tell you to be careful,” Jimmy says quietly. “Broken hearts can be a right bitch to mend.”

Phil breathes out. Jimmy is his best mate. And his own heart is broken in a way Phil knows he can’t really properly comprehend. Phil squeezes his hand back. “I’ll be… I’ll try. I’ll try to be careful. I just… I like him so much already.”

Phil sighs. “I know. And that’s probably partly my fault too. I just hope he’s as wonderful as you think he is.”

“He is,” Phil says confidently. “Even if it doesn’t work out, I already know he’s wonderful.”

“I miss that,” Jimmy says quietly, his voice tight.

“I know.” Phil squeezes his hand again. “I’m sorry.”

Jimmy shakes his head, like he can shake away the sadness if he tries hard enough. He picks up his beer and takes a long drink.

“Tell me more about the kissing.”

-

They take a walk by the water afterward. They’re quiet, sharing the kind of comfortable silence that comes with being friends for as long as they have. It’s nice, if not a little bittersweet. Phil hates that his budding happiness could be a source of sadness for Jimmy, but he feels the happiness anyway.

They watch the sun set over the water before taking the train back home. For once Jimmy’s got no plans to go out, and Phil is glad for it. They both turn in to bed early after watching three episodes of Friends.

Phil doesn’t tell Jimmy about taking Dan up north. He can’t bear hearing from his best friend’s lips that it’s a bad idea. Maybe it is, but he wants the freedom to make stupid decisions because he’s smitten. He doesn’t want to deny himself the opportunity to fall, even if it means being hurt eventually.

He brushes his teeth and changes into pajamas, then climbs into bed. He’s just opening up his phone and wondering if it’d be too clingy to text Dan when Dan rings him.

Maybe Dan is just as clingy as Phil.

“Speak of the devil,” Phil says.

“Were you speaking about me?”

“Uh… think of the devil, then.”

“Dirty thoughts, I hope,” Dan says.

Phil makes a weird noise, excited and nervous and embarrassed all at once.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

“How was your day?” Phil asks, changing the subject. He won’t tell Dan just how dirty his thoughts got in the shower.

“Alright. Went to work in the afternoon. Taught an aqua fit class to a bunch of elderly people, then guarded the evening swim.”

“That must be boring, just standing there watching other people swim.”

“It’s actually kind of fascinating. It’s like getting paid to people watch.”

“Plus you get to stare at a lot of butts,” Phil points out.

Dan laughs. “You’re a low key perv, aren’t you?”

“Maybe not even that low key.”

Dan laughs again, softer and deeper. “You’re adorable. Your butt is too.”

“Shut up,” he mutters sheepishly.

“Mm nope, don’t think I will. You’ve got a good bum.”

“Do I?”

“Yeah. And it’s soft.”

Phil makes another noise, this one muffled by the pillow he’s shoved his face into.

“I wish it was here and I could touch it again,” Dan continues.

“We can’t have phone sex before we have actual sex,” Phil croaks, seriously in danger of getting hard already.

“Why not?”

“Because… because. We just can’t.”

“Well come over here then. We can sort this out pretty easily.”

Phil groans. “Shut up.”

“I’m really not joking, Phil. We both know neither of us is sleeping anytime soon.”

“We can’t have sex before we go on a proper date.”

“We did already.”

“When?” Phil asks.

“Middle of the night coffee.”

“That doesn’t count.”

“Why not?”

“I didn’t know you were… into me. And you didn’t know I was into you.”

“I knew,” Dan says. Phil can practically see his smirk.

“Shut up, you didn’t.”

“I was pretty sure. Were you not?” Dan asks. “Was it not obvious?”

“I tried to convince myself you weren’t.”

“What, why?”

Phil shrugs. He’s really got to stop gesturing when he’s on the phone. “Didn’t wanna get my hopes up.”

“That’s sad.”

“I’m rusty with the whole dating thing, okay?” Phil laughs. “Cut me some slack.”

“I’ve never been anything but rusty.”

“And yet you’re still better at it than me.”

“So is that what we’re doing?” Dan asks. “Dating?”

“Oh, I… I dunno. Sorry, I just… I dunno. Are we?”

“I don’t know either,” Dan says. “What exactly is dating?”

“Um.” Phil rolls onto his back. “Reckon it’s what comes between casually hooking up and being in like, a proper relationship?”

“Huh.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah,” Dan says, “huh.”

“Are we not dating?” Phil asks quietly. “Are we doing the casual hook up thing?”

“Is that what you want?” Dan asks.

“No. Do you?”

“No.”

“Okay, so…”

“Are you very fond of labels?” Dan asks.

“Um. I dunno. Are you?”

“No,” Dan says. “In fact I bloody hate them.”

Phil’s stomach twists. “I’m sorry.”

“If you’re trying to ask if I want to see anyone else, the answer is no.”

“I wasn’t,” Phil croaks.

“Okay. But I don’t.”

“Okay.”

“Do you?” Dan asks.

Phil barks a laugh. “No.”

“So I guess we're dating.”

“We don’t have to label it,” Phil says.

“You can’t see me but I’m smiling right now.”

Phil laughs. “I wish I could see it.”

“Next time we could Skype.”

“Or… you could have a sleepover,” Phil says, hoping he sounds as flirty as he’s trying for.

“Or you could take me home to meet your parents.”

“Oh yeah!” Phil exclaims. “I forgot to ask, when can you take off work?”

“Whenever you want.”

“Really?”

“I told you, Phil, I’m basically the boss. And if they really don’t want me to go, I’ll just quit.”

“No you won’t.”

“I will,” Dan insists.

“I wouldn’t make you do that. I can wait.”

“I’m not attached to this job, Phil. I’m not attached to any job.”

“But this job seems cool, isn’t it? Seems… chill.”

“It’s a great job,” Dan agrees. “But I can find another one. I’m not going to miss out on life for a job.”

Phil feels like he’s been slapped upside the head, but in a good way. It’s the essence of the kind of life he’s been trying to grab by the balls ever since the accident. “Wow.”

“I mean, I know I’m privileged to be able to say that. Winnie and Ada would float me until I found something else. I’m educated and, you know… white. And male. So I don’t really have to worry about finding a job to pay my rent. My very cheap rent.”

“Yeah.”

“Anyway, point is: I’m coming up north with you. Even though I’m kind of terrified.”

“Are you?”

“Yeah. I’m like, the definition of an introvert. And family is… hard. For me.”

Phil frowns. “You should know you have a habit of being cryptic.”

Dan chuckles. “Sorry. I’m not trying to be.”

“But you don’t want to talk about it?”

“You don’t wanna hear that story,” Dan says ruefully.

“I do.” Phil wishes he could see Dan’s face. He wishes Dan could see his. “If you want to tell it, I definitely want to hear it. Good listener, remember?”

“You’re just good,” Dan says. “Full stop.”

“Is it cheesy if I say I wish you were here?” Phil asks.

“No.”

“Good. Because I do.”

“What would you do if I was there?” Dan asks.

Phil’s mind is flooded with delicious images, but he goes for the one he’s craving the most. “Kiss you.”

“Mm. Yes please.”

“Let you touch my butt.”

Dan laughs. “Yes please,” he says again.

“Maybe I could touch yours too.”

“Phil. You can touch whatever you want.”

Phil closes his eyes and lets the promise of that wash over him. “Someday.”

“I find you extremely endearing,” Dan says matter of factly. “Just so you know.”

“I find you very distracting,” Phil says.

Dan laughs again. Phil loves how often he seems to be able to make Dan laugh, even if it is so often just because he’s being daft and ridiculous.

“I mean that in a nice way,” Phil clarifies. “I mean it like I’m always thinking about you because you’re so pretty and funny and nice that I can’t focus on anything else.”

“I’m not that funny,” Dan says.

Phil laughs. “But you don’t deny that you’re sexy?”

“You didn’t say sexy!”

“Well I’m saying it now.”

“Well then I’m denying it.”

Phil smirks to himself. “Notice how I didn’t say you’re smart?”

“Oi!” Dan shrieks and Phil laughs some more.

They both laugh. They laugh and laugh and then Phil asks, “Will you stay on the phone with me while I buy our tickets?”

“I’ll stay on the phone with you until you tell me you’re sick of me.”

“Hmm, so never, then?”

“We’re fucking disgusting,” Dan says. “Is this what it’s like to date someone?”

“Maybe it is,” Phil says, “but we’re not dating, remember?”

“Buy the tickets, man.”

-

Phil buys the tickets. They leave in two days. They’ll be there for a week. Phil asks Dan if he needs to call work right away and beg off the time, but Dan verbally hand waves him and says he’ll do it tomorrow.

They keep talking until two in the morning, until Phil is yawning as often as he’s speaking and his eyes stubbornly refuse to stay open.

The last words they speak to each other are whispered goodnights, and Phil falls asleep convinced that if he is going to get his heart broken eventually, it’s worth it for this.

Chapter Text

Somehow Phil forgets every single time how stressful it is to travel by plane. He’s practically thrumming with nervous energy by the time he gets to the airport.

Early. Always so incredibly early. He’s early enough to be too early, even if he were about to go on some kind of crazy international journey.

He’s not. He could have slept in like two more hours and still gotten here with plenty of time, which means he’s just going to have to sit around and be nervous wondering if Dan is going to blow him off.

For some reason it suddenly seems like a very distinct possibility. It was absolutely mental to even suggest this in the first place. They’ve just started dating, or whatever it is they’re doing.

(He’s not sure he hates labels as much as Dan claims to. Labels can be really useful.)

He’s starting to sweat. He keeps his hand wrapped around his phone, utterly convinced now that it’s going to buzz with a text from Dan informing him that it’s way too early to meet the parents and he made a big mistake and he’s met a pretty girl who won’t make everything feel so scary and difficult.

He’s trying not to give the other fear any room in his brain. As much as it sucks to imagine Dan deciding he’s not ready for whatever this thing is he’s got going on with Phil, the other thing feels so much worse. The other thing is the kind of fear that locks his chest until he can’t breathe, until he’s not even sure if his heart is beating anymore or not.

He’s not going to let it get there. He’ll take the racing heart over one paralyzed by reliving his trauma, by imagining all the ways it could happen again.

He was in a car crash. A terrible one. But that doesn’t mean the world is out to get him. He didn’t cheat death, he just… got lucky. There’s no cosmic score that needs settling.

He doubles down instead on picturing his impending heartbreak. He pictures in detail the woman Dan will leave him for.

She’ll have long blonde hair. Blokes like that, he reckons. And big breasts. Blue eyes, maybe, or green. Pure green, not the muddled blue-green-yellow Phil’s got behind his glasses.

She’ll be funny. And successful.

And chill. Above all she’ll be definitely be chill. She’ll kiss him in public and he won’t have to have a crisis about it.

When his phone finally does buzz, Phil’s not even surprised. He’s worked himself up into absolute certainty that he’s about to get dumped. He opens the message with his stupid shaky fingers.

would your mum be offended if i wore a jumper that says sexual fantasies on it

Phil snorts. Like, actually. He looks up from his phone to make sure no one heard and realizes that, actually, someone did, a middle aged lady who is now looking at him like he’s very embarrassing indeed.

He doesn’t care. Dan isn’t dumping him. And he wants to make sure he doesn’t inadvertently offend Phil’s mum. Phil feels like he could fly. He feels like he could get up and go snort right in that lady’s pinched face.

He doesn’t do that. He types out a text for Dan instead. i don’t care what you wear, just throw it all in your suitcase and get here asap

Phil’s phone starts ringing and he answers it immediately. He’s way too keyed up to play it cool.

“What does ‘here’ mean?” Dan asks. “Are you at the airport already?”

“Um. Maybe.” Phil hopes Dan doesn’t ask exactly how long he’s been here. He’s not sure he has the mental focus to lie convincingly.

“I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet.”

“Nervous flyer,” Phil says. “Nervous everything-er.”

“Anxious,” Dan says, like he’s figured out the answer to a question that’d been bothering him for ages.

“Anxious,” Phil confirms.

“Alright, I’m gonna hang up now. I’ve got some hustling to do. There’s a fit guy waiting for me at the airport.”

Phil beams. “Lucky guy.”

-

He also somehow always forgets just how tiny the plane is. Regular planes are cramped enough - the one that flies to IOM is ludicrously miniscule. He and Dan look like hunched trolls as they lumber to their seats. If Dan was Jimmy, Phil would have already clamped onto his arm or gotten his hand in a vice grip, but Dan is Dan which means Phil buckles himself into his seat and grips the armrests so hard his knuckles go white.

And honestly, Dan doesn’t look all that much more relaxed than Phil.

“Flying is very safe, statistically,” Phil tells him.

Dan cocks an eyebrow. “So I’ve heard.”

“We’re going to be fine.”

“Reckon so,” Dan agrees.

“It’s a short flight. The weather is good. I’ve done this loads of times.”

Dan knocks his knee gently into Phil’s. “Who you trying to convince right now, mate?”

“Me,” he says without missing a beat. “Definitely me.”

“It’s alright, Phil. We’ll be alright.” He pauses, and waits for Phil to look at him before he continues in a soft voice. “You’ll be alright.”

Phil’s heart squeezes. He’s so fucking glad Dan hasn’t dumped his for a funny blonde lady with green eyes and big breasts.

-

They make it to the island without so much as a moment of turbulence. Phil doesn’t unclench his fingers from the armrests until the plane has come to a full stop on the tarmac.

Both of his parents have come to greet him. Phil hugs his mum for so long that his dad laughs and tells her off for hogging the offspring. Phil is just so bloody glad to see her. He hadn’t even realized the extent of his desire to be hugged like this.

He’s sniffling when he pulls away and turns to give his dad a turn, and he loves them both for pretending not to notice how emotional he’s getting.

They still look like his parents. They still smell like his parents. He finds such an immense comfort in that.

He wipes his nose on the sleeve of his jumper and introduces Dan to them. Kath gives him a hug and Nigel shakes his hand. Dan is all smiles and charm and his accent has gone more posh than Phil’s ever heard it. He wants to take the piss, but mostly it’s just very very cute.

-

The grilling starts as soon as they’re in the car.

“So Dan, where are you from?” Nigel asks.

Phil rolls his eyes and settles in, leaning his head against the window. As if being in a car isn’t bad enough, he has to deal with added anxiety of… this. His parents do this with every mate he’s ever had. Apparently being thirty two years old doesn’t absolve him from having his friends interrogated.

“Wokingham. Near Reading.”

“I’ve never been,” Nigel says.

“You’re lucky. It’s a—” He cuts himself off from cursing abruptly and Phil smirks. “There’s nothing there. Nothing good.”

The bitterness is palpable. Phil wonders if there’s any way his parents don’t hear it.

“Phil’s lucky he has a nice place to go when he wants to go back home,” Dan says.

“This wasn’t always home,” Kath says. “Phil grew up in Rossendale.”

“Near Manchester?” Dan asks.

Phil looks over at him, interest piqued.

“That’s the one,” Kath says. “You been?”

“No, but I went to uni at Manchester.”

“You did?” Phil asks.

Dan nods.

“You never told me.”

“I hated every second of it,” Dan says. “Well, the classes anyway. The people were alright.”

“It’s a good school,” Nigel says, just a touch defensive.

“Oh for sure,” Dan says quickly. “Nothing against the school, or even the classes. It was one hundred percent my own fault.”

Phil is dying to ask Dan a whole slew of questions about that, but Kath gets there quicker. “What did you study?”

“Law.”

“A fine choice,” Nigel says.

Dan snorts. “Not for me.”

“Are you a lawyer?” Nigel asks.

Phil wishes they would just shut up already.

“He’s a lifeguard, Nige.” Kath nudges him and adds quietly, “I told you that.”

“Oh yes, yes. You taught our boy to swim.”

“Well…” Phil says.

Dan smiles at him. “It’s an ongoing process. I don’t make him pay for it anymore though.”

“I don’t understand,” Nigel says. “Phil, you had lessons when you were young. Did you forget how the whole thing works?”

Kath elbows him this time, hard. Phil’s insides squirm. He hasn’t talked to his dad all that much since the accident. He was always the kind of father who scolded Phil for crying when he had a skinned knee, or loudly lamented the fact that Phil was hopeless at anything that even resembled sport.

Phil doesn’t know how to tell his dad he’s scared. That he knows how to swim but he can’t make himself do it because it feels like the second he makes himself vulnerable the universe is going to finish what it tried to do on that rainy night.

“Guess I did,” Phil mutters, turning to look out the window at the cliffs and the sky and the ocean. This place is beautiful, but it doesn’t feel like home.

He misses Rossendale. He misses their big house on the hill and his old mates and the way everything felt simple when he was a kid. Growing up is so overrated.

“The sea is cold pretty much year-round here, but if you’re brave you lot could go out swimming while you’re up,” Kath says, ever the mediator. “Port Erin is close enough.”

“Maybe,” Phil says gruffly. “Dan’s afraid of the sea.”

“Oi, spilling all my secrets, are you?” Dan shoves lightly at Phil’s shoulder.

Phil smiles despite how rocky he feels on the inside.

“So how does someone with a law degree end up teaching grown men to swim?” Nigel asks.

“Dad.”

“No, it’s fine,” Dan says. “It’s a valid question.”

“I have an English Language and Linguistics degree and I’m definitely not a linguist. I can’t even spell words in my mother tongue,” Phil points out.

“Maybe it’s a Millennial thing,” Kath says.

Phil laughs. “Mum, how do you know about Millennials?”

“Phil, I do know how to read, you know.”

“I think it actually might be a Millennial thing,” Dan says. “We’re all anxious and depressed and didn’t get the love and guidance we needed from our parents so we grew up emotionally stunted and incapable of making decisions and looking after ourselves.”

It’s so quiet in the car that Phil is convinced he can hear how fast his heart is pounding.

“... According to an article I read in a magazine in the waiting room at my therapist’s office,” Dan says. “So yeah, maybe it’s true.”

Nigel laughs. He laughs long and loud in big guffaws that hurt Phil’s ears. Phil needs the hell out of this car immediately. The stress is too much.

“Anyway,” Dan says. “To answer your question, I tried the law thing and I hated it so much it nearly killed me. So now I work whatever jobs I can find that aren’t too stressful. Been doing the lifeguarding thing for a few years now. I like it. It’s like being a teacher but more fun and less pressure.”

“That’s admirable,” Kath says. “To choose fulfillment over a traditional definition of success.”

Phil can’t help cocking an eyebrow at that. He reckons if it was him making that kind of decision his parents would have a few things to say about it. He knows they would’ve been happier if he’d ended up with a career in publishing or education and not entertainment.

“Mostly I’m just trying to prioritize my mental health,” Dan says. “If I could handle more, I’d do it. But right now I can’t.”

Phil just gawks at him. It strikes him in that moment just how brave Dan is.

“That’s important,” Nigel says. “Good on you for knowing your limits.”

“I’m hungry,” Phil blurts. He can’t take another second of this conversation.

-

They stop somewhere for lunch and then head back to the house. Phil tells his mum they’re tired and wouldn’t mind taking a few hours to chill. She takes it the wrong way and says she’ll make tea and dig Scrabble out of the board game cupboard, and Phil doesn’t have the heart to tell her he just wants some time alone with Dan.

And away from them.

He doesn’t remember ever wanting time away from his mum when he goes to visit. Maybe he’s finally growing up.

He takes Dan upstairs so Dan can put his stuff in the guest room. He leans in the doorway and watches while Dan dumps his bag on the floor and sits on the edge of the bed.

“Phil, mate. You didn’t tell me you were rich.”

Phil huffs a laugh. “I’m not.”

“Well your parents are, clearly. Look at this place.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “This coming from the guy who lives in a Notting Hill mansion.”

“Yeah but this is your parents. You’re a rich kid.”

Phil frowns.

Dan shakes his head. “Sorry. Growing up skint makes you bitter, I guess.”

“Did you?” Phil asks.

Dan shrugs. “Not that bad, I guess. We weren’t homeless or anything.”

Phil’s heart starts to beat fast in the way he dreads. His palms are clammy and his head is spinning. Dan looks miserable and Phil doesn’t know what he’s done to put that look there or how to take it away. He’s been anxious since the moment he woke up this morning, and apparently Dan being upset with him is his limit for the day.

“Phil, you alright?”

Phil shakes his head. No point trying to lie.

Dan stands up and Phil thinks he’s going to walk over but instead he crouches down and starts digging around in his backpack.

Phil’s finding it harder and harder to remind himself to take breaths. His chest hurts.

“Sit down, Phil,” Dan says firmly.

He pulls a sharpie out of his bag and chucks it onto the bed, then starts unzipping the fly of his jeans. Phil is too anxious to be curious, so he just sits there without a word and watches Dan step out of his trousers.

Dan sits next to Phil in his pants and hands the sharpie to Phil. “Draw me a giraffe.” He sounds so sure of himself that Phil doesn’t bother arguing that he’s shit at drawing. He clicks the pen open and brings it down on Dan’s skin.

He draws a very awful looking animal with spots and a long neck. He can’t even bring himself to call it a giraffe. Then Dan says, “Write down every food you can think of that starts with b.”

Dan has him draw flowers and trees and Pokémon a portrait of Mulder and Scully. He has him write out the lyrics to The Black Parade and the names of all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Phil laughs when he forgets how to spell Michelangelo.

“You’re laughing,” Dan says.

Phil breathes in deeply and then out again. “Yeah.”

“Feeling better?”

“A bit, yeah. That really works.”

Dan nods. “Sometimes I have to switch to paper when I run out of flesh.”

“I made a mess of your pretty legs.”

Dan looks down at his thighs. “I think it’s an improvement, actually.”

“I upset you,” Phil says.

“You didn’t. I just… I told you, Phil. I have issues.”

“Family issues.”

“Among other things,” Dan says. “But I didn’t mean to trigger you.”

“You didn’t, that’s not— It’s just… I dunno. Stressful day.”

Dan nods like he gets it.

“I want you to have fun here,” Phil says quietly.

“I will. I am.”

“I don’t want you to hate me because you think I’m a rich kid.”

Dan gives Phil a look. “Phil. I far from hate you, mate.”

Phil looks down at Dan’s legs. “I forgot to tell my mum you’re a vegan.”

Dan chuckles. “That’s okay.”

“She’ll make things with meat.”

“It’s okay, Phil. I’m really not bothered.”

“You made my dad laugh so hard.”

Suddenly Dan’s hands are on Phil’s shoulders, pushing him down gently until his back meets the mattress. Dan sits right on his lap and says, “Breathe.”

Phil breathes.

“Everything is fine.”

Phil nods.

“Okay?” Dan asks.

Phil nods.

“Family is hard for me.”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Yours is awesome.”

“I want to kiss you.”

Dan leans down and kisses him, soft and gentle.

Phil closes his eyes. “I’ll probably be weird and scattered like this all day.”

“That’s fine,” Dan says, stroking his thumb over Phil’s eyebrow. “You’re always weird.”

“But you like me anyway.”

Dan laughs. “I do. I really do.”

Chapter Text

Phil blinks his eyes open, immediately confused about why they were closed in the first place. The light is different now, weaker where it comes in through the window. He lifts his heavy head and his heart jumps a little to see Dan asleep next to him.

He’s not immediately sure what happened. What time is it? What day, even? Why are they asleep in the same bed in his parents’ house?

He lays his head back down and breathes in and out while he looks at the ceiling and waits for his brain to wake up enough to remember the details. He’s not sure if he should be feeling guilty or not.

He turns his head to look at Dan.

God, Dan. He’s so beautiful. Phil feels unhinged just looking at him.

Awareness starts to creep back in. The panic, the sharpie, the kissing.

Oh, yes. The kissing. They did a lot of it.

The apprehension in his chest is replaced by a momentary flooding warmth. Dan is such a good kisser.

They must have kissed themselves into a nap. Phil doesn’t remember falling asleep. He reaches into his pocket for his phone and sees they’ve been up here for at least a couple hours.

Crap. His mum had been expecting them for tea and Scrabble, hadn’t she? He sits up and leans back against the headboard. He feels heavy and dull and the specific kind of wrong that always happens after his anxiousness gets the better of him.

He reaches up to rub the remnants of sleepy confusion from his face when something dark catches his eye. He pulls his hand back and there on the inside of his wrist is a little heart, messily doodled in smudged black ink.

Okay, so he definitely has room in his body to feel moments of elation, even amidst all the worry and confusion and dullness.

He gets out of bed slowly and carefully. He doesn’t want to wake Dan. It’s been a long day, he deserves the rest.

He heads downstairs, anxious to speak to his mum.

He finds her in the kitchen, along with the smell of cake and vanilla.

“He has risen,” she says when she sees him.

“You make me sound like Jesus.”

“Jesus wouldn’t abandon his poor mum to drink her tea all by herself.”

He winces. “I’m really sorry. We— I fell asleep.”

“I know.”

“You know?”

“I came up looking for you. Found the two of you asleep in the guest room.”

His stomach plunges.

“Just mates, eh?” She gives him a look. An ‘I’m not a bloody idiot’ kind of look.

“I was just showing him the room and… we were tired. From the journey.”

It sounds pathetic and he knows it. But he’s not going to out Dan. He made a promise.

“It’s quite a short flight,” she points out.

“Yeah, but…”

She raises her eyebrows in question.

“It was stressful,” he says.

She reaches up and lays her palm against his forehead.

“I’m not sick, mum.”

“You might be. You seem strange.”

“Well maybe that’s just because I am strange. Maybe my strangeness is incurable.”

“Don’t talk about my little boy that way. Do you want some tea?”

“I’m not a little boy, mum. And is being strange really such a terrible thing?”

She moves to get him some tea. He doesn’t know why he’s choosing this moment of all moments to push her.

“Actually, you know what?” he says. “I am sick. I have anxiety.”

“Everyone does sometimes,” she says dismissively.

“No. I’m not feeling anxious, I said I have anxiety. There’s a difference.” He sits down at the kitchen table.

She brings him tea and stands over him. “You’re not sick.”

“Fine,” he says. “I’m not sick.”

“Phil.”

“Thank you for the tea.”

“Phil.”

He takes a sip. It’s too hot. He takes another sip anyway. “What?”

“Why are you so angry?”

He sighs. “I’m not.”

“Why are you pretending Dan isn’t your boyfriend?”

“I’m not. I’m not pretending anything. He isn’t my boyfriend.”

“You know I know you’re gay. You know I love you.”

Phil buries his face in his hands. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

She sits in the chair next to him. “Neither do I, love.”

He looks at her. He knows she’s not trying to wind him up. She just comes by it naturally.

“I had a panic attack.”

She just looks at him, not saying anything.

“That’s why I’m strange. Why you think I’m acting strange. And why I fell asleep in Dan’s bed. I had a panic attack and he talked me down and then I fell asleep. I guess he fell asleep too.”

“I don’t understand, love.”

His heart twinges. She sounds so genuine.

“Sometimes I get so anxious over little things - or even nothing at all - and it just takes over my whole body. And I can’t make it stop. It’s like… like how you feel on a roller coaster right before the big drop. But for me it happens when it shouldn’t.”

She frowns. “That sounds terrible.”

“That’s why I’ve been avoiding coming up. I knew the flight would set me off.”

“You didn’t tell me,” she says quietly.

“I tried.”

“Why haven’t you ever told me this before?”

He pulls one of his knees up to his chest. He feels too exposed. “It hasn’t always been this bad. I used to have a handle on it.”

She’s quiet a long time. Then she says, “The accident.”

“Yeah.”

“Dan understands?”

Phil shrugs. “Maybe not fully. But enough.”

“He’s rather a strange boy, too, isn’t he?”

Phil actually smiles at that. “I guess. If I’m strange I guess he is too. In his own ways.”

“He says strange things.”

“He’s just… honest. About certain things.”

She cocks an eyebrow. “And not others?”

Phil’s chest aches, but he can’t. He can’t explain to her the intricacies of internalized oppression and closeted queerness. He can’t tell her that a lie isn’t always a lie, sometimes it’s just the armour a person desperately needs to feel in control of their own life.

“He helped me today, mum. He really helped me. It could have been so much worse.”

She frowns again. “I’m worried about you, Phil.”

“Sometimes I’m worried about myself, too.”

“I thought you were so lucky, that I was so lucky that you’d walked away from that horrible accident with hardly more than a flesh wound.”

He laughs. It’s a bitter sound that he realizes is unkind, but he can’t help it. “I think the wounds skipped the flesh and went straight to my soul, mum.”

She starts to cry.

Fuck.

“I’m alright, mum,” he says, reaching over and squeezing her arm. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m alright, I promise. I’ll be alright.”

She makes a sound and covers her mouth and he thinks he’s never hated himself more. Maybe this is why he’d been so reluctant to visit; he knew he wouldn’t be able to hide the way his trauma has changed him. He knew he’d hurt her.

“Mum, please.” He moves his chair so he can face her and gather her up in his long arms. He squeezes tight. “Don’t cry. I’m okay.”

She lets him hold her for a moment or two before she pushes away gently and laughs shakily. She’s not done being sad, he can tell, but she’s done letting him see. “I have to get the cakes out of the oven.”

He lets her go, and watches her swipe quickly at the moisture under her eyes. She opens the oven door and the smell is sweet and cloying and he feels sick with the guilt of being a burden on her heart.

But he doesn’t know how to take it back now that he’s said it.

“Mum?”

She puts the tray of cupcakes on the stovetop and turns back to look at him.

“I’ll be okay, right?”

She doesn’t hesitate. “Of course, love.”

-

He’s helping her peel potatoes when Dan comes downstairs yawning and bleary eyed and painfully adorable.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Kath says with a smile in her voice and all over her face.

“Sorry,” he croaks. “Did I miss Scrabble?”

“It’s never too late for Scrabble.” She stands up. “Sit. Would you like some tea?”

“Yes please. Can I help you with anything?”

“Oh my.” She looks at Phil. “He is wonderful, isn’t he?”

Phil watches Dan’s cheeks patch up with pink. “He’s alright, I guess.”

Chapter Text

Phil lies in bed, the glow of his little bedside lamp illuminating his semi permanent wrist tattoo as he stares at it.

Dan drew that heart. He drew it on Phil’s skin while he lay next to Phil in bed. He drew it when Phil was sleeping.

Phil doesn’t know how not to be emotional about that.

He’s feeling very emotional. He’s feeling wrung out from the attack and simultaneously filled up with good things as he thinks of Dan.

Dan’s legs marked up with sharpie. Dan helping Kath set the table for dinner. Dan winning two games of Scrabble.

Dan in the room down the hall. Is he still awake? Phil can’t imagine he wouldn’t be. It’s late, but Dan’s not a sleeper. Phil wants to get up and go check.

He’d like to slip into Dan’s room and pull off his clothes and feel him everywhere. He wants to know what Dan tastes like, what he looks like when he’s about to come.

It’s possible he’s a little worked up. He’s tired but he’s afraid to sleep, afraid to give control back to a brain that has already tried so hard today to hurt him. He’s so tired that he can’t help the lustful thoughts he’s been trying to keep at bay from leaking out a little.

He looks at his wrist again. It’s not about sex, what he has with Dan. Maybe someday that will be part of it, but for now it isn’t, and he’s really okay with that. There’s something sweet about the whole thing, about sleeping in separate rooms and kisses that stay pressed to lips and cheeks and jaws and necks.

He wants that now. Now that he’s thinking about it, it seems impossible that he should leave Dan alone when he’s just down the hall.

But it’s Dan’s choice, isn’t it? It’s Dan who needs the boundaries, and Phil has to respect them. He does respect them. He just kind of hates them right now.

He doesn’t understand them, not really. He wants to. He wants Dan to trust him enough to tell him all the things he’s been hinting at, and that’s why he has to respect the boundaries even when he doesn’t understand them.

He turns off the lamp and slides down until his head is laid on the pillow. His thoughts are just a jumble of Dan. He can barely keep up. Mostly he’s just tired and wishing Dan was next to him.

He pulls out his phone. you asleep? he texts.

The answer comes back immediately. course not

Phil rings him. His fingers feel too clumsy and slow to type words he could just mutter from his mouth with much less effort.

“You’re clingy,” Dan says when he answers.

“Aye.”

“You should be asleep.”

“Yep,” Phil agrees. “As should you.”

“I fucked myself over with that nap.”

“You’re not tired?” Phil asks.

“Not really. Are you?”

“Yes and no. I mean, yes. I’m tired. But… I dunno. My brain won’t shut up.”

“What’s it saying?” Dan asks.

“So many things. Too many things.”

“Tell me one.”

“It’s saying I really like that little heart Dan drew on my wrist.”

Dan chuckles. The sound of it is warm and lovely. “Yeah? You noticed that?”

“Of course I did.”

“What else is it saying?”

“It’s saying it’s scared to go to sleep because it’s pretty sure the dreams will be really, really bad.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry, Phil.”

Phil hates the way Dan’s voice changes then. It’s as kind as ever, but there’s pity there, and Phil doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want Dan to see him as some broken thing.

So he makes sure his voice is low enough that there’s no chance his parents, who are in the next room, could hear him. “It’s saying I should sneak into your room and get you naked ASAP.”

“Maybe you should listen to it.”

Phil feels a stirring between his legs. “Shut up.”

“Why?”

“Because my judgement is impaired.”

“Is it?”

“Yes.”

Dan’s voice is full of laughter. “Prove it.”

“I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“You should come here.”

Phil bites his lip. “I hate you.”

“No you don’t.”

“No I don’t.”

“Come here and get me naked.”

Phil crosses one leg over the other and clenches them together as if that will stem the flow of blood downwards. “No.”

“You’re a tease.”

Phil snorts. “Pot. Kettle. Black.”

“You started it.”

“And I’m finishing it.”

Dan huffs. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yes.”

“Are you a virgin?”

Phil laughs. “No.”

“Maybe like, a born again one, then?”

“Definitely not.”

“But you don’t want to get me naked.”

“I do,” Phil says, pained. “I told you I do.”

“But you won’t.”

“No.”

“Because…”

Phil sighs. “Because… I like you.”

“I don’t follow your logic, there, mate.”

“I don’t wanna just fuck.”

“That’s not what I’m suggesting.”

“But things are complicated,” Phil says quietly. “For you.”

“Not really. You know I’m into you.”

“Yeah, but… I want you to be sure.”

“I am, Phil.”

“Okay, then I want to be sure.”

Dan is quiet for a painfully long moment. “You’re not sure?”

“I’m not sure that you’re not going to fuck things up when you get scared,” Phil says. “Because you’re not sure of that either. And if I get you naked and you touch me, I’ll be gone for you, like, fully. And I’m not strong enough to endure getting my heart broken right now.”

The resulting silence on the other end of the line is absolutely deafening. Phil pulls the phone from his ear and his stomach sinks to realize that Dan has hung up.

And then his door is creaking open and Dan is there, shutting it behind him, tip toeing into Phil’s room. He’s not wearing a shirt. He’s not wearing pjs. Just pants. The tight black ones.

Phil is hard. Dan is beautiful.

Dan lifts up the duvet and gets into Phil’s bed. “I won’t touch you,” he says. “And I’m not naked.”

“Almost,” Phil croaks.

“Almost. But this is what I normally wear to bed.”

“You hung up on me,” Phil croaks.

Dan rolls on top of Phil. He’s about to say something, when he sits on Phil’s crotch and makes a surprised noise.

Phil should probably be embarrassed, but he isn’t. Not at all.

“Did I… interrupt?”

Phil shakes his head. “Just thinking about you.”

Dan bites his lip. “I’m kind of pissed that I promised not to touch you.”

“I kind of am too.”

“I swear I didn’t come to torture you.”

Phil closes his eyes. The sight of Dan on top of him like this is too much. “It’s fine. I’m a grown up, I can handle it.”

He’s not sure that’s true, but he’s going to try.

“I just… I hate what you said,” Dan whispers.

“It’s nothing you didn’t say yourself,” Phil points out.

“I know, but… Sounds worse coming from you.”

“I’m a bit fragile,” Phil admits. “And you’re like a hurricane.”

“I fucking hate that. I don’t want to be a hurricane.”

“And I don’t want to be fragile, but we are what we are.”

Dan puts his hands on Phil’s chest. Phil opens his eyes.

“Why did you invite me here?” Dan asks. “Why are you even wasting your time on me?”

Phil wonders if Dan can feel how fast his heart is beating. “Because you make me feel alive.”

Dan flattens himself on top of Phil’s body and they find each other’s mouths and Phil kisses him like it’s the last thing he’s ever going to do. In some ways that’s what it feels like, like he’ll never feel more alive than this, like everything that comes after this will be an afterthought.

Dan doesn’t touch Phil, but Phil touches Dan, everywhere but the place he can feel Dan hard and digging into his hip. He touches his face and his shoulders and his back and his ass and buries his fingers in his hair and tugs as he bites at Dan’s lips and muffles his noises into Dan’s open mouth so his parents don’t hear. He clenches his thighs against the urge to roll his hips up and it’s genuinely painful, the magnitude of that self control.

This is probably more intense than sex could ever be, and he has that thought right before he feels a tear roll down his cheek and smear onto Dan’s face. Dan feels it, and then turns his head and kisses it like he wants to taste it on purpose. He kisses wet down to Phil’s neck and licks his skin and bites it and Phil bites his own lip since Dan’s are busy now.

Maybe they’re going to eat each other. That’s kind of what it feels like.

“Dan,” he croaks. “You have to stop.”

Dan goes still laid out on top of Phil, and reaches one hand down to press on Phil’s hip. “I might die if I stop.”

“I’m already dying. I’ll die if you keep going.”

“Let me touch you,” Dan whispers into Phil’s ear. “Please.”

Phil shakes his head. Dan rolls off of Phil and onto his back and shoves a hand into his pants and Phil watches as he brings himself off without a hint of shame.

Dan turns his head to look at Phil when it’s all over, his chest heaving. “Please don’t die.”

“Please don’t break my heart,” Phil whispers.

“Can I sleep with you?” Dan asks. “Will you let me hold you tonight?”

Phil nods. He doesn’t care that he’s still hard enough to break fucking rocks with his dick. All he wants is Dan’s arms around him, and that’s what he gets.

“I won’t, by the way,” Dan says into Phil’s hair. “You’re safe. You’re safe with me. Nothing’s going to break.”

Phil falls asleep that night believing that it’s true.

Chapter Text

Phil jolts awake to the sound of screeching tires and exploding glass echoing in his brain. He clutches his arm, confused when there’s no blood.

He’s sweating, chest heaving, mouth dry. He turns his head on the pillow and Dan is there, sleeping. Phil’s glad he didn’t wake him up. He’s all too aware how painfully hard sleep is to come by for the both of them.

Phil lies there until the immediate shock feelings have dulled, then carefully sits up, grabs his phone and a change of clothes and tiptoes out of the room. It’s early morning, but not too early to get up and start the day, so he showers and gets dressed and goes downstairs to make coffee.

To his surprise, coffee is already made and his dad is sat at the kitchen table sketching something in his notepad.

“You’re up early,” he says. “Thought you were your mother.”

“Bad dreams,” Phil says, making a beeline for the cupboard that holds the mugs.

“Oh no.” He turns his attention back to his drawing, and Phil is more than okay with that. He’s not in the mood to recount his nightmare or explain to his dad that it affects him more deeply than just a polite ‘oh no’ acknowledges.

He fills his mug to the brim and sips some of the coffee out black to make room for milk and sugar, then joins his dad at the table. “What’re you drawing?”

Nigel slides the notebook towards him so Phil can see a simple rendering of a lighthouse on the beach. “Just a doodle,” he says, pulling it back in front of him.

“You wake up so early, Dad, it’s mental.”

“It’s nice. Peaceful. I like getting up with the birds.”

Phil sips his coffee. It is peaceful, actually. He wouldn’t do this voluntarily, but the quiet is rather pleasant, just the sound of his dad’s pencil on the paper.

“Were you up late?” Nigel asks.

Phil’s stomach twinges a little to think that maybe his parents heard what he and Dan were getting up to. “Yeah, I guess. Couldn’t sleep.”

“You need to get outside. The sea air will do you good.”

“That’s what mum always says.”

“She’s a smart ol’ bird.”

Phil laughs. “She’s not here, you don’t have to suck up.”

Nigel smiles. “Seriously though, you should take your mate out to the cliffs. Actually, your mum will probably insist on coming too, won’t she?”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “She’ll make you come too, you know.”

“That she will.”

“Do you guys not understand that I’m the clumsiest human being on this planet? It’s been over thirty years now, you’d think she’d stop putting me in situations where I could easily fall to my death.”

“You’ve managed so far, haven’t you?” Nigel looks up and gives him a smirk.

“No thanks to you.”

“It’s good for you,” Nigel says dismissively. “You breathe in too much crap in the city.”

“Not really,” Phil argues. “I barely leave my flat anymore.”

His dad frowns. “I hope that’s not true.”

Phil shrugs.

“You’re not back to work yet?”

He can feel his shoulders tensing up. He shakes his head and looks down into his mug.

“Well,” Nigel says. “Soon, I’m sure, yeah?”

He says, “Yeah,” because what else can he really say? If his mum barely understood, his dad is sure not to have a clue.

He’d like to go back to work. He’d like to stop feeling like the sole purpose of his existence is to feel afraid of things that probably aren’t going to hurt him.

He finishes his coffee and excuses himself to go outside and ring Jimmy. He sits in the back garden and doesn’t even care that the dew on the grass is slowly sleeping through his jeans.

He has to call three times before Jimmy answers.

“Jesus, Lester. D’you know what time it is, mate?”

“Not exactly.”

“It’s way-too-fucking-early-o’clock.”

“I wanted to hear your sweet voice.”

“Fuck you,” Jimmy says, in a voice so comedically anthitetical to what Phil’s just said that it makes him snort.

“Forgive me for missing you.”

“Shut up,” Jimmy says, yawning. “You’ve got loverboy.”

“Yeah, but. He doesn’t replace you.”

“Aw. That’s sweet.”

“I watched him wank last night.”

“Less sweet,” Jimmy says.

“But very hot.”

“Is he hung?”

Phil scrunches up his face. “Have you always been so—”

“Simple question.”

“And one I’m not going to answer.”

“Why?” Jimmy whines.

“Because it’s rude. And also I didn’t see it. It was under his pants.”

“So he’s a prude just like you.”

“I’m not.”

“I thought you were mad for him.”

“I am,” Phil admits easily. “I just…” He sighs. “I guess maybe I’m old fashioned or something. I want it to be…”

“What, special?” Jimmy offers.

“Yeah, okay? I want it to be special. And I want it to mean something.”

“Why can’t it just mean you want each other’s bodies?” Jimmy asks. Phil can tell he means it, that for once he isn’t just trying to be a prat.

“I told you already,” Phil says quietly. “He’s kind of a mess.”

“You are too, though.”

“Yeah, exactly. That’s why I can’t risk getting any worse.”

Jimmy makes a noise like he’s clicking his tongue. Phil can picture his face perfectly. “What?” Phil asks impatiently.

“Nothing. I just think you’re being a bit stupid.”

“Wow. Thanks.”

“Just being honest.”

“Maybe I’m trying to protect myself.” He hates how over defensive he sounds. “Maybe you should try it.”

“Maybe I’m trying to protect myself from thinking about Tom,” Jimmy says bluntly.

“And how’s that working out for you?”

Jimmy is quiet for a long time. “That was mean, Phil.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not working, if you must know. It’s not working at all.”

“I know,” Phil murmurs.

“I don’t know how to stop, though. Every time I think of him I just go a little bit insane.”

“I’m worried about you.”

“I might be worried about myself,” Jimmy says. “Fuck.”

“I think they call that the first step,” Phil says. He can’t help smiling a little.

“Well what about you?” Jimmy asks. “I thought your whole thing now was to try new things.”

“I don’t think heartbreak was what I had in mind. You don’t make it look all that appealing, Jim.”

“Phil, you absolute wanker, you’re already in it. You don’t have to touch his cock to fall for him. Fairly certain you’ve already done that.”

Phil takes his damp socks off and rubs the soles of his feet against the grass. It tickles pleasantly. “Yeah. I reckon that’s true.”

“I guess I can forgive you for being an idiot. You’ve never had a proper boyfriend.”

“I still don’t.”

“You’re an idiot,” Jimmy says.

“So are you.”

“Great. Glad we got that sorted.”

Phil laughs. “I miss you, y’know.”

“It’s been one day.”

“Just say you miss me too, Hill.”

“I miss you too.”

“Good,” Phil says.

“Good,” Jimmy says.

“You’re gonna be alright,” Phil says. “Just don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.”

Jimmy sighs. “Yeah. I’ll try. You should have sex with Dan.”

Phil curls his toes into the grass. “I told him we have to go on a proper date first.”

Jimmy barks a laugh. “You’ve introduced him to your parents and still not gone on a proper date. You really are completely clueless as a boyfriend.”

“I told you, he’s not—”

“Shut up. Take the bloke on a date.”

Phil smiles. “Yeah. I will.”

-

When he goes back inside, his mum is there and his dad is gone. She’s got eggs cooking on the stove and a plate of toast already at the table.

“Morning, love.” She kisses his cheek. “How did you sleep?”

“Kind of crap, actually.”

She gives him a considering look. “Anxiety?”

His chest bursts with warmth and love for her. He opens his arms and squeezes her to his chest.

“Oh,” she says, clearly surprised, before she hugs him back.

“I have bad dreams about the accident a lot,” he tells her.

“That’s terrible, Phil.”

“Yeah. I don’t sleep well anymore.” He pulls back and she’s frowning and he hates that it hurts her, but he’s starting to think maybe that’s just what it means to love someone.

“I don’t like it,” she says.

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. I really don’t like it either.” He snags a piece of toast from the plate and takes a bite. “I’m glad I’m here, though. I’ve missed you.”

She looks like she might cry. “I’m glad you’re here too, love. I’d ask you to move back if I thought there was any chance you’d say yes.”

“Maybe you should move to London instead.”

“Too loud,” she says. “Too crowded. Too dirty.”

Phil nods. “It’s definitely all those things. Guess we’ll have to make the most of this visit.”

She smiles, and says, “That we will,” then goes over to the stove and plates him some eggs. When she sets them down on the table for him, she says, “Oh by the way, your granddad is coming round a little later.”

Phil works hard to keep his reaction off his face. “Oh, okay.”

She sees right through it. Sometimes he thinks she’s serious about her psychic abilities. “It’ll just be a couple hours of tea and talking.”

“Yeah, no, it’s fine. It’s good. I haven’t seen him in ages.” He smiles and hopes it looks genuine.

She ruffles his hair. “You’re a good boy.”

-

After breakfast he goes back upstairs. He stands outside his bedroom door for a solid minute debating whether or not to go in, but eventually decides to be selfish. He’s had hours of non-Dan time and he reckons that’s quite enough.

Dan wakes up at the sound of the door closing. He stretches his arms over his head and groans sleepily as Phil walks over to the bed and sits on the edge of it.

“Sorry to wake you,” Phil says softly. He’s convinced at this point that sleepy morning Dan is some kind of kryptonite.

Dan shakes his head. “Why aren’t you in here with me?”

Phil smiles, and takes it as an invitation to lie down next to him. He lies on his side and slides his hands under the pillow and lets himself just study Dan’s face. “Bad dreams,” he murmurs. “I woke up super early. Wanted to let you sleep.”

Dan frowns. “You should wake me next time.”

“You barely get any sleep as it is.”

“I’d rather be with you than sleep.”

Phil smiles. “You’re so bloody cute. It’s stupid.”

“You’re stupid,” Dan counters.

“Are you hungry? Mum made eggs.”

“I think I’m hungrier for you.”

Phil snorts.

“It’s possible I’m still half asleep.”

“You don’t have to wake up. I can bugger off and let you sleep more.”

Dan shakes his head. “You better not. In fact, you’re already too far away.” He reaches out and snags a finger in one of Phil’s belt loops and pulls him closer.

Phil’s heart somersaults, and he presses his forehead against Dan’s. “Last night was…”

“Fun,” Dan finishes.

Phil nods.

“Did I cross a line?” Dan asks. “I kind of lost my mind a little.”

“No,” Phil says. “Definitely not. It was so hot.”

“You make me feel like a fucking teenager sometimes.”

“You do too. Even though I didn’t date as a teenager at all. Except a couple girls who definitely didn’t make me feel like you do.”

“Oh?”

“Two girls. For like a week, each. I was really trying hard to force myself to be normal.”

“Normal.”

“I mean straight. Sorry. That’s just how it felt at the time. Like I was just… born wrong.”

“Yeah,” Dan says quietly.

“It’s not, though. It’s not wrong. I was the one who was wrong. I love that I’m gay.”

Dan tilts his head so his lips press lightly against Phil’s. “Yeah?”

Phil nods. “If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to kiss you.”

“That’d be shit,” Dan whispers.

“The most shit,” Phil whispers back, and then kisses Dan.

Dan kisses back, then pulls away so their foreheads are the only places their faces touch. “When did you know?”

“That I liked guys? Or that I didn’t like girls?”

“Guys.”

“When I was twelve and I got a boner for a hot blonde surfer guy on the beach.”

Dan laughs. Phil wants to ask him to reciprocate with an anecdote of his own, but he’s not sure he’s allowed, so he just keeps talking. “I’d never even gotten hard before that. It was terrifying.”

“Aw, baby Phil.”

“Yeah, I know. So humiliating.”

“It’s not.” Dan slips a hand up under Phil’s shirt to rub his back. “It’s adorable.”

“I wish I’d known you back then,” Phil says.

“Fuck. Me too.”

“I’m glad I know you now.”

“Me too.”

“My granddad’s coming round later,” Phil says.

Dan chuckles, probably at the randomness of it. “Okay.”

“He’s really old.”

“Most granddads are.”

“Yeah, the thing is, he’s like… old old. Like in his ways of thinking.”

Dan frowns. “Okay…”

“I’m not out to him.”

“Oh. Is he… like, shitty about it?”

Phil shrugs. “Probably a little.”

Dan frowns deeper.

“He’s never said anything really awful,” Phil says. “It’s not like we spend a lot of time discussing it. I just prefer to keep that part of myself private when I see him.”

“Right.”

“I mean, if I was gonna like, get married or something, I’d probably tell him. I’m not ashamed of it, I just don’t wanna get into it with someone who probably won’t understand. It’s not like we were ever close.”

“Phil, you don’t have to explain yourself. I’m not judging you. You know I’m hardly out to anyone.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I just don’t want you to think—”

“I don’t think anything. I think it’s smart.”

Phil nods. “Okay. Thank you. Sorry.”

“Stop apologizing. Seriously.”

“Mostly I’m just sorry we have to spend time with him. Like, it’ll be fine, but mostly it’ll be boring.”

“It’s fine, Phil. I’m good with old people. They usually like me because I’m good at being polite. That’s just how my nan raised me.”

“Your grandmother raised you?”

“Til I was five,” Dan says. “Then my parents had another kid and decided they were ready to actually try to be my parents.”

Phil holds his breath. He has so many questions, but Dan’s never told him anything so personal. He doesn’t want to call attention to how big a deal it is.

“They weren’t great at it,” Dan says bitterly.

Phil pushes his nose against Dan’s. “I want to say I’m sorry but you told me not to anymore.”

Dan smiles. “You could just kiss me instead.”

“I could. If you want to talk about stuff, though, we can. I’m here. Ready to listen.”

Dan shakes his head. “I choose kissing. Kissing is better.”

It’s the first time Phil is actually disappointed when Dan’s mouth finds his, but that feeling is quickly forgotten. It’s not like last night. This kissing is slow and purposeful and almost unbearably intimate. Phil feels warm and heavy from head to toe. He feels like he’s had a shot or two of Ada’s whiskey.

Dan’s got both hands on the bare skin of Phil’s back now and Phil is trying not to think of any of the good points Jimmy was making on the phone earlier. When they’re kissing like this it feels utterly moronic not to chase the feeling deeper. It feels like masochism to pull his lips away and remind Dan that there’s no lock on this door.

Dan just nods and moves to kissing Phil’s neck.

“I can’t promise my mum won’t come up here looking for us,” Phil says, choosing not to admit that she’d already done that last night.

“I’m starting to think you’re just pretending to be attracted to me,” Dan murmurs.

Phil takes Dan’s hand and presses it between his legs where it’s clear he’s hard, even through his jeans.

“Oh,” Dan says, curling his fingers a little.

Phil closes his eyes. “Wow, that was a very bad idea, wasn’t it?”

Dan goes back to kissing Phil’s neck and squeezing him through the denim and it takes a good minute before Phil gathers the wherewithal to roll off of Dan and away from his glorious fingers.

“Maybe you get off on torturing me,” Dan says. They’re both laid on their backs now, breathing heavier and staring at the ceiling.

“I think you should let me take you on a date.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Dan turns to look at him. “Like a cheesy dinner and a movie type thing?”

Phil nods. “We’ll dress up. I can’t pick you up ‘cause I don’t have a car and even if I did, I'm a terrible driver, and even if I wasn’t, I’m kind of mortally afraid of them now, so—”

“No car, got it. You can pick me up on foot and we’ll take the tube together.”

“Will you let me kiss you goodbye at your door afterwards?”

Dan smiles. “Only if you show me a good time.”

Chapter Text

Phil’s granddad comes to visit, and as Kath predicted, it’s mostly just drinking tea and the most superficial of chit chat. He really is very old.

There is cake to go along with the tea. It’s very good cake, and he and Dan eat quite a lot of it. There are also cucumber sandwiches, which Phil vows to tease his mum for later. It’s all just so extremely British.

And it’s nice. Phil was silly to dread it. He sits on the sofa in between Dan and his grandfather and eats and drinks and lets his mum do most of the talking and it’s fine. He and Dan can do something fun later.

He lets his mind wander. He thinks of what Dan told him earlier about his grandmother. He can’t imagine it. He can’t imagine his parents not being there for his formative years. The thought makes his heart hurt.

And Dan had said that even when his parents were trying, they weren’t very good at it. What does that mean? He’s almost scared to find out, now.

He looks down at where their thighs are pressed together on the sofa. Dan is wearing his ripped jeans today. Phil wonders what his grandfather would think of that if he noticed. Would he say anything?

Maybe not. His mind’s not as sharp as it was when Phil was younger. Phil remembers the first time his granddad had seen Phil after he dyed his hair black. He hadn’t been a fan. He’d said that sort of nonsense was something girls did.

It had hurt then. It had made Phil feel stupid and ashamed.

Now it’s just sad. He’s sad that some people are stuck in their ways of small minded thinking. It’s sad to him that his own flesh and blood would think less of him for wanting to have a different hair colour or not wanting to play football or falling in love with a man and not a woman. He just can’t wrap his brain around any good reason for finding such things unacceptable.

He doesn’t want them to, but eventually his thoughts wander back to his parents, and how his situation compares to Dan’s.

He’s lucky. He knows that. It was awkward when they first found out, almost excruciatingly so, but they never made him feel any less loved for it. They just needed a moment or two to wrap their heads around their son being a little bit different than they’d thought.

It makes Phil sad that Dan doesn’t have that. He can’t imagine not being out to his parents after so many years. And he supposes he’s feeling some of that, now, again - because he can’t tell them about Dan. He can’t tell his mum exactly how special Dan is, can’t tell her exactly what he means to him.

Can he sustain that? If Dan continues to be special to him, how long can Phil go without sharing that joy with the people to which he’s closest?

He doesn’t like thinking about it. He doesn’t like thinking about problems that don’t have solutions, which is the cruel irony of his anxiety. He’s always thinking about problems that can’t be solved.

-

Halfway through the visit, perhaps because the snacks have dwindled, Dan surprises Phil by making himself an active participant in the conversation.

He’s just like that, Phil reckons. He knows how to be charming when he wants to. And he was right before, he’s good with older people. Phil thinks he’s probably just good with people, full stop.

Phil wishes he knew how to do that. He never knows what to say. He’s always too busy worrying about what people will think if he says the wrong thing or isn’t quick enough to think of a joke when it’s needed. He second guesses everything and ends up acting awkward because he’s so afraid of being awkward. It’s a nasty little self fulfilling prophecy.

Dan calls himself an introvert, but he’s the kind Phil wishes he could be, the kind who can fake it when he needs to.

Phil’s not sure how it happens, as he’s gotten a little lost in his own thoughts, but a few minutes later the television gets switched on and then Dan is playing an ancient version of Mario Kart with Phil’s granddad. They’re both smiling, and Kath is excitedly decreeing that she gets to race the winner.

Maybe Phil doesn’t give his granddad enough credit. It seems like he might actually be kind of cool when given half the chance. Maybe if Phil had said something back when he was a teenager, that he likes the black and that hair dye doesn’t have anything to do with gender, his granddad would have thought about it and seen the error of his ways, just like his mum did when Phil told her about his anxiety.

Maybe hiding from things that seem scary just prolongs the fear. It's possible he’s just been making things worse for himself all along.

Maybe it’s time to accept that being brave and trying new things should include trusting people with his pain.

-

It’s mid afternoon by the time Phil’s granddad leaves. Phil’s more than content to keep playing video games or maybe even steal Dan away to venture out to a coffee shop or something, but Kath has other ideas. She announces with confidence that the four of them are going for a walk, and Phil shares a look with his dad that makes them both smile.

Kath tells Dan his t-shirt won’t be enough to keep him warm on the cliffs so he goes upstairs to change. When he comes back down he’s wearing a black and white striped jumper under a denim jacket. He looks really really good and Phil finds himself wishing they were going on their date instead of a hike.

He probably won’t survive Dan dressing up on purpose.

Two minutes into the drive, Phil’s palms are sweating and his chest is tight. He’s got his head tilted back against his seat and his eyes squeezed shut. He’s trying to focus on his breathing, but every time the car hits a bump, his stomach lurches.

Then he feels something else: Dan’s hand on his thigh, squeezing gently just above the knee. He opens his eyes and lifts his head and Dan is holding out an earbud for him.

“What sounds good?” Dan asks softly as Phil puts the bud in his ear.

“Don’t care. Anything. Something you really love.”

He doesn’t recognize what starts playing in his ear, but just knowing it’s something Dan loves is enough. He closes his eyes again and focuses on the music.

It helps, as does the fact that Dan doesn’t take his hand off Phil’s leg the whole time, and by the time they make it to the cliffs he’s almost feeling like a human being again.

It’s annoying sometimes how right his parents are, but being outside with the wind in his hair and the crashing of the sea in his ears definitely feels like it’s doing something nice inside his head. He feels like he can breathe. His thoughts don’t feel so much like they’re going to swallow him whole.

Mostly he’s thinking about how nice it is that Dan is here with him. He’s walking a little ways ahead of Phil, phone in hand snapping pictures. Phil’s
not sure why he finds that so endearing. He reaches into his pocket to pull out his own phone and sneaks a couple candid shots of Dan.

Then he quickens his steps so he can catch up. Dan smiles at him. “How’re you holding up?”

“Is that a dig about how unfit I am?”

“I mean…” Dan smirks, then nods his head forward in the direction of Phil’s parents. “We can’t even keep up with them.”

“They do this hike all the time!” Phil protests. “They’re used to it.”

“They’re cute,” Dan says.

Phil looks. His parents are walking close together, hand in hand. He pulls out his phone and snaps a photo of that, too, because Dan is right. “Yeah, they are.”

“They’re nice,” Dan says. “Your family is really nice.”

“Can’t believe you got my granddad to agree to play Mario Kart.”

“Didn’t take much convincing. Didn’t you hear him talking about how much he misses driving?”

“It’s possible I was mostly tuned out,” Phil admits.

Dan looks at him properly, studying. “You do look a bit tired.”

“Yeah. Guess I am, a bit.”

“Did I fuck you over by sleeping with you? Do you sleep better alone?”

“No. Why, you planning on doing it again?”

Dan looks down at his feet. “I dunno. Maybe. I think maybe I sleep better… not alone.”

Phil smiles and bumps his shoulder into Dan’s. “Consider this an open invitation to sneak into my room whenever the hell you feel like it.”

Dan lowers his voice, even though there isn’t anyone remotely close enough to overhear. “I have to decide if the sleep is worth the blue balls.”

Phil’s mouth drops open. “I didn’t even— you—”

Dan looks like he’s on the verge of laughing very, very hard.

“You wanked!” Phil squawks. “If anything, you left me with blue balls!”

“If you’d asked me to take care of that, I would’ve,” Dan says.

Phil shoves him away, and it makes Dan lose his balance on the uneven ground. In a rare show of quick reflexes he grabs Dan’s arm to stop him from falling, and pulls him in closer.

Dan grins. “That backfired a bit, didn’t it?”

“I hate you.”

“Clearly.”

Phil doesn’t let go of his arm, though he knows he probably should. Dan is still smiling and Phil can’t look away from how much he likes what it does to Dan’s face. He reaches up and sinks a finger into the dimple that dents Dan’s cheek so deeply.

It just makes Dan smile harder.

“You’re beautiful,” Phil murmurs. “Has anyone ever told you that?”

Dan looks at him. The restraint Phil has to use not to kiss him is immense. He lets go of Dan’s arm because they’re still technically in public and he doesn’t want Dan to think he doesn’t take his closet seriously.

Dan’s eyes are big and dark and full of feeling. “If that’s how you hate a person, I reckon I’m in trouble.”

-

They walk until the sun starts to set, and then they sit. The four of them sit close together on a bench and watch the sky change colours until it’s the same inky dark as the sea. They use the torches on their phones to find their way back to the car, and Dan holds Phil’s hand for the whole drive back.

Once home, Kath puts Phil and Dan to work cutting up vegetables. Phil pleads with her to just let him order pizza, but she remains resolute in her aim to feed him well during his visit.

“You can eat that rubbish at home,” She says.

Dan sits next to him at the kitchen table, each of them armed with a knife and cutting board, and Kath keeps bringing them produce to chop.

Nigel is sat across from them with his sketch pad again, perfectly content to doodle while the rest of them do all the work. Phil wants to whinge about it, and he’s about to, but then he notices that his dad keeps looking up at him and Dan every few minutes. Phil can’t see what he’s sketching from this angle, but the thought that it might be a portrait stops him from saying anything that would break his concentration.

He sneaks a sideways glance at Dan, who’s deeply focused on the cucumber he’s slicing. Phil hopes that’s what his dad is drawing; he wouldn’t mind having an artistic rendering of the cute little lines of concentration on Dan’s forehead.

Eventually there’s a giant salad to go along with the fish that Kath was cooking and Kath tells Nigel it’s time to eat. He rips the paper from the pad and slides it across the table right in between Dan and Phil.

Phil sees the sketch at the same time as his dad is saying, “You two look good together,” in a soft voice.

It is indeed a portrait of the two of them, Dan looking down and Phil looking at Dan. Even in lines of lead it’s impossible to miss the meaning in the way Phil’s gaze falls on Dan.

Phil’s stomach drops. He doesn’t know how to tell his dad that it isn’t like that. He doesn’t think he can argue with the truth when his father had seen it so plainly on his face. It feels too much like a lie.

Dan doesn’t say anything either. He’s looking at the paper, studying like it holds the secret to all the mysteries of the universe.

In the end, it’s Kath who puts her hand on her husband’s shoulder and says gently, “They’re just friends, Nige.”

Everyone in the room knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s not true. Phil’s never been more sure of anything in his entire life. But his dad says, “Oh, my mistake, then,” and reaches for the drawing, but Dan picks it up.

“Can I have this?”

Phil’s entire body is trembling. Nigel says, “Of course.”

Kath pours them all deep glasses of dark red wine. They eat dinner quietly and watch a film afterwards. Phil can’t focus on it long enough to even get a sense of the basic plot line.

Dan sits on a different sofa. Phil sits next to his dad.

When the film is over, Kath stands up and says she’s going to bed. Nigel says he’s going too.

Phil doesn’t even have time to think before Dan stands up and says, “Me too. This family of weirdos made me do exercise today, so I’m knackered.”

Phil wants to laugh, but his heart is in his throat. Nigel laughs for him and says, “You should do it more often.”

Dan follows Phil’s parents right up the stairs, and Phil follows Dan. He wants to keep following Dan to his room, but Dan turns to him at the top of the stairs and says, “Goodnight Phil.”

That’s the last Phil hears from him that night.

Chapter Text

Phil drifts in and out of restless sleep all night, finally giving up after waking up for the tenth time. There’s a dull light in the sky and the smell of coffee in the air, so at least it’s not as early as it had been yesterday. He could get up.

Not that he much wants to. Instead he lies there for a while and watches out his window as the clouds roll. He can already tell it’s going to be a rainy day. Maybe it’ll even storm. That would be fitting.

Truth be told, he’s feeling more than a little sorry for himself. He’s trying to ignore the brick in his stomach that tells him everything is ruined, but it feels harder when the weather outside is so keenly reflecting his state of mind.

He wonders if Dan got any sleep. Or maybe he snuck away in the middle of the night and slept on a bench at the train station and bought the first available ticket back to London. Maybe he’s on the train right now, chatting up that woman with the blonde hair and the big breasts. They’ll hit it off immediately and Dan will take her home and she won’t make him wait before they can have sex. She’ll bring him home to meet her parents and he won’t have to pretend she’s just his friend.

He forces himself up out of bed when the thoughts get so bad he starts picturing the positions they’ll fuck in. His brain wants him to be a masochist, but he’s not going to let it. Not if he can help it.

He gets dressed without showering, and brushes his teeth without bothering to look in the mirror and attempt to sort out his hair. He can rock the flopped over quiff, what difference does it make at this point?

He’s halfway down the stairs when he hears quiet voices floating up from the kitchen. He stops. Neither of the voices are his mother’s.

His heart is beating hummingbird quick with the nerves by the time he gets to the kitchen and sees Dan sat at the table with his hands wrapped around a mug of coffee and all his attention focused on the conversation he’s having with Phil’s dad.

Nigel looks up. “You’re up early again.”

Dan turns around and smiles at Phil.

A smile? That’s… promising. Right?

“Couldn’t sleep,” Phil says, surprising himself with just how rocky his voice is.

“You lot are birds of a feather, eh?”

Phil is still stood in the entranceway. “You couldn’t sleep?” he asks Dan.

Dan shakes his head.

Phil wants to ask why Dan didn’t come to him, but he knows he can’t. And he already knows the answer, anyway.

He wishes his dad would go away. He can’t say any of the things he wants to say to Dan with his father sat there watching. And listening.

Dan does look tired. But there’s something else there too, behind the tired eyes. There’s something settled. Something peaceful. Maybe Phil’s just imagining it.

“Get some coffee, lad,” Nigel says. “Come sit with us. Are you hungry?”

Phil shakes his head, finally convincing his feet to move enough to carry him over to the coffeemaker. He pours himself a giant mug and brings it over to the table. He sits as far away from Dan as he can.

His Dad has his sketch pad in front of him. It makes Phil’s stomach churn, but the drawing on the page is just waves and sky. He drinks some coffee and tries to think of something to say to ease the incredible tension in the air between the three of them.

“What are we doing today?” he asks, avoiding making eye contact with Dan.

“I have to go in to work,” Nigel says. “And I think your mum has some errands to run. You boys are on your own today, I’m afraid.”

Of course they are. Because that’s just how the universe works, isn’t it?

“Maybe I’ll have a nap,” Phil mutters.

But Dan says, “I was hoping you’d take me to a beach.”

Phil looks up at him. “Me?”

“Yeah.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, Phil. Really.”

“It’s probably going to rain.”

“It’s definitely going to rain,” Nigel offers. “But it’s not raining yet. I reckon if you leave now you’d have a bit of time.”

Phil frowns. “I can’t drive.”

“I can,” Dan says.

Nigel stands up and leaves the kitchen. When he comes back a moment later he tosses his keys to Dan, who catches them like this was all planned ahead of time. “Drive slow, the roads are winding.”

“I will,” Dan says. “Thanks.”

Phil feels like he’s wandered into an alternate dimension. “It’s like seven o’clock in the morning.”

“You'll have the beach to yourself,” Nigel says. “Take Dan to Port Erin. Everyone loves a lighthouse.”

Dan stands up. He’s still wearing his pajamas. “You finish your coffee. I’m gonna get dressed.”

Phil just says, “Okay,” helplessly and watches Dan head out of the kitchen and up the stairs.

He looks at his dad. He wants to ask what the hell is going on. His dad just smiles and gently squeezes Phil’s forearm.

Phil chugs his coffee and eats a few handfuls of dry cereal and Dan comes back down the stairs a few minutes later wearing a red hoodie that says Manchester on it and black trousers cropped above the ankle.

Even his ankles are pretty. Phil has that all too familiar feeling of being completely unhinged.

“Ready?” Dan asks.

Phil just nods.

“Have fun, boys,” Nigel says.

Phil puts his trainers on and follows Dan out to the family car. He stands outside the passenger seat and Dan looks at him from where he’s stood in front of the driver’s seat.

“You alright?” Dan asks. He sounds like he still cares.

“Bit scared,” Phil admits easily. “Always am when I’m about to get into a car.”

“We don’t have to go.”

Phil opens his door and gets in.

Dan gets in too and buckles his seatbelt. Phil buckles his too as Dan starts the engine. Phil rolls his window down and closes his eyes, steeling himself for the drive to come.

Then there are warm fingers on his. He opens his eyes and looks at Dan. Dan who is holding his hand and looking at him with his big stupid beautiful brown eyes full of concern.

“Phil.”

Phil squeezes Dan’s hand.

“I’m sorry,” Dan says. “I’m such a dick.”

“No you’re not,” Phil says quietly.

“I just needed… I dunno.”

“Space,” Phil offers. “To freak out.”

Dan shakes his head. “To think.”

“About how to let me down gently?”

Dan lets go of Phil’s hand and brings it up to grip the back of Phil’s neck and then he’s leaning over and his mouth is pressed to Phil’s with conviction.

“Don’t be a fucking idiot, Phil.”

“Okay,” Phil croaks. “Sorry.”

“Can we go to the beach? Will you be okay?”

Phil feels utterly pathetic. He’s never hated his fearful disposition more than he does in this moment. He can’t even keep himself together for a short car ride.

But he nods. “Drive slow.”

“I will,” Dan says, giving Phil’s thigh a squeeze before shifting into drive. “I promise.”

Dan keeps his word. He takes the curves in the road carefully. He’s good at this, controlled. He makes it look easy. Phil’s not sure why he’s surprised. Dan is good at so many things.

Not least of which is keeping Phil at arm’s reach. Keeping him eternally confused just when he thinks he’s got things figured out.

Phil hasn’t got a damn thing figured out. When he closes his eyes he sees the sketch, the way his eyes watched Dan and seemed to sparkle even in quick strokes of pencil. He sees the fear on Dan’s face and the way he was so quick to pick the portrait up and claim it for himself.

Maybe there is nothing to figure out. Maybe he and Dan are the same, chasing bravery while fear claws at their backs.

He hops out of the car almost as soon as Dan pulls it to a stop. The clouds overhead are dark and the air feels heavy with the promise of storms. Phil doesn’t understand why Dan wanted to come here today of all days, but he’s certainly not going to ask. He’s not going to ask Dan anything today.

Dan gets out and puts the keys in his pocket and closes his eyes. He tips his head up towards the sky like he’s drinking in the sun, but there’s no sun today, only grey and the sound of the waves and the smell of the sea.

Dan takes his shoes and socks off and leaves them in the car. Phil thinks he’s mad, but he does the same, and follows Dan out toward the sand.

He’s wondering if Dan is going to say anything, but Dan is quiet. They keep walking, sand squishing between their toes as they make their way closer to the shore. The lighthouse looms at the other end of the beach, tall and white with a strip of red around the middle. The cliffs they’d hiked yesterday look somehow even taller.

There’s only one other person on the beach, a man in a yellow raincoat walking his dog. They’re too far away to say hello to, not that Phil would. His parents would. Maybe he would, so he could stroke the dog.

His thoughts are rambling. Dan is ahead of him, stopped with his feet in the water.

Phil comes to stand beside him. “You’re not swimming in this.”

Dan smiles. “I’m not.”

“This is so weird, Dan.”

“Yeah, I guess it is. I just wanted to go somewhere that felt… big.” He looks at Phil. “Open, you know? Somewhere I wouldn’t hear my own words echoing back on me.”

Phil shoves his hands in his pockets. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say, so he defaults and says, “I’m sorry.”

Dan shakes his head. “You and your sorries.”

“I told my mum we were just mates. I guess she forgot to tell my dad. Or… I dunno. I’m just really sorry.”

“Your dad is really talented,” Dan says. “He knows your face. He got it exactly right.”

Phil’s heart sinks. “Dan.”

“Can we sit?” Dan says, ignoring the slight pleading in Phil’s tone. He doesn’t wait for an answer, taking a few steps back from the water and sitting on the sand.

Phil does the same. The sand isn’t dry, but it’s going to start raining soon anyway. They’re going to get wet either way.

“I had a girlfriend called Erin once,” Dan says. “We dated for three years.”

He’s looking out at the ocean, and Phil’s not sure if he’s meant to say anything or not. He wants Dan to keep talking.

“I was a terrible boyfriend. Can’t believe it took her that long to dump me.”

“When was this?” Phil asks.

“We started dating when we were fifteen. It was… I needed that. At that time. I thought it would help.”

“Help what?”

Dan doesn’t pull any punches. “The bullying.”

“Oh god,” Phil says quietly. He can feel his heart breaking, before he even hears the details.

“It started before anyone knew. Before I even knew.”

“When did you know?”

“When I was thirteen. I fell in love with this boy in my class.” He smiles sadly at the memory. “Actually, he looked a little like you.”

“Dan,” Phil says quietly. He shuffles closer, until his knee presses against Dan’s thigh.

“It got worse when I started college,” Dan says. “Then it wasn’t just words being thrown at me anymore.”

Phil can’t say anything. He feels nauseous.

“I thought being with Erin would make it stop. And maybe I thought it would, like… cure me. You know when you said you felt like you’d been born wrong?”

Phil nods.

“Yeah. That’s exactly right. I thought Erin would make me feel right. But it only made me feel worse. I couldn’t touch her. I could barely even look at her. And I still got punched most days, or at least shouted at.”

Phil has to look away. He looks down at the sand and digs his toes in aggressively. He can feel it pushing under his nails. He thought he’d wanted to hear about Dan’s skeletons, but now he’s not actually sure he can handle it. “You don’t have to talk about it,” he whispers.

Dan looks at him. “I want to. I want you to know why… why I’m like this.”

Phil shakes his head. “You don’t have to—”

“For me, then,” Dan says. “Because you make me feel like I don’t have to keep letting it torture me. Like maybe I could even get past it someday.”

Phil looks away again, this time over his shoulder, and hopes Dan doesn’t see the tear that rolls down his cheek. He’s not sure he’s ever known a soul more kind and gentle than Dan’s. To imagine anyone putting their hands on him for the sake of violence is unfathomable.

“My parents were never around,” Dan continues. “Either they didn’t notice how depressed I was, or they didn’t care. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive them.”

“I’m sorry,” Phil says, his voice muffled by his sweater. He’s hugging his knees to chest and pressing his mouth against his arm, trying desperately to get a handle on himself before he cries for real. “I want to go back in time and protect you. But I’d probably just be too scared.”

“You would’ve been my friend, though,” Dan says. “That would have been enough.”

Phil just looks at him. He’s run out of the few words he had to offer.

“I had a breakdown in my early twenties and Winnie saved me. She literally saved my life. Her and Ada. They gave me a place to stay and took me to therapy.” He laughs. “God. It sounds so fucking cheesy but, like… they loved me. And they showed me that being gay didn’t have to mean the end of the world.” He looks at Phil. “I guess I wasn’t sure I believed it until I met you.”

Phil buries his face between his knees. He’s crying for real now.

Dan laughs again. “Sorry, fuck.” His voice is shaky, like his own tears aren’t far behind. “That was really over the top, I’m sorry. But it’s still kind of true.”

Phil keeps his head down, but he leans his whole body to the side until it slumps against Dan, who puts his arm around Phil’s shoulder and squeezes.

“I talked to your dad this morning,” he says quietly.

Phil looks up at him. “About what?”

“You. Me. Us.”

Phil gapes. He can’t help it.

Dan smiles. “I stayed up all night just staring at that fucking sketch. I think it cracked something loose inside of me.”

“I shouldn’t have been looking at you like that in front of my parents,” Phil says.

“But you couldn’t help it, right?” Dan asks. “Did you even realize you were?”

“No.”

“Because you like me,” Dan says. “For real.”

“Dan.” Phil gives him a look. “You know I do.”

“You don’t just wanna fuck me and then move on to the next.”

“You know I don’t. I want to fuck you and then order pizza and watch films on the sofa while we cuddle.”

Dan laughs. The sound bursts out of him and he presses his forehead against Phil’s cheek. “That sounds really good. I want that too.”

“But first, a date,” Phil says.

Dan nods.

Suddenly, there’s a crack of thunder that makes them both jump.

“Shit,” Dan says.

“We should probably—”

Dan takes Phil’s hand and pulls him up. “Yep. Let’s go.”

They only make it a few steps before it starts to pour. Dan starts running, which means Phil runs too. Dan hasn’t let go of his hand.

Phil falls more than once, and each time it makes Dan laugh a little harder. He pulls him up every time, and by the time they finally make it back to the car, their clothes are soaked through and they’re covered in sand. They’re going to make a disaster of the car, but there’s really nothing else for it. If they stay outside they’ll probably get hit by lightning or catch some kind of super deadly strain of pneumonia - at least that’s what Phil’s doomsday brain is telling him.

They scramble into their seats and sit there next to each other laughing, chests heaving as they try to catch their breath. The rain is loud and heavy on the roof of the car. The windscreen looks like a waterfall.

“Fuck me,” Dan says. “Whose brilliant idea was it to come to the beach today, anyway?”

Phil smiles. Actually, he hasn’t stopped smiling since it started raining. “Some stupid guy,” he teases, reaching over and poking Dan’s dimple. “Stupid but really really cute.”

“You’re so shallow, Phil.”

“Yep. Totally.”

Dan’s still grinning as he turns his head to look out the windscreen. “I don’t think I can drive in this.”

“Hell no you can’t.” Phil feels a cold shiver of fear run up his spine just thinking about it. “Don’t even joke.”

“Sorry.” He looks at Phil again. “Looks like we’re stuck here for now.”

Phil nods. “Guess we’ll just have to find something else to do.”

“Like what?” Dan smirks and Phil’s body floods instantly with heat and bad thoughts.

He decides to run with it. “Why don’t you come over here and we’ll figure something out.”

-

Phil’s knees hurt. They’re digging into the glove compartment something fierce, but he barely gives it a moment’s notice. Dan is in his lap and that’s enough to distract him from pretty much anything.

Dan’s chest is bare. So is Phil’s. They’d helped each other struggle to pull off their wet sweaters and the shirts underneath and now they’re pressed together skin to skin and it’s hot and perfect. The windows are fogged over and Phil’s seat is reclined and Dan’s mouth is on his neck, kissing and biting and undoubtedly leaving marks that Phil will have to try to hide from his parents later.

Or maybe he won’t. Maybe he won’t.

Phil’s hands are on Dan’s body: gripping his waist and stroking his back and dipping down inside the back of Dan’s trousers. He’s not over the fact that he still gets to touch Dan like this, that Dan wants Phil to touch him like this. He’d convinced himself over the course of the night that it was over, that he’d blown his chance.

He feels certain now. There’s no part of him left that fears that Dan has a foot out the door, and it feels amazing. If it’s possible, it feels even better than Dan holding his face and kissing up his neck to his mouth. Letting go of that one fear feels like everything, like for a little while the weight of the world is gone.

It feels like swimming, actually. He’s weightless and the world around him is quiet.

Metaphorically, of course, because neither of them are particularly quiet right now. Their breaths come heavy and panted in each other’s ears and against each other’s faces. The rain is still loud as it hits the car. Thunder rumbles in the distance.

“Phil,” Dan breathes, pulling Phil from his inner monologue.

Phil just hums in response, kissing Dan’s collarbone when Dan pulls back.

“Phil, I have to tell you something.”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “Tell me.”

Dan leans back further, and stares into Phil’s eyes with a burning intensity as he slides a hand into Phil’s pants. Phil doesn’t have the strength to stop him, and his stomach swoops when Dan wraps a hand around him and squeezes.

“Tell me,” Phil croaks.

Dan takes a breath. “I think I’m gay.”

Chapter Text

As soon as there’s a break in the storm, Dan drives them back to the house. It’s still raining, but the wipers keep the windscreen clear enough to see out the glass, and Dan drives even slower than he had on the way there. Phil reckons it’s pretty much solely for his benefit, and that if Dan were driving alone he’d have no problem driving a normal speed, but that just makes his chest feel tight with fondness and gratitude.

And it’s already feeling so full of those things, he’s not sure he has much more capacity for adoring Dan right now.

They listen to the radio as they drive back, and Dan seems to know the lyrics to every single song even though Phil hasn’t heard most of them. This time, instead of watching out the window, Phil watches Dan.

Dan doesn’t seem to mind. He sings and drives and turns to give Phil smiles when they stop at red lights. Phil wants to touch him, and not even in cheeky or dirty ways. He wants to hold his hand, put his head on Dan’s chest, lie next to him in bed with their shoulders pressed together.

He can’t, because Dan’s driving, but Phil thinks he forgets to return Dan’s smile because his mind is lost in wanting and thinking.

And pride, too. He’s so bloody proud of Dan for sharing all that he’s shared today. It was hard to hear, almost unbearably so, but something feels different between them now. Deeper. Lighter.

Dan seems lighter. He definitely has the look of someone who isn’t carrying the weight of the world anymore.

“I’m gay, Phil.” He’d repeated it, as if to really make the words stick.

They stuck. They’re sticking to Phil like honey. He hadn’t said anything back, just pulled Dan’s hand from inside his pants and intertwined their fingers.

They’d tried to get their hoodies back on afterwards, but to no avail, so now they’re sat here shivering as the car’s vents blow warm air onto their bare chests. When Phil is finally able to tear his gaze from the profile of Dan’s face, he turns to the other side and doodles in the fog on the inside of the window.

“Are you drawing penises over there?” Dan teases.

“Alright already, you’re gay, I get it.” Phil turns to look at Dan and is rewarded with a dimpled grin that says the joke landed just right.

-

The house is empty when they get back, which Phil is glad for. He’s still not sure how much his parents are allowed to know. They’ll have to chat about that, he supposes, but first they need dry clothes. Phil feels chilled to the bone.

Phil follows Dan up the stairs and stops at the top. “I’m gonna shower. Unless you want to go first?”

Dan turns around and looks at him for a good thirty seconds before he speaks. “Or we could kill two birds with one stone?”

It’s Phil’s turn to take his time before speaking, but only so he can savour the way it feels to know Dan wants to be hot wet and naked with him. It’s a good feeling.

“I can’t guarantee my mum won’t be home at some point.”

“Not bothered,” Dan says in a way that really makes Phil believe it’s true.

So he grabs Dan’s hand and leads him to the bathroom. He starts the water and leaves it to heat up while he watches Dan undress.

He’s seen Dan take his jeans off many times by now, but when it gets to the part where his thumbs slide under the elastic band of his pants, Phil’s heart rate definitely kicks up.

“Remember,” Dan says sheepishly, “I’m cold as fuck right now.”

Phil laughs. “Shut the hell up, idiot.”

“I feel weirdly shy. I don’t usually.”

“Let’s not talk about usually?” Phil says. “I don’t wanna think about that.”

“Sorry. Yeah.” Dan’s still stood there with his thumbs in his underwear. “I guess you make me nervous, is what I’m trying to say.”

“I can leave if you wanna change your mind,” Phil says, and he means it.

Dan slips his pants off his hips and lets them fall down around his ankles. Phil’s not sure if he’s supposed to look, but he really wants to. His eyes are on Dan’s, waiting for some kind of cue.

Dan smirks. “You feeling shy too?”

“I’m trying to be… respectful.”

“Well don’t.”

Phil’s eyes flick down. Dan didn’t need to give any kind of silly disclaimer. He’s beautiful.

Phil says so. “You’re beautiful.”

Dan chuckles. “Okay, now I really feel like a teenager.”

“Maybe we’re reclaiming our adolescence,” Phil says. “Neither of us got to be who we really were back then, yeah? Maybe we can be now.”

Dan’s face goes serious. “Fuck. Where did you come from?”

He doesn’t wait for Phil to answer, stepping forward and pressing himself against Phil’s body, one hand sliding up his back and into his hair. They kiss, and Phil feels like a puddle of warmth and contentment, and it’s perfect.

“I’m naked and you’re not,” Dan murmurs, once the air in the room is muggy and the mirror is starting to fog over. “This is inequality.”

“Do it for me,” Phil says, and Dan doesn’t spare a moment to tease him for it. He pops the button open on Phil’s jeans almost as soon as the words have left Phil’s mouth.

Getting the jeans off is no easy task. They’re tight even when they’re not soaking wet, but Dan manages to get the job done eventually. He pauses before he takes off Phil’s pants, and pulls him in close so that all that separates them is a thin layer of wet fabric.

Dan drops his forehead on Phil’s shoulder. “This was probably a bad idea.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re hot and you’re about to be naked and you explicitly told me I’m not allowed to touch you yet.”

“You already touched me,” Phil reminds him. “In the car.”

“Not as much as I wanted to.”

Phil wraps his arm around Dan’s lower back. “Let’s just get in before all the hot water is gone.” His heart is hammering against his chest. “Let’s just see what happens.”

Dan groans and bites at the fleshy bit of Phil’s shoulder. It makes Phil jump a little, and goosebumps erupt all down his arms.

“Oh, you like that?” Dan teases.

Phil pulls his boxers off without warning and presses the proof of how much he likes it right against Dan’s crotch.

That shuts him up rather thoroughly.

Phil takes Dan’s hand and turns to pull back the shower curtain.

“God, your ass,” Dan says in a low voice. Phil’s got one foot inside the tub. He turns back to look at Dan, who’s very focused on looking down.

“Shut up,” Phil mutters, embarrassed as all hell.

“It’s really spectacular,” Dan continues. “I was always staring at it at the pool, but, damn. Your swim suit does it no justice at all.”

“You’re a perv,” Phil says, feeling heat in his cheeks. He steps fully into the shower and pulls Dan in with him. “A lecherous creep.”

“Mhm.”

“And also a liar.”

“Trust me, I’m not,” Dan says. “You’re the hottest guy I reckon I’ve ever seen.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “Have you ever seen Ryan Gosling? Chris Evans? Chris Hemsworth?”

“Not my type.”

“What’s your type?”

Dan’s looking at Phil’s face now. “Dark hair. Kind of awkward and nerdy but in a good way.”

Phil rolls his eyes again, but he can’t suppress his smile.

“Bad posture,” Dan continues.

“Yours is worse,” Phil interjects.

Dan ignores him. “Long legs. Ridiculously big feet.”

“Oi, they’re not ridiculous.”

“Surprisingly round butt.” He drops his voice down into something that pulls low in Phil’s stomach. “Perfect cock.”

“Shut up,” Phil says again, but this time he’s not smiling, because Dan’s not smiling. Suddenly the water hitting his back feels cool compared to the blood rushing through his body.

“It is, though.”

Phil can’t help the childish urge to look down at it. It looks… fine, he supposes. Then his eyes shift to look at Dan’s and he wonders if the pyrotechnics that are happening inside his own body are happening in Dan’s when he looks at Phil.

“I’m definitely gay,” Dan says quietly.

Phil wraps both arms around his lower back and pulls him in, carefully, because the ground is slippery and he’s all too aware of how easy it would be for both of them to end up concussed in a matter of seconds.

“I am too,” Phil says. “But I’ve never felt it more so than I do right now.”

“Why, because our dicks are touching?”

Phil laughs. “Well… yeah. And because I really really like it.”

“Do you ever feel so happy you could just explode?” Dan asks.

“Yeah,” Phil says. “Right now.”

“I think we’ve nailed the cheesy hyperbolized affection of adolescence.”

“Right, yeah,” Phil says. “That’s totally… what I was going for.”

Dan smirks. “Same. Totally. Wasn’t just being completely brutally honest at all.”

“Sincerity is for losers,” Phil says. He tilts his head and kisses Dan’s neck. “You don’t make me happy at all.”

Dan slides a hand down Phil’s wet back to cup his ass cheek. “And I’m definitely not enjoying this.” He squeezes, and pushes Phil tighter against him. “I definitely never wank thinking about what you might look like naked.”

Phil immediately gives up the pretence. “Now you don’t have to wonder. And I don’t either.”

“Have you been wondering?”

“Am I supposed to pretend I haven’t?”

Dan shakes his head.

“Then, yeah. Of course I have. I had a crush on you, like, instantly.”

“I tried to tell myself I didn’t,” Dan says quietly. “See how well that worked out.”

“I’m glad it didn’t.”

Dan smiles. “Me too. You’re hogging all the water, by the way.”

“Let’s switch.”

Dan cocks an eyebrow. Phil stares at him, blinking owlishly, not understanding why Dan is looking at him like that - until he finally does.

“Your mind is literally always in the gutter, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Always. But it is kind of relevant.”

“No it’s not,” Phil says. “We’re not having sex in the shower. I don’t want to break my neck today.”

“Today?”

“Shut up.” He reaches down and grabs Dan’s ass. Now they’re both stood there in the spray holding each other’s bums.

“Touching my ass isn’t the best move if your message is supposed to be no shower sex,” Dan says. “And you still didn’t answer the question.”

“What question?”

Dan gives him a look.

“Oh. I didn’t realize you were asking.”

“I am.”

“Oh,” Phil says again, stupidly.

“Is that not— is that a weird thing to ask?” Dan frowns, suddenly nervous. “I’m sorry. You know I’m— not experienced with all this stuff…”

Phil frowns. “You’ve been with guys, yeah?”

Dan nods. “Guys I met on Grindr who were all very upfront and specific about they wanted.”

Phil’s stomach tightens in a bad way. It sounds so… empty. Cold. Perfunctory. He’s never understood sex like that.

“Sorry,” Dan says. “Fuck. I didn’t mean to make it weird.”

Phil shakes his head gently. “That whole ‘wanting to go back in time and protect you’ thing, y’know?”

Dan smiles. “You’re sweet.”

Phil takes a step back from Dan and twists around to grab the shampoo. He’s even more determined now that the first time they touch each other with intent needs to happen at the right time. It has to be warm and sweet and good. Not that it wouldn’t be if it happened now, but Phil reckons maybe they need to do some more talking first.

He holds out the bottle for Dan. “Wash my hair?”

-

Dan washes Phil’s hair, and then Phil washes Dan’s. They’re both exceptionally careful not to get any suds in the other’s eyes.

Once they’ve lathered themselves up and rinsed off and the water has begun to run cold, Phil turns it off and they step out of the tub. They wrap themselves up in clean towels and Dan follows Phil down the hall to his bedroom, where he sits on Phil’s bed and watches him get dressed.

“I feel like a zoo animal,” Phil mutters as he steps into his pants.

“I don’t go in for furry stuff,” Dan says. “Unless you want me to.”

Phil frowns. He knows it’s just a joke, but something about it rubs him the wrong way. “Dan.”

Dan’s smile drops. “I’m kidding.”

“I’m not those other guys. You don’t just have to do what I want.”

Dan drops his gaze down, like a child who’s been scolded. “Okay. Sorry.”

Phil grabs two hoodies and two pairs of sweats and throws one set at Dan. “Put these on.” He turns around and gets dressed, and when he’s done, he goes to sit beside Dan on the bed.

“The answer is yes,” he says.

“What?” Dan’s eyes go wide. “You like furry stuff?”

“I switch.”

“Oh.” He nods. “Okay, cool.”

“Do you?”

“Um… yes?”

Phil frowns. “Dan. It’s fine if you don’t. There’s no wrong answer here.”

Dan sighs deeply. “I just… I’ve never topped.”

“Oh. Really?”

He shakes his head.

“Do you want to?”

Dan looks down at his hands. “This feels like a very unsexy conversation.”

“We don’t have to have it now,” Phil says gently, putting a hand on Dan’s thigh.

“I’m really bad at being gay, aren’t I?” He says it’s like he’s trying to make a joke, but Phil can hear the vulnerability behind the mask of humour.

“Dan. You just had a shower with another bloke. You kissed me and touched my dick. And my ass. You’re bloody amazing at being gay.”

“I don’t know the rules.”

“There are no rules,” Phil says. “I hate rules.”

Dan’s lips quirk up ever so slightly. “I do too. Always have.”

“Well… fuck ‘em.” Phil squeezes Dan leg. “We don’t need them.”

“I think I’m the teenager and you’re the hot older guy with experience who makes me feel like a little kid.”

Phil shakes his head. “I’m a teenager too.”

“Can we be extra teenager-y and order pizza?” Dan asks. “I’m fucking starving and your mum’s not here to cook for us.”

“Yes.” Phil’s already pulling out his phone. “Definitely. Where should we get it from?”

“Do they have Dominos here?”

Phil laughs. “Yeah. We’re not in Antarctica.”

“Shut up.” Dan shoves his shoulder. “And the answer is yes, by the way.”

Phil looks at him, eyebrow raised in question.

“I want to. Top. Eventually.”

“Alright. Good.”

“Good?”

Phil nods. “Good.”

“Do you?” Dan asks. “With me?”

“Yes, definitely.” He says it so quickly that Dan laughs. “I mean, if you want.”

Dan nods.

“Alright, good,” Phil says.

Dan laughs again. “I feel like we’re negotiating some kind of contract.”

Phil shakes his head. “This is good. I guess it’s not as sexy as being spontaneous, but I’d rather you be happy and get what you want for once.”

Dan’s face goes serious and he looks away for a moment before turning his head in Phil’s direction again. “You’ve got to stop with that.”

“Okay, sorry,” he says like a reflex, and then, “Stop what?”

“Being perfect. It’s freaking me out.”

“Why?”

“Because it feels too good. I’m afraid I’m gonna wake up and you’re gonna be gone.”

“I’m very far from perfect,” Phil argues. “Just ask Jimmy. Or my mum. Or Martyn.”

“I do want to meet him someday,” Dan says. “His music is weird.”

“So weird.”

“I liked it, though. I bet he’s cool.”

“He is,” Phil agrees. “Way cooler than me.”

“Not possible.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “I’m gonna order pizza now. Should I ask them to leave off the cheese so it’s vegan?”

Dan looks horrified. “You better not!”

-

Their pizza comes with lots of cheese and various meats and jalapeños and onions and peppers and lots of different dipping sauces and they eat it on the sofa in front of the tv while they watch Friends on Netflix. Dan is impressed that Phil’s parents have Netflix, but Phil tells him it’s actually his account and he gave them the password because he likes watching the same things as his mum so they can talk about them after.

Once they’ve eaten enough pizza to be sufficiently stuffed and they’ve argued for half an hour about whether or not Rachel and Joey were a horrible mistake or the best decision the showrunners ever made, the television gets kind of abandoned in favour of more talking.

Phil learns a lot about Dan that day. He learns more of the awful details of the bullying he endured as a teenager and about his steadily worsening relationship with his father and how he finally managed to bond with his younger brother after twenty five years of estrangement. He learns that Dan knows how to play the drums and that piano music in films always makes him cry. He learns that since he lost his law job he’s worked as a barista, a dog walker, a waiter and, very briefly, a shelf stocker at ASDA, but lifeguarding is the job he’s stuck with because he genuinely enjoys it.

It feels different, this talking. It feels easier. It feels like Dan trusts him in a way he maybe didn’t before. His confessions seem to come easily now, like how he thought about boys whenever he kissed his girlfriend, or how he keyed his dad’s car once after hearing him say something awful and homophobic about a gay coworker. He stops short of detailing any of his hookups, and Phil’s glad for that.

They talk and talk and talk, but they never once get up from the sofa. Their positions shift until eventually Phil’s head in is Dan’s lap and Dan is stroking Phil’s hair as they struggle to name all 151 original Pokémon.

“Twelve year old me would be ashamed of myself,” Dan says, shaking his head.

“We’re only missing two,” Phil says. “I reckon that’s pretty good.”

“Or bad, depending on who you ask.”

Just then, they hear the front door open, and Phil jolts upright just before his mum comes in.

“Having a lazy day, lads?” She’s got an armful of groceries, and Dan springs up to offer his help before the thought has even crossed Phil’s mind.

“Oh bless you,” she says, and then, a moment later, she cocks her head and looks at Dan a little more closely. “Is that Phil’s jumper?”

Phil’s got his mouth open to tell her it’s just a coincidence and they happen to have the same one, when Dan looks down at his chest and then back up at her and just says, “Yeah.”

Her eyes flick over in Phil’s direction, just for a split second, and Phil smiles. She smiles too.

Something slots into place for Phil then, another level of certainty that this is a good feeling he can actually trust. It’s just one piece of an enormous puzzle, really, but it feels like an important one.

Chapter Text

He knows it’s a dream before he’s even woken up. Somewhere in the back of a brain that’s asleep and foggy and showing him images he doesn’t want to see, making him feel things he doesn’t want to feel - he knows it’s not real.

It’s strange how that doesn’t make the dread any less visceral.

He’s sat in the back seat, like he was that day, the radio is playing the same song. It’s a song he doesn’t even know, but he can remember the sound of it like no time has passed at all. The driver has short blond hair. Phil doesn’t remember his face. He’s not sure he ever actually got a good look at it.

The windows are wet on the outside. Rain. It pelts down in heavy sheets. Phil knows they’re going to crash. Any second now the rubber will squeal and the glass will break and there’ll be that moment of searing pain again. A hole in the windscreen where the driver broke through.

But it doesn’t happen. Instead there’s the feeling of falling. Different, but no less terrifying. There’s no road under the car, and the impact when they hit the water is no less violent.

Or maybe it is. Phil feels pain, but it’s different. The glass isn’t broken, but there’s water filling the car and the music has stopped and Phil knows he’s going to drown. He’s not dead yet, but he will be, because there’s salty sea water in his mouth and he doesn’t know how to swim.

He finally forces himself to wake up, and it only feels slightly like relief to see the walls of his bedroom. It’s dark and he feels wrong inside, because it’s not real but it feels real and sometimes that’s even worse, having to endure the shock and pain of it over and over again.

He starts to cry, and it’s not a stoic shedding of tears. His whole body rocks with the force of silent sobs. His chest hurts. his lungs ache.

And then there’s a hand on his face. A voice beside his head.

“Phil.” It’s a worried voice. Confused. “Phil.”

It’s Dan’s voice.

Oh. Dan. Dan is here. He has Dan. Dan, who wore his sweater all day and didn’t care that Phil’s parents knew, and didn’t offer any kind of explanation. Dan, who didn’t even seem to consider sleeping anywhere but next to Phil that night.

Phil rolls into Dan’s body, pressing himself against shirtless warmth until Dan wraps an arm around him and squeezes. Phil can hardly breathe but when he does he smells Dan and it’s all he ever wants to smell for the rest of his life. He opens his mouth against Dan’s skin and clings to his back and forces himself to focus on what’s real.

“Breathe,” Dan says, and Phil tries.

He doesn’t care about breathing. He just wants to forget.

“Phil, breathe.”

He takes a shuddering breath. And then another. It’s good. He’s not drowning, he’s not. He’s safe. He can breathe.

He rolls on top of Dan, letting his weight press down heavy on Dan’s chest. He wants to replace this fear, this helplessness. “Dan.”

“You’re okay,” Dan says.

“I want you.”

“I want you to feel okay.”

Phil drags in another breath. “I want you to make me feel okay.”

He can see Dan’s face in the darkness. He can see all the emotions that cross it. “I just want to feel okay again,” Phil whispers, and presses his lips to Dan’s neck.

“Tell me what to do,” Dan says. “I’ll do anything.”

Phil starts to cry again. Dan rolls him onto his back and then sits up and pulls Phil with him. He rubs Phil’s back and Phil puts his head on Dan’s shoulder and cries and he doesn’t even know what for anymore. He’s so tired, and now he feels ashamed.

He wanted Dan. He wanted Dan to touch him. He wasn’t thinking at all about how that would feel for Dan. He was only thinking of himself, just like every other guy Dan’s ever had the misfortune of being with. It makes him feel sick.

“I’m sorry,” Phil chokes.

Dan stands up and Phil hears him shuffling around, and the soft sound of fabric against the floor. Dan hands him a hoodie and says, “Put this on.”

Phil obeys. Dan takes his hand and leads him out of the bedroom and down the stairs and out the front door. They sit on the porch and Dan tells him to breathe.

Phil breathes. He can smell the sea. If he focuses, he can even hear the distant crashing of the waves. It’s still dark out, and the air holds a chill that feels like a kiss to Phil’s tear stained cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Phil says.

Dan says, “When will you understand that you don’t have to apologize for feeling things?”

Phil hangs his head, digs his elbows into his knees and holds his face in his hands. “When I stop feeling all the wrong things, I guess. When I stop being bad for you.”

“You’re not bad for me. There’s nothing about you that’s bad.”

“I’m broken.”

“We’re all broken, Phil. Isn’t that just what it means to be alive?”

“I wish it wasn’t. It hurts too much.”

Dan puts his hand on Phil’s thigh. “I know.”

“You can’t say you’ll do anything,” Phil says quietly.

“What?”

“You told me to tell you what to do. You can’t do that.”

“Why can’t I?” Dan asks. “Don’t I get to decide what I can and can’t do?”

That pulls Phil up short. “Well… yeah. You do. Of course.”

“Good, then.”

“I don’t want you to feel obligated, that’s all.”

“God, Phil.” Dan pulls Phil’s hands away from his face and pulls at his chin so he’s looking right at Dan’s face. “I don’t.”

“Yeah, but—”

“I’ve been wanting you this whole time, you know that. It’s you who wants to wait.”

“I know. I know.” He closes his eyes. “I was worried you’d leave.”

“And now you’re not?”

Phil shakes his head. “Now I just… I want to be the guy who shows you it can be better.”

“You already have, idiot.”

Phil knows he should laugh. He knows Dan wants him to laugh. “I wanted to be better.”

“I want you as you are,” Dan says. “If you don’t believe that I think you’re the best, at least believe that. I don’t care if you’re broken. I’m broken too.”

“Okay,” Phil says. “I’m s—” He stops himself. “Okay.”

“If you want something from me, and you ask for it, I can say no,” Dan says. “So let me decide that bit for myself, yeah?”

Phil nods.

“What do you want from me? Right now, what do you want?”

Phil sniffles rather pathetically. “I want ice cream.”

-

They raid the freezer, and much to Phil’s delight, there is an abundance of ice cream in there. Nigel must have stocked it; Phil’s love of sweets comes by him honestly.

They overfill bowls of frozen dairy goodness and carry them out to the lounge, where they settle on the sofa. They don’t turn on the television. Phil just wants to eat ice cream and look at Dan’s face.

He’s got such a great face. Phil tells him so. “You’re really pretty, eh?”

Dan smiles. “So you say.”

“I do. I do say.”

“I like yours better, personally.”

“No accounting for taste,” Phil says, taking a giant bite of ice cream.

Dan just shakes his head fondly.

“Is Winnie gonna disown you for eating so many animal products?” Phil asks. “Or is she gonna disown me for being such a bad influence?”

“What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

“Do you miss them?”

Dan laughs. “It’s been three days, Phil.”

Phil shrugs. “I miss Jimmy.”

Dan tilts his head. “Yeah?”

Phil nods. “I mean, not, like. A lot. I just… I dunno.”

“I’m not judging you. I’m just interested. I’ve never had a mate like that.”

“We’ve been through a lot together. And he’s hurting right now.”

“I told you,” Dan says gently. “We’re all broken.”

“Maybe you’re right about that.”

Dan nods. “I am.”

Phil stretches his leg out to push his toes against Dan’s calf.

“It’s a burden, being this much of a galaxy brain genius.”

“Maybe your next job should be therapy.”

“Hmm, can a person who still desperately needs therapy be a therapist?” Dan asks.

“Probably,” Phil says. “Maybe everybody needs therapy. If everyone is broken, it kind of follows.”

Dan nods. “I think that’s true.”

“Maybe I should look into that.”

Dan’s expression is suddenly serious, and he nods again.

“Maybe that should have been obvious to me before,” Phil mutters.

“Therapy won’t do a damn thing unless you’re ready for it.”

“I reckon I’m ready. I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”

“My lady is good,” Dan says. “I can give you her number, if you want.”

“Thanks.”

“I went through a bunch of duds before I found her. But I dunno if you’d need someone who’s more… specialized.”

Phil sighs. “I hate it when Jimmy’s right.”

“What was he right about?”

“Ugh,” Phil says, shoving more ice cream in his mouth. “Everything, basically.”

“He sounds like a good mate.”

“Yeah. He is, even though he pisses me off sometimes.”

“Bryony pisses me off a lot, too. We’re not as close as you and Jimmy, but she’s a good friend. The kind who calls me on my bullshit constantly.”

“Do you have bullshit?” Phil asks.

Dan bursts out laughing. “Oh Phil. You’re so precious.”

Phil shrugs. “I just fancy you a bit.”

“Well I won’t argue you out of that.”

“You couldn’t anyway,” Phil insists.

Dan puts his half eaten dessert on the coffee table and stretches his arms over his head. “I think the sugar has defeated me.”

“Amateur,” Phil scoffs.

“I’m not used to ingesting so much cow juice.”

Phil scrunches up his nose. “Don’t say that.”

“I think I just did, mate.”

“Don’t take ice cream away from me. It’s a simple pleasure.”

Dan smirks. “I could give you one of those.”

Phil’s instinct is to argue, but he remembers what Dan said earlier and stops himself. “Do you want to?”

“You know I do.”

“Yeah but like, do you want to? Right now?”

“Right now you’re eating ice cream.”

Phil nods. He is indeed. “Maybe I should stop being weird about it.”

Dan smiles. “It’s cute. You’re cute.”

“It’s that teenager thing,” he says. “Being weird about sex.”

Dan nods. “I was definitely weird about sex when I was a teenager.”

“With Erin?” Phil asks quietly.

“Yeah. My non-sex with Erin was very weird.”

“You never had sex?”

“Not really.”

“Were you attracted to her?”

Dan shrugs. “I think so. I thought I was.”

“Sorry,” Phil says. He puts his bowl on the coffee table next to Dan’s. Suddenly the sugar isn’t sitting so well. “Not trying to make you feel weird. We don’t have to talk about it.”

“No, it’s… it’s alright. I’ve just not really talked about it with anyone but my therapist. I don’t have it all figured out. I’m starting to suspect I never will.”

“Sex is weird,” Phil says.

It makes Dan laugh. “Yeah. And sexuality is even weirder.”

“I don’t know if mine ever really felt complicated,” Phil admits. “I tried to like girls but I always knew I didn’t, really.”

“I’m glad for you,” Dan says, then elbows him gently in the arm. “And I’ll try not to hold it against you.”

“Tell me about Erin? If you want?”

Dan shrugs. “We were friends. We had fun together. I thought she was pretty, and we got along well. But whenever she kissed me or tried to touch me I’d panic.”

“That sounds really sad.”

“Yeah. I reckon I really fucked up by asking her to be my girlfriend. I thought it would make things easier.”

“I’m sorry. I really hate that you had to go through that alone.”

Dan smiles. “You’re really sweet, you know that?”

“Well, I’m like half ice cream right now, so that makes sense.”

“Half ice cream, half giant nerd.” Dan shuffles over to sit closer to him.

Phil shuffles over to close the distance, and lays his head down on Dan’s shoulder. “Yeah. I’d say that’s an accurate description of me.”

“I’m really glad you invited me on this trip.”

Phil lifts his head. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m really glad I did too.”

“Can we go back to bed now?” Dan asks.

“You tired?”

“No, I just wanna kiss you a lot without worrying about your dad walking in on us.”

Phil grins. “Okay, yeah. Let’s go back to bed.”

Chapter Text

They take their clothes off down to their pants and crawl back into Phil’s bed. He thinks he should be tired, but all he wants right now is for Dan to hold him. It's still dark outside, and the dream clings heavy to the fringes of his memory.

But the reality is that he’s safe. He’s warm and dry and Dan is right next to him, his arm underneath Phil’s neck, wrapped around his shoulder. Phil is pressed to his side, head on Dan’s chest, and like this he feels safe. Nothing can touch him here but good things.

“I’m sorry I woke you,” he says, even though he’s not, really. He’s glad he didn’t have to go through that alone.

“No more apologizing,” Dan whispers. “Save it for when you’ve actually done something wrong.”

“Are you tired?”

“You mean have I gotten tired since the last time you asked, like, two minutes ago?” Dan chuckles. “Not really.”

Phil hooks a leg around Dan’s. “I feel a bit clingy at the moment, is all. But I don’t wanna annoy you.”

“Cling away, man.”

“Yeah?” Phil asks, tilting his head up.

“I’m not particularly keen for space right now.”

Phil nudges his face into Dan’s neck. “You’re so warm.”

Dan smiles and rubs Phil’s shoulder. “Are you tired?”

Phil shakes his head. “Earlier you mentioned something about kissing? I’m intrigued by that prospect.”

Dan snickers. “Intrigued, eh? I don’t think it’s actually that mysterious.”

Phil could try to think of some kind of clever response, but instead he just hooks his hand around the back of Dan’s neck and pulls him down to kiss him.

It starts slow and sweet and gentle and Phil melts into Dan completely. He tastes like toothpaste, the mint so fresh Phil can practically feel the tingle. Dan is tracing shapes on Phil’s shoulder and letting Phil set the pace.

Any lingering traces of uneasiness left behind by his dream are certainly gone now. In fact, pretty much everything is gone but the taste of Dan’s mouth and the sound of his breath and the feeling of all that warm naked skin.

Phil’s not keeping his cool tonight, and he’s letting things progress like he hasn’t got a care in the world. It’s just… hot. Dan is hot and it’s going straight to Phil’s head - and not the one on his shoulders. He makes a little noise in the back of his throat and then Dan makes one to match and Phil would be embarrassed about how quickly he’s gotten hard if it didn’t feel so fucking amazing.

He’s not going to do anything about it. The kissing is enough, but he’s sure Dan can feel it when Phil presses himself against Dan’s hip.

So maybe he’s doing something, technically. He can’t help it.

“God,” Dan says against Phil’s mouth. “You’re not allowed to do that.”

“Why?”

“It’s going to kill me.”

“I’m the one who’s dying,” Phil says, nipping at Dan’s bottom lip.

Dan bites him back and grabs Phil’s hand, guiding it down his stomach and over the bulge in his pants. The very hard bulge. He presses Phil’s palm against it. “Nope,” he says. “Me.”

Phil’s brain short circuits for a split second, and then he curls his fingers around the shape of Dan.

Dan holds his breath. Phil doesn’t back off.

“Am I allowed to do that?” Phil asks.

Dan squirms a little. “If you want me dead, sure.”

“This doesn’t count,” Phil decides. “I’m just… you’re still in your pants.”

“Feels like it counts for a fuck of a lot to me,” Dan croaks.

Phil ducks his head down to mouth at the spot where Dan’s neck meets his shoulder. “Then maybe I don’t care.”

“You don’t have to touch me, Phil.”

“I know.” He latches onto Dan’s neck and rubs his palm lightly against the hardness beneath Dan’s pants, and the way Dan’s breath catches will be etched into Phil’s memory forever.

Then he slides his hand up a bit and spreads his fingers out across Dan’s stomach. He kisses back up to Dan’s mouth and pretends they aren’t both hard and aching for each other. He has no good reason for drawing this out anymore, but now it just kind of feels like a challenge that he wants to win.

And it’s fun in its own way, the waiting. It’s fun to wind Dan up. It soothes something in his insecure little brain to have that kind of power. He won’t say no to Dan from now on, but if Dan can be patient, Phil wants to at least try to be patient too.

It’s not something he’s been good at, historically, but he promised himself he’d try new things.

He slides his hand up and traces his fingers lightly over Dan’s collarbones. Dan kisses him a little harder. Phil touches Dan’s face, strokes the hint of stubble and the hard line of his jaw. He can feel the muscles working beneath the skin as they kiss.

Phil’s not sure how long he lets his hand wander over innocent parts of Dan’s  body before Dan’s hand wanders to a not so innocent part. He doesn’t even notice it until Dan makes a noise that has Phil doubting his challenge to himself of patience. He looks down and Dan’s hand has disappeared inside his pants. Phil can see the bumps of his knuckles stretching the fabric.

He just watches for a moment, mesmerized, then Dan says, “Where’d you go?”

“Watching,” Phil says.

“I can stop.”

“Definitely don’t stop.”

Dan studies him for a moment.

“I wanna keep watching,” Phil says, voice low. “I wanna see.”

Dan closes his eyes and his hand moves on himself with a little more purpose. It’s very, very hot, but not quite what Phil wants. He decides to be bold, and pulls Dan’s pants down enough so the front of the elastic waistband hooks under Dan’s fist.

He wishes he could use his eyes like a camera. He’d really like to keep this image for the lonely nights when a wank is the only hope he has of falling asleep. Or perhaps for the lonely mornings he wakes up with wood and enough time to actually do something about it.

Dan laughs softly. “I feel so exposed.”

“Good.” Phil tilts his head up to kiss Dan’s neck and then looks back down to where Dan’s fingers are wrapped around himself. “Keep going?”

Dan keeps going. Phil watches. At some point he slips a hand inside his own pants, because he’s too turned on not to. Dan doesn’t ask Phil to let him see, but he’s still watching. They’re watching each other, breathing heavy but making a concerted effort not to be too noisy. Phil’s parents are just a room away, after all.

Phil tells himself he needs to remember to ask Dan about that later. He wants to know what he is and isn’t allowed to say to them, but right now there’s only space in his head for how gorgeous Dan looks stretched out and flushed pink halfway down his chest.

He’s even more glad now for the waiting. Taking things slow means each step gets to be savoured, and this step really is a delicious one. He’d never really considered masturbation sexy until he watched Dan do it. Before that it mostly just felt like a means to an end or a reasonably reliable way to make himself feel sleepy.

Dan makes it feel sexy, and not just what he’s doing to himself. The way he’s watching Phil makes Phil feel like he’s doing something sexy too. It gives him the confidence to pull his pants down so Dan can actually see.

“Oh fuck,” Dan says. He lifts his leg a little and drapes it over Phil’s.

Phil likes the weight of it. He likes how it makes them feel even more connected. ‘Oh fuck’ is exactly what’s going through his head, too, but he doesn’t say it. He’s biting his lip, following the movement of Dan’s hand closely. He’s thinking about how fun it’ll be to do that to Dan someday. Maybe someday soon.

“You’re not even touching me and you’re still killing me,” Dan says.

Phil reaches over with his left hand and squeezes Dan’s thigh. “I’m already a ghost.”

Dan finishes soon after that, and it turns Phil on so much that he’s not far behind. They clean themselves up quickly and Phil arranges himself exactly as he was before, head on Dan’s chest, leg hooked around Dan’s.

“Is it cool if I’m feeling even clingier than before?”

Dan laughs. “You’re one of those, eh?”

“One of those?”

“A cuddler.”

Phil resists the urge to shrink away in embarrassment. “I reckon so, yeah.”

“That’s extremely adorable.”

“You’re not?”

“I don’t really know,” Dan says. “Maybe I am. It feels nice with you.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“I think that’s allowed.”

Phil pauses for a moment. “What did you talk to my dad about?”

“I told you, remember?”

“You said us.”

“Yeah,” Dan says.

“But, like… like, what, exactly?”

Dan laughs. “I can’t recall, verbatim. Sorry.”

“But he knows we’re not just friends.”

“He already knew, Phil. You saw that drawing. You heard what he said.”

Phil sighs. “Yeah, I’m—”

“Please don’t say you’re sorry.”

“I reckon this time it applies, though.”

“No,” Dan says. “It doesn’t.”

“I was so afraid you were done with me then,” Phil says quietly.

“Well I’m glad to have proved you wrong.”

Phil smiles, and clings a little a harder. “So my dad knows we’re… whatever we are?” Phil asks awkwardly.

“He does.”

“And it’s okay?”

Dan chuckles, nosing into Phil’s hair. “It’s okay.”

“I can’t believe you talked to my dad. That’s just… that’s so weird to me. My mum I’d understand, but my dad…”

“Your dad’s kind of brilliant, Phil.”

“Well, yeah, I mean… yeah. He is. I just… wouldn’t have expected you to bond with him over your relationship with me. Like, he’s never been upset about me being gay or anything, but we’ve also never sat down and had a chat about it.”

Dan shrugs. “Maybe you should.”

“Weird,” Phil mutters.

“He’s the first man I’ve ever come out to who I wasn’t sleeping with,” Dan says bluntly.

“Do I need to say weird again?”

Dan laughs. “It was a nice conversation. I needed it.”

“Well… good, then. I’m glad.”

“Good.”

“I guess I’m wondering how I’m supposed to act when we’re around my parents now,” Phil says.

Dan is quiet a long time before he says, “I don’t know if I have an answer for that.”

Phil waits.

“Maybe we can just… try to be chill?”

Phil snorts. “I literally don’t even know what that means. And I’ve never been chill a day in my life. I overthink everything.”

“I just… it doesn’t have to be this big thing, does it?” Dan asks. “This is all so new for me. I still don’t think… I don’t feel ready to be, like, properly out.”

Phil shuffles away from him a little so he can look at his face properly. “You don’t have to be. At all.”

Dan says, “Okay,” and rolls onto his side so he and Phil are facing each other. “So maybe it can just be a thing that the four us know, but we don’t have to like, actively talk about it?”

Phil nods. “Like with Winne and Ada.”

Dan seems to think about that for a moment. Then he says, “I think you’re fucking great.”

Phil smiles. “That’s funny. I feel the exact same way about you.”

“I like your parents. They’re really nice.”

“They are.”

“Maybe my life would have been a lot different if I’d had parents like yours.”

Phil’s not sure how to respond to that. His first selfish thought is that he’s glad Dan’s life has gone the way it has, because otherwise it might not have led him to Phil. But he knows that’s not the kind of thing he should say out loud, and it also isn’t all that’s in his head. “I wish you’d had the support you deserved,” he says, because that’s true too.

“I wish I knew how not to be fucked up about it still,” Dan says quietly. “I have support now. I have so much of it now.”

“If you figure out how to let go of shit in the past, let me know,” Phil says. “I’ve always had support, doesn’t stop me from fixating on the moments that felt bad.”

“Maybe we’ll figure it out together.”

Phil presses his forehead to Dan’s. “You get sappy after you come.”

Dan snorts, laughing right against Phil’s face. “Fuck off.”

Phil wraps his arm around Dan’s lower back and pulls him in as close as humanly possible. “It’s okay, I do too. And I’d love to figure it out with you.”

Chapter Text

Phil sleeps restlessly for a few hours before accepting defeat and sneaking out of bed. Dan is dead to the world, and Phil doesn’t want to mess with that. At least one of them should be able to enjoy a lie in on holiday.

He grabs some clothes and brings them to the bathroom where he brushes his teeth and showers before heading downstairs to the smell of coffee and something baking.

His mum is sat at the table reading the newspaper, and she lowers it and smiles at him when he greets her. “You look a bit tired, love.”

“Yeah.” He kisses the top of her head and goes to get himself some coffee. “Didn’t sleep well.”

“I heard.”

That gives him pause. She heard? What exactly did she hear?

“What?”

“I heard the two of you up in the middle of the night.”

That doesn’t exactly assuage his fear.

“I had a bad dream,” Phil says, choosing to pretend that if she’d heard them wanking, she’s got the tact not to mention it. “Dan got up with me and we had ice cream and talked.”

“What was your dream about?”

He’s halfway through pouring the coffee into his mug, and he ends up spilling a little bit out on the counter. He doesn’t really want to answer the question. He doesn’t want to upset her again.

“Nothing really,” he says dismissively.

“It wasn’t nothing if it meant you couldn’t sleep.”

He wipes up the mess and finishes fixing his coffee and goes to sit at the table. “It’s fine, mum.”

She doesn’t look happy anymore. “Philip Michael. You can’t lie to your mother.”

He shrugs. “It was about the accident.”

She frowns. “Oh Phil.”

He takes a sip of coffee. He hates making her face look like that.

“I really had no clue,” she says quietly. “I didn’t know you were still suffering so much.”

“Yeah, well. I didn’t want to worry you.”

“Worrying is a mother’s job.”

“Well it shouldn’t have to be. I’m a grown man.”

“Not to me.”

He laughs. “Mum.”

“I’m sorry but it’s true. You’re a man, yes, but all that really means is that you lie to me when you’re feeling hurt. It makes my job harder.”

“I’m sorry, mum. I thought I would get over it.”

“I told you to come home. I thought you were just a little stressed, but I didn’t even know what I was talking about.” She’s still frowning. “I don’t think sea air is going to do a damn thing.”

He laughs again. “Maybe not, but it’s still nice.”

“Phil, you’re not working. You’re not sleeping. You're eating ice cream in the middle of the night.”

“I know, it’s bad. But I’ve been talking to Dan about stuff.”

“Ah, Dan,” she says knowingly. “Seems like he might know something about these things.”

“He does.” Phil knows he’s failing at keeping the fondness out of his voice, but he knows she already knows. He thinks it’s okay, and Dan isn’t here to hear it anyway. “He’s really great.”

“That’s wonderful, Phil.” She smiles. It’s warm and, again, knowing. He likes that. He likes that she knows and he likes that she knows not to say that she knows.

“I think when I get back to London I’m going to do something about it,” he continues. “I’m going to ask for help from someone who knows how to do that.”

“I think that’s a good idea, love. There’s no shame in admitting you can’t do it on your own.”

“Have you ever gone to therapy, mum?”

“I have.”

He just looks at her. He’s not even sure why he asked, he was so certain she was going to say no.

She must sense his confusion, because she explains without him having to ask. “After grandma died.”

“Really?”

“I was quite distraught. Sort of like you, I suppose, in my own way. Not sleeping, not eating very much. It was a difficult time.”

“I didn’t know,” he says quietly.

She smiles, and pats his arm. “It’s not a son’s job to worry about his mum.”

“But it is, mum,” he argues. “It’s not like I was a child when she died.”

“I reckon I had to learn the hard way that it’s alright to ask for help,” she says. “In the end it was your dad who insisted I go to a professional.”

“Wow.” Phil sits with that thought for a moment, staring down into his coffee. He’s coming to realize that maybe he still has a lot to learn about his father.

He looks back up. “Did it help?”

“It did, eventually. It’s still difficult for me, but I learned how to cope better with the painful thoughts.”

“I’m really sorry, mum.” He reaches for her hand and gives it a squeeze. “I miss her too sometimes.”

She squeezes back. “You’re a sweet boy. Are you hungry? I made muffins.”

That makes him laugh. “Of course you did. And of course I want one.”

-

Dan wakes up a few hours later, and comes downstairs into the kitchen where Phil is still sat with his mum. They’re playing Scrabble now and nibbling at sandwiches. Phil is losing. Badly. He’s not sure why he still agrees to play this game with her.

His dad is there too, now, drinking tea and reading the paper. He gives Dan a nod in greeting, and Dan nods back. Phil feels so warm inside he could cry.

“Good morning, love,” Kath says to him. “I heard my son kept you up late last night.”

Dan’s eyes bug out for a split second before he arranges a poker face. It takes everything Phil has not to laugh.

“Bad dreams,” Dan says awkwardly. “Insomnia is lonely, I know that better than anyone.”

“It was good of you to keep him company,” she says. Phil’s honestly surprised she doesn’t wink.

“Phil fed me ice cream, so it was really no hardship.”

She smiles. “Nigel’s sweet tooth finally came in handy for something other than giving his poor teeth cavities.”

“Oi, my teeth are perfect.”

“Half of them are fake, dear.”

Phil snorts. Dan laughs too. It’s a moment so pure and good, Phil can’t quite believe it’s real.

“I’ve got next game,” Dan says. “Is there any coffee?”

Kath gets up, no doubt to load him down with food and drink and just generally spread her mum-ness all over him. Phil looks over at his dad and sees that he’s already looking at Phil and giving him a soft sort of smile.

Something comes over Phil and he leans across the table so he can speak to his dad without Dan - who is trying to insist that Kath doesn’t have to cook for him - hearing.

“Can you make me another sketch?” Phil asks. “Like the one you made for Dan?”

His dad gives him the same look that his mum did, the one that says he knows. “I can do that.”

-

“You boys should go out,” Kath says, after hours of board games and countless cups of coffee. “Get some time outside. Tomorrow’s your last day, isn’t it?”

“Don’t remind me,” Dan says. “I’m pretending I live here now.”

“Wouldn’t that be lovely?” She sounds like she means it. “But seriously. Go enjoy the sea before you have to go back to that big smelly city.”

“That’s where the Queen lives, mum. You’re slagging off the home of our fearless leader.”

“Cheeky boy.” She swats his arm. “Why don’t you go for a swim? Make sure you haven’t forgotten all that Dan’s taught you.”

The idea holds absolutely no appeal for him.
“The water will be freezing. And Dan’s afraid of the sea.”

Dan kicks him lightly under the table. “Oi, that was a secret.”

Phil laughs. “Sorry.”

He thinks that’ll be the end of it, but then Dan says, “Swimming in the sea is scary as hell, but I’m willing to face my fears today. If you are.” And just like that, Phil knows he’s going to swim in the ocean by the time the day is done.

-

Phil’s parents decline to join them, and Phil’s sure it’s no coincidence.

He’s not complaining, though. Not about being alone with Dan, anyway. The swimming he’s complaining about quite a lot.

They’re in the car. The windows are down and Dan’s driving a good speed. The sky is clear and there’s no chance of rain today. The air is warm and the view is spectacular.

Phil is anxious, but not about the car, which is a welcome change. Mostly he just doesn’t want to put his body into what he knows is going to be some seriously frigid water.

“You’re being a big baby,” Dan laughs at him.

“Yes,” Phil agrees instantly. “I am. And you will be too when you’re waist deep in ice water and your balls shrivel up into raisins.”

“Maybe I’m into that, you don’t know.”

Phil side eyes him. “You’re into pain? Does that mean you’re a… wotsit?”

“Masochist, Phil. It’s called masochism.”

“So you are, then.”

“Just because I know the term doesn’t mean I partake in the kink, man.”

“Mhm,” Phil hums, disbelieving.

“You like biting,” Dan accuses.

“That’s different.”

“Is it?”

Phil puts his feet up on the dash petulantly. “I dunno. You like biting too.”

“Guess we’re a good match, then, eh?” Dan reaches over without taking his eyes off the road and gives Phil a punch in the shoulder.

“We are.” He forgets to add a playful tone. The words come out too sincere.

“We are,” Dan echoes, matching the sincerity.

-

They’re not alone on the beach today. There are plenty of other people on the sand, and even a few in the water.

They take the time to find a more secluded spot to sit. Dan takes off his shirt, so Phil does too. They lay their blanket down and sit next to each other. Dan is wearing his sunglasses, and it makes Phil think of the first day they met, at the pool when Dan was just a lifeguard that Phil was trying not to look at too closely.

It’s sunny. Phil feels the heat of it on his shoulders and the back of his neck. He digs the sun cream out of his bag and hands it to Dan. “Can you do my back?”

Dan smiles a crooked little smile and Phil almost kisses him before he remembers himself. He closes his eyes and ducks his head down so he won’t be tempted again. Dan gets up on his knees and shuffles behind him.

Phil hears the lid popping open and the unattractive sound of cream being squeezed out of the bottle and then there’s a shock of cold on his skin that makes him gasp. Dan chuckles under his breath and slides his palms up Phil’s back to his shoulders and it feels more like a massage than anything.

There’s nothing perfunctory about it. Dan takes care, and Phil feels precious underneath those big gentle hands. He closes his eyes and hopes it never stops.

It does, eventually, of course. It has to. They’re in public. But Phil makes a mental note to add massages to the list of things they can do together while they ride out this whole ‘waiting’ thing.

Phil returns the favour, though he suspects Dan doesn’t actually need the UV protection.

They sit there for a long time just watching the water. It’s calm. The waves are small, and they sparkle under the afternoon sun. Phil can almost imagine himself swimming in them. Almost.

Then Dan stands up. “We doing this?”

Phil can’t say no. If Dan can be brave, he can too.

He follows Dan to where the waves lap at the sand, stopping when his toes touch the water. As he suspected, it’s cold enough to make his breath catch.

Dan keeps going, unaware that Phil’s been momentarily halted.

Phil wants to keep going, but it’s not just the cold that’s stopping him. He wants to be brave, but it feels so much easier in the abstract. “Dan.”

Dan stops shin-deep in the ocean and turns around. “You coming?”

Phil hates himself just for a moment. He feels like a fucking child. “I’m scared.”

Dan’s face goes soft. He holds out his hand.

He holds out his hand for Phil, so Phil walks into the sea and takes it.

-

They keep walking out until the water is at their nipples, and skimming their chins when the waves roll by. That’s when Phil stops Dan and says he can’t go out any further.

“This isn’t technically swimming,” Dan says. “We’re just walking in the water.”

“I thought you were meant to be scared too.”

“Oh, I am.” Their hands are still clasped together under the water, and Dan squeezes Phil’s fingers. “But it feels nice to know if some kind of horrifying water demon emerges from the depths, I won’t be the only one getting eaten.”

“I don’t think we’re in the depths yet,” Phil points out. “But there could be jellyfish.”

“Phil, you fuck.”

Phil laughs. “It’s true!”

“This is why the sea is a fucking nightmare.”

“At least we can say we did it.”

Dan is looking at him intently all of a sudden. “That’s true. Also…” He lets go of Phil’s hand only to throw his arms around Phil’s shoulders. “We’re the only ones out this deep, which means I can do this.” He hops up and wraps his legs around Phil’s waist.

Phil’s first instinct is to bend his knees and dip them down lower in the water to hide, but he wraps his arms around Dan’s waist tightly. “I like this.” Dan’s face is right there, just right there in front of Phil’s, so close their noses are touching.

“Me too,” Dan murmurs. “Worth the raisin balls, definitely.”

Phil ignores the joke completely. “People can probably see us.”

“Do you care?”

“No. I thought you might.”

“I don’t right now,” Dan says. “I feel like the rules are different here.”

“It’s not midnight.”

“Maybe the rules are different at midnight and when you’re in the sea.”

“You know, you’re the one who decides what your rules are,” Phil whispers. “You can change them whenever you want.”

Dan tightens his arms around the back of Phil’s neck. “I think I already am.”

Phil kisses him. In public. In the sea. His lips taste like salt and he doesn’t pull away. He kisses back.

Phil wants to change his rules. He’s been trying, and mostly failing, or at least that’s how it’s felt. Now he kind of feels like he can do anything. He can fly. He can live forever. He can kiss Dan in the Irish Sea.

Maybe he can be a person again, instead of a sack of meat and blood that exists simply to house his collection of fears and anxieties.

He kisses Dan until his body is itching for more. Dan is plastered against his chest, clinging to Phil with his arms and his legs and his everything, and there’s only so much of that Phil can take before he properly goes mad. He drops his mouth down onto Dan’s shoulder and bites him, hard.

Dan jumps. “Ow.”

“You liked it,” Phil says, and does it again.

This time Dan groans in a distinctly pleased sort of way. He tilts his head and returns the favour on Phil’s neck. It makes Phil shiver. Yeah, he definitely likes the biting.

“We have to stop now,” Phil says.

Dan nods. He unhooks his arms from Phil’s neck and stretches backwards so he’s lying on the surface of the water, his legs still keeping him anchored to Phil’s waist. He closes his eyes and he looks so content, and Phil is content to watch him.

Then he unwraps his legs and disappears under the surface, and a moment later Phil jumps when feels something on the inside of his calves. It takes him a moment to realize it’s Dan’s hands. He spreads his legs and Dan swims between them.

He’s laughing when he comes up for air.

“You scared the shit out of me,” Phil accuses.

“Sorry.” He's grinning, and his dimple is out in full force. Phil dips his finger into it and Dan says, “I used to do that with my mum when I was a kid.”

Phil gets that feeling he always gets now when Dan seems on the verge of confiding in him. He feels nervous and, at the same time, proud. Grateful that Dan trusts him enough to tell him things he may not have told many other people in his life. He smiles. “That’s really sweet.”

“She wasn’t around a lot, but when she was, I loved it so much. She taught me how to swim the summer I turned seven. I think the first few years after Adrian was born she was like, determined to try to be a proper mum. She actually put in some effort.”

Phil’s heart is breaking, but he never wants Dan to stop talking. “And now you swim for a living,” he says softly.

Dan laughs. “There’s some not so subtle psychology happening there, I’m sure.”

“I think you just love it.”

Dan reaches up and pushes his dripping hair off his forehead. “I do. I do love it.”

“I’m glad I got to have you as my teacher,” Phil says. “I think your mum taught you well.”

“Shut up or I’ll be forced to kiss you again.” He lays his palm flat on Phil’s chest like a barrier.

“I’m gonna swim between your legs now,” Phil says.

Dan cocks an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

He nods. “Come save me if I start to drown.”

“Don’t even joke.”

“I’m actually being dead serious.”

Dan grins. “I’m off duty right now.”

Phil splashes him, then ducks under the water before he loses his nerve. He keeps his eyes closed and reaches his hands out to feel his way around. He finds the solidness of Dan’s leg and doesn’t waste any time swimming through and back up to the surface. Bravery has its limits.

“You did it,” Dan says, and honestly, he sounds exactly like Phil’s sure his mum sounded when Dan was a seven year old first learning how to swim.

“You taught me well.”

This time it’s Dan who does the splashing, but his face says it’s because he’s not sure how to handle Phil’s sincerity. He reaches out and grabs Phil’s wrist and pulls him in close. “Phil.”

“Dan.” He drapes his arms over Dan’s shoulders and wraps his legs around his waist.

“Do you think I can actually do this?”

Phil’s heart does a weird double pump that hurts his chest. “Do what?”

“This. You. Us.”

Phil frowns. “Do you think you can’t?”

“I think stuff like this doesn’t happen to me. Stuff this good doesn’t exist for a person like me.”

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s true. My parents never meant for me to exist. I was an inconvenience to them.”

“Your mum loved you, Dan. Even if she was absolutely shit at it. And your grandmother loves you. And Winnie and Ada.” He presses his forehead to Dan’s. “And me.”

“You love me?”

Phil doesn’t answer. He kisses Dan’s lips.

Dan is quiet for a long time. “What if I don’t even know how to love? What if no one ever taught me?”

“You do,” Phil says. “I know you do.”

“How? How do you know?”

“Because… I just do. I know you. And you’re already doing it.”

Dan smirks. “Oh, so I love you?”

“Yeah, idiot, you do.”

Dan kisses him. “It’s not as scary as I thought. But also it’s terrifying.”

Phil nods. That’s one thing he’s definitely not wrong about.

-

They stay in the water until Phil’s teeth are chattering, then they wrap themselves up in towels and get chips that they bring back to their blanket on the sand. They watch the other people on the beach and eat their greasy fried potatoes. Dan puts his head on Phil’s shoulder.

Phil wants to stay forever. Dan digs his toes into the sand and Phil leans forward so he can scoop more onto them until they’re completely buried.

Eventually they lie down on their backs to feel the sun on their chilled skin. Phil can hear waves and seagulls and children somewhere laughing, and the next thing he knows, he’s blinking his heavy eyes open to a sun much lower in the sky than it had been before.

He sits up and looks at Dan, who’s still asleep right next to him. He’s beautiful. Phil puts his hand on his chest because he can’t help it. It’s golden hour and Dan is glowing.

Dan opens his eyes and smiles at Phil.

They stay to watch the sunset. The sun sets the clouds on fire as it sinks towards the horizon, and once it’s gone, the air is much cooler. Phil starts shivering again and Dan laughs at him, but wraps two towels around Phil’s shoulders and carries the blanket and Phil’s bag as they walk back to the car.

Phil falls asleep again on the ride home. Dan wakes him with a hand on his thigh.

Kath has something that smells delicious cooking when they get in. Dan goes to take a shower and Phil goes to his room to change. When he opens his door there’s a piece of paper laid atop his pillow.

Phil sits on the bed and picks it up. He stares down at the page and the picture his dad has left for him there, sketched out in pencil and saying so much. It’s Phil’s face pinched in concentration as he lays tile on a board, and Dan’s lit up with a smile cast in Phil’s direction.

His dad got the dimple just right.

Chapter Text

Phil’s phone rings while they’re sat at the table having their last dinner together. He checks it out of habit, and Kath gives him the stink eye. He risks her future wrath and excuses himself to answer it, though. It’s Jimmy, and they’ve only spoken a few times since he’s been here.

“James!” he shouts in place of the usual hello.

“Bloody hell. Take it down a notch.”

Phil pouts. “Aren’t you happy to hear my voice?”

“You’re in a good mood.”

“Are you not?”

“Meh.”

“What’s wrong?” Phil asks. He opens the door to the back garden and steps out into the grass.

“Nothing, it’s fine.”

It’s not nothing, and he doesn’t sound fine, but Phil’s not going to push it. He’ll wait until he’s home to force Jimmy to engage in a proper heart to heart.

“So what’s up?” Phil asks.

“I have bad news.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, sorry. I didn’t want to wait til you got home because I wanted you to hear it from me first so you’re not completely blindsided.”

Phil’s stomach drops. “What?”

“It’s about work.”

“Work?” Phil frowns. “Did they— are they gonna fire me or something?”

“No, but David asked me how you were doing lately and I said you were doing pretty well. I asked why he wanted to know because he seemed weird and he admitted he asked because according to the rules or your contract or some shit they have to ask you to come back, like, next week.”

“Oh,” Phil says again.

“Yeah.”

“Do I have to?”

“I don’t know, mate. I think maybe yeah? It’s been a long time.”

Phil bristles. “I nearly died.”

He didn’t. But he might as well have for how much it broke his brain.

“Please don’t be cross with me,” Jimmy says. “You know I’m just the messenger.”

“Right.” Phil takes a breath and sits in the grass. “Yeah. Sorry, you’re right. It’s just… wow.”

“I know.”

Phil sighs. He can hear the waves crashing faintly in the distance. “Maybe… maybe it could be good?”

“Yeah?” Jimmy asks. “You think?”

“I dunno. I guess there are things about that place I miss. I miss working with you.”

“This place blows without you.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “You’re friends with everyone. I’m sure you barely notice I’m gone.”

“Not true. I have other mates but you’re my best one.”

“Aw.”

“Seriously,” Jimmy says. “It sucks if you’re really not ready, but if you come back, it'll be nice to have you. Really nice. It’s just not the same without you.”

Phil smiles. “I do miss it. I just don’t wanna cock it up by being an anxious traumatized mess.”

“You won’t. I’ll be there to make sure there’s no cocking.”

Phil snorts, then says, “I’ll call them when I get back. Before they can call me. Maybe earn myself back a point or two.”

“You know they’re not cross with you, Phil.”

“I know, I know. It’s fine. I’m sure it’s been hard for them to cover for me for so long.”

“I’m glad you’re coming home tomorrow. I’ve missed you so much it’s fucking stupid.”

Phil grins. “Aw, have you? I’ve missed you too. I have so much to—”

“Oh, I’ll talk to you when you get home, yeah? I’ve just—” His voice cuts off and Phil hears someone else’s voice in the background.

He waits.

Jimmy comes back sounding a little out of breath. “I’ve got to go. I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”

“Everything good?” Phil asks.

“Yeah yeah, just got someone at the door. Gotta run. Love you!” He hangs up.

Phil shakes his head and shoves his phone back in his pocket. Maybe it’s just as well. His mum is already going to have his head for choosing his mobile over a meal she slaved over for half the day.

-

He and Dan forgo the wine and board games Kath offers, citing the excuse of an early morning and a long flight, even though neither are technically true. The flight isn’t until midday and it lasts less than an hour and a half

But she doesn’t argue. Phil knows why, and he knows Dan knows too, and it makes a warm feeling settle in his chest.

They brush their teeth and change into pajamas and agree to leave the packing up for the morning. They're going to make the most of their last night in this bed.

Which, as it turns out, means an obscene amount of kissing. And straddling. And chest stroking. And back rubbing. And neck biting.

Sweet words are whispered back and forth, faces are held, hips are gripped. Dan rolls on top of Phil and their skin presses together - above the waist. It’s all so wonderfully chaste.

Phil wants Dan, of course, but there’s no urgency here tonight, just good old fashioned making out, the kind he missed out on when that was all the rage, when he was a teenager and all his mates would talk of little else.

Soon enough they’ll be back in London and Phil will take Dan on that date and their time spent in bed will be anything but chaste. This island, this holiday, it’s like a time capsule for what he hopes they’ll someday refer to as their early days. The beginning of something great.

He’s getting sappy. It’s been so long since he felt hopeful enough to be sappy. He rolls Dan off of him and pulls him close so they’re lying side by side. If he doesn’t get out of his own head he’s going to do something daft like cry tears of joy.

“Oi, I was enjoying that,” Dan says. His slips his fingers just inside the waistband of Phil’s pjs.

“I was too. A lot.” Phil kisses Dan’s nose. “Hence the need for a little break.”

“Who rang you earlier?”

“Jimmy.”

“How’s he doing?” Dan asks.

“I don’t know, actually. He was a bit weird.”

“Reckon you’ll be chuffed to see him again.”

Phil nods. “He told me my bosses are gonna make me come back to work next week.”

Dan’s face goes serious. “Oh shit.”

“Yeah.”

“Are you freaking out?”

“A bit, but…” He shrugs. “Maybe it’s the push I need, y’know?”

“You swam in the sea,” Dan points out. “You let me drive you home in the rain. You’re amazing. You don’t need to be pushed.”

Phil slides his hand up Dan’s chest and cups the back of his neck. “Get you a man who’ll make you feel like a badass for doing basic human activities.”

“You are one,” Dan says firmly. “Don’t diminish your accomplishments.”

“Okay. Sorry.”

Dan smiles. “You and your fucking sorries.”

“You like me and my fucking sorries.”

Dan drops his hand further into Phil’s trousers. “And your ass, too.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Mhm.”

“Tell me more about that.”

“It’s soft,” Dan says. “And nice.”

“Your face is soft and nice.”

Dan laughs. “Shut up, stupid. I’m trying to be sexy.”

“Why? Isn’t that just kind of torture since we can’t— Oh. Is it because you’re a masochist?”

“Aw, you remembered,” Dan coos.

Phil leans in and bites his chin.

“Oh yeah, baby. Harder.”

“Shut up!” Phil squawks.

Dan lifts up his eyebrows. “Why don’t you make me?”

Phil scrunches his face up. “I hate you.”

“I know.”

“I don’t think I’m kinky,” he blurts.

Dan drops the teasing immediately. “What?”

“I know you’re joking, or like mostly joking, about the pain thing, but… yeah. I don’t know. I think I’m pretty boring. Like, sexually. I just. Thought you should know.”

“I like boring.”

Phil laughs. “Thanks.”

“I’m serious. I mean, you’re not boring. At all. But I’m not kinky either. Like, I wouldn’t be afraid to try shit, but I’m not gonna be disappointed with vanilla.”

Phil sighs. “God. There’s a word that describes me perfectly.”

“Vanilla?” Dan asks incredulously. “No fucking way.”

“No?” Phil asks. “What flavour am I, then?”

“Fucking… rainbow sprinkles,” Dan says. “Bubble gum with pop rocks. A banana split with whipped cream and chocolate sauce and cherries and more whipped cream.”

“So I’m sweet,” Phil says.

“What’s wrong with sweet?”

Phil shrugs.

Dan pushes Phil backwards and climbs on top of him. “What have I done to make you think you’re in any way not exactly what I want?”

“Nothing,” Phil admits. “I’m just overthinking things, as always.”

“Well stop.”

Phil smiles. “If only it were actually that easy.”

Dan leans down and brushes his mouth against Phil’s ear. He doesn’t speak at first, just breathes there warm and slow and bites very gently on the lobe.

Phil’s blood starts pumping faster right away.

Dan’s hand traces its way up Phil’s chest and over a nipple on its way to curve around the back of Phil’s neck.

Phil is holding his breath. Dan whispers, “I can’t wait to touch you for real.”

Phil pushes his hips up. He wants Dan to feel him. Dan kisses him, opens his mouth so their tongues brush. Then he moves back to whisper in Phil’s ear again. “I can’t wait to have the hottest vanilla sex with you, Phil.”

Phil gets it. He really fucking gets it. “Point taken,” he croaks.

“Good.” Dan flops down to lie beside Phil again.

“You’re really sexy, have I ever told you that?”

“Hm. Let’s go with no.”

“You’re really sexy.”

Dan smirks. “Thanks.”

“Are you looking forward to sleeping in your own bed again?”

“No. Are you?”

“No,” Phil says. “There are things I’m looking forward to, but not that.”

“What things?”

Phil shrugs. “Seeing Jimmy. Making sure he’s been feeding Ninja and Pirate. Taking you on a date. Touching your willy. Work, maybe.”

“Yeah?”

Phil nods. “I actually love my job. That’s part of why I didn’t wanna go back before I thought I could handle it.”

“Do I get to listen to you on the radio?” Dan asks.

Phil turns his head on the pillow to look at Dan and smile. “Yeah.”

“I can’t wait. That’s so cool.”

“It’s definitely cool. Even I can admit that. I just hope I haven’t forgotten how to do it.”

“I’m sure it’ll come right back.”

“How about you?” Phil asks. “Ready to get back in the pool?”

Dan shrugs. “It’ll be alright. I’ll miss you being there.”

“You can take me for more night swims.”

Dan laughs. “Mate. We were lucky not to get arrested the first time.”

“We both went a little mad that night, didn’t we?” Phil asks.

Dan nods. “I’m sorry I hurt you,” he says quietly.

“You didn’t. I’m here. I’m not hurt. I feel pretty fucking spectacular, actually.”

Dan rolls onto his side and kisses Phil’s shoulder. His voice is soft and full of feeling when he whispers, “Me too.”

-

Phil’s mum drives them to the airport. She asks Phil every two minutes if he’s okay. Eventually he gets so annoyed that he isn’t even thinking about the accident at all, he’s just desperate for her to talk about anything else. He’s still glad he told her. It feels like a weight off. He imagines it is for her too.

She walks them to their terminal. He hugs her tight and makes her promise that she and his dad will come down to London sooner than later.

He’s going to miss her. He suddenly hates that she lives so far away.

She gives Dan a hug next. Phil can tell it surprises him at first, but once that has worn off, he hugs her back just as tight as Phil had. He beams out a smile that makes Phil think premature thoughts of forever. Dan just fits. He fits with Phil and he fits into Phil’s life.

“It was so lovely to meet you, Dan. You’re welcome here anytime.”

Phil hears her say that part. He doesn’t hear whatever she says next, because that part she whispers right into Dan’s ear. Whatever it is makes Dan’s smile go even wider. His dimple looks like it might split his cheek right in half.

Phil asks him about it as soon as she’s left, but Dan just smiles and shakes his head. Phil pouts about Dan having a secret with his mother, but it’s all in jest. In reality it makes him feel like he could burst and confetti would go flying everywhere.

It’s such a good feeling that he’s only mildly terrified when the rickety little plane begins its takeoff. Dan distracts him even further by insisting Phil play a very ridiculous game of eye spy. It works to make him laugh, and before he knows it, they're in the air and headed back to reality.

Usually reality feels like something to be endured. But Phil’s reality is still going to include Dan. It’s going to include Jimmy and the radio show and swimming and coffee dates at midnight and sex and laughter and vegan food. It’s going to include a whole lot of pain, and fighting to get back to a place where he trusts the world not to snatch his safety away from him at a moment’s notice, but he’s ready. He’s ready to work towards feeling like himself again.

-

Saying goodbye to Dan feels strange. Phil had gotten quite accustomed to not having to do that. But they’re back in London now, and Dan has a pair of ladies waiting at home, eager to cook him plant based meals and hear all about his trip, and Phil has a Jimmy he’s quite eager to check on.

They collect their bags and walk outside together, and Dan pulls Phil into a hug. Phil returns it, and resists the impulse to press his lips to any part of Dan’s face or neck. London has different rules. He knows that, and he respects it.

“Say hi to Winnie and Ada for me,” Phil says as they pull away from each other. “Tell Winnie my mum cooked vegan for you every day.”

Dan smiles. “She’ll know I’m lying, but I will. Ring me later, yeah?”

“You know I will.”

-

He takes the tube home. It takes longer than it would in a car, but bravery takes time, and riding the underground is nice. It makes him feel like he’s really home. He leans his head against the window and closes his eyes, listening to the various conversations going on around him.

He texts Jimmy to tell him he’ll be home soon, but he gets no response. It’s mid afternoon on Sunday, so he’s definitely not at work and Phil suddenly realizes the most likely scenario is that he’s still laid in bed hungover and hating his life.

So Phil decides to be a good mate and stops into Gregg’s once he’s off the train. It means a little extra walking, but he’s starting to feel a renewed sense of guilt for taking off at a time when Jimmy is so obviously struggling. The least he can do is bring Jimmy some trash food to soak up the alcohol.

He drops his bags on the floor the moment he gets home, resolving not to even think about unpacking until he’s lounged for at least a full day. He kicks his shoes off and looks around, but as suspected, his flatmate is nowhere to be seen and his bedroom door is closed. Phil deposits the food on the kitchen counter and tiptoes down the hall.

He is filled with regret when he bursts into Jimmy’s room without knocking to announce himself first. His greeting takes the form of a shriek of surprise and Jimmy scrambling to cover his bare ass with the blanket that lies in a rumpled pile on the floor.

It takes Phil a good few seconds to process the scene, but when he does he realizes the shriek hadn’t come from Jimmy, but from the naked man who’d been laid underneath him. Jimmy tosses a pair of pants to his guest, who holds them awkwardly over his crotch.

Phil stands there rooted to the spot, knowing he should shut the door as quickly as possible and give them back their privacy, but he’s forgotten how to make his brain communicate with his body. Apparently in the choice between fight or flight, Phil picks the third option - freeze.

“Oh my god, what the fuck,” Jimmy says.

“I’m— I—”

He can’t speak, because he’s staring at the second man’s face.

Then the guy speaks. “Hey Phil.”

Phil looks at Jimmy. He’d been trying to convince himself that his eyes were playing tricks on him, but if this guy knows Phil’s name, then the bizarre twilight zone tableau laid out in front of him is actually real and not just a hallucination or a terrifyingly vivid nightmare. He looks back at the guy and is finally able to choke out a single word.

“Tom.”

Chapter Text

Phil finally comes to his senses and backs up, pulling the door shut so hard it slams. He turns around slowly and regards his apartment as if he’s never seen it before. He still feels stunned, unsure of what he’s supposed to do now, how exactly to process what he’s just seen.

He can hear the sound of rustling sheets and hushed voices from behind the door, so he makes his feet carry him away from there. The absolute bare minimum he can do for Jimmy right now is to give him back the privacy he so carelessly ripped away.

His feet end up carrying him to the bathroom, where he runs the shower and strips his clothes off like he’s on autopilot.

It’s a good idea, though. The water is hot when he steps under it, and it helps clear his mind a little of the fog of shock and his body of the tension of… well, everything. Everything that’s happened today.

He doesn’t even know how to feel. Not that it’s actually his business at all, but Jimmy is his best mate. And Tom is the ex Jimmy’s been absolutely shattered over. And now they’re spending time naked together in Jimmy’s bed? What does it mean? How long has it been going on? Should Phil be disapproving? Or supportive? Should he pretend nothing happened?

He doesn’t get out of the shower until the water is running cold, and even then he’s no closer to making sense of anything. He wraps himself up in every single towel in the bathroom and tiptoes back down the hall to his own room.

He nearly has a heart attack when the door opens about thirty seconds later and Jimmy steps in. He gasps silently and clutches his chest, dropping the towel he’d been holding around his waist.

“Guess we're even now,” Jimmy says bluntly.

Phil scrambles to his wardrobe and grabs up the first pair of pants he can find. He’s never cared about Jimmy seeing his ass before, but this particular instance feels a little too vindictive to be comfortable.

“I’m sorry,” Phil mumbles. “I was just keen to see you.”

“Did you not see his shoes on the mat?”

Phil shakes his head.

Jimmy sighs and shakes his head as he walks over to Phil’s bed and flops down onto it face first. He groans loudly into the duvet, and even muffled, the sound of it communicates his feelings quite clearly.

“Is he still here?” Phil asks, pulling the first shirt he can find over his head.

Jimmy turns his head so it isn’t smushed into the mattress. “I sent him away.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“Yes I did.”

Phil doesn’t say anything. He pretends to be looking for a matching pair of socks.

The silence is immediately excruciating, and it lasts until Jimmy finally says, “Are you not going to say anything?”

Phil stops pretending he hasn’t been wearing mismatched socks ever since it stopped being his mum’s job to pair them up for him and grabs whatever his fingers find first. He walks over to the bed to sit and put them on.

“I don’t know what to say,” he admits.

“You just walked in on me and Tom fucking.”

Phil winces. “Trust me, I know. I got that.”

“Say something,” Jimmy demands. “Just say it.”

Before he can stop himself, Phil blurts, “What the hell are you thinking?”

Jimmy smiles, flat lipped and humourless. “There it is.”

“You’d say worse if the situation was reversed.”

Jimmy sighs, then rolls over and covers his face with his hands. He groans, eve more loudly than before. “God. Fuck.”

“Are you back together?”

“Fuck no.” He pauses. Then, “Fuck. I don’t know.”

Phil lies back next to Jimmy. “How did this happen?”

“You were gone. I was lonely. And also drunk and stupid.”

“I thought you weren’t speaking to each other.”

“I told you,” Jimmy says, exasperated. “I was drunk. Very drunk. I was creeping his Instagram and I accidentally liked an old photo of us.”

“Jesus.”

“I know.” He groans again. “I unliked it right away but obviously it was too late. He texted me and it just… snowballed.”

“Was this the first time?” Phil asks.

Jimmy looks at him. He shakes his head.

Phil shakes his. “James…”

“I know, Phil. God. I know.”

“What are you going to do?” Phil asks.

Jimmy is quiet a long time before he answers. His voice is hushed, fragile. “He says he misses me.”

Phil’s stomach flutters with a strange nervousness, like he’s feeling Jimmy’s own emotions for him. “What did you say?”

“That I missed him too.”

“He left you,” Phil says. “He broke your heart.”

Jimmy frowns. “You don’t have to remind me.”

“Maybe I do, though.”

Jimmy jerks up to sitting. He looks at Phil with hurt in his eyes and anger on his face. “Well maybe I don’t want you to, okay?” He stands up and walks out and slams the door behind him.

Phil doesn’t follow. He crawls under the covers and shuts his eyes. He needs a sleep. Life can wait.

-

He wakes up in the dark, drenched in sweat and clutching his pillow as if it could save him from the danger and destruction of his dream. Not only is he feeling the immediate aftereffects of dying a sudden violent death in his own head, he’s also extremely disoriented. He reaches his hand out for Dan and finds the spot cold.

He sits up, head spinning from the sudden rush of blood and reaches into his pocket for his phone. He’s got three texts from Dan and the time reads 3:04am.

Then he starts to remember. He’s not on the island anymore, he’s home. He’s home in the flat he shares with Jimmy and - oh. Jimmy. Jimmy and Tom.

He remembers that Jimmy is cross with him. And finally he remembers that he’d fallen asleep after deciding he was unable - or unwilling - to deal with that fact.

He lies back down, breathing in and out purposefully until it doesn’t feel like such an effort. He reads Dan’s texts. He thinks about typing one back, but instead presses Dan’s name in his contacts and rings him up instead. He’s shaky and feeling generally like shit, and nothing sounds better to him than a chat with the bloke he’s already missing.

Dan answers on the second ring. “Why are you awake?”

Phil smiles. “Hello to you too.”

“Seriously, mate.”

“I had a nightmare,” Phil says. “What’s your excuse?”

“Faulty brain chemistry,” Dan replies. “A self destructive tendency to overthink when my mind isn’t being otherwise occupied.”

“What are you overthinking about?”

“Uh uh,” Dan says, his voice low and a bit croaky. “Tell me about your dream.”

“I died.”

“What was it this time?”

“Car. Road. No drowning this time.”

Dan clicks his tongue. “I’m gonna send you my therapist’s number, yeah?”

Phil nods. “Thank you.”

“You’ll call her tomorrow?”

Phil is nervous just thinking about it. “I’ll… try.”

“Come round and I’ll hold your hand while you do it.”

Phil smiles. “You will?”

“Mhm. Ada and Winnie wanna see you again anyway.”

“They do?”

Dan chuckles. “Yes, Phil. They do.”

“That’s sweet. And terrifying.”

“That is a perfect description of them, yes,” Dan confirms. “But you’re fine. They already like you.”

“They do?”

“Phil!” Dan laughs again.

“Sorry, sorry, it’s just nice.” He’s still smiling. It’s exactly why he wanted to talk like this despite the faux pas of ringing up another human being at such an ungodly hour.

“You’re nice,” Dan counters.

Phil feels an odd sense of guilt, and it takes him a moment to process why. It gets worse when he remembers. “I wasn’t nice to Jimmy.”

“What?”

Phil makes him swear he won’t tell anyone, and Dan is quiet while he listens to Phil recount the sordid tale of ex lovers interrupted mid-tryst.

“Wow,” Dan says afterwards.

“Yeah.”

“You should really knock.”

Phil huffs. “No shit.”

“But you said you weren’t nice.”

“I wasn’t. He shouted at me and slammed the door.”

Dan says, “Just because he didn’t like what you had to say doesn’t mean you were wrong to say it.”

“I guess.”

“He probably needs time. It sucks for you but it makes sense that he’d lash out a little.”

“Yeah. I dunno.” Phil sighs. “He’s just been so torn up over this breakup. Like proper heartbroken. And now he has to start all over.”

Dan is quiet a moment before he answers. “Can you blame him, though?”

Phil frowns. “How d'you mean?”

“Just… can you imagine being in love with someone and then they’re just… gone? Like, not because they had to leave, but because they wanted to?”

The thought sits heavy in Phil’s gut. He might not have been able to imagine how much that would hurt before he met Dan, but he’s got some idea now.

“I reckon I’d have done exactly what he did,” Dan says quietly. “I’d have taken the chance to feel like things were good again, even if it meant hurting more later.”

“I’m such a crap mate,” Phil mutters.

“You’re not. It’s still objectively probably a terrible idea even if it makes sense.”

“I wish I could talk to him now.”

“Things usually look better in the morning,” Dan says. “Besides, you should sleep.”

At that moment, Phil’s stomach gurgles. He looks down at it like it’s some kind of alien creature. “My hunger disagrees.”

Dan laughs. “Of course you’re hungry at half three in the morning.”

“I barely ate anything all day!”

“You didn’t eat when you got home?”

“Um.” Phil sits up. “I got a wee bit distracted by seeing like, all of Jimmy’s bits.”

“You haven’t seen them before?”

“Well, I saw Tom’s too,” Phil says sheepishly. “It was just a lot, alright? I wasn’t prepared for that much ass.”

Dan laughs at him. “I fail to see the problem.”

Phil gets up out of bed and starts to make his way toward the kitchen. “They’re not the asses I’m keen to get a good look at.”

“Oh, that was smooth, mate.”

Phil smirks. “Yeah?”

“Nine out of ten on the flirt-o-meter.”

“I’ll take it.” He opens the fridge and rummages through the whole lot of nothing that’s in there. He sighs, loudly and full of exasperation. “I have no food.”

“Too bad I can’t teleport you some of Winnie’s lentil loaf.”

Phil makes a face. No one can see him after all, so he’s allowed. “Yeah, too bad.”

Dan laughs. “It’s actually better than it sounds.”

“Guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.” He grabs an apple and shuts the fridge.

He takes a bite as he walks, and nearly trips over the bag he’d left dumped on the floor in the lounge. He picks it up and hoists it up over his shoulder.

“Hey Phil,” Dan says, and Phil realizes he’s temporarily abandoned all conversation in favour of inhaling his early morning snack.

“What?” he mumbles through his mouthful of fruit.

“Can you take me on our date tomorrow?”

“Oh.” He swallows, heart kicking a bit. “Yeah. I can.”

“Brilliant.” There’s something cheeky in his voice. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“Can I admit something?” Phil asks.

Dan laughs. “Yeah.”

“I’m nervous.”

“Can I admit something?”

Phil drops his bag onto the floor and climbs back into bed. “Yep.”

“I am too.”

“No you’re not,” Phil says automatically.

“Okay, I’m not.”

“Are you?” Phil asks.

Dan laughs. “Yes!”

“But… you’re the hot one!”

“No, you are,” Dan argues.

“Dan, come on. Have you seen you?”

“I have, and I’ve also seen you, which is exactly my point. Have you seen your shoulders?”

“Have you seen how tall you are?” Phil counters.

“Have you seen your bloody eyes, Phil? They’re like little swimming pools in your face.”

Phil laughs. “That doesn’t sound sexy.”

“Someday I’m going to have to show you just how sexy a swimming pool can be.”

Phil sputters. “Dan! You’ve had sex in a pool?”

“Not yet.”

Phil has to hide his face, even though Dan can’t see him. He pushes it into the pillow and makes an embarrassing noise that’s something between giddiness and embarrassment. “I could never do that.”

“We’ll see,” Dan muses.

“I’m a good boy.”

Dan laughs. “We’ll see,” he says again. “We’ll just see about that, mate.”

“You’re bad.”

“Maybe so,” Dan concedes. “But you’re still the hot one.”

Phil laughs and shakes his head. “This is a very stupid argument.”

“Indeed.”

“... Because I’m clearly right.” Phil grins.

“I’m gonna hang up on you, mate,” Dan threatens.

“You should. You need sleep.”

“So do you.”

As if on cue, Phil yawns widely. “Mm. Guess I do.”

“Will you be able to?” Dan asks. “After your dream?”

“Yeah, I think so.” He smiles. “Thanks for distracting me.”

“Anytime, Phil.” He says it with such sincerity that it makes Phil’s stomach flutter.

“Dan.”

“Yes.”

“I’m gonna take you on the best date of your life.”

Dan sounds like he’s smiling when he says, “I know you are. Get some sleep, nutter, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

After they’ve hung up, he notices that his phone is about six percent away from dying, so he hauls himself up and goes to fish the charger out of his bag. He finds it, but not before he comes across the sketch his dad made at his request. He plugs his phone in and climbs into bed, turning on the lamp on his bedside table so he can get a better look.

It makes him miss Dan. It makes him miss the island. It makes him miss his dad and his mum and the sea and the waves, but mostly it just makes him happy. He studies the strokes of pencil until he’s memorized every line and curve, then he sets it on the table, turns off the lamp, and goes to sleep.

-

There’s daylight in his room the next time he opens his eyes. He squints at it and yawns, then rolls over to see if he can wring out another half hour of sleep when he sees Jimmy sat back on the computer chair with his feet up on Phil’s desk.

“What you doin’?” Phil croaks, temporarily forgetting that they might not even currently be on speaking terms.

Jimmy glances over at him but doesn’t answer, and that’s when the events of yesterday afternoon return to him. Phil’s stomach clenches, and suddenly he’s painfully awake. He grabs his glasses off the nightstand and puts them on to see that Jimmy is holding the sketch in his hands.

“My dad drew that,” Phil says quietly.

Jimmy still doesn’t say anything. He’s just staring at the paper.

He looks sad.

Phil sits up. “Jimmy.”

Jimmy wipes his eyes on the sleeve of his hoodie.

Phil’s about two seconds away from his own tears. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m really sorry.”

Jimmy shakes his head.

“Talk to me,” Phil pleads.

Jimmy finally turns his head and looks at Phil. Just for a moment, and then he looks back to the sketch. “I miss this.”

Phil’s heart sinks. The idea that his happiness is Jimmy’s sadness is too much for him. “Come here,” he says softly. “Let’s talk for real this time.”

He half expects Jimmy to continue to ignore him, but Jimmy finally puts the sketch down and stands up. His hoodie is an old one from York, and he’s not wearing anything on the bottom but a pair of pants. Phil shuffles over to make room and Jimmy sits next to him, leaning back against the headboard.

He doesn’t look at Phil. “I’m sorry I was a dick yesterday.”

Phil shakes his head. “You weren’t. I was.”

“You were right, though, I reckon. It was a stupid thing to do. And I’m stupid for thinking it might work out.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You’re thinking it.”

Phil looks out the window. He can’t exactly deny that. “I’m thinking that… I don’t want to see you get hurt again.”

“I’ve been hurt, Phil. I’ve been hurting since it happened.”

“I don’t want it to get worse, then.”

“Well what if it doesn’t?” Jimmy asks. “What if now is when it stops hurting?”

Phil looks at him. “What do you mean?”

“He said he thinks he made a mistake.”

“He thinks?” Phil asks.

Jimmy huffs, quietly, angrily. “Fuck’s sake.”

“I’m sorry,” Phil says automatically. “But I don’t trust him anymore.”

“People make mistakes, Phil.” He gives Phil a pointed look.

Phil hates it, but it’s true. It’s another thing he definitely has no business arguing. People make mistakes. People who care about each other can still hurt each other.

“Have you talked?” Phil asks. “Like proper talked about all of it?”

“We’re meeting up for coffee later.”

“Would you take him back?”

Jimmy doesn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

“Even though…”

“He could do it again?” Jimmy offers.

Phil nods

“Yeah, Phil. I love him. I’m still in love with him. That didn’t just go away.”

“I understand,” Phil says quietly.

Jimmy sighs. “Look, maybe it’s a mistake, yeah? But if it is, it’s one you just have to let me make.”

Phil bites back all the arguments at the tip of his tongue. “Okay.”

“And if we get back together and it happens again… you still have to scrape me up off the floor and pretend like it wasn’t my own damn fault.”

“It wouldn’t be your fault,” Phil says. “It’d be his fault, ‘cause he’s a div. But it’s not gonna happen, right?”

Jimmy smiles. “I hope not.”

“So does that mean you might be moving out?”

Jimmy snorts. “Fuck no, Lester. I’m not that stupid. You weren’t hoping to move hunky lifeguard in here, were you?”

“Of course not.” He shoves Jimmy in the shoulder. “Don’t be daft. We haven’t even had a proper date yet.”

“Jesus, man. Get on it.”

“I am!” Phil says defensively. “Tomorrow, in fact.”

“Well hallelujah.” He studies Phil’s face for a moment. “You’re falling for him for real, aren’t you?”

Phil nods. He feels something like guilt admitting it.

“I hope he’s as good as he seems.”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “Me too.”

Chapter Text

Jimmy goes to work, but not before Phil stands in the doorway of their flat and hugs him.

“Soon we’ll be doing this together again,” Phil says. “I’ll be making you tea while you shower and you’ll be picking out what I wear so I look at least semi put together at work.”

Jimmy laughs. “Yeah. I can’t wait.”

“Me neither. I think I’ve missed it.”

“Reckon you’re ready?”

Phil finally lets Jimmy pull back from the embrace. “I dunno. Yes and no. I guess we’ll see.”

“I think you are,” Jimmy says, icy blue eyes searching his. “You’re different.”

“I feel different. Still scared a lot, though.”

“No offense, but who isn’t?”

-

Phil’s still thinking about that an hour later, sat on the balcony with a cup of coffee in hand as he watches the street below. Maybe he isn’t really all that much different from every other person down there. Maybe Jimmy’s right.

He pulls out his phone and finds his boss’ number in his contacts. He’s going to ride this wave of self awareness and let it take him down the road back to normalcy.

It’s early enough that he actually answers, which Phil hadn’t been accounting for. He’d been ready to leave a message, but apparently this is going to be his first real test of the stresses of everyday life.

He ignores his racing heart and says, “Hi David. It’s Phil.”

-

He’s got a meeting at the station the day after tomorrow.

It’s real, then. He’s going back to work. His stomach tightens just thinking of it, but there’s an undeniable excitement peppered in amongst the anxiety.

There’s another number in his phone that he really should ring, but he’d been promised a sympathetic hand for that one, and he reckons he’s going to need it, so he’ll wait.

Instead he rings one that no longer makes him feel any sort of fear.

“Ugh,” is the hello Phil gets

He laughs. “Good morning to you too.”

“Mreh. Too early,” Dan croaks.

“Aren’t you back to work today?”

Dan sounds much more awake when he says, “Oh bollocks.”

“Guess you’ve not got time to chat.” Phil’s voice is full off unconcealed amusement. He can picture the exact look on Dan’s face.

“Fuckity fuck fuck. I’ll ring you back later, yeah? On my break? We’ll make plans.”

Phil smiles. “Perfect.”

-

He finishes his coffee and then has another. The sky is a wash of clouds in a hundred different shades of grey and blue. It’s probably going to rain later. Maybe his date night outfit will need to include an umbrella.

He goes inside and deposits his mug in the sink before walking down the hall to Jimmy’s room.

He’s pleased to find that Jimmy had managed not to forget to feed Pirate and Ninja at least enough to keep them happy swimming around in their little bowl. Phil’s probably just imagining it, but he could swear that Ninja looks bigger. He pinches some flakes out of the tube and sprinkles them on the surface of the water.

He watches them eat. He watches them swim. It’s remarkable the feeling that washes over him whenever he takes the time to sit and watch them. It’s a feeling of serenity. They look so peaceful. There’s something otherworldly about creatures who exist under the water. They don’t know the limitations of gravity.

It makes him miss the pool. It makes him miss his lessons. It makes him miss sinking down into salty waves to weave between a pretty boy’s legs.

He realizes suddenly that he can’t remember the last time his arm hurt. He rolls his shoulder frontwards and back, bewildered by the fact that the pain is gone, and even more by the fact that he can’t remember when that change happened.

Maybe his mum was right. Maybe there is something about ocean air that heals what medicine can’t.

He gets up and heads back to his own room. He unpacks his bag of stuff from the trip and repacks it with what he’s just decided he’ll need for today.

-

He’s at the pool less than an hour later. Dan is in the water with a small group of kids, so he doesn’t notice Phil right away, which is all the better for Phil to settle in the grass beneath the willow and watch.

He’s not sure he’d really seen it before, what with his preoccupation with staring at Dan’s wet half naked body, but Dan is good at teaching - really good. He’s patient. He demonstrates the proper technique before asking the kids to practice. He praises them when they’ve done a good job and corrects them gently when they need a little extra help.

As far as Phil can tell, he’s a natural. Hell, Phil himself is living proof of how good a teacher Dan is.

Dan looks up and over at Phil and frowns in confusion for a split second before breaking out a grin. Phil smiles back and waves, and Dan shakes his head amusedly before turning his attention back to his little students.

Phil takes his shoes off to feel the grass under his feet as he watches the rest of the lesson.

When it’s over, Dan makes sure each kid has been returned to their respective guardian before joining Phil under the tree. He’s dripping wet, but he just sits down and pushes the hair out of his eyes. “What’re you doing here, mad lad?”

“Wanted to see you. Couldn’t think of a reason to wait.”

“Yeah, waiting sucks.”

He stares at Phil expectantly until Phil finally gets it.

“Oh, shut up.” He knocks his knee into Dan’s, then says, quietly, “It’s almost over anyway, yeah?”

Dan pretends to be scandalized. “You dirty bitch.”

“You love it.”

“I do. I really do.”

Phil ducks his head, hoping no one is looking too closely at all this grinning. They’re not in their little island bubble anymore. “When do you get off?”

“Just as soon as the date is over.”

“Dan!” Phil shoves him so hard he falls over into the grass, laughing loudly.

“God, Phil, you’re so easy to wind up, it’s amazing.”

“I hate you so much.”

Dan stretches out his legs and lies on his back, tucking his hands underneath his head. “If we weren’t in public right now…”

Phil turns his head to the side to look back at him. “Yeah,” he says in a slightly lower voice. “Me too.”

“Is this what it feels like?” Dan asks.

“What what feels like?”

Dan just looks at him, and Phil knows what he’s saying. His chest feels tight with sudden emotion.

“I think it is,” Phil says quietly. “I’ve heard it is.”

“You don’t know?”

Phil pauses before he answers. “I’ve never felt it before now.”

They look at each other, and for a little while, everything else in the world just falls away. All there is in this moment is Dan.

It makes Phil think of pirates and ninjas. It makes him think of fishbowls.

He laughs.

Dan smiles. “I’ve got another lesson.”

Phil waves him off. “I’ll be here.”

-

When Dan’s done work, they take the tube to Notting Hill, to Winnie and Ada’s blue house with the flowers in the garden.

Winnie is in the kitchen cutting up peaches. Dan dumps his bag on the ground and gives her a big hug from behind. She yelps. “Warn me first, you—”

She cuts herself off when she sees Phil. “Oh hello, darling.”

Phil smiles and waves awkwardly. Dan’s stopped down a little, still holding her from behind. He towers over her; it’s really quite an amusing sight.

She pushes him off. “One of these days you’ll give me a heart attack.”

“Where’s Ada?” he asks, stepping around her to get to the fridge.

“She’s with a client. She’ll be home soon.”

“It’s obscene how much you lot get paid for how little work you do.”

She points her knife at him. “Work smart, not hard.”

Dan rolls his eyes. “Yeah, because law school is so easy.”

“Daniel, offer your guest a drink.”

Dan looks at Phil and lifts his eyebrows.

Phil grins. “Coffee please.” Then he walks over to stand at the counter beside Winnie. “Can I help you with anything?”

“Oh bless you,” she says. “You just sit at that table, young man, and tell me all about your trip. Dan never tells me anything.”

Ada comes home while Dan is working on making coffee with a very fancy looking espresso machine. She kisses Winnie’s nose and says, “‘Ello love,” and it makes Phil warm inside. They all sit at the table eating peaches and vegan ice cream and drinking oat milk lattes while Phil regales the women with fascinating tales of hiding from thunderstorms in the car and sunsets on the beach.

“So what are you boys up to tonight?” Ada asks as Dan clears the table afterwards. “Any big plans?”

Phil doesn’t miss the slightly nervous glance Dan throws his way.

“It’s monday night,” Dan says. “Not exactly any ragers going on.”

“And I wasn’t even good at parties back when I still got invited to them,” Phil chimes in. Dan smiles at him.

Ada clicks her tongue. “You’re both too young to be so boring.”

“I’m not that young,” Phil says. “I’ve got grey hairs already.”

Winnie laughs. “Oh no, does that mean I’m old?”

“Only in human years,” Dan says. “We all know you’re a witch who’s going to live forever.”

“I always say it,” Ada says.

Winnie looks at her with equal parts fondness and exasperation. “You do.”

“But Ada is a witch too,” Dan says. “So she’s allowed to say it.”

Winnie turns to him. “So what’s your excuse, kid?”

He grins. “You love me. I have immunity. Anyway, to answer your question, I think we’re going to the cinema?” He looks at Phil, waiting for confirmation.

Phil nods. “And food.”

“Food is a must,” Dan agrees. “And I need a shower.”

“Off you go, then,” Winnie says.

Dan stands and Phil tries to follow suit, but Ada says, “Phil, stay. Keep a couple of old witches company.”

Phil is immediately terrified, but he nods, feigning composure.

“I’ll be quick,” Dan says to him apologetically.

“Don’t be silly,” Winnie says. “He’ll be fine. We only need a few drops of blood for this particular potion.”

Phil laughs. Dan smiles. “Ten minutes, tops,” he promises.

Dan leaves and Phil immediately feels awkward, but Winnie smiles at him. “Don’t worry, we don’t have our sights on your life force.”

He laughs, awkward as ever. He wishes for the millionth time in his life that he knew how to make small talk. How do some people make it look so easy?

“Actually,” Ada says. “We really just wanted to thank you.”

That takes him by surprise. “Thank me?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that boy so smiley.”

It makes Phil’s heart do a funny thing. “Really?”

Winnie says, “It’s a good look on him. We’ve only ever known him as the brooding type.”

Phil looks down at the table sheepishly. “He makes me smile too.”

“We can see that,” Ada says. “It’s adorable.”

“Ada,” Winnie scolds. “Don’t embarrass the lad.”

“I can’t help it. They’re melting my cold witchy heart.”

Winnie reaches over and shoves her in the shoulder before she turns her attention back to Phil. “He’s been through a lot in his short life. He’s been in pain a long time.”

Phil nods. “I kind of know the feeling.”

Winnie smiles. “That makes sense. Your spirits are kindred.”

Ada rolls her eyes. “Win…”

Winnie lifts up her hands defensively. “All right, all right, I know. I’m just trying to say that we’re glad Dan’s finally let some happiness into his life. And we’re really hoping you’ll stick around.”

“I will,” Phil says decisively. “I definitely will.”

“It probably won’t always be easy,” Ada says. “The honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever.” She looks at Winnie. “Trust me.”

He smirks.

“Ada, you’re going to scare the poor boy away.”

Phil shakes his head. “I’m not always easy to deal with either. I get it.”

Winnie smiles. “You’re going on a date tonight, yeah?”

Phil nods.

“He seems overly casual about it. I reckon he’s nervous.”

“I am too,” Phil admits.

Winnie smiles. “That’s how you know it’s real.”

-

‘Ten minutes, tops’ turned out to be a bold faced lie, but Winnie and Ada let Phil off the hook and he goes to wait in Dan’s room. He uses the time to take out the dark blue button up he’d packed in his bag and switches it with the t-shirt he’d worn to meet Dan at the pool. He wishes he could do more to make himself look nice, but he’s trying to remind himself that Dan already likes how he looks.

Dan has a towel wrapped around his waist when he finally makes an appearance. Phil is sat on the bed, and he leers at Dan openly.

Dan leers back. “Fuck, you look hot.”

“So do you.”

“Can we say fuck the date? I have the urge to rip that shirt off.”

Phil runs a hand down his buttons. “I like this shirt.”

“It’s a great shirt,” Dan agrees. “It’d look really great on my floor.”

“Dan.”

Dan drops his towel and walks over to the edge of the bed.

“I’m not that easy,” Phil says, keeping his eyes trained on Dan’s face.

Dan sinks one knee into the mattress beside Phil’s thigh. “You sure?”

Phil leans back, bracing his weight on his hands. Dan lifts the other leg and sits on Phil’s lap.

“You’re so bad,” Phil says. Then he laughs.

“Oi.” Dan feigns offense. “I’m trying to seduce you.”

“It’s not going to work.”

“What, why not?”

Phil sits up straight, reaches a hand up to cradle the back of Dan’s neck and pull his face down enough to kiss him. It’s the first kiss since yesterday morning, and at this point that feels like a very long time indeed.

He pulls back, though, before his body has time to really register how naked and generally available Dan is right now. “Because we’re going out.”

“I don’t wanna,” Dan whines.

Phil laughs at him. “Yes you do. You want all the cheesy shit, remember?”

Dan’s expression changes then. The smile fades as he looks at Phil’s face.

“What?” Phil asks. “Don’t you?”

“I do,” Dan says. “That’s the problem.”

“Why is it a problem?”

“Because… I can’t have it.”

Phil understands. He’s already had this epiphany. At the core of it, their problems are the same, really. Fear holds them back. It keeps them safe, but it also keeps them chained.

“You can have it,” Phil says quietly. “Just because most of it happens in private doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”

Dan tilts his face down so their foreheads press together. “Will you pay for my dinner? Even if the waiter gives us a funny look?”

“Yeah.”

“Can we sit at the back of the cinema so we can hold hands without anyone seeing?”

“Definitely.”

“Can we share a bucket of popcorn instead of getting our own?”

Phil nods. “It’ll have to be literally a bucket, though. I take popcorn very seriously.”

“As do I.”

Phil kisses him.

“Will you bring me back to yours after?” Dan asks. “Can we touch each other for real?”

Phil nods. “Whatever you want. And nothing more.”

“I want more,” he says. “I want everything.”

Chapter Text

Phil wakes up in his own bed, warm and naked and tangled up in long legs and fluffy brown curls that almost always smell at least a little of chlorine. The curtains are drawn and the window is open. The light that filters in is cold and grey, but the sound of rain falling is peaceful. Phil holds Dan around the waist and squeezes, not caring that it’s probably going to wake him up.

It does. Dan makes a soft sleepy noise that Phil chases with his lips. Dan kisses back before he’s even opened his eyes.

Phil smiles against Dan’s lips, then murmurs, “Morning, gorgeous.”

“Mm,” Dan hums. “Round two?”

“Do we have time?” Phil asks. He hadn’t been after that, but now that he knows it’s on offer, it seems like a pretty freaking great idea.

Dan rolls over so he’s half on top of Phil’s chest. “The answer to that will literally always be yes.”

“So, last night, it was okay?”

Dan reaches down to cup Phil where he’s still mostly soft. “Was it not for you?”

“Dan.” Phil closes his eyes. “Of course it was. The best.”

“Actually?”

Phil nods. “Not even close.”

“I’ve never done it like that before.”

“You’re a natural,” Phil says, tilting his head up for more of Dan’s mouth. Dan kisses him back and wraps his hand around him properly.

He strokes up and then down with a bit of a twist in his wrist. Phil smiles. “Why does it feel so normal already?”

“Probably because we waited so long.”

“It wasn’t even that long, really,” Phil says. “It just felt like it was.”

“We’re like… what’s that thing? U-haul lesbians,” Dan says. “Minus the lesbian part.”

Phil laughs. “U-haul gays?”

Dan gives Phil a clipped smile and then goes quiet.

Very quiet.

“Sorry,” Phil says, insides twisting up. “I was just joking. I know you don’t like that word.”

Dan shakes his head. “It’s not that.”

“What is it?” Phil asks. “Do you want me to back off?”

Dan shakes his head. “I don’t.”

“So what’s wrong?”

Dan shrugs. “Just… I’m not… I’m not like you. I can’t tell people. I can’t let anyone see.”

“I know. It’s okay, Dan. You don’t—”

“I can’t introduce you to my mum,” Dan says. “I just… I know I can’t do that.”

“You don’t have to,” Phil says.

“I can’t even talk to Winnie. There’s just… there’s a wall up and I don’t know if it’ll ever come down.”

“Dan, I know. It’s alright.”

“I can’t even make a joke about moving in with you, ‘cause like… I’ll probably never not be too fucked up to let that happen.” Dan rolls onto his back.

“It was a stupid joke,” Phil says. “I shouldn’t have said it.”

“You didn’t. I did.”

“Yeah but…” Phil’s having trouble finding the words over the frantic pounding of his heart.

Dan sits up. “You deserve more than to be someone’s secret.”

Phil sits up and turns his body to face Dan’s. “Maybe you should let me decide for myself what I deserve.”

Dan shakes his head and swings his legs over the edge of the bed like he’s going to leave.

Phil’s heart sinks. “Dan.”

“I’m sorry,” Dan says. “I thought I could do this.” He’s about to stand up, Phil can tell.

“No.” He says it as forcefully as he can.

Dan turns his head around to look at him.

“You’re not going to do this to me,” Phil says. “You’re not. Not after you met my parents. Not after… not after last night.”

Dan looks at him and doesn’t say anything, but he’s still sat there. Phil’s got it in his head that he still has a chance as long as Dan is still in his bed.

“You’re not going to break my heart,” Phil says quietly. “Are you?” His voice breaks a little on the last word.

Dan’s face crumples, and he hides it in his hands. Phil crawls over to the edge of the bed and sits next to him.

“You’re scared,” Phil whispers.

Dan nods.

“You warned me this would happen,” Phil says quietly, more to himself than to Dan.

“I really hoped I could prove myself wrong.”

“You can,” Phil says. “You have been.”

Dan shakes his head. “It felt so easy up north. It felt like a dream.”

“We can make our own north.”

Dan doesn’t say anything, and Phil lies back down. His stomach is clenched so tight he feels sick, but he’s said all he can say. He’s not going to beg. If Dan really wants to leave, Phil won’t stop him now.

But he hasn’t left yet. He’s still sat there on the edge of Phil’s bed, shoulders hunched, head in his hands.

Phil stares at the broad expanse of his naked back, and suddenly an idea comes to him. He flops his body across the bed and reaches under it, fumbling his hands around on the ground until he finally finds what he’s looking for.

He sits up and hands the sharpie to Dan, then lies back down. “Decorate me.”

To Phil’s utter relief, Dan listens. He lies down right next to Phil and clicks the marker open. Phil closes his eyes as the sharp smell hits his nose.

He stays quiet while Dan draws something that seems to start on his hip and work its way down to mid thigh. It’s a bit scratchy against his skin, but it’s nice. Dan is so gentle with it, and the hand he isn’t using to draw is stroking Phil’s leg. Phil opens his eyes and looks down and can’t help the way his heart swells to see the care Dan is taking with Phil’s body.

He feels exposed, raw. It’s not surprising given that he’s fully naked, but it feels a lot deeper than just the physical. Dan glances up and seems surprised to find Phil looking at him. He doesn’t smile, but his eyes are soft and kind and something about the way they hold Phil’s gaze makes him sure that Dan isn’t going to be running away today.

Then he goes back to his sharpie. Phil looks down and sees a winding vine with leaves and little flowers. He smiles. It’s pretty, and not at all what he was expecting.

They’re quiet for so long that Phil is almost startled when Dan starts to speak. “I think there’s actually something magical about sharpie tattoos.”

He sounds utterly calm.

“I think you’re right.”

Dan lets out a breath. “I can’t believe I came that close to fucking everything up.”

“You’re not the only one who does stupid things when you’re scared.”

“You forgive me?” Dan asks.

Phil says, “There’s nothing to forgive,” and he means it. He can see it clearly now, the way Dan’s fear works, and he understands that it only means that Dan’s feelings for Phil are real.

“Phil.” Dan clicks the sharpie closed and tosses it over the side of the bed and onto the floor. “Thank you,” he says, then shuffles over until he’s half on top of Phil’s chest, just like he was before. “I’m sorry.”

“Do you want to leave?” Phil asks. “I didn’t want you to leave in a panic, but if you still do now that—”

Dan’s mouth is on his, kissing away the words Phil hadn’t really wanted to say anyway. Phil giggles and Dan kisses him harder before he pulls away.

“Don’t give the traumatized part of me more authority than the rational part, okay? You’re right, I was panicking. And now I’m not, because you were patient with me and this is where I want to be.”

Phil nods. He runs his hand slowly up and down Dan’s back and they just look at each other for a long time.

“Do you have work?” Phil asks.

Dan answers by rolling over, reaching down onto the floor and grabbing his phone from his jeans, typing something out and then throwing his phone back onto his discarded pile of clothes. “Nope.”

“Did you just—”

“No talking about work,” Dan says.

Phil smiles. “What should we talk about?”

“No talking at all,” Dan whispers, and nudges Phil’s face to the side so he can kiss his neck.

Phil closes his eyes and pulls Dan in closer. Their bodies press together and Phil is reminded once again that they’re both very naked.

And that reminds him of last night, a night that was somehow everything he could have hoped for.

Phil couldn't really taste the food. He didn’t really watch the film.

He doesn’t think Dan did either. They were too busy being happy. They spent the whole evening giggling nervously, enjoying their little secret.

They talked. They ordered drinks. They talked some more. They ordered food. They ate and drank and talked and laughed. They ordered dessert.

Phil paid. The waiter didn’t give them a funny look. Dan’s smile was so beautiful.

They got a bucket of popcorn and a coke to share at the cinema and sat all the way at the back of the theatre. They held hands between the seats. Phil pressed his leg against Dan’s and Dan pressed back.

They got drinks afterward. Lots of drinks. Phil paid for those too, until Dan was tipsy enough to lean right into Phil’s space and whisper in his ear that he was ready to go home.

Phil didn’t drink enough for the alcohol to overpower the nerves, but as soon as the door to Phil’s flat closed behind them, Dan took Phil’s hand and pulled him in for a kiss.

“I’ve been dying to do that all night,” Dan said.

Phil smiled at him. “We can do whatever we want now.”

“Should we pretend we want to do something other than…?”

“Nope.”

“Is Jimmy home?”

“Don’t care.” Phil led Dan to his bedroom. They took off each other’s clothes and kissed and got into bed.

It was everything Phil had hoped it would be. It was beautiful and awkward and intimate and giggly. It was pleasure and uncertainty and moments of insecurity remedied by whispered affirmations. It was something Phil will never forget, and something he hopes he gets to do a lot more.

They stayed up for hours once it was all over, talking and laughing and and sharing secrets.

It was a beautiful night. Perfect, really, in all its imperfection.

That’s what they are to each other, Phil reckons as he pulls Dan on top of him properly and kisses him with intent: perfectly imperfect. Maybe that’s exactly what they need from each other, the proof that being imperfect doesn’t have to mean they can’t have what they want. Phil won’t panic when Dan panics. He won’t assume the worst because he knows that those moments of fear don’t last forever, and they’re not the truth. The truth is what happens when they push past the fear.

Dan sits up, settling himself on Dan’s thighs and looking down at him with hungry eyes. They’re both hard and breathing heavy, and for once there isn’t an ounce of fear in Phil’s body. He runs his palm up Dan’s thigh and watches as Dan wraps his hand around both of them at the same time.

It doesn’t feel like much of anything at first, but the visual alone is enough to make Phil dig his nails into Dan’s leg.

Dan has big hands. Watching him use them in this way almost feels like it shouldn’t be allowed. Something this hot must be breaking some kind of rule.

His stomach swoops when Dan makes a quiet noise in the back of his throat. The undeniable proof that Dan wants him like this just keeps hitting him over and over.

Eventually it starts to feel as good as it looks. The impatience of his nature makes him itch to reach down and quite literally take things into his own hands, but he fights it. Lying there underneath Dan and giving him the control just means he gets to feel it all for longer. He gets to be surprised when Dan twists his wrist or varies the pace or squeezes a little tighter.

Suddenly, Dan stops. He leans down and kisses Phil’s mouth. “God, Phil,” he says. “I’m so gay.”

“I’m so lucky,” is what Phil says back. He sits up and wraps his arms around Dan to guide him down onto the bed so they’re laid on their sides next to each other. He wants to be able to kiss Dan when he comes.

And he does. They kiss as they touch and it’s hazy and uncoordinated. It’s all a mess of fingers and palms and sheets, but they each bring the other off eventually, attached at the mouth all the while.

-

They sit out on the balcony afterwards, showered and with big mugs of coffee in hand. Dan’s pushed his chair right up next to Phil’s so he can lean his head on Phil’s shoulder.

“I kind of love rain,” Dan says dreamily. “It makes everything feel softer around the edges.”

“I used to,” Phil says. “Before the accident.”

Dan lifts his head. “Wow, I’m an asshole.”

“Don’t say that. I miss liking the rain. In my old house in Rossendale I used to sit in front of the big window and watch for lightning every time there was a storm.”

“Do you want to go inside?” Dan asks.

“No.” Phil reaches over and slips his fingers between Dan’s. “It’s nice. It’s good to replace the bad memories with good ones.”

Dan smirks. “Post sexy time memories?”

Phil bumps his shoulder into Dan’s but says, “Yeah. Exactly.”

“I liked the sexy times.”

“Stop calling it sexy time,” Phil says with a laugh in his voice.

“What should I call it? Bang sesh? Coitus? Fuck fest?”

“God, I really hate you.”

“Sweet sweet love making?” Dan suggests, grinning.

Phil laughs, he can’t help it. “Shut up, I’m gonna spill my coffee!”

“Now whenever it rains you’ll think of your boyfriend being an absolute twatwaffle.”

Phil’s heart flips over in his chest. His laughter stops, because it’s being crowded out by something even bigger and better.

“Boyfriend, eh?” he says when he trusts his voice not to crack.

Dan shrugs. “Or you know, whatever.”

“Boyfriend is good. I like boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend likes you.”

Phil shoves him. He’s laughing again. “Shut the hell up.” His whole body feels warm.

“Tell me you liked it too,” Dan says.

Phil can’t even remember what they were talking about now. “Liked what?”

“The buggery.”

“Dan!”

Dan laughs and laughs. Phil swats him, then promptly grabs his face and kisses him.

“You’re a freaking idiot.” Never has an insult sounded so fond.

Dan rolls his eyes. “Fine, fine. The sex, Phil. Tell me you liked the sex.”

“You know I did.”

“Tell me anyway.”

Phil takes Dan’s face in his hands again. “I liked the sex, Daniel. I loved the sex.”

Dan leans in and kisses him, slow and sweet and smacking when he pulls away. “Good.” He stands up and takes Phil’s hand. “Let’s go do it again.”

Chapter Text

Phil wakes up before his alarm. He wakes up not remembering exactly what he’d dreamt, but knowing it hadn’t been about squealing tires or broken glass or being swallowed whole by salty waves. He wakes up to toes pressed against his calf and the sound of someone else’s deep, even breathing.

Dan doesn’t always sleep over, but he did last night. And the night before and the night before that, not that Phil’s keeping track. He rolls over and slides his arm under the covers and around Dan’s waist, pulling him closer. These are his favourite mornings, when the light outside is still soft and he can enjoy the quiet peace of sharing his space with Dan before they have to get up and face the day.

Dan sleeps much less heavily than Phil. He starts to stir the moment Phil’s skin touches his, but Phil won’t be deterred. He squeezes Dan a little tighter and presses a kiss to his shoulder and then another, and then one on his neck. He kisses the spot behind Dan’s ear and Dan’s hair tickles his cheek. It’s gotten longer over the past month. Longer and curlier, because Dan can’t be bothered to go out and pay someone to cut it for him. Phil’s not complaining. He likes the stolen intimacy of reaching up and brushing the wayward strands from Dan’s eyes when they’re sat next to each other on the train or in the grass under the willows.

He sneaks one more kiss before Dan turns around and looks at him with sleepy eyes. Neither of them say anything, Dan just reaches up and touches Phil’s face. Phil’s nowhere near being immune to those big brown eyes on him, and his stomach flutters when Dan leans in and kisses his mouth. It’s possible that Ada’s right about the honeymoon phase not lasting forever, but she’s definitely not right yet.

The kisses are sweet and slow. They’re not leading to anything else, but they still make Phil feel warm and tingly all over. Phil wouldn’t actually be opposed to letting it go further, but he knows they haven’t got time to give it the attention it deserves. And anyway, the kissing is just as nice. Dan’s big hand on Phil’s lower back is nice, Dan’s thigh wedged between Phil’s is nice. This wordless early morning love letter needs no escalation. It needs nothing more than lips pressed together and eyes that look into one another’s and see entire worlds in coloured irises.

Phil could do this forever. He would do this forever, if time didn’t insist on marching forward so unconcerned with the desires of mortal beings. There’s a light knock on the outside of Phil’s bedroom door and Jimmy’s Brummy croak informing them that they’ve got to get up if they don’t want to be late for work.

Dan groans quietly, tipping his head to the side and smushing his face into the pillow. Phil nuzzles into his neck. “Do I have to go?”

Dan groans again. “We both do.”

“We could quit. We could live in bed.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“Why?” Phil nibbles playfully at Dan’s skin. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”

“I’m notoriously bad at hanging onto jobs as it is.”

“Ugh, fine.” Phil forces himself to roll away and sit up. “I need a shower anyway.”

Dan’s on his back now, stretching his arms over his head and grinning with closed eyes. “Yeah you do. Smelly boy.”

Phil lunges at him and they lose a few more minutes to rolling around, laughing and generally being idiots until Jimmy knocks on the door again. “Don’t make me come in there, children.”

“Five more minutes, Mum!” Phil shouts.

“Get up, you bell-ends, or I’m gonna leave without ya!”

Dan laughs. “We made Mum cross.”

“I blame you entirely.”

“You need to take responsibility for your actions, Lester. You can’t just have that face and expect me not to kiss it. I was provoked.”

Phil frowns. “Hey, that was my excuse.”

“Smelly. Shower. Go.”

-

The three of them take the train together. Phil and Jimmy have to get off before Dan. Phil can’t kiss Dan or even squeeze his hand, but a smile and a “see you later” are enough. Dan says “good luck,” as he always does, and Phil smiles wider because he knows he doesn’t need luck anymore.

He knows what he’s doing. He’s where he’s meant to be. He greets coworkers who are genuinely glad he’s back as he makes his way to his desk, and by now it’s almost as if he’d never left. It took being away for so long to properly realize it, but Phil fits in here. He likes his job, and more than that, he’s usually pretty good at it.

That being said, he goes to hunt down a coffee the moment he’s put his bag down, and he and Jimmy just so happen to meet back up in the break room. The coffee machine in here is pretty much constantly in a state of brewing. The whole room smells like Columbian dark roast.

Phil makes himself a cup with too much sugar and Jimmy follows him back to his desk. He sits on the edge of it and Phil sits in his chair and they indulge in their morning ritual of ignoring work for as long as it takes to get properly caffeinated. When they’re on they have to be on, so chemical assistance is a must.

Phil leans back and looks at Jimmy, who is presently too engrossed in his beverage to take notice of Phil studying him. What Phil sees makes his heart swell. The dark circles that had seemed so permanently etched under his eyes are slowly starting to lighten. The puffiness of too much drink the night before is all but gone. He looks clearer. Brighter. Tired, still, but somehow also more awake than he has in ages.

“You look good,” Phil says. He’s thinking it, he might as well say it.

Jimmy frowns. “Is that sarcasm?”

“No.”

“Well… thanks.” He seems flustered by the sincerity.

Phil puts his feet up on the desk and crosses one ankle over the other. “Just wanted you to know that whatever you’re doing… it’s working.”

Jimmy’s cheeks have gone a slight pink blush. He casts his eyes down into his mug sheepishly and mutters, “Shut up, Phil.”

Phil nudges Jimmy’s leg with his foot. “We’ve been best mates for over a decade and I still can’t give you a compliment?”

“Guess not.”

Phil shrugs. “You look happy, that’s all. It’s nice.”

Jimmy takes a moment to squirm before he answers. “Well, you rubbed off on me a bit, didn’t you?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you know. You started taking care of yourself. Reckoned I could give it a go as well.”

Phil gives him a skeptical look. “And getting back with Tom has nothing to do with it?”

“We’re not back together.”

Phil’s look of incredulity deepens.

“We’re not,” Jimmy insists. “We haven’t slept together since that day you walked in on us.”

“Really?”

He shakes his head.

“But you see each other, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Jimmy says, pulling a leg up to rest his heel on the edge of the desk. “We’re, like… dating.”

“Like…?”

“Like literally going on dates,” Jimmy says. “Getting dressed up and going to dinner. Kissing at the end of the evening and going back to our own separate flats. Sending each other flirty texts throughout the day.”

Phil bites his lip. He wants to be happy for his mate.

“You still don’t trust him,” Jimmy says, reading Phil’s face like a book.

“I’m not saying that.”

“You’re not not saying it.”

“I like Tom,” Phil says. “I always did. I don’t know what happened with the two of you. It’s not for me to judge.”

“But you are anyway,” Jimmy says quietly. He doesn’t sound cross, just maybe a little sad.

“I’m trying not to,” Phil says back with the same hushed tone. “But you’re my friend, not him. I don’t want to ever see you that hurt again.”

“I still love him, Phil. I’m not ready to give up on that.” He puts his coffee down and runs his fingers through his hair, something Phil’s come to recognize over the years as a gesture of nerves more than vanity. “We’re trying to start over and fix the stuff that went wrong before. Take our time and shit.”

Phil swallows his trepidation. It has no place here. “We should go on a double date sometime.”

Jimmy looks at him with pure unbridled fondness, a crooked smile spreading across his face.

“Maybe we could go to Dalston again, or find out if Martyn’s got any shows coming up.”

“We could,” Jimmy says slowly. “Or we could do something like bowling or paint nite?”

Phil frowns. “Bowling? Seriously?”

Jimmy shrugs. “I’m trying not to drink.”

A surge of happy pride hits Phil square in the chest, and it’s all he can do not to toss his mug aside and tackle Jimmy right to the ground. Instead he hides his grin behind the rim of his mug and says, “Yeah, alright then. Bowling would be fun. You can all laugh at how crap I am.”

Just then David walks by. “Oi, lads, you’re on in twenty. Get to work.” He gives Phil’s shoulder an encouraging squeeze before he walks on. It’s a casual thing, a show of support and understanding without having to make a big deal.

Jimmy yawns and stretches his arms over his head before hopping down from the desk reluctantly. “Guess I should get ready.”

“Yeah.” Phil’s heart is beating a little quicker, a little more nervously. “Same.”

“Alright?” Jimmy asks.

Phil nods. Nerves are alright. They aren’t going to kill him. He’s starting to learn to accept that. He can’t stop himself being scared, but he can decide how he wants to handle the fear. He can let it keep him from the things he wants to do or he can push through.

Today he pushes through. He goes on the air with Jimmy and reminds himself again, as he has ever since he returned to work, how much he loves channeling all the weirdness in his head into entertaining people. The nerves are more than worth the payoff, and he’s starting to believe that someday he’ll get back to a place where the nerves don’t really exist anymore.

-

After work Jimmy goes off to hang out with Chelsea and Phil hops the tube to the pool. Dan’s just about done his shift, but Phil wants to catch him before he’s left. He could text of course, but he’s become quite partial to the look on Dan’s face every time he manages to surprise him. The big smile, the crinkly eyes, the dimple.

He gets them all today.

Dan’s stood by the edge of the pool at the deep end, shirtless and wearing his sunnies, guarding. He moans about how boring this bit of the job is; he much prefers the teaching. But Phil thinks the guarding is kind of hot. Dan’s got lives in his hands. He keeps people safe, and he looks good doing it. He’s long and tan and just this morning he’d had his hands all over Phil’s body. The thought makes Phil’s stomach twinge. That fit lifeguard over there is his boyfriend.

He goes back to the change room and gets his kit off as quickly as he can. He pulls on his swim shorts and shoves his stuff in the first available locker he can find. A quick check of his phone tells him Dan’s got two minutes left before the end of his shift.

He times it perfectly. Just as Dan is being replaced by another lifeguard, Phil sneaks up behind him and simply says, “Hey.”

Dan isn’t startled, but he’s definitely surprised - the smiley crinkly dimpled kind of surprised that Phil’s quickly becoming addicted to. He beams from ear to ear, then flicks his eyes down Phil’s body and cocks his eyebrows. “You’re half naked, mate.”

“So are you,” Phil points out.

“I’m in my work clothes.”

Phil laughs. “Yeah, s’pose you are.”

“What’re you doing?” Dan asks. “You actually here to swim?”

“Hoping so. If you’re joining.”

Before Phil even knows what’s happening, Dan’s grabbed his hand and pulled Phil along with him and they both jump into the water. Phil comes up spluttering and laughing and splashing Dan for his cheekiness. Dan just laughs and takes his punishment for a moment before dipping under the water to escape the attack.

But Phil follows him under. Because he can do that now. He’s been practicing. He opens his eyes and they burn a little but it’s worth it to be able to reach out and tug on Dan’s toe. Dan grabs Phil’s hand and they surface together, smiling at each other.

“You’re getting so good,” Dan says, not bothering to disguise the pride in his voice. He also doesn’t bother letting go of Phil’s hand.

Phil squeezes. “You’re a good teacher.”

They tread water and look at each other, suddenly going serious. Looking into Dan’s eyes does tend to have a sort of mesmerizing effect. Phil wishes desperately there weren’t so many people around. He reckons it’s a real shame that he and Dan haven’t shared a single kiss in a swimming pool yet, considering it’s where they met. Considering it’s where they fell in love.

Because Phil is so in love. He hasn’t said those words yet, but they say them to each other every day in other ways. Sometimes it sounds like a laugh and an ‘I hate you’ after a particularly stupid joke. Sometimes it sounds like a whispered good morning when they wake up next to each other.

Sometimes it isn’t even with words. Sometimes it’s just the way they look at each other. Kind of like they’re doing right now.

Phil has to let go of Dan’s hand then and swim over to the edge of the pool. He’s getting better but he’s not an expert by any means. Dan follows, and slips his fingers in between Phil’s again. It takes everything Phil has not to turn that swimming pool kiss fantasy into reality.

They’re both being brave right now in their own ways. The water obscures them a bit, but it’s not a closet. It doesn’t hide completely, but still Dan is seeking out the touches. He’s holding Phil’s hand in a pool full of people, and it makes Phil’s heart full enough to burst. Phil may need bravery every time he gets in the water, but it pales in comparison to Dan’s.

“How was work?” Dan asks.

Phil brushes Dan’s leg with his. Dan is so unbearably cute when he’s being all lovely and caring, Phil just can’t help it. “It was good.”

“I’m sorry I missed you.”

“You’ll make it up to me later, I’m sure.” He sticks his tongue out playfully.

Dan smirks. “Dirty bitch.”

“You know I don’t expect you to listen to every single show, yeah? Or even, like, any of them?”

Dan looks at him. “I want to. Just like you want to meet me here and swim with me.”

Phil smiles at that. “Okay.”

They’re both startled suddenly as someone swims right by them. Dan drops Phil’s hand and almost immediately looks apologetic, but Phil smiles at him. He knows it’s just instinctual for Dan to protect himself from prying eyes. Phil doesn’t take it personally.

“Let’s swim,” he says. And they do.

They swim until about ten minutes before the whistle blows to indicate the end of the session, as has become a routine of sorts for them. Getting out of the water before everyone else means they can sneak into one of the shower stalls together without anyone noticing.

They don’t take off their swimsuits, but they do kiss. They stand under hot spray to rinse the chlorine from their hair and bodies and they make out like teenagers, harder even than they do when they’re alone in bed together. Something about the kind of pseudo public nature of it drives them both a little bit mad, Phil reckons. It’s a rush without any danger. It’s a defiance of the rules Dan had to make in order to survive in a world that told him in no uncertain terms that he was wrong. Dan’s not ready to break his rules, but together he and Phil are sure as hell going to bend them.

Phil’s hands push Dan’s wet curls off his forehead and Dan’s hands push inside the back of Phil’s shorts. Phil can feel Dan hard against him and if he thought it wouldn’t push past Dan’s limits, he’d get on his knees right here and now.

So he kisses Dan and says in a low quiet voice, “Let’s go home.”

Home doesn’t feel like a singular place anymore. Home is his flat with Jimmy, but at the same time it’s the pretty blue house in Notting Hill with flowers in the garden and a lesbian couple bickering in the kitchen while they cook him dinner. It’s also a house on an island by the sea where his dad draws pictures and his mum bakes cakes. It’s the people in his life who feel like home, and right now he just wants to be wherever Dan is too.

Tonight they go to Dan’s. Phil’s still not worked his way up to feeling comfortable in a car, so they take the train. Winnie and Ada are there, in the kitchen as they always seem to be. Ada is sat at the table with a stack of papers and Winnie is at the stove frying onions. Phil fits here as if it’s been years instead of barely a couple months. Winnie kisses him on the cheek and Ada tells him to make himself useful and put on a pot of tea. He does, and then sits with her at the table while Winnie puts Dan to work chopping vegetables.

About ten minutes later Phil’s phone rings. He answers and spends a few minutes chatting with his dad before he hands him off to Dan. Even that feels normal now. Dan takes the phone and holds it pressed between his ear and shoulder while he slices carrots.

Winnie sits next to Phil. Even after frying the smelliest of foods she still smells dainty and fresh, like flowers and spice. “Reckon that boy is having us replaced,” she jokes, reaching over and plucking Ada’s pen right out of her hands.

“Oh, you—” Ada tries to grab it back, but Winnie shoves the thing right into the front of her bra.

Ada sits back in her chair and folds her arms over her chest. “You think that’ll stop me? Your bosom isn’t exactly uncharted territory, you cow.”

Phil covers his mouth so he won’t snort out loud.

“No more work,” Winnie decrees. “We’ve got a guest.”

Ada softens visibly at that. She looks at Phil. “S’pose we do, then. How are things with you, love? How’s work?”

“It’s good, yeah,” Phil says. “Feels less weird to be back than I thought.”

“You’re doing brilliantly,” Winnie says. “You and your mate there work so well together.”

Phil gawks at her. “What, Jimmy?”

“Aye, Jimmy, that’s it.”

For some reason he looks at Ada. “You listen to my show?”

“‘Course we do,” Ada says, like Phil’s an idiot for even having to ask.

He doesn’t know what to say. He can hear Dan chatting to Nigel in the background and he’s overwhelmed. Emotion wells up rapidly and he’s afraid if he opens his mouth to speak he’ll do something stupid like cry. He looks down at the table and clears his throat gruffly. There’s no way his state isn’t obvious to these very intelligent women, but they both have the grace not to mention it.

He clears his throat again and coughs for good measure and manages to say, “Well thanks. That’s really nice.”

Ada gets up from the table then, and when she comes back she’s got a generously filled glass of red wine that she slides over to him. “Forget tea. I think you need this.”

He proves her right by picking it up and taking a proper glug. “Cheers.” By then Dan is saying goodbye to Nigel and handing the mobile back to Phil. He sits down and declares to Winnie that all the veggies are chopped, then picks up Phil’s wine and drinks some like he’s welcome to it.

Phil supposes he is. He’s welcome to anything of Phil’s, even his family. And apparently Phil is welcome to Dan’s. If not the blood relations, at least the people he’s chosen, which feels just as special. Maybe even more so. Phil feels that ball of emotion tightening in his chest again, so he takes the glass from Dan’s hand and downs another hearty sip. Winnie gets up to cook and Ada asks Dan about his day and Phil allows his focus to slip for a little while. He doesn’t really hear the words being spoken around him so much as the cadence of the voices and the sounds of Winnie making dinner. He focuses on the heavy warmth in his own head as he drinks his wine.

Mindfulness, his new therapist calls it. A simple enough concept that Phil has found extremely difficult to put into practice before now. But he can see the appeal. It’s hard to feel anxious about the future or the past when he’s only thinking about the very moment he’s existing in.

He finishes his wine and Dan refills the glass so they can share. Winnie serves dinner and they eat together, the four of them. Under the table, Dan puts his hand on Phil’s thigh.

-

Dan leads Phil by the hand up to his bedroom. Even in these small, in-between moments, Phil feels a quiet giddiness, a disbelief that he gets to have this. Even just the touching of their hands and the knowledge that he gets to fall asleep next to such a beautiful person makes him weak. Or strong. Or something in between.

Phil shuts the door behind them and then leans back against it. Dan hasn’t noticed; he’s busy fishing his phone from the pocket of his trousers and pulling his socks off and doing all the little things people do when they’re getting ready for bed. Phil tips his head back against the door and watches. Right now he definitely feels weak.

When Dan finally turns around and takes notice of Phil’s attention on him, he’s gotten as far as taking off his shirt. He tilts his head and frowns at Phil fondly. “What are you doing?”

Phil stays right where he is. “Looking at you.”

Dan walks towards him slowly, stopping when he’s stood right in front of Phil, looking down just the slightest bit with the extra inch or two he’s got on Phil. Dan leans in and Phil thinks he’s going to kiss him, but instead Dan tips his face a bit and presses his nose up alongside Phil’s. Phil lets a breath out against Dan’s face and closes his eyes when he feels Dan’s hands on his chest, his fingers gripping the collar of his button up. He’s drunk on more than wine.

He’s drunk on the way Dan smells like chlorine and fermented grapes. He’s drunk on the way Dan kisses his neck as he opens Phil’s shirt slowly. He opens his eyes and goosebumps ripple down his arms. The kisses are just faint brushes of chapped lips on sensitive skin and Dan’s fingers are deft as they unbutton. Phil’s hands find Dan’s waist as Dan pushes the shirt from Phil’s shoulders and kisses where the fabric used to be.

“I like when you look at me,” Dan whispers. “I feel like you actually see me.”

Phil takes Dan’s face and brings it to his so he can kiss him. He walks Dan backwards to the bed and lays him down gently, never letting their mouths come apart.

-

He wakes with a start, heart pounding out a familiarly terrified beat. He turns his head on the pillow and Dan is there, right there breathing in and out, the sound soft and slow. Phil watches his chest rise and fall until the fear in his own has abated.

These dreams may never go away. He’s not going to stop trying to put the past in the past, but he knows now that he will probably always bear the cross of what happened to him that sad rainy night. He’ll always have the scars on his arm, the scars on his heart. He’ll always have the memories.

He rolls onto his side and shuffles in closer to Dan, who drapes an arm around Phil’s waist even in sleep. Phil closes his eyes. He’s not alone. He gets to make new memories now.