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The first day of September is too hot, Dan thinks. Even if months are made up and seasons don’t give a fuck if we’ve left August behind, he could really go for some autumnal crispness in the air. A reason to snuggle closer with Phil. As though he needs one. But no, September comes and not only is it just as hot as all summer has been, but Phil’s feeling poorly.

And Dan’s trying to be a good sport about it, but it’s hard when he already feels his time with Phil is always dictated by a timer ticking down until he has to get back on a southbound train. That won’t be the case much longer, he knows. He’s moving to Manchester in just a few weeks. Still, he’s less than a day into this visit, and he doesn’t want to lose any time. Especially not to one of Phil’s bad headaches.

Due mostly to timing and the unpredictability of when these headaches show up, this is actually the first time Dan’s seeing Phil suffer through one in person.

He’s gone through days where Phil would hardly text him, explaining apologetically later that he just couldn’t stare at the phone screen long enough. Dan even tried to make him feel less alone once by having Phil call him on Skype, turn the brightness down low, and lay the laptop beside him on his bed. Dan whispered to him for a few minutes before it became clear it wasn’t actually doing Phil any good and he just wanted to rest, but still Dan had felt like he had to try something.

Now he’s here in person, waking up in Phil’s arms to see Phil frowning with his eyes screwed shut tight and he’s trying desperately to prove more useful this time round.

He had tiptoed over into the kitchen to call Kath asking for advice, and soon tiptoed back with some tablets, toast, and a tall glass of water. Phil sat up long enough to swallow these down, then laid back and apologized for spoiling their limited time.

“You’re spoiling nothing,” Dan whispered.

He’d pulled Phil’s curtains closed and knicked the fan from the lounge, so even if September didn’t get the memo that summer is past them, the room was cool and dark.

“Besides,” he leaned in closer so he could speak even quieter, “time won’t be limited much longer.”

Phil smiles at that, a smile that fades when he groans and throws his arm over his eyes. Dan knows this is his first bad headache since moving into his own flat. That can’t be making things any easier. Phil moves the arm to push his fringe off his forehead.

Dan is still surprised by how many little things he gets to learn and memorize. Little things he would’ve picked up on ages ago if it weren’t for the shitty, grainy quality of the Skype screen through which they spend so many hours. He’s taking this chance just to look; he might argue it’s his favourite part of each visit, but fuck if that ain’t hard to narrow down.

Phil’s in pain, and Dan wishes he wasn’t in pain, but he looks at the slope of the corners of his mouth where his already natural pout is pouting all the more and he can’t help but think about getting that full bottom lip between his teeth. He looks at the stubble growing there. He looks at the mole he always plants an extra kiss on.

Phil’s brow is creased, subtly. Unwittingly. Dan has the urge to reach forward and to smooth it out with a gentle touch.

That urge worries him. He doesn’t know what to do with it. He doesn’t want to reach out and make things worse, be clumsy or oafish or accidentally poke Phil’s eye out.

He suddenly wonders if everything he knows about casual touch, he learned from Phil.

Has he ever hugged someone just because? Not because they’re a relative or because they’re crying or because he’s saying goodbye? Has he ever just put a hand on someone’s shoulder, ran a hand down someone’s arm, not by way of a come on but just... to say “hey, I’m here” without saying it. Had he really gone all his life keeping everyone outside of specific sexual situations literally at arm’s length? Out of fear, or discomfort, around what would happen if someone thought he was being too touchy and added it to the long, long list of his ostracize-worthy flaws?

Until Phil...?

Until Phil showed him every time they were together that being unable to keep his hands to himself wasn’t always sexual. That sometimes it just meant wanting to be close. Wanting to say “hey, I’m here” especially considering it’s impossible during the stretches of time they’re on opposite ends of the country.

He’s laying beside his boyfriend, the most tactile person he’s known in his life, and he wants to comfort him. But he’s met with the realization that he isn’t sure his big hands will be gentle, he isn’t sure he’ll be helping Phil at all. That maybe he’ll only make him feel worse somehow.

He thinks about being little, very little— Adrian wasn’t even born yet, he’s pretty sure— and feeling poorly. He thinks about his mum giving him soothing, gentle touches along his forehead, the back of his neck, between his shoulder blades. And, if not feeling better then at least feeling comforted. Do mum’s just know how to do that? Even his mum, who hasn’t done it in years?

Phil groans out a tortured little sound which breaks Dan out of his own head.

The furrow on Phil’s brow creases further, and Dan can’t resist that urge anymore even if he’s still afraid.

He moves an unsteady hand and feels the clammy skin of Phil’s forehead, smooth and pale but tacky with drying sweat. He touches lightly until Phil sighs and leans into the motion, then he presses a little more as he makes his way to Phil’s temple and runs in slow circles.

Phil says, “Feels nice,” his frown relaxing, “thanks.”

“Does it?” Dan asks.

“Mmm,” the corners of Phil’s lips go from downturned to up.

“You gonna pay me for my services?” he asks, his voice quiet but he hopes Phil can hear the hint of laughter through his haze.

“Yeah,” Phil says, his hand coming up to cover Dan’s and push slightly, a plea for more pressure. “In pizza.”

Dan tilts his head and kisses the back of Phil’s hand. “In pizza?”

“Mm-hmm,” Phil cracks one eye open. “And services of my own, once I feel like a person again.”

“Looking forward to it,” Dan says, kissing his hand once more.