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gay's the word

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Phil's not sure where he's going when he sets out on his walk. All he knows is that the flat is too empty and he's out of coffee because Dan's the one that keeps up with the shopping list.

He could just do the shopping himself. But he’ll be getting on a plane of his own in a day or so, back for a few days of his mum’s cooking, of looking at the faces of his parents and counting the lines in their skin, of soaking in the smell of the people who taught him what home is meant to feel like.

So he goes for a walk instead and once he's out, he realizes how nice it is to breathe the fresh air. It may be drenched in pollutants, but it's familiar pollutants, and he's used to it by now. He likes the way the wind feels on his face and the sound of people and cars all around him.

He doesn't even put headphones on. He just walks and walks and walks, stopping once to get his coffee, and then walking some more.

*

He's made his way all the way to Marchmont street and he's got lunch on the brain. All this exercise has earned him some sort of extravagant meal, he's sure. He's about to text Dan to confirm his line of thought as logical when he stops dead still in front of a blue-fronted building.

His heart starts to race just a bit and his eyes dart around before he remembers there's really no reason to feel so strange about it, not anymore.

He takes a picture of the sign that reads Gay’s the Word and texts it to Dan, then he pushes the door open and walks inside.

He's always liked the smell of books, but it hits him with an intensity as soon as the door shuts behind him.

A person behind the counter with short hair and multiple piercings smiles at him in quiet greeting. He smiles back and walks past them, slipping into one of the aisles without even paying attention to categorization.

He loses track of how much time he's spent perusing the shelves. Sometimes he's not even looking at the books as he walks. Sometimes he's just looking at the rainbow flags hung from the ceiling and reading the handwritten notes from staff about which stories touched, encouraged, inspired them.

He's been in stores like this before, once or twice when Dan felt curious.

Neither of them ever wanted to stay long. It always felt like a place they weren't quite allowed to be, like a risk they weren't ready to take.

Phil's not sure how Dan would feel about it now, but he has a feeling it'd be the exact same way Phil is feeling.

Like he fits.

*

Dan texts him back a picture of a French street sign that reads Rue de Fage.

Phil rolls his eyes and sets about to find a book with a cover appropriate enough to count as immature retaliation and they’ll both giggle over.

*

A few people come in and out while Phil's looking around.

One man lingers close to him, then makes an interested noise at the book Phil's holding.

"Have you read it?" Phil asks, out of genuine curiosity.

Now that he's here it's lit some kind of spark in his brain. He knows he won't be leaving empty handed, he just has to narrow his list down to what his hands will actually hold.

"No," the man says. "But I've heard good things."

*

His name is Keith and he speaks with an accent Phil can't place, like he was born somewhere else but he's been in London a good long while.

He's friendly. Phil likes friendly people. They talk about whether or not Phil should go with Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure of Holmes' Party of One, the two books he's holding in either hand.

Keith leans in with a smile that looks like it goes all the way up to his eyes and says, "I have a copy of Party of One at my flat, if you've like to borrow it."

There's a click in Phil's brain and he's not surprised but he's not not surprised, either. "I was actually considering that one for my boyfriend," Phil says.

Keith grins sheepishly. "Oh, right. If it's a gift then, yeah. New copy might be best. I'm a page folder anyway."

Phil laughs. "So am I. Dan hates it. He barely even likes to crack the spine when he reads a book."

Keith's laugh is deep and hearty. "Opposites attract, they do say."

*

He buys three badges at the checkout counter before he leaves, because he’s a rebel against Dan’s minimalism when Dan isn’t around to temper him.

He'll give one to Bryony as a gift and maybe Dan will want to put one on his backpack. The other he’ll keep for himself and probably lose it somewhere within a week.

Keith gives him a little wave when he sees that Phil's leaving. “Hope he likes it, mate!”

“Thanks!” Phil waves back.

*

The sun sets as he walks back, books heavy in his arms.

He could just get a car the rest of the way, get home and order something to eat. But he's still enjoying the fresh air and the way the nerves in his legs twinge like he's actually doing exercise.

He loves it more than he will an empty bed, at least.

*

Dan rings just as Phil is stepping inside. "You have good timing," Phil says, nudging the door shut behind him.

"Of course I do," Dan says. "I was looking at the friend locator and waited until you were home."

"Creepy," Phil says. "Anyway, I bought you a present."

Dan does a tiny little yay. "Show me."

"Nope," Phil says, putting the books down on the table and smiling at the pretty stack of them. "You have to come home first."

"Don't tempt me, bitch," Dan says.

Phil slumps down onto the sofa, stretching his tired legs out. "How about I just tempt you onto Skype instead? Then I’ll show you."

He’s really got no willpower with waiting, like, ever. But he also just misses Dan’s stupid face and this is the next best thing to closing the miles between them for real.

Dan must feel the same way. There’s a softness to his smile as he says, "That I can do."