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Dan’s running through the forest.

He doesn’t know what the monster behind him looks like but he imagines that it has long legs and sharp teeth. As his lungs ache and his legs grow more and more unsteady underneath him, he thinks about which part of him it will snap at first.

If he’s lucky it’d go straight for the brain. It’s never been all that useful to Dan anyway. But with his general history of things going the way he wants, it’ll be a literal ankle biter that’ll do nothing but debilitate him and leave him stranded in the middle of fucking nowhere with only the glowing moon above him for company.

He stops with one hand braced on a tree and listens. He can hear it - but not footfalls. Just loud, heavy breaths that almost sound like laughter.

His blood runs cold.

And then he wakes up. Like always. It’s not cold blood now but sweat. Drenching his hair and sticking him to his sheets. He kicks his blanket off and turns on the lamp beside his bed.

He’s not sure if he’s more scared or just annoyed at this point. He always dreams the same goddamn dream, and he never gets to see how it ends. It’s the uncertainty more than anything else that makes the dream so unnerving.

What the fuck is chasing him? What is he running from?

He looks over at the bed next to his. The guy’s still asleep, so at least Dan must not have been screaming this time, which is good. The last guy hadn’t taken too kindly to being woken in the middle of the night. Dan sported a shiner the next morning to prove it.

He moves about as quietly as possible, leaving - fuck, can’t remember his name - to his sleep. Tall guy, really fantastic cock. Not that Dan was looking. He’s not the sort of guy who looks at random guys who definitely forgot their clothes when they went down the hall to the toilets to shower.

He’s had far worse hostel experiences than an overly friendly guy with a nice dick. He shamelessly thinks about that as he convinces himself he can open the door, he can step into the hall, he can if nothing else take his laptop and walk down to the common area with the beat up, stained sofas and the vending machine with no working lights.

Nothing is going to get him when he opens the door. There aren’t any monsters in the shadows. They’re all too busy residing in his very own head.

He’s halfway down the stairs before he realizes he hasn’t even put a shirt on. He stops on the step for a moment and then decides he doesn’t care.

Much to his disappointment there are people in the common area. A quick check of the clock on the wall tells Dan it’s nearly three in the morning. Do Germans just… not sleep?

There’s a man sat on the least dingy of the sofas with a woman in his lap. They’re kissing, or something like it. Mostly they’re licking each other’s mouths which is seriously grotesque and for a moment Dan just stands there and wonders how he let his life come to this.

The man looks at Dan and grins. “Wenn du möchtest kannst du gerne mitmachen?”

He doesn’t understand the words, but he understands the grin.

It might not be a bad offer, if Dan were in the right frame of mind - and place in life - to be welcoming it. But right now it feels like a tremor of the nightmare in his dream-trapped state.

“Nein,” he says, and walks away.

He circles the entire floor then turns and does it again. The idea of bed feels too constricting, like the monsters are just waiting underneath the metal frame.

He could go outside. He’s not sure why a dark and damp street in the middle of the night seems more welcoming than a place meant solely for rest, but it is.

He needs a shirt for that, though. He creeps back in. All the empty beds seem like they’re mocking him. He was glad, earlier; he’s been in too many of these places too crammed full of people. The idea that it’s only him and this one other guy - it seemed alright enough.

He snatches a shirt from the single bag he carries and pulls it on. He drops his laptop on the bed and picks up his coat from where he hung it on the corner of the bedframe.

“Bit early for a walk, innit?”

Dan jumps about a foot in the air and makes a noise he’s not proud of.

Big dick man sits up. “Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to—”

“You fucking creep,” Dan croaks. His heart is so far up his throat he can taste it.

“Uh, mate. You’re the one skulking around in the dark in the middle of the night. You woke me up.”

“I’m not skulking. And it’s technically morning, now.”

“You’re not German,” the guy says.

“Neither are you,” Dan replies, like he’s been accused of something. In fact the bloke is definitely English, most likely from somewhere a lot more north than Dan. He can hear echoes of it in the accent.

“No.”

Dan stands there awkwardly, one arm inside his coat. “Well… alright then.”

“What are you doing?”

If Dan were more awake and less on edge, he probably wouldn’t respond the way he does. “What fucking business is it of yours?”

The man shrinks back. “None, I guess.”

Dan immediately feels bad.

Just not bad enough to apologize. “Yeah, exactly.”

The man lies down again and turns his back to Dan, pulling a thin scratchy blanket that’s identical to the one on Dan’s bed up to his shoulders.

Dan just feels even worse. But he’s used to feeling bad. It’s a feeling that follows him around everywhere.

He’s opening his mouth with no idea what he’ll actually say when a loud, sharp noise starts to blare. “Fuck!” he says, jumping nearly out of his own skin.

“Fuck,” the man agrees, sighing and sitting up. “Fire alarm. This happened last night, too.”

Dan’s heart is racing. The sound hasn’t stopped. “Is it a fire?”

“I hope not,” the man says. “If it is, we probably shouldn’t be standing here having a chat about it.”

“What do we do?” Dan asks. He’s starting to feel frantic.

“We have to go out on the street and wait until they say it isn’t.”

“Are you gonna bring your shit?”

The guy shrugs. “Don’t have much, just a backpack. Guess I’ll bring it.”

Dan stands rooted to the spot just staring at this guy. He’s too tired and fucked up from months and months of shit sleep and shit dreams and a shit life to feel capable of dealing with anything. Suddenly he’s frozen.

“Hey, take a picture, mate, it’ll last longer,” the guy says.

“What?” Dan asks stupidly.

“You’re staring at me.”

“No I’m not.”

“Fine, you’re not. Turn around, I’m getting up now.”

Dan frowns. He knows he’s acting weird but he thinks maybe his brain has officially stopped working. The alarm is so loud it feels like it must be doing some kind of internal damage. “What?” he asks again.

“I’m naked.”

“Why?”

The guys laughs. “You’re really weird. Are you on drugs?”

“Huh?”

The guy shakes his head and throws the blanket off his legs and - yep, he’s very much naked.

Dan turns around, but not before he gets a good long look.

He’s not sure why he feels the need to wait, but he does.

And he’s glad for it. The lights in the hallway are even more dim now and his heart still doesn’t know he’s not in some fucked up creepy nightmare forest.

The guy already knows where the stairs are. Dan could have figured that out, but probably not in time to save himself from a burning building, if it were burning.

He doesn’t smell smoke. That’s a good sign. In fact, he doesn’t smell anything besides the strong stench of urine as they make their way down the narrow staircase.

“I’m Phil, by the way,” the man says.

“Um. Dan.”

“Nice to meet you, Um Dan.”

The stairwell isn’t big enough for two people side by side. Phil is in front of Dan, but even without being able to see his face Dan can hear the smirk that must be on it.

“Oh, fuck off,” Dan grumbles.

“The German word for stairs is treppe,” Phil says. “Which is funny, because that’s exactly what I usually do on them. Trip.”

Dan has a twisted invasive thought, Phil with his body crumpled at the bottom of the staircase. It makes his breath catch and his heart squeeze tight and scared. “Don’t,” he says. “Don’t trip.”

He’s not sure how to properly emphasize to Phil that his primary reasoning for not falling to his death should be that Dan couldn’t handle having to step over him.

“No promises.”

“Don’t joke,” Dan says gravely.

Phil turns to look at him. “Who died and made you the boss of me?”

“Watch where you’re going,” Dan says.

“You’re bossy.”

“And you’re annoying.” Dan’s not sure why he’s being so mean to this complete stranger. Honestly, he seems like he’s probably a good guy.

“And yet here you are, following me like a little puppy.” Phil smirks. It looks exactly as Dan imagined.

“Maybe you won’t trip, maybe I’ll push you.”

“My mum will be sad if I die so far from home. You wouldn’t want to make Kath sad, would you?”

Dan’s immediate thought is to wonder why a person with a mum who loves him would find himself in a shithole like this. But it’s a stupid thought. It’s not like Dan’s mum doesn’t love him, she just… never wants to see him again. It’s easier for her to pretend things can be okay if they never actually have to face each other.

“Eyes forward,” Dan says.

They must be nearing the street level. Dan can hear sounds outside. He’s so busy listening to them that he doesn’t see Phil stop completely. “Fuck.”

“What?” Dan’s heart rate spikes.

“I forgot my jacket.” Phil frowns. “Give me yours.”

“What?” Dan asks. “No. I’m not giving you my jacket.”

“I saved your life,” Phil says. “From the fire. I showed you where the stairs are.”

“There is no fire, Phil.”

“There could have been.” Phil turns and crosses his arms. He looks up at Dan from two steps lower.

It’s the first proper look at his face Dan’s gotten.

He has nice eyes. Kind of an odd face besides that, but nice eyes. Nice lips, too. Actually, taken on an individual basis, all the parts aren’t that bad. But-

“Please,” Phil says. “It’s going to be cold out there.”

“If I give you mine I won’t have one,” Dan says.

Phil pokes his bottom lip out.

“Does that ever work for you?” Dan asks.

Phil grins. “You’d be surprised.”

“Fine.” Dan pulls his jacket off and throws it at Phil. “Now let’s fucking get out of this fucking creepy as fuck staircase.”

 

His jacket fits Phil perfectly. He admires the way it stretches tight over Phil’s shoulders as Phil pushes the heavy exit door open and they step out into a side alley.

“I’ve decided you owe me a drink,” Dan says. He’s already starting to shiver.

Phil looks him up and down. “Fine,” he says after a very long pause. “But only because I want one too.”

“Your reasons don’t matter to me, I just need some alcohol in my system.”

Phil frowns. “You are on drugs, aren’t you?”

“I wish I were, man. I hear they make you happy and shit.”

“I wouldn’t know, but I don’t think most junkies are super in love with their lives.”

Dan rolls his eyes. “Do you know where there’s a bar or not?”

“This is Berlin, there are bars everywhere.”

“Then let’s go.”

Phil isn’t kidding about there being bars everywhere. Dan hadn’t really been paying attention as he stumbled blindly for the nearest hostel with an open bed, but only two doors down there’s a building with chipped green paint on the windowsills and rowdy sounds pouring out of the door.

It’s the sort of noise that’ll give Dan a headache for sure, but that’s a problem for future Dan - and with enough beer in him maybe he won’t even care.

He doesn’t even like beer. But he assumes that’s what he’ll get, and that’s why he’s surprised when Phil disappears to the bar and comes back with two cocktails.

He hands one to Dan. “It’s blackberry liqueur and Goldwasser,” he says, like Dan will have any idea what Goldwasser even is. He takes a drink and it tastes good. It tickles a bit going down, but the fruitiness covers most of the bite.

“Well,” Phil says. “There’s your drink.”

He’s looking at Dan expectantly.

Dan realizes now is when he could go.

Should go.

He doesn’t want to go.

He hates himself for this habit he’s got - this baby duckling imprinting he does on anyone who shows him the barest bit of kindness, or even just… not kindness, but not open hate or vitriol.

“It is a drink,” Dan agrees.

Phil smiles suddenly. It’s not what Dan was expecting. “Come on,” Phil says, hitching his backpack up over his shoulder. “Let’s take these and go for a walk.”

“Who says I wanna go for a walk with you?”

“Your stupid face says so.”

Dan’s not sure why, but that makes him laugh a little.

“Oh, he smiles,” Phil says. “And a nice one, too.”

Dan takes a long swig of his drink lest he start to convince himself that this not entirely hideous looking stranger is flirting with him. “If I freeze to death, it’s your fault.”

“I think I can live with that.”

They step outside and it’s cold again. Dan doesn’t like the cold, but he can still clearly hear the blaring of the alarm from the hostel, and he’d rather be cold than half deaf or burning to death, so he shoves his hands into his pockets and follows Phil down the pavement.

“Why does someone who can afford bougie drinks with Goldwasser need to be staying in the cheapest hostel in Berlin?” Dan asks.

Phil gives him a look that Dan hates to admit is kind of sexy. “Who said I needed to?” Phil asks. “Maybe I just wanted to.”

“Okay… my question is still why.”

“If I answer do I get to ask my own question?”

Dan shrugs. “If you want.”

“I had a nice hotel,” Phil says. “With my boyfriend. Who waited until we were in Berlin together to break up with me.”

“Um.” Dan has no idea how to respond.

“He’ll realize I’ve still got his credit card soon,” Phil says. “So enjoy the drink.”

“Wait, if you’ve got his credit card, why didn’t you just get another nice room?” Dan asks. “Also, aren’t you like… upset?”

Phil shrugs. “Not really. He wasn’t very nice to me sometimes.”

There’s quiet darkness in Phil’s voice, but Dan’s brain is lagging behind. He can’t keep up with all of this. “I don’t… wait, boyfriend?”

Phil’s eyes swing sharply to him. “Is that a problem?”

Dan recoils, though not for the reason Phil probably thinks. “No.” He shakes his head like he just needs to drive it home. “It’s not a problem. It’s like… really not a problem.”

If Phil catches the subtext, he doesn’t let on.

“You asked a lot of questions,” Phil says. “I think it’s my turn now.”

“Hit me.”

“Did you look at my dick earlier?”

Dan’s mouth gapes a little before he catches himself. “Uh… yeah.”

Phil nods.

“That’s your question?” Dan asks.

“I get at least one more.”

“Make it a better one.”

“You don’t enjoy conversing about my penis?” Phil teases.

Dan’s not drunk enough for this.

“Okay okay, better question. Why were you skulking around in the middle of the night?”

“I told you, I wasn’t—” He sighs, exasperated. “I had a nightmare. I tried to go sit on those shitty sofas downstairs but some dude invited me to join him and his girlfriend sucking each other’s faces and I wasn’t exactly keen to get herpes so I came back up.”

“Why are you in Germany?”

“Because it’s not England.”

“What’s wrong with England?”

Dan shakes his head. “Reckon it’s my turn.”

Phil stops and chugs back the rest of his drink. “Okay, shoot.”

“Why aren’t we taking full advantage of having your asshole ex’s credit card?”

Phil laughs. It’s a proper, full on laugh. “Alright, that’s a good question. What should we do? How can we spend loads of money in Berlin at three in the morning?”

“More drinks?” Dan suggests. He points over Phil’s shoulder. “As it would happen, we seem to have arrived at another bar.”

“As it would happen.” Phil grins again. “You’re so posh.”

“Oi, fuck off.” Dan shoves at him.

He’s allowed, right? Phil’s wearing his jacket, after all. That gives him rights.

“Remember who’s buying your drinks,” Phil says, a playful warning.

This place is fancier than the last. There are less rowdy drunken Germans and more people lounging in soft chairs, talking quietly to each other. It’s like stepping into a different world.

Still a world where it’s three in the morning and people are here to get drunk. That much is the same. But Dan feels like he should stand a little taller here.

So he does, and he orders them shots of things he can’t pronounce the name of. A server carries them all to a table on a little tray.

Dan starts to sign the ticket when he stops. He doesn’t know what to sign.

Phil takes the pen from him and scribbles something. Dan doesn’t look, because he isn’t curious.

“Are you a lightweight?” Dan asks. “I stopped at four each.”

“You might be in charge of getting us back to the hostel,” Phil says. “But I should be fine.”

“Oh, so you are a lightweight.”

“I didn’t say I’d be drunk,” Phil says. “I’ve just got a horrible sense of direction. I can hardly tell left from right when I’m completely sober.”

“Please tell me no one lets you operate a vehicle.”

“No,” Phil says. “I mean, technically I guess I could, but I had over seventy driving lessons and it still took me four fails to pass.”

“I didn’t know it was possible for someone to be that bad at driving.” Dan closes his fingers around the first shotglass. “Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Phil says.

“To shit people who abandon us when we need them?”

Phil’s a few seconds slower taking the shot because of how he stares at Dan for a few seconds after Dan speaks.

Then he downs it and winces. “I didn’t need him.”

“Whose turn is it?” Dan asks.

“Let’s say mine.”

Dan leans back in his seat. “Alright then.”

“Who abandoned you?”

“You don’t pull any punches, do you?” Dan asks.

“You know, normally I do. I guess I’m not really myself right now. Being myself hasn’t worked out too well for me lately.”

Dan picks up the next shot. “Cheers to that.” They clink their glasses together and throw back something bitter and vile.

“Ugh,” Phil says, doing a campy little hand waving thing to emphasize his disgust.

Dan smiles. “Everyone, by the way.”

“Huh?”

“You asked who abandoned me,” Dan says. “The answer is everyone. I guess being myself hasn’t worked out great for me either.”

Phil looks at him for a long time, and Dan looks back. It may be the first time in his life that prolonged eye contact hasn’t made him feel itchy under his skin.

“Your turn,” Phil says.

“What was your boyfriend’s name?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“What did he do that wasn’t nice?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Why don’t you wanna talk about him?”

“Because he already took up more of my time than he deserved,” Phil says in a deep dark voice that has Dan wishing he was drunk enough to lean across the table and stick his tongue down Phil’s throat.

“Good answer,” Dan says gruffly.

“My turn again.”

“That’s not fair,” Dan argues. “You barely answered anything I asked.”

“I answered,” Phil says. “You just didn’t like most of my answers. But that’s not a requirement.”

“I didn’t realize there were rules at all.”

“Yes, and I make them.” Phil picks up the third shot. “Ready?”

Dan isn’t sure if he means for the question or the shot but he still says, “Yeah.”

Phil tips his back and swallows neatly. Shot, then. Dan takes a moment to admire the long stretch of pale neck before he follows Phil’s lead.

“That’s smooth,” Phil says.

“For what your ex is paying for it, it damn well should be.”

That earns another grin from Phil. “Alright. Why were you eyeing me up earlier?”

Dan snorts. “Do I even need to answer that?”

“Yes,” Phil says. “I never make assumptions about things like this. That just ends badly.”

“Oh.” Dan’s mouth goes flat. “Yeah. Guess I know well enough how that goes. Anyway. Whatever. I was checking you out because I like dick. If that’s alright with you.”

“You like them… aesthetically?”

“I like them sexually.” Dan pauses. “And aesthetically.”

“How does mine rate?” Phil asks. He sounds… eager.

“What?”

“I mean, you got a nice fair look. And I suppose it’s good to know these things, isn’t it? So how do I rate?”

“It’s um.” A strange, uncharacteristic bashfulness takes Dan over momentarily. “I’d say eight out of ten. Could be a nine if you trimmed a bit down there.”

“I’m too lazy,” Phil says. “Though, maybe that’s just because I was… with someone for so long. Guess I might need to put a bit more effort in now.”

“When exactly did this breakup happen?” Dan asks.

“What time is it?” Phil reaches over and picks up Dan’s phone to check, even though his own is right in front of him. “About thirty six hours ago.”

“And you’re already thinking about moving on?”

Phil shrugs. “Maybe I’ve been thinking about moving on for a long time already.”

“So why didn’t you? And don’t say it doesn’t matter.”

“Not your turn,” Phil says. “Still mine.”

“I want these rules written out, please.”

“You don’t need them written out. You can trust me.”

“Can I trust you to go get us more shots after this one?” Dan is certainly feeling them, with how quickly in a row they’ve been taking them, but he’s not sure how much of anything free will be coming his way in the future. He wants to take advantage of it while he can.

“Actually,” Phil says. “I think I fancy food instead.”

“Oh.”

“And if you answer another question, I’ll buy you dinner.”

“You mean he’ll buy me dinner.”

Phil scowls. “He probably would, you know.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” Phil seems to force his expression into something a little lighter. “How old are you?”

“Twenty five.”

“You look younger.”

“I know.”

“I’m twenty nine,” Phil offers.

Dan smirks. “Did I ask?”

Phil reaches over the table and tugs his hair a little.

“Mate. You need to buy me dinner before I let you pull my hair.”

Phil raises his eyebrows. “Let’s go then.”

“One more shot,” Dan says. “What are we drinking to?”

“To fire alarms,” Phil says without missing a beat.

Dan doesn’t like the way that makes him feel. He doesn’t like that he likes it. Liking things is dangerous, because eventually those things always go away, and he barely managed to survive the last loss.

“To no fire,” Dan says, and they clink the shotglasses together.

Three minutes later they’re out the door. Dan is still carrying his bag and Phil’s got his backpack still on one shoulder. “Where the fuck do we find food at this hour?”

“Let’s walk back toward the hostel,” Phil says. “I feel like I saw pizza somewhere near it.”

Phil’s keen pizza sighting senses don’t lead them astray.

Phil balks at Dan’s suggestions of prosciutto and arugula. He orders something covered in sausage instead.

“You pizza pleb,” Dan says.

Phil waves the credit card at him, then sticks his tongue out. He says to the clerk, “He’ll have what I’m having.”

“What if I was vegan?” Dan asks.

“I’d question your veganinity if you agreed to come to a pizza place. All of that cheesy cheeseness and all.”

“Pizza cheese barely even counts. It’s like plastic. Tasty plastic.”

“Yeah!” Phil looks far more excited than Dan’s tired, semi-drunk observation warrants. “That’s what I always tell people. Wait, are you really a vegan?”

“No,” Dan says. Then: “Yeah. Sometimes.”

“But not tonight?”

Dan shrugs. “I don’t think so.”

“Good,” Phil says. “I think tonight we should both be things we aren’t normally.”

“I’ll try being neurotypical then,” Dan says. “Hi, fellow functioning adult, it’s a pleasure to meet you for socializing during a normal range of hours in which we functioning adults function. And I’m happy to see you because of my brain that produces perfectly reasonable levels of serotonin and dopamine.”

Phil is practically wheezing. “I’d feel called out except my anxiety meds are working perfectly right now.”

“Show off.”

“Dan.”

“Yes?”

“I’m drunk, are you drunk?”

“Yeah, a bit.”

“Only a bit?”

Dan focuses in on how he actually feels for a moment. “I’d say somewhere between a bit and a moderate amount of drunk. More than tipsy, a lot less than pissed.”

“I think I’m like, a rung below pissed,” Phil says. “I lied before, I’m definitely a lightweight.”

“That is quite endearing.”

“I’m almost thirty.”

Dan chuckles. “So you mentioned.”

“I’m almost thirty and I spent my best years with a… a…”

“A cunt?” Dan offers.

“That’s the worst word.”

“That’s why I like it so much.”

Phil picks a sausage off his pizza and pops it in his mouth. “I like sausage so much.”

Dan snorts.

“Oh… oops. Well… yeah. I do.”

“You are drunk, aren’t you?”

Phil nods. “I might hit on you. Don’t take it personally.”

“I shan’t.”

“I don’t usually hit on strangers.”

“I don’t believe you,” Dan says.

Phil shakes his head. “S’true.”

“Then why are you so good at?”

Phil’s face goes all blushy and he looks down at his pizza. “Shut up,” he mumbles.

“They weren’t your best years.”

Phil looks up again. “What?”

Dan shrugs. “If they were years you spent with a loser, they weren’t your best years.”

Phil’s face goes sad. “I dunno.”

“Well, I do.” Dan takes another slice of the pizza. It’s easily the best meal he’s had in days. Fuck, why does he even try to be vegan ever? Pizza is god-tier food, and he is weak.

“How?” Phil asks.

It takes Dan a few seconds to remember what Phil’s talking about. Maybe the shots are hitting him now. Also the beer Phil ordered with their pizza.

“You’re fit,” Dan says. “And you have a nice cock. You won’t be single long if you don’t want to be.”

Phil actually snorts out beer. It’s a fine spray that goes everywhere.

“Ew,” Dan says, wiping his hand on a napkin.

“Sorry.” Phil doesn’t sound sorry. “But wow.”

“You literally made me rate your penis earlier,” Dan reminds him. “This shouldn’t shock you.”

“Yeah, but… I thought you might be lying to be nice.”

“Oh yes, that common social etiquette of lying about dick for the sake of polite conversation,” Dan says. “Learned all about that as a child, alongside please and thank you and the French alphabet.”

Phil shoves more pizza into his mouth. He seems almost bashful now. “I don’t know what I want,” he says as he chews. It’s a little gross, but Dan won’t hold it against him. Much. “When I left the suite we were staying in I told him I was flying back home, but I got halfway to the airport and just… didn’t want to. I realized this is the first time in my adult life that I’ve been in a place by myself with no one to tell me what to do or check in with me or say the things I wanted to go see and do were stupid. So I decided he doesn’t get to own Berlin, I can have a holiday too.”

“Fuck yeah,” Dan says, raising a fist. “Bump me.”

Phil fist bumps him. Or he tries, at least. The coordination is slightly lacking. It ends up being more of a pinkie brush.

“You’ve let me talk about myself all night,” Phil says. “Your turn.”

“Nothing to say.”

“Do you have an asshole ex?”

“Many.”

“But no credit cards?”

Dan laughs bitterly. “That would be a solid no.”

“Where are you going next?”

“No idea.”

“Do you really think my cock is nice?”

“Yes,” Dan answers without hesitation. “Very nice, ten out of ten would suck.”

He slaps his hand over his mouth and Phil’s eyes go wide. “I thought I was supposed to be the one hitting on you.”

“It’s just… an objective fact, okay,” Dan croaks. “Don’t let it go to your head. I am… orally fixated.”

Phil’s face goes even redder.

“Fuck, I’m making it worse, aren’t I?”

“Worse, better, who’s to say.”

“Definitely worse.”

“When was the last time you orally fixated on a bloke’s nice cock?” Phil asks.

Dan hides his face in hands. He’s somehow still not drunk enough for this. “Shut up.”

“That’s not an answer…” Phil says in a voice like singing. “Aw, are you getting shy now, Danny boy?”

“No one calls me Danny,” he says.

“What do people call you?”

“Family calls… called me Daniel. People I worked with usually said Howell. Guys I fucked just said harder and wow, you can take it that deep? No one else really thought of me ever.”

“Jesus.” Phil manages to swallow his beer before sending it flying out this time. He wipes his nose inelegantly after he’s regained control of himself. “Talking yourself up a bit there.”

“Don’t know what you mean.” Dan takes the next to last slice. “I can’t believe we’ve eaten an entire pizza. That thing was huge. And delicious.”

“And you’d be the expert on huge, delicious things, it sounds like?”

Dan throws his wadded up napkin at Phil. “Shut up.”

“I don’t think I will.” Phil finishes his beer. “I wonder if the alarm has stopped by now.”

Dan realizes immediately that he doesn’t want to go back to the hostel. “Probably not.”

“How would you know?” Phil asks.

“I’ve got, um. Really sensitive hearing.”

Phil absolutely knows he’s lying but he’s either too drunk to care or just not in a hurry to get back himself. “Let’s go stand on the bridge, then.”

“What bridge?”

“The one on the river.”

“What river?”

“The river near here.”

“You have absolutely no bloody idea where we are, do you?” Dan asks.

“I do too!” Phil protests. “I walked around loads earlier and there was definitely a river with a bridge on it… somewhere near here.”

“When we walk out this pizza shop, do we go left or right?”

Phil flounders. “Oh, fuck off, I dunno. We can just explore and find it.”

Exploring a strange city with a strange man while very nearly drunk off his ass.

Has he made worse decisions? Actually, yeah, he has. “Alright,” Dan says. “Lead the way.”

-

“I wish I’d paid more attention to my college German lessons now.”

There seem to be a lot of people around for how late - or early - it is, and the sharp consonants are everywhere.

“Hast du einen großen Schwanz?”

Dan whips his head in Phil’s direction and narrows his eyes at him. He’s got an expression of forced neutrality that Dan’s pretty sure is masking a smirk at saying something cheeky, but he can’t be sure.

“Why do you know German?” Dan asks suspiciously.

“Maybe the asshole ex was German,” Phil says breezily.

“Was he?”

Phil shrugs. “Doesn’t matter.”

“What’d you say?”

He grins. “Doesn’t matter.”

“I’m going to fucking ban those words from your vocabulary,” Dan threatens.

Phil just laughs. “It matters not.”

“I barely speak any German,” Dan says. “Coming here was a really impulsive decision.”

“Was it now?” Phil doesn’t even try to hide his curiosity. “Tell me more.”

“About my lacking German language skills? Sure.” Dan purposefully misunderstands. “Bitte. Danke. Ich verstehe. Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.”

Phil snorts.

“I don’t even know what the last one means,” Dan admits. “That’s what we had to memorize to work on pronunciation.”

“That makes more sense. Unless you just really have a deep love of sausage.”

“Well.” Dan smirks. “I do.”

“Yet you’re also semi-vegan.”

“Different kind of sausage, mate.”

“As much as I appreciate your taste in meat, I really wanna hear more about your impulsive decision,” Phil says.

“I’m sure you do.”

“So I tell you my life story and you tell me nothing?”

“Looks that way.”

Phil narrows his eyes. “I didn’t get you drunk enough.”

“Why are you staying in a hostel and not a nice hotel?” Dan asks.

“Because I’m sad and lonely and there’s nothing more sad and lonely than a hotel room for one.”

“Oh.” Dan looks away and digs his fists deeper into his pockets. “Well I’m sorry all you managed to find was me.”

“Yeah, you’re awful,” Phil deadpans. “I clearly hate being in your company. Why’d you come to Germany?”

“Because it’s attached to the Netherlands.”

“Why’d you go to the Netherlands?”

“For the drugs.”

Phil doesn’t seem to consider for even a single moment that Dan could be telling the truth. He just fixes Dan with a look that has Dan forgetting he’s trying to project an air of mystique.

“Because that was the first available flight when I got to the airport.”

“What are you running from?” Phil asks.

Dan shrugs. “My life?”

“Starting over then, are you?”

Dan shrugs again. “Haven’t gotten that far.” He shivers. It feels like it’s getting colder.

“We should go back,” Phil says, reaching out and touching Phil’s arm.

“We haven’t found the bridge yet.”

“I’d rather you not to freeze to death.”

Dan laughs. “You could always give me back my coat.”

“I don’t want to freeze to death either.”

“You can keep it.”

Phil says, “We can look for the bridge tomorrow.”

“Who said I want to spend time with you tomorrow?” Dan asks. “And don’t say my face.”

“Your stupid face.”

“You keep calling it stupid and I’m going to think you actually like it,” Dan says. “Primary school pigtail pulling.”

“Aw, did you wear pigtails? I can see that.” Phil reaches out like he’s going to tug on one of Dan’s curls but Dan ducks out of the way. “Anyway, yeah, I reckon you’ve got an alright face.”

It’s unexpected, how that casual compliment sits right on the center of Dan’s chest in a way that feels like the good kind of pressure.

It’s not a feeling he’s very used to.

“Whatever,” Dan mumbles. “Anyway, it’s fucking cold out.”

“Yeah,” Phil agrees, though he looks perfectly warm and snug in his borrowed outer layer. “Which way is back?”

Dan laughs. “You weren’t taking the piss.”

“I never take the piss,” Phil says, an entirely straight face.

“Right. Sure.” Dan gives him a side eye. “I don’t believe that innocent act at all.”

“Believe what you want. I’m sure you’ve been wrong before.”

Dan shoves him. Phil laughs. Dan turns around 180 degrees so they can head back the way they came.

The sun is just starting to rise when they find their way back to the hostel. It’s misty and atmospheric and if Dan wasn’t half frozen and fully sleep deprived he might suggest the go get coffee and sit outside to enjoy it.

As it is he’s covered in goosebumps and his nipples are hard enough to cut glass. He moans in relief when they step into the warmth of the building. Phil gives him a look but Dan ignores him and takes the stairs two at a time.

The beds in this place aren’t the most comfortable he’s ever slept on, but when he pulls his shirt and jeans off and collapses back against the mattress, it might as well be made of clouds for how inviting it feels. He moans again and hears Phil laughing at him a few feet away in his own bed.

“You’re vocal in your appreciation, aren’t you?”

Dan pulls the blanket up over his chest. “Why is everything that comes out of your mouth an innuendo?”

“Don’t know what you’re on about.”

“Shut up,” Dan mumbles, already feeling himself start to drift. “Sleep time now.”

“See you in the morning?” Phil asks.

“Already is morning.”

“See you in the afternoon, then?”

Dan nuzzles his face into his pillow. “I know you’re lonely, but don’t get clingy on me, mate.”

Phil laughs soft and low and it’s the last thing Dan hears before he falls asleep.

Chapter Text

“Dan.”

Dan shuts his eyes tighter, like if he pretends he’s still asleep, whoever’s trying to get his attention will get the hint and fuck off.

But the voice only gets more insistent. “Dan.”

Dan groans. He’s not awake enough for this shit.

“Aufwachen!” the voice shouts.

Dan cracks his eyes open and they immediately go wide at the sight of Phil stood at the foot of his bed, dripping wet and naked as the day he was born.

He gestures downwards. “Is it a nine now?”

It takes a minute for Dan to understand, but eventually he sees that Phil must have done some grooming in the shower.

Dan groans and drops his head back against the pillow. “Am I dreaming?” He cracks one eye open. Phil is still standing there, body totally bared. “No. Not a nine.”

“What?” Phil puts his hands on his hips. “Why-”

“It’s a ten,” Dan croaks.

Phil raises one arm in an exaggerated fist pump.

“Oh my god,” Dan says. He flings his arm over his eyes. “Stop. Don’t make it… bounce like that.”

“Fine,” Phil says.

That’s… far too easy.

He feels the mattress dip. He moves his arm, and - yeah. Phil is sitting at the end of Dan’s bed now.

Cross-legged.

And still very much naked.

“Do you have no shame, man?” Dan asks.

“My cock is a ten out of ten, according to you,” Phil says. “So no, I don’t.”

“What… what time is it?” Dan doesn’t actually care what time it is. He just can’t say any of the words in his head right now.

“Doesn’t matter,” Phil says.

Dan grabs the pillow from under his own head and flings it at Phil.

Phil flings it back and Dan grabs it, pulling the pillow - and Phil - toward him.

“If anyone comes in here right now they’re gonna get the wrong impression,” Dan murmurs.

Phil lays himself down flat on top of Dan, the only thing separating them the thin blanket and Dan’s underwear. “What impression is that?”

“That you’re throwing yourself at me.”

“Hm.” Phil pushes himself up on all fours and Dan doesn’t even pretend not to look down at the way everything just hangs there. “Is that actually wrong, though?”

Dan swallows hard. He’s trying not to give away how fast his heart is beating. “You tell me.”

Phil pulls the blanket down and then pulls it over the both of them. “It’s probably not that wrong.”

“What if I don’t want you naked in my bed right now?” Dan asks in a breathy kind of voice that gives him away completely.

“Then tell me that.”

Dan stretches his face up and catches Phil’s bottom lip between his teeth. He pulls a little and then lets go again.

“Maybe they’ll get the impression that the throwing is mutual,” Phil says.

“I’m just lying here.” Dan smirks.

Phil leans down and hovers so his lips are just barely brushing Dan’s. “Your heart is beating really fast.”

“I didn’t brush my teeth.”

“I know,” Phil says. He’s smiling a bit. His lips are really soft… Dan thinks. Hasn’t gotten quite a good enough feel to say for sure. “It’s alright. I’ve dealt with worse than morning breath.”

“Is it?” Dan asks. “Morning?”

“No.” Phil laughs a bit. He smells minty fresh. “It’s afternoon.”

“So have you dealt with worse than afternoon breath?” Dan asks.

“Dan.” Phil suddenly gives off the aura of a person who is somehow both patient and suddenly impatient. “Stop talking.”

Dan nods up and down once, twice. His nose brushes Phil’s. He’s got such an odd, beaky nose. It works so well with his face. It’s just… a nice face. He stares and feels his eyes crossing.

Then Phil kisses him, a proper kiss. It’s not what Dan is expecting. It’s close mouthed and soft and almost sweet. Dan’s not sure he’s ever been kissed so sweetly by a man whose bare penis is touching his thigh.

Phil pulls back. “Alright,” he says. “Go brush your teeth. That’s rank.”

Dan laughs and shoves at Phil’s bare chest. “What! No, you fucker, you don’t get to change your mind now.”

“So you like kissing me, then?”

Dan kisses him again, a little harder this time, because he can feel that that cock touching his thigh is starting to get firmer and thicker and he was ‘t kidding, it’s definitely a ten out of ten willy and it seems to be attached to a ten out of ten person, and Dan can’t remember the last time he encountered such a rare and wondrous beast. In fact, maybe he never has.

Phil doesn’t seem bothered about the bad breath. He licks into Dan’s mouth and makes a very sexy noise and Dan finds his hands wandering until they’re cupping Phil’s ass cheeks and squeezing.

“How does the ass rate?” Phil asks.

“Oh, fuck off, you know I’m not actually shallow like that, right?”

“Reckon that means it doesn’t measure up as much as the—”

Dan kisses him again to shut him up. “Stop talking.”

Phil smiles against Dan’s mouth and nods.

Dan’s not going to say it, but the ass is good too. Really good. Not that he would care either way at this point. He’s already got the hot sexy wanting feelings and Phil’s naked body on top of him.

He didn’t come here for this. Not to Berlin and definitely not to this grungy little hostel. But now that he’s got it, he’s not sure he wants to pass it up. He opens his mouth more and Phil licks into it.

There’s a shift, subtle but intense. Phil makes a noise in his throat and presses harder against Dan. Dan sinks his fingers into the hair at the back of Phil’s neck and rocks into him as much as the small space between and around them will allow.

Then the floor flies open.

Phil rolls off of him. They both stare for a moment, and the man stares back. He has muddy colored hair and a pockmarked face. He sneers, “Ficken schwuchteln.”

Dan doesn’t really need a translation for that. His blood runs cold. He feels like he’s being chased through the woods even in broad daylight lying on this bed.

Phil sits up. He stares right at the man. “Hast du n' Problem?”

The man glares at them and slings a bag down on one of the empty beds across them room, then stalks out.

“Fuck,” Dan says. “Fuck, fuck.”

“Fuck,” Phil agrees, all of the confidence dissipating instantly. “I’m gonna go get dressed.”

“I’m gonna go out,” Dan says, throwing the blanket off and hopping out of bed.

Phil hangs back and Dan knows he’s waiting to see if Dan invites him, but Dan’s insides feel like they’re coated in lead and he needs to breathe. He needs to think.

Maybe he needs to run away. He’s not sure yet.

He crouches down to dig some clothes out of his backpack. “I’ll see you,” he says, being careful not to watch Phil’s face for his reaction.

It doesn’t matter though, because Phil’s voice says everything. “Okay.” He’s not trying to disguise his sadness.

Dan feels like shit, but not enough to fight back the rising tide of a lifetime’s worth of internalized shame and hatred. Maybe the forest is everywhere. Maybe he’ll always be running.

His hands are shaking as he steps into the hallway, clothes clutched in his grasp. He goes into the toilets and has a piss and then splashes water on his face.

He still looks like a mess. A mess in a black patterned t-shirt and fashionably ripped jeans and hair that’s just on the verge of needing a wash.

He thinks about Phil looking at him, seeing his face, wanting to kiss it. Every part of him is trembling. He thinks about the bottle of pills he left back in London. How maybe they’d have made a difference.

But probably not. Nothing ever does.

Except… except last night. Last night was a strange fever dream where all the normal worries seemed to fade away just long enough for shots and pizza and a walk in the cold.

Maybe he’ll try and find the bridge. He makes sure he’s got his wallet and his phone and moves into the hallway.

The same pockmarked man from before is standing there, laughing too loud and making emphatic hand gestures to a group of other guys.

“Du willst wohl Stress?” the man asks.

He’s shorter than Dan but he still seems to loom. His t-shirt is tight around his biceps. Dan could outrun him, maybe, but that’d be it.

Dan shakes his head. He doesn’t know what the question is, but he thinks he probably doesn’t want to say yes.

He cocks his chin at an arrogant angle. “Ich mach dich fertig, arg.”

Dan realizes the man is standing between him and the lifts. He takes a couple of steps back, and the man takes steps forward.

Dan bolts back toward the only place he can think of, the room Phil is still in.

Phil’s sitting on his own bed now, dressed. He looks up and maybe if Dan weren’t so panicked he’d see the shocked happiness that flickers over Phil’s face until he realizes that Dan looks panicked. “What’s wrong?”

“I just…” Dan doesn’t know how to say he’s about to have a panic attack because a homophobic cunt is blocking the exit. “I’m scared,” he manages to choke out. “That guy…”

Phil stands up and reaches his hand out. He doesn’t take Dan’s, he just leaves his own in the air in offering.

Dan has a choice here, and suddenly he’s ashamed that he didn’t make it sooner. What good has running ever done him anyway?

He takes Phil’s hand. Firmly.

“Get your bag,” Phil says. “We’re leaving.”

“We can’t take the lifts,” Dan says. “He’s there.”

“I’d kick his nuts back inside his body before I let him touch you,” Phil says. “But we can take the stairs.”

“I booked this place for the week,” Dan says. “I don’t have money for anywhere else.”

“Dan.” Phil squeezes his hand. “Don’t worry about it. Compliments of my ex, remember?”

Dan will probably develop a lot of issues about taking continuous handouts from a strange older man but… he’ll sort those out later. Right now he just nods frantically.

-

“I told you there’s a bridge,” Phil says, pointing.

He’s right. It’s picturesque, clearly, based on how many tourists are crowding into it jostling for the prime spot for their selfie or snapchat or instagram story.

Even the ducks look done with the number of people there, swimming away.

Dan wants to do that too. Just part the world around him and disappear some place all the noise stops for a little while. He still feels jittery with adrenaline and he misses Phil’s hand holding his, though Phil had dropped it back in the hostel room to pack his bag together.

He won’t reach for it here and now, though. Berlin doesn’t feel that magic during the day. It just feels dangerous and big.

“Where are we going?” Dan asks.

“Lunch,” Phil says. “Are you feeling in the mood for anything specific?”

“No.” Dan isn’t even feeling hungry.

“I know a place.” Phil shrugs his backpack up his shoulder. “Do you trust me?”

He really has no idea if Phil intends the question to have any sort of double meaning or not, but Dan’s mind is always working on that level. “Yeah,” he says. “Don’t know why, but I do.”

“I know,” Phil says. “It’s because meeting me was because of fate.”

“Meeting you was because someone pulled the fire alarm.”

“Technically we met before that,” Phil points out.

“I don’t know if I’d call that actually meeting.”

“I like to think anyone that sees my willy has met me.” Phil smiles brightly. “Or at least met a part of me that is very dear to me.”

“You’re so fucking weird, Phil.”

“I’ve been told.”

“Do you actually believe in fate?”

Phil nods. “You can blame Kath for that, okay? I’m from the north, it’s just a thing there.”

“What, bullshit?”

Phil punches his shoulder. “You don’t believe that sometimes things happen because they were meant to?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Well then I guess I just got lucky.”

Dan frowns. “You actually think that? You think meeting me was lucky?”

“I wouldn’t have kissed you if I wasn’t happy to be spending time with you,” Phil says quietly. “I’m not gonna waste my time on losers ever again.”

“But I’m a loser,” Dan says. “I’m basically lost in a foreign country with no money and no home to go back to. No friends. Can’t even be the hookup you were looking for without ruining it.”

“I wasn’t looking for a hookup.”

“You said you were lonely.”

“I wasn’t specifically looking for sex,” Phil says. “I just didn’t want to be alone.”

Dan shakes his head and looks out over the water. The immediate danger is gone now, but he doesn’t really feel any less scared.

“I’m sorry,” Phil says.

“For what?”

“I’m the one who ruined things. I just thought… I don’t know. It seemed like we got on.”

“We did,” Dan admits easily. “We do.” He takes a breath and breathes it out slowly, watching the ducks get smaller in the distance as he says, “I ran away because I got outed and I couldn’t handle it.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“So climbing into your bed naked was about the worst thing I could have done,” Phil says quietly.

“Strong disagree. Ten out of ten, remember?”

“Yeah, but just because you like how it looks doesn’t mean you want it on you,” Phil says. “I think furries look fascinating but I won’t want to be in one. Of the outfits, I mean.”

“... furries? Really? That’s where you took it?” Dan laughs. “Fuck. I like you.”

Phil looks visibly relieved. “Good, because I’m sure I’m just repressing some sort of strong emotional response to my relationship ending, and if you leave me alone with myself for more than ten minutes it’ll rise to the surface and I really don’t want that.”

“Emotional response to…” Dan trails off. “Am I a rebound?”

“Dan, I don’t know what you are,” Phil says. “But the emotional response is probably more about how I met someone within twenty four hours of breaking up with - with him - that’s made me feel more alive and made me laugh more than he did in half a decade.”

“I don’t know what to say to that.”

Phil shrugs. “Then don’t say anything. I don’t know where this is going, and neither do you. We’re both unknown quantities, aren’t we?”

“Yeah,” Dan says. “I guess we are.”

Phil stops walking. Dan expects some sort of further deep statement, but Phil just points to the door.

“No Milk Today,” Dan reads. “What?”

“It’s vegan!” Phil says proudly. “To make up for forcing my sausage on you.”

“Never say that again.”

“Yeah, that was bad.”

They go inside and Dan orders the cheapest thing on the menu and Phil orders more than he can eat and shares with Dan and it's a really good time and Phil makes him laugh a lot. His eyes are really something special in the light of day, the black of his hair and the pale of his skin making the blue pop like two endless little pools of water that Dan could see himself getting stuck in if he let himself look for too long.

How did this happen? At this time yesterday they were strangers to each other, their only connection the questionable life choices that lead them to such a rundown building with uncomfortable beds and a faulty fire alarm. Now he’s gazing into Phil’s eyes and trying not to feel twisted inside about the possibility that to Phil he’s nothing but the piece of ass that helps him get over the twat who unceremoniously dumped him on holiday.

He’s also trying not to think about what he’s going to do next. He’s dangerously close to being properly broke now. He’s saving enough to ensure he can buy a ticket back to the motherland if things get really desperate, but beyond that, all he’s got left is enough for a few days of cheap meals.

If Phil offers, that’s one thing. But Dan’s not going to ask.

“You can order whatever you want next time,” Phil says. “Remember-”

“It’s on your ex?”

Phil flashes the credit card again. Dan tries to catch the name on it, but he can’t make it out. “What are you doing when he cancels it?”

“To be honest,” Phil says. “I doubt he will. He’s strange like that.”

“And rich?”

“Very rich.”

“So were you like… a kept boy or something? Was he a sugar daddy?”

Phil makes a dismissive sound. “He was a year younger than me.”

“Wow.”

“His parents are well off. They’re - actually, no. I don’t want to waste my breath or your ears on talking about anything to do with him.”

Dan grins. He’s not offended at all. “Yeah, of course. Sorry. What do we talk about instead?”

“We talk about what you’re ordering next,” Phil says.

“Next time?”

“No. Next, here. You need more food than that.”

Dan looks down at his plate. “This is fine.”

“That’s a bagel, Dan.”

“Yes, Phil, I do know what I’m eating.”

“That’s just your starter breakfast,” Phil says, ignoring Dan’s objections. “Your savoury breakfast. Next you need your sweet breakfast.”

“I wasn’t aware that there were multiple breakfast courses.”

“Of course.” Phil is offended in a way Dan doesn’t believe is real at all. “Savoury breakfast. Sweet breakfast. Cereal breakfast. Dessert breakfast.”

“You are literally making those up.”

Phil turns to the table next to theirs. A younger girl sits with her laptop. “Can you verify to this gentleman that breakfast is a multi-course event?”

She glares at them and picks up her headphones.

Dan is already swatting at Phil’s arm. “Oh my god, you absolute monster, don’t talk to strangers in public!”

Phil laughs. “I like to be friendly.”

“It’s not friendly, it’s obnoxious.”

“Fine,” Phil says. “I’ll just talk to you. Tell me what you want next, I’m going to go order us more food.”

“You already shared half your food with me,” Dan points out. “I’m seriously fine.”

“I shared because I wanted to get to sweet breakfast quicker. Sweet breakfast is vastly superior.”

“I prefer savoury.”

Phil frowns at him. “Why are you like this?”

Dan laughs. “Just… get me a coffee?”

“Pick something for sweet breakfast or I’ll go around and talk to everyone in the whole shop.”

“Fine, fine.” Dan holds up his hands in surrender. “Coffee and… a muffin?”

“That’s lame, but I guess I’ll allow it, as long as you promise to eat something real for dinner.”

“Maybe you’re the sugar daddy.”

Phil scowls. “If you call me daddy I’ll actually be sick.”

“Daddy.”

Phil pretends to gag. The frowning girl at the next table gives them such a devastating stink eye that Dan actually verbally apologizes.

Phil gets Dan a coffee and a pumpkin muffin and Dan tries not to let on how tasty they are, how glad he is to have a little more food in his system.

“What now?” Phil says after finishing a stack of pancakes high enough that he probably shouldn’t have been able to finish them.

“That’s one hundred percent up to you,” Dan says. “You’re the one with the sugar.”

“Wait, I thought I was the daddy and you gave me the sugar.” Phil looks genuinely confused. “I thought the sugar was the sex.”

“Shh!” Dan hisses, kicking his foot lightly under the table. “I thought the sugar was the money.”

“But then I’m the daddy and the sugar. That makes no sense.”

“I don’t know,” Dan says. “Believe it or not, I've never been a sugar baby.”

“Oh god, ew. Sugar baby is even worse than sugar daddy. Ugh.”

“Why don’t we just be people who have a mutual appreciation of sugar?” Dan proposes, breaking another piece of the muffin off.

Now he’s a fan of sweet breakfast!” Phil brags.

“And a fan of this coffee,” Dan says. “So - thank you. Like. Seriously.”

“Hush,” Phil says. “None of that.”

“None of what?”

“Gratitude.”

“Why not? Normally that’s something people like.”

“Not me,” Phil says. “Not now. Because then I have to tell you how grateful I am that you’re spending your day keeping me company-”

“Okay, no,” Dan says. “Nope.”

“See?”

“So no mushy gratitude, and no sugar daddies or babies. Anything else we’re putting on the list?”

“Cheese,” Phil says. “No cheese.”

“No homophobic twats.”

“No asshole ex boyfriends.”

“No…” A dozen things live and die on his lips before he settles on one. “Ghosts.”

“No ghosts.” Phil nods. “That covers it, I think.”

“You know what we should put on the yes list?” Dan finishes his coffee.

“Third breakfast?” Phil says hopefully.

Dan grins. “I was thinking more like kisses, but fine.”

“Oh.” Phil looks quietly delighted. “So this morning was… okay?”

“I thought it was afternoon,” Dan points out.

“This afternoon was okay, then?”

“This afternoon was fucking brilliant. Until the shit part. But before that. Brilliant. You’re a really good kisser.”

Phil smiles and looks down. He pauses, then says, “You know, I really wasn’t looking for… this.”

“What’s this?” Dan asks.

“Just… When I got to the hostel and you were the only person there, I was honestly a bit scared.”

Dan frowns. He doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t have to ask why. Other men have been the cause of his greatest pleasure and deepest pain in life, and it’s not usually clear just by looking at someone whether or not they’re going to be safe.

Phil continues. “And then you were kind of mean to me last night at first, but I felt drawn to you and I didn’t know why. As soon as you were speaking to me I knew I could trust you.”

“This is bordering dangerously close to mushy.”

“Shut up,” Phil orders. “I’m just saying, like… I really wasn’t on a mission to find a hookup. I’ve only kissed one person in the last six years. I don’t know how many he kissed in that time, but I know for me there was only him.”

“And now me,” Dan says quietly.

“Yeah.” Phil smiles, and it looks a little sad. “The more we talked last night, the more it felt like something… special.”

Dan’s stomach tightens. The words make him balk. “Phil.”

“Sorry.”

“You don’t even know me.”

“I’m not saying I’m in love with you, dick head. It just feels like I was meant to meet you here, at this time in both of our lives.”

Dan has to look away. He understands what Phil’s feeling because he’s feeling it too, and it’s a lot. It’s way too much. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything. I need the toilet.”

He takes his wallet out of his pocket and puts in on the table before he walks away. Dan watches him leave.

Then his eyes drift to the wallet. He’s quite sure Phil’s testing him right now, and he’s deeply ashamed to realize that some part of him is actually considering proving Phil wrong about being a person he can trust.

He’s let a lot of people down in his lifetime. He’s let down people who mattered a whole fucking lot more to him than Phil does… or should, at least.

But maybe that’s why it seems more important to resist. He’s got a blank slate right here. He’s not sorry for being mean to Phil before he knew him. The world is mean right back at him.

Phil trusts him now, though. He knows Dan more honestly than a lot of people in Dan’s life, in a lot of ways. He knows Dan’s broke. He knows the things that make Dan scared. He knows the taste of unguarded kisses in the just-woke hours.

Now he’s being mushy, and he knows it. But he leaves the wallet sitting exactly where it is on the table and he’s proud of himself, even though Phil doesn’t even acknowledge it as he slips back into his seat. His long legs have nowhere to go under the small table and slot in place knocking against Dan’s.

Dan stares at Phil - at his face this time. At the delicate lines around the corners of his eyes, the paleness of his skin, the stubble standing out against it. “You didn’t shave earlier.”

Phil smirks. “I did. I showed you, remember?”

“You idiot. I meant your face.”

“Oh - well, I’ve only got one razor, and I wasn’t thinking and did my other cleaning up first, and then I didn’t want to use it on my face, so…” Phil shrugs. “I’ll need to go buy more things at some point.”

“So you plan on staying here for a while?” Dan asks.

Phil shrugs again, just a lift of one shoulder. “When I go home I have to actually sort my life out. This was meant to be a long holiday for us, so work isn’t expecting me back. Guess I’ll go til the money runs out, yeah?”

It feels like there are snakes in Dan’s stomach. All the many breakfasts sit heavy there. Why is he romanticizing all of this with a person who is going to get on a plane and fly home at some point, leaving Dan stranded in this nowhere place in his life, in this world?

Phil must notice, because he looks at Dan with a deepening frown. “What’s in your head right now?”

“Fear. Confusion. Uncertainty.”

“What are you afraid of?”

Dan holds his gaze despite the overwhelming sense of vulnerability. “You.”

“Why?”

“Because I like you.”

“Why are you confused?”

“Because I like you.”

Phil frowns. “What are you uncertain about?”

“Everything.”

“Oh good, that narrows it down nicely.”

“Yup.”

“What would you be doing right now if you hadn’t met me?”

Dan thinks for a moment. “Sleeping, maybe. Sitting at a cheap cafe somewhere on my laptop trying to find a way to make some money even though I can’t speak German and, for all intents and purposes, am homeless.”

“I kind of am too,” Phil says. “My flat isn’t really my flat, it’s his. We called it ours but I moved in with him.”

“Where will you go when you go home?” Dan asks.

“Probably a mate’s place just long enough to find a flat of my own.”

“Where do you work?”

“Somewhere,” Phil says. “Somewhere boring.”

“Guarding your personal details now?”

Phil laughs. “No. I’m just being honest. It’s dead boring. Actually, a mate of his got me the job after I tried making a go of… well, it’s silly, but I made youtube videos for a while. But I missed the point where people started making a career of it and I was twenty five and I needed a job just to stop feeling like I was an embarrassment to my parents.”

“I get that, at least,” Dan mutters. “Twenty five and an embarrassment to my parents, that’s me.”

“Since I got the job through him, they might just sack me as soon as I’m back.” Phil shrugs. “Wouldn’t be the worst thing. Maybe I could actually have a go at doing something I like.”

“I tried to be a lawyer once,” Dan says. “Failed out of law school. It’s ironic, university was supposed to be this chance for me to really be who I was and live a life away from my shit hometown. And then I realized maybe what makes things shit is me, not the place.”

“Well, you’re making Berlin very nice for me,” Phil says.

Dan suddenly wants to cry. “Shut up, please.”

“Sorry. It’s just the truth. I have a hard time letting people be hard on themselves when it isn’t warranted.”

“How do you know it isn’t warranted?”

“Well what did you do that was so terrible?” Phil asks bluntly. “You think not making it through law school means you deserve to be unhappy?”

Dan opens his mouth to argue before he’s even thought of what to say, so he closes it again.

“Are you gonna tell me to shut up again?”

Dan shakes his head.

“Do you want me to leave you alone? Like, properly? Right now it seems like the only thing that’s making your life worse is me.”

Dan doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t want that, not at all, but part of him wonders if he should. Maybe it would be easier to nip this in the bud before he gives Phil the power to really hurt him.

“I can give you the credit card,” Phil says quietly. “If you’re afraid of being alone with no resources. Or I can withdraw a bunch and give it to you. I can always go home. I have mates, I have a family. I don’t want you to be scared.”

Dan looks at Phil like he’s gone mad. “You think I’m just here for your money?”

Phil is impressively unphased. “I wouldn’t blame you if you were, Dan.”

“Well I’m not. And fuck you for even thinking that.”

“Okay.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“I’m not trying to be.”

“If you want an excuse to go back home, then—”

“I don’t,” Phil says. “I really don’t want to go home.”

Dan stares at him angrily. Then he leans over the table and grabs the back of Phil’s neck and kisses him. He waits until he feels Phil melt into it, and then he pulls away.

“Pay for our breakfasts,” Dan orders. “Then give me the card.”

Phil looks confused and maybe a little hurt, but he stands up wordlessly and goes to pay their bill. When he comes back his hands are shaking as he hands Dan the card.

Dan looks at it for a moment and lets his hatred for knowing Phil would think for one second that he was that conniving fuel what he does next.

He snaps it in half.

Phil’s eyes go wide and he looks like he might cry.

Then he laughs. “Dan, what the fuck.”

“Now I’ve got no reason to stay. And you’ve got no reason not to go.”

“You are…” Phil shakes his head like he’s at a complete loss. Then he leans over the table and kisses Dan just like Dan had kissed him.

“What am I?” Dan asks, feeling the flush in his cheeks as they both settle back into their seats.

“I don’t know,” Phil says. His voice is full of wonder. “I don’t know what you are, but whatever it is… I think I need it in my life.”

-

“What were you actually going to do next?” Dan asks.

They’re walking along the river bank.

He doesn’t feel guilty for snapping the card. He’s aware that he, himself, is in no better or worse a position now than he was before.

But he is curious if he just fucked up Phil’s whole plan.

“I don’t know,” Phil says. “I really don’t. I guess my plan originally yesterday was to get really drunk but I went into one club and it was loud and my head started to hurt so I just went back to the hostel and went to sleep. Then…”

“Then I happened.”

Phil smiles. “Then you happened.”

“What are we going to do now?” Dan asks.

“We?”

“Yeah, Phil. We.”

“I… I don’t know. I have no freaking clue. I’ve never really been anywhere on my own. I don’t know how the world works. It was a huge leap outside my comfort zone just to stay in a hostel.”

“Do you have any of your own money?”

“Mm, a bit, yeah.”

Dan nods. “I have a bit too. We should probably work on finding somewhere to sleep tonight.”

“Yeah, reckon we should.”

Dan leans back in his chair and scrubs his hands over his face. “I need a fucking shower. I didn’t even brush my teeth this morning.”

Phil gets a weird cheeky look on his face at that.

Dan narrows his eyes. “What?”

“I still have the keycard to Max’s room.”

“His name is Max?”

“Oh, oops. Yeah.”

“I hate it.”

Phil smiles. “Yeah. Worst name ever. Rubbish. Disgusting.”

“Why would we wanna go to fuckface Max’s room anyway?” Dan asks. “Do you even know if he’s still there?”

“No, I don’t know. But it’s worth a shot.”

“Why?”

“I kind of left in a hurry. I forgot some stuff. Some clothes and toiletries. Wouldn’t mind getting them back. Plus you can take a shower.”

Dan narrows his eyes again. “Why do I feel like you’re luring me somewhere you and your boyfriend can cook me and eat me or something?”

“He’s not my boyfriend.” Phil’s tone is so fiercely resolute that Dan knows he’s telling the truth.

“I feel like I’m missing something,” Dan says, continuing to stare at Phil’s face like he’s a puzzle with a few stubbornly missing pieces.

“Maybe I’m hoping he’s there and he sees the super hot guy I’m with.”

Dan frowns. “Are you using me to get back at him? Or like, to try to leverage his jealousy into getting back together?”

“No, I’m not. He’s genuinely a piece of shit and I should have left him years ago. I just… I’m sorry. You’re right, it’s fucked up. I kind of just wanted to hurt him back a little. I gave so much of myself to him and all he ever gave me a pervasive feeling of self doubt. And expensive gifts to make up for all the times he cheated.”

“Fuck, Phil.”

Phil folds his arms over his chest protectively and looks away. “Yeah, I know. I’m not proud of any of it.”

“He’s the one that shouldn’t be proud,” Dan says. “He had you and he actually cheated? He must be blind as well as a fucking idiot. Yeah, come on, then. Where’s he staying? We can raid the mini bar while we’re there.”

-

The hotel room is empty, and Dan is nervous as fuck.

He’s not actually great with confrontation so he hopes that Max just stays gone for as long as they’re there. He doesn’t say that to Phil, though. He doesn’t want Phil to doubt that he’s fully committed to the revenge plot.

“You go shower,” Phil says. “I’m going to pack.”

It’s a big suite. When Phil disappears into the bedroom part of it Dan doesn’t follow, just turns and walks into the bathroom.

There’s a shower on one side with an ornate glass door, and a massive tub on the other. All along the far wall is a marble topped counter with a sink in the middle and a mirror stretching all the way across.

He feels weird at the sight of so much stuff littering the counter, but he ignores it all and strips down out of clothes that’ll need a wash soon.

It’s a really nice shower. The water is hot and the spray is just the perfect amount of pressure. He actually groans out loud at how good it feels.

“I think I’m jealous of the water,” Phil says, so close it makes Dan jump.

“What the fuck-” Dan says.

“I wanted to get my stuff from in here,” Phil says. “And also maybe catch a cheeky peek.”

Dan flings the door open on impulse. “Peek away, mate.”

He can’t properly see Phil, only his reflection in the mirror. He knows Phil can see his, too. Their eyes meet and Phil grins.

“Too much steam,” Phil complains. “The mirror’s getting fogged.”

It’s on the tip of Dan’s tongue to tell Phil he should just join Dan and see what he wants to see up close, but then he shuts his mouth. Maybe he’s being a stupid romantic, but he doesn’t really want any firsts with Phil to happen in a place where Phil and his ex may have fucked.

So he laughs and shuts the door. “Too cold out there. Now go away, I need to appreciate this shower some more. I don’t think I’ll ever stay in a place this nice again.”

When he does get out fifteen minutes later it’s only because he’s afraid of pushing his luck at Max coming back. He uses too many towels and scrubs his hair and his body and then washes his face and moisturizes with something that has French writing on it and probably costs more than everything he owns is worth.

It’s fucking nice skin cream, though.

“Okay, now what-” Dan says, stepping out of the bathroom. “Hey, you were supposed to wait on me!”

Phil is sat on the floor with the mini bar contents surrounding him, shoving things into his bag. A package of beer nuts are open on the floor beside him already.

“You get the liquor,” Phil orders. “I don’t think it’ll fit in my bag anymore.”

“You’re bad,” Dan says, no small amount of admiration in his voice. “Just imagine how freaked out Max will be when he notices.”

Phil shrugs. “Maybe he won’t, even. Maybe he’ll bring some twenty one year old model back here and be too busy.”

Dan’s stomach does a weird, all too familiar twisty thing that he recognizes instantly as jealousy. He’s jealous because Phil sounds jealous.

He’s glad he didn’t invited Phil into the shower. If they really were fated to meet, maybe fate meant for them to be friends. He hopes fate didn’t bring them together just for Dan to fall for someone who’s just using him as a stand in.

“Can we get out of here?” Dan asks gruffly. He doesn’t care about the booze.

Phil looks up at him. “Oh, I thought…” He trails off. “Alright. If you want.”

Dan nods.

“I just have to grab a couple more—”

“You can take your time,” Dan interrupts, already heading for the exit. “I’ll wait downstairs in the lobby, yeah?”

He hears Phil say, “Dan—” but he’s already got a foot out the door.

“Take your time, Phil,” he says, and lets it fall shut heavily behind him.

Chapter Text

In the lobby he stares at every man that passes by, wondering if one of them is Max. He actually wishes he were still some nameless figure; wishes he didn’t have any any sort of identity to attach besides douchebag ex.

Only a couple of minutes pass before Phil shows up downstairs. He looks flustered, and then shocked with relief when he actually sees Dan. “I thought you’d left.”

“Why?” Dan asks. “I told you I’d be in the lobby.”

“Yeah, but…” Phil makes a gesture with his hand. “You seemed cross with me. I just thought… I mean. You’ve got no reason to stay, and it’s not— If you did decide to leave, it wouldn’t— I wouldn’t be… surprised.”

Phil’s eyes look red. He has a kicked puppy look on his face.

Dan thinks about what Phil had said earlier, how Max left him with nothing but pervasive self-doubt.

He still hates the idea that Phil is jealous of anyone Max brings back to fuck. He hates that maybe Phil is just clinging to him in a confused aftermath of his relationship.

But he hates even more that Phil’s expectations for someone sticking around are so low, and he’d be a hypocrite if he didn’t acknowledge that right now he’s also clinging to Phil in his own confused aftermath.

“I didn’t leave,” Dan says.

“I know. I see.”

“I was just waiting.”

“Okay.”

Dan stands. “Are you ready to go now?”

“Where are we going?” Phil asks.

“I don’t know,” Dan says. “Wherever we want to, I guess.”

“I guess the first thing is finding somewhere to stay tonight.”

Dan nods. “That’s… yeah. Yeah, I really don’t want to sleep on the street.”

“We won’t,” Phil says firmly. “Ever. The worst possible case scenario is I call my parents and they send me money to buy plane tickets back to England.”

“Tickets?” Dan asks. “Plural?”

“Dan.” He puts his hand on Dan’s shoulder. “You’re officially not alone anymore, okay? Just accept it. I care about what happens to you, which means I’m not going to let that be anything bad.”

Dan actually does start to cry a little bit, just for a moment. He turns his face away and scrunches it up to stop any tears from falling. He forces in a breath so deep it hurts his chest and swallows the emotion that would overwhelm him if he were to let it.

“Sorry,” Phil murmurs, rubbing Dan’s back gently. “Mushy.”

Dan shakes his head and laughs. “No. No, it’s fine. I… thank you.”

“Hey, that’s gratitude.”

Dan shrugs. “I heard some people like that.”

Phil curls his fingers around Dan’s shoulder pulls Dan over to him. Dan goes easily, pressing his face against Phil’s neck. “Yeah, you may be right about that. Fine, gratitude is back on the table, as long as we understand that it’s mutual, yeah?”

Dan still feels like what he has to offer Phil isn’t nearly on the level of what Phil is offering him, especially not if Phil does have a family that loves him and a life he could go back to.

But he’s not going to argue right now. Instead he lifts his head and kisses Phil on the mouth.

Then he pulls out his phone and does approximately two minutes of googling before he finds a different hostel.

“Oh my god, Phil, look. Look at it.” He holds out his phone for Phil to see. “And look, there’s a crazy deal going on for the next month. I guess October isn’t exactly peak tourist season.”

Phil looks just as amazed as Dan feels. “It looks like a frickin’ art gallery.”

“It looks clean,” Dan says. “I bet the people who go there are a lot nicer than that last place. I mean it’s called Sunflower, for fuck’s sake. Can you picture a homophobe wanting to stay in a place named after a flower?”

“I cannot,” Phil admits. “Should we do it?”

Dan nods. “We should definitely do it.”

-

The front of the building is a burst of red and white stripes.

Inside is an explosion of color, like stepping into a different world. Every wall is a different colour, every room a different theme. There’s a room with a bar. The walls are red and there’s art everywhere. A rainbow flag hangs from the ceiling, which happens to be painted sky blue with white clouds, a sun right in the centre.

“Dragon.” Phil points up and Dan looks and - yep, there is indeed a dragon painted on the ceiling. There are also vines strung up like fairy lights and a solitary sunflower in a vase on the bar.

The common area has washers and dryers and computers and houseplants and murals on each of its four walls depicting a colourful underwater scene, complete with submarine and giant octopus.

“This place is kind of magical,” Phil whispers.

Dan can only nod his agreement. There’s so much to see. Phil had been right earlier, it looks like some kind of art gallery, but like a cool, slightly hipster-y one where everyone who visits is young and and alternative-looking.

“It’s brilliant,” Dan says.

“I almost feel like I don’t belong.”

Dan glances over at Phil and he’s surprised to see nerves clear on Phil’s face. “Why?”

“I dunno, it’s just… This isn’t very me, I guess.” Phil looks up. “It’s more like the me I wish I were in my head.”

“Hey.” Dan elbows him. “Who you are in your head is about as you as it gets. If life hasn’t let you be yourself, then say fuck it and just start now.”

Phil leans over and kisses Dan’s cheek. It’s slightly damp and makes Dan’s stomach flip. “You’re right. I’ll try, at least.”

“Tell me things you like. The kind of things you haven’t gotten to enjoy for… for whatever reason. We’ll do them all.”

“I like… bright colours,” Phil says. “Max preferred tans and beige neutrals.”

“Well, I think we’re in the right place for right.” Dan steps forward to book the rooms. The woman behind the counter speaks English, which he’s grateful for as he says, “We’d like some colour, please. And a place to sleep.”

She laughs. “Yeah, think we can do that.”

She tells them where the rooms are and gives them the rundown of everything the hostel offers.

The one they end up in is yellow, a bright brilliant yellow, with a large tree painted on the far wall between two windows.

Dan walks over to it to check out their view. Not too awful.

“Top or bottom?” Phil asks.

“What?” Dan pivots.

Phil is standing with his hand on the frame of a set of beds. “Bunk. What did you think I meant?”

“Oh, you-” Dan advances like he’s trying to be threatening, but Phil just giggles and scrambles up to the top bunk. “Hey!”

Instead of chasing him, Dan sits on the bottom one. He’s actually exhausted - and hungry. More hungry than exhausted, he realizes. It’s been hours since their multiple course breakfast session.

“What are we eating?” He asks.

“Food!” Phil’s legs appear in Dan’s view, dangling down. “Dan, I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”

“I will endorse many whims right now but I’m not going to ask where the nearest horse restaurant is,” Dan says.

“What about vegan horse?”

“I don’t think that’s a thing.”

“Does it count if the horse is vegan?”

“Okay are you like… actually a fan of horse meat, or…”

“No!” Phil jumps down off the bed. His body is so long that it doesn’t actually take much effort. He sits down beside Dan, then lies back. “This is better. You were too far away. I missed you.”

Dan smiles, though Phil can’t see him. Then he lies back too, shoulder to shoulder with Phil. “Okay, good.”

“I don’t like horses. For food or for anything. They’re weird.”

“Wow. What did horses ever do to you?”

“They had those faces, that’s what they did.”

“You’re horse-ist. I didn’t know that about you.”

“Those long noses!”

“You’re one to talk, mate.”

“Hey!” Phil pushes at Dan. “My nose is distinguished.”

Dan turns his head and then places an off center kiss on Phil’s nose. “Yeah, it is. I like it.”

“I like you,” Phil says, returning the kiss with a peck to the mouth. “And food.”

“Okay, yes. Food.”

-

This time they eat on the cheap. No nice vegan restaurants, just the nearest street food they can find. They eat as they walk, both content to be quiet for a while and observe this strange city they find themselves in.

And the city’s people. Now that it’s not the middle of the night, Dan can see quite clearly that it isn’t just Germans wandering around the cobbled streets. There are people from all walks of life. He reckons he could quite happily plonk himself down on the pavement and just watch them all day long.

There are so many accents and languages and faces everywhere. Usually large crowds of strangers stress Dan out, but here it feels strangely peaceful. Or - safe. He doesn’t stand out here, but he doesn’t blend in either. He is who he is and it feels like that’s allowed here. Like everyone is allowed to be different and maybe even weird and it works.

It feels so different than it had when he’d gotten here. Or maybe it’s just him that feels different. He’s seeing Berlin through new eyes.

It starts to get dark as they walk, but they seem to agree without speaking that they’re not ready to go back yet. Dan’s whole body is aching from all the walking, but it feels good. It’s better than sitting around and getting lost in his own head.

“I kind of wish we’d stolen Max’s booze now,” Dan tells Phil. “I feel like we should be celebrating.”

“Celebrating what?” Phil asks, but he’s smiling.

“Shut up.”

“I did, by the way.”

Dan looks at him. “Did what?”

“I stole the liquor.”

“You did?”

Phil nods. “It’s in my bag back at the Sunflower.”

“Is there enough for us to get pissed?”

Phil laughs. “Why? You think being drunk will make my distinguished nose a little less noticeable?”

“Shut up,” he says again, shoving at Phil’s arm. “I just… I dunno. Wanna relax, I guess. This is the first time in fucking forever I haven’t felt, like, clenched with anxiety.”

“Unclench,” Phil commands in a deep voice.

“Get me drunk and I will.” Dan pauses. “Why did that sound dirty?”

“Because you’re a filthy minded little boy.”

“Ew, don’t call me little boy.” Dan makes a face. “Call me big strong strapping manly man.”

“Is that what you really wanna be?”

“No, not really. What about you? Do you wanna be a manly man?”

“No. I told my parents ages ago to be glad they have two sons. They got at least one that’s good at sport and fixing things and… I dunno, whatever rituals of masculinity actually entail. Bathing with petrol. Drinking raw eggs.”

“That sounds more like a ritual of salmonella than masculinity,” Dan says.

“Maybe getting salmonella is the literal toxic masculinity.”

“Maybe it is. Anyway, tell me more about the things you like.”

“Um. Sweets. Food. Sugar.”

“I’m getting the impression those three things are actually the same to you.”

“... maybe. I do like pizza too, though, and it’s not sweet.”

“Unless it’s barbecue.”

“Oh god.” Phil groans, a sound that Dan immediately decides should be illegal. “The Texas barbecue from Dominos.”

“That’s my favourite,” Dan says. “Shut up, stop reading my mind.”

“Maybe I am. My grandma was psychic.”

Dan starts to say he doesn’t believe in psychics, then he stops. It’s true, and any other moment he wouldn’t mind saying it, but right now he doesn’t actually want to shut down or discourage anything Phil is saying.

“Hey,” Phil says, touching Dan’s arm. “Look, there’s a concert.”

He points to a green space across the street. There’s a stage set up deep into the area, far off but close enough for them to see the bouncing laser lights and hear the music.

“Do you want to go?” Dan asks. “Let’s go.”

“What about the liquor?”

“The night is young, materino. We can listen to a concert and then get pissed if we want.”

“You sound very young right now,” Phil says. “And I am old.”

“You’re twenty-nine, not the crypt keeper.” Dan tugs. “We’re missing it, we’re missing it!”

Phil laughs and lets himself be dragged along.

The music gets louder as they get closer. Dan doesn’t recognize it, but he also doesn’t hate it. He feels boring dressed in black jeans and a black coat, especially compared to some of the outfits he’s seen out today, but he doesn’t really care all that much. Phil is holding his hand.

They’re holding hands and starting to wade through the crowd of people gathered to listen to the music and dance along. No one cares that they’re holding hands. Dan feels invisible in the nicest way possible. He feels free. He laces his fingers between Phil’s and pulls him further into the throng.

Phil was right about one thing: Dan feels young right now. Suddenly his body isn’t aching and none of his troubles really seem to matter that much. He can feel the bass pounding in the soles of his feet and he’s not alone. He’s in a foreign country with very little money and no plan for the future, but he’s got this lovely person who wants to adventure with him.

He spins around to face Phil and sling his arms around Phil’s neck. It’s loud now, loud enough that Phil has to lean in right next to Dan’s ear to speak to him.

“You’re really hot, you know that?”

Dan can feel the dimples deepening in his cheeks.

“No, but I’m glad you think so,” he says, then catches Phil’s earlobe between his teeth.

Phil’s arms settle around Dan, hands meeting at Dan’s lower back. “I hope you don’t think I can dance to this.”

Dan laughs. “You don’t dance?”

“Not unless you want a broken foot.”

“How about sexy swaying?”

“Hmm…” Phil starts to move gently from side to side. “Might be able to manage that.”

He does actually step on Dan’s foot less than five minutes later. Dan admits defeat. “Think we have enough coin to split a beer?”

One won’t do much, but he’s worked up a thirst.

“Think we can manage that,” Phil says, and Dan’s already a little drunk on the smile he’s wearing.

-

They stay at the concert for longer than either of them probably planned. By the time they step foot back in the hostel, it’s creeping into those morning hours that plague Dan so much.

“Why were we in such a shit place before, again?” Dan asks.

“You were there because it was so cheap,” Phil says. “I was there because I’m shit at surviving on my own and it was the first place I found.”

“You didn’t seem shit at it,” Dan says. “When we first met. You seemed like you knew what you were doing.”

“Survival tactic.” Phil shrugs. “That’s one thing my job’s taught me. Act like you know what you’re on about even if you actually don’t.”

“What happens if you just admit you can’t do something?” Dan asks.

He sits on one of the sofas in the common area. There will probably be other people in their sleeping area, and while he’s tired and his legs properly ache, he isn’t ready to not be talking to Phil.

Phil doesn’t complain, just sits down by Dan.

“Then other people start to blame all their mistakes on you,” Phil explains. “Because they know they can and they’ll get away with it.”

“That’s shit.” Dan’s annoyed suddenly at anyone that’s ever taught Phil to go around being afraid and pretending all the time. “If you don’t know something, other people ought to just teach you.”

“Everyone’s too busy worrying about themselves. I get paid a fair enough wage - if I still have the job, that is - and I know there are loads of people who would love to be doing what I’m doing. A dead boring job where you just show up five days a week and don’t massively fuck up and no one really cares much about you the rest of the time. Max always said… he said I was lucky to have found easy money.”

Now Dan’s anger has a new target. Or maybe not new. Just a renewed one. “I bet you’re good at your job.”

“A trained monkey could be good at my job, Dan. That’s why it’s so boring.” Phil makes a face. “I want to be doing something… else.”

“Like what?”

“It’s hard to explain,” Phil says. “Because I guess I don’t really know.”

“Try. Try to explain.”

“Like… imagine colour splashing onto a blank canvas. That’s what I want to do.”

“Okay, that is… yeah. That’s abstract.”

“I just want to shake life into things that look like they’ve forgotten or maybe never even known what life was.”

“That’s not actually any less abstract.”

Instead of being frustrated, Phil just laughs. “I know. I told you, I’m just weird sometimes.”

“It’s alright,” Dan says. A yawn breaks up his sentence. “Splashing colour around sounds very you.”

“I guess I just want to make a difference.”

“Well that I understand.”

“Yeah?”

Dan yawns again, then nods.

“We can go to bed if you’re tired.”

Dan shakes his head. “Not tired. Just…” He shifts his body and lays his head down right on Phil’s lap. “There we go.”

“You’re gonna fall asleep down there, I know it.”

Dan’s eyes are already closed. “Nope, m’not.”

“Whatever you say,” Phil says in a soft voice, and starts stroking the hair behind his ear.

It feels so nice that Dan can’t hold back his contented sigh. “What were we talking about?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

Dan laughs. “You’re cute.”

“You are.”

He’s quiet for a while after that, just lying there and enjoying that way it feels to have Phil’s fingers in his hair. It makes him feel heavy and warm and safe.

“Doesn’t it feel like we’ve known each other a lot longer than twenty four hours?”

“Yeah,” Phil says, stroking Dan’s temple with his thumb. “It does.”

“Like it was just this afternoon you crawled into my bed with your big willy on show.”

Phil snorts. “God. That was stupid.”

“No it wasn’t. It was sexy as fuck.”

“I don’t know what came over me. I never do stuff like that.”

“You wanted the D.”

“Shut up.”

“D for Dan.”

Phil swats his arm.

“I mean, you clearly did. You trimmed for me. That’s effort.”

Phil is quiet for too long. The silence is laced with something that hadn’t been there before. Dan opens his eyes and looks up at him. “What’s wrong?”

“I just… I shouldn’t have done that to you.”

“Phil, I liked it.”

Phil shakes his head. “I was being stupid and reckless. It just felt so nice to have someone look at me like I mattered, or like… like they wanted me. I didn’t even remember what that felt like.”

Dan frowns. “There’s no way that’s true.”

“It is. Max made me feel like an afterthought.”

“Mate. No offense, but… why the fuck did you even give him a day of your time?”

“Because it was easy,” Phil says. “Life wasn’t fun, but I didn’t have to try with anything. And after I failed at doing anything after uni with my degree I just… wanted a win.”

“Oh.” Dan reaches out and curls his fingers around Phil’s leg. “I get that, I guess. If I had a way to get an easy win, I would.”

“Would you, though?” Phil asks. “You don’t seem like the sort of person who wants to take the easy way out of anything if it doesn’t feel right to you.”

“I ran away.”

“I think running away is brave sometimes. I should have run away a lot sooner.” Phil’s hands are still soothing, massaging the tension away until it feels like it’s leaking out of Dan’s ears.

“I think…” He yawns again. “I think words are hard.”

“I think you’re cute.”

“You already said that.”

“It’s still true.”

Dan groans and buries his face against Phil’s lap. “Shut up.”

“No.”

“I’ll show you my willy next time,” Dan says, rolling over a bit. “To make it even.”

“What?” Phil squeaks.

“Unless you don’t want to see it…”

“Shut up.” Phil scowls. “You know I do.”

“We’re gonna make our own mutual willy appreciation society.” Dan closes his eyes again. “Tomorrow. Too lazy to groom again now.”

“I don’t actually care either way,” Phil says. “Doesn’t make a difference to me.”

“I like how it looks. But I wouldn’t like, expect you to, I was just taking the piss with the rating thing. Trust me, there’s little you can do with your junk that I wouldn’t be on board with.”

“What if I got it pierced?”

“You wouldn’t,” Dan says.

“Maybe I would.”

“You’re not the prince albert type.”

“You don’t know that!” Phil insists.

“Phil. You’re not going to let someone stick a needle in your dick.”

Phil winces.

Dan grins. “Knew it.”

“Does that disappoint you?”

“No, idiot. I don’t know why anyone would do that.”

“I wanted to get my lip pierced when I was like twenty or something,” Phil says.

“Me too. Snake bites. Mum wouldn’t let me.”

“Mine would’ve hated it so much.”

“I almost got my tongue pierced one night.” Dan shakes his head at himself. “I read online that it makes blowjobs feel better. Like for the person receiving.”

Phil looks down at him with a concerned expression. “How old were you?”

“Um. A teenager. Let’s leave it at that.”

“You were giving blowjobs as a teenager?”

“No, but I was thinking about it a lot.”

Phil chews on his lip. “I don’t know why, but that makes me kind of sad.”

“Everything about my teenage experience makes me sad,” Dan says. “Let’s not even talk about it.”

“When did you go from thinking to doing?” Phil asks.

“Seventeen. As soon as I was done with college I kind of went nuts with the gay shit.”

Phil smiles, but it still looks sad.

“When did you?” Dan asks him.

Phil laughs ruefully. “I didn’t even have my first proper kiss with someone I wanted to kiss - that wanted to be kissing me - until university.”

“Wait, first proper kiss? So before that you just had... improper kisses?”

“Girls,” Phil says. “When I’d go through phases of trying to tell myself I wanted a girlfriend. And some of my friends who were straight guys, during spin the bottle. But only because they thought I was straight too.”

“If you were anything like me, you really did want a girlfriend.” Dan thinks of one girl, with soft brown hair and sad eyes. “You just didn’t want her for the right reasons.”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “Maybe it was more that. I just wanted what I saw everyone else around me having. I wanted to feel normal.”

“I wanted to feel whole,” Dan says. “I wanted to feel unafraid.”

“You don’t feel afraid right now, do you?” Phil’s fingers still. It sounds like an important question.

Dan doesn’t hesitate. “No. Do you still feel like you’re not normal?”

“Only in the ways I want to be,” Phil says. “Normal just feels like being trapped sometimes. I learned that with Max.”

“Can we rename him?” Dan asks.

“Um… to what?”

“Cuntface McGee.”

Phil laughs, probably too loud for the late hour and how many people are asleep in the building.

Making Phil laugh makes Dan feel good, a slow surge of warmth like syrup through his bones.

“He’s German,” Phil reminds him.

“Cuntface McSchneider.”

“I wonder what the German word for cunt is?” Phil wonders.

“We’ll have to ask someone tomorrow. Find the oldest grandma on the street and just tap her on the shoulder.”

“You can do that,” Phil says. “I’m not being assaulted by a German nana just for a vocabulary lesson.”

“Adventure, Phil. We’re supposed to be having adventures.”

“I’m too pretty for those adventures to involve someone breaking my face.”

“What exactly do you think German grandmas carry on them? Bricks in their bag? Steel knuckles?”

“Maybe!” Phil says. “You never know.”

“I’ll protect you,” Dan promises.

“You’re bluffing anyway,” Phil says. “You aren’t going to walk up to a stranger on the street and say anything to them. You didn’t even want me talking to the people in the cafe earlier.”

“I could if I wanted to,” Dan says. “I just don’t want to.”

“Well, I couldn’t, normally. I get anxious even talking to the shop clerks usually. Being around you just makes me feel like I can do anything if it’s in the name of making you smile.”

“Fuck off,” Dan says, but he’s smiling big and not trying to hide it at all. “How can you be as sexy as you were this morning and then as sappy as you are now? How is that the same person?”

“People aren’t just one thing, Dan. Besides, I’m always sexy.”

“Right, sorry.” He yawns again and groans as he stretches out all four of his limbs.

“You’re tired,” Phil says. “We should sleep.”

“But sleeping involves getting up. And not being touched by you anymore.”

“And also sleeping. You won’t even notice the lack of touching.”

Dan waves his hand dismissively with a floppy wrist. “Stop trying to get rid of me.”

“Hmm. D’you reckon we’d both fit on the bottom bunk?”

Dan cracks one eye open to give Phil a smirk. “Both bottoms, eh?”

“I hate you so much.”

“We could make it work. I’m sure Berlin has plenty of weird sex shops where we could pick up a variety of dildos and such. Or are you more the bead type?”

He expects Phil to squawk, but he keeps his face neutral and asks, “Who says I don’t already have that stuff in my bag?”

Dan raises his eyebrows.

“Are you the bead type?” Phil asks.

Dan bites back his laugh. He can play the forced casual game better than anyone. “I enjoy a good string of beads every once in a while, but it’s not my top choice.”

“What’s you top choice, then?”

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

“Wait, for real?” All traces of teasing are dropped from Phil’s voice immediately. “Or are you taking the piss again. Because now I’m actually super curious.”

“I’m not actually strictly a bottom, Phil.”

Phil waves his hand. “I know, I know, I’m not either.”

“You wanna know what my preferred type of sex toy is?”

“Shh,” Phil says, looking around even though they clearly have the place to themselves. “But yes.”

Dan smirks. “You go first.”

“I don’t… I mean…” Phil is flustered and it just makes him even cuter. “I don’t know!”

“Yeah, you do,” Dan says. “Come on.”

“Does it count if I didn’t actually use them for sex?” Phil asks. “Because I like glass dildos but I don’t want them up my bum.”

“What? Did you just like… collect them or something?”

“Maybe!” Phil says. “It’s actually a cool collection, alright. There are some really neat ones.”

“You just described glass dildos as neat.” Dan laughs and laughs until there are tears in his eyes. Maybe it’s funnier than it should be just because of how tired he is, but he doesn’t give a fuck. It’s hilarious.

Phil is still trying to argue his point. “I’ll show you pictures later, you’ll see! Anyway, what about yours?”

“Okay first of all that was a cop out and we both know it,” Dan says. “But my favorite thing I’ve ever used was my aneros.”

“Oh, those…” Phil makes a hand gesture that Dan assumes is meant to indicate the general shape of it, though it doesn’t really at all.

“Yeah. It’ll give you a prostate orgasm that’ll end your fucking life. What, why are you looking at me like that?”

“Shh,” Phil says. “Picturing it.”

“Picturing you, or…”

“Nope. You.”

Dan stretches out again, this time enjoying pleasant memories of the last time he had the privacy, the motivation, and the toys on hand to properly enjoy himself like that.

“Maybe we really should find one of those shops…” Dan teases. “We have nothing but time.”

“You’re right.” Phil leans over and kisses Dan on the forehead. “Nothing but time.”

“I was trying to be horny and you’re being sappy again,” Dan warns.

Phil laughs. “I know. Come on. To bed with us, to bed with us.”

“How is it that without having ever met the woman, I know you sound just like Kath when you say that?”

“Because we’re us,” Phil says.

It doesn’t make all that much sense, but then again it is very late and Dan is very tired. He lets Phil pull him up and they walk to the yellow room hand in hand. This hostel feels about a thousand worlds away from the last one they stayed in, and even though Dan’s never been out a day in his life back home, it feels right here.

What a difference a day can make. A day and a Phil.

They get their toothbrushes and bring them to the bathroom where they brush their teeth at the same time. Phil gives Dan a foamy smile and Dan dribbles mint down his chin and that makes Phil spit because he’s laughing and Dan feels more drunk and giddy than he would have after a night out. They say sleep deprivation is basically equivalent to being intoxicated, and now Dan can see why.

When they get back to the room he strips down to his pants without shame and crawls into the bottom bunk to watch Phil get undressed, but Phil’s too quick. He’s already pulling on a pair of plaid pj bottoms.

“There is an egregious lack of penis on show right now,” Dan says, his voice gone deeper with exhaustion.

“You don’t get any more looks until I’ve had one.”

Dan leans into the feeling of being drunk and uninhibited and pulls down on the waistband of his underwear until he can feel the open air on his cock.

Then he lets it snap back up. “Your turn.”

“That was…”

“You can be honest.”

“I was gonna say too short.”

Dan’s mouth drops open. “Rude!”

“What? Oh— No! Not your—” He hides his face in his hands for a second before dropping them. His cheeks are flaming. “I meant the look was too short.”

“Phil, I know. I’m taking the piss. Also you need to shut up, there are other people here.”

Phil scrunches up his face and then promptly jumps right on top of Dan. The bed makes a noise that’s way too loud for the circumstances and Dan shuts his eyes, ready for someone to wake up and shout at them to shut the fuck up.

Miraculously it doesn’t happen, and now Phil is on top of him, so really it’s a win-win. “Hello,” he says, looking up into Phil’s embarrassed face.

“You’re evil.”

“I showed you my peen. Now where’s yours?”

“That doesn’t count,” Phil says. “That was like, a twenty third of a millisecond.”

“It doesn’t look impressive right now.”

“I beg to differ.” He pauses, then says, “Seriously. I’m begging. Lemme see it again.”

“Well, you’re kind of on top of me right now, so…”

“These bloody beds are too bloody small.”

“Maybe we're too big,” Dan says. “Don’t size shame the beds.”

“I’ll size shame your mum.”

“I’ll tell her you said that,” Dan says. “No, I won’t.”

He’d have to talk to her first.

Phil’s hand wiggles between their bodies. “I like you wearing this.”

“Just my pants?”

“Exactly.”

“Well I don’t like you wearing more than just your pants.”

Across the room, someone starts to snore.

Dan turns his head a little into the pillow. He whispers even lower when he speaks this time. “You’re gonna get us in trouble.”

“What! That guy is clearly very much asleep.”

“We don’t even know how many more people are in here.”

“Can’t be that many, there are only five beds and we’ve got two of them.”

“Though strangely we only seem to be occupying one…”

“Are you complaining?” Phil kisses Dan’s jaw.

“No.”

“Are you going to show me your willy?”

Dan snorts as quietly as he can. “I told you. I already did. It’s my turn.”

“I should have just joined you in the shower earlier,” Phil says. “I wanted to. Thought about you in there naked and wet the whole time you were getting clean.”

Dan feels a tremor of genuine want rush through him. “Fuck. Don’t say that.”

“Thought about what I’d do to you if I did,” Phil continues. “Kissing you. Touching you.”

Dan knows he had his reasons for not wanting anything to happen between them in that hotel suite, but they’re awfully hard to remember right now with Phil’s voice low and deep and filthy in his ear.

“If I weren’t literally about to pass out, you’d be in trouble right now,” Dan says. He slides a hand down Phil’s back to grope his ass.

Phil laughs and presses his face into Dan’s shoulder. “Fine.”

He starts to roll off Dan, but at the last second Dan grabs him and pulls him back for a kiss that goes and goes and goes. They’re both breathing harder when they break apart. “You don’t feel like an afterthought, do you?”

He can’t see it but he can hear Phil swallowing. “No.” He sounds breathless when he talks. “Not at all.”

“Stay here with me tonight.” He’s holding Phil tight, like he’ll fall apart if he lets go.

“People will see. In the morning.”

“I think I don’t care,” Dan says.

Phil dips his head down to press his face to Dan’s neck. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Stay.”

“Okay,” he whispers. He shifts to the side so he’s not fully on top of Dan anymore, but there’s no way for them to share this bed without a significant amount of overlap.

But that’s kind of the whole point. They fumble around to get under the covers and their bare chests press together and Dan really wants to touch himself. Or touch Phil. Or be touched by Phil.

Basically he’s very turned on and Phil smells good and he feels good and he is good and he’s right there. He’s right here.

“I feel like we should get a discount for using only one bed,” Phil says, interrupting Dan from his spiraling thoughts of desire.

“Agreed.”

Phil nuzzles Dan’s chest. He actually nuzzles, like a little puppy or something.

“Can I say something?” Dan asks.

“I reckon so,” Phil answers. “Your voice seems to be working fine.”

Dan ignores the sass. “Max is the biggest idiot on the fucking planet.”

Phil breathes out a little puff of air like silent laughter. “Or maybe I am for wasting so much time with him.”

“No more wasting time,” Dan promises.

Phil kisses his jaw. “Not for either of us.”

He falls asleep shortly after that. Dan stays up for a good long time, thinking about those words.

He’s wasted a lot of time in his life. He’s wasted time being scared, sometimes when it was warranted and sometimes when it wasn’t. He’s wasted time isolating himself, refusing to believe anyone could care and so brutally shoving away anyone who might have wanted to try. He’s wasted time being someone he’s not, telling himself he was straight, telling himself he wanted to be a lawyer, then later telling himself he was worthless and useless and bound to be nothing but a failure. Telling himself he wasn’t even worth the air he breathed to keep himself alive.

Maybe some of those things still feel true sometimes, but Phil is asleep and breathing evenly against him, and all those points of contact feel like an anchor keeping him from sinking too low.