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call me but love

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2009

Dan sees Phil before Phil notices him.

It’s easy to pick him out, tall as he is, pitch black hair thrown askew by the wind. It’s not his natural hair colour; Phil had told him this during one of their five hour Skype sessions. Phil has told him a lot of things. Dan thinks the colour suits him.

Dan is glad he spots Phil first because that means he gets to see the exact moment Phil first lays eyes on him. He gets to see Phil’s eyes widen, his face split open as he smiles. Dan doesn’t know how he does that. It shouldn’t be possible for someone to smile that much. It shouldn’t be possible for someone to smile that much at Dan .

Dan has no clue what he looks like right now. He has no control over his face. He’s sure his dimples have sunk into craters. He’s probably showing all his teeth, even the crooked ones. Phil’s teeth are a little crooked too but in a way that is endearing, in a way that Dan wants to study up close. Dan has spent a lot of time thinking about Phil’s mouth.

Phil looks exactly how Dan expected. There was no part of Dan that was nervous about this; he’s seen enough of him on Skype and on Dailybooth and on Youtube to know that Phil wasn’t lying. But even if he had somehow been able to fake the shade of his eyes or the set of his shoulders or the shape of his lips, Dan would’ve hardly cared. He loves him already. He’s already admitted it to himself, even though he can’t tell Phil yet. It scares him a little, just how deeply he’s fallen so quickly. He loves listening to him talk about everything and nothing. He loves the way his voice rumbles when he is tired but doesn’t want to stop talking. He loves how kind he is and how understanding, the way he holds all the delicate parts of Dan with care.

Dan still isn’t used to someone caring.

(It scares him a lot, actually.)

Dan weaves through the crowd until Phil is right in front of him. Amazing Phil. THE Phil Lester. If Dan was a school girl he would write his name on the margins of all his notebooks, surround it with hearts. He kind of wants to do that anyway. He wants to paint it on his skin, writing one letter between each of his ribs. The name has already invaded his every thought, looping over and over like a broken record. Phil is a deep scratch in the vinyl and Dan keeps getting caught.

Phil pulls Dan into a hug and it is perfect. They are about the same height, so Dan’s chin fits perfectly on Phil’s shoulder. Dan shifts his bag to the side so he can move in closer. Phil smells just exactly like Dan though he would - warm. Dan wraps his arms further around Phil, squeezes him a little too much. He might seem too eager, but Phil is holding him just as tightly.

Dan hopes Phil feels the same thing he is feeling. He hopes it works out because if it doesn’t, Dan is never going to recover from this. He will be left empty and wanting forever.

Eventually, they have to let go. There are people around and places for them to go. Dan takes a step back and gets a proper look at him - his skin looks so much softer in person, the curve in his nose even more intriguing.

Phil is looking at him, too. Dan feels a little self-conscious, until Phil spreads his face into that grin again.

“Hi,” Phil says to him.

“Hi,” Dan says back.  



2021

“What should we do about last names, do you think?”

Phil is laid out on the sofa, chin pushing into his chest, fully encased in the crease between the cushions. They told themselves they were going to sit on this one like proper humans but broke this promise immediately.

Dan doesn’t know why Phil is asking right now. Their plans are real and concrete but still a ways off in the distance. If Dan squints he can just make out the shape of them. They don’t need to decide this today. But, on the other hand, this episode of Real Housewives is pretty boring. 

“Well, you can’t change your name,” Dan says without really thinking about it. 

Phil cocks his head to the side. “Why?” he asks. “I would, you know.”

Dan pauses for a moment, examining why he said that. It's not really because of Phil's career. Not that Dan doesn’t care about that - he does - but Phil is too funny and too talented to be derailed by a name change.

Phil can’t change his name because Dan loves saying it. He loves shouting it, shaking Phil’s shoulder, when Phil does something great. He loves muttering it under his breath when he is angry. He loves hissing it between his teeth. He loves the way it sits in his mouth and fills up his entire brain. How familiar it feels, like each syllable is an old friend. Dan used to repeat this name to himself before he even met Phil in person, whispering it in his mind like a prayer. Phil can’t change it.

“You can’t change it,” Dan tells him, “because how am I supposed to yell at you if I can't call you ‘Philip Michael Lester’.”

“You could just never yell at me.”

“As if,” Dan scoffs but he is smiling. Phil is too. The sight of him does something to Dan's chest. Sometimes Dan thinks about forever and how long it is and how Dan will have Phil for all of it. How he’s had him for over ten years and it’s not enough. 

Dan will soak up all the rest of Phil's days, hoard them to himself like he is the greediest man, and Phil will let him. They don’t need names or symbolic gestures. They’ve felt the same way all this time. Someday they will stand in front of all their friends and families and say so.

“Well, you can’t change your name either.”

“Really?” Dan asks. He's had this name his whole life but he has no real attachment to it. Not like the attachment he feels to Phil. He would endure a second rebrand for Phil. Or he would keep a second, secret name for Phil, something only the two of them know.

“Really,” Phil confirms. “No name changes, Daniel James Howell.”

“Are you sure? Because I would, too, you know.”

“I know.”

Dan turns his head back to the television. The Real Housewives are still boring today, but Dan doesn’t mind it. Everything seems better when Dan can steal looks at Phil and catch the smile still on his lips.