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winter winds

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Dan glances out the window and sighs at the sight of a bundled up figure standing in the cold.

This happens at least one a week: the man that runs the pharmacy across the street forgets to open on time. Frankly, he's looks like he should have retired in the earthly sense at least a decade ago but if a desiccated corpse can continue to partake in capitalism, far be it from Dan to criticize him.

Except when this happens. Some poor fool shows up at the time Aldis has written on the door sign and finds himself left out in the cold.

Dan opens the door to his own shop and calls out, "Come in here to wait."

The man's head shoots up. Between the hat and the scarf and the jacket pulled up high, Dan can't see much of his face. He does somehow still give a general air of having been very startled.

Dan doesn't hold the door open for him, just turns. If the man wants reprieve he'll take it, and if not then it's not Dan's problem.

The door opens again just as Dan makes his way behind the counter. He stands in the entry way and shakes the snow off of himself. Dan tries not to be annoyed. He knows there's really nowhere else for it to go, but it does mean in five minutes he'll have to mop the floor dry again.

"Oh my gosh," the man says, unwinding his scarf from in front of him. "I thought I was going to actually freeze out there. I swear I checked the hours online and it said it opened at nine."

"I'm sure it does," Dan says. "But Aldis is half deaf and never hears his alarm. Do you want a drink?"

The man looks around like he's just now realizing where he actually oh. "Oh," he says, a soft intake a breath. "I didn't even know this was here."

Dan shrugs. "A lot of people don't."

He looks around too, imagining how the store looks to fresh eyes. It's neither new nor particularly impressive. The walls are white painted brick and there are are a scattering of tables with mismatched chairs. Everywhere that there's space for one sits a bookshelf crammed with secondhand books. There's a big sign along one wall that lists prices, and the take one-leave one policy for anyone that doesn't have money or desire to pay.

The stranger, whose nose is still pink and whose eyes are very blue, is staring at the drinks menu. "I'll take a caramel latte, please- no, wait - you've got seasonal drinks! Chestnut and praline, please. And - ooh, are those muffins?"

"Fresh and local," Dan says. "Everything here is. We have apple cider, black raspberry streusel, cranberry orange, and red velvet chocolate chip."

"Oh god. I want one of each."

"Seriously?" Dan asks.

"Yes. No. I mean - no. I shouldn't... no, mum would kill me. I'll just have the red velvet chocolate chip, thanks."

Dan smirks a tiny bit. "Your mum limits your muffin intake?"

"On days when I'm supposed to have lunch with half of my family she does." He walks up to the counter. "Do you own this place?"

"It owns me," Dan says. He turns to start making the drink. "Yeah, I do."

"Wow. You're my age and you own your own business."

Dan shrugs. "Have the right family member die an untimely death and leave you a used storefront and you too can become a business owner by thirty."

"Oh, I guess not, actually. I'm already older than that."

Dan doesn't know how to reply to that, so he doesn't say anything. When he turns to add the pumps of flavor to the drink, the man is flipping through one of the books artfully stacked by the counter. "Are you a fan of Hogarth?"

The man looks up, confused. "What?"

"The book you're looking at," Dan says, stirring the drink. "It's the complete engravings of Hogarth. Do you want any milk?"

"Oat, if you have it, please," the man says. "And no. I don't know anything about art, really. Except that it's fun to go to museum exhibits and make fun of the pretentious people."

"Wow," Dan says. "Judgmental much?"

The man looks up, suddenly stricken. "Oh shit - I didn't mean it like - you must like art, of course, you have this book, I wasn't trying to insult you - please don't spit in my drink or anything-"

"Mate," Dan says, laughing. "Calm down. I wouldn't spit in your drink. That's unsanitary as fuck. And I like making fun of pretentious people too. Including myself, sometimes. Here, that'll be three pound fifty for the coffee and two for the muffin."

"Sure," the man says, still vibrating with tension. He opens his wallet and a few crumpled receipts come out, along with a card not even slotted into the holder. He hands it to Dan, who just nods down at the ipad display set up. "Oh, right."

"Thanks." Dan looks down at the readout on his end. "Phil."

Phil's head jerks up. "How did you know my name?"

"I'm psychic," Dan says. He pulls the muffin out of the case with a pair of tongs. "Want it warmed up?"

"Yes, thank you," Phil says. "My grandma was psychic."

"Uh," Dan says. "Congrats to her."

Phil gives him a slightly apologetic smile, even though Dan is fully aware that he's the person who has a tendency toward sarcasm and a lack of filter. "Have a seat, I'll bring it to you."

Dan watches while pretending not to watch as he takes a seat by the window. There's a bookcase directly beside him, and Phil almost immediately twists in his chair and starts to look through the titles. "Oh, I love this one!"

"Which one is it?" Dan asks. "I can't see the title from here."

"It's a Clive Barker one," Phil says. "Sacrament. Have you read it?"

"Clive Barker? Fuck no. I mean, I could, but I'd have to sleep with the light on for like a year."

"Aw," Phil says, laughing. It's a nice sound. A nice sound, from a nice face.

But Dan isn't noticing that because Dan doesn't hit on customers. Not after the last time he slept with one and then the guy kept coming back every other day like he was subtly trying to gauge Dan's finger for a ring size.

The toaster oven dings and Dan pulls the nicely warmed muffin out.

"Did you know it was his first time writing a gay protagonist in one of his books?" Phil asks.

He doesn't sound like he's trying to lead anywhere with that, but Dan still feels caught out, like Phil somehow incepted his mind and knew Dan was just thinking that he was attractive. "Did not know that," Dan says. "Good, though. I like knowing random trivia for the books in here. Makes me seem more legit."

"Are you not?" Phil asks. "Legit?"

"There is not an ounce of legitimacy within me," Dan says. "Including my birth status. Dad did not put a ring on it until I was like six. Probably would have been better for us all if he hadn't even then, actually."

"Well, you could have fooled me," Phil says, only fumbling slightly over the frankness of Dan's oversharing. "I like the music you're playing."

"What, generic piped in jazz? The basic bitch of Christmas tunes?" Dan asks.

Phil laughs. "Are you judging me for liking the music you're playing?"

Dan leans forward against the counter. "I mean, yeah. I only put this on when I can't be bothered with piping my vinyl collection through the speakers."

"You have a vinyl collection?" Phil asks. "Aren't you too young to even know what vinyl is?"

"Mate," Dan says. "Retro is in. Hold on, let me just-"

He disappears into the back room, quickly plugging in a few cables and setting the needle on his current favorite.

The music is starting just as he walks back in.

Phil tilts his head and listens. "That's so familiar," he says. "What is it?"

"A Charlie Brown Christmas," Dan says. "The Vince Guaraldi Trio album version."

Phil smiles and yeah, it's a very nice smile, actually. "I love it. What else is in your rotation?"

"The basics. Can't get too out there or people complain. Sinatra, Bing Crosby. Mariah."

"Mariah's on vinyl? Is she that old?"

"Mariah is eternal," Dan says. "But I got this one at W.H. Smith last year. Vinyl's totally a mass production thing now. Pour one out for the hipsters."

"You seem a bit hipster," Phil says.

"Gay, hipster, and pretentious," Dan says. "The holy trinity."

Phil gives him a look like Dan didn't at all get away with just casually sliding his sexuality into the conversation.

But that's alright, because Phil did the same not five minutes ago. This is the true homosexual agenda; tiptoeing around each other until they're fairly sure it's an accurate clock and then tentatively making first contact.

"So how long does Albert usually sleep?" Phil asks.

"Aldis," Dan says. "And it could be a while. If you're really in a hurry for something I can ring his daughter. She runs it for him sometimes when he's not feeling up to it, given that he's like a hundred and eighty seven years old."

"Wow," Phil says. "That's older than Edward Cullen."

"Oh god, are you a Twilight fan?"

"No," Phil says, slightly defensively. "The films have nice abs though. I'll watch anything for a good set of abs."

"Wow, floozy."

"Floozy, basic bitch, and gay," Phil says. "The other holy trinity."

Dan laughs. "Touche."

Phil smiles down at his phone, then types out a message. "I can wait a few more minutes. My dad needed some prescriptions and I just wanted to get out of the house for a while. I love my family, but sometimes the house just feels too small for all of those Lesters."

"Lesters?" Dan asks. "Oh god, you're that Phil."

"What?" Phil asks, frowning. "What do you mean, 'that Phil'?"

"Your mum is Kathryn Lester." Dan cackles. "You know she's been trying to give me your number for like a year now. She mentions how painfully single and lonely her son is every time she comes in."

"Oh god." Phil buries his face in his hands. "I'm going to kill her."

"She makes a good case for you," Dan says. He starts to tick of facts he's gleaned about Phil over the past months of Kathryn coming in every week or so for her favorite blend of tea. "You make good money. Live alone in London. You have a dog, but not the Corgi you always said you wanted because a stray followed you home one day and licked your hand and you hid it in your apartment for three months carrying it down for walks under your jacket before you finally asked your landlord if you could just pay a pet fee."

Phil groans progressively louder as Dan speaks, and Dan's voice gets progressively more delighted. "I literally going to kill her."

"Don't," Dan says, warmth flushing through him. "She was right. You are cute."

Phil turns his head to the side, hands still covering one eye while the other peeks out at Dan. "What?"

"I said," Dan repeats, enunciating carefully. "That she's right. You are cute."

Phil turns his face back into his hands, sounding more pleased this time when he says, "Oh."

"Did you really name your dog after a character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" Dan asks.

"Yes," Phil says. "Clem. I don't know exactly what he is, but the vet thinks he must have some beagle in him because his ears are big and floppy. I've been thinking of doing one of those dog DNA tests to tell me."

Across the street, he can see Aldis flipping the sign over, only half an hour after he should have opened. Instead of telling Phil, he asks, "Did you bring him home with you?"

"Of course," Phil says. "He goes everywhere with me that he's allowed. He loves people a lot. I just didn't bring him out today because it was so cold and I really only thought I'd be gone for a few minutes."

"Shame," Dan says. "I'd love to meet him."

It's a fairly heavy handed hint. If Phil declines to pick up what Dan's leaving on the table between them, that's fine. There won't be any wounds to lick. But Phil is cute and his mum is lovely and London isn't that far away and what was that Dan said about not sleeping with customers? It's already a distantly forgotten memory, especially now that Phil's toasty and warm enough to have come out of the hat and his coat. He has just the build Dan likes in a man, long and slim with hair that Phil keeps pushing back off of his forehead like he's nervous.

That's cute, too. Overconfidence is intimidating. Nerves make Dan feel like the playing field is level.

"Why don't I bring him by tomorrow?" Phil asks. "If you allow dogs in."

"Dunno," Dan says. "I'll have to check with the owner. He's a real hard ass."

"Clem can win him over," Phil says confidently. "But if you don't think the owner would allow it... you could just stop by tonight and meet him?"

"Are you inviting me over?" Dan asks.

"To my parents home where there will be at least a dozen other people," Phil clarifies. "If you think you can handle that."

"I think I absolutely cannot," Dan says. "So you better just bring him by tomorrow. Your mum is fine but my stranger game is weak."

"And you run a place like this?" Phil looks around.

"I am my own worst enemy," Dan says. "Clearly."

"Anyway, that's fine," Phil says. "I like the excuse to leave again."

"Maybe late afternoon, early evening? I've been closing around six," Dan says. "We could get dinner."

Boom. It's out there. Now Dan can do nothing but wait.

"One condition," Phil says.

"Okay?"

"You cannot tell my mum," Phil says. "Seriously. Swear it. I'll never hear the end of it."

"Don't worry, mate. I'm a firm believer in the division between social life and parental units. I don't think I've voluntarily shared anything with my own in at least a decade and a half," Dan says. Phil gives him a look like he's slightly evaluating how many issues Dan might have, so Dan decides now is the appropriate time to tack on, "Oh look, pharmacy just opened."

"Oh!" Phil pops the last bit of his muffin into his mouth. He's left an entire table of crumbs somehow, and Dan must think he's cute because he's not even annoyed that he'll have to clean that up once Phil has gone. "These are amazing, by the way."

"Thanks," Dan says. "They're home made."

"You made them?" Phil asks.

"No, but I bought them from someone that did," Dan says. "I take home what doesn't sell so there's some extra incentive to come back tomorrow evening. As many muffins as you want."

Phil moans. It's not a sound Dan expected to hear before the first date, but he's not disappointed by the preview of what he hopes is to come. (Heh. Come.) "I already said yes, but I'm holding you to that."

Dan watches as Phil gathers his stuff up. "I'd ask you to leave your number but I'm pretty sure your mum will give it to me even if you don't."

"Remember," Phil says, pointing a finger at Dan. "You can't tell her."

But after that he plucks a Sharpie from the small cup of pens and markers Dan keeps by the counter, and grabs Dan's hand. Dan's stomach does a warm little flip at the way Phil holds it in place as he writes the digits on it. A bitch is touch deprived, alright, Dan thinks defensively at no one but the judgement that exists in his own mind.

"I could have just given you my phone so you could put your number in," Dan says, because the smart-arse is deep within him. "Instead of you defacing my flesh."

"Maybe I like defacing your flesh," Phil says, and winks.

Dan thinks, at least. If it was a wink, it was a bad one.

"I'll keep that in mind," Dan says, and then Phil lets go of his hand.

Phil wraps his scarf back around his face and tugs his hat back down over his ears, then opens the door and dodges back out into the snow and across the street.

Dan definitely only a little bit checks out his ass as he goes.

But it's a nice one, and he has a date with it tomorrow. Merry Christmas to him, indeed.