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Dan thinks he’ll remember it forever, the way it felt when he accepted who he was. The way the world cleared, got brighter and sharper and infinitely better. The way he felt real for the first time in his life. The way he understood, suddenly, an inherent part of himself that he hadn't understood before.

Stark terror had been quick to follow, but first there had been at least thirteen minutes of pure elation and euphoria as he read more and more and more about being… himself. About being transgender. About how it wasn't just him alone in the world feeling this stunning immense thing.

He's trying to think about that triumphant feeling now. He's staring at his reflection and trying to convince himself that that feeling is worth it, because if he can convince himself of that then he can convince himself to tell his mum.

It's the same as last time, Dan reasons with himself as he adjusts his hair again and again and again. It's the same as every other time he's done this - grit your teeth, ignore the shaking of your hands and your pulse, take a deep breath, stammer the truth. Stand firm against the rushing in your ears and the panic fluttering through your chest when your words fall from your mouth to the floor.

It's the scariest thing that Dan has ever had to do, and that doesn't make sense, because he's come out before. He knows how to do this, so he shouldn't be so afraid.

He'd been fourteen when he realised what that pull he felt toward boys and girls alike meant. Wikipedia gave him a bare-bones understanding of it (bisexuality: romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior toward both males and females, or romantic or sexual attraction to people of any sex or gender identity - it seemed right, or at least better than anything else he'd found at the time) and that was all he needed. He didn't talk about it to anybody at first, just quietly accepted it and moved on. And then he started dating Elise and everyone sort of got the idea. He’d had to have the same conversations over and over again, he’d explained bisexuality more times than he could count, but slowly his friends got a bit less stupid.

He anticipates it’ll be quite a lot different this time around.

“Yaz, love, your grandma’s on the phone, she wants to know if you're going over for tea on Saturday,” his mum calls through his bedroom door. Dan pushes his hand through his fringe once more, tugs at the hem of his shirt, then gives an involuntary full-body shudder.

“Yeah, Mum,” he says dully. His brain is tripping over the sound of his old name, the z buzzing like a mosquito inside his skull. He unlocks his phone and opens up twitter, scrolls through it nervously. A load of his friends went to a gig last night and they're all uploading their pictures now, dozens of images of them all beaming and covered in glow sticks and neon paint. Dan hadn't particularly wanted to go, which had pissed Elise off, but everything’s been doing that lately so he's trying not to think about it.

God. He has to tell her, too. He has to tell everybody. Every time he remembers that this is forever, that this is a process he’ll have to repeat over and over again for the rest of his life, he feels like he's dying a little bit.

“I’ll send her and Adrian to yours around half noon then,” Dan’s mum is saying cheerfully, still just outside Dan's door. Dan squirms nervously and closes his twitter app, then opens it again. “Yeah, that's fine. Okay, cheers, Mum. Yes, I know. Mmhm. Right, see you then, have a good day.”

She goes quiet, and a few seconds later she taps on Dan’s door.

“You wanted to talk?” she asks, peering her head inside the room. Dan stares at her for a few seconds, his heart slamming against his ribcage. His hands are sweating and his breath keeps catching in the ragged rawness of his throat.

“I -” he starts, teeters on the edge of saying yes before he shakes his head. He can't yet. He’s not ready. Imagining her knowing, thinking about it, talking about it, makes Dan feel like he’s in freefall. “Just about Saturday, with Nana, but I heard you telling her. Half noon, right? That's all.” He's talking too fast, he knows it, his words stumbling nervously across each other, his hands flickering through the air in shaky gesticulations. His mum raises her eyebrows at him.

“Well, alright,” she says, when Dan refuses to elaborate. “If you're sure.”

“I am,” he lies. His mum looks at him for a few seconds, then frowns a little and steps further into his room.

“Who cut your hair, Yazi, was it you?” she asks. Dan’s stomach lurches at the name but he forces himself to ignore it.

“I went to a place,” he tells her, his voice slightly sharp. “With my last cheque.”

“It looks a bit boyish,” his mum says. Dan very nearly bursts into laughter. He can't imagine what she'd do if he told her that was sort of the point.

“I like it,” he says instead, flicking his fringe out of his eyes and drawing his knees up closer to his chest. He wishes he'd worn a different shirt today - this one is so tight. His mum sighs a little.

“Are you okay?” she asks, her eyes soft and concerned. Dan shifts backwards slightly, leaning his back fully against his pillows and trying to look normal.

“Just, like, stressed,” he says, waving his hand in vague circles. “Elise isn't talking to me.”

He hadn't wanted to talk to his mum about that, but it's easier than anything else so he goes with it. It's fine. Maybe she'll have some decent advice.

“That's rubbish of her,” his mum says, pursing her lips and folding her arms over her chest.

“I asked for it a bit,” Dan shrugs. “She thinks we don't do enough together, like, go to gigs and stuff.”

“Well, you've got to focus on your coursework,” his mum points out, her eyebrows up. Dan nods.

“Right, I've told her that, but she's already got an unconditional offer from Bristol so she doesn't think about it as much as I do,” he explains. It's partially true. He and Elise have been fighting over how much time they spend together. But he's also been pushing her away, lately. He's just so scared.

“That's very inconsiderate of her,” his mum says sternly. She's always been a little wary of Elise, which used to piss Dan off. Now it just makes him laugh.

“We’ll sort it,” Dan says. His mum looks at him calculatingly for a few moments, then smiles at him.

“You've turned into quite a mature young lady,” she says, and the affection in her voice would have warmed Dan to his core if she'd said basically anything else. As it is, all it does is make his stomach twist.

“Thanks,” he mumbles, looking back down at his phone. He wishes she'd leave.

“Speaking of university, by the way,” his mum begins, which very definitely is not leaving. Dan feels shaky, his lungs shivering like they might shatter and collapse.

“Not now, Mum, please,” he interrupts. His stomach is churning. “I haven't heard anything yet, I don't want to talk about it.”

His mother sighs. He doesn't look up at her.

“Dad and I are going out for dinner and then a film tonight,” she says after a few moments of silence that feel like they stretch along for days. “I've got a lasagne in the oven that you'll need to take out, that's for you and Adrian, and there's salad in the fridge. If you need anything call your nan, you know the drill. Kay, Yaz?”

Dan nods. His mum looks at him carefully for a few more seconds, then leaves his room, pulling his door shut behind her. As soon as the bolt clicks Dan collapses onto his pillows with a sigh. He's so tired of existing like this, in this terrible limbo where everything he says is at least half a lie. It's hard to talk to people. It's hard to look at himself in the mirror sometimes. He sees Yazi still, only he was never really Yazi, was he? He's always been Dan, even when he didn't… quite know what that meant. His hair is short now, his eyebrows darkened subtly, the rest of his face bare. He bought a binder secretly online with most of his Christmas money, told his mum it was computer shit when she briefly inquired. The binder had been horrible to wriggle into, pressing and pushing, squeezing all of Dan’s squishy bits in, but one glance in the mirror had been enough to make Dan’s heart soar with joy.

He's been called sir in the months since then. In public. By strangers. A fortnight ago a girl Dan vaguely recognised from school glanced at him on the platform at Reading Station, her eyes skipping away without interest or alarm. She hadn't recognised him at all. The rightness of it set him on fire.

He itches for it to be more real, though. He wants people to use his name. He wants to introduce himself as Dan.

Daniel James, he's decided. It feels good when he says it out loud. At school he practices his signature in a notebook instead of taking notes on his lectures. It's starting to feel natural, to look like a signature that someone’s always had.

Writing Yazi Howell on his coursework is easier, faster, muscle memory, but he thinks if he works at it enough that might change.

He picked Daniel because he liked the feel of it, the L at the end tripping after the soft push of the n in the middle. James is for his granddad, which he reckons his dad’ll like if Dan can ever bring himself to come out. The full name clicks together perfectly, five syllables that feel fully right and comfortable. Daniel James Howell. The carrier of a surname, the eldest son, a nice clean-cut boy. Everything they expect Adrian to be, Dan is now too.

He has to be, for it to be real. He has to prove it.

 

 

School ends for the summer (for forever, Dan reminds himself, and that's bizarre and terrifying and brilliant all at the same time) and Elise grows even more distant. It doesn't bother Dan as much as it should - he doesn't even know if he loves her anymore. He supposes he does, in the way he loves things that have been around a long while. She's been a constant in his life for nearly three years. Of course he loves her.

He doesn't reckon he's in love with her though. Not anymore. He doesn't know how to be, when he hasn't told her the truth yet. She doesn't even know who he is.

The internet makes it easier. He can say whatever he wants there, introduce himself however he likes. There are people online who have only ever known him as Dan. And that feels amazing. It feels amazing and easy and right, to be called the correct name and to never be questioned or doubted or brushed away.

His twitter handle is @danisnotonfire. He has one for school that he hasn't logged into in months, but danisnotonfire is just for him. The people he's met on the internet know him as Dan, call him a boy, treat him like he's normal.

Phil treats him like he's normal.

They've only been properly talking for about a week, but it's been constant. The two of them never run out of things to talk about - movies and school horror stories and music and their families and the things they want to do someday.

i want to be happy, Dan types slowly after Phil asks. They've graduated from dms on twitter to facebook and then quickly swapped numbers and started texting, and a thrill goes through Dan’s veins every time his phone buzzes with another message from literal actual AmazingPhil off youtube. like properly.

He doesn't elaborate. He still hasn't told Phil that he's trans. His face and binder-clad figure are androgynous enough for him to pass in selfies, so it hasn't really… come up.

It's just scary. It's fucking terrifying, is what it is, telling people. Trying desperately to read situations to know if he's safe, if it's okay to be truthful or if he has to lie. It's a blind leap into the unknown, because Dan never has any clue what anyone is going to say. He’s constantly on guard.

Phil asks if he wants to skype one night (u can have a tour of my room O.o) and Dan's heart skips into panic mode. Skyping means talking, and talking means giving the whole game away. And giving the game away means losing Phil, and Dan's backed into a corner because there's no way he can do that. He can't.

i cant tonight :((( he types. His hands are clammy as he fidgets with his phone, not sure what kind of excuse he should give. He can't think of anything good so he just hits send and waits for his heart to stop racing.

Phil replies with a :’[ </3 less than a minute later and Dan hates this. He wants so, so much to tell the truth.

His fingers skitter across his phone screen without him thinking about it. wait nvm. mum just told me they're going out so no chance of creepy parents xD

There's no turning back now. He isn't sure what to do, though. He could tell Phil now, just get it out and hope he stays, or he could tell him later while they're skyping. Neither of his options are very appealing.

there is something i have to tell u though ,_, he types nervously. Better get it out of the way, he supposes. If he has to do this, sooner is better than later, and texting is less terrifying than saying it face to face. His leg bounces of its own accord as he waits for Phil to reply.

U can tell me anything ^~^

Dan hopes it’s true. He hopes this won't change anything. Phil’s a good guy and a genuinely kind person but Dan can't get rid of the anxiety that's twisting his stomach into uncomfortable knots.

do u know what transgender means?

As soon as he sends it he’s filled with regret. It stabs at his chest until he can’t do anything but sit and stare at his phone, waiting for Phil's response to appear.

Maybe Phil won’t text back. Maybe Dan is alone. Maybe he always will be, and maybe no one will ever be able to love him because who he is is wrong. Maybe he’ll die alone and never matter to anyone in his entire -

His phone buzzes.

yh, Phil has responded. of course.

Right. Phil probably knows where this is going now. Dan feels like he's cycling down a very steep hill, everything a rush and a blur, his pulse like a trapped hummingbird in his ears.

well, he types, before he can wimp out. thats me. im a trans boy. i should have told you sooner but i didnt know how.

He tacks on an im sorry, hits send, and throws his phone away from him, wincing when it bounces against his pillows and slides down to the floor. His breath keeps snagging in his throat, terrible and hot with slow-simmering panic. It’s only a few minutes before his phone buzzes again, but it feels like years.

u don't need to be sorry

That’s all the message says. It’s not comforting. Then another text comes through.

can i call you?

Dan stares at the words, his hands clammy around his phone. He has nothing to lose, he reasons with himself. He’s already gotten through the confession bit.

(And he hates that, that it's a confession. That it's something he has to admit to the world, like it’s something he should keep secret or be ashamed of. He hates that he has to be so afraid.)

He takes a few slow breaths - in for five seconds, out for six, repeat until calm, don't let panic set in - then sets his shoulders and presses the call button himself.

Phil’s phone rings two and a half times before he picks up, and Dan’s heart is hammering in his throat.

“Hi,” Phil says, and his voice is warm and low and softer than it is in his videos. Dan doesn't know if he remembers how to speak. “Are you okay?”

It's a question that Dan didn't expect. It catches him off guard. When he replies he's careful to pitch his voice low.

“I think so.”

There's a small pause. Dan steps off his bed and starts to pace around his room.

“It's really good to hear your voice,” Phil says, and he sounds like he means it. Dan’s stomach is sloshing with nerves.

“Thanks?” he says, and then he laughs a little, awkward and stilted, his face going warm with embarrassment. “Sorry. This is so weird.”

“I don't want it to be,” Phil tells him. Dan’s heart swells fondly. “I just - I wanted to thank you. For telling me the truth. I can't imagine how hard it must be.”

They're getting right to it, then. He'd sort of hoped they’d avoid the topic for at least a little while, although he's not sure how they could have done. Fuck. God.

“Haven't told anyone but you, so.”

“Oh, wow.”

Regret is coiling sharp and bitter underneath Dan’s tongue. Why’d he have to go and open his fucking mouth? Why'd he have to be like this at all? He hates this so much. He hates himself so much.

“I'm sorry,” he says, choked but trying not to be, and he hears Phil suck in a breath. “I’m really sorry for lying to you.”

“You didn't lie,” Phil laughs gently. “Coming out isn't an obligation, Dan, you don't… Do you think I'm angry at you or something?”

Dan’s room is eight steps long and ten wide. He knows every centimeter of the worn beige carpet, could navigate the ever-present mess on the floor with his eyes closed. His feet carry him back and forth from the window to the door without him even thinking about it.

“I would be,” he mumbles. “At me. If I was you.”

“You're not though,” Phil reminds him, and his voice is so soft and gentle and kind that Dan’s heart feels like it's breaking. “And I'm not. I don't -” He cuts himself off with another little laugh. “It’s not really the same but I do know what it's like to come out. I know how scary it is. You had no idea how I’d react.”

“I guess.”

This wasn't how he wanted this to go. He feels like he's dissolving right into the floor beneath his nervous feet.

“We can talk about something else,” Phil tells him, and Dan agrees that that might be best. There's a pull behind his sternum to spill everything, to bare all his secrets to this person he barely knows, and he can't do that. No matter how much he wants to. He doesn't know why he wants to.

“Tell me about your day?” he says, and his voice shakes a little but Phil doesn't point it out and Dan’s chest feels like it's collapsing with gratitude. Phil starts telling a story about a man who kept barking in Manchester City Centre. None of his stories ever sound completely true, but Dan doesn't mind. They make him laugh. Phil always knows how to make him feel better.

Dan mostly listens during this phone call. Phil seems to understand somehow that he just needs distracting, so he rambles on for nearly an hour about what seems like everything under the sun. Gratefulness settles in Dan’s ribcage, replacing the panic that had been thrashing there. He's okay. Phil knows and he doesn’t mind and Dan isn’t alone in this. He’s fine. Everything is fine.

 

 

Everything is not fine, evidently. It's been a week since he came out to Phil, two since he and Elise have done anything other than text a bit. Like, a very little bit - mostly brief how are yous and vague conversations about plans for the day that hardly count as anything at all. Today is the first time she’s come over to Dan’s house in a month.

“I just feel like you don't even care anymore,” Elise says sharply. She's standing in the middle of his bedroom with her arms folded tightly across her chest and she looks out of place there. Dan remembers when he thought she was going to be a permanent fixture in his life. It wasn't even that long ago. “You haven't seemed to care for a long time. We barely even text anymore, Yazi, it's unrealistic to expect us to be able to turn that round and be happy together when I'm at uni and you're still here.”

“Don't call me that,” he mutters angrily without thinking about it. Elise blinks at him.

“Don't call you what?” she asks, her voice less like a razor and more like a noose, now. Panic is swimming up Dan’s throat. The middle of a break up isn't exactly an ideal time to fucking come out.

“Nothing,” he mumbles, and Elise sighs shortly through her nose.

“Stop lying to me,” she snaps. “That's all you do anymore. Don't call you what, your name?”

Here it comes. Sinking stomach, clammy skin, shaking hands. A catch in his lungs when he tries to breathe.

“It's not my name,” he says, barely audible. Elise stares at him with eyes like daggers.

“What the fuck are you playing at.” Her voice is a terrible monotone. Dan wishes he could melt into the floor. There's no way he can get out of this, now.

“I'm a boy, Ezza,” he says to the space next to Elise’s shoulder. He watches her face drop from anger into blank confusion.

“You what?”

Her voice is small and she shrinks back from him, eyes wide and unsure. Dan wonders if she's afraid of him now that she knows. If she thinks he's some kind of monster.

“I'm a boy,” he repeats, because this is all he knows is true anymore. It's the only thing he has. “I'm trans. My name is, um. It's Dan now.”

She stares at him like she's never seen him before, and maybe she hasn't. Not properly, anyway. Maybe she's thinking about the past year, about things that Dan has said and done, and realising that everything makes sense now.

“Why didn't you tell me?” Elise asks finally. She doesn't sound angry, just sort of sad. Lost, maybe. Like she doesn't know who he is. Dan swallows hard and stares at the floor. “I could have helped you. I mean, of all people you could have trusted me, Yaz.”

“Dan,” he corrects. Her jaw tightens. Dan has to resist the urge to flinch.

“Sorry,” Elise mutters. She pushes her fringe away from her eyes - it's dyed back to her natural colour, no blue left among the brown anymore, and it makes her face look soft and young - and smiles without her eyes. “Dan.” Then she frowns. “How did you - how long has it been? Since you, like.” She waves her hand vaguely. Dan shrugs. He’s only just learning how to talk about it, still, and he doesn't particularly want to comb over the gory details of his gender crisis with his probably-ex girlfriend.

“A while,” is all he says, and Elise’s face shutters back up when she realises that's the only answer she's going to get.

“I told you fucking everything,” she tells him, sharp and mean again, and he knows she's lashing out because she's hurt but her words still sting. “Everything about me. I gave you all of me, and you don't even have the decency to be honest with me now.”

Her eyes remind Dan of stone - dark and cold, her gaze heavy as she glares at him. He used to tell Elise that his favourite colour was brown because of her eyes, but he can't remember the last time he said anything like that. He can't even remember the last time he told her he loved her. He misses what they used to have and who they used to be so much and so suddenly that his chest seizes up a little.

“You're like the second person I’ve told,” he mumbles. He doesn't want to fight anymore. He's so tired. He'd rather die. “This is me being honest with you.”

Her lower lip wobbles. “Christ.”

They lurch back into silence and Dan hates that this is how they're ending. That this is the memory he’ll always have, of bitten-off words and a splintering crack through his heart and the truth hanging awkwardly in the air between their bodies. He loved her so much. She was the best part of his life for so long and now she's -

“I'm going to go,” Elise says, interrupting Dan’s train of thought. “I have to - I'm -”

Her stutter trails off and Dan wishes he could sink into the ground and just dissolve already. This is awful. He doesn't remember how to be anything but hers.

“I hope uni is good,” he tells her, and her eyes are going glassy, her lower lip trembling. Dan feels like his lungs are made of cellophane.

“I - yeah.” Elise sniffs. Opens her mouth and takes in a shaking breath. “Thank you. I hope your gap year is good, too.”

There's an awkward moment where the two of them hover anxiously, unsure if they should hug or not. Dan ends up holding out his arms and Elise hesitates and swallows hard before stepping into them.

She smells the same as she always has, flowery and warm with sunshine. And she feels the same, her hair soft on his wrists when they press against her back. He can feel her ribcage expanding when she takes a deep breath, shaking as she slowly lets it out.

“You were my best friend,” she whispers against his chest, and Dan’s eyes are prickling. A lump is rising in his throat and he doesn't want to cry but he might anyway. “I really, really loved you.”

“I really loved you too,” he tells her. His voice is hoarse. This hurts so much more than he thought it would. It's a low ache in his chest, like a sunburn, like a bruise. “I’m so sorry.”

Elise steps back and shakes her head and looks up at him. Her eyes are still shiny with unshed tears.

“I’ll see you, I guess,” she says after a few seconds. Dan swallows and nods.

“Fuck it up in Bristol for me,” he says, and she lets out a wet little laugh.

“I will,” she says, and then she darts forward and presses a kiss to his cheek before rushing through Dan’s bedroom door and down the stairs. He hears her car start, wonders if that was the last time he’ll ever talk to her again, tries to figure out if that makes him happy or sad or something in between.

It doesn't feel like either, right now. It feels like an ending that had to happen, bittersweet and inevitable. He sits down on the edge of his bed and sighs, then flops onto his back and tries not to think about anything at all.

 

 

The shit thing about having a job is… everything, really. Dan hates his job and most of his coworkers, not to mention every single customer that walks through the doors. It's mind-numbingly boring to spend six hours under Asda’s flickering fluorescent lights. Add to that the fact that he's only out to two people in the entire world, so he's constantly being misgendered and misnamed, which is fully fucking exhausting.

But the cool thing about having a job is that every two weeks, Dan gets a paycheque. He works as many hours as he can as a part-time sales associate, and he's stopped driving his car so much to save money on petrol. His bank account is growing slowly and as September fades out and October comes in grey and perfect, he sort-of casually drops hints that he has enough money saved to take a train journey somewhere. Phil bites at his lip and raises his eyebrows and says, in a voice that is maybe supposed to be coy, “my parents’ll be gone for literally all of this month,” and Dan feels like his heart is going to jump out of his chest.

“I have my schedule for all of October,” he says shyly. His family are all out and he's the only one using the wifi right now, so their Skype connection isn't quite as horrendous as usual. Phil’s face is moving without a stuttery lag now, and he's made of a few more pixels than he was the last time. His eyes are all wide and there's a smile pulling on the corners of his mouth. He's got such an expressive face. Dan could watch him do nothing for hours.

“Do you actually?” Phil asks with a laugh. Dan nods. “Shit, check it then.”

They talk all the time about meeting each other. They come up with ridiculous plans (Dan hang gliding off the top of the Shard in London and landing in Phil’s front garden, Phil digging an underground tunnel with the spoon from his mid-Skype bowl of cereal, Dan somehow acquiring the ASHPoD and creating a portal between their bedrooms) but nothing has ever come up as a real possibility. They've kept it to the realm of the ridiculous because they both want it so much that it hurts.

Dan’s blood feels carbonated with nervous excitement as he shuffles through the pile of papers on his floor, his hands slightly shaky. He finds his schedule (crumpled and stained with something that looks like probably cider) and holds it up with a triumphant shout.

“I am off,” he says, clambering back onto his bed and making a face at the HOWELL, YAZI that's printed on the top of the paper, “the tenth, the eleventh, the fourteenth, the nineteenth, the twentieth, the twenty-second, the twenty-sixth, and all of Halloween weekend, what the fuck, that's brilliant.”

He sets aside the paper and looks at Phil expectantly. Phil is grinning giddy and wide.

“You're going to the Halloween gathering with me then,” he says. Happiness hits Dan like lightning, a jolt that he feels in his whole fucking body. “And like I said my mum and dad will be gone all month, so I am king here. You could come up on like the nineteenth if you want? Until the twenty-first maybe, or the twenty-second?”

Dan stares at him, a little bit convinced that this is a dream. It's all happening so fast.

“You, like. You want me to?” he asks, and his voice is so small and shy and his schedule is fluttering in his clammy hands. Phil’s face drops into a shocked o.

“Of course I want you to!” he exclaims, like it's obvious. Something in Dan’s chest clicks into place and he starts to laugh a little, stunned and involuntary. This is happening. He presses his hand to his mouth and beams. It feels like he's swallowed the sun and it's warming him from the inside out.

“I get paid on Friday,” he says, and Phil’s doing that giant smile where his eyes sparkle and his tongue sticks out from between his teeth and Dan doesn't understand how Phil can possibly be real. He's too fucking good to be true. “I can get train tickets then.”

“Brilliant,” Phil declares, leaning back on his pillows with an easy grin. Fuck. Fuck. They're going to meet.

Dan has no idea how he's going to convince his parents that this is a good idea, nor how he’ll be able to get the twenty-first off work, but he’ll make it happen. He's eighteen, anyway, has been since June, so he's a fucking adult. No one can tell him no about this.

 

 

 

“You're meant to request off two weeks minimum in advance,” Dan’s scheduling manager drawls. She’s twenty-six and laid back and out of everyone in management she’s the only one who thinks Dan’s any good. She raises her eyebrows at him as she twirls a pen between her fingers absentmindedly. “But you’ve been kicking arse lately so I’ll let you off the hook on this one. I’ll switch your shift with Cam’s, yeah? So you’ll be opening on the twenty-sixth.”

Dan winces a little at the idea of working that many days in a row, but then he catches himself and nods.

“Fine,” he says. “Cool. Perfect. You're a lifesaver, Maura, honestly.”

“Save it, Yaz,” Maura laughs. Dan almost doesn't notice his dead name. He's so used to it here. It almost doesn't matter. “Get back to work, and no texting, I don't care how many tit pics you're getting!”

Dan laughs all the way down the stairs from the office, then ducks into the staff toilet to text Phil. It's not a tit pic, so like. It's fine. What Maura doesn't know won't kill her.

got the 21st off!!! x]

He takes a piss to waste time, washes his hands under stone-cold water with terrible cheap yellow soap until he feels his phone vibrate in his back pocket. Phil’s text is a series of exclamation marks and smiley faces, though, and that's enough to make Dan’s heart jump excitedly in his chest. He's going to go to Manchester. It's real. 

 

 

In hindsight, it's possible that Dan should have talked to his parents before buying train tickets. His dad’s face is going red and his dad is, like, not a small guy. Dan’s shoulders are curled in defensively, a scowl hanging on his face.

“Do you need to talk to a therapist, Yazi?” his dad asks. His voice is stern but controlled. That's almost scarier than the yelling that's sure to come. “You're acting out so much.”

“I'm trying to get out of your house for a bit,” Dan laughs sharply. He feels like he's sprouting prickles across his skin, like he wants to spit something terrible and hurtful and mean at someone so he's not the only one who feels this miserable. “Since that's obviously what you want.”

“What have your mother and I ever done that made you think we don't want you here?” his dad exclaims, sounding hurt. Dan hates this. “We love you, Yazi, we’re worried. We want you to be happy and safe. Going on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Manchester alone isn't safe, surely you see that?”

It's so patronising. And - the thought sneaks in before he can stop it - if Dan was a real boy they wouldn't give a shit. They'd let him go wherever the fuck he wanted if -

No. No, he can't start that now. He's got to focus. He's so fucking close.

“It's fine, Dad,” he says. He tries to keep his voice steady but he's always been an angry crier. “It's all planned out and I'm staying with a friend and like, adults will be there and stuff.”

He leaves out the specifics of Phil’s identity just in case. It's one thing to be honest. It's a totally different thing to send his parents into a panic about the internet predator horror stories they're convinced will happen to anyone who ever uses google. Bending the truth is fine.

“You've got to call us as soon as you get there, and check in,” his mum says, speaking up at last. She's always trusted Dan a little more. Not much, but a little. They're a lot alike, which is probably why. She understands him better than his dad does.

“I'm not a kid,” Dan mumbles with a bitter huff of a laugh, and his dad breathes out hard through his nose. “Fine, I’ll text you.”

He slinks out of the kitchen before they can say anything else. His stomach is growling but it won't kill him to skip dinner tonight. He'd rather be hungry than spend any more time in the same room as his mum and dad.

He's done it, though. He's got tickets and gotten his schedule sorted and his parents have given him grudging permission.

He tweets about the tickets, and then he texts Phil t-minus 12 days! ! !, and it's so fucking mad. It's mad that this is happening.

His phone lights up with Phil’s reply, a simple !!!! holyshit:D that sums up pretty much everything Dan is feeling. His fingers fly as he taps out a response.

yh dad is like WELL annoyed but he cant stop me as i am a grown up with a job xD

better than me ^o^ Phil texts back, and then Dan locks his phone and collapses onto his bed, grinning at the ceiling. Manchester. He can't imagine waiting any longer, but it's so close. He's almost there.

 

 

Kissing Phil is all Dan can think about. It's all he's thought about all day, since Phil grabbed him at Manchester Piccadilly and pulled him into a hug so tight Dan could barely breathe. One of those enveloping, all-encompassing hugs, heavy and warm and lasting long enough that Dan thought he was going to melt into Phil’s body, fuse onto him like some kind of weird alien parasite.

He's so magnetic. Dan's been to Manchester like once in his life but he's not even interested in the city today. He just wants to watch Phil exist. They go to Starbucks and Dan barely notices what drink he's having, he's so distracted by how Phil gestures when he tells stories. It's the same flickering movement with his hands that he uses in his videos, but the effect is even better in person. Dan feels almost hypnotised.

“We should go to the Apple Store,” Phil is chattering. He’s talking so fast. Maybe he's nervous too. “You look cute, we should take selfies on the iPads.”

“That's so lame,” Dan laughs, but he's delighted. “Let’s do it.”

They go to the Apple Store and it's hilarious and Phil was right, Dan looks cute today. He's lost a little bit of weight in the time since buying his train tickets, out of nerves and an extremely difficult avoidance of carbs, so his shirt is hanging off his frame well, and it hasn't rained yet today so his hair is actually cooperating. His outfit looks good and his skin is miraculously clear and he looks happy, mostly, eyes shining with it, like this is where he's meant to be.

“Should we take one for Dailybooth?” Phil asks, scrolling through the handful of selfies they've taken and grinning at them. Dan crowds closer to Phil in response, arranges his face into a standard disdainful selfie smirk.

It's a cute photo. Dan thinks he’ll probably save it to his phone once Phil uploads it.

(Who’s he kidding. Of course he's going to save it. It's going to be his phone background, his facebook profile picture, and at least two dailybooth posts.)

They go on the Manchester Eye later, and Phil talks the whole time, all quick movements and nervous energy. He keeps sort of clawing at Dan’s shirt, at his arms, poking at him to make sure he's paying attention to all the right things.

They're alone in their bubble-shaped compartment, so there's nothing stopping Dan from reaching up and kissing Phil like he's wanted to do all day. He plays it over and over in his head, the lean in and the quick breath and the slow sink into contact. How perfect it would be. His hands shake a little and he tucks them under his thighs in an attempt to stop the jittering.

The compartment is on its descent when Dan goes for it. Everything has been leading up to this anyway, he figures, and as Manchester slowly rises back up beneath them he leans over, in, watches Phil notice and go wide-eyed and still.

His mouth lands right on Phil’s cheek, clumsy and gentle and lingering, and he'd sort of aimed for Phil’s lips but this’ll do, he supposes. At least to get the message across. Phil doesn't move until Dan pulls back, and then he just stares, something flickering in his eyes that Dan can't quite identify.

“Hi,” Phil says after a few more seconds, and his mouth stretches into a shy smile. Dan scoots closer so their thighs are pressing against each other and tips his head until it rests on Phil’s shoulder. He can feel it when Phil takes a tiny hitching inhale, and his whole body goes a warm sort of delighted when Phil rests his head on top of Dan’s and presses a kiss to Dan’s temple. Dan’s entire right side is tingling from where they’re touching. His mouth feels made of pins and needles. He kissed Phil. It's mad. It can't possibly be real.

But somehow it is. It's real and he's done it and his heart feels full of helium, light as a feather in the open cathedral of his chest. He sets his right hand on the bench between them and waits, waits, wonders if he's being too juvenile, and - it's like the world makes more sense when it happens - Phil’s hand comes down next to his own and their pinkies rest against each other. Dan closes his eyes.

As they near the bottom of the wheel they separate. It feels weird, cold. Wrong, maybe, although the more Dan thinks about it the more melodramatic that seems. They clamber out of their compartment, Phil leading the way, his hand resting lightly on the small of Dan’s back. It feels so reckless. Dan’s glad no one knows who he is.

“What's the plan?” he asks, once they get away from the queue for the wheel. Phil pauses and leans down to tie his shoe.

“Well,” he says, looping his laces and twisting them together in a sloppy knot. “I don't know about you but I would love a drink.” His smile is impossibly charming and Dan melts a little.

“That - yeah, like, I'm eighteen, so,” he agrees, stumbling over the words. Phil grins.

“Cool. I know a place.”

 

 

The restaurant is too fancy for what Dan’s wearing. He does up his plaid button-down nervously to hide his t-shirt, fidgets with his hair and feels his stomach start to churn with anxiety. Places like this are always sort of difficult. He went to one with Elise before the Leaver’s Ball in the spring and it had been horrible.

“Right this way,” a hostess says as she leads them to their table by the window. Her hair is shiny and piled up into a fancy bun at the top of her head.

“Thanks so much,” Phil tells her sincerely as she hands them both menus. Dan nods. The hostess smiles blankly. A few minutes later, while Phil is chattering away, a waiter sidles up to the table.

“Good evening gentlemen!” he begins, all cheer and affable charm, and then, "oh, sorry, miss," and Phil flicks worried eyes at Dan, who feels like he's falling a very very long way. He fucking - God. He should have known the good wouldn't last. Fuck.

Phil’s still looking at him, and the waiter is doing that vague bored sort of smile that all service workers develop over time and Dan has no idea what to do, so he just shakes his head minutely, don't bother, and Phil relaxes and turns and smiles benignly.

“Could we have waters, please, and I’d like to see the wine list.”

The waiter nods and makes his way briskly back to the kitchen. Dan sags back against his chair, his eyes closed. Fucking - everything had been going so well.

“Dan?” Phil says. Dan sighs and sits up straight, sliding his phone out of his pocket and checking it for something to do. He doesn't want to talk about it, Christ. He doesn't want to think about it. He wants to pretend he doesn't care.

“It's fine,” he says firmly. The worried look on Phil’s face doesn't budge. “Phil, it's fine, it doesn't matter.”

“It does,” Phil starts, but Dan groans and presses his face into his hands. Phil’s right. It does matter. It matters so much Dan can't stand it, sometimes, but he's got to pick his battles. Some things are less important than others. A waiter Dan has never seen before and will never see again after tonight hardly means anything at all, in the grand scheme of Dan’s life. It's not worth the anxiety or the potential trouble.

(He's lying. He's making excuses. It all matters so fucking much, and it all hurts the same way, and he's so tired. But he can't fight it all the time. Sometimes he just has to grit his teeth and push through and let it all roll off of his back.)

“I don't want to get into it with our fucking waiter, Phil,” Dan snaps when Phil tries to speak again. He takes another deep breath and lifts his head, rolls tension out of his shoulders, pushes a hand through his hair on reflex. Phil’s looking at him with a weird mix of unsurety and discomfort. It sucks, to be looked at like that. To be looked at like that by Phil.

“It's just - I’m so tired,” he continues, laughing a little at the end. “All the time of this. Of feeling like I have to explain myself. So let's just let the waiter think he's talking to a fucking tall lesbian, I don't fucking -” He cuts off and shakes his head. Phil just looks sad now. That's, like, significantly worse than him looking uncomfortable. “Shit. I'm so sorry. You had this whole nice thing planned out and I'm ruining it.”

Phil stares at him, eyebrows furrowed together unhappily. Dan fidgets with the hem of his shirt, his fingers nervous and jumping.

Their waiter appears out of nowhere again, this time laden with glasses of water and a wine menu.

“Thank you,” Dan tells him, since Phil’s frowning at the tablecloth now. The waiter nods. Normally Dan would feel bad for not asking his name, but miss is racketing around his brain and he can't make himself care.

“Another minute then?” the waiter asks. Dan blinks. He'd sort of forgotten about, like, ordering food.

“Please,” he says. The waiter nods and whisks away, leaving Dan and Phil alone again. Silence stretches between them for a little while. They're seated next to a window and Dan stares out at Manchester and tries not to convince himself he’s cocked everything up.

“Is that what you think?” Phil asks abruptly. His voice is surprising. Dan almost jumps. “That you're ruining it? You couldn't ruin it, I’d be happy getting, like, McDonalds with you. I don't care, I just. I thought you would like this. I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this to happen.”

It hurts, almost, the pang of sympathy that blooms hot in Dan’s chest. He wants to help but he doesn't know how and he wonders if this is how Phil feels about him sometimes. Like maybe there's such a thing as caring too much. Like they're in over their heads.

“I do like this,” he replies after a few seconds, voice thick in his throat. “This is brilliant. One like. One mistake isn't going to fuck this up, I get that shit all the time, that doesn't matter.” Phil looks like he's going to interrupt, so Dan shakes his head. “I don't care because you matter most to me and you know the truth so like. The rest of it isn't important. I can't win everything. I don't care about anyone’s opinion here but yours.” He shrugs. He's glad they're seated by the window with the tables nearest them all vacant. It makes talking easier. “I don't want to make a fuss. Let’s just, like. Have a nice time. Okay? Please?”

It feels weird to be so honest. Dan’s still not used to being able to tell the truth like that. But he barrels ahead anyway. That's what he's best at. That's what he’s always done.

“Yeah,” Phil agrees finally, and Dan sags against his chair slightly in relief. “Yeah, okay.” Phil grabs the wine menu and stares at it contemplatively. Dan watches him, tries to measure the tightness in the corners of Phil’s mouth, but Phil is too good at becoming a blank slate.

“Thank you.”

When the waiter returns Phil asks for a bread basket and some kind of wine that Dan’s never heard of, says “this is all together, thanks,” when the waiter inquires, hooks his foot around Dan’s ankle beneath the table. The sun is setting outside the window and Dan pretends not to see when Phil lifts his phone up to take a picture, resists the urge to squawk in protest and hold out his hands to block the flash. Soft classical music is playing and the wine that the waiter brought them is delicious and despite miss this is starting to feel like the sort of life-changing date that only happens in romantic comedies.

“Is there anything else you want to do before we go home?” Phil asks, taking the cheque and pulling out his bank card before Dan can even offer. The sky is dark now, Manchester sprawling out beneath them like a glittering blanket of lights, and Dan feels the emotional weight of the day suddenly, a wave of exhaustion crashing over him and making him droop. He just wants to be in Phil’s house, on his couch or (maybe, hopefully, in Dan’s wildest dreams) his bed, curled up together with a film on and their pulses going slow and steady together.

“Dunno,” he says, sort of shy again. “If you want.”

“If you want,” Phil corrects him. “You've never properly been to Manchester, have you? I want to be a good host.”

“You are the best host,” Dan tells him seriously. Phil’s face goes all soft and bright. “Really. I'm having a brilliant time. This has been so cool. You're so cool.”

He laughs a little, mildly embarrassed by his gushing. Phil’s smiling again, sweetly, shy like their situations are reversed and Dan’s the cool famous intimidating youtuber.

“We can go home then,” Phil says, and Dan nods. That sounds really good to him, actually. The quiet of Phil’s bedroom, the solitude of a closed door. Being together without obstruction or pretense or anyone else telling them who or how to be.

 

 

Phil touches Dan so much.

Not in a sexual way, Dan has noticed. It seems subconscious, actually, the way Phil touches him. Bumps of his knuckles against Dan’s shoulders, his arms, his thighs. A hand in his hair, legs tucked close, fingertips scritching gently at his scalp. It's all casual and natural and Dan never wants him to stop doing it, never wants him to go away. It's a sort of spatial intimacy that Dan's never had with anyone before.

Even with Elise he didn't used to like being touched much, other than when they were actually fucking around. But this feels okay. This, the way Phil is entering his personal bubble without invading it, the way he feels like home already despite this being the first time they've ever properly met -

He'd probably steal the moon for Phil, is all. He'd do anything Phil wanted.

Maybe that's dangerous. Dan doesn't care much. He remembers the warm smoothness of Phil’s cheek beneath the shy pucker of his lips and he knows it's worth it.

“Your hair is so soft,” Phil mumbles into the skin of Dan’s shoulder. His hand is buried in Dan’s hair, his long fingers rubbing gently at Dan’s scalp. Dan’s whole body is made of tingling.

“You drive me mad,” he breathes, reaching up and catching Phil’s wrist, inching up his palm until their fingers intertwine. “Why won't you just kiss me?”

“Is that what you want?” Phil asks seriously. He grips Dan’s fingers tight. Dan’s insides feel like they've melted, sloshing hot inside his belly. His head is spinning.

“What I've always wanted,” Dan mumbles, and then he moves against Phil’s grip, straining his mouth towards Phil’s.

He lets him in this time. Dan nearly stops out of shock, fumbles the landing a little, his lips dry and clinging to the corner of Phil’s mouth. They both suck in quick gasps of air before kissing properly, mouths flush, tongues tracing along the edges of each other in perfect tandem. Dan can hardly imagine anything except this existing in the world. Anything other than this needn't bother existing, Dan thinks, because this is the closest he’s ever gotten to bliss.

They don't fuck that night, nor any time at all the first time that Dan goes to Manchester. But they make out for literally hours, like they're fifteen year olds or something, and on the second night Dan fumbles his way through a hand job and Phil, clever and sweet and experienced Phil, pretends very kindly that it's the best one he's ever had.

“You don't have to lie,” Dan laughs. He presses a kiss to the centre of Phil’s chest just because Phil’s shirtless and they’re probably boyfriends and as a probably-boyfriend Dan is allowed to do things like that.

“I'm not lying!” Phil protests through a yawn. His arms go tight around Dan’s waist, hugging him close. “You are the best. Just because you're you.”

“Disgusting,” Dan says, but a warm glow of contentment is filling up all the parts of him that used to be afraid.

They're curled in on each other now, Dan’s head tucked under Phil’s chin, his hand starfished across Phil’s soft belly. A sparse trail of dark hair runs down from his navel into his boxer shorts and Dan sort of wants to kiss it, which is a weird urge that he doesn't act on.

Phil sighs happily into Dan’s hair and Dan’s heart flips a little. He almost feels shy. It's instinctive to shift a little closer to Phil, to try and hear his steady heartbeat.

“You're so warm,” Phil mumbles, sleepy and always so gentle, “you smell like warm.”

Warm. Warm like sunshine and cups of tea and feeling at home. Something like crying wells up behind the bridge of Dan’s nose. This is the happiest he's ever been. It doesn't even matter about his parents or the stupid fucking waiter. This is… Dan has never felt anything like this.

He wonders if maybe he just likes boys more than girls. It's possible. But it's probably more to do with how Phil is so bright, so vivid against the boring grey of the rest of the world. He's different. He makes Dan want to be different. He’s unapologetic about who he is and Dan’s never really met someone like that before.

It's because he's older, Dan tells himself, and that's certainly part of it. But the confidence Phil exudes seems innate, like he doesn't know how to be anything but genuine. Like he's not bricking it half the time.

“I am,” Phil laughs one night when Dan says something about it, phrasing it like a self-deprecating joke because that's what he's best at. “I’ve no idea what I'm doing with my life. It's all so weird, isn't it? But I just - you keep going, you know. You just keep on until something works out.”

He smiles like he has a secret, then, his eyes glittering deep green and soft gold and brilliant zenith blue in the semi-darkness of his bedroom. His fingers skim up Dan’s bare stomach and jump to his shoulders, then come up to cup his face. They stare at each other for a few seconds, Dan’s pulse pounding in his ears.

“Got us here,” Phil points out, and then he kisses Dan and Dan kisses him back and he wants to do this forever. Dan wants to do this for the rest of his fucking life.

 

 

The night Dan gets back to Wokingham, he keeps his hoodie on to hide lovebites and wears headphones with no music playing as an excuse to listen without having to speak. His parents, as per their usual behaviour, don't say much of anything until they're doing the washing up and Adrian has dashed back upstairs to research, like, veganism or whatever it is that he's interested in this week. Dan is lurking at the kitchen table, his laptop open and his headphones still in. He clicks his mouse randomly and taps his feet to a beat that doesn't exist and hopes he doesn't look like he's trying too hard.

“Yaz have a good trip?” his dad asks as he dries plates send puts them in their place on the cupboard. Dan suppresses the urge to roll his eyes, but only just. “She's not said a word to me.”

“Been on her computer since she got back, hasn't she,” his mum sighs. “Hardly looked up, and doing god knows what.”

Dan decides to fuck with them a little, reaches up and pulls the headphone out of his left ear, cocks his head and widens his eyes innocently.

“Sorry, what?” he says. His mum whirls around with wide eyes, a sudsy spatula hanging from the tips of her fingers.

“Oh! Nothing, darling, Dad and I were just chatting.” She grins wide and fake. Dan wonders if she thinks she's getting away with it.

“Oh,” he replies, smiling blandly. “I thought I heard you say Yazi.”

His mum sighs tightly and turns away from Dan, who goes back to clicking aimlessly through his email inbox, his head propped up on his hand.

“Go clean your room,” his dad says abruptly, after an awkward stretch of silence. Dan’s torn between laughing and rolling his eyes. “It's a disgrace. You need to respect this house a little more, young lady.”

He doesn't want to laugh anymore, at least. God. Fuck this.

“I did have a good trip, thanks for asking,” Dan snaps, words like acid spitting hot out of his teeth, anger rising up in boiling bubbles from his stomach. “Manchester’s brilliant, think I might move there.”

It's too reckless. He's so pissed off, god, he doesn't even care. Their faces do a weird sort of contortion between confused and alarmed and outraged and entertained before landing on vague and blandly interested. It's weird, watching the compartmentalization process happen on both of their faces. Dan wishes he had that. The ability to just lock down. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and look where it's got him.

“Really,” his dad says, that prying voice that's meant to be subtle. Dan glares at his computer screen.

“Dunno,” he mutters sullenly. He didn't mean to turn this into a conversation, Christ. He should have just gone up to his room. He's so stupid.

“The uni there’s good,” his mum offers. It's a flimsy peace offering, a crumbling laurel that Dan almost doesn't want to take, if only out of spite. But he has to. Talking about uni is not ideal but it's significantly better than having a massive screaming row about nothing.

“Yeah, looked at it while I was there, actually.”

Looked at it is a generous version of what happened. In actuality, they passed it in a bus and Dan made a joke about imagine if I went there, I’d be over so much you'd get so sick of me and Phil had stared at him so intensely Dan had almost felt uncomfortable.

“I wouldn't,” he'd said, low and serious, and Dan’s bones had gone wobbly.

“Did you really?” Dan’s dad asks. He sounds skeptical, which is fucking shit. Dan always sort of feels like he's twelve when he's talking to his dad.

“Yeah,” Dan says sharply, defiant like that won't get him yelled at again. “One of the reasons I went up there, isn't it? I told you that.”

It's a lie, obviously, but if Dan sticks to it his dad’ll probably drop it. Dan doesn't care. God, he doesn't care. All he cares about is ending this conversation and locking himself in his room. Maybe Phil will miss him already and he’ll want to skype or something. Even a phone call would do. Dan just wants to hear him talk. Wants to let the familiar cadences of Phil’s voice wash over his skin and calm him down.

“I'm glad to hear it,” Dan’s dad says, gruff and uncomfortable. Dan rolls his eyes and shuts his laptop, getting to his feet and adjusting his hoodie so it doesn't fall any lower on his neck.

“Right,” he says with a sarcastic little smile. He feels like he's hurtling through thin air, uncontrollable and reckless and mad. “I’ll let you talk about me in peace. I don't mind. Have a lovely night.”

He goes up the stairs as fast as he can while still retaining his dignity. Resentment is simmering hot and prickly in his gut. As soon as he lands on his bed he’s got his laptop open, posting something overdramatic and angsty on twitter and waiting for Phil to call.

It’s a bit ridiculous to do that, he knows. He could easily call Phil first, or even just text, but there's that ever-present feeling of being a bother and a burden and a pain. Dan can't explain it. He just knows that it's there. And besides that, he knows Phil has his twitter on push notifications, so. They’ll communicate sooner or later.

True to form, Phil texts him within minutes, a concerned are u ok???? D: Dan stares at it for a few minutes, unsure now of what to say. He feels like shit but it's his own fault, really, he's the one who’s too scared to tell the truth to his own fucking parents, he shouldn't make Phil deal with it when it's a problem so easily solved. All Dan has to do is corner his parents and… say it.

“I’m trans,” he whispers, barely audible. “I’m a trans boy. I’m not a girl and I never have been and it's nothing to do with anything that's happened to me or anything you've done, it's just who I am.” His chest feels like it's been hollowed out and then filled with dozens of tiny grasping hands, catching on his ribs and sending shivers down his body. “Oh fuck. Oh, fucking christ.”

He got high a few times when he was younger. At festivals, mostly, and once or twice with Elise and her best friend from the boys’ school in the summer. He remembers the way it felt, the boneless bliss that sank over him. The absolute calm. He wonders if it’d be easier to do something like this stoned, or drunk, or tripping on acid. Oh god. Oh god.

His phone vibrates in his hand, once and then again and then once more before Dan realises it’s a phone call and looks down at the screen. It reads phil:D<3 and his heart sort of skips as he presses accept and brings the phone to his ear.

“Dan!” Phil exclaims. He sounds sort of relieved.

“Hi,” Dan says. His voice is hoarse. Makes sense, considering how tight his throat feels. “Hi.”

“Hi. I saw your tweet. Are you okay?”

They talk for an hour and twelve minutes. Dan begs off eventually though, tired to his bones, ready to fall into bed and sleep for like… twelve years maybe. Until Halloween, at the very least. Seeing Phil again can't come soon enough.

 

 

The week leading up to Halloween is one of the longest weeks of Dan’s life. Nervous anticipation squirms in his stomach when he thinks about seeing Phil again so soon. He's excited about meeting other youtubers too, of course, but Dan is mostly going to this gathering for Phil.

costumes are hardddd D: he types out a few days before Halloween. It’s been one of those days where he and Phil are both busy enough that they keep missing each other’s texts. They've hardly managed to talk at all, by their standards. Dan maybe sort of stupidly misses him.

Be a moose, Phil replies, which is exactly zero help and only serves to make Dan miss him a little more.

what are u going as o.O he asks. He has a ratty witch hat somewhere in the depths of this closet, he remembers glancing at it a few weeks ago. That could be good, with, like, all black and a cape, although Dan’s got no fucking clue where to get a cape at the minute. Everywhere’s bound to have sold out. Maybe like… a sheet?

He kicks at a pile of clothes and groans when it collapses, dust billowing up in a mushroom cloud and making him cough. A fuzzy mitten tumbles away from Dan’s foot. His phone buzzes again in his pocket.

it’s a SURPRISE! ;D Phil has replied, and that's even less help than be a moose but that's okay. Dan doesn't mind. He's too busy being so fond it hurts to mind. That seems to be the general theme lately - the things that Phil does don't annoy Dan the way they might if someone else was doing them. Phil never makes Dan tired. It's delightful.

This whole costume-making thing has kicked his arse though, and he sits down on the floor heavily, abandoning his task in favour of taking a stupid pouty selfie and sending it to Phil. It's the third picture of himself he's sent to Phil so far today. They’ve been talking nonstop since Dan’s been back home, even more so than before, but Dan still misses him so much he’s forced to cuddle a pillow at night so he can sleep.

Phil responds with lol! ur cute x3 like a little bear cub <3

Dan tries to recall if he's ever told Phil his mum’s pet name of choice. He doesn't think he has. Maybe he's just got that sort of face.

awrf, he replies, then sighs and looks back at the pile of clothes spilling out of his closet. He's been putting off tidying for so long that it's turned into a seemingly insurmountable task.

The fuzzy mitten that’d fallen earlier catches Dan’s eye this time round.

“Like a bear cub,” he mumbles, and then he snorts. That’ll do.

It takes him two and a half hours, twelve pounds, and a hasty drive to a crafts shop, but by the time he's done he has a passably-not-shit bear costume. All he’ll need to do is use eyeliner or, like, marker pen or something to give himself a nose. It’ll be dark at the gathering anyway, he doesn't really need a good costume at all.

finished my costume x] he texts Phil triumphantly. Phil sends him a selfie twelve minutes later, a soft toy snake round his neck. It's followed by Im going as britney ;))

Dan actually laughs out loud, typing out a response as fast as his thumbs will go.

BUT can u do the sex moany beginning bit of toxic? i challenge u to a duel >:]

hahaa x], Phil replies almost instantly. ur going downnnn guitarboy.

 

 

For some reason being called Yazi is really grating on Dan’s nerves today. Usually he tries to ignore it, but today each z makes him want to gag. By the time he gets out of work, sits through dinner with his parents, and clears the table before he's asked, his skin is prickling with irritation. He's so tired of this. It's time. He just needs to get this done.

(Reckless, says the tiny rational voice at the back of his head, slow down you idiot, but he ignores it and plunges ahead.)

“Mum, Dad, can I talk to you?”

He blurts it out without thinking anything through. The way his mum’s hands pause over the sink makes him wish he could take it back. She turns and smiles, but he can see the apprehension in her eyes. His dad sets down the towel he’d been using to dry dishes and raises his eyebrows at Dan.

“Of course, darling,” his mum says. Dan nods and swallows hard. The tiny anxious grabbing hands are in his stomach again, slipping up into his ribcage and making his throat feel shivery.

“Um. Right. I’m going to tell you something and I need you to just listen and trust me and not try to interrupt me until I've explained everything,” he says, trying hard to keep his voice from wobbling. His mum shifts slightly and Dan’s gut does a terrible nervous lurch. “Um. Okay. You know what - um. Like. You've - you know what transgender means, right?”

His mum’s eyes go infinitesimally wider. Her lips part slightly. Dan’s whole body is shaking. He shoves his hands into his hoodie pocket to hide it.

“Yes,” Dan’s dad says when the silence stretches just slightly too long. Dan tries to take a breath and finds his lungs won't quite inflate.

“Right, well,” he says, rushed, his eyes fixed on the corner of the refrigerator above his mum’s head. He digs his nails into the back of his wrist, still tucked deep in his hoodie pocket. “That's - I mean, like I am. Trans. I'm, like, um, I’m a trans boy, I’m a boy, I feel like a - a boy, and I'm called Dan now and I, um. Really need you to be okay with this because I can't like, I can't change it. It's just who I am and it's not - It's not because of anything. Like nothing's happened to me to make me, um. This way. It's nothing you've done, it's just who I am. I'm Dan.”

The silence is so - fuck. It's absolute. Dan wants to curl up into a knot on the floor and sink through the linoleum tiles and disappear. His parents are staring at him like he's grown a second head.

"This is a bit sudden," his mum says finally, and Dan hates this and hates her and hates himself.

"It's not," he mumbles, and his dad snorts a little.

"You've never given any indication of this before," he says gruffly. Dan exhales hard. Resisting the urge to roll his eyes at the absurdity of that almost hurts.

"Because I didn't know before," he snaps. His dad's mouth is a tight line. His mum looks like she might cry.

“Don't you dare snap at me, Yazi,” his dad says sharply. Dan gnaws savagely at the inside of his cheek. “Have some respect.”

"Don't call me that. And I'm not a child," Dan retorts through gritted teeth. “I don't owe you anything.”

“You live in our house out of the goodness of our hearts,” his dad interrupts. His voice is hard and cutting. Dan’s hands are shaking slightly. “You are a guest here.”

“David -” Dan’s mum starts, and Dan’s dad stares at Dan for a few seconds, then shakes his head disdainfully.

“Get it together, Yazi. This can't keep going on. You're not a kid anymore, stop acting out for attention. Lying doesn't work in the real world.”

That's it. That's the last straw. Anger rushes up hot in Dan’s throat and all he wants is to kick and scream and cry and punch things. This isn't fair.

“Who are you to tell me I’m lying?” Dan grits out. “You don't know what it's like in my head, who are you to say?” His dad rolls his eyes.

“You've been playing pretend and making up characters your whole life. That's all this is. It's time to grow up.”

His dad leaves the room. Dan stares after him, his face burning and a buzzing in his ears. His mum is still standing there, by the fridge, her eyes wide and alarmed. He looks over at her.

“Mum?” he whispers. She opens her mouth to say something, then closes it and shakes her head before following her husband out of the room.

A terrible numbness is spreading through Dan’s chest. The counter behind him is digging into the small of his back and his breathing is ragged and his world is collapsing. Playing pretend. Acting out. Get it together, Yazi.

“Get it together,” he whispers to his shaking hands. There's a sandy dryness behind his eyes that makes him wish he was crying, maybe. At least then he'd get a bit of an emotional release or something, instead of feeling like a clock that's been wound too far.

He hates this. Hates his mum and his dad, hates himself for hating them, hates that he can't just let himself feel things without second-guessing them or being swamped by overwhelming guilt. Hates that he is the way he is at all. Hates that this conversation even had to happen. It isn't fair.

He kicks viciously at the side of the kitchen counter, hisses when his toe collides with solid wood. The rush of pain aches and throbs in his bones. It's almost satisfying, like his outside should be hurting the way his inside is.

 

 

Dan’s halfway through an evening bowl of cereal two nights later when his mum comes home from work. He hears the click of the door unlocking and glances down at his unfinished Shreddies, wondering whether he has time to throw the bowl in the sink and sprint upstairs. His mum’s coming down the hall though - Dan hears her toss her keys into the bowl next to the door, hears her shoes clicking across the hardwood floor- and Dan’s not nearly fast enough to make a quick escape at this point.

“Hey, Mum,” he says instead, when she steps through the doorway into the kitchen. She’s in her work uniform and she looks tired, her shoulders slouching as she sets down a pile of filing folders.

“Oh, hullo, Yaz.” She pauses. “Oh, blimey, sorry.” She pauses again. “Dan. How’s your day going?”

Dan sort of feels like he's been knocked over. His spoon clatters against the side of his bowl and his name is echoing through his head in his mum’s voice.

“Fine,” he manages to reply, a little bit choked. His mum smiles and moves toward the refrigerator, opening it and pulling out an orange. She leans against the counter and peels it quickly, her thumb pushing the rind away from the flesh of the fruit in quick movements.

“Your dad’s been invited to a Halloween party at a work friend’s,” she says, separating a piece of orange and popping it into her mouth. “Adrian said something about a movie night at Will and Sophie Carroll's house, you know Sophie, don't you? I think she's a year or two behind you, actually, but I know Will goes to Forest so I imagine there must be some overlap.”

“Maybe. Name doesn't ring a bell,” Dan says, since he mostly ran with people his age or older at school. Explains why he hasn't any friends left in Wokingham.

“Hm. Well, anyway. Adrian’s going there. Do you have plans on Halloween? You're welcome to come along to the party with me and your dad, it's at the Gallaviches, they'd love to see you,” his mum offers, excavating another slice of orange and biting down on half of it. “Mm. Love a good orange. Anyway.” She smiles expectantly at Dan, who opens his mouth and blinks before closing it again and frowning, not one hundred percent sure what to say. This feels so… normal.

“I was going to go to, um, like a thing in London actually?” he says, rather rushed. His mum raises her eyebrows, interested in a way that looks oddly unthreatening. “With, um, my friend from Manchester. And we were going to stay in, like, with friends in London for the night.”

“Where did you get all these friends?” his mum laughs, and he must look hurt or offended or something because she smiles at him. “I’m teasing, Dan.” She pauses. “Goodness. That does take some getting used to.” Her smile goes softer and Dan feels those hands in his stomach again, pulling insistently at his intestines and his lungs.

“I - what?” he says, bewildered. His mum sighs and sits down across from him, her small square hands folded like leaves in front of her. She looks older than she is, now, slouched over slightly like Dan does when he's out of his comfort zone. They're so similar. It always startles him when he remembers.

“I’m sorry,” his mum says after a long, thoughtful pause. “Your dad and I reacted really poorly the other night. It was a lot to take in and we were startled. And of course,” she adds quickly, when she sees Dan starting to rear up defensively. “That's no excuse at all, and I know that, and I really am so sorry. We don't - We don't want you to think that we mind, because we don't. We will always love you no matter what, isn't that what we told you before?” Her hands crawl across the table and grab Dan’s, startling him. He lets her hang onto him, though. Her grip is strong and familiar and warm. “I - I always wanted two boys. You're lovely. This is lovely.” Her voice is sort of wobbly and Dan hopes she doesn't cry, because then he’ll cry, and they’ll both be a mess, and then his dad will come plodding in the door from his evening weights class at the gym like what the hell is going on, Karen, you said you’d go somewhere else for this, and he’ll have to swallow all his weird wiggly overwhelming feelings and act like A Man for his dad, just to prove himself. God, all he wants is to get into bed.

“Okay, Mum,” he says, patient but awkward. She doesn't let go, even when he lets his hands go slack. “Right. Thanks for like. Apologising and all that, I accept it, thank you, okay.” He nods too many times in a row. His mobile chimes in his pocket. Her eyes go all bright and alert. “I - probably just Phil, Mum. Can you -” he wiggles his fingers, “can you please let go.”

She releases his hands with a hurt sort of look. He almost grimaces.

“It’s fine,” he tells her instead. “I just want to like. Look at this text really quickly, okay, like, half a minute. Then we can go back to your weird hippie bonding thing.”

She laughs rather damply and wipes at the corners of her eyes as Dan pulls out his phone. It’s nothing, just a notification from twitter that PJ has liked his latest tweet. He pretends to answer though, just to stall for time.

“You really don't… mind?” he asks finally, his voice very small, picking at the corner of his phone case with a fingernail. “You were so - And what about Dad?”

“It doesn't matter.” His mum sounds all firm and resolute now, sure of herself, beneath it all a little bit proud that she's chosen the right decision. “We were wrong. What sort of parents would we be if we didn't support you in this? It’ll take some getting used to, but -”

“You have to try.” Dan knows he sounds desperate but he doesn't care. He can't care. This is too important for him to care. “Mum, this is so important to me. I'm going to remind you. I can't let you forget. You have to really really try. Okay? Please? Please, Mum.”

She stands up and rounds the table and pulls him up out of his chair into a long hug. He’s so tall now (his favourite thing about himself - his long legs and lanky narrow frame that help him pass so easily, most of the time) that she only comes up to his shoulder.

“I had a little girl bear who I loved very much,” his mum says, and he winces against her hair but doesn't interrupt because he knows she means well. “And now I have a big boy bear who’s just as good.” She rubs her fingers in soothing circles on his back, where his binder digs in and makes him ache slightly, low in his bones.

“I'm not five, Mum,” Dan sort of laughs, even though it's not really that funny, and he's tired and he has to make sure his extra phone charger is in his bag for his stay in London because Phil is a bit of a mess who would forget his own legs if they weren't attached to his body so he most certainly will not remember a phone charger of his own.

“Your friend in Manchester knows, I guess?” his mum asks after a minute. She lets go of Dan’s hands and he sighs slightly in relief. Touching always sort of makes his skin feel like it's made of static, and not in a nice way. Phil’s the only person he's on that level of comfort with anymore.

“Yeah, he does,” Dan agrees. “I, um. Told him first, actually. Figured if he wasn't cool with it no one would be.” It's a weak joke, and so is the smile he offers along with it, but his mum smiles wanly back at him anyway.

“His name’s Phil?” she asks. Dan nods. “I’m glad you have someone you can trust like that. I’m sorry I couldn't be that for you.”

“You're my mum,” Dan says apologetically. She smiles, her eyes watering. “It's different.”

The conversation stays in his head all evening. He isn't sure what to make of it and he wishes he knew what it was that made his mum do such a quick 180, but he's not going to complain. His name sounds so good coming out of other people's mouths.

His dad doesn't seem likely to apologise, but that's not too surprising. Dan’s not much like his dad, but they've got the same streak of stubborn pride. He does get a gruff “be careful, son,” when his dad drops him off at the train station though, which makes Dan’s heart feel like it's soaring out of his chest.

 

 

The Halloween gathering is crowded and loud. Everyone is drinking weird beer and there's no sign of food anywhere. When Phil grabs Dan’s elbow and pulls him to the side, out of the crowd, away from a loud girl named Julie and her - girlfriend? Dan can never quite tell with this sort of people, they're all constantly hanging all over each other - it's a little bit of a relief.

“I would fucking kill for chips,” he says when the two of them sit down on the edge of a fountain nearby. The sky is dark and clear and he's very aware of Phil’s warm solid body next to him. “Are youtubers not meant to eat? Is that why you're all so beautiful and thin?”

“You're thin,” Phil says indignantly. Dan rolls his eyes at him. “Oh, be quiet, yes you are.”

Dan shoves him gently with his shoulder and Phil shoves him back and then he stands up and looks down at Dan with this grin that makes Dan’s knees feel actually wobbly. That doesn't seem like something that should happen in real life. None of this does.

“Come on,” Phil says when Dan doesn't stand up. “You wanted chips, right? There must be a late-night fish and chips place, this is London.”

“You might be overestimating London,” Dan drawls, standing up and grinning when Phil rolls his eyes at him.

They don't find a chip shop - “I told you none would be open past midnight,” Dan had crowed triumphantly when Phil admitted defeat - but there's a McDonald’s that's still lit up on a corner two roads down so they wander towards it down the hill. Their shoulders keep bumping together as they walk, the contact sending waves of warmth over Dan’s body. He still has marker pen on his face and the girl at the till in the McDonald’s gives them both a weird look, but Phil slips his hand into Dan’s jacket pocket and twists their fingers together so Dan can't bring himself to care.

“McDonald’s is corporate,” Dan says, once they've gone back outside. The air is crisp against his face and it feels good, cuts nicely through the warm hum of alcohol in his body. “And horrible and disgusting.” He pops a chip into his mouth and his eyes flutter closed as he moans loudly. Phil lets out a shocked burst of laughter.

“Dan!”

“But their chips are so fucking good. Oh, god. That is like a sexual experience right now Phil, mate, that chip just gave me a better orgasm than you ever have.”

“Oi.”

Dan’s face hurts from how hard he's smiling. Phil’s trying to look annoyed but he's doing a pretty poor job of it. He reaches out and grabs a couple of chips, popping them into his mouth and nodding.

“Not bad,” he says, grinning sideways. “I see your point about the orgasms.” Dan sticks his tongue out. He feels sort of limitless, like if he wanted to he could stretch his fingertips up and touch the sky.

They rejoin the gathering once the chips are gone, although if they walk very very slowly on their way back no one needs to know. Phil’s hand is still warm in Dan’s pocket. They let go when they reach the edge of the crowd because pda on twitter can always be played off as banter but a video recording would seal the deal and they'd agreed, after a long and rather serious talk at two am on the third morning of Dan’s visit to Manchester, that their not-quite-relationship is something they want to keep separate from their internet lives, no matter what label they eventually decide on.

“Or don't,” Phil had added, laughing rather nervously into the darkness of his bedroom. Dan had put his hand down, palm-up on the bed between them, as a gentle peace offering. Phil paused, but after a few seconds he’d taken Dan’s hand. “It's okay to not label it. Labels sort of freak me out actually. And like all this in general. Like I fancy you a lot but that is so terrifying, I have no idea how to... So actually like maybe not… labeling us for now would be better?”

Dan had gotten sort of pissed about that for a second, actually, defensiveness rising up in his throat with a why aren't I good enough that he’d managed to stop just in time. Then he’d taken a deep breath and remembered the way Phil had accepted him as he was without question. It was the least he could do to return the favour.

“That's fine,” Dan had said, pulling Phil’s hand to his mouth and kissing his knuckles. Phil had exhaled shakily, tension visibly leaving his body as he slumped back against his pillow. “That's - who cares, it's not like I'm fucking anyone else.” He’d tried to grin but it had wobbled and somehow in the dark Phil must have seen, because he was scrambling up and forward and cupping Dan’s face in his hands instantly.

“It's not like that,” he’d said, more serious than Dan had ever heard him. “Dan, no. It's not. I’d never. It's not about you, I just need time. For my head to get less messy. I really fancy you. Please don't worry that I don't.”

They haven't talked about it since then, but right now Dan’s hand is warm from Phil’s tight grip and he can smell Phil’s cologne on his jacket and even though they haven't actually confirmed anything he knows that everyone who looks at them knows that they're… something.

They're something. Dan feels sort of giddy with it, bubbles swelling and popping just beneath his ribcage. It feels good to be a something, a someone, a person’s Person. Puzzle pieces or whatever bullshit. The attention makes Dan feel good for once, almost smug as he follows Phil around the gathering. At one point they're pushing through a press of people and Phil stumbles slightly. Dan scoots in and slides his hand across the small of Phil’s back to loop around his side and guide him diagonally out of the crowd.

“You're good at that,” Phil says, staring rather wide-eyed at the sudden influx of people on the road. Pubs letting out, probably. Dan grins.

“You're talking to a Reading Fest vet, that's why,” he replies, laughing when Phil makes a face at him. “I'm serious! Me and Elise got through crowds like fucking monsters, mate, we didn't play around.”

Phil looks at him consideringly for a second, then tips his head back and lets out a startlingly loud velociraptor screech.

“Jeeeesus,” Dan says, laughing low in his throat. Someone on the other road shouts something about heard a fuckin’ dinosaur, followed by peals of fond mocking laughter.

“Monsters,” Phil replies, like that explains something. Dan snorts and shakes his head. Phil bumps him fondly and they continue to walk down the road, towards the people Phil came here to hang out with in the first place.

 

 

November drags itself in on heavy feet and settles in cold and rainy and grey. Dan goes to work and daydreams for the whole of his shift and goes home and hides in his room, waiting for Phil to text him that he's ready to skype. It's not a particularly exciting way to live but Dan’s floating through it, buoyed by the emoticon hearts that Phil texts him throughout the day.

They still haven't officially addressed it yet but secretly Dan is pretty sure he's Phil’s boyfriend. Which is cool. It's cool to think of himself as a boyfriend. It makes him feel important and special and good down to his bones. They talk all the time and Phil tweets him publicly, too, makes his interest clear, and it's all so exciting. Dan has things to look forward to, now, and it makes the days pass quickly, most of the time.

He visits Manchester again, this time with Charlie and a guy called Stephen, and Dan is acutely aware of the extra bodies in the room. They're both well cool, they're funny and easy to talk to and open about, like, identity shit, but Dan still sort of wishes it was just him and Phil. He feels a bit like an outsider, until Stephen throws him a bright sideways smile and says, right in the middle of his story, “Dan was brilliant, he totally had the security bloke convinced until fucking Charlie started laughing.”

Phil’s eyes are starry. Dan scoots closer to him, rests his head on Phil’s shoulder and sighs, satisfied, when Phil runs his hand down Dan’s thigh and lets it rest just above his knee.

“It was not my fault,” Charlie protests. “His story was so stupid, the guy didn't believe him at all, we were gonna be asked to leave anyway, I did tell you!”

The two of them are laughing loudly and Phil huffs out a chuckle. Dan shifts even closer, their body heat bleeding together and making Dan feel warm all over. It feels good to be able to do this in front of other people. Stephen and Charlie are cool, they don't care, they're not going to say anything, and Dan really appreciates it.

It's better when they all go their separate ways, though, Charlie and Stephen off to a restaurant for dinner and Dan and Phil back to Phil’s house. The two of them end up curled together on the couch in the Lesters’ lounge, a BBC3 show on that neither of them particularly care about. Dan’s tucked into the corner of the couch with his hand pressed flat and firm against his lower abdomen, which is tight and aching with cramps. He's been able to ignore it all day but the paracetamol he took earlier hasn’t kicked in yet and the pulse of pain is getting more and more intense as the evening wears on.

Phil must notice his discomfort because he shifts closer and rubs his hand soothingly up and down Dan’s shin.

“Okay?” he asks. Dan exhales slowly and presses down harder as the sharp pain swells again and makes his head swim.

“Uh,” he says, awkward and a little breathless. “Ow. Um. Cramps.”

He hates acknowledging that this is something that happens to him. It makes him feel fake. He’ll deal with it because he hasn't got a choice but talking about it is too much. The niggling self doubt in the back of his head always springs on this, on real boys don't get periods, and it's easier to just pretend it isn't happening.

Phil’s making a sympathetic face at him, his hand still moving in kind circles up and down Dan’s calf.

“Is there anything I can do?” he asks. His eyes brighten and he grins. “We have hot chocolate, that makes everything better.”

“If you want,” Dan mumbles. He’s sort of touched that Phil’s offering but he's mostly just embarrassed that they're still talking about it. Phil nods and Dan watches as he untangles himself from Dan’s legs, standing up and leaning over to cup Dan’s chin and kiss him deep. It lasts just long enough to steal the air out of Dan’s lungs and then Phil pulls away.

“I’ll be back in five minutes,” he says. Dan nods and Phil rushes out of the lounge, stumbling on the edge of the carpet in his haste to help. He laughs at himself as he goes through the door.

“I love you,” Dan breathes after him, barely audible, and then he realises what he said and sucks in a sharp breath, his hand coming up to cover his mouth. His lips are still warm and oversensitive underneath his fingertips. He leans back against the armrest of the sofa and stares at the door, his eyes glazed as he tries to process what's happening.

He hadn't even thought about it before opening his mouth. He supposes that makes it true. Can it be, if they’d only met less than a month ago? But he’d fancied Phil a long while before that, he’d even sort of fancied Phil in a celebrity crush kind of way when he was dating Elise, so…

“I love him,” Dan whispers, trying it out in his head and seeing how it feels. He closes his eyes and tries to imagine saying it to Phil’s face and his heart flips over into his stomach. It's true. It has to be. “Oh, god.”

He's not going to say anything, obviously. Not yet. He remembers the nervous quake of Phil’s fingers during their talk about relationships and labels and whether they wanted them or not, remembers how relieved Phil had seemed when Dan had agreed to take it slow, and he knows he can't push this. Phil is too important for Dan to risk that.

It's only a few minutes before Phil is wobbling carefully back into the living room, a mug of steaming hot cocoa in each hand.

“Please take one of these,” he says, his voice only slightly panicked as the liquid in both of the mugs threatens to spill out onto the floor. Dan leans forward and rescues his hot cocoa, returning to the corner of the couch that he's claimed as his own and watching as Phil tries to pull the coffee table closer to them and ends up spilling hot chocolate onto his hand. “Ah, ouch.”

“Here,” Dan laughs, reaching out and taking Phil’s cocoa mug. He sets it down on the crooked coffee table and pushes a box of tissues towards Phil. “Get yourself sorted. Is your hand okay?”

Phil wipes the cocoa off his hand and wrist with one of the tissues. The skin is pink and probably sore, but it doesn't look too bad.

“Hurts,” Phil pouts. He holds it out and grins. “Kiss it better?”

“You're a twat,” Dan says, rolling his eyes, but he puts his fingertips beneath Phil’s palm and guides Phil’s knuckles up to press his mouth against them. Phil sighs slightly and sinks down onto the couch, leaning towards Dan so his forehead is resting on Dan’s shoulder. “Hullo.”

“Hi,” Phil replies, his voice slightly muffled by Dan’s shirt. “How’s things. What are we watching.”

“I’ve no idea,” Dan tells him. He takes a careful sip of hot cocoa and smiles at the mug. Phil’s made it exactly right. It warms Dan from the inside out, or maybe that's just the way Phil is making him feel. He can't quite tell the difference.

Phil sits back up and grabs his mug of cocoa from the coffee table, wrapping his hands around it and taking a long slurp. Then his eyes go wide over the rim of the mug.

“Your stomach. We have medicine, d’you want some?”

Dan appreciates the concern but he really did think they were finished talking about this. He’d much rather ignore it. If he ignores it it doesn't matter.

Pain slams into him like a wall, making his eyes go unfocused and his breath go ragged for a couple of seconds. It hurts but it's nothing he’s not used to and it's humiliating more than anything else. Dan wishes Phil would look away. He pushes his palm flat against his lower belly again and waits for the wave to pass.

“Okay,” Phil says, maybe to Dan or maybe to himself, then stands up and hurries out of the lounge again. Dan sighs and tips his head back so it's leaning on the armrest of the couch, his eyes slipping closed. All of the muscles in his torso feel too-tight and worn out.

He doesn’t know how long Phil’s gone. It isn’t a terribly long time, maybe five minutes, but all Dan can focus on is the exhausting ache in his muscles. The door to the sitting room opens and Phil pushes through, a bottle of paracetamol tablets in one hand and a cup of water in the other.

“I thought we had one of those heat pack things,” he says, tossing Dan the paracetamol. It bounces off the back of the couch and lands directly in Dan’s lap. “Oh, wow, did you see that, that never happens.”

“Maybe I’m your good luck charm,” Dan suggests, looking up from under his eyelashes, and he’s totally joking but Phil’s smile goes a little softer, his eyes liquid and gentle and pulling Dan in.

“Yeah,” Phil agrees. His voice is quiet. Dan’s heart does a startling little flip right into his stomach and he looks away, overwhelmed by the wave of intense fondness rising up in his chest. A few seconds pass and then the couch cushions dip as Phil sits down. Dan stretches his legs out and tucks his feet around Phil’s side, pulling him closer until he lays down with his head resting on Dan’s chest, one hand curled on Dan’s waist and the other pressed gently against Dan’s lower abdomen, right where it hurts. Dan folds his knees over Phil’s thighs and shudders out a long exhale, tipping his head back and bringing his hand up to slide through Phil’s hair. The gentle pressure that Phil is putting on Dan’s belly is easing Dan’s cramps somehow, a combination of warmth and released tension. It makes Dan’s head spin like he’s been holding his breath.

“That feels so fucking good,” he mumbles, closing his eyes and shifting his hips just slightly. He feels Phil’s mouth press slowly against his shoulder and sighs again, loved up and somehow, impossibly, gloriously content.

 

 

He loses his job halfway through the month and it’s the worst he’s felt in a long time. He spends a long night panicking about his future and what the fuck he’s going to do, oh my god, what the hell, and he has a bit of a breakdown on twitter and he wants more than anything to call Phil but at that point it’s three in the morning and he can’t - that’s so -

He wants to stop doing that so much. He has to be able to do shit on his own. Codependence isn’t cute and he knows it and he’s a little bit scared. So he waits to text Phil until 1:30 the next day, exactly when his shift would normally start.

have U not got work?? Phil asks a few minutes later. Dan’s staring at himself critically in the mirror propped up in the corner of his room and he watches himself text out of the corner of his eye, standing up a little straighter to make his shoulders look more broad. He shifts his hips and feet, too, so he’s standing more like how Phil stands, feet apart and his phoneless hand tucked into his pocket. It feels weird and stiff but he’s got to make it natural. His name is Dan and he’s a boy and he’s going to look the fucking part.

Nah can u go on skype? 2 complicated 2 explain on text lmao x_x

Dan boots up his laptop and opens skype. He only has to wait a few seconds before Phil comes online too, and just as he’s about to click call Phil’s face pops up on his screen. He hits accept immediately and tries to smile as the picture loads.

“Hi!” Phil says cheerfully. He’s wearing a jacket, like he just came in from somewhere, and his cheeks are pink. Dan wants to kiss him.

“Hi.” Dan is more subdued, but that’s not unusual at the start of their skype calls. He tends to let Phil take the lead at first, likes to listen as Phil talks about his day. It makes him feel like he’s giving something back. He knows he can’t do that now, though, since he was the one who had to get all cryptic over text.

“Hi!” Phil repeats, shrugging off his jacket to reveal a soft dark blue jumper than Dan wants to steal immediately. “How’s things?”

“I got fired.” Rip off the plaster, fast and sharp. Learn to live with the flush of mortification that comes with failure and letting people down. Phil’s smile slips off his face. He blinks a few times.

“Really?” Dan nods. “Shit.” Dan nods again. “That’s awful, I’m so sorry.”

“I mean, what the fuck ever,” Dan says with a shrug and a roll of his eyes and a sudden burst of vindictive anger in his chest. “Not like I fancied working at bloody Asda for much longer, and I’m doing that work experience stuff in the new year so I’d be quitting sometime soon regardless.” Phil nods. Dan brings his hand up to the screen of his laptop and wishes Phil were here, or he were there. He wishes he didn’t have to deal with this at all.

“Are you okay?” Phil asks cautiously. Dan swallows and looks down at his hands, curled into loose fists in his lap. He breathes out slow - once, twice, focus Dan - then sighs shortly, uncurls his hands, and nods. He straightens his shoulders when he lifts his eyes to look at Phil again.

“Yeah,” he says, and he means it. It’s fine. It’s not bad at all really, he was planning on quitting soon anyway, so this just made it easier.

They fall into easy chatter after that but Dan can tell that Phil has something on his mind. It doesn’t come up for another two hours, by which time they’ve exhausted topics from Lord of the Rings (“the Ents are fucking hilarious, they’re actually a reference to Shakespeare, cos - have you read Macbeth? In Macbeth there’s a prophecy about Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane Hill and the prophecy comes true because the soldiers literally cut down loads of trees and move them up the hill. Anyway, Tolkien created Ents because he was pissed Birnam Wood wasn’t literal walking trees gone to kill Macbeth and his wife”) to red pandas (“they’re also called fire foxes, and look, have you seen this video? So cute”) to the latest videos each of them have posted. Phil finishes his thought and the two of them settle into an easy quiet.

Dan likes that they can do this. That it’s okay when they don’t talk. That they’re comfortable together like they are. It makes him feel special.

“Since you’re not going to be working,” Phil says carefully, and Dan doesn’t let himself grimace even as shame prickles in his muscles again, “maybe you could come up to Manchester for longer.”

Dan stares at him, a grin slowly growing on his face. “Really?”

“Cost the same, wouldn’t it?” Phil grins too. “You could help me with this idea I have,” and then he’s off and running, explaining some kind of elaborate Choose Your Own Adventure sort of thing, and Dan listens and thinks he’d rather like to do this forever.

 

 

 

If there's a day that Dan thinks he’ll remember for the rest of his life, this might be it. Snow is piled in drifts up to his knees and Phil is holding his hand and the sky is a thin grey that holds the promise of more snow that night. He's wearing three jumpers and that soft stupid faux-fur hat that Phil has declared the best thing in the universe and Phil’s cheeks and nose are red from the cold. They're near an old abandoned hospital, which is creepy, but Phil points out that it's daytime and they're not going inside, so Dan relents and follows Phil to the fence.

He arms himself with two icicles though, each the length of his arm, and when Phil turns around and sees him he laughs and laughs until he’s slumped over in the snow, his shoulders shaking and his eyes crinkled at the corners and the tip of his tongue poking out of the side of his mouth.

“You are so strange,” he says, staring up at Dan with shining eyes, and he sounds so happy about it that Dan can't help but blush. “You're so cool, Dan.”

“Cold, more like,” Dan quips, because he's an asshole who can't take a compliment. Phil clambers up from his pile of snow and tries to brush it all off his jeans, but the damage has been done.

“Me too,” he agrees with a defeated sigh aimed at the snow caked to his legs. They start the trek back, following their footsteps through the woods towards Phil’s neighbourhood. Dan doesn't remember exactly when, but no one else is around so somewhere along the way they end up holding hands, and when they near the edge of the woods Phil pulls him close and kisses him for a very long time, against the trunk of a tall tree with his hands bracketing Dan’s hipbones. It's mindblowing. Dan slumps against the rough bark when Phil pulls away, his breath puffing out in front of his face.

“What are you doing?” Dan asks, watching him walk a few metres away, to a patch of undisturbed snow. Phil doesn't answer, just grabs a stick from the ground and reaches out with it and draws a line, then several more. Dan goes to move forward and Phil shakes his head.

“No, you can't yet, I have two letters left!” he says quickly, flapping his free hand at Dan, who laughs and steps back. He watches Phil draw a few more careful lines in the snow before moving away and flashing a smile at Dan.

“Can I look now?” Dan asks. Phil nods. Dan steps forward so he's standing next to Phil, their shoulders bumping, Phil’s hand swinging down to nudge Dan’s own. He's written something in the snow, an i and a wobbly heart and a dan that makes Dan’s stomach flip.

“I heart Phil, too,” he says, very quiet, and Phil takes his hand and presses a kiss to the side of his temple. The moment feels serious, important, like it's something Dan is going to remember forever.

It's been a perfect day so far, on all accounts.

When they get back to Phil’s house they stand in the foyer and peel off their snowy clothes, jumpers and jeans thrown onto the ground in a soggy pile. Dan stands shivering in boxers and his binder whilst Phil, wearing nothing but his pants, runs upstairs to get dry towels.

“Here,” he says when he returns, wearing trackies and a t-shirt and tossing one of two massive fluffy towels at Dan. “Get warm, I’ve left out clothes for you in my room when you're ready. Want a hot chocolate?”

Dan rubs at his hair with the towel, grimacing when droplets of water fall from his hair to the bare skin of his shoulders.

“Please,” he says. Phil puts his own towel on like a cape and nods, waving Dan in the direction of the stairs. Dan goes obediently, stumbling a little because his feet are still a bit numb from cold. The radiator at the top of the staircase rattles to life, blasting Dan with heat as he passes it and ducks into Phil’s bedroom. It's a tip, clothes abandoned everywhere and dvd cases balanced in precarious spots. Satisfaction blooms behind Dan’s sternum when he notices some of his own stuff scattered throughout the mess, like he belongs here.

The green York University hoodie is laid out on the foot of Phil’s bed, along with a pair of black sweatpants. Dan grabs a pair of his own boxers, then steps out of his wet pants and pulls the dry pair on. Peeling off his binder, damp as it is, turns out to be a tricky task, but he manages it after a few minutes, tossing the binder to the floor with a wet flop. The dry clothes are soft and warm against his cold clammy skin and they smell like Phil, which is definitely a perk of constantly stealing Phil’s stuff.

He pads downstairs in bare feet with the hood of the York sweatshirt pulled up over his wet curling hair. Phil is blinking at the empty fireplace, hesitance in the lines of his shoulders.

“Hi,” Dan says from the doorway of the sitting room. Phil turns at the sound of his voice and his whole face lights up. It makes Dan’s heart do a backflip right into his stomach.

“I guess you're probably not that good at setting fires?” Phil asks, forgoing a greeting, and Dan snorts as he joins him by the hearth.

“Oh, I get it, a danisnotonfire joke,” Dan deadpans. Phil grins with his whole entire face, endlessly pleased with himself. “You're really funny. That was a really good one, Phil. I did scouts, I can set a fire, budge over.

His friend Andy did scouts, actually. Dan did Girl Guides, which he quit after three months because he hated it with every fibre of his being. But he remembers what Andy taught him from scouts, and he’s been to many a bonfire in his time, so he reckons a fireplace is pretty much the same.

It's not, he sees as soon as he properly looks at the thing. There's nowhere to put any logs.

“It's gas or something?” Phil says, shrugging. “Dunno.”

“You've lived here your whole life,” Dan says exasperatedly. Phil shrugs again. “You are the worst.”

There's a box of matches on the mantel and Dan stands up to grab them, his knees cracking pleasantly. As he takes a match and lights it against the box, Phil slides his hand smoothly up Dan’s calf.

“Oi, unless you want your house burnt down you’d better stop,” Dan says. Phil laughs but leans back on his elbows, watching as Dan shakes out the match and crouches back down to turn on the gas and light another.

It’s easy, in the end. He doesn’t even burn off any arm hair, and the fire flickers up merrily within minutes casting the sitting room in a warm glow. The two of them cuddle up on the couch with the intention of watching The Empire Strikes Back, but by the time Luke is dragged off his tauntaun by a wampa they’re tangled together and focused fully on each other, kissing for so long that Dan doesn’t even remember where he is anymore. All he knows is this, and it’s perfect, and -

“You want to go upstairs?” Phil asks, and Dan shudders because it’s not even a question at this point, is it. Of course he wants to go upstairs.

“Please,” he whispers, pressing in closer, and Phil closes his eyes and drops his head into the junction of Dan’s shoulder and nods.


They fuck slow, slower than Dan’s used to, because he used to do this with Elise but it was never like this. It was never like he was something precious, something valuable, like he was being taken apart and then put back together again a little bit better. Phil’s fingers are long and slender and clever and strong and his mouth is sweet and soft and Dan’s never been in love like this. It's never, ever been like this.

He keeps his binder on, but Phil runs his hands up Dan’s chest anyway, his fingertips skimming over the tiny slope of it.

“You're so gorgeous, Dan,” he breathes, trailing his fingers over Dan’s collarbones, and his name sounds so good like that, like it was made for Phil’s mouth. Dan’s eyes are fluttering closed but he doesn't want to miss a second of this.

There's a moment when Phil starts to kiss his way down Dan’s stomach, his fingertips rubbing gentle and repetitive right at the bottom of Dan’s binder, that Dan thinks might make him cry.

“Is this okay?” Phil asks, his breath warm on the soft skin beneath Dan’s belly button. He presses a kiss to the jut of one of Dan’s hipbones.

“So okay,” Dan says. His voice is going crackly, all hoarse and low from how intense this is. “God, Phil.”

When he comes, Phil inside him with a thumb circling his clit, it's different to any orgasm he's ever had. It pulses through his body slow and overwhelming, making his head spin and his back arch tautly and his eyes slip shut. He splays his palms against Phil’s back, his breath catching in his throat at the shifting muscles there.

“Oh, god,” he mumbles. His sounds wrecked and his body feels like jelly. “Oh my god. I think I've just died.”

Phil laughs a little and presses a kiss to the side of Dan’s neck.

“I hope not,” he says. Dan wants to kiss him, so he does. Phil moans into his mouth and he wants more, suddenly. He wants Phil’s fingers and his mouth and his cock again and he's never been on fire like this before. He shifts his hips so Phil sinks deeper inside him and Phil’s eyes flutter shut.

“Come on,” Dan breathes. He moves his hips again, his head spinning at the drag of Phil’s dick inside him. “Come on, I want you to come too, please.”

It doesn't take long, only a few minutes before Phil is pushing deep into Dan and breathing hard on his neck and making Dan go nearly cross-eyed with how good it feels. When he pulls out Dan squirms.

“I can't believe you're real,” Phil sighs, after setting his condom in the bin next to his dresser and collapsing onto the bed with his head on Dan’s shoulder. “That was so good.”

“I don't think I can move,” Dan admits. Phil lets out a huff of soft laughter. His fingertips trace the bottom of Dan’s binder carefully. It almost tickles.

“How long have you been wearing this?” he asks. “Like, how many hours today?”

Dan shrugs. He knows he should take it off so he doesn't hurt his ribs, but taking off his binder makes him feel so… weird. It looks so wrong to look down and see tits instead of a flat chest. His tits aren't even that big but it's the principal of the thing, isn't it.

“I don't want to take it off,” he says quietly. His voice wobbles but he doesn't acknowledge it, and thankfully neither does Phil. “I hate taking it off. I feel so disgusting.”

Phil looks at him carefully, his eyes soft grey like a jumper in the light coming from his closet. When he blinks it's slow, considering.

“You can wear one of my hoodies,” he offers. Dan swallows hard. “They'll be big on you. My green York one, I wore it the other day so I don't have to look round for it.”

Dan pauses. He's delaying the inevitable and he knows it, but Phil’s never really seen him without a binder. Or at least two sports bras, which is what Dan had done at night when he'd visited in October.

His ribs are starting to ache. He has to choose. There's not really much of a choice.

“Yeah, okay.” A morose mumble, eyes away, glued to the shakiness of his fingers as he stretches them aimlessly up towards the ceiling. There's a faded Buffy poster at the very edge of his periphery and he shifts a little so he doesn't have to return Sarah Michelle Gellar’s intense half-lit gaze. Phil presses a kiss to the side of Dan’s stomach, then a lingering one to his hipbone. Dan sucks in a breath and arches up but Phil’s already pulling away, sitting up, dragging his hand across Dan’s leg as he clambers out of bed fully naked and starts grabbing clothes from the floor.

“I did mean to clean before you got here,” he says, tossing the York hoodie and a pair of orange and white and blue spotted boxer briefs at Dan, who catches them and looks at them in surprise. “But then I was playing Spyro and lost track of time, and then right when I started to clean again Mum called me like HOW ARE THINGS AT THE HOUSE ALONE LOVE and I had to talk to her for ages.” He chucks a white t-shirt with a pokeball on it towards the bed, then tugs on a pair of Batman pyjama pants and rejoins Dan on the bed, still shirtless.

“So you put off cleaning until the day I got here, thanks, mate,” Dan teases. Phil rolls his eyes. Then he seems to remember something and his face goes serious.

“Do you want me to look away while you change?” he asks earnestly. His eyes are so wide. Dan’s whole body goes warm with fondness.

“You, um, it doesn't matter,” he stammers. Phil raises his eyebrows and Dan blushes, his cheeks going warm. “I don't mind if you look, if you want.”

He sort of doesn't. He misses the way Elise used to look at his tits, sometimes. Like she'd never seen anything better in her life. He liked that about her, liked that she liked how he looked. He thinks Phil would look at him the same way, probably, if everything else they've done is anything to go by. It probably is. His stomach flutters when he remembers the way Phil kissed him, the way it felt like they were built to fit together like that.

He hates having tits most of the time, but sex makes him almost like them. Almost.

“Only if you're comfortable,” Phil says, gentle, and Dan nods, sits up, wriggles his way out of the constraints of his binder.

The first breath is always a little shocking. His head almost spins from it, his ribcage accordioning out in a way it hasn't done for hours. Dan heaves in a huge breath and then sighs heavily, relishing in the unconstricted airflow.

There's a long pause in which Dan keeps his eyes closed and just breathes. He's shirtless and vulnerable and trying not to think about it.

“Does it hurt?”

Phil's voice breaks the quiet and Dan opens his eyes, hunches down a little, his hands coming up to cup and cover his tits rather shyly. He swallows.

“Not too much,” he answers slowly. “It can, if you're not careful. But I'm always careful.”

“Promise me?” Phil asks, reaching out a hand. Dan holds his breath as Phil traces his fingertips along the red lines left over from Dan’s binder on his ribcage.

“Yeah,” he exhales when Phil pulls away. “I promise.”

The air in the room feels soft, somehow, the pale light from the bulb in Phil’s closet making everything look like a faded photograph. Dan swallows a little nervously and takes his hands away from his tits, grabbing the Pokémon t-shirt Phil tossed him and slipping it over his head. It's too big on him, the shoulders too wide and the neckline hanging open around his clavicle, but it’s soft and it smells like Phil’s washing powder. Phil smiles.

“I love that t-shirt,” he says happily, and Dan wonders if he means something else. But it's too soon to say that, too soon to lay everything out in the open. They've barely been together two months.

The moment breaks when Phil gives Dan’s knee a quick squeeze, then stands up.

“I'm going to go get ready for bed,” he announces. Dan nods. “Finish getting changed, then we can watch a film or something until we fall asleep.”

Dan's hips are narrow and Phil’s boxers fit him well, gently hugging his thighs. The extra fabric where his dick should be makes Dan’s stomach feel a little hollow, but he tucks his legs up and sits against the wall with his knees to his chest so he doesn't have to look. Phil comes back into the room a few minutes later, glasses on and his breath minty fresh.

“Hiya,” he says, beaming down at Dan.

“Hi,” Dan replies. He almost feels shy.

“Bathroom’s all yours, I'll set up a film,” Phil tells him, kneeling down by his bookshelf and tracing his finger along a row of DVDs. Dan stares at the broad expanse of his back. There are freckles scattered across the pale skin, forming a haphazard constellation from his hips to his shoulderblades, and Dan wants to kiss every single one of them. He swings himself off of Phil’s bed and stands up, moving to Phil’s side on legs that are still slightly wobbly.

“What are we watching?” he asks, sinking to his knees behind Phil and propping his chin on Phil’s shoulder.

“I'm sort of in the mood for Pixar,” Phil replies thoughtfully. Dan turns his head and presses a kiss to the junction of Phil’s jaw.

“Wall-E?” he mumbles against the soft skin there. Phil hums.

“Good idea.” He grabs the dvd off the shelf, then turns and gently pushes Dan off of him. “Go, Dan.” The corners of his eyes are crinkled up in a delighted smile, shining and bright. Dan grabs his face and kisses him hard, a little “oh!” pushing from between Phil’s lips when their mouths press together. It's hard to have a snog when they're both grinning like idiots but they manage, somehow. Happiness is a bobbing buoy in Dan’s chest.

 

 

“Tell me something,” Phil says, rolling over onto his stomach and propping his chin up in his hands, “that I don't know about you.”

Dan wrinkles his nose while he contemplates the question. It's the strange in-between time at night that could be very late or very early, everything soft and dark and dreamlike. Phil has a lamp on but otherwise the lights in his room are out, and they've been talking and making out intermittently for hours.

“That you don't know about me?” he echoes. Phil traces his fingertip across Dan’s wrist and nods. “Jesus, I don't know.”

“There must be something,” Phil says. He takes Dan’s hand and lifts it to his mouth, pressing a close-lipped kiss to Dan’s knuckles. Dan’s heart flutters a little.

“Um.” He watches as Phil plays with each of his fingers, folding and unfolding them, like he's amazed Dan is real. “I can play Through The Fire And Flames on expert on Guitar Hero?”

“I knew that,” Phil says, his smile making his tongue poke out. When he's tired his laugh goes all low and rumbly, like it’s rolling out from the depths of his chest. “I’ve watched you do that. Try again.”

Dan sighs and leans down to kiss Phil instead. The distraction is a good one, at least, their lips brushing gently before pressing together with a little more insistence. Phil hums in the back of his throat and sets a hand on Dan’s hip, pushing at him until he's laying on his back with Phil leaning over him.

“I could tell you something about you that you don't know,” Phil says after several heated minutes of kissing, pulling away and leaving Dan confused and breathing fast.

“Are you still thinking about that?” Dan asks, because honestly he doesn't give a damn about things he doesn't know about himself. He just wants to kiss Phil again. He wants to spend the rest of his life in this hideous bedroom snogging the face off of Phil.

“I'm mostly thinking about you,” Phil says, and like… that just isn't fair. Dan has to kiss him again after that. Phil’s whole weight is on top of him, a warm heavy press that makes Dan feel grounded and calm. He pushes his fingertips gently through Phil’s fringe, moving it away from his forehead before letting it fall back into place. They kiss open-mouthed and easy and it's amazing, how natural it feels to do this. Sometimes with Elise it felt like they were just slightly out of sync with each other, a lag in their tongues and their teeth.

It's maybe unfair to compare Phil and Elise, Dan realises. Loving Phil is easier than loving Elise was because Dan understands himself better. He knows who he is and he doesn't constantly feel trapped inside his own head anymore. If he’d accepted his transness earlier maybe he and Elise would have made it.

Then again, Phil is probably the love of Dan’s life. Dan has never, ever felt like this about anyone before. He's never connected with someone like this.

(Not that he's said as much yet. It's so - it's so soon. It's only been since October. There's still a part of him that's a little bit terrified that Phil might not feel the same way.)

They fall asleep before they can tie up any lingering strands of conversation, Dan curled up neatly on his side and Phil sprawling across most of the bed with his arms and legs starfished out. When Dan wakes up at half seven with a pressing need to wee it’s nearly impossible to disentangle himself from Phil’s limbs without jostling him. Fortunately Phil is a heavy sleeper and Dan manages.

After he pees, he sits on the toilet and stares at his short nails for a few minutes. Then he washes his hands and stares at his reflection in the mirror above the sink, at his sleepy eyes and messy hair. He looks… kind of good actually, tired but good, skinny and almost, almost masculine. If he had his binder on, and nicked one of Phil’s hoodies, and didn't talk, and jutted his chin out a little bit so his jawline looked better, he'd be perfect.

If this youtube stuff works out at all, if he starts making a bit of ad revenue the way Phil does, maybe he can put it away. Put it all into a bank account or a jar or whatever and save it up so he can start transitioning. He's been researching it a little lately - it's all very complicated. From what he's read mental health services are involved, which makes him feel kind of gross. And he's going to spend quite a bit of money if he does this. He's going to have to drag himself to hundreds of appointments with dozens of doctors and answer thousands of terrible open-ended questions without putting his foot into his mouth. He's going to have to go to the gym.

But -

But. Dan thinks about the soaring in his stomach when he passes, pictures introducing himself as Daniel and not getting any weird looks, imagines not just passing but being and no longer needing to be afraid, and he thinks he'd probably do anything to feel that for the rest of his life.

He yawns and flicks his hair out of his eyes, then settles his shoulders and leaves the toilet, flicking off the light switch as he goes. Phil’s still asleep when he gets back to the bedroom. His mouth is open slightly, his hair flopping like a banana peel across his forehead, and Dan kisses him carefully on the cheek before wiggling under the duvet and falling back asleep.

 

 

The holidays are hard. Half of Dan’s family is Catholic, or at least Catholic enough for Dan to secretly be a little bit too terrified of them to come out. They come to visit and he has to play the part of doting daughter and he hates every minute of it.

Halfway through the Christmas Eve service that the whole family is required to attend to placate their very Catholic nan, Dan slinks out of his seat at the end of the pew and hurries past the back few rows of the sacristy, past the baptismal font and out the heavy double doors that lead to the entryway of the church. His phone vibrated three hymns ago and it feels like it's burning a hole in his pocket.

(The pockets are a small victory. They're on trousers this year. He bought a pair of very black skinny jeans and said he wouldn't go if he couldn't wear them, which maybe wasn't the most mature way to go, but it worked. His mum had sighed sharply through her nose but hadn't made him change, so. Nothing to worry about.)

He glances around the deserted entranceway in an attempt to find somewhere relatively secluded to sit and text until Communion. It’s been a day but he still misses Phil like hell, and he’s bored. His mum gives him a look after church but she doesn’t say anything and Dan, although he doesn’t say anything either, is enormously grateful.

That night Dan and Phil make sure to skype until minute so they can say happy Christmas. They’re seeing each other in five days so they make it brief - Phil’s family are still awake and Dan’s are waking up early to go out to breakfast and make some poor server suffer through a Howell family meal on Christmas day instead of being at home.

“I’d better go,” Phil says apologetically, and Dan nods. He smiles and Dan’s heart does the flipping thing that’s nearly as normal as beating at this point. “Text me tomorrow. I, um.” He pauses and closes his mouth, then exhales slightly and smiles. “Have a really good night.”

“Yeah,” Dan agrees, nodding a few times, He loops his own fingers together and squeezes. He aches to be held. “Night, Phil.”

Only five days left to wait. That’s hardly anything at all.

 

 

It's 11:54. Dan has no idea where Phil’s gone but this party isn't that big, and like… he's drunk but he's not so drunk that his Phil radar is gone. He’ll find him somewhere. It's nearly midnight, he has to.

“Oi, Dan!” Chris calls, moving into Dan’s path, but Dan waves him off, says something about “sick toilet move” that sends Chris jumping right off him with a howling laugh that sounds like lightweight.

He's not a lightweight, he could drink Chris under a table, but fuck it. Phil is the priority right now.

(Right now, he thinks again, and snorts. Right now. Always, more like. Phil’s always his number one. Fuck it again.)

He looks around the crowded lounge, glances at his watch, sees 11:58 and grimaces. Getting a midnight kiss feels urgent. Phil is nowhere and Dan thinks it might be time to get a bit panicky when he remembers the little porch outside. It's a long shot and it's cold out but Dan doesn't care - he turns and speed-walks unsteadily to the front door. His coat is hanging in the open closet where he left it, but Phil’s is gone. Dan grins and pushes his way outside.

Just as he’s guessed, Phil is sitting on the porch steps, his face tilted up towards the dark sky. Someone lets off a preemptive firework and Dan hears Phil laugh softly.

“Hey,” he says, sitting down next to Phil on the cold stone of the steps.

“Oh!” Phil exclaims, his whole face transforming from quiet and thoughtful to starry with delight. The realisation that he did that because of him makes Dan’s stomach do several gravity-defying flips. “Hi! Is it midnight?”

“They were about a minute and a half early,” Dan replies, tipping his head in the direction of the overzealous firework. Phil lets out a tiny sigh and he smiles. “What.”

“Nothing,” Phil says, ducking his head shyly. He's so fucking adorable. Dan might die. “Just glad we didn't miss it.”

“I couldn't find you!” Dan starts to protest, grinning, but then the sounds of muffled shouting come from inside, everyone counting down from ten. Everything goes very calm and still inside Dan’s chest. Their knuckles bump on five seconds and Dan leans in on three, closes his eyes on two, inhales just slightly on one before fireworks are exploding in the sky and everyone inside is screaming Happy New Year! and Phil is cupping his chin and kissing him long and sweet and so perfectly that Dan sighs right into his mouth and melts into his chest, settling there like he’s wanted to all night.

They pull away after a minute (or maybe it was a day or a week or a year, Dan has no idea, all he knows is mouths and tongues and hands and bated breathing) and lean their foreheads together, eyes closed. Phil moves first, leaning in again to press his lips to Dan’s. It's quick this time, a cherry on top.

“Happy New Year, Dan,” he murmurs, and fireworks are still exploding in the sky so it can't have been that long since they started kissing, and that just seems impossible. Dan’s head is spinning pleasantly from the combination of alcohol and Phil.

“Oh yeah,” he says rather stupidly. His voice is thick and dazed. A new year. He supposes he should say something about beginnings or hope or pages empty of everything but potential, but all he wants to do is kiss Phil again.

 

 

It's lovely, not having to wake up alone.

Dan’s always liked sharing a bed, innocently sleeping and having a little cuddle with his friends. This is even nicer though. Phil’s fast asleep next to him, sprawling on his stomach like a starfish as always, his mouth a little bit open and his hand curled gently across Dan’s hip. The skin-on-skin contact makes Dan’s whole body feel warm and settled and good.

They'd fallen asleep drunk and tangled up together, Dan’s head on Phil’s chest, one of Phil’s hands twined gently into Dan’s hair, their bodies so close it wouldn't have been surprising if they'd just merged into one being. Over the course of the night they'd detached themselves slightly, but the sofa bed they're sharing wasn't designed for two people as long and lanky as Dan and Phil so they're still cuddled in close. When Dan opens his eyes to the grey stillness of the late-morning, the first thing he sees is Phil’s face.

His head aches a little but the house they're in is quiet, thank god. Dan sits up. His mouth feels dry and tacky and it tastes like morning breath with a hint of stale rum. If he remembers correctly the kitchen is just down the hall. He’ll just get a glass of water and go back to bed.

Phil is awake when he gets back with the water, blinking blearily around the room and groaning a little when he shifts his weight on the creaky sofa bed.

“Morning,” Dan whispers. They're the only ones in this room, which appears to be an office in the light of day, so there's really no reason for Dan to keep his voice so soft, but it feels like the right thing to do.

“Nng,” Phil grunts. He leans back against the couch and hides his eyes behind his elbow. “No.”

Dan sets down his glass of water, then crawls onto the sofa bed and puts his hand on Phil’s ankle. There's a smooth patch of hairless skin right near that protruding lump of bone, so Dan rubs the pad of his thumb against it in slow soothing circles.

“Are you going to be sick?” he asks. Phil drags his hands down his face and slumps forward.

“Dunno,” he says. His voice is low and hoarse and tired. “I hate Malibu, how did you drink so much of it. My head feels like it's splitting open.”

“I brought water if you’d like,” Dan offers. From behind his hands Phil nods. Dan holds out the cup and Phil takes it, nearly dropping it when his fingers fumble a little on the slippery glass.

He drains half of it in one long gulp, then looks around with a rather lost expression until Dan huffs out a little laugh and takes the cup back. Phil blinks.

“What are -” he pauses to clear his throat, then grimaces and holds his hand out for the glass of water. Dan complies and Phil takes a few slow sips before nodding and handing it over again. “Thank you. What is our plan today before we both go home?”

“I don't want to do anything in London,” Dan answers bluntly. Phil nods, his movements slow and cautious so as not to exacerbate his hangover. “I want to crawl into bed and cuddle you and sleep for a bit and then fuck and then sleep again. That's it. Over and over again forever.”

Please,” Phil sighs, dreamy and wistful. His eyes close wearily as he slumps against the back of the couch. “My bed is so far away.”

“You could come to mine,” Dan offers without thinking about it. “We could just - I mean, people will be home but it's so close and we could have more time together that way?”

“Yeah,” Phil says. His voice is quiet and tired still, thin like it might snap from the weight of being awake. “No fucking though.”

“No,” Dan agrees. “I've not washed my sheets in weeks.”

 

 

Dan’s house is silent when they arrive home.

He's sort of surprised, since it's eight in the evening and his family are usually all home at that time of night, but he's not fussed. It's better that they're not home, probably. No one is around to ask awkward questions or put Dan on the spot.

“Come on,” he says, toeing off his shoes and leaving them by the door. Phil follows suit and follows him up the stairs. “My room’s just here.”

It's a mess, fully embarrassing, but Phil doesn't seem to mind. He looks around the bedroom with wide considering eyes and Dan’s stomach twists a little. This is Phil’s first time coming to his house, of course Dan is a bit nervous.

“It's very you,” Phil tells him, grinning at the collection of Guitar Hero instruments in the corner. “‘S cool to see it all in person, I’ll be able to picture it much better when I’m thinking about you now.”

Dan gapes at Phil, watching as he takes off his jacket and sits down on the edge of the bed. It's weird, to see Phil there. Elise used to sit in that exact spot, the same soft expectant sort of look on her face.

“No one’s home,” Dan says, and Phil grins a little wider, pats the mattress next to him with an eager hand. “I can - um.” He steps forward and lets Phil grab his wrist to pull him close, closer, until he has no choice but to sit down half on Phil’s lap. They’re kissing before either of them even think about it, long and slow and deep, Dan bringing one of his hands up to splay across Phil’s chest. Phil groans a little, his sternum rumbling beneath Dan’s fingertips.

“Hold on,” Dan pants, pulling away and cupping Phil’s face in his hands so they look each other right in the eyes. They stare at each other for a few soft seconds before both of them grin and have to look away. “Okay. Let me text my mum and see how much time we have.”

He detaches himself from Phil’s gentle grip and picks up his phone from where he left it on the floor, his heart thumping erratically still from the way Phil was kissing him.

hey im home where is everyone? he asks. He only has to wait a few seconds before his mum replies. She's good like that.

Oh good, have a nice time? A is at Liam’s for the night, Dad and I are in the car to go see a film at that new cinema by Nana’s church. Won't be back til late, please do the washing up if you make food. xx Mum

She texts like she's sending emails. Dan shakes his head and tells her he’s got it, then puts his phone on do not disturb and sets it back down on the floor.

“Where were we?” he asks, standing in between Phil’s legs with his hands on Phil’s shoulders. Phil walks his fingertips up Dan’s thighs, then hooks them into the waistband of Dan’s jeans. His knuckles brush the skin just above the band of Dan’s boxers and Dan’s breath catches a little.

“It was something like this,” Phil says conversationally, and Dan laughs and pushes Phil onto his back, climbing over his body and pulling him into a full-mouthed kiss.

“You are so,” Dan breathes against Phil’s teeth, “you are the worst,” and Phil’s hands are squeezing firmly around Dan’s hip bones and Dan feels like all of his atoms are flying apart.

They go to bed early that night, worn out in the way that only parties and their subsequent hangovers can make you, and they cuddle up on Dan’s crappy childhood bed and scroll quietly through their phones. Phil tweets in danland and Dan feels like the sun is shining inside of his chest, a warm golden glow emanating through his whole body. This true love thing is so brilliant.

They both wake up before eleven the next morning, which is shocking but probably a good thing, considering all of Dan’s family are home and awake. Dan leaves Phil in his bedroom and creeps into the kitchen, where his mum is reading a news article on her phone and his dad is standing at the stove making what smells like omelettes.

“Morning,” Dan offers, for the sake of being polite. His mum looks up from her phone and smiles.

“Morning, Dan, how was your party?”

“Good, thanks,” he says, hiding his surprise by turning and opening the fridge to grab the carton of milk. “Yours?”

“Good! Your dad won the costume contest because everyone thought he was wearing khakis as a joke.”

Dan laughs and so does his mum and even his dad chuckles at the frying pan. The sun is shining and it feels almost easy between them, no harsh words sticking in the air and making it hard to breathe.

“What time is your friend leaving?”

On the way home from Tom’s Dan had sent her a text full of fibs about missed trains and delays and Phil needing a place to stay and she’d said yes. He would have brought Phil home regardless, but it’s nice to not be on his mum’s bad side.

“Er, afternoon, like half five?” Dan says, adding bowls, spoons, two bananas, and a box of Frosted Shreddies to his armful of treasure. He picks up a water bottle between his index and ring finger, then closes the fridge and tosses a grin at his parents. “See you later.”

He’s gone before either of them can say a word, moving faster than he has done in a while. He doesn’t want to play Twenty Questions about his (arguably trashy) New Year's Eve activities.

 

 

The last dregs of their Shreddies are abandoned and soggy and sitting by the door. Dan and Phil are sitting facing each other on Dan's bed, talking very seriously. In the hours since they woke up they've done nothing but talk. It's been lovely. And now Dan is spilling everything that he's been feeling, because it's urgent, with Phil leaving and himself about to limit their time together considerably because of this work experience shit he's about to have to do.

“I just never… I never told anybody, before you, and I was so scared all the time and you just… you helped? You helped so much and I didn't -” He cuts himself off and shakes his head. Phil is watching him with wide, gentle eyes. “I still have no fucking clue what I'm doing but I just - I'm so glad I have you for it. For all of it.”

“All of it,” Phil repeats. His voice is very solemn as it cuts through the sound of the rain outside. Dan slides his hands forward across his duvet until his knuckles bump Phil’s and their fingers intertwine. This feels like something serious, like something life-changing. This feels like -

Fuck. This feels like love. Actually and properly, nothing rushed about it, just a warm wash of knowing it to be real.

“I am so - you know I'm like madly in love with you, right?” he says, and as the words leave his mouth he feels like he's floating. He's in love.

Phil’s eyes are wide, his mouth open slightly, and a flush of nervousness starts to take over the airy feeling in Dan’s gut. He takes a quick breath and starts to talk, trying to smooth everything over before the moment goes sour.

“I just - I wanted you to know, you don't have to say it back obviously, I just. I'm sorry, I know you wanted to take it slow and it's only been like two months and a bit but it really is how I feel and you always talk about honesty and everything so -”

“Dan.”

Phil’s in Dan’s space before Dan registers what's happening, his cool fingertips stilling the frantic flutter of Dan’s hands, his forehead tilted forward to bump and lean against Dan’s own.

“Dan,” Phil repeats, almost a sigh, and he moves their tangled hands to rest on the bed as he tips his chin down to kiss Dan, deep and slow. Dan’s whole body feels like it's melting, hot and liquid and only held together by the pressure of Phil’s hands against his.

“God,” Dan whispers eons later, sort of laughing when Phil pulls away just slightly, both of them out of breath. “How did this even happen.”

“Dunno.” Phil kisses him again. “Glad it did.”

There's a long pause. Dan leans his head down to rest on Phil’s shoulder and Phil lets go of one of Dan’s hands so he can rub Dan’s back. It's a decent trade. Wind is making the rain whip against Dan’s window but his bedroom his warm and Phil is here and he's happy (actually, truly, properly) just like he told Phil he wanted to be way back when they began. There's a lot left that he has to do, a lot he has to sort out, but right now all he has to think about is the lanky man cuddled up close to him, eyes shining with trust and joy and maybe (hopefully, probably) love.

“Me too,” Dan says. He snorts. “Obviously.”

“I've never had a friend like you,” Phil mumbles into the skin just beneath Dan’s ear. The warmth of his breath sends a thrill shivering down Dan’s spine. “I've never had an anything like you.” He goes very quiet, then sits up, pulling his hands back suddenly. Dan feels weirdly cold without the press of Phil’s weight and warmth against him. He sits up a little too, fidgeting with his fringe nervously.

“I've never had a boyfriend and I've never been a boyfriend,” Phil continues. He's staring very hard at Dan’s duvet, his fingers pressing nervously into his thighs. “I dunno if I'll be a good one.”

“It's not hard,” Dan interjects, but Phil shakes his head.

“Just - listen, okay? I've been thinking about this for so long - just. Let me finish what I was saying.”

Dan nods. His heart is thudding in his chest, erratic and nervous. Phil swallows hard enough that it's audible, then grabs at Dan’s hands with cold fingers and clutches at them like he's a thief finding precious jewels. His eyes are wide when he looks up from the duvet and there's something burning in them that makes Dan’s breath catch.

“I have never felt this,” he says fervently, and Dan’s going to die, Dan’s going to die right now because of this. “I didn't know I could feel this. I never - I tried, because like that's what you’re meant to do in uni, date around, but it -” He breaks off and shakes his head. His hair falls back into place perfectly. Dan hates him. He loves him. “I didn't even care, like, I tried to convince myself I did but I didn't give a shit.” A careless shrug that jostles Dan’s hands a little. He's listening so intently that he doesn't even notice. “I didn't know I could be and until now I never wanted it but I'm in love with you, too, if that wasn't -” He shakes his head and laughs. “Painfully obvious.”

“It was, a little,” Dan says, smiling sweetly and rubbing his thumb across the side of Phil’s pointer finger. “But I’m just as bad. I mean, like, it was getting embarrassing.”

"A bit," Phil laughs, the corners of his eyes creasing slightly behind his glasses. His phone buzzes and he inhales sharply, startled, before digging it out of his pocket and wincing. "Shit. We've got to go. I can't miss another train, my mum'll kill me."

"Yeah," Dan agrees, pouting until Phil leans in and gives him a kiss that lasts longer than it probably should, all things considered. Phil pulls away at last, his eyes closed and his breath a little heavy.

"I'm going to miss my train."

"Good,” Dan says, flopping onto his back and looking at Phil upside down. Phil swallows and sighs. He looks sad. Dan bites his lip and turns back over, grabbing Phil’s hands in his own. “Sorry. I know you don’t want to go. Not your fault.” He lets go of Phil’s hands and pushes himself off the bed, then reaches out for Phil’s hand and helps him stand up too. “Let’s go, then.”

The train station is weirdly empty. Dan imagines everyone’s home by now, sick of their relatives and suffering through New Year’s Day dinner. He’s glad his extended family have all gone home.

They take advantage of the deserted platform and hug for a very long time, arms clinging nearly too tight as they breathe in sync with one another. The final boarding announcement goes and Dan attempts to let go, but Phil just pulls him tighter.

“I love you, Dan,” he whispers, and then he’s stepping back and away and Dan is standing there, stunned. Phil grins, flickery and quick, says “text me!’ and then ducks onto his train. Dan doesn’t move. He isn’t sure he can. Phil has knocked Dan flat.

I Love you, Dan. I love you, Dan. I love you, Dan.

He's never gonna get over that. How it sounds to hear his name like it's real, like it means something. It feels so fucking good. He feels so fucking good. He never thought he'd get to feel light and unburdened like this. 

His phone is out without him even thinking about it, number already dialed and speaker pressed to his ear. Phil picks up after half a ring.

"Miss me already?" he jokes, but when Dan goes to laugh he finds that he can't because it's sort of the truth.

"Um. I just wanted to say thanks. You've - this is so weird, sorry, I just need you to know that I - you've - I'm really happy. Ages ago you asked me what I wanted and I told you I wanted to be properly happy and I am. And you've - you're not the only reason, it's not like that, you're just - you've been a big part of it. You - I'm the best version of myself with you. So. Thanks."

They sit in silence for a few seconds. Thunder rumbles outside the station and Dan considers slipping his phone into a plastic baggie and walking home in the rain. 

"You make me happy too," Phil says finally. Dan nods even though Phil can't see him. "Every day I smile because of something you've said or done. I don't usually share my emotions like this so I'm not really sure what else to say, and also a woman across the carriage is knitting a death scarf and glaring at me, reckon she might me one of those thingies from the myth? With the scissors?"

"What the fuck do you mean, a death scarf," Dan laughs. He decides not to walk in the rain - as romantic an idea as that might be, it's a bit less lovely in real life - and hops on a bus instead, tucking his earbuds into his ears and pulling up the Final Fantasy playlist he has on his phone.

He and Phil had listened to this on the way to the station, their hands not linked but brushing, and everything about it had been something out of a fucking movie. Dan can't believe his life is real.

"It's all black, Dan, and it has blobs on it that are either puffer fish or skulls."

"Puffer - what?"

"You'd know if you saw it." There's a pause. Then, "Oh, no. Crap. I'm about to lose service, it always cuts out here. I'll talk to you later, okay?"

He's gone before Dan has a chance to say goodbye. He sighs into the sudden quiet, interspersed only by the noises of public transport, then presses shuffle and folds his fingers gently together as Interrupted by Fireworks starts to play.