He was walking across the crowded floor at VidCon with Cat, sticking close to her side because even if he’d gotten better about connecting with friends he still felt incredibly awkward with people in general, especially crowds. The “Content Provider Area” wasn’t as bad as the rooms open to the general public, but it was still always filled with dozens of people, any number of whom might approach them at any moment to strike up a conversation. Dan just wanted to get to the food and find a corner to casually hide in.
He and Cat had had some really good chats while he’d been staying with her. Their friendship was comfortable and familiar after the years of various outings together whenever he and Phil visited L.A. or conventions. Even without Phil present, Cat’s sweet, welcoming presence had been a perfect chill pill to prepare him for the chaos of VidCon, and he now felt like he knew her better, and that she knew him better, too.
They’d talked about some serious stuff—not only Dan’s mental health issues but also his coming out and his currently-strained relationship with Phil—but confrontation wasn’t Cat’s style, so she hadn’t come at him like Tyler had. Not that Tyler’s approach had been bad, exactly—Dan realized he’d needed to hear a lot of the things Tyler had said. It had all really gotten him thinking.
Suddenly, Cat beside him was engulfed in a cyclone of a hug by a tall man with black hair, and Dan immediately knew who it must be. “It’s been way too long,” Phil gushed as he enfolded the smaller woman in his arms and squeezed her enthusiastically. When they pulled apart, Phil looked at Dan with a smile and opened his arms again, and Dan walked into the hug with relief. This didn’t feel awkward at all, and he let his arms wrap around Phil and return the hug warmly, like he had at Louise’s birthday party. It felt so good to be close to Phil again, to smell his familiar skin and feel his wiry arms around him.
They pulled apart, and Dan and Phil looked into each other’s faces and smiled for a moment, and it felt so familiar and perfect … he’d forgotten how clear and expressive Phil’s eyes were, and he gazed into them until the moment stretched on a bit too long and Dan looked away, feeling awkward. Phil was dating someone now … and he and Dan were barely in touch these days … they weren’t supposed to be looking at each other like that.
Phil cleared his throat and asked Cat where they were headed. He asked if he could join them, and Cat glanced at Dan quickly before agreeing, and the three of them headed toward the table of food set up against one of the walls.
“I noticed you’re on a lot of panels this year,” Phil said conversationally to Dan, and Dan nodded.
“There was just a lot of stuff that interested me. I noticed you aren’t on many, though.”
Phil looked away and mumbled, “I just didn’t really feel like it.”
Dan noticed that Phil seemed uncomfortable and wasn’t making eye contact like he usually would. He wanted to ask about it, but Cat jumped in and began talking about the various panels they were all participating in, and the opportunity was lost.
Dan was amazed at how Phil didn’t seem to hold a grudge at all, but then Phil had never been one to hold grudges. Dan had said terrible things to him—not only about his YouTube content but also about their friendship—and there Phil was, sitting backstage at each of Dan’s panels, giving him a big smile and two thumbs-up any time their eyes met, just like he would have in the old days. Just as he’d done since the very beginning, always encouraging Dan and helping him when he felt insecure. He’d thrown that back in Phil’s face in that argument they’d had, saying that he didn’t want that closeness, that he felt stifled, and Dan wished he could take it all back. What was wrong with supporting your friends, especially if you knew they might be hesitant or nervous? Nothing. Why had he ever thought otherwise?
He and Phil both participated in the “YouTube and Social Responsibility” panel, talking about the Stand Up to Cancer event, the release of their TATINOF single to help raise money, the Nicer Internet project, and various charity projects they’d been involved in over the years. They sat next to each other again, once again out of habit, but this time it felt natural and right to be sitting so close. Phil didn’t talk a lot, but when he did he always had something significant to contribute to the conversation. Dan remembered how much he’d always admired Phil’s quiet thoughtfulness at events like these.
That panel was the last of the day, and Dan was feeling a need to get away from the crowds. “Want to grab some dinner?” he asked Phil, hoping that he didn’t sound too desperate. Phil looked him in the eye, knowing him too well, and said, “My hotel isn’t far away. We could go order room service and not have to deal with maybe running into fans in a restaurant.”
Dan sighed happily, “That sounds perfect.”
“Maybe we could watch Inception? I was planning to watch it tonight anyway.” Phil was being too nice. Dan knew he didn’t deserve this kindness after everything he’d said and done, but he soaked it up like a needy, greedy sponge anyway. They’d seen Inception together when it first came out at the cinema years before, and watching it together again would bring back good memories.
“That sounds even perfecter,” Dan replied with a grin.
There was a small table with two chairs in Phil’s hotel room, but the only place to sit where they could see the tv was on the bed, so they sat there while they ate and watched Inception.
“Just don’t get rice on my bed,” Phil grumbled, and it was so much like old times that Dan thought briefly that he might embarrass himself by tearing up, but he looked away and poked at his cashew chicken and the moment passed.
When the movie was finished, they segued easily into discussing the problematic plot holes and excellent special effects, things they’d already talked about the first time they saw the movie but hadn’t tired of exploring.
That led to conversation about other movies they’d seen together, then movies they’d seen since they’d been apart, then other random topics, and it all just flowed naturally, like their conversations always had, even back before they’d met and were only talking on Skype. Dan kept wanting to bring up the heavy issues, like the fact that he hadn’t meant to run down Phil’s YouTube content, but the moment just never seemed right, and he didn’t want to make things awkward when they were finally really talking like friends again.
Eventually, they realized that it had gone 2 a.m., and Dan hesitated about returning to Cat’s house at that hour and waking her up before the final day of the convention tomorrow. Phil shrugged. “Just stay here.”
Dan looked at the bed. The one bed. It was large, but still … one bed.
Phil rolled his eyes, looking tired. He probably should have taken out his contact lenses hours ago, but they’d been caught up in their conversation and he’d probably forgotten. “Don’t worry. I don’t bite.”
Dan chuckled and sent Phil a sly look and said without thinking, “What if I want you to?” They’d fallen into such a comfortable conversational rhythm that the joking flirtation came out automatically, but the joke fell flat. They both pretended he hadn’t said it.
Phil looked away and coughed uncomfortably. Silence fell for a long moment. “Um…” Dan said, hesitating, “are you sure your boyfriend wouldn’t mind?”
Phil looked up at him in surprise, then sighed. “Right. That stupid photo. He’s not my boyfriend. We just went on a couple dates. And I don’t think we’ll be seeing each other again.”
Dan felt relieved somehow, though he chastised himself for the emotion. Phil’s dating life was none of his business … even if they were about to spend the night in the same bed.
“I’m going to change into my pyjamas. Want to borrow a t-shirt so you won’t have to sleep in that?” Phil gestured to the white button-up moth shirt Dan had worn to the convention today. Dan nodded gratefully.
Phil returned from the bathroom in his Cookie Monster pyjama bottoms and a white t-shirt, handing a blue t-shirt to Dan. It was a bit snug, but was still better than the moth shirt as a makeshift pyjama top. Dan hesitated at the side of the bed, still wearing his jeans and thinking how uncomfortable they were going to be for sleeping. Phil was already under the covers, wearing his glasses and looking very sleepy already. “For heaven’s sake, Dan. I won’t grope you in your sleep. Just wear your boxers.” Dan nodded jerkily and removed his jeans without looking at Phil, then climbed between the sheets. The weather was warm in L.A.—they probably wouldn’t need the duvet, but it provided a sort of reassuring covering for the moment.
“Good night,” Dan said awkwardly, and Phil merely mumbled a reply, fumbling his glasses onto the bedside table and turning out the light. A moment later, Dan turned out the light on his own bedside table and lay his head on the pillow, but it took him a long time to fall asleep, as he couldn’t stop thinking about the man quietly snoring beside him.
In the morning, Phil seemed a bit confused to find Dan in his bed, but quickly remembered their late-night crash. He put his glasses on and sat up—still under the white hotel sheets, though they’d kicked the duvet onto the floor during the warm night—and yawned hugely, stretching his long arms. “I’d offer to let you shower here, but you don’t have any clean clothes to change into. I don’t think mine would fit you.”
Dan sat up, too, very aware that he was wearing only boxers beneath the sheet, and joked, “I’m not sure if it would be worse caught sneaking out of your hotel room in yesterday’s clothes or in your clothes.”
Phil frowned a little and got out of the bed. “Yeah. We wouldn’t want anybody to get the wrong idea.” He wasn’t meeting Dan’s eyes now. “You should probably go. If anybody asks, just say you crashed at a party that ran late.”
Did Phil think Dan was ashamed of him? He’d probably said the wrong thing again. But he’d only gotten a few hours of sleep and wasn’t thinking very clearly … and he had a full final day of VidCon ahead of him, so he’d better rush back to Cat’s to shower and change.
“Thanks for last night,” he told Phil, trying to catch his gaze. “It was really fun.”
Phil smiled at him, and Dan fell into those eyes again. “Yeah, it was. I’ve missed you a lot.” Phil’s cheeks looked a bit pink at the admission, so Dan hurried to reassure him.
“I’ve missed you, too.”
“Summer in the City” was less than 6 weeks later in London, and he and Phil had been texting regularly in the intervening time. The ice had been broken at VidCon, and when they saw each other at SitC, little of the awkwardness remained. They hung out with their friends and met a lot of subscribers and just chatted about inconsequential stuff whenever they got the chance. It was like the old days: whenever they were in the same room, they seemed to be talking to each other.
When the con was over, Dan asked if Phil would like to come over sometime to play Mario Kart or something, and Phil said, “Sure,” with a brilliant smile that made Dan really glad he’d asked.
He tried not to stare at Phil with the slack-jawed admiration he’d felt when he was 18, but he was feeling some of the same feelings, which made it difficult. In all those months of learning how to be on his own, he’d forgotten how good it felt to be with Phil, how much Phil made him laugh, how good Phil made him feel about himself, and how beautiful Phil’s face was, with those clear blue eyes and those high cheekbones and that pale, smooth skin. He wanted to touch Phil, to put a hand to his cheek or run his fingers through that inky hair, but he just smiled and said, “I’ll text you,” and they caught their separate cabs like they had that day after the end of TATINOF, but now it felt completely different, loaded with promise instead of regret.