Warnings: Ridiculously long, set in an AU where arranged marriages are acceptable and straight people are the minority
It was planned long before either boy was even born that their fates were to be intertwined like a pair of lovers' legs on a sandy beach. The Lester's wanted their son, for that's what they'd decided they would adopt when the time came, to marry above his status and knew that their wealthy friends, the Howells, would be more than happy to help them achieve that.
So when Phil was born his two fathers pressed on Dan's two mothers to have their own son before the age gap between the two boys could grow so far as to be unbridgeable by friendship.
Sure enough, two years later by means of a donor, little Daniel Howell was born.
The two boys soon grew to be inseparable, sharing many happy memories together. Phil was there when Dan said his first word, which just so happen to be a gleeful cry of "Philly", and Dan was waving the older boy off on his first day of school. They both wore matching suits to the wedding of the two girls across the street and when Phil caught one of the bouquets he ever-so-graciously gave it to Dan, just as his father had told him to. When Dan got beaten up at school Phil, one of the least violent people known to mankind, always made sure that the bullies paid double in their own blood.
The four adults watched and encouraged, eagerly awaiting the day when the two boys fell for each other like they were destined to. The Lesters would often pressure Phil to have Dan sleep over and the Howells were just as bad, forcing Dan to wear clothes designed to seduce that made him squirm and feel horribly insecure. It all went over the boys' heads though; they were perfectly content with just being best friends.
Their parents, however, were not.
The more intimidating of the Lester men took his son into the study and pretty much spelt it out to him, to which Phil just nodded, wincing when his father struck him across the face in a fit of rage, insisting that they'd end up on the streets if the two families were not joined by marriage. For Phil's part, the idea of marrying Dan filled him with a warm tingling feeling; the kind that he read about princesses getting when their Queens came to rescue them from their towers or whenever a knight slayed a dragon to get to his prince.
Of course Phil was gay, everyone was and those who weren't never declared it openly, and Dan was the most beautiful boy he'd ever seen.
Thinking about it that way, the idea of not marring Dan seemed stupid.
"Our parents want us to marry." Phil murmurs lazily, laying back on the dewy grass and gazing up into the stars, Dan lying next to him like he always does when they go stargazing.
He feels Dan tense up next to him, sucking in a breath of the icy air, and so looks to see what his companion is thinking; Phil just sees blankness on Dan's face, a lack of willing to give anything away. That in itself makes Phil feel uneasy, just the idea of not being able to read Dan feeling sickly and unnatural. He moves to wrap an arm around his younger companion, wondering if the sudden stiffness is cold-born, and lets out an audible sigh of relief when Dan doesn't wriggle away. Dan does quite the opposite; he snuggles in, savouring the warmth of his nineteen-year-old best friend and should-be lover.
He's not stupid, he knows that he's meant to be getting fucked by Phil on a nightly basis by now. The idea just, well, if Dan's being completely honest, it frightens him. Maybe even makes him feel ever so slightly nauseated. He's known for almost a year now what their parents want, he's come so close to telling Phil yet he just can't; Phil's his best friend, nothing more and certainly nothing less.
But now Phil knows. And Dan's trapped.
"I know." He swallows, hating himself for sounding so cold towards the one person who has only ever shown him warmth. "I know what they fucking want."
Phil just blinks at the seventeen-year-old. He doesn't know what to do, what to feel at that kind of response. He feels hurt and angry and miserable and maybe a tiny bit relieved all at once. The main emotion is hurt though because, in all honesty, Phil's gotten quite used to the idea of Dan being his since the conversation with his father in the study a few months ago. He's gotten more than just used to it, he wants it; lusts for it, for Dan.
The younger of the two squirms, hiding his face in Phil's shoulder through want of shelter from the expression of inner-turmoil on his best friend's face. The last thing Dan wanted was to say something like that, something that could offer a hint as to his true view on this. He likes Phil, he really honestly does, but he just can't get his head around the idea of liking Phil like that, like everyone expects him to. He just can't.
Phil, unsure of what to do, just pats Dan on the back, holding him close and hoping that the contact is welcomed as a kind of romantic gesture. Even if it isn't, at the very least it's giving Dan some sort of comfort and that's all Phil really wants; just for Dan to be happy.
"You don't sound too thrilled about it, Danosaur." Phil presses a kiss into Dan's hair, hoping for it to be felt as something amorous but knowing deep down that it's intended as a purely friendly gesture. "I, um. I think it'd be nice. Y'know. Being together. I mean, you're cute and I can protect you from everything, you know I can. And I like hugging you. I think we, as a couple, could be amazing." Phil winces a little, the words tasting like fire in his mouth; he sounds like who his dads want him to sound, not how he knows he should sound. He shouldn't be pressuring Dan like this, confronting him with such an idea with no way to escape but, as his dads say, he has to; he has no choice. "We're meant to be together."
Phil is sure, although he wishes to God that he wasn't, that he can feel Dan trying to hold in a sob. So he cradles the boy tighter, presses more kisses into his hair, starts humming all those silly little songs from the videogames that they often spend days on end playing. He didn't want this, didn't want to cause his best friend so much distress, but, well, it had to be done.
He didn't have a choice.
After a few minutes of deafeningly cruel silence Phil feels Dan nod against him, followed by the sight of a very blotchy-looking Dan ungluing himself and offering Phil his best, also most pitiful Phil notes, attempt at a smile. Dan has to be strong, he knows that, has to accept his fate. Besides, it's not like Phil's ugly or an asshole or someone who would let Dan need or want for anything.
"Yeah, Phil." He whispers after a while of staring, looking at his best friend with brand new eyes. "We are."
"Aw, you two are the cutest!" A boy by the name of Chris Kendall coos, grinning wildly at the two sat snuggled on his living room sofa. "Seriously, you'd be enough to turn any girl straight!"
Chris and Phil start laughing, loud chuckles of hearty amusement. Dan doesn't. He just stutters out a choked sound of something that might have been meant to represent a giggle. Instead it sounds like suffering, like the dying cries of laughter.
"Maybe not me, but I know my Dan definitely could." Phil smiles down proudly at his new boyfriend, squeezing him around the waist to reinforce his adoration for the boy. He doesn't understand why it needs to be reinforced; only that it obviously does, for Dan's good more than anyone else's. "You're so beautiful, Baby."
Dan wants to shudder at the nickname which once would have been something like 'Danosaur', yet he can't; he is Phil's Baby now, he doesn't have choice in the matter. Their parents did all the choosing for him and now here he is, acting like he's madly in love with his best friend.
He does love Phil, just not in the way that he's supposed to; he loves Phil like a brother and, let's face it, what kind of messed-up weirdo wants to fuck their own brother? Certainly not Dan. All he wants, what he cries himself to sleep at night longing for, is for his best friend to come back to him; to stop being so fake all the time, to stop calling him goddamned 'Baby' and to just treat Dan like he used to, back before last week's stargazing session.
Dan realises that his eyes are wet when Chris and Phil start staring, both with looks of concern on their faces. The three have been friends since primary school; one of them hurts, they all hurt together. Phil, just doing what any good boyfriend would, rubs his hand over Dan's shoulder.
He pretends not to notice when Dan tries to escape the contact.
"Sorry, just got lost in thought." Dan mutters, looking away from the prying eyes and out of the window, favouring the sight of the crying skies over that of his two closest buddies. Phil just nods, accepting that he'll never understand, like he has been doing a lot these past few days. "Anyway, how's PJ doing?"
Now it's Chris' turn to look like the visual definition of misery, his hands clenching at his kneecaps and eyes darting around the room like a pair of hyperactive minnows. Dan feels a pang of guilt at that, for making his friend suffer in his place like he knew the question would.
"Honestly? Not so great. The kids at his college found him out and they've been little assholes about it." He runs a hand through his hair, worry for his own metaphorical brother painfully blatant on his face. "It makes me fucking sick! So what if he's straight? Just because he's different it shouldn't make it okay for people to beat him up."
"I know it sucks, Chris. Just make sure he knows that not everyone out there is like that, that we'll always like him no matter who he loves." Phil replies, the words making Dan sting all over for reasons that he doesn't want to be able to understand. But he does. Oh God, he does. "Right, Dan?"
Dan fidgets awkwardly, the pressure shifting back onto him again like a cross on a sinner's sun-baked back. He thinks that he's going to be sick; the way Phil's arm is wrapped around his waist making him feel all tight and constricted. This is so far away from right that it bypassed being wrong long ago, and it makes Dan feel like he just wants to die.
Not that he'd ever tell Phil that.
Or maybe he would have, back before last week's stargazing incident. Back when they were still just best friends. No. There was never anything 'just' about their friendship. There's nothing 'just' about a bond that strong, a bond that kept Dan alive through times when he thought it'd simply be easier to die. Like right now, for example.
Right now, dying sounds nice.
"Uh, sure." Dan shakes his head, scattering his thoughts throughout his crowded mind. "PJ's awesome. Actually, I admire him for coming out. It takes a lot of guts."
Dan almost adds on a 'trust me, I would know' but he doesn't.
"Hang on a second, buddy." Chris says, a wicked look igniting his features like an oncoming storm. "You're engaged to be married, congrats on that by the way, and you haven't even kissed yet?" Phil and Dan shake their heads, both boys feigning innocence. Both for two dangerously different reasons. "Aw, you two really are adorable!"
Both boys want to scream; in fact, if one more person calls them 'adorable' or 'cute', they very well might. Dan knows for sure that he will at the next reminder that he's engaged to his best friend, has been since yesterday's big fancy dinner courtesy of the Howells. He feels betrayed; by his parents, by Phil and by everyone else he's ever met in his entire life. Because they all knew it was coming, the proposal, and Dan didn't. He only knew that he had no choice but to agree.
He spent the night curled up in bed, hiding in Phil's chest and trying to pretend that the contact was the same as all of those times that they've shared a bed during a thunderstorm or after one of them had a bad dream. Put that way, the idea of sharing a bed with Phil feels warm and good and secure. In reality, sharing a bed with Phil in the way that he's meant to be makes Dan want to cry; makes him want to scream and for someone to actually fucking hear him. Phil would still hear him, he knows he would, but Phil's the one person who can't hear. Dan does love Phil after all, the last thing he wants is to cause his best friend any sort of trauma or drama.
Phil brings him back to the present with a warm chuckle and a soft tug pulling Dan into his chest. He knows that his younger partner needs comforting right now, even if he doesn't fully understand why, and he would do absolutely anything he can in order to give that comfort.
"Nope. We haven't." Phil blushes lightly, fully aware of how stupid it sounds; marrying someone you've never even kissed properly before. "I want to wait for the wedding. Y'know, for that bit when the vicar says, 'you may now kiss the groom'."
It's a lie and both of the 'lovers' know it.
Phil would give anything to kiss Dan, to taste that sweet innocence and be able to comprehend the precise flavour of perfection, but his want to simply please Dan outweighs that by a tonne. And every time he's gone in to kiss Dan, a grand total of twenty-nine times now (not that he's been counting), every time he's sensed that it's not what Dan wants. Thus making it something that Phil doesn't want either.
Dan nods his approval at Phil's bullshit excuse, listening desperately for the heartbeat of his best friend just as he has been every time they've snuggled like this since they officially got together. And, for the first time since then, he hears it; pounding rhythmically there in the place of that horrible foreign sound he's been getting used to hearing instead.
"C'mon, man! You seriously haven't kissed yet?" Both boys shake their heads, Chris laughing at their obvious naivety. "Do it. Now. I dare you!"
Dan makes a grab for Phil's hand, clinging onto it like a lifeline and looks up at him with eyes full of terror. It breaks Phil's heart to see him like this, especially when he knows in the back of his mind that it's all his fault, but there's just nothing he can do. People are already starting to ask questions, to look twice at the couple that are supposedly 'madly in love' yet have never been seen kissing or doing anything other than hugging.
So Phil just does it. Jams his lips to Dan's, closing his eyes to spare him the look of hurt betrayal staining the younger's face as he fights to get away. The older, not to mention stronger, forces Dan to stay in position; this kiss is pivotal for them. He makes it last a good twenty seconds, never once involving tongues by way of apology, before tearing himself apart from Dan.
Dan who's shaking and crying and refusing to so much as look at Phil.
Phil had always thought that their first kiss would be perfect and sweet; gentle and relaxed; all smiles and eternal bliss. And it kills him that this is it, that he's possibly just ruined the best friendship that he's ever had.
Chris just gawps, looking like he's torn between giving Dan the world's biggest hug and punching Phil clean in the face. In the end he does neither, settling instead for a shake of the head and throwing a soft smile towards the youngest of the couple; the shaking, crying mess of a seventeen-year-old.
"Dan?" The addressed flinches, looking up at Chris with frightened eyes. "I, um. I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd… I'm sorry."
Dan shakes his head and stands, biting down so hard on his lower lip that it starts bleeding.
"It's just a fucking kiss." He lets out a brittle laugh, the bitterness behind it making Phil want to undo his actions because he knows full well what he's done; he's just killed his best friend. "A. Fucking. Kiss."
And with that, Dan runs.
Out of the search party, consisting of Chris, Phil and PJ, it's PJ who finds Dan. Whether it's because he's the only one that Dan thinks he can trust anymore is unknown, all that is known is that PJ found Dan crying down an alleyway; knees drawn to his chest and head buried in his hands like a corpse into the ground.
That's where they are now, that dark alleyway and PJ's curled around Dan, understanding that the sobbing boy needs help and that this is the only real way it can be given. The sun has long since gone down, leaving them shrouded in the choking cloak of the night's relentless darkness. Dan can remember a time when the dark terrified him but that time seems so far away now; now that he's got more than trivial little phobias keeping him awake at night.
"It's okay, Dan." PJ whispers, tone full of omnipotent sturdiness as he moves a thumb to wipe away the tears almost turning to ice on Dan's cheeks. "I understand, even if they don't." The tanned boy raises his eyebrows, silently pleading with PJ to both stop and carry on all at the same time. "Chris told me what happened, about the… kiss." His arms tighten around Dan as his charge starts sobbing uncontrollably, confirming his thoughts. "It's okay to be straight, Dan. I mean, I'm straight and I'm not a monster, right?"
"I'm not fucking straight!"
PJ backs off a bit at that scream, for lack of a truer word; heart filling with pity for the broken boy slumped in the back of an alley. He knows what denial is like, how everyone else can kill you without even meaning to purely with their natural expectations of what you should be or who you should love. PJ's been through it, the denial and the hate and the loneliness, and he desperately doesn't want Dan to fall where he himself very nearly did. He won't let that happen, not to Dan.
So PJ just pats Dan's back patiently, waiting for him to regain his sanity before pulling the boy into his chest and stroking his hair in the same manner that a schoolgirl would stroke a kitten. But there isn't just affection in the gesture, there's understanding too. So Dan does the only thing he can think of to do and latches onto it, banishing the idea of ever letting go.
"We both know you're straight, Dan. You don't have to pretend in front of me. And you've got to tell Phil before this goes too far and you wind up stuck or Phil gets his heart broken."
There's only one honest thing that Dan can say to that, so he does.
Dan was going to tell Phil, honest he was, but, well, he just… didn't. But Phil didn't try to kiss him again either, so he supposed that was something at least.
For the past couple of days Phil has barely touched Dan through fear of sending his best friend away again, through fear of inflicting any more putrid pain upon the thing that he loves most in this cruel world. He's been making sweet little gestures like buying flowers, making Dan's favourite food for dinner and letting the younger boy win whenever they play videogames together.
It's been doing absolutely no good though and Phil knows it; he can read Dan better than a scholar can read an open book and he can see that Dan's dying inside, that the poor boy has nowhere to escape to now that they're living together and that's making him constantly jitterish.
But Dan shouldn't need somewhere to escape to, not when he's sharing a house with his fiancé. Yet he does and that eats away at Phil, hurts him more than any stupid bullet ever could.
And he doesn't know what to do.
"Oh my God."
The phone falls from Dan's hand, crashing to the floor with a lifeless thud, and gets Phil to turn his attention from washing the dishes to see his boyfriend stood a few feet behind him, body shaking as though there's an earthquake going on underneath his thin veil of skin. Before Phil knows it, Dan has sprinted to the bathroom and is throwing-up in the toilet, down on his knees with pitiful whimpering noises crawling out of his lips like dying rodents fleeing the sewer. Of course Phil's right behind him, kneeling at his side and washing a hand over Dan's back like a wave over a beach.
Dan doesn't even react to the contact, just falls back into Phil when he's done heaving; tears spitting down his face in a display of complete and utter agony. It's like nothing Phil's ever seen before, not from Dan anyway, and he just doesn't how to deal with it; how to make it all better like a good fiancé would.
"Dan? Honey?" Dan doesn't even have the energy left inside of him to register his dislike of pet-names, just squirms around until he's safely nestled into the one thing that he thought would always connote safety. "Dan, I need you to tell me what's wrong, okay? Just take some deep breaths for me and explain." When a look of despairing panic whirlwinds across the skinny boy's face, Phil plants a brotherly peck on the tip of his nose. Just like he always used to do whenever the bullies hurt his Baby, back before all of this happened. "Take your time. I'm here."
Although that's probably not much of a comfort, Phil thinks bitterly.
"P-PJ. Jesus, Phil. PJ!" Dan wants to explode into a million bits all over again but he can't; Phil needs to know so that he can make it all better. Because that's what fiancés do, right? "He's… PJ's d-dead. Attacked by an anti-straight gang."
The tears start coming thick and fast from both boys now, snuggled up on the icy tiles of their bathroom floor; a place where they can go back to being only best friends because that's what they both need right now.
It's what Dan needs right now and Phil knows that, of course he does, so he gives it like the love he feels for the boy tells him to. Dan's been spending a lot of time with PJ lately, almost enough to make Phil jealous, and so Phil can practically feel the grief radiating from the tiny form of his best friend. Dan looks so small, so without want to exist that it makes Phil's heart twinge with a kind of dull ache that can only be described as 'heartbreak'.
"Shush, Dan, shush now." Phil whispers, lips on his fiancé's ear and pressing down lightly, not quite a kiss but more than enough to let Dan know that he's there; that they're together, safe from the world. "I've got you, you're safe and I'm going to get you through this. I know it hurts, Baby, I know, but we've got to struggle through it." He sighs forlornly, wincing when Dan starts keening and howling and losing all control over his emotions. "PJ wouldn't want you to be like this, would he, Honey?" He feels Dan shake his head yet no change is made to the horrendous noises escaping through the younger boy's lips. "Okay, Dan, okay. I'm here, Danosaur, and I'm never letting go."
The old nickname stings. But not nearly as much as it soothes.
It's been three long months since PJ… left. Dan still wakes up screaming about it almost every night and Phil is still sitting up with him when he does.
But right now?
Right now they're in a church full of people, the two boys wearing smiles as fake as their fancy designer suits and fidgeting awkwardly in front of the vicar. Everyone's here, from their parents to the crazy cat lady down the road. Everyone that is, other than Chris; he refused to come, said that the whole thing is just plain cruel on poor Dan. Phil didn't understand whatever that was supposed to mean and so the two fought, very nearly started brawling, and Chris refused to come before he could be written off of the invite list.
But Phil can't help but finally understanding Chris' point right now; as he watches Dan shake and blink back tears. Just like that time with the kiss.
"Hey! Hey, Dan! It's okay, look at me. I'm not doing anything, see? I'm not touching you, you're safe. Jesus Christ, Danosaur!" The boy on the bed stops thrashing, his kicking legs coming to rest like a deadweight atop the mattress. "Bloody hell, Dan. I'd never make you do something like that. I thought you knew that. I thought… I thought you knew me better than that."
Dan just sits bolt upright, panting for the breaths that keep running away from him. He knows he's being stupid and babyish and he'll have to let Phil fuck him sooner or later, but he's scared, okay? Completely fucking petrified and he just can't cope with this anymore, with the pressure and the pain and the hurt and the loneliness.
He just can't do it.
"I want to fucking die!"
Phil blanches; flinching at the words he never thought he'd be hearing on his wedding night, and thinks that he might actually throw up. Because he can tell that Dan means it more than anything he's ever said before, certainly a hell of a lot more than he meant his wedding vows anyway. To know that someone you love is hurting that much and you can't do anything to stop it, it feels like death; worse than death. It feels like you're being dragged down into the deepest pit of hell and you're screaming, begging, for help but nobody ever comes.
It's just you; alone and burning for eternity.
He wants to grab his now-husband in bone-shattering hug but given the events that have just taken place, decides dejectedly against it. He settles instead for sitting next to Dan, watching in horror as he starts pulling at his hair, seemingly trying to pull his own head off just to escape the hell that he's apparently trapped within; like a tragically stunning tropical bird locked inside a miniscule little cage, Phil can't help but think.
"I can't fucking do this anymore, Phil!" He all but roars, turning to face the older boy and looking at him with wildly distraught eyes. "I'm straight, okay? I, Daniel Howell, am straight!"
Silence. Shocked, hurt and frightened silence.
When Phil has finally reclaimed enough of his thoughts to be able to take in sight, the first thing he sees is that Dan's cowering away from him. And then it hits him like a torpedo to the chest; Dan Howell, his bestest friend since the dawn of time, thinks that he's going to hurt him.
"Danosaur?" The addressed looks up at the name, a look of heart-wrenching hope tearing into his deep brown-black irises. "You are my best friend. Don't you ever doubt that, okay? No matter what happens, you can't forget that."
"B-but, I'm straight." Dan states, daring to uncurl from himself and shift a little bit closer to Phil. "And you're married to me."
"I know." Phil lets a sad smile fall upon his face, remembering how much fun he had with Dan before they became partners. How much more he loved spending time with his best friend back when that's what they were. He misses that; he misses that kind of love. "And I think I hate it just as much as you do. I do love you, of course I do. But not like this. I love you when you're happy and smiling and being you; I love you like a brother."
For the first time since this whole ordeal began, Dan smiles; a true, honest-to-God smile that makes Phil feel like the greatest human-being alive. And all it took was for the two of them to be honest, to accept that they aren't who everyone wants them to be.
"Philly? I love you too."