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teach me how to love

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you meet tyler at what is arguably a weird time in your life.

you grow up sheltered with only a handful of friends, you have one or two girlfriends between graduating high school and getting an associate's degree in sociology, and you've been on testosterone for maybe four months when you meet tyler on the roof of an apartment complex that neither of you live in.

he's in a weird spot in life when you meet him. he's sitting on that roof with his legs dangling off the edge smoking a cigarette and just staring at the ground below him, looking a little sad. you don't think he's going to jump--you think he'd be standing up if he were going to do that, but you still lower your voice to speak, something you don't even really need to do anymore, so you can ask, "you aren't gonna jump, are you?" as you step up to him.

he looks up at you and your first thought is about how pretty he is. you've never really been attracted to guys but he's something else. he slowly says, "no," while shaking his head. "no. if i was going to kill myself, i'd do something a little more artistic, and i wouldn't do it somewhere so public. don't care if i traumatize my family, but i don't want to traumatize strangers who've done nothing to me. do you smoke?"

you shake your head. you've tried, a few times, and sometimes when you're especially stressed you'll indulge yourself in a cigarette bummed off of whoever's nearby, but you prefer not to. added, you always get choked up and it triggers your asthma, which is less than convenient since you can't get away with wearing sports bras while you recover from your asthma attacks. it's not an option. cigarettes aren't an option anymore. "not my thing," you tell him with a shake of your head as you stand behind him. "why are you up here?"

"just broke up with my girlfriend, and she threw me out of her apartment. waiting for my brother to come pick me up. i don't know if he will, honestly. he's kind of an asshole. thought he'd take pity on me just this once but i've been here for an hour and he hasn't even replied to my text messages."

"could be busy," you muse, somehow trying to comfort this man you just barely met.

"how about you? a pretty boy like you shouldn't be wearing such a long face."

you scoff and laugh. "right, right. you're one to talk. uh. my friend--he's throwing a house party, and it was just a little too loud tonight. got overwhelmed and thought i'd come up here to breathe. didn't think i'd meet a handsome fellow such as yourself, though."

he laughs back and shakes his head, before flicking ashes off of his cigarette. "i'm flattered. sucks about the party, i guess. um. i'll--i'll get off the ledge. i'm sure i seem like a fuckin' freak." he rolls his eyes and you kind of like the attitude he has--self deprecating but not too self deprecating.

you help him stand up and he just stands next to you. the two of you stand there for awhile before he asks you for your name. you almost slip and tell him your dead name, since you're still used to doing that because before testosterone, passing was a fucking pipe dream, but you catch yourself and you say, "it's josh," instead.

"josh," he repeats, with a nod. he repeats your name a few times and gives you a once over. "it fits. i like it. i'm tyler." he holds his hand towards you, and you shake it. you like his hands. they're warm, warmer than they should be, and he has cute thumbs. they're kind of weird and way too big but you like that. you like people's weird features. they're always cute.

you wind up giving tyler a ride home, and in a gesture that is bold on your part, you ask him for his phone number in exchange for the ride. he's more than happy to give it to you with a smile on his face.

you have a bit of a crush on tyler and, sure, in the very, very, very distant future you wind up married to him, but you don't start dating him until you've been friends with him for the better part of a decade. the seven years between you meeting him and starting to date him is enough time for you to get a little more life experience and to have a few more relationships, most of which are weird and codependent and leave you riddled with intimacy issues.

your first girlfriend after meeting tyler--she's lovely, at first. she looks at you like you hung the stars in the sky and she makes you feel loved but somewhere, shit goes sour, kind of like a glass of milk left out for too long. you think the first issue that arises is when she finds out that, not only are you trans, but that you're kind of a huge bottom when it comes down to it.

she makes sex this big important part of the relationship and she never indulges you, and it's never about you. she never takes any consideration for you or your feelings and she doesn't ever consider the fact that sometimes you're dysphoric and just not feeling up for it.

she'll just pout at you and talk you into fooling around with her and her touch that once felt rewarding and personifying starts to feel kind of like a spider crawling on you at four in the morning while you're minding your own business playing mario kart for the nintendo ds.

tyler's very sweet when he finds out that you're trans. it happens on accident a few years into your friendship with him. he walks into your apartment unannounced and usually you have no problem with him doing that, because it's what he does--he makes himself at home wherever he goes--except on that day in particular you'd been standing in your living room in sweatpants and nothing else--no shirt, no binder, and he gets an eyeful of the goods, as you'd like to call them.

his reaction basically just boils down to him shrugging and being like, "oh, okay," before asking you a few questions, and telling you that you're allowed to bop him one if he's making an ass out of himself. you'd never bop him one for that, but he's very sweet and he tries his best to learn, and it doesn't change your relationship with him further than him being a little more sensitive with some of the jokes he makes.

your first boyfriend isn't too sweet about it. he likes you and he acts kind and gracious and like god's gift to this fucking planet but when he finds out he breaks your heart. calls you a tranny and tells you to get the fuck off of him, that if he wanted to date a girl he'd fucking date a girl, and tells you that you lied to him and that you shouldn't have done that.

tyler gives you as many hugs as you'll let him give you and even kisses your forehead and assures you that he was just an asshole and that you deserve better than him, tells you that you're not a girl and that masculinity shouldn't have anything to do with what's going on downstairs and your stupid crush from the first few months you met him comes rushing back full force because he's such a sweetheart.

you have another boyfriend after the super transphobic one. this one is nicer, he's more understanding, and you think your relationship with him is good, up until you find yourself staying up later than you need to every night trying to get him to not lose his fucking mind, and when you don't stay up for him, he calls you abusive and says that you have to be there for him--even threatens suicide a few times--and all in all that relationship winds up being very traumatizing for you and tyler's there, just like he always is, to pick up the pieces and to get you on the path to healing, because he's like that. he doesn't fix things for you, but he nudges you in the right direction.

you're twenty seven when tyler goes from being your best friend to your boyfriend-slash-partner, but you're twenty six when things start getting borderline romantic between the two of you. well, not borderline. more like things are romantic, but you're an idiot who feels like he needs to do something to earn tyler's affection.

you're fresh out of a short and god-awful relationship and you need out of ohio for awhile, and his band happens to be touring, so he just... invites you to go with him. tyler's not that successful, not commercially, at least not yet, but he's successful enough to have to rent a tour bus and to be touring all along the east coast.

you love his music and his band; his mind is something that amazes you. his talent is incredible and tyler's the kind of person you admire, a lot. his whole message is all about purpose and self worth and self care and encouraging everyone to do what's best for them and when a few groupies ask you about him, ask if he's like that outside of the music, you nod and agree faster than you have with anything, because he is. he encourages you every single day to be a better person for yourself and not for anyone else. tyler's, like, the real deal.

the tour isn't long but it's not short, you don't think. you're not a musician--you dabbled in the recorder in fourth grade, and you played violin in orchestra in middle school, and you sort of know your way around a drum kit, but it's not your passion in life--you don't know how music stuff works. you're on the road with him for two months, though.

most nights you're crammed into his bunk with him, and it's uncomfortable and it's one fuck of a tight fit, and there are a few nights that you wind up sleeping on the couch in the lounge area of the bus since, with as much as you love tyler, sometimes you need space. most nights, though, you sleep with him.

the only comfortable position the two of you are able to sleep in is with him spooning you, and you're okay with that. he's warm and you always wake up gross and sweaty but he's also comfortable and you like the weight of his arm around your waist and the way his bunk smells like a more saturated version of him. you won't lie--you sleep like shit in his bunk, but it's not all bad.

tyler's band mates are all very sweet. you're not surprised that they're the kind of people he's in a band with. his bassist--jenna--you like her the most. she was the first to tease you and ask you if you and tyler were dating, but she's always the first to stick up for you when the guys are being assholes about the whole you and tyler situation. everyone listens to jenna because despite being a pink haired sweetheart with a nose piercing and hand tattoos she can be scary when she wants to.

you obviously like hotel nights the most. you usually share a room with jenna and tyler. (jenna knows you're trans--she's cool about it.) jenna sleeps on one bed, and you sleep on the other with tyler, who basically uses you as a human pillow. you let him do it, though, because he's always tuckered out after shows, and you know that, as much as he doesn't like to admit it, he sleeps better with someone to hold on to.

your point here is that for those two months and for the four months following that tour tyler keeps doing these little things that you think are romantic, and your crush on him won't go away, unlike times in the past.

he always has to be touching you, whether you're sleeping in his bunk with him or eating dry cereal because you can't be fucked to pour milk into it on a moving vehicle. he's always pressed against you, or has his hand on your knee or even your hand or your arm or he rests his head on your shoulder and finds every excuse he can to hug you or to surprise you with hugs from behind and sometimes he even tugs you into his lap despite the fact you're three inches taller than him and have at least twenty pounds of muscle mass on him as well.

as soon as that tour is over, though, you're expecting all of that to end and to go back to your normal minimal contact friendship with him. that, of course, isn't what happens. when you're in public with him, usually out for coffee or going out for beers on the weekends, he finds excuses to have his arm around your waist or to tuck himself into your side or to hold your hand or something and for awhile you sort of think he's doing it to get a rise out of you, since you blush a lot and since he calls you out on it, but you figure out that, eventually, he has a fucking crush on you.

youv'e seen him around his other friends--he doesn't act like this with them. you've only seen him act like this with his ex girlfriends, and you, now, so you call him out on it. you're not mean about it, you never are when you call him out, but the two of you are watching vine compilations in his bed, since it's a sleepover kind of night, and he's going a little overboard with the cuddling. he has his legs tangled with yours and you're pretty sure you're like a mattress to him at this point, so you pause the video and look down at him.

he looks up at you, from where his head is at high on your chest, with his stupid pretty doe eyes, and asks why you paused the video.

"because. i want to know what you're doing right now."

"i was watching vine compilations, dude." he tries reaching for your phone to unpause it, but you yank your phone away from him.

"no, fuck that. what are you doing? you've been doing--doing this," you gesture towards how he's laying on you, "since that last tour you did, and you're always touchin' me, bro. like, i don't mind, but why? do you have a crush on me or something?"

"and what if i did?" he sits up, now, and props himself up so he can look into your eyes. "would it be the end of the world if i had a crush on you?"

"you're into girls. i'm not a girl." you have a lot of self worth problems but you're not above pointing this out.

"i know you're not. that's why i like you."

"i'm also not going to be your experimentation--your stepping stone to doing stuff with a real man."

tyler scoffs. "fuck off, you dick. you know i wouldn't do that to you. also, you are a real man, and lately, i've been crushin' on dudes. i've already done stuff with cis guys before, and a few of my girlfriends have been trans. i'm not seventy-fuckin-two, you chode. i don't have some weird mental block with dating trans people, or having crushes on them, apparently."

your next question is, "why me, then? i'm not even that cute, and you could have literally any guy you wanted."

"because, i like you, and i have an emotional connection to you because we've been friends for six years. also, you are cute, and that's just a fact. i know you're gonna point out that your face is weird, and i'm going to preemptively remind you that i love your face. i love your nose, because it's cute, and your eyes, because they're also very freaking cute, and your cheeks and your lips and your patchy beard. aaall of that is some primo man content."

you make a noise that borders on a scoff and a sigh before breaking eye contact with him. "you're not asking me out, right?"

"not yet. i'm just letting you know that i do, in fact, have a crush on you, and that i now want to make plans to act on that crush within the near future." tyler bends down and for a moment you think he's going to kiss you, so you scrunch your face up because you don't actually want him to kiss you, despite the idea seeming nice. and he does kiss you, but he kisses you on your forehead. "our first kiss isn't gonna be in my bed at two in the morning on a sunday, bro."

it's weird, you think, going on a date with your best friend. you and tyler know everything about each other, pretty much, but while you're on a date with him you feel like you're learning a whole new side of him, and you don't hate it. he asks you what you'd like out of a date, and you tell him you want something low key, and that you don't want to bone it out with him on the first date. he then explains that he's not the type of guy who fucks on the first date, and you tell him that you're just trying to be thorough.

he builds a pillow fort in his living room and even drags his mattress from his bedroom into his living room, just to make it that much more comfortable, while the two of you watch a romantic comedy for the first date. you know tyler and you know he picked the romantic comedy because he wanted to make out with you rather than watch the movie, because, for fucks sake--no one sits down and genuinely watches how to lose a guy in ten days anymore, and you know that movie is one of his make out movies.

romantic tyler is pretty much the same as regular tyler, except he's a lot more sly, and he makes your heart thud in your ears. you're sitting in his lap when he goes in to kiss you, and you have to stop him. "ty, bud, i would love to kiss you, but--"

"--too much?"

"--no, no. i'm just, like, kind of afraid that if i kiss you i'm not gonna want to stop, and then i'm gonna make an ass out of myself because i'm gonna want to be kissin' on you all the time." yes, that's a genuine worry of yours. you're also insanely nervous, too, but you do worry about that.

tyler holds one of your hands, though, and kisses your cheek, saying, "i'm willing to take one for the team, then," and then he asks you if he's allowed to kiss you. when you give him permission, he... does it. and he's good at kissing, better than you thought he was going to be.

he doesn't make it weird. he doesn't let his hands travel and he doesn't grope you or anything, not like any of the other guys you've made out with. the most he does is hold onto you when he adjusts his position in the pillow fort so that you're more comfortable while the two of you kiss. you don't feel pressured and something about the way he kisses you feels nice.

you think it's nice because you already trust him and you already have a preexisting relationship with him. sure, you're kind of learning a new side of him, but if anything this kind feels like an extension of your friendship with him, except it's, like, romantic.

you have a habit of not putting yourself first when it comes to relationships. you don't want to be like this, you really don't, but it's just that, in the past, whenever you've put yourself first, you've always gotten called selfish or uncaring or conceited, and you're afraid of that happening with tyler, so you make him your priority.

tyler calls you out on it after you offer to come over to his apartment at four in the morning to talk him down from an anxiety attack instead of just talking him down over text like a normal person. he tells you that it's not that he wouldn't be thrilled to see you, but that you have to start getting ready for work soon and that, unfortunately, your job is more important than his anxiety attack, because he already knows how to handle it, and just needed someone to vent to.

somehow that talk with him turns into him calling you on the phone and telling you that relationships are a two way street, and that you don't, in fact, have to basically baby him and take care of him, because he's twenty six--he can take care of himself. he tells you that it's okay if you continue to handle his anxiety attacks the same way you did before the two of you started going on dates--you're allowed to just send him cute animal gifs or to tell him he's going to be okay and not elaborate on it just like you always have.

you point out that, since the two of you are dating, shouldn't you be expected to do more for him?

he tells you to shut up in that tone of his, and that the two of you are dating--not married, and that maybe he'd expect more if either of you had been together for longer than a few months, and if you lived with him or something. he also explains that just because you're dating him doesn't mean everything has to change from what it was before then.

sex with tyler is something that's crossed your mind handfuls of times, but the fact that it's an actual possibility doesn't sink in with you until you're in the middle of making out with him and kinda-sorta fooling around and he admits that he really, really wants to go down on you, and wants to know if you'd be okay with that.

of course you would, you tell him. you love it when guys go down on you.

he's good at going down on you, too. he eases you into it, and he focuses on more than just your clit. this feels different than the times other guys have gone down on you--he isn't doing it to get you turned on enough so that he can fuck you without having to use a ton of lube. he's doing it because he wants you to feel good and, okay, maybe you get a little choked up at the fact that he just wants you to feel good.

you're close when you ball your fist up in his hair, and tug on it, asking him if he wants to fuck you. instead of saying yes or no, he asks you if that's what you want, and it strikes something within you. usually it's never about what you want, not with other guys. usually you're the one doing all the work, but tyler asks you if you want him to fuck you, and when you nod, nice and shy, he grins up at you.

he's not huge, and if you're being honest, you'd say his dick is on the smaller side. he's a little sheepish, and apologizes for his dick size, and you roll your eyes. he's insecure, obviously, but you hush him and tell him he's perfect, because he kind of really is, and you admit that you're not really that fond of... more well endowed penises. they aren't bad, necessarily, but you don't have tons of penetrative sex, at least not on your end, and the bigger ones kind of really hurt.

tyler kisses you and promises he isn't going to hurt you, that he just wants to make you feel good, and he keeps his promise. it doesn't hurt, and if you're being honest, he's, literally, the perfect size, and you're sure to tell him that over and over while he's fucking you.

it doesn't even feel like fucking. he touches all over your body and kisses you and mutters the sweetest things to you, telling you that you feel so good and that you're doing great and the noises he makes--god--the noises. he makes the cutest little noises and you love, love, that you're the one drawing those sorts of noises from him.

after either of you finish, he spends a good twenty minutes just kissing you and making you feel so fucking loved before tugging you towards his bathroom, and talking you into taking a bath with him, saying that it's something he likes to do after sleeping with someone, if they're comfortable with it.

and you are comfortable with it. you're a little nervous, at first, since you've never let him see you naked before (you wore a shirt while doing the do) but he handles it well. you've been with a few people who, after seeing you without any clothes on...

well, you can just say that you don't have to watch the love drain from tyler's eyes once he looks at your body. and he does look. he doesn't avoid looking at you and he doesn't act scared to look at you either. he looks and the extent of his reaction is just smiling at you and telling you that you look handsome, before grabbing a bath bomb from a drawer and getting situated in the bath tub with you.

it hits you that you don't know how to love someone about six months into your relationship with tyler. he sends you a text one evening, telling you that he wants to talk, and you spend the next few days wanting to throw up because talks are never good. talks always lead to you getting yelled at or broken up with and maybe even slapped. (to clarify--tyler's talks don't mean that, but with your past partners, talks have never ended well.)

he comes over, and you have a hunch he didn't even bother stopping by his own apartment before coming over, considering he's carrying his guitar, which is in its case, over his shoulder, and that he looks a little greasy and like he hasn't showered in a week. he always sweats when he performs, and you think it's from all the lights. tyler also bounces around a lot on stage.

he kisses you on the cheek and gives you a quick hug before stepping inside, and setting his guitar down next to the door, which you close behind him. tyler excuses himself, and says he's going to use your shower. during the thirty minutes he spends in your shower, you sit in your couch, picking at your thumbnails until you draw blood, because you're so fucking anxious. you have no idea what he could possibly want to talk about.

he comes back in a pair of your sweatpants and one of your t-shirts, which looks like a sheet draped over his scrawny, gangly body. half of it is tucked into the sweatpants, and you notice the drawstring on them is tied tight enough that you're a little shocked his legs aren't falling off, before forgetting they're a size too big for him. the pants, you mean. tyler's legs are the perfect size.

as soon as he's sat down on the other end of your couch, legs crossed, facing you, you start apologizing. "look--whatever i did, i'm sorry."

"dude. you didn't do anything." tyler frowns and looks so concerned and you don't know why you were expecting him to be mean.

"you want to have a talk, so obviously i did something to piss you off." tyler knows what you're doing, if the look on his face says anything. you're trying to get him to assure you that, no, you didn't do anything. and he does just that.

"babe, you didn't do anything. i'm not mad at you. i just--i wanted to know if we were doing alright...?"

"what do you mean?" you pick at one of your thumbnails with your fingernail.

"it's just... i sort of feel like you're not... reciprocating? i guess? i don't--i don't know how to explain it. it's like you're holding back. you don't--you don't touch me anymore, man, not unless i ask you to or unless we're getting ready to--to fuck."

"you said that you don't like being touched."

"when?" tyler looks shocked.

"you were--you were upset over something and--and crying and when i tried holding your hand you yanked it back and basically shouted at me not to touch you."

"josh, i was in the middle of having an anxiety attack, and we've been friends for years. you know i hate being touched when i'm having anxiety attacks. it makes me feel smothered. i probably didn't want you to touch me until it was over--not all the time."

you feel overwhelmed, if anything, and tyler tugs you into a hug when he sees tears welling up in your eyes.

"hey, man, you didn't do anything wrong," is what he mumbles into the side of your neck as he holds onto you.

"i just feel like i don't know how to love someone," you admit.

"i can teach you."

"teach me?" you pull back, to make eye contact with him because you're a little confused.

"yeah, dude. i can teach you." tyler smiles so soft and sweet and he looks so fucking reassuring. "josh, i love you, more than anything, and i swear to god--it's going to take a lot to drag me away from you."

you know you're supposed to be having a moment with tyler, but you're a dumbass and you can't help yourself. "and there's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do...?" you bite the inside of your cheek so hard that it almost starts bleeding.

tyler blanks for a few moments before he starts cracking up. "there we go! lesson one--always make africa jokes when we're having a moment, because i think i just fell, like, five hundred times more in love with you."