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Keeper and Protector

Chapter Text

"I'm looking for a guy named Tyler Joseph. Is he staying in this shelter?"

Tired blue eyes met curious brown eyes as the older woman sitting on one of the shelter's cots stared up at the man in front of her. They were totally unfamiliar with each other, yet for some reason, the young man felt that out of all the people here, she would be the best person to ask.

"Joseph," she repeated. "Tyler Joseph." Holding her hand up to her mouth, she pondered over the question for a moment. "Yes, I met him a few weeks ago, actually. Our cots were next to each other."

"Is he still here?" the man asked.

"As far as I know." Her expression turned into a frown. "He hasn't been well, though, so he's mainly kept to himself." Standing up, wincing a little in the process, she pointed across the room. "See him? There he is right there, the real skinny one."

Grateful he had managed to locate him, the man thanked her for her help before making his way across the room.

Sat huddled in the corner was a young man, a black hoodie pulled over his head, hiding most of his face from view. Bony hands were wrapped tightly around an even bonier body, the only thing signaling a sign of life being the tremors that wracked his nerves.

The older man came closer before stooping down, a bit concerned over the current state the boy was in. Reaching a steady hand out to lay on his shoulder, he hoped to try and calm him down some.

Instead, Tyler flinched back, a heart-breakingly terrified look on his face. But his eyes quickly went from fear to confusion when he saw that who was in front of him was clearly not who he had been expecting.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," the older man said, his body drawn back a little. "Are you Tyler Joseph?"

"Who are you?" Tyler asked, arms circling around himself again, fingers digging into the fabric of his hoodie. "How do you know my name?"

"My name is Joshua Dun. You can call me Josh for short."

"Joshua..." Tyler said carefully. "What do you want with me?"

"I know you're a Keeper."

Tyler's skin turned an even whiter shade of pale, a panicked expression on his face.

"Calm down, I'm not here to hurt you," Josh quickly added.

"Then why are you here?" He looked away from Josh's glance. "Nobody ever wants to be around a Keeper."

"Hey, don't say that." Josh reached his hand out again, more slowly this time, and let just his fingertips rest on Tyler's knee. "I found you on the Time Keeper Database."

Tyler's eyes widened a little. "You... you read my message on there?"

Josh leaned in closer, his voice hushed. "I did. I want to help you, Tyler."

"But..." Tyler looked down again, hands shaking ever so slightly. "I'm scared." Lifting up his sleeve, he held out his wrist, exposing his Time Keeper symbol. "You see how faded my Time Keeper is? I'm done for. Even if you were to help me, it'd probably be too late at this point."

Josh's heart pulled at the look of despair embedded deep within the younger boy's eyes. "Tyler..."

Pulling his knees up to his chest, Tyler leaned his head on top of them, eyes staring off into the distance. "I'm so scared, Josh," he whispered. "At this point, I just want to be put out of my misery."

"Hey. Listen to me." The younger boy's eyes flicked up to look at Josh. "Even if it is too late, I want your last days to be spent with someone that cares about you and not here in this shelter surrounded by strangers."

"But... why me? Have you been a Protector before?"

Josh shook his head. "No. But let's just say that I know a lot about it." He held his hand out to him. "What do you think? I'll take care of you."

Tyler looked at the older man's outstretched hand and the way his fingers looked so strong, yet so gentle. Would he really lay his livelihood as a Keeper on the line for this man?

Did he even have much of a choice anymore?

Or was he just going to die in the corner of this shelter?

Chapter Text

"Do you want something to drink? Coffee or water?"

Tyler clutched his small bag of belongings against his chest, eyes darting around at the unfamiliar surroundings. "Um... coffee would be okay I guess," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.

"You can put your things down and take a seat wherever you'd like," Josh said. He hurried over to the kitchen cabinets, the nervous energy in his body painfully obvious. "Is there a certain flavor of coffee that you like? Because I have all kinds."

Setting his bag down on the floor, he gave Josh an embarrassed look. "I, uh, actually haven't had coffee in months. So I don't really know what I like."

Josh stopped what he was doing at that. "Oh... I'm sorry. I don't know, should I be apologizing for that?" He scratched the back of his neck, a bit irritated over how awkward he was being.

Tyler shook his head. "It's okay. My Protector didn't like how I made his coffee, so he forbade me from drinking it. I guess it's just one of those things that you forget about after awhile."

The older man wasn't sure how to respond to something that sounded so ridiculous, so he just gave him the best smile he could manage. "Well, I've been told I make a pretty good cup of coffee. How does French Vanilla sound?"

Tyler tried to smile, but it came out more like a forced grimace. "That's fine, thanks."

He didn't mention how, on that aforementioned day, his Protector had slapped him so hard that his cheek burned for an hour straight. Or how he threw the coffee cup at the wall and it shattered into so many tiny pieces that Tyler couldn't walk barefoot in the kitchen for months.

Those were memories he tried to forget, but every little thing reminded him of the months of torment he had endured.

Intrusive thoughts rushed into Tyler's mind as he watched Josh make the coffee, the voice in his head trying to rationalize all the things that could go wrong.

What if Josh turned around and screamed at him for breathing too loud? What if he accidentally slurped his coffee and Josh took it away from him because he was being an 'obnoxious brat?' What if-

"Sugar?"

The brunette snapped out of his thoughts. "Excuse me?"

"Do you want sugar in your coffee?" Josh repeated, gently holding the cup out to him.

Tyler was a bit dumbfounded. He hadn't even noticed the coffee maker turned off, let alone that Josh had made his cup already. "S-Sure," he said. "Thank you, Joshua."

He chuckled a little. "You can call me Josh, you know. Not that I mind Joshua."

"I know," Tyler said quietly. "Joshua is just a really nice name, that's all."

He gave him a warm smile. "Thank you, Tyler. I like your name too."

Tyler frowned a little. "Sometimes it bothers me how so many people have my name. What makes me different from everyone else, you know?" He looked down. "Well, besides being a Keeper," he mumbled. "I guess that would be a huge difference."

"Keeper or no Keeper, you're still you. You're Tyler. I'm sure there are thousands of other Joshs out there too." He laughed. "I'm sure none of them are quite as delightfully awkward as me, though."

The tiniest of smiles appeared on Tyler's lips for a split second before disappearing again. If Josh had blinked, he would have missed it, so he was grateful he had seen it while it was there.

"Good point, I guess."

"How is your coffee?" Josh asked.

Tyler realized he hadn't tasted it yet, so he held it up to his lips and drank a sip, the hot liquid burning his tongue in the process. "It's still a little bitter," he answered.

A sharp gasp left his lips as he realized what he had just said. Drawing back, he prepared himself for an immediate slap, eyes instinctively squeezing shut.

When he was met with nothing but silence, Tyler slowly opened his eyes back up to see Josh pouring creamer into his coffee.

"Maybe that will help," he said quietly.

The younger boy was almost speechless. "You're... you're not..."

"I'm not going to hurt you, Tyler. I would never do that."

He looked up at him with pleading, confused eyes as the ceramic shook in between his fingers. "But I..."

Josh held a finger up to his lips, shushing him. "Shh. Drink your coffee, love. You deserve it."

Chapter Text

"This will be your room, Tyler."

A soft gasp left Tyler's lips as he took in the room around him. Between a huge bed with luxuriant blankets and the tall windows that let in every inch of sunshine, he was amazed at how much more... brighter and welcoming everything was compared to the room he had shared with his ex-Protector.

"You have such a nice house," he breathed out. He set his bag down on the bed carefully, afraid he might mess it up. "Are you... are you a millionaire?"

Josh laughed a little. "Not quite, sweetheart. My family is relatively well-off, I guess you could say, but I bought this place with my own money."

Tyler was a little surprised. Josh certainly didn't look like he was rich; he didn't own a sports car or have designer clothes on. But he also knew better than anyone else that looks could deceive...

"I like it." He sat down on the edge of the bed, wincing a little as the springs creaked underneath him. "Ouch," he mumbled.

Josh laid a hand on Tyler's shoulder, a concerned look on his face. "You okay?"

"Y-Yes... well, not really." Tyler rubbed his hands up and down the sides of his thighs. "Everything hurts and I'm tired."

"Do you want to lay down? I can help you get in the bed."

He shook his head. "No, no. I just want to get better. I can't remember the last time I actually felt... normal."

"I know, Tyler. All of this must be really hard on you." Josh sat down next to him on the bed, moving his hand to rest on Tyler's knee. "Is there anything I can do?"

"You've done so much for me already, Josh. I don't know how I could possibly thank you."

Josh smiled a little. "No need to thank me, sweetheart. Let's just focus on getting you better, okay?"

Tyler nodded. "Okay." Holding the sleeve of his hoodie up to his nose, he grimaced. "I think what I need to focus on is taking a bath... I wasn't able to bathe very often in the homeless shelter."

"How come?"

"The last time I weighed myself, I'd lost twenty-five pounds because... well, for one, my Time Keeper is really low. And two, my Protector never let me eat anything besides crackers and water because he said I was too fat and didn't deserve to eat real food."

Josh couldn't believe how Tyler, a tall and slender boy, could ever believe such horrible lies about himself. But he kept his mouth shut and let him continue talking.

"There were communal showers at the shelter and I didn't want to scare anyone with my body, so I tried to avoid it as much as possible. If someone were to see my Time Keeper, they might've kicked me out of there." He looked down. "Everyone hates Keepers..."

"I don't." Josh's hand tightened around Tyler's knee. "I'm so sorry you had to go through all that with your Protector." Inside of his mind, Josh wanted to find out who this guy was so he could go over to his house and beat the crap out of him for laying a finger on this beautiful boy. "Can I fix you something to eat? I'll go to the store and buy you anything you want."

When the younger boy's expression turned to one of uncertainty, Josh tried to word the question in a different way. "What's your favorite food?"

"I don't know anymore," Tyler mumbled, wrapping his arms across his chest. "I... I guess I..." His voice trailed off before he finally shook his head. "Never mind."

"No, tell me," Josh urged him.

Tyler swallowed before speaking again. "I guess I like spaghetti. My mom used to make the best spaghetti when I was a kid. I miss it a lot."

Josh smiled, happy that Tyler had thought of something he liked. "Let's eat that for dinner then. It probably won't be as good as your mom's, but hey, I'll try my best."

The brunette couldn't find the heart to tell Josh that he would probably throw up anything he tried to eat. So he just nodded and managed another tiny, blink-and-you'll-miss-it smile. "Thank you, Joshua. I don't mind making it if you don't want to. I don't want to seem lazy."

Josh shook his head. "You're not lazy, Tyler. I want you to rest, okay? Let's get you a bath going so you can soak and then after you're settled in bed, I'll head to the store and get stuff for dinner. How does that sound?"

"Sounds okay." Pushing himself up, Tyler was a bit unsteady as he stood to his feet, the redhead holding onto his arm for support. "Such long legs, you'd think they'd work right..."

"Just take your time, love. Don't overdo it." Josh played with an idea inside of his mind, but he wasn't sure whether to suggest it or not.

Tyler locked eyes with him, sensing there was something he had to say. "What is it?"

Josh scratched the back of his neck, a hesitant look on his face. "This is probably going to sound weird, but I was thinking that I could help you into the bathtub. Just as a precaution. I don't want you falling and hurting yourself."

Tyler looked away, frowning a little. "You're not going to make fun of my body?"

"Of course not, Tyler. Why would I do that?"

"Sorry, I'm just so used to..." He trailed off before sighing. "Never mind."

Josh gave him an understanding nod. None of this would be an overnight process, after all. "Well, let's get you cleaned up, yeah?" he said as he stood up.

Tyler watched as a hand was extended out to him, bringing along an invitation to strange places with an even stranger, yet alluring man. Slowly, he slipped his hand into Josh's and let himself be led away.

The synapses in his arm lit on fire as he felt his Time Keeper tick ever so slightly.

Chapter Text

7:00AM and a calm hush resided over the Dun residence, the bright start of the morning making its way through the windows as an exhausted young man slept on in bed.

Caught up in the haze of a dreamer's sleep, he rolled over, but a little too far as his head met the corner of the bedside table with a loud bang.

Letting out a yelp, throbbing resonated throughout his skull as he clutched at his temples, borderline delirious from being thrown out of his dreams so harshly.

Groaning, he turned onto his back, slowly opening his eyes. Pulling the covers over his face, he began to wonder how long he had been asleep for. After the initial throbbing began to fade, he slid the covers back down off his face, figuring there was no way he was going back to sleep after that. Turning back onto his side, his eyes were immediately drawn to a note sitting on the bedside table.

Reaching over, he picked it up and read the messy handwriting scrawled across the paper.

Tyler,

When I went to the store last night, I failed to remember that I have pretty much nothing here for breakfast haha. Plus we need more coffee. :) So I'm going back to the store... didn't want to wake you because I know you need your rest.

But I'll be back as soon as I can, ok?

- Josh(ua)

Tyler's stomach tightened into a knot as he realized he had fallen asleep right after his bath last night. The last thing he remembered was putting on the pajamas Josh had given him and telling him 'bye' as he left to go to the store.

And then the next thing he knew... he was knocking himself silly.

A wave of panic washed over him as his mind went over all the negative consequences he could face for his mistake.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, Tyler chided himself. You're always messing everything up. You're such a screw-up.

At this point, he'd be surprised if Josh even let him stay another night. If he had pulled this kind of crap with his old Protector, things wouldn't have ended well... at all.

Still... Josh had left him such a nice note and went back to the store so they could have stuff for breakfast. So if he was truly mad at him, he wouldn't have done all that... right?

He carefully folded the note up before placing it back onto the table. Slowly, but surely, he pulled himself up to the edge of the bed, his toes brushing against the soft carpet.

As he shuffled to the bathroom, his mind wandered to the previous night and how lovely it had felt to hold Josh's hand for that brief moment in time. Even if it was completely innocent in context, the exchange itself was something foreign, yet absolutely needed.

He just wanted to feel whole again.

Keepers couldn't function with a broken heart hemorrhaging more and more love by the second. They needed a Protector to fill in all of the empty spaces.

But why him? Why had Josh chosen him, out of all people, when there were plenty of other suitable (and much more emotionally stable) Keepers out there who needed a Protector?

He was just bruised, broken and lonely.

Who would want you?

By this time, Tyler had made his way downstairs, feet taking him from room to room as he poked around the house, trying to get a feel for how this man really lived.

His fingers brushing over the leather couch, he decided to sit down so Josh wouldn't come home to find him creeping around. Rubbing at the still sore spot on his head, he hoped he hadn't hit himself hard enough to cause any real damage. The last thing he needed right now was a trip to the hospital...

Maybe your brain will swell up so much that you'll die. Then you can be put out of your misery.

Shivering, Tyler wrapped his arms around himself, wishing to be back underneath the covers, safe in his dreams where none of the voices could grab ahold of him.

Just as he thought he was close to succumbing to the thoughts inside of his head, the sound of a key scraping against the lock came into earshot.

Josh.

The front door opened and then shut before the sound of rustling plastic bags filled the otherwise quiet air.. Feeling a bit awkward, Tyler wasn't sure whether to get up and greet him, stay in the same place or run back upstairs to his room.

Go tell him good morning. It's the least you could do after falling asleep on him.

The younger boy held his hands behind his back as he walked into the kitchen, twisting his fingers so tightly that he feared they might break off. The back of Josh's head came into view, said man currently busy with taking stuff out of bags and placing them on the counter.

His voice caught in his throat as he tried to speak, sounding more like a tiny squeak. "Morning."

Josh turned around, and Tyler prepared himself for the absolute worst, but to his surprise, the man had nothing but a sweet smile on his face. "Good morning to you, sleepy-head. Did you have a nice rest?"

Tyler looked down, circling his big toe around on the wood floor. "Y-Yeah. M'sorry for falling asleep..."

"Sorry?" When he looked back up, Josh had a confused look on his face. "What are you sorry for?"

Tyler stumbled over his words. "B-Because I, um, fell asleep after you left for the store. You were gonna make dinner and... well, t-that was really rude of me to do. So I'm sorry."

Josh started to laugh, and now it was the younger boy's turn to be confused. "Sweetheart, you don't have to apologize for anything. You need your rest. And besides..." He grinned. "That's why they make refrigerators."

Tyler felt a bit dumbfounded. This guy wasn't mad at him and wasn't going to berate him for messing up?

Was he still dreaming? Had that bedside table knocked him unconscious?

"I hope you like cereal. Because I bought a lot of it." Josh held up two boxes of cereal and gave him a sheepish grin. "My life consists of stressing over everything and eating copious amounts of cereal, to be honest."

The look on Josh's face and his unapologetic honesty were too perfect, so much so that Tyler let out the tiniest of giggles, the sound of it surprising the both of them.

"Sorry," Tyler mumbled, feeling a bit embarrassed over making such a silly sound.

"No, don't be." Josh smiled. "It's cute. You're cute."

Tyler felt shy all of a sudden, his big toe curling against the floor as the tick, tick, tick in his arm grew a little stronger.

Chapter Text

"There's someone I want you to meet today."

Tyler, sat cross-legged on the kitchen barstool as he dragged his spoon around in his bowl of cereal, looked up at Josh with a worried expression on his face.

"Don't worry, Tyler. He knows about you already."

He?

Looking down at the bits of cereal getting soggier by the second, Tyler internally cursed himself for not being able to eat more than the two spoonfuls he had already managed.

"Is he a friend of yours?"

Josh made a small 'hmm' sound. "He's my house manager but we're also best friends." He gave the younger boy a smile. "I think you'll like him."

The last time Tyler had heard those words was when the headmaster in charge of Keeper Training School had matched him with his ex-Protector...

"When will he be here?" he asked.

"Probably in the next thirty minutes or so. He has the day off, actually, but he still wanted to come by and meet you."

Tyler frowned a little. It was hard enough adjusting to Josh, and now there was another new person he had to meet?

"If you're not feeling up to it, that's okay."

When the younger boy looked up, he saw the concerned look on Josh's face. He felt a twinge of guilt in his stomach at the thought of appearing ungrateful. "No, I want to meet him."

Josh nodded before taking a look at Tyler's cereal, still mostly uneaten. "Are you finished?"

"Y-Yeah. Not really hungry anymore." Tyler chewed on his bottom lip, unsure of what Josh's reaction would be. "I'm sorry for not eating much."

"No need to apologize, sweetheart." The redhead gave him a sweet smile. "Good job. I'm really proud of you."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

After breakfast, Tyler managed to slip away back to his room. It wasn't that he didn't want to be around Josh... but his head was spinning so badly that he feared he might pass out right then and there.

Wrapped up in the blanket, only his face was visible as he snuggled inside of his "cocoon." Maybe it was weird, perhaps it was childish... but being like this made him feel secure and in control.

His mind drifted back to his time in Keeper Training School, where he spent long days and even longer nights with girls and boys just like him. Inside of those walls, the Time Keeper symbol was an adornment, something to cherish and be proud of. Everyone had the same hopes and fears, praying that their Protectors would be their soulmate and partner for many years to come.

Things were much simpler back then; goofing around during class and listening to the girls giggle with each other about first kisses and their "dream Protectors."

Being slapped across the face sure made a person grow up quickly...

Maybe you deserved it. You were too soft. Too weak.

"Shut up," Tyler whispered.

It's weak to be afraid. You're nothing but a scaredy cat.

"Shut up," he repeated, squeezing his eyes shut.

Your Protector should've done both of you a favor and killed you that night.

Tyler began to hyperventilate, tearing himself out of the blanket. Once free, he dragged his knees up to his chest as his vision blurred with tears. "Stupid," he mumbled to himself. "So stupid."

As ridiculous as it sounded... he really needed a hug right now. A hug, a smile, something to reassure him he'd be okay. That maybe everything wasn't as bad as it seemed.

But he couldn't possibly ask that of someone who had already done so much for him already. The last thing he wanted to do was wear out his welcome with Josh. So instead, he closed his eyes and let the tears fall down his face, whimpering quietly.

Maybe I am weak.

Tyler was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he didn't even notice the new voice inside the house, accompanied by two pairs of footsteps coming up the stairs. It wasn't until he looked up and saw Josh standing in the doorway with an unfamiliar-looking man that he realized he had been found out.

He quickly wiped away his tears and tried his best to make it look like he was okay. "O-Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't hear you guys come upstairs," he mumbled.

Josh frowned when he saw the look on Tyler's face. "Are... are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

He paused, not believing the brunette for one second, before motioning to the man beside him. "I'd like you to meet Fynn."

Tyler did a brief once-over of Fynn, noticing how tall he was (compared to Josh, anyway) and the contrast of his almost ice blonde hair against his blue eyes. Honestly, he looked like a guy one would find on the cover of a fashion magazine... not as a house manager.

"Hi," Tyler said softly, his voice breaking a little before he cleared his throat.

Fynn gave him a small smile. "Hey, nice to meet you, Tyler. Um, are you settling in alright?"

The brunette just nodded, not saying anything more as he looked away, trying to keep himself from completely falling apart.

Josh came a little closer and tried again to get through to him. "Hey... you sure you're okay?"

Tyler opened his mouth to say something but when he saw the gentle, pleading look in Josh's eyes, any words he had disintegrated into nothing as he burst into tears. Before he knew it, the two men were sitting with him on the bed as he sobbed away.

"What's wrong, sweetie?" Josh was afraid he had done something to upset him and honestly, it was a thought he couldn't bear right now.

"Everything," Tyler said between gasps. "It just hurts."

Josh placed a hand on the younger boy's knee, eyebrows furrowed. "What hurts?"

"Me," he croaked out. "My heart. I'm so hurt, Josh."

Before he could stop himself, Josh was taking Tyler into his arms. He expected a negative reaction but to his surprise, the brunette just clung onto him in return.

"I'm so sorry," Josh whispered. "I wish I could take your pain away. I really do."

Fynn watched everything unfold before him, not wanting to intrude on such a fragile moment between the two. Deep down, though, he really felt for Tyler and what he was going through... more than he would probably ever realize.

Slowly, Tyler's crying turned into soft sniffles as he calmed down. He kept his head leaned onto Josh's shoulder as said man rubbed small circles into his back. "Sorry for all my gross crying," he mumbled. "Great first impression, I know."

"Don't apologize," Fynn said. "We're not here to judge you, Tyler. It's okay to cry."

Tyler nodded a little. "I guess so. Um, I know I'm a little late saying this, but... it's nice to meet you too, Fynn." He managed to give him a small smile. "Fynn is a really pretty name."

Said blonde smiled back at him. "Hey, thanks. It's short for Fynnley."

"Fynnley and Joshua," Tyler repeated. "Both of you have nicknames, but I'm just plain Tyler."

Josh thought about that for a moment. "Hmm... how about we call you Ty?"

"My friends in Keeper Training School used to call me that," he replied. Smiling, he returned his head to Josh's shoulder. "I like Ty."

Relieved that Tyler wasn't upset anymore, Josh smiled back at him. "Cute name for a cute person," he said before pressing a tiny kiss against his forehead.

It was a foreign, almost ticklish sensation but he stifled a giggle so he wouldn't hurt Josh's feelings. Instead, he smiled a little and moved in a bit closer as he listened to Fynn and Josh talk.

Chapter Text

When Tyler came down into the kitchen the next morning, sleepy and rubbing his eyes, he found Josh with his head nearly inside his cereal bowl.

"Joshua?" He said his name softly. When he didn't get a response, he came a few steps closer and touched him on the shoulder. "Hey... good morning."

Josh jumped awake, making the younger boy flinch a little. He knew the man meant him no harm... but sudden movements were still so frightening for him.

"Oh, gosh," he mumbled as he rubbed at his temples. "Must have nodded off." When he looked up at Tyler, he smiled. "Good morning. How did you sleep?"

Tyler shuffled back and forth on his feet. "I slept okay. I take it you didn't sleep well?"

"I went to bed a little too late last night. I was up finishing a project due today at work."

The brunette's mind went back to the previous night's activities; they had finally ate the spaghetti Josh had promised he'd make for dinner and then watched Netflix for the rest of the night while they talked on and off. Once it hit midnight, Tyler had started falling asleep so Josh helped him upstairs, gave him some new pajamas to change into and told him good night.

After that, he had assumed Josh went straight to bed... but apparently not.

Chewing at his bottom lip, he looked down at his feet. "M'sorry I kept you up, Josh. I didn't mean to."

"Sweetheart, you have nothing to be sorry for." Josh reached over and took Tyler's hand. "I wanted to spend time with you. You're so much more important than some work project."

In the back of his mind, Tyler memorized the way Josh's hand felt in his, tiny sparks running through his veins. "You mean that?"

"Absolutely." He gave his hand a squeeze. "How are you feeling today?"

Tyler shrugged. "I'm okay. Still a little tired but better than I have been."

"Good, I'm glad to hear it." Letting go of Tyler's hand, he stood to his feet and picked up his cereal bowl. "Guess I should get dressed for work, yeah? Fynn will be here soon."

"Oh, okay."

"If you're feeling up to it, I'd like for him to take you shopping so you can buy some clothes and any other stuff you need. I'm gonna leave some cash for you two to use."

"Wow, really?" The brunette was astonished. He was really giving him money to spend on himself?

"Of course." Josh smiled. "But only if you're feeling up to it, okay? I don't want you overdoing it."

He nodded. "Thank you, Josh. Really." Swallowing hard, he leaned over and placed a quick peck on Josh's cheek. Inside of his mind, he hoped it wasn't too forward of a gesture but after all... he had to do something to express his gratitude, right?

To his surprise, Josh just smiled again and patted his arm. "I'll be in my room if you need me," he called over his shoulder as he walked away.

Tyler touched the spot where Josh's hand had been, a tiny group of butterflies fluttering around in his stomach. He hadn't felt something like this in forever. It was strange, peculiar, exciting...

It was... nice.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Tyler felt like the most boring person ever to exist as he sat in Fynn's car, hand gripping onto the door handle as they weaved in and out of traffic.

Here he was dressed in a white tee shirt and a faded pair of jeans while riding on heated leather seats. Even Fynn himself was so much more... put together. Just like the previous day, he looked like a guy fresh off the cover of a magazine, while Tyler was just the underpaid lackey with mismatched socks and jeans that looked like they'd been to hell and back.

Such was the chaotic life of a Keeper looking to find his heart (and Protector) again.

Fynn turned to look at Tyler, noticing his stiff body language. "Doing okay, Tyler?"

He shrugged a little. "I guess. I just feel weird."

"Are you feeling sick? Do you want me to pull over?"

He shook his head. "No, not that kind of weird. I just..." he trailed off as he searched for the right words to say. "I feel emotionally exhausted, if that makes any sense?"

Fynn nodded. "It makes a lot of sense, actually."

Tyler was glad that at least someone could relate to the madness inside of his mind. "I'm just afraid I'll see my old Protector again and he'll try to hurt me."

"I won't let that happen to you," Fynn reassured him. "Josh made me promise to keep you safe, no matter what."

He raised an eyebrow, surprised that Josh was even that... concerned about his well-being. "Seriously?"

"Seriously. He isn't taking this lightly, you know."

The brunette ran his hand up and down his arm. He really hoped that him staying here wasn't putting too much pressure on Josh. "Yeah, I can tell. He stayed up late with me last night, even though he had stuff to do for work." He looked away. "He didn't have to do that, you know."

"I know. But with Josh... it's all or nothing. There's not much of an in-between with him." Fynn sighed a little. "I wish I could be more like that sometimes."

Tyler studied Fynn's profile, noticing the subtle hints of pain hid in-between the smile lines on his cheeks. Inside of his mind, he wondered what this guy was really all about. What was his story? How did he even wind up working for Josh in the first place?

"I feel so nervous around him." He traced a fingertip over his symbol. "My Time Keeper doesn't seem to mind the attention, though."

"I think Josh is just as nervous as you are. Last night, he told me he was going to..." Fynn cut himself off. "Never mind, I probably shouldn't tell you that."

But those were words spoken far too late. "Tell me what? What did he say?"

Fynn scratched the back of his neck. "I really shouldn't say. I mean, it's nothing bad..."

"Then tell me."

"But Ty..."

He pouted. "C'mon, Fynn-ley," he whined, dragging the syllables in his name out.

Fynn snorted a little. "Little jerk," he mumbled. "Fine, I'll tell you. But you have to promise not to mention it to Josh."

Tyler held his pinky out, a coy look on his face. "Pinky promise on it?"

Grinning, he reached over and linked his pinky with Tyler's. "Alright, promise." He took a deep breath in before letting it out slowly. "Josh told me he's going to officially ask to be your Protector tonight."

"Wow."

He wasn't... entirely surprised. After all, that was the main reason why Josh had come to his aid in the first place. He wasn't just looking for some emotionally screwed-up housemate to keep him company... he wanted to lay it all on the line.

"Even if it is too late for you, I want your last days to be spent with someone that cares about you and not here in this shelter surrounded by strangers."

Closing his eyes, he tried to wrap his mind around the enormity of the situation. He had spent months and months with someone who had backed him into a corner and kept him trapped there until he finally had the courage to escape. And as much as he wanted to ignore it, there were still memories and scars all over his body that he had to deal with.

As sweet as Josh seemed... how could he be sure any of this was real?

His Protector had been as sweet as could be too... for the first few weeks. But then all of it degraded into something so badly damaged that it barely even counted for anything more than just a bitter, painful memory.

He was a Keeper. And Keepers craved... no, they needed affection. Soft touches, kisses, hugs, gentle words and even physical intimacy after a certain amount of trust had been built.

How was he supposed to give Josh the broken pieces of his heart without losing the most important parts in the process?

Fynn's voice brought Tyler out of his thoughts. "Is that a scary thought for you?"

Tyler looked straight ahead, hands folded in his lap. "It is." His voice came out soft but steady. "But I've had much more scarier thoughts..."

The blonde glanced over at him but kept silent otherwise.

"I want to be strong for him."

Chapter Text

"Welcome home, master."

The redhead rolled his eyes a little and smiled as he came through the front door, dropping his briefcase into its usual spot. "You know, you don't have to say that to me every time I come home from work, Fynn."

Fynn smiled back at him. "Hey, you know me. Service with a smile."

"As if. How's Ty doing?"

"He's good, taking a nap on the couch right now. I took him to the department store and Walmart." He laughed a little. "I put the leftover money back on your desk."

"Awesome, thanks. Did he seem to... um, have fun?"

Fynn shrugged. "He was a little talkative at times, but for the most part, he was quiet."

"I think he's still feeling really insecure. He thinks that everyone hates Keepers."

"It'll probably take a while for him to regain his confidence. But I guess that's where you come in, huh?"

Josh let out a long sigh. "Yeah. No pressure, right?" He chuckled dryly. "I'm just a little scared. This is my first time doing this and I don't wanna mess it up somehow and make Tyler even worse."

"Hey." Fynn reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Don't forget what I told you before, yeah? Tyler needs you right now, and the little things you do for him are going to mean so much in the long run. It just takes communication and patience." He gave him a smile. "I know you'll do great. And I'm with you every step of the way, okay?"

Exhaling a little, Josh nodded. "Thanks, Fynn. I needed that."

"Of course. I have a few errands to run before I go home. But call me if you need anything and let me know how tonight goes."

The two said their respective goodbyes before Josh went into the living room to go check on Tyler. He smiled when he saw that he was still asleep, a light blanket draped over his lower half.

Leaning over the top of the couch, he pressed a tiny kiss to his forehead. "Sweet boy," he whispered.

Loosening the tie from around his neck, he wondered if he should leave Tyler be while he went upstairs to change and get some extra work done. On one hand, he didn't want to disturb him but on the other hand, he didn't want him to freak out when he woke up and saw no one there.

Reaching down, he slid the blanket off Tyler's body, being careful not to wake him up in the process. Sliding one arm underneath his neck and the other underneath his knees, he scooped him up into his arms. Said boy stirred around a bit, scowling a little as he rubbed at his face but, thankfully, didn't wake up.

Josh let out a sigh of relief before heading towards the staircase. It was a bit awkward maneuvering around corners with Tyler's long legs (not including the fact he was practically dead weight) but he managed to make it up to his room without any casualties.

Setting him down on his bed carefully, he pulled the covers back over Tyler's body so the boy could retain at least some sort of heat within his fragile bones.

Smiling, he let his fingers drag across the covers as he walked away to his closet.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Long eyelashes fluttered open as Tyler started to wake up. Vision going in and out of focus, the first thing he noticed was that his head was laying on a pillow that smelled like shampoo and cologne. A scent suspiciously similar to...

Josh?

Holding his head up, he realized he wasn't on the couch anymore but was laying on an unfamiliar bed in an even more unfamiliar room. When he looked across the way, he saw Josh sitting at a desk in front of a computer.

How did he wind up in here? Wasn't he just laying down and watching TV with Fynnley?

Where was he, anyway? Did something happen?

Tyler's stomach turned at the possibility he might have been taken advantage of while he was sleeping. Oh God, Josh didn't do anything to me in my sleep, did he?

Looking down at himself, all of his clothes were still on and nothing seemed out of place. He was virtually the same as before... just in a different part of the house.

Why would anyone want to touch you, anyway? Your body is disgusting.

"Shut up," Tyler mumbled, even though he knew the voice inside of his head was right.

"Excuse me?"

All of the blood rushed out of his face when he saw Josh looking at him. He tripped over his words as he struggled to find the right thing to say. "N-Not you, Josh, I w-was talking to myself. Wait, no, that sounds weird. Oh gosh." He cringed at how stupid he was sounding right now. "Um... what I meant to say is... how was work?"

Josh raised an eyebrow but decided not to push the subject. "It was alright. I'm just responding to some emails for the day. I get way more than I can keep up with sometimes."

"Oh..." Tyler rubbed his hand up and down his forearm. "You must be popular."

The redhead laughed. "Not hardly. People are just always asking me to do stuff. But if being the self-proclaimed office donkey is considered popular then, yeah, I guess I am."

"Well, I don't think you're a donkey. You seem like a great person."

Josh's face lit up into a smile. "Really? You mean that?"

He nodded, giving him a tiny one in return. "Of course. Wouldn't have said it if I didn't."

"Thank you, Tyler. It really means a lot." Pushing his chair back, he stood up and walked over to the bed, keeping his eyes on Tyler the entire time. "Since you're awake now... there's, um, something I wanted to talk to you about. Are you with me?"

A deep pit formed in Tyler's stomach as he realized that this was "the big talk" Fynn had told him about earlier.

This was it. It was now or never.

"I'm with you."

Tyler sat all the way up, looping his legs over each other as Josh sat down next to him, the distance (or lack thereof) between them enticing, yet all the more so terrifying.

Honestly, he just wanted to blurt out that he already knew what Josh was gonna ask so he could spare the both of them some awkwardness, but that would be breaking his pinky promise with Fynn and he was definitely not a pinky promise-breaker.

Josh reached over and picked up Tyler's wrist, thumb tracing over his faded Time Keeper symbol. Dark brown eyes following his every move, he remained motionless as he waited for the older man to express what he had on his mind.

"This is your Time Keeper," Josh stated. "It's been a part of you for all your life. You feel those ticks every second of the day, every time that you breathe." His hands moved from Tyler's wrist to interlace with cold, trembling fingers. "I want to share that with you. I know how much you've been hurt in the past. And it's okay if you don't trust me at first. But I want to prove to you that you are beautiful. You are important. You are wanted. And I want to prove that, not just with my words, but with my actions. Tyler, I..." He paused, clearing his throat as he tried to keep from getting choked up. "I want to be your Protector. Would you give me that honor?"

Tyler was dumbfounded. He knew what Josh was going to ask him but he hadn't expected that. "Oh, my gosh," he mumbled, hands shaking even harder.

"I want to be strong for him."

Before he knew it, he was lunging forward and throwing his arms around Josh. The emotion came out of nowhere, hitting him like a ton of bricks as tears stung his eyelids.

Running his fingers through soft red hair, he thought of a million ways to tell Josh how he felt but found he wasn't pleased with any of them. So he closed his eyes and let the soft whisper of a "yes" dance across the air and straight into his Protector's heart, sealing a critical alliance that could make or break the both of them.

When Tyler pulled away, cheeks red and tear-stained, he couldn't bear to look at Josh as all of his fears and insecurities came back with a vengeance. "I'm so scared, Josh." His voice came out strained and broken. "Please don't hurt me. Please."

"Sweetheart, I'd rather die than even think about hurting you," Josh said. "You're my Keeper. And I'm your Protector. I give you my heart. It's yours to hold, okay? And if anything I say or do makes you feel uncomfortable, please tell me. I mean that."

"Thank you, Josh..."

"And if you ever feel scared, I'm here for you. Even if you have a nightmare at 2:00 in the morning, I'll hold you until you're not afraid anymore. And if you wake up and want to watch the sunrise together, then I'll be up and right by your side."

Tyler smiled, a soft laugh leaving his lips. "I don't know how to respond to something as cute as that."

Josh smiled back. "Then don't." He leaned over and pecked a kiss onto Tyler's cheek. "Actions speak louder than words, yeah?"

"Yeah," Tyler echoed. He felt the strongest urge to lean over and kiss Josh but feared ruining such a wonderful moment with his lack of self-control. "Hey, Josh?"

"Yes?"

"Did you really mean it when you called me cute?"

"Wouldn't have said it if I didn't." Josh gave him a cheeky grin.

Tyler's heart pulled a little, his eyes casting downwards as a small smile formed on his lips.

"Good. Because I think you're cute too."

Chapter Text

"Has your hair always been that blonde?"

It was the following afternoon, and Tyler and Fynnley were sitting out on the back porch, letting the breeze brush across their faces as they listened to the sing-song float down from the trees.

"No, my natural hair color is sort of a dirty blonde, but I bleached it a couple months ago." Fynn ran a hand through his hair. "I'm thinking of going darker though."

"I like your hair the way it is now. Really makes your eyes stand out."

"Yeah? Thanks, Tyler."

Being out on the back porch was just a conclusion to the series of things they had been up to since the start of the morning. Josh was working from home today and Tyler had woke up feeling sad (for reasons unbeknownst to him) so Fynn was doing his very best to keep him somewhat occupied.

Fynn watched as Tyler pulled his legs up to his chest before resting his head on top of his knees. Even from just his body language, he could tell that the other boy had a lot on his mind. "Still feeling sad?"

Tyler shrugged. "Kind of. I shouldn't be. I felt happy when I went to bed last night. And I still am, I just... I don't know."

"I understand. You've had a lot going on recently. Are you feeling overwhelmed?"

"A little." He rubbed at the side of his face and sighed. "I guess I'm just nervous."

"Yeah?" Fynn crossed his legs, smiling a little. "I heard you guys got mushy last night," he teased.

Tyler looked away, a tinge of red dusted across his cheeks. "Gosh, you're such a creeper, Fynnley."

Fynn made a mock offended face. "Me? A creeper?" He leaned in a little closer to the younger boy. "Tyler Joseph... are you blushing?"

"Shush," he mumbled as he tried to hide his face.

Fynn laughed. "You're adorable." He nudged him in the arm with his elbow. "You like him, don't you?"

Tyler rolled his eyes a little. "Well, he is my Protector."

"Adorable and sassy. You're double trouble, Tyler."

And just like that, Tyler went from sassy right back to shy. "Are you flirting with me?"

"Maybe." Fynn stuck his tongue out at him. "Nah, dude. If I were flirting with you, you wouldn't need to ask."

"Oh." Tyler wrapped his arms around his legs, connecting his hands in the middle. "Josh has been a little flirty. But I also think he's scared of me."

Fynn raised an eyebrow. "Why would he be scared of you?"

"He's scared of hurting me," Tyler replied. "I'm scared too. But I'm trying to be brave for him. I keep trying to tell myself 'it's different now,' but those memories still keep coming back. My Pro-- um, old Protector always told me he would change, things would get better, we just needed to try harder. But he never did. They were all lies to keep me from leaving him." His eyes drifted away. "I can't believe I put up with that for so long. I'm so ashamed."

"Ashamed of what?"

"That I wasn't strong enough to leave sooner. That I let him put his hands on me all those times and never hit him back." He sighed. "I'm a weak, spineless excuse for a Keeper."

"Hey. Don't say stuff like that." Fynn's voice was surprisingly stern. "Even if it took you one minute or one year, you still escaped. And it takes an incredibly strong person to do that." He reached out and laid his hand on Tyler's knee. "Look, I know we haven't known each other for very long and I'm never going to know everything that you went through. But I do know that you can do this. I've known Josh for years and he is a wonderful person. I think he's really gonna surprise you."

Tyler was silent for a few moments, soaking in everything that Fynn said, before he gave him a nod. "Thank you, Fynnley. I needed that."

"Hey, don't thank me." He gave him a smile. "I think we're going to turn out to be good friends."

Tyler returned the smile, a tiny one, but a smile nonetheless. "Ditto." He let his legs drop back down to the ground. "Um... I really wanted to kiss Josh last night."

Another eyebrow went up and Fynn started to laugh. "Then why didn't you, silly?"

"Too nervous. And I didn't want to look desperate." He ran his fingers through the top of his hair. "Gosh, I haven't kissed anyone in forever. I can count on my hand the number of times my ex-Protector kissed me."

"Well, that's even more reason to kiss your new one then. You just gotta grab him and plant one on him!" Fynn gave him a cheeky grin. "Josh likes that sort of thing, you know."

"Oh gosh, no," Tyler groaned before burying his face into his hands.

A comfortable silence fell over the conversation as Tyler's mind wandered to a daydream involving a beautiful meadow and Josh's lips.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Half-past 2:00 and yet another episode of some random cooking show on Netflix had just finished playing.

Sitting outside had gotten old after a while, so the day's activities had turned into Tyler curling up on the couch and half-watching TV while Fynn worked on cleaning the kitchen. After all, 'he had to do at least some work today.'

Inside of his mind, Tyler felt like he was being the laziest bum ever known to mankind. These past few days of doing nothing had been unusual for him.

With his old Protector, he never got a chance to just sit down and watch some TV. All day, every day was spent cleaning, cooking and trying to make everything perfect just so his Protector could come home and mess it all back up again.

It still had to be perfect, though. Nothing less was expected, nor tolerated. His ex-Protector could wake up, turn the whole house upside down, and still expect everything to be immaculate by the time he came home from work. House clean, dinner ready, can of beer opened, and quiet, submissive Keeper/house slave at his beck and call.

Tyler thought about getting up and asking Fynn if he needed any help with cleaning. But he already knew that the answer would be no.

'Lay down and relax,' he would say. 'Get some rest. You need it.'

Amazing how such a mind-numbing activity like watching TV still allowed your thoughts to go haywire...

"I didn't know you liked cooking shows."

Tyler looked up to see Josh walking into the living room. "I haven't watched many," he replied softly. "Fynn suggested it to me."

"He has pretty decent taste in TV shows. Me, on the other hand..." He smiled before circling around the couch and crouching down next to Tyler. "How are you feeling, sweetheart? Any better?"

He shrugged. "I'm okay, just a little sore."

"Sore?"

"Yeah, my Time Keeper is still really low, so I have a lot of aches and pains. The lower it gets, the worse my body feels. But I'm feeling a lot better compared to where I was at before."

"I'm sorry, Tyler. Speaking of your Time Keeper... I wanted to talk to you about something." He ran a few fingers through the "floof" on top of Tyler's head. "Is now a good time for you?"

"Of course, Joshua." Sitting up, he made room for Josh to sit down before picking up the remote and turning off the TV. "Did I do something wrong?"

"Not at all, sweet boy." He reached over and took Tyler's hands into his, interlacing their fingers together. "You with me?"

Hearing how soft and soothing Josh's voice was put him at ease. "I'm with you."

"First of all, I want to say that I'm sorry. You woke up feeling sad and I was too busy working to spend time with you. So I apologize for that. I'm sure Fynn's done a great job of keeping you company but I know it's not the same as being with your Protector." He sighed a little. "This is my 'first day on the job,' so to speak, and I'm already stinking it up. I'm really sorry."

Tyler couldn't help but laugh a little at his choice of words. Still, he felt bad for making Josh think that he was doing a poor job. "You're not stinking anything up, Josh. I understand that you have to work and I appreciate everything you've been doing to make me feel more comfortable."

"Thanks, Ty, but it's still not an excuse. You are much more important to me than work." He smiled. "So I wanted to tell you that I'm taking the next two weeks off. We need to focus on bonding and getting to know each other better, since this is still so new for the both of us."

Tyler was almost speechless. He was really taking time off work... to be with him? "Oh, my gosh. A-Are you sure?"

"Positive. Hey, people take time off to get married or have a kid. I don't see how connecting with your Keeper is any different." He smiled. "Is that okay with you?"

The brunette nodded. Who could possibly disagree with something like that? Still... a small question lingered in the back of his mind.

What were they going to do?

"Do you like ice cream?"

Tyler gave him a confused look. "Huh?"

Josh laughed. "I said, do you like ice cream?"

"I haven't had any in forever."

"Let's get some ice cream then!" He smiled. "Just you and me."

A weird feeling washed over Tyler's skin at the thought of being alone with his new Protector. He wasn't scared of Josh, per se, but more so of all the things that could potentially happen.

"What about Fynn?"

Josh leaned over and placed a tiny kiss on Tyler's cheek. "I think he'll be okay for a while. He's a big boy." He grinned. "So how about it?"

Tyler couldn't help but smile back, the spot where Josh's lips had been still burning a little. "Okay." His voice came out softly with just a hint of excitement. "I'll go get my shoes."

"Take your time, sweetheart."

Chapter Text

"This guy sells great ice cream. I'm sure you'll love it."

Tyler tried his best to keep up with Josh as he led him over to a small ice cream stand in the middle of the park. They had arrived just ten minutes earlier and he was already mesmerized by the scenery.

He had spent most of his life here in this city, yet he had never been to this park before. Did he even know his hometown? Or was all of this just part of a blurred façade that he had spent years trying to navigate through?

When it was their turn to order, Tyler felt a bit too shy to speak up, so he let Josh take the lead.

"I'll have one strawberry cone," Josh said. "And what would you like, Ty?"

"Vanilla," he replied softly.

Tyler stood off to the side, feeling a bit awkward as Josh paid for their ice cream. A considerable line forming behind them full of couples and families, he began to worry that any one of them might notice his Keeper symbol. So he turned around, pulled the sleeves on his jacket down and crossed his arms across his chest, willing himself completely invisible and out of judgment's way.

"You okay, Tyler?"

He turned back around to see Josh with two ice cream cones in hand and a concerned look on his face. Feeling embarrassed at how weird he was being, he nodded and accepted the ice cream, otherwise remaining silent.

The redhead wasn't fooled, though, so he placed a comforting hand on the small of Tyler's back. "C'mon, follow me," he said, smiling.

Tyler followed him a way's down the path until it split off into a fork. Taking the second pathway, they walked for a few more minutes before their destination came into view.

A playground...?

"Aren't we a little too... big for that?" Tyler asked, an eyebrow raised.

Josh grinned. "You're never too big for the swings!"

He watched as his Protector took off running towards the swing set, leaving him in the dust. Chuckling, he really couldn't be bothered to chase after him, especially when he was still eating his ice cream, so he just made his way over there at his own pace.

When he finally got over to the swings, Josh was licking his ice cream cone with one hand as he held onto the seat chains with the other.

"You're gonna make yourself sick," Tyler warned as he sat down on the other swing, careful to avoid dripping anything on his new jeans.

"I'll be fine," Josh said, smiling. "It takes serious skills to swing and eat!"

Tyler smiled. He sure had an interesting Protector. Was this really the man that he was going to devote his entire life and heart to? If things kept going the way they were...

Then, yes. He would gladly fall hard and fast.

After a while, Josh stopped swinging and the two of them just pushed their shoes back and forth through the wood chips.

"You've got some strawberry on your face," Tyler teased, laughing a little as he reached over to wipe it with the corner of his sleeve.

"Thank you." Josh smiled. "Should have kissed it away instead, cutie."

Tyler giggled, soft and sweet, as he looked away. "You're silly, Josh."

"Am I?" Josh twisted himself around on the swing so he faced Tyler directly. "Maybe you're the silly one."

He giggled again. "Am not." 

"You have the cutest little laugh. It's precious." He gently knocked his knee against Tyler's. "And I love your smile."

Tyler held his hand up to his lips, feeling a bit self-conscious at the mention of it. "Oh, gosh, I have a horrible smile. My bottom teeth are so crooked."

"So? Everyone's teeth are a little crooked."

"As if. You have, like, the straightest teeth ever."

"Also the biggest teeth ever." He pointed to his mouth. "Like, have you seen these front teeth?" He laughed, which made Tyler chuckle a little. "See, no one has a perfect smile, lovebug. No matter how big, small, straight, crooked... it's yours. And I think that's absolutely beautiful."

Tyler raised an eyebrow. "Did you just call me 'lovebug?'"

"Hey, I thought it was cute." Josh grinned. "Don't ruin my mushy moment, Joseph."

Tyler smiled back, a bit more naturally this time, as he reached over and laid his hand on top of Josh's. "Thank you, Joshua, that means a lot. And by the way, I like your smile too."

"Aww, thank you." A comfortable silence settled between the two of them before Josh decided that he wanted to move someplace a bit more... cozy. "Hey, you wanna go sit on the jungle gym?"

"Sure."

The pair climbed up the steps to the jungle gym before settling down on the landing between the monkey bars and the slide. It was a tight fit, but not too uncomfortable for two boys enjoying each other's company.

"I'm surprised there aren't any kids over here," Tyler said as he looked out at the peaceful surroundings.

"They all go to the main playground," Josh said. "Not a whole lot of people know about this side of the park. This was my go-to spot when I was younger and needed to have some time to myself." He chuckled. "Not the most conventional thinking spot but it worked."

"Do you think a lot?" Tyler asked. When Josh gave him a puzzled look, he elaborated further. "Like, do you find yourself overthinking things? Almost like you're lost in your thoughts and can't find your way out again?"

"All day, every day." Josh chuckled dryly. "There's always something going on inside my head. I'm either thinking or worrying or panicking... sometimes all three."

Tyler kept his eyes on Josh, silently urging him to go on.

"I have problems with anxiety," he explained. "I take medication for it but some days are better than others. I know I'm alive, but am I really? Sometimes it just feels like..."

 "You're existing, but not really living," Tyler finished for him. "I feel the same way. Nothing ever feels... whole."

Josh nodded slowly, amazed at their unspoken synchronicity. "Exactly. You get it."

Tyler scooted a little closer before letting his head rest on top of Josh's shoulder. "Broken, but not incomplete," he said softly. "Not anymore, though. We have each other now, right?"

"Right." Josh wrapped his arm around Tyler's shoulder, a light sigh leaving his lips. "Bear with me, though. I'm still brand new at this."

"It's okay." Tyler tilted his head up so he could look into Josh's eyes. "We'll learn together."

As Josh gazed back into the boy's brown, almost doe-like eyes, he felt an unmistakable pull in his heart. "I really want to kiss you right now," he whispered as he nudged his forehead against Tyler's, eyelashes brushing against his skin. "I've wanted to kiss you since yesterday, actually."

"I want to kiss you too," Tyler admitted, the beginnings of another blush dusted across his cheeks. "I can't promise I'll be great."

Josh smiled. "Neither can I."

"Should we sit up? I don't want you to get a crick in your neck."

He chuckled a little. "Whatever's most comfortable for you, darling. You call the shots."

Tyler sat up, moving his body so he faced Josh, and splayed his fingers across the older man's knee. "I'm so nervous," he mumbled.

"It's okay," Josh whispered as he leaned in closer. "It's so okay."

The brunette closed his eyes, moving in closer as well. Every fiber in his body relaxed at once when Josh's lips touched against his; it was simple, it was sweet, it was just right.

It was exactly how he had imagined it would be... and more.

After a few soft kisses, Tyler pulled away and smiled, his cheeks painted a dark red. "Wow," he breathed out, a blissfully ecstatic look on his face.

Josh returned the smile, intertwining their fingers together as he leaned in to press a quick kiss to Tyler's forehead. "Wow," he echoed. "How do you feel? Are you okay?"

"Yes. I'm okay."

And for once, Tyler actually believed himself.

Chapter Text

"You know, Josh, no one likes a cheater!"

"As if, Fynn! It's not my fault you can't drive straight!"

Tyler watched the "battle to the death" unfold between Fynn and Josh as they raced each other in Mario Kart. Normally, he wouldn't mind joining in the fun, but alas...

He was sick.

It had all started a day after his and Josh's trip to the park (which, even days later, he was still re-playing it inside his head). He was fine that evening, but by morning time, he had a scratchy throat, runny nose, and a fever.

And from there... it was nothing but Tylenol, blankets, and snot.

Tyler attributed it to his Time Keeper being so low for such a long time. Josh guessed it was something he had picked up on the playground. And Fynn was just trying his best to keep everyone comfortable.

For the past few days, the two men had been acting as Tyler's "nurses." Chicken noodle soup, throat lozenges, thermometers, multiple boxes of Kleenex, and a whole lot of cold medication. In between everything, they took turns watching movies with him, playing video games, listening to music, and telling stories.

Despite the fact that he felt horrible, Tyler dared to say this had been the most relaxing three days he ever had. In the back of his mind, though, he wondered what he could do to pay Fynnley and Josh back after he was feeling better again.

"What do you think, Tyler?" The sound of his name brought the brunette back into the present. "Is Josh a cheater? I swear to God he rigged the game."

Smiling a little, Tyler shrugged. "I can't talk bad about my Protector, Fynn."

"But he's a cheater!"

Josh rolled his eyes. "Fynn, you're such a sore loser. You should know by now not to play with the Mario Kart master."

Tyler pulled his blanket up a bit further and sniffled as he listened to the two boys banter back and forth about video games and "rigged controllers." His head was starting to hurt from all the chaos but... he really wouldn't have it any other way.

He felt the safest when he was stuck in the middle of their corny jokes and sarcastic remarks. It had been so long since he could smile so easily, even if the smiles weren't as big as when he was a young child, caught in the blissful unawareness of the cold world around him.

Closing his eyes, the conversation faded into the background as he drifted off into a light sleep. Sometimes he felt like all he did was sleep, yet he never felt any more rested than before. He couldn't figure out whether it was from chronic exhaustion, depression or something else he couldn't quite put his finger on.

Regardless of the cause, though, he prayed that Josh didn't think he was some sort of freeloader. The last thing he needed was to lose his Protector's approval. His Time Keeper was far too weak to go through another heartbreak like that again...

After what seemed like a minute, he opened his eyes to see the TV was off, Fynn had disappeared and Josh was still sitting on the other couch, looking at his phone.

He held his head up, clearing his throat a little before speaking. "Joshua?"

Josh looked up at him and smiled. "Hey, sleepyhead. How are you feeling?"

"My throat's really dry." He cleared his throat again. "Must have been sleeping with my mouth open."

"Yeah, you were catching some flies for a little while there, sweetheart." He chuckled. "You looked adorable, though."

Tyler blushed. He knew Josh wasn't judging him but he still felt embarrassed by the fact he had probably looked incredibly stupid.

Noticing the look on Tyler's face, Josh decided to get up and come closer. Crouching down next to the couch, he pressed a soft kiss to his forehead. "Would you like some more orange juice? It might help your throat feel better."

He nodded, eyes looking bigger than usual as he stared up at Josh. "Yes, please."

"You're so cute." Josh smiled before pressing another quick kiss to his forehead. "Be right back."

After he walked away, Tyler decided to sit up and reach for the box of tissues so he could blow his nose. By the time Josh came back, he could finally breathe a little bit better. "Where's Fynn at?" he asked as he accepted the cup into his hands. "Thank you."

Josh took a seat next to Tyler. "He went to go pick up my dry cleaning. My parents are forcing me to go out to dinner with them on Friday night, so I have to put on my Sunday best."

"Oh..." Tyler took a sip of his juice. "What are your parents like?"

"Overbearing. A bit judgmental. Remember when I told you my parents are well-off? Well, they tend to... how do I say this..." He sighed a little. "They look down on anyone that has less money than they do."

Tyler raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

"Unfortunately."

That told him right there he probably wouldn't be the type of person Josh's parents would go for. He could only dream of being able to afford a house like this or... well, anything nice, really. "So what do they do if they meet someone richer than them?"

Josh laughed. "I don't know but I'd imagine it would be an all-out war. They can't be outdone by anyone. It's "Keeping Up With the Duns" to the nth degree."

He couldn't help but laugh, which quickly turned into a coughing fit. "Your family sounds interesting."

"Oh, you don't even know." Josh smiled. "Great to see you laughing, by the way."

"Thank you." Tyler smiled back at him. "You have a really nice laugh, you know."

"So do you." He leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Love your smile, love your lips in general."

"Yeah?" Tyler felt his cheeks heat up at all of the wonderful compliments.

"Mhm. You have the softest lips. It's a shame I've only gotten to kiss them once," he said, nuzzling his nose into the crook of Tyler's neck.

Tyler giggled at the contact. "Josh-u-aaa," he whined, dragging out the syllables in his name. "That tickles."

"Hmm?" Josh nuzzled him again, this time pressing a closed-mouth kiss to his neck. "I can't help it, you're too sweet. Just wanna eat you up."

"You're making my Time Keeper go crazy," he mumbled, feeling a bit breathless from all the affection being showered onto him. "I really want to kiss you."

Josh chuckled and mouthed another light kiss onto the nape of his neck, breath tingling against his skin. "Then kiss me, lovebug."

"Germs." Tyler's eyes lulled at the contact as tingles ran up and down his arms. "Don't wanna get you sick too."

"I already told you, sweetheart, I don't care if I get sick." He smiled. "Kissing you would make it totally worth it."

"But germs," Tyler whined again. "What if you get sick?"

"Then we'll be sick together." Josh smiled, squeezing his hand. "So sick."

"I think Fynn would probably quit if he had to take care of both of us."

Josh laughed. "Probably. He'd be back though."

The younger boy let his head fall back onto the couch cushions, sighing. "Just want to kick this already. M'tired of all the coughing and snot."

"I know, darling. We'll get you through this." The redhead wrapped his arm around his shoulder. "Just keep drinking your juice, okay?"

He nodded. "Thank you, Josh."

"No need to thank me, sweet boy. Want me to get you anything?"

Tyler looked down, fingers brushing across his bottom lip. "Want a kiss," he mumbled.

"I can go to the store and get you all the Kisses you want," Josh teased. "I'll get the party size bag just for you."

He smiled. "You're silly."

Josh's free hand went up to Tyler's face, gently cupping his chin. "And you're adorable."

If his Protector kept this up, it would be the absolute death of him. "Thank you," he breathed out. "You're so sweet."

"C'mere," Josh murmured as he moved in closer.

Any thoughts of the germs exchanged between them left Tyler's mind as they shared a few, soft kisses. The younger boy tried his best to breathe through his nose as he shifted around, linking his arms around Josh's neck. Another shot of tingles went up and down his arms when the redhead's hands roamed across his face, fingers brushing across his earlobes.

Tyler was just starting to lay back when there was a loud 'ahem.' They pulled away to see Fynn standing there with his eyebrows raised to the ceiling. "Jeez, can't even leave you two alone for thirty minutes..."

Josh rolled his eyes, huffing a little as he settled back onto the couch. "Fynn, you are such a creeper."

He shrugged. "Hey, I can be quiet when I need to be. Especially when I'm walking in on you two lovebirds making out."

"Wanna join?" Josh stuck his tongue out at him. "I think we ought to spread some of the germs to you, Fynnley."

"As if, Dun. I'll take care of Tyler, no problem, but I'm not taking care of you because you whine too much when you're sick."

"Says the man that acts like he can't walk for three days if he stubs his toe."

And with that, they were off again, leaving the younger boy a congested, elated, blushing mess.

Chapter Text

By the time Friday came around, Tyler was feeling a lot better. He still had a lingering cough and a bit of congestion, but his fever and sore throat were all but gone.

Josh had gotten a little snuffly for a day or two, but much to his surprise, he stayed well. Fynn was glad he didn't have to take care of two sick boys but Tyler was just glad Josh didn't get sick right before the dinner with his parents.

Speaking of Josh... Tyler hadn't seen him since earlier that afternoon. Granted, he had been in his room for most of the day, but it was typical of his Protector to at least come visit with him.

Maybe he's busy, Tyler thought. After all, he has a life too. It's not all about me.

He really hoped he wasn't being a pest. Josh had never given him a reason to think that but that was his brain for him, overthinking everything as usual.

Sighing, he kicked his legs over to the side of the bed. At this point, the only way he could find out was to go and see for himself, right?

When he poked his head out the doorway, he saw that the door to Josh's room was closed, which struck him as odd. Tip-toeing down the hallway to his door, he listened for any signs of movement. Hopefully this wouldn't turn into one of those inopportune times where Fynn showed up out of absolutely nowhere and scared him...

Just as he was about to knock on the door, he heard what sounded like...

A moan?

Tyler froze, not sure if his mind was just playing tricks on him. He leaned in closer to the door, and sure enough, he could just barely make out the sound of moaning.

Every single possibility ran through his head at once. Was there somebody in there with Josh? Was he cheating on him already? Was it Fynn? Was he having a threesome?

There was no mistaking what he heard next. "Yeah, Ty, just like that, baby boy..."

All of the blood in his body rushed to his face as all of the air rushed out of his lungs. Backing away from the door, he couldn't decide whether to run back to his room or just curl up into a ball and die right there.

Both sounded good right about now.

Somehow or another, he wound up hurrying downstairs, desperate to find the one person who he knew could make at least some sense out of all this.

He found Fynn in the laundry room. Said blonde looked up when he heard him and frowned at the bewildered look on Tyler's face. "Are you okay, Tyler?"

Tyler went around in circles with his answers. "Yes. No. I don't know." He tried to hide his still burning face inside of his hands. "Oh, my gosh, I'm so embarrassed, Fynn."

Fynn set the laundry basket down on the floor. "Why? What happened?"

"Well, I, um..." His hands dropped from his face as he looked away, not sure if he could actually say it out loud. "Josh, uh..."

"Yeah...?"

"Um, I heard... noises? Yeah, noises coming out of his bedroom."

"Noises?"

Tyler huffed a little. "You're killing me, Fynn."

"What? I'm just asking."

"They were noises of the..." Tyler paused as he searched around for the right words. "...interesting kind."

Fynn raised an eyebrow before crossing his arms. "Wait a second... are you saying you were eavesdropping on Josh masturbating?"

"I wasn't eavesdropping! I went to see what he was doing and then I heard... stuff."

Fynn stifled a laugh. "Okay. So why did that freak you out so much?"

"Because he was..." Tyler's face began to burn even more if that was possible. "He was saying my name," he said quickly before scrunching his eyes shut.

There was a few moments of silence before Fynnley chuckled a little. "Tyler... you do know that you're Josh's Keeper, right?"

He opened his eyes again. "Yes."

"Then I think that's a little natural, epecially since you two have been so affectionate with each other lately." Fynn smiled. "I mean, no offense, but I would be jerking off too."

His body really couldn't handle all of this embarrassment right now. "It's still a little weird, though," he mumbled.

"Have you ever tried it?"

Tyler gave him a blank stare. "Tried what?"

Fynn paused, returning it with equal emotion. "Um... touching yourself?"

"Oh." He scratched at the back of his neck. "No, not really. The most I touch it is when I'm in the shower. I don't really know how," he murmured.

The blonde was stunned. Mumbling a curse word underneath his breath, he let out a sigh. "Jeez, um, okay, well no wonder you're a little freaked out then. I don't get it. You're 20 years old, shouldn't you have like 50 hard-ons a day?"

Tyler shook his head. "No, not really. It doesn't happen a lot. But when it does, I just try to distract myself until it goes away." He cleared his throat. "Um, my old Protector never touched me. We kissed a little in the beginning, like I mentioned before, but that was about it. He told me my body was disgusting, so we were never intimate with each other. And when you're getting punched on a daily basis, the hormones just sort of... fade after a while. So whenever I do get... turned on, I keep hearing him say, 'Your body is gross, no one will ever want to be with you.' And I guess that stuff just kind of gets to you after a while."

Fynn reached over and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Hey... Your body is not disgusting. Trust me. Any guy would be lucky to have the chance to be with you. You're cute, sweet, funny and such a caring person. I know that may not mean a whole lot coming from me but I want you to know anyway." He smiled. "Don't be afraid to get to know your body and discover what you like."

"Thank you, Fynnley. It does mean a lot to me. I don't know what I'd do without you guys."

He grinned. "Your life would probably be a whole lot less exciting."

Bending his big toe against the floor, Tyler fiddled around with his hands. "So, um... does touching yourself feel nice?"

Fynn stifled a laugh. "Why don't you go ask Josh? I'm sure he can tell you."

The brunette shook his head. "No way." He smiled. "Hey, you can go ask him for me."

Fynn laughed before bending down to pick up the laundry basket again. "Not happening, Ty. I know you mean well, but I'm not about to get my ass kicked."

"Language, Fynn."

"Sorry." He grinned. "What I will tell you is that there's a bottle of lube in your bathroom drawer." He gave him a wink. "You know, just in case you get curious."

Tyler buried his face into his hands again. "Oh, my gosh..."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Fresh out of the shower, Tyler laid on the cool sheets and stared down at himself, nothing on his hips but a new pair of boxer briefs.

He really wished Josh was here right now for some... moral support. Though, to be honest, if he was here, he would probably be too embarrassed to even speak.

Josh was out to his dinner, leaving the younger boy with the house to himself and nothing but time on his hands. That, combined with Fynn's not-so-subtle suggestion earlier, made him want to at least... try something.

Laying his hand across his crotch, he wondered how he was even supposed to get things started. He knew he had to be hard, of course, but how was he supposed to get himself to that point?

Maybe if Josh were here kissing him, it would be a little easier. But at least he wasn't aware of the mischief his Keeper was getting himself into right now...

His mind went back to Josh and how safe and warm he had felt when said man nuzzled and kissed his neck that one day in the living room. He'd love for Josh to do it again but bringing it up was out of the question for a shy young man like himself.

Closing his eyes, his thoughts drifted to what could have happened that day had Fynnley not interrupted them. The skin around his Keeper symbol began to tingle as his imagination picked up where real life had left off.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Tyler let himself be laid down, hands reaching up to tangle themselves in Josh's hair. An overwhelming sense of warmth washed over him as the redhead rested his body on top of his.

He blushed when he felt something pressing against his thigh, feeling a bit pleased he had made his Protector feel that way.

Josh leaned down and whispered into his ear. "I feel you, baby boy."

"I feel you too," he whispered back.

He opened his mouth to say something else, but everything disappeared when Josh moved down to his neck, trailing soft, wet kisses across the skin there.

A soft moan left Tyler's lips as he closed his eyes, head tilting to the side. "J-Josh..."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Tyler's imagination ran out of fuel (mainly due to lack of experience) and he drifted back into reality.

Hand halfway into his underwear, he couldn't ignore how dry everything felt. He thought about getting the lube out of the bathroom but he didn't want to risk losing what he had going, so he stuck his fingers in his mouth and made them as wet as possible.

Sliding his underwear down to his knees, he stared at his dick as it stood to attention against his tummy. He had seen it a million times before but it was still so weird seeing it like... this.

Blushing, he wondered what Josh looked like down there. He was probably so much bigger than him. Not that he really knew what was considered "big" anyway...

As he wrapped a hand around himself, he hoped to God that this wouldn't be the one time Josh decided to come home early. If he walked in on him doing this, he knew for a certainty that he would have a heart attack and die right on this bed.

Left hand roaming across his chest, his right hand started moving up and down. Still a bit too much friction, he slicked the palm of his hand with more spit and tried again.

He let out a long, shuddering breath as he settled into a slow, but steady rhythm. Inside of his wrist, he felt his Time Keeper begin to tick, tick, tick even faster.

A soft moan left his lips when his fingers brushed against a particularly sensitive spot on the underside of his dick. Running his thumb over his left nipple, he squirmed at the pleasant feeling running from his groin all the way down to his tippy-toes.

"Joshua," he whispered, cheeks burning from how silly he sounded. "J-Josh..."

He imagined the older man's lips on his neck, kissing away until he couldn't stand it anymore, with those strong hands roaming up and down the unexplored areas of his body.

Within a few minutes, Tyler felt his stomach tightening up, his Time Keeper burning inside of his arm. "Oh, my gosh," he breathed out.

The faster his hand went, the more his insides felt close to exploding. Adjusting his grip so his fingers went over that one spot again and again, his free hand grabbed at the sheets as everything fell apart around him.

Body twisting to the side, he buried his face in the pillow, struggling to breathe as waves and waves of pleasure came crashing down on top of him. Panting harder than ever before, he felt like he was drowning, dying and being re-born... all at the same time.

"Josh, Josh, Josh," he moaned, the muscles in his calves cramping up from how tightly his toes were curling.

A few minutes later, he took his face out of the pillow and opened his eyes to a chest covered in sweat and cum. Still struggling to catch his breath, he turned over onto his side, legs curled up underneath him as his head spun with hormones and elation.

"Wow," he breathed out.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when his phone started ringing over on the nightstand. Rolling back over, he picked it up and saw that it was... Josh?

Perfect timing.

Tyler cleared his throat before pressing Answer. "Hello?"

"Hey, Ty-Guy!"

The younger boy smiled at the sound of Josh's voice. "Hi, Josh. How was dinner?"

"Boring, as always." He laughed. "I'm driving home now, so I figured I'd give you a call to see how you were doing. By the way, I brought some leftovers back with me if you're hungry."

"Oh... maybe."

There was a brief pause before Josh spoke again. "Were you asleep? Your voice is all raspy."

"Um..." Tyler's shyness came back with a vengeance. "Not exactly." He tried his best to change the tone of his voice so it sounded more normal and less like 'Why yes, Josh, I was just touching myself, thank you for noticing.'

"You sound like you're out of..." Josh trailed off and Tyler could almost feel the realization through the phone.

"What?"

"Tyler."

"Ye-ee-ss?"

"Ty-ler," he repeated in a sing-song voice.

"Yes, Joshua?" he mimicked.

"Was my sweet boy being naughty?"

"Maybe a little." His hand went up to his lips. "Hey, don't blame me, you started it."

"Me?"

"Yeah, um..." Tyler cleared his throat. "I heard you earlier today."

"Oh." Josh laughed nervously. "I'm sorry, I thought I was being quiet."

Tyler thought about telling him he had been eavesdropping outside of his door but decided against it. "Yeah, I heard you saying my name, calling me 'baby boy' and stuff like that," he mumbled, teeth grazing over the tip of his finger.

"Yeah?"

"I liked it."

"Oh?" Josh's voice tilted a little and Tyler found himself wanting to go for Round Two.

"Yeah. Makes me feel like I'm yours."

"You are mine... baby boy." Tyler could hear the smile in his voice. "So, um, did you enjoy yourself? Sorry, I know that's probably a super awkward question."

"No, it's not awkward." Tyler bit his bottom lip. "I did. It was my first time, actually."

Josh made a strained noise. "That was your first time masturbating?"

Tyler nodded before he realized that Josh couldn't see him. "Mhm. I'm a virgin, so I don't have much experience in... well, anything."

"Jeez, babe, judging from the way you kiss me, I couldn't tell at all." Josh laughed. "But I think it's sweet that you're still a virgin."

He was surprised at that. "You really think so?"

"Of course I do."

Tyler smiled. "Thank you, Josh. My virginity is really special to me as a Keeper."

"I can imagine, sweet boy. So tell me, how did it feel for you?"

"Amazing," he breathed out. "I had no clue what I was doing and it only lasted for a few minutes but it felt really good."

"I'm glad you liked it, lovebug. I'm proud of you for trying something new."

"Thank you, Josh. But it wasn't like I was trying out a new food or something like that." He giggled. "I'm in a cuddly mood now."

"That's the oxytocin working its magic." Josh chuckled. "I'll be home in a little bit. If you're feeling up to it, you can eat and then we can cuddle. How does that sound?"

"Great." Tyler turned back over onto his side. The tick, tick, tick in his arm reminded him of the new, growing bond between him and his Protector. "I miss you, Joshua," he said softly.

"I miss you too, Tyler. See you soon, okay?"

"See you soon," he whispered, a deep, but pleasant ache settling in over his heart.

Chapter Text

Sunday came around quickly and brought a 90% chance of rain along with it. Even at 8:00AM, it seemed more like nighttime with how dark and stormy it was outside.

Messy hair and a yawn on his lips, Josh shuffled through the kitchen as he made his usual cup of coffee. He was glad that he didn't have anything planned for today because, honestly, he just wanted to crawl into bed and go back to sleep.

After he finished making his coffee, he took out another mug for Tyler. The younger boy had picked up his morning habit (much to his delight) so they were going through coffee twice as fast now. He didn't mind at all, though; anything to make his Keeper feel more normal.

If there was only one thing that Tyler deserved, it was to feel like the lovely person that he was.

Mugs in hand, he left the kitchen and climbed up the stairs, intent on waking Tyler up with kisses and caffeine. To his delight, he found the young boy still asleep, curled up into his usual blanket burrito. He almost looked too cute to wake up, but hey, his coffee wasn't going to drink itself.

Sitting down on the other side of the bed, Josh placed the cups down on the bedside table before scooting in closer to Tyler, heart pulling as he listened to his tiny snores.

Everything about this boy was so gentle and soft that Josh wondered if an abrasive molecule even existed inside of his body. He pressed a soft kiss to his forehead before moving down to his ear and whispering, "Good morning, angel."

Tyler stirred around a little before opening up his eyes. He gave Josh a few slow blinks, his mind obviously still stuck between dreams and reality. "H-Hey," he rasped out.

Josh brushed a stray hair back behind his ear and smiled. "Hi, Ty Guy. Can I have a kiss?"

"Eww, morning breath," Tyler mumbled, giving him a sleepy smile.

"So? It's not gonna kill me." Josh attacked his neck with tiny kisses, making him squirm around and giggle. "Not having a good morning kiss from my baby boy, now that's gonna kill me."

Still giggling, Tyler's hands came out from underneath the blanket to tangle themselves in Josh's hair, memorizing the way his bright hair curled at the ends. "Yeah? I'm your baby boy?"

He smiled. "All day, every day."

Tyler brushed his fingertips over Josh's ears, still amazed by the fact he had such a wonderful man to call his Protector. "You're being so sweet this morning," he mumbled, an almost delirious-looking smile on his face.

"Aren't I always sweet?" Josh teased.

"You're usually kind of a grouch in the morning, actually," Tyler teased back, poking his tongue out at him.

Josh faked a hurt expression. "Ouch, my heart." Just as Tyler opened his mouth to respond, he stole a quick kiss from him. "Ha, gotcha."

"Gross." Tyler smiled before returning the kiss again. "I guess sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do," he said, laughing.

"Silly boy." Sitting back up, he grabbed their cups off the table. "Look what I got."

Tyler's eyes lit up as soon as he saw the coffee. "Ooh, yummy. A Protector after my own heart."

Josh laughed as he handed him his cup. "Hope it's sweet enough for you, darling."

Tyler kissed him on the cheek. "If you made it, I'm sure it is. Thank you, Joshua." Sitting back against the pillows, he sighed a little. "It's so gloomy today," he said as he looked out the rain-stained windows. "Makes me want to go back to sleep."

"Me too." Josh sipped his coffee. "I say we just sleep for the rest of the day."

Tyler smiled. "I'm not against that idea."

He chuckled. "But Ty... we can't be lazy bums all the time."

"Speak for yourself." Tyler chuckled and nudged him in the side. "I'm just kidding. What did you have in mind?"

Josh held a finger up to his lips. "Hmm... breakfast sounds good right about now."

"Do you want me to make you something?"

"No, actually, I was thinking that we could go out somewhere?" He gave him a bright smile. "Sort of like a breakfast date."

Inside of his mind, Tyler dreaded the thought of being out in public, especially due to the fear that someone might see his Keeper symbol and make a scene about it. He wanted to say no, that he'd rather just stay at home, drink his coffee and hide, but he also didn't want to disappoint Josh.

So he nodded and forced a tiny smile. "Okay."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

One hour later, they were sat in a booth at a local diner. It was more crowded than Josh had anticipated, but thankfully, they didn't have to wait too long for an open table.

As Tyler listened to all the chatter, he wondered why more people weren't at church or just... anywhere else except here. Pulling the sleeves on his hoodie as far down as they could go, he shifted around in his seat, mind hyper-focused on every face that even appeared to be looking at him.

Josh had noticed the shift in Tyler's mood ever since he had suggested going out. While a part of him knew that the brunette would have to face his fears at some point, the other part of him still felt bad for even bringing up the idea in the first place. Tyler had already faced so much in his life that he didn't want to... add to his pain.

"How's your orange juice?" he asked, trying his best to make a bit of small talk.

"Good," Tyler replied. "Tastes fresh."

"Yeah, I think the menu said it's fresh-squeezed." Josh put his hand out on the table for Tyler. "Wanna hold my hand?"

He looked at Josh's palm before nodding, slowly placing his fingers into the spaces they fit in so perfectly. "Thank you," he mumbled as his eyes cast off to the window, staring at the trees as they whipped around in the wind.

Josh bit his lip. "Tyler, if you want to leave..."

He quickly shook his head. "No, it's fine. I have to get over this. I can't hide away forever."

The redhead nodded. "I know. I'm here for you, Tyler."

He tightened his grip on Josh's hand. "Thank you. Sometimes I think the fear of seeing him again is the worst fear of them all."

Josh caught onto the fact that he was talking about his ex-Protector. "We can try to avoid the places he goes to if that would make you feel any better."

"But that's the thing. I didn't know where he was half the time. We never went out together." He looked away again. "He didn't like being out in public with me... said I would just cause too many problems for us. The only time he let me leave the house was to pick up groceries and I still had to text him constant updates. He didn't trust me at all."

"Wow..." Josh's other hand balled up into a fist under the table. He couldn't fathom how anyone, especially someone that claimed to be the most vital person in a Keeper's life, could have the audacity to abuse and play mind games with someone like that. He didn't think of himself as a violent person by any means, but hearing all of that from Tyler made him want to go find this guy and fight him.

Clearing his throat, he tried his best to compose himself before speaking again. "Well, Tyler, this may not mean a lot after all you've been through, but I'm not ashamed of you. I want everyone to know that you're mine. You're amazing and I hope that someday you'll grow to feel the same way about yourself."

"Oh, my goodness..." Tyler let out a long, shaky sigh. "That means everything to me, Josh. Seriously. T-Thank you so much."

Josh just smiled at him, giving his hand a gentle squeeze. "You're welcome. And if this guy ever comes within spitting distance of you, I'm gonna kick his butt, okay?"

The younger boy wanted to laugh at the thought of Josh fighting with someone but he also knew that his biceps were 100x bigger than his would ever be, so he definitely wasn't going to argue with that. "Thank you, Joshua."

After a while, their food came. Josh had a "sampler" of various breakfast foods, while Tyler just had an order of eggs and bacon. It was still a huge struggle for him to eat more than a few bites of anything... but he was trying.

During the middle of a conversation about different types of bacon, Josh's phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out to see a new text from Fynn.

Fynn-ley: dude I'm sick. and not in a good way.

The frown on Josh's face got Tyler's attention. He reached over and laid a hand on the older man's forearm. "Hey... is something wrong?"

"Fynn just texted me that he's sick. Hang on, let me find out what's going on."

Josh: What happened?

Fynn-ley: bad shrimp last night. food poisoning. have puked 20 times and counting since 3am. and that isn't counting the 5 times it came out the other end.

Josh: Ouch, that sucks, bro. Do you need to go to the doctor?

Fynn-ley: no I just need a stomach pump and some Prep H because I've ripped myself a new one.

Josh: Uhh... that I didn't need to know.

Fynn-ley: it's part of our friendship, get used to it

"Fynn gave himself food poisoning. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say it doesn't sound pretty."

"Aww, poor Fynn. Can we go help him?"

"Help?"

"Yeah. Maybe we can bring him some soup or just keep him company for a while." Tyler placed his fork down. "It's the least we could do after he helped take care of me while I was sick."

The redhead smiled. He already knew Tyler had a good heart but just having it confirmed like this was wonderfully endearing.

"I think he'd like that. Fynn likes you a lot."

"Aww, well, he likes you a lot too!"

"Only because I'm his boss." Josh laughed. "How about we go to the store after we leave here and see what we can find for him?"

He nodded eagerly. "Yes, please."

And, even as much as it surprised him, Tyler was actually kind of... looking forward to it.

Chapter Text

"The door's open!"

When Josh opened Fynn's apartment door, the two boys walked in to said man curled up on the couch in a blanket, the TV switched onto sitcom re-runs.

"Jeez, Fynn, you look a mess," Josh stated as he set the grocery bags down on the table.

Fynn rolled his eyes. "Gee, thanks. Nice of you two to stop by. I haven't puked in about 30 minutes, just in case you wanted to know."

Josh chuckled. "Well, that's progress."

"We got you some soup and Gatorade," Tyler said softly. Feeling a little shy, he stood off to the side, unsure of what to do with himself.

"Gatorade sounds amazing." Fynn let out a loud groan. "I can't even tell you how much this weekend has sucked."

"Well, you've got friends with you now." Josh grinned. "Want some ice with your Gatorade?"

"Please." Fynn sat up, pulling his legs up to make more room on the couch. "Make yourself at home, Ty. Mi casa es su casa, as they say. That's 'my home is your home,' in Spanish, by the way."

Tyler smiled a little. "I know. Thanks, Fynn." Coming over to the couch, he took a seat. "Sorry you haven't been feeling well."

"It's okay. It was my mistake getting shrimp from some hole-in-the-wall place." He smiled. "So how did your weekend go?"

The younger boy blushed as he thought back to what had happened on Friday night. "It was good." He watched as Josh walked back into the living room with a glass in hand.

"Thanks, J," Fynn said as he took his Gatorade. "Oh, so did you ever get a chance to jerk off?"

Josh nearly choked on his spit while Tyler's already red face turned a crimson color. The younger boy wasn't sure whether to laugh or hide his face, so he just waited for someone to break the ensuing silence.

The redhead cleared his throat. "Jeez, Fynn, crude much?"

Fynn took a sip from his drink. "This is coming from the guy who was jerking it and being a little too vocal."

Now it was Josh's turn to blush. "I swear, I'm gonna strangle you one of these days, Fynnley..." he muttered.

He grinned. "Love you too, Josh."

Tyler giggled. "Um..." He laced his fingers together, a shy expression on his face. "If you really want to know... yes. It-it was a little confusing but it felt really nice."

Josh was surprised that Tyler was being so... open about something people viewed as private, but hey, he wasn't complaining.

A massive grin appeared on Fynn's face. "See, I told you. But hey, I thought I would have heard all about it from you before now."

"Well, he told me first, Fynn," Josh cut in.

Fynn rolled his eyes. "Lame."

"Well, I am his Protector."

And just like that, they were at it again. Tyler just sat back and listened to the two of them bicker while he took a look around Fynn's apartment. His eyes fell on a picture sitting on the table next to the couch. Reaching over, he picked up the frame to take a closer look.

It was a photo of Fynn (albeit a younger-looking one) and a young man that looked to be around the age he was now. Just from body language, it was obvious to Tyler that they were a couple. He had never seen such a bright smile on Fynn's face... even during fun times like these.

Why didn't he smile like that anymore? And who (and where) was this lover of his?

He decided to speak up. "Fynn... who's this?"

Fynn turned around, the smile on his face dissipating as soon as he saw what was in Tyler's hand. "Oh..." He reached over and took the frame, clearing his throat a little. "Um, that was a friend of mines."

"Oh?" Tyler knew the chemistry in the picture was much more than just a friend but he decided not to push it. "What's his name?"

"Um, it's not important. He's not... he's not around anymore." Fynn cleared his throat again, a pained look on his face, before getting up, picture frame still in hand. "I'll be back. I have to go and..." His voice trailed off. "Yeah."

Tyler opened his mouth to say something but Fynn was already gone. His eyes went straight to Josh, who had a somber look on his face, desperate to find out what he had said or did wrong. "What... I... I didn't mean to..."

"It's okay, Tyler. You didn't know."

"Didn't know what?"

"Him and that guy in the photo... it's a bit of a touchy subject, to say the least."

"Why? What happened?"

"I'm sorry, I'd love to tell you, Ty, but I think Fynn should be the one to do it when he's ready. Can you understand that?"

The younger boy nodded. "I just feel bad for bringing it up." He looked away, chewing on his bottom lip. "He's already sick and I probably just made him feel 100x worse."

"You didn't know," Josh repeated. He moved in closer and gave him a hug. "He'll be okay. Just give him some time, yeah? Fynn's a strong guy but he has his moments too."

Tyler nodded, blinking away as tears pooled inside his eyelids. "I know, I just don't want to mess things up with you guys."

"Oh, sweetheart," Josh murmured before pulling Tyler close to him. "Shh, shh, don't cry, baby. It's okay." He pressed a kiss to his forehead. "You're not messing anything up, I promise. You're such a wonderful person. Please believe that, okay?"

Sniffling, Tyler wiped away his tears and nodded again. "Thank you, Josh. I don't... I don't know what I would do without you." He pulled away to stare at the wet spot on Josh's shoulder. "Sorry for messing up your shirt."

"Don't worry about that, hun. It'll dry." Josh swiped his thumbs across Tyler's cheeks to get rid of any remaining tears. "Making sure you're okay is way more important to me."

"Thank you," Tyler murmured. Leaning in, he gave him a simple kiss. "Thank you so much."

Josh returned the kiss with a sweet smile. "Of course. Let's go get you some water."

Chapter Text

"Oliver."

Tyler looked up from his notebook to where Fynn sat at the kitchen table. Pen hovering over the paper, his eyebrows raised at the break in the silence that had been in the air since breakfast time.

"I'm sorry?"

"His name was Oliver." Fynn cleared his throat before continuing. "Remember that picture you were asking about? I'm sure you could tell that we were more than friends..." He trailed off, his eyes casting to the side as his voice lowered to a near whisper. "But he was also much more than just my lover. He... he was my Keeper."

A small gasp left Tyler's lips, his Time Keeper starting to ache at just the mention of another Keeper. "I... I didn't know you were a Protector." His voice came out breathlessly as he tried to process what he'd just been told. "I mean, it makes a lot of sense, but I just didn't..." He sighed, unsure of what to say next.

Fynn gave him a curious look. "What do you mean?"

"I guess I had this... nagging feeling. Now that I think about it, my Time Keeper probably knew before I did. I like to think it's smarter than me sometimes." Fingers tracing over his symbol, he silently willed it to calm down inside of his arm.

"Yeah, they can be real sensitive. Oli always called it his 'sixth sense,'" he said, a distant, sad smile on his face.

Tyler took a deep breath before approaching the question that he wanted to avoid, but knew had to be asked. "Fynn... what happened to Oliver?"

He sighed. "I'm really sorry I didn't tell you this sooner." Standing up, he pulled his phone out of his pocket and turned it on before sliding it across the table to Tyler. "I'm sure you'd recognize this place from a mile away."

The Time Keeper Database. The same place he had posted his plea for help just weeks earlier.

"Y-You have the Database," Tyler mumbled as he picked up the phone.

Fynn moved to sit in the chair next to Tyler. "Never got rid of it. Probably never will."

His eyes focused in on the text across the screen, his heart breaking with every word he read.

Oliver Averi McGuire (February 2, 1995 – December 25, 2017)

The Time Keeper Database would like to make everyone aware of the passing of Keeper #02021995 on the 25th of December.

After a long fight, Oliver died peacefully at the age of twenty-two with his Protector, Fynnley Nicholas Harrington, by his side.

Those who knew Oliver described him as a vibrant young man that loved to help others and had an incredibly infectious laugh. Even in the face of terminal illness, Oliver kept his positive attitude and always served as an inspiration to other Keepers to not give up in the face of adversity.

He will be dearly missed and his legacy as a Keeper will live on forever in our hearts.

"Oh, my gosh."

Tears stung at Tyler's eyes as a rush of words came out of his mouth. "Fynn, I... I didn't know. I remember reading that but I never put two-and-two together and I'm so sorry, Fynn. I'm sorry, please forgive me, I'm sorry, I--"

Fynn cut off his flurry of words with a finger to his lips. "Shh. Darling, calm down. Like I said before, I'm sorry for not telling you sooner. I just didn't really know how to... bring it up." He gave him a sad smile. "That is, until you asked about the picture. Then I knew I had to sit down and finally tell you what happened."

"But Fynn..." Tyler's voice came out barely above a whisper. "You lost him."

"You're right. I did lose him." Fynn cleared his throat again. "And I miss him every single day." Tyler watched as a single tear slid down the blonde's cheek, his calm exterior starting to fall apart. "It just comes at the most random times, you know? A smell that reminds me of him, his favorite song on the radio." He rubbed at his eyes and sniffled. "You know, I still find some of his hair around my apartment, even after all this time. You couldn't miss it, he had the curliest black hair. He was such a beautiful boy."

"H-How long were you two together?"

"I was his first and only Protector, so almost five years. I had dated other people before but I knew right from the start that Oliver was different. We had our rough patches, like any relationship, but our bond was unbreakable. He always told me..." His voice started to crack with emotion. "He always told me that we were going to grow old together and when I died, he was going to die right along with me."

"Fynn..."

"I was supposed to die first, Tyler! Not him!"

And with that, he broke down. "God, I miss him so much," he sobbed. "He was my entire world, Ty. I loved him so much. I just want him back with me. I would do anything to have that."

Feeling a bit helpless, Tyler laid his head on top of Fynn's, wrapping his arms around him as some form of stability to his soul.

He looked up when he saw Josh come into the kitchen. To his surprise, he came over and placed a gentle hand on Fynn's back.

"I take it he told you about Oliver," he whispered.

Nodding, the brunette kept his arms around Fynn, unsure of what to do with himself. "I... I didn't know, Josh. He's really upset but I don't know what to say, and I just..."

"Shh, it's okay, baby. He's still grieving." Josh patted him on the back with his free hand. "Let me get some water and tissues for him. Just sit tight with him for a minute, okay?"

And that's what Tyler did. Holding Fynn's hand, he kept his head leaned onto his shoulder, tears streaming down his own face as he listened to him cry. If there was one thing he hated, it was seeing other people sad, especially someone he considered to be such a good friend.

Thankfully, by the time Josh came back, Fynn had calmed down some. The blonde whispered a 'thank you' before downing the entire glass of water, much to Josh's concern.

"Hey, easy, easy," the redhead said, hand returning to its place on Fynn's back. "We don't want you throwing up."

After blowing his nose, Fynn took in a deep breath before letting it out slowly. "Sorry for all of my ugly crying," he said quietly.

"Don't apologize," Tyler said. "Remember what you told me when we first met? It's okay to cry."

"I know. I just feel like such a burden when I do."

"Don't be. I'm always crying." Tyler gave him a small smile. "And who's been there for me every time I break down? You and Josh. So please don't feel like a burden because you're not."

"We love you, Fynnley," Josh said softly.  "And we're here for you. Always."

Fynn turned to look at the both of them, a small smile on his face. "Always?"

Tyler leaned over and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Always."

Chapter Text

"Ty-ler..."

It was another lazy Thursday afternoon and Tyler had just gotten out of the shower, having decided that he had spent long enough lounging around in his pajamas.

As he stood in front of the full-length mirror in his bedroom, Josh came in before snaking his arms around a thin waist that was filling in a little bit more with each day.

"Ty-ler..." Josh repeated, placing tiny kisses all over the back of his neck.

"Josh-ua..." Tyler mimicked him before giggling. "Hi."

The redhead hummed into his skin. "Hi. You smell really good."

No matter how much Tyler hated to admit it, he (and his Time Keeper) was an absolute sucker for Josh's compliments. "Thank you." He smiled as he leaned his forehead against the older man's. "What are you up to?"

"Well, for one thing, I wanted a kiss from my baby boy." Just to prove his point, Josh stole a quick kiss from him and smiled. "Secondly, I came to see if you wanted to go out."

A flash of fear went through Tyler's mind but he quickly pushed it away. You've been through thisJosh isn't going to let anything happen to you.

So he just smiled back. "Go where?"

"Okay, I know this is going to sound totally weird..." Josh scratched the back of his head and laughed a little. "But I was thinking we could go and get a pedicure? I know people usually associate that kind of thing with something girls do but that's not true at all. Lots of guys get it done too, 'cause there's nothing wrong with having nice-looking nails and..."

Tyler put his finger up to Josh's lips. "Hey." He gave him a soft smile. "I would love to. I've always wanted to get a pedicure, actually."

"Seriously?" Josh's face lit up. "I've had it done lots of times, mainly because I tend to get ingrown toenails."

"Or maybe you just like having pretty girls touch your feet." Tyler nudged him with his elbow, a teasing smile playing at his lips.

Josh chuckled. "Hey, don't discriminate. There's pretty boys there too, you know."

"Mhm." He giggled. "Let me find a shirt to put on and then I'll be ready."

The older man's eyes went up and down Tyler's body. "I dunno, Ty, I kinda like seeing you shirtless. I think that should be your new look."

He giggled. "No shirt, no shoes, no service."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Is the water too hot for you?"

When Tyler slipped his feet into the foot bath, he winced a little at the heat but the pain quickly turned into a pleasant ache.

"No, I'm okay," he said, his voice soft. He'd been feeling so shy since they left the house; there was something about being around people that made him want to just... hide.

"Let your feet soak for a while," the nail tech said before standing back up. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

Oh great, I already managed to scare someone away.

Folding his arms across his chest, Tyler began to regret taking off his hoodie when he came inside.

What if she saw my Keeper symbol? What if she's going to call the police? What if--

"Ty-Guy. You okay?"

Seeing the concerned look on his Protector's face, he felt bad for making him worry. "Yeah, I'm okay." He cleared his throat. "Are you?"

"Yeah, I'm good." Josh smiled. "Just making sure you're okay."

The brunette gave him a small smile in return. "Thanks for treating me to this, Josh."

Josh reached over and patted him on the arm. "Of course. Your tech is a good one. She's really gentle so she won't hurt you."

Tyler nodded. But will she hurt a Keeper?

By the time his feet had finished soaking, he was tense, which didn't lend itself very well to getting a pedicure. So he tried his best to distract himself, letting his eyes drift across the salon.

His attention was drawn to the front door when it opened. In came a young woman with what had to be 10 shiny gold bangles on her left arm. Raising an eyebrow, he couldn't help but wonder why she had on so many in the first place.

He watched as the young woman spoke with the lady at the front desk. Something about her seemed... oddly familiar, but he couldn't quite put his finger on where he had seen her before.

"You want your toenails trimmed down?"

Tyler jumped a little at the nail tech's voice. "Um, yes, please."

Before he knew it, another nail tech was setting up the pedicure chair next to him and, seeing that there was no one else waiting except for the girl, he guessed that it was for her.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, she came over and sat down. From the way that she and the nail tech were bantering back and forth in another language, it seemed that they knew each other quite well.

Trying to keep his eyes (and thoughts) to himself, Tyler focused on what his nail tech was doing, willing away any awkwardness that threatened to make an unexpected appearance.

"I like your tee shirt."

Tyler was surprised when he turned and saw the young woman looking at him. "Me?" he squeaked out.

She smiled. "Yeah. I love that band."

Tyler looked down at the shirt he had on. It wasn't his, actually. Josh had just loaned it for him to wear, but explaining all that that would take far too long, so he just gave her a tiny smile. "Thank you. I like your jewelry, by the way."

"Oh, these things." She held up her arm, the metal knocking against each other with soft clinks. "I wear them all the time. I guess you could say it's a permanent part of my style."

"Yeah? They're cool."

A few minutes went by before he looked over again and saw the girl on her phone. Bangles sliding further and further down her left arm with the faster that she typed, the tiniest peek of an all too familiar-looking mark caught Tyler's attention.

Eyes widening, his breath caught in his throat as a million (yet one) possibilities ran through his mind at once.

Is it...?

If he turned out to be poorly mistaken, things could turn very ugly, very quickly. But if he didn't say anything, he'd just wind up beating himself up over it for the rest of the day.

So he waited until both of their nail techs were busy scrubbing their feet before reaching over and tapping her on the shoulder. When she turned around, he held his arm out, exposing the most vulnerable part of his body to her.

Her eyes went straight to his symbol and then right back up at him, mouth slightly agape. Tyler stared back at her with uncertain eyes, hoping to God that he was doing the right thing.

With trembling hands, she moved her bangles all the way down her arm to reveal the unmistakable key to an instant connection between the two of them.

Tyler gave her a shy, but excited smile. "Hi."

His heart soared when she gave him a big smile in return. "Hi."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Josh had been a little confused when Tyler insisted on going to a local coffee shop with the girl sitting next to him at the nail salon. But he figured there had to be a reason why his otherwise reserved boyfriend looked so excited all of a sudden... so he just went along with it.

It was only after they had sat down that things finally started making a little bit of sense.

"J-Josh." Tyler stuttered over his words a little. "I didn't want to tell you this while were in the salon, but... she's a Keeper too!"

"Whoa." Josh turned to look at her. "Seriously? That's so sick!"

The young woman gave them a sweet smile. "Keeper #07211997, to be exact."

"This is so cool," Tyler gushed. "I never thought I'd meet another Keeper in this area, let alone at a nail salon."

"I used to work at that place, actually. I quit after I finally matched up with my Protector."

"Do they know that you're a Keeper?" Tyler asked.

She nodded. "Yes, actually. They didn't really care as long as I did good work and kept my symbol covered up in front of the customers. Hence, why I still wear all the bangles. I wish I didn't have to, though." She sighed a little before giving Tyler a smile. "I like the fact that you don't cover yours up. I wish I was that brave."

"Well... I normally do. But it was hot in there, so I took my hoodie off." Feeling a bit self-conscious, he pulled at his sleeves, thankful that he had it on again in here. "I'm still working on it too. It's really hard not to be scared of what others might say when they see it."

She nodded. "I understand. I still think you're really brave, though." Turning her attention to Josh, she gave him an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, I haven't even introduced myself to you. My name is Annaliese. What's yours?"

"I'm Joshua," he said, offering his hand out to her. "But you can call me Josh."

She shook his hand. "Nice to meet you, Josh. Are you Tyler's Protector?"

"Sure am." Josh smiled. "This is my first time being a Protector, so I'm still learning." His eyes went to Tyler, an affectionate look in his eyes. "But he's so patient with me and is always such a sweetheart, so he makes my job a lot easier."

Tyler's heart pulled at the compliment, his cheeks tinging a light shade of red. "T-Thank you..."

"You're making my Time Keeper go crazy, and you're not even my Protector." She giggled. "You may have seen me and him on the Database before. His name is Noah."

That's why she had looked so familiar to Tyler. It all made perfect sense now. "How long have you two been together?" he asked.

"A year and a half. It's been a wild ride, but quite an enjoyable one. I was a bit of a late bloomer, so I'm glad he finally found me." She smiled. "How about you guys?"

"Just a little over three months," Josh replied.

"Aw, honeymoon phase!" She giggled. "That's so cute!"

Josh smiled at Tyler. "Yeah, like I said, we're still learning and figuring each other out."

"It can take a while. It took me and Noah a couple months to get used to each other." Her eyes glossed over as she talked about her Protector, a typical reaction from any Keeper. "He makes me feel so safe and he doesn't judge me about anything. It's like... everything just makes sense with him."

"Josh makes me feel the same way," Tyler said, smiling. "By the way, you're making my Time Keeper go nuts with all this Protector talk."

"Dude, mines too!"

Josh couldn't help but chuckle at the sight of Tyler and Annaliese chattering away about anything and everything Keeper-related. Even though he knew Tyler appreciated having his Protector (and an ex-Protector) to hang around with, he could only imagine how exhilarating it was for him to meet someone just like him.

It was nice to not feel so alone.

Before they knew it, an hour had flown by before Annaliese announced she had to head back home so Noah wouldn't start to worry. After exchanging numbers with the both of them, she told them to text her if they ever wanted to hang out together.

By the time Josh and Tyler got back to the car, the younger of the two was feeling shy again, his voice near a soft whisper when he talked. Still, Josh could tell from the slight tilt in his tone that he was feeling really happy.

"Who knew, huh?" Josh smiled before leaning over the middle console and kissing him on the cheek. "Did you have fun, baby?"

"I did." Tyler smiled back at him, his doe eyes even bigger than usual. "This has been such a lovely day. Thank you for everything."

"No, thank you."

Tyler gave him a confused look. "Why? What did I do?"

Josh pecked a tiny kiss onto Tyler's lips, making him blush. "For being brave. I'm so proud of you, baby boy."

Chapter Text

Barefoot and clad in nothing but loose black pajama pants, Tyler crept into Josh's room, taking care not to be too loud. He wasn't sure what time it was, but the sun was just starting to come up, so he figured it was still early.

Hopefully not too early to bother the one person he really needed right now...

"Joshua?"

His voice came out barely above a whisper, mimicking the soft light painted across Josh's room, illuminating the older man's skin and the mess of red hair peeking out from underneath the covers.

"Joshua," he repeated, a little bit louder this time. Placing his hand on the older man's shoulder, he gave it a gentle shake. "J?"

Josh's eyes finally opened, blinking away as he tried to figure out who was standing next to his bed. "Ty-Guy? What's going on?"

"I... I..." Holding his hands behind his back, Tyler struggled to come up with the words he desperately needed to say.

The older man pulled himself up into a sitting position, a worried look written across his face as he noticed Tyler's tired eyes start to gloss over with tears. "Baby?" He offered his hand out to him, silently beckoning him to come closer. "What's wrong? You can tell me."

Tyler took Josh's hand but remained in the same spot. "I... I had bad dreams all night and I guess I'm just really sad now."

Josh's heart pulled as he watched tears stream down Tyler's cheek, a little upset with the fact he hadn't been there to hold him after his nightmares. "Oh, sweetheart," he whispered, gently tugging on his hand. "Can I hold you? Is it okay if I touch you?"

The younger boy nodded, allowing himself to be maneuvered onto the bed and into Josh's strong, yet gentle embrace.

"Is this okay?" Josh asked, being extra careful not to say or do anything that would make Tyler feel worse.

"More than okay." He wouldn't say it out loud but this was exactly what he needed, some sort of gravity to hold him down and reassure him that everything would be okay. "M'sorry for waking you," he mumbled, rubbing at his damp eyes with the back of his hand. "I know it's still really early."

"No, don't be sorry." Josh placed a breathless kiss on the top of his forehead, savoring their close contact. "Remember what I told you? I'm always here for you and I'll always hold you until you're not afraid anymore. And nothing's ever going to change that, lovebug. I promise."

Tyler sniffled, smiling a little at the nickname. "Hey, don't call me lovebug, it'll make me blush."

"Oh? But what if I want you to, hmm?" Josh nuzzled his nose into the side of Tyler's neck, something he knew that he loved. "I love it when you blush. Makes you look even more adorable."

He giggled, the light, airy noise traveling across the soft-lit room with an unsung beauty that not even a work of art could capture. "J-Joshua, that tickles..."

"I know. But it makes you smile." Josh ran his fingers through the longer part of Tyler's hair, their eyes connected in a gentle gaze. "I don't like seeing you sad. I want you to be happy." He placed a chaste kiss onto his cheek. "But it's okay to feel sad. It's okay to want to be held. I always want to help in whatever way I can, Tyler."

"I wish you could make the bad dreams go away," Tyler said, eyes cast downwards. Laying his free hand on Josh's arm, he let out a small sigh. "They always feel so... real."

"What happens in them, if you don't mind me asking?"

"They usually have something to do with my old Protector. The night that he tried to kill me replaying over and over again in my head. Sometimes you're in the dreams too but you're never able to save me from him and that's the part that terrifies me."

Josh's face instantly turned into a frown. "Kill you? Wait, wait, hold on a minute. You're telling me this dickhead tried to kill you?"

"Language, J." Tyler cleared his throat. "But yeah, he did. He held a knife up to my throat and told me that he would kill me if I told anyone about what he did to me." A shiver went down his spine at the memory of being pinned up against the wall by his ex-Protector. "I was used to all the bruises and insults but that... that was on a whole different level."

"Then... what happened?"

"He finally let go of me and beat me until I blacked out. When I finally came to, he was passed out drunk on the couch. So you know what I did? I packed a few things into that backpack, I crept outside, then I ran and never looked back."

By this time, he was crying again. Josh listened quietly, allowing Tyler to tell his story as he tried to bury the anger simmering inside of him.

"I went from place to place, hoping to God he wouldn't find me. But I also knew I couldn't run from him forever. My Time Keeper was too low and after a certain point, I knew I was going to die. That's why I put my message on the Time Keeper Database. I didn't really expect anyone to read it, but it was the only option I had left." He tucked his face into Josh's shirt, shaking a little as he released all of his pent-up emotions. "Thank you for reading that message, Josh. Thank you for believing in me."

Josh let out a long sigh before holding him even closer to his body. "Oh, baby... thank you for believing in yourself." Pressing multiple kisses to his forehead, he tried his best to thumb away any leftover tears on his cheeks. "You're so strong. I want you to know that, okay? I know you may not feel like it, but I swear to God, you are. You're so amazing, Tyler."

Tyler looked up at him with red, swollen eyes, though, beneath it all, they still held their usual doe-like innocence. "Thank you," he said, reaching up and stroking the side of Josh's face, giving the older man a rush of goosebumps. "I don't know what I did to deserve someone like you."

"More like I don't know what I did to deserve you." Josh gave him a slow, soft kiss on the lips. "How are you feeling now, hun?"

"A little sleepy," Tyler admitted.

"Here, let's get you more comfortable." Josh coaxed him underneath the covers, pulling them up high enough so he'd feel safe and secure. "How's that?"

"Perfect," Tyler murmured as his eyes dazed in and out. "You know, you can let go of me if you want. I'm sure your arm must be dead by now."

Josh chuckled. "I'm fine, baby doll." He smiled when Tyler's cheeks tinged a light red color. "I'll hold you for as long as you want me to."

Tyler hummed in response before laying his hand across Josh's chest. "J?"

"Yes, Ty?"

"Do you think... um... you could sing to me?"

Josh raised an eyebrow. "Me? Sing?"

"Yeah, I've heard you singing in the shower before. You sound really nice." A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips. "If you don't want to, you don't have to."

The redhead shook his head. "No, no, I can sing to you. I can't promise my morning voice will sound all that great, though." He chuckled before pressing his nose into Tyler's hair, inhaling the scent he had came to know and love.

"I don't mind." Tyler snuggled in a bit closer to Josh's chest. "I just want to hear you."

Placing his hand on the small of the younger boy's back, Josh went through a mental list of songs before settling on one that he liked. Tyler's eyes closed almost immediately as he started to sing, voice a bit hesitant, but soft and sweet.

 

"Kiss me down by the broken tree house | Swing me, upon its hanging tire | Bring, bring, bring your flowered hat | We'll take the trail marked on your father's map | Oh, kiss me beneath the milky twilight | Lead me out on the moonlit floor | Lift your open hand | Strike up the band, and make the fireflies dance | Silver moon's sparkling | So kiss me"


By the time he finished singing, Tyler was snoring softly, hand still draped across his chest. Josh smiled at the adorable sight, pressing a final kiss to his forehead before carefully pulling his arm out from underneath him, being sure to lay Tyler's head back onto the pillow.

Reaching over to the nightstand, he picked up his phone to check the time and his notifications. After a few minutes, he pulled up his messaging app and started typing a text.

Josh: Hey Fynn, I know it's early but I wanted to tell you that you can have the day off. I want to do something special for Tyler today. So don't worry about coming in. Maybe you can clean that gross apartment of yours. ;) Love you Fynn, have a good morning, ok?

Slipping out from underneath the covers, he took one more look at the young boy before getting up, his mind going over all the reasons that he maybe, sort of, kinda, honestly was falling in love with Tyler Joseph.

Chapter Text

"Ba-a-by... Ty-Gu-u-y... love bu-u-g..."

When Tyler opened his eyes, the first thing he felt was a finger poking him in the side. Turning over, his eyebrows furrowed when he saw Josh sitting next to him with a tray full of food in his lap.

"Joshua?" Tyler rubbed at his eyes, a delightfully confused look on his face. "Weren't you just singing a Sixpence None The Richer song?"

Josh chuckled at the brunette's voice, loving the way it cracked with every other word. "That was about... four hours ago, babe."

Tyler frowned a little. Had he really been asleep for that long? "Jeez... what time is it?"

"Around 10:00. Or, to be more specific, it's time for breakfast." Josh leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. "Breakfast in bed for the cutest Keeper ever."

Tyler's face lit up as he looked at what was in front of him. A cup of coffee, scrambled eggs, two strips of bacon and two pieces of toast, complete with a small dish of jelly and a butter knife. "Whoa," he murmured. "You seriously made all of this for me?"

"Of course." Inside of his mind, Josh was ecstatic that Tyler actually liked his meager spread. "Eat as much as you can, okay?"

He gave him an appreciative smile. With each day that went by, eating became a little easier, though he still wasn't all the way there yet. "I'll try," he said. "Eggs are good protein, yeah? Maybe it'll help fill in my rib cage." He chuckled, albeit a bit dryly. "I'm still so bony."

"It takes time, sweetheart. You've been through a lot." Josh stroked the side of his face. "And besides, I like you no matter what size you are. Just as long as you're happy and healthy, okay?"

Tyler put a forkful of eggs into his mouth, giving him a sweet smile as he chewed. "Thank you, Josh. I like you too." After a few moments, he cleared his throat. "Don't take this wrong way, but what did I do to deserve breakfast in bed?"

"Does there need to be a reason?" Josh stuck his tongue out at him. "I want today to be special for you. It's... Happy Tyler Day!"

Tyler giggled, nearly choking on his eggs in the process. "Oh, my gosh, that's so cute!"

"Just like you." Josh smiled before kissing him on the cheek. "Alright, let me stop before I get all cheesy."

"Too late for that, J." Tyler smiled before picking up the piece of toast and shoving it into Josh's mouth. "Here, share some of this food with me, Mr. Cheesy."

Josh took a bite off the toast, chuckling a little at the younger boy's antics. He didn't have the heart to tell him that he had already ate, but he knew that Tyler was just doing it to avoid wasting any of the food he couldn't eat, so he went along with it. Anything to help his baby boy feel more confident about eating...

"So what's in store for Happy Tyler Day?" the brunette asked, a curious look on his face.

"Well... I was thinking we could use some art therapy. Have you painted pottery before?"

He shook his head. "Never."

"Let's go check it out then! After that, I want to take you someplace nice for lunch."

The brunette's face lit up with a genuinely excited smile. "So it's like a date?"

"Exactly." Josh ran his hand through Tyler's hair. "I need to take you out on dates, like a proper boyfriend."

"My boyfriend," Tyler echoed before giggling a little. "It feels so weird saying that. Even before Keeper Training School, I never had a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Most of the other kids didn't like me."

"Well, that's their loss." Josh took another bite from the toast. "Because I think you're the most gorgeous human being ever to exist."

Almost as if on cue, Tyler started to blush. "Aw, and I think you're the most amazing guy ever. Well, aside from Fynn, of course." He stuck his tongue out at him, making Josh laugh. "Thanks to you, I didn't have any nightmares. I'm not as sad anymore." He leaned his head onto Josh's shoulder, a soft smile playing at his lips. "I'm really happy to be here with you, J."

Josh rested his head on top of Tyler's. "I'm happy to be here with you too, sweet boy." He teased the younger boy's nose with his finger. "And I hope you had sweet dreams about flowers, kittens and all the candy in the world."

"Um..." Tyler's voice lowered, the blush on his face intensifying by the minute. "Not quite."

Josh raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

An embarrassed smile on his face, Tyler playfully pushed Josh's head off of his. "Shush."

"Is my baby boy being naughty again?"

"Dork." Tyler gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "Can we go and get ready, please?"

"Only if you'll tell me what you dreamed about later." Josh grabbed Tyler, smothering the side of his neck with a barrage of tiny kisses. "I must know these things!"

Tyler let out something between a yelp, gasp and a moan. "You suck," he mumbled, his cheeks now almost the color of his Protector's hair.

"Only if you want me to." Josh winked before laughing at the mortified look on Tyler's face. "Come on, babe, let's get dressed."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Josh, I'm pretty sure penguins aren't pink."

With a penguin figurine and a small heart on the table, Tyler felt like he had more paint on him than on the actual pottery at this point.

"Says who? There could be some rare pink penguin species out there. And besides, I'm making a rainbow penguin." He stuck his tongue out at him. "There's a difference, you know."

Tyler flicked some of the paint on his brush onto Josh. "Silly goose."

"Hey, you're one to talk. I'm pretty sure hearts aren't black," Josh teased.

"Mine is. Just like my soul."

The two of them started to laugh, and for once, Tyler actually felt kind of... normal. It was just him and his "boyfriend," painting away with not a care in the world.

Well... except for all of the relentless teasing and flirting Josh had been doing since they got there. But Tyler couldn't lie... he loved it.

His phone started buzzing in his pocket, taking him out of his thoughts. Setting his paintbrush down, he looked to see who had texted him.

Annaliese: Hi!!!

Tyler smiled when he read her name. It had been almost two weeks since they had met and the two of them had been talking regularly ever since. Even though they were still getting to know each other, he was still so excited just to have another Keeper to talk to.

Tyler: hey annaliese :) how are you?

Annaliese: I'm good! Was gonna meet Noah for lunch later because my Time Keeper is being a needy hoe but he's too busy today. :(

Tyler: oh my gosh mood. I'm with josh at a pottery painting place. you should come join us!

Annaliese: That sounds really fun but I have loads of stuff to do. :/ Next time though?

Tyler: for sure :) just let me know.

Annaliese: Give that Protector of yours a big hug for me and have lots of fun, 'kay? *Mwah*

Tyler: ♡ thank you annaliese you're sweet.

When Tyler put his phone down, he noticed that Josh was staring at him. "What?"

"You just have such cute facial expressions," the redhead replied, laughing a little.

Tyler gave him a shy smile. "Annaliese said hi."

"Aww, that's nice. I'm really glad you two are friends now."

"Me too. She's a sweetheart." Picking his brush back up, he dipped it in the red paint before drawing a design onto the middle of his heart.

|-/

Josh couldn't help but watch what he was doing. "What do those symbols mean?"

"I... I'm not sure. It just came to me." Tyler's eyebrows knit together as he tried to translate the right side of his brain into words. "Maybe it means hope. A sign of better things to come."

"I like that," Josh said, a soft smile on his face.

"Thank you, Josh. I like you."

"Oh, shush. Hey, cutie..." Josh's smile turned into a mischievous one. "You still haven't told me about that dream of yours yet."

Tyler giggled. "What's it matter to you, J?" he teased. "My head, my dreams."

"Maybe I just want to know what's going on inside of that gorgeous head of yours," Josh teased back before laughing. "Don't mind me, baby, I'm just messing with you. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

Putting the finishing touches on his design, Tyler gave him a coy smile. "Well, let's just say that the dream was rather... out-of-character for me."

"Oh yeah?" He had piqued Josh's curiosity now. "How so?"

"It was me... you... a can of whipped cream..."

"Oh really? And where was this whipped cream located at?"

A light pink dusted across his cheeks, Tyler's smile turned into a shy one. "Places. You and I were making these milkshakes and then the next thing I knew, we were in your bed and... there was the whipped cream."

He laughed even harder. "You're a kinky little thing, aren't you, Tyler?"

"Yeah, right. The kinkiest virgin you'll ever meet."

"Well, hey..." Josh reached over and laid his hand on top of Tyler's. "I know we haven't talked much about this but I want you to know that I'll never pressure you into anything you're not ready for. Only when you're 100% ready, okay?"

"Thank you, Josh. That's really sweet of you to say." He turned his hand over and intertwined their fingers together. "I've been kinda... curious about some things."

Josh raised an eyebrow. "Like what?"

Tyler looked around at all the other tables surrounding them. "Um... maybe we can talk about it later on in private."

"Say no more." Josh gave him a wink. "But you know I'm not gonna let you forget, right?"

Rolling his eyes a little, Tyler smiled before going back to painting.

"Of course you won't."

Chapter Text

After their lunch at a local bistro, the pair decided to head back home, Tyler a bit wore out from their afternoon adventures.

"Feeling sleepy, sweetheart?" Josh asked as he pulled the car into the driveway.

"A little." Tyler looked over and gave him a soft smile. "Sleepy and lazy."

"Being a lazy bum, eh?" Josh chuckled before taking the keys out of the ignition. "Want me to carry you in?"

He snorted. "Josh, I'm not a princess."

"I know. But you're my princess." Leaning over, he kissed him on the cheek. "Especially on Happy Tyler Day."

"When's Happy Josh Day, huh?" The brunette giggled. "Okay, J, you lead the way."

Grinning, Josh jumped out of the car and hurried over to the passenger side. Opening the door, he un-clicked Tyler's seat belt for him before slipping one hand underneath his armpit and the other underneath his knees. "Hold on tight, princess," he sang out as they headed into the house.

Clinging onto Josh for dear life, Tyler couldn't help but giggle away as he was carried inside. "Where are you taking me?"

"We can go to my room, your room, the kitchen, the living room... or I can drop you off in the bathroom." Josh gave him a playful smile.

Tyler's teeth grazed over his bottom lip. "Mmm... how about your room?"

"Aye, aye, captain!"

"Can we stop by my room first, though? I want to grab my notebook."

"As you wish, love. The Josh Dun Express aims to please all of its passengers."

"But I'm your only passenger."

"Exactly!"

After a few bumps, near falls and a brief detour to Tyler's room, the two boys finally settled down together in Josh's bed. The older of the two decided to scroll through social media while Tyler flipped through his notebook, secretly hoping that said man would lean over and ask about what he had been writing.

It took a few minutes but he finally took the bait, much to Tyler's delight. "Looks like you've almost filled your notebook up, huh?"

Tyler nodded, a shy smile on his face. "Yeah, I've been writing a lot. Do you want to read some?"

"Yeah, that'd be sick!" Josh put his phone down. "You've got my undivided attention, baby doll."

Blushing, Tyler flipped a few pages back to lyrics he had written last week. "Here, you can read this one. I haven't named it yet, though, sorry."

[Insert your favorite TØP song here because I'm chronically indecisive ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ]

By the time Josh finished reading, his mouth was hanging open. "Whoa..."

Tyler's mind went straight to the negative. "Is that bad?"

"Dude, that was so sick!" Josh held up Tyler's notebook, an excited look on his face. "We need to get you in a studio, like, ASAP!"

Tyler wanted to hide his face, though, deep down inside... he loved the positive attention. "Aww, you're too kind."

"I mean it, though! You'd be so amazing."

"Thank you, Joshua. You're so sweet."

Josh smiled before handing the notebook back to him. "So... what's on your mind?"

"You," Tyler admitted.

Now it was Josh's turn to blush. "Yeah? What about me?"

"Just... everything." Tyler reached over and took Josh's hands, cherishing the warmth that they held. "I can, um, talk about what I mentioned to you earlier, if you want."

"Oh? And what was that again?" Josh played dumb, a teasing smile on his lips.

"You know what it was, you dork." Tyler squeezed his hands. "Me being curious."

The redhead chuckled. "Do tell me more."

"I mean... we haven't even properly made out yet. There was that one time when I was sick, but it was over in less than a minute."

"You can blame Fynn for that one, the mighty cockblock."

"Language, J."

Josh grinned. "Sorry, sorry. But he does have the habit of turning up at the worst times."

"Well, he's not here now..." Tyler's voice trailed off. Squeezing Josh's hands a little tighter, he gave him a shy smile. "Only if you want to, though. We don't have to."

"Are you seriously asking me if I want to make out with my beautiful Keeper?" He snorted a little. "Nah, I think I'll pass."

"Hmm... I take that as a yes then?"

Josh smiled. "C'mere." Pulling Tyler in closer, his heart pulled at the flustered, blush-kissed look on the younger boy's face. "Do you want to be in a certain position?"

Tyler giggled. "I didn't know there were different making out positions."

He chuckled. "Well, we can sit up, you can sit in my lap, or I can lay you back. Whatever sounds most comfortable to you."

Heart beating a little bit faster, Tyler bit his lip as the anticipation of crossing into such new territory set in. "Lay me back," he said, voice coming out softer than expected.

Josh didn't have to be told twice; leaning in, he threaded his fingers through Tyler's hair before connecting their lips. Soft, slow but intentional, he kept his kisses slightly reserved, yet still forward enough so he could take the lead.

A bit nervous, Tyler tried his best to keep up with him and (somehow) relax. Still, as he felt himself being laid back, he wondered if he would ever be as good of a kisser as Josh.

No sooner did he lay back, he pulled away, gazing up at his Protector with uncertain eyes. "Am... am I doing okay?"

"You're doing perfect, baby." Josh ran a hand across his cheek and smiled. "You're such a good kisser."

"I-I am?"

"Absolutely." Before Tyler could get another word in, Josh's lips were on his again. With that little bit of affirmation, he started to relax, hands moving to rest on top of Josh's shoulders.

Minutes began to blur into infinity as Josh's hands explored the younger boy's face and arms, being careful not to touch any intimate areas without his permission. Kissing quickly became muscle memory to Tyler as he focused on Josh's fingertips finding all the sensitive spots he never knew was on his body.

He almost whined when Josh pulled away but any frustration felt was re-directed when said lips moved to his neck, placing soft, open-mouthed kisses all over.

"J-Josh," he whispered, his arms tightening around him. It felt strange to say his name so openly (excluding the first time that he touched himself) but he also knew there was no stopping what came naturally either.

"You like that?" Josh murmured against his skin.

Tyler nodded, his voice escaping him.

"Let me hear you, baby."

"Y-Yes..."

"Good boy," Josh breathed out, making a shudder go down Tyler's spine. He smiled at his reaction. "You like it when I praise you?"

"I-I do," Tyler whispered. "Makes me feel important and needed. Like I'm yours."

"You are mine, baby doll." Josh's teeth grazed against the curve of Tyler's neck, making him whimper a little. "All day, every day."

His Time Keeper about to tick right out of his arm, Tyler tried his best to calm down before he got himself too worked up. "I, um... I'm..."

"I know. I can feel you, hun." Just to prove his point, Josh shifted his hips around.

"Oh," Tyler gasped. "I... I feel you too." Blush returning to his face, he struggled to hold eye contact with Josh. "I'm embarrassed."

"Why? It's natural." Josh kissed him again, slower this time. "I think it's really hot that I'm making you feel this way, actually."

Tyler smiled. "I guess my neck must be my soft spot."

"One of my spots is right underneath my ear." Josh grinned. "Gets me every time."

An overwhelming sense of bravery coming over him, Tyler leaned up and tilted his head to fit in the space between Josh's neck and shoulder, lips pressing hesitantly but firmly onto that very spot. Said redhead moaned a little, nails carving crescent moons into his skin.

Josh chuckled as he tried to compose himself. "Well, well, well... looks like we have a little tease on our hands."

Tyler gave him an innocent smile in response. "Hey, I was just returning the favor."

"You know what I think? I think you need to be punished," Josh said before launching an all-out tickle attack against Tyler.

Before they knew it, they were rolling around laughing as they tried to tickle each other. Their "make-out session" seemingly long forgotten, they kept at it for a few minutes until they were both out of breath.

"Whoa," Josh huffed out. "You're quite the match, Ty."

"So are you." Tyler giggled. "I love how we went from making out to having a tickle fight."

"Hey, I've gotta keep you on your toes." Josh gave him another kiss and smiled. "I still have a boner, though."

Tyler blushed at his choice of words. "Oh... um, I'm still a little turned on too."

"Well, remember... we move at your pace."

Gazing up into Josh's eyes, his heart began to race at what he was about to suggest.

"Hey... can we switch positions?"

Chapter Text

His Time Keeper ticking away inside of his arm, Tyler kept his eyes locked onto Josh as he straddled him, arms resting on top of his shoulders.

"Is... is this uncomfortable for you?" he asked, a worried expression on his face. "I'm not too heavy, am I?"

Josh wanted to roll his eyes at the naïvety of the question but he just smiled. "No, you're perfect, baby boy. Light as a feather."

Tyler laid his head on Josh's shoulder, giggling a little as he slowly shifted his hips against him.

Breath catching in his throat, the redhead tried to calm his raging hormones down. Was this really happening? Was Tyler really sitting in his lap, oh so carefully grinding against him?

If this was a dream... then he never wanted to wake up.

"Ba-a-by," he drawled, one hand resting on the side of Tyler's hip while the other went around the back of his neck. "You're teasing me again, aren't you?"

The brunette smiled, ducking his face into the side of Josh's neck. "Of course not," he mumbled. "I'm just... moving."

"Moving, huh?" Josh guided Tyler's face out and pulled him into a kiss. "Need some help with that?"

He giggled again. "Maybe a little."

Josh moved both of his hands to Tyler's hips brushing his fingers underneath the waistband of his jeans to trace outlines onto his skin. "Follow my lead, okay?"

Tyler nodded, his cheeks burning as Josh guided his hips up and down. Letting out a long, shuddering breath, he dug his fingernails into the fabric of Josh's shirt, loving the friction building between them.

"How's it feel, darling?" Josh asked, making sure his movements matched perfectly with Tyler's.

"Good," he breathed out. Circling his arms around Josh's neck, he smiled before pressing his lips against his forehead. "You're so gentle."

"Of course, baby. I'll always be gentle with you." His hands tightened around Tyler's hips, making a shiver run down his spine. "Wanna make love to you, baby boy, soft and sweet."

Tyler blushed. "I... I'd like that." His voice came out quiet but needy, nails digging in even harder at Josh's words. "You'd be my first."

"Mm, I know. Would you give it to me?"

Just as he opened his mouth to respond, Josh's lips found themselves on his neck again, shifting the angle of his hips to rub against all the right places.

"Yes," he moaned. "Gosh, yes. I want to give it to you, baby."

The redhead smiled. Who knew it would take a grinding session for Tyler to call him 'baby?' "You're so hot," he breathed out, nuzzling his nose into the nape of the younger boy's neck. "Doing okay, darling?"

Tyler nodded, breath coming out more and more ragged. "I dunno... I think I might..."

"Shh," Josh whispered into his ear. "Just enjoy it, sweetheart."

Hips desperately rutting against Josh, the normally shy and quiet Tyler morphed into a shaking, panting mess as his orgasm greeted him with an intensity that far exceeded the first one he ever had. Holding onto his Protector for dear life, goosebumps ran up and down his arms as his vision doubled and blurred.

By the time he regained his breathing, he was left with ringing ears, a throbbing Time Keeper and uncomfortably... sticky underwear. Before his mind had the chance to go elsewhere, Josh had him in another passionate kiss as he gently moved him off of his lap and back onto the bed.

"You know, I could come just from watching you come," Josh said before winking.

Tyler blushed. "Oh, gosh..."

He kissed him on the forehead. "You're so sweet and pure, baby. I love that about you."

"I dunno about that..." Tyler looked away, an embarrassed look on his face. "We were just grinding on each other. And then I came way too soon... in my pants, at that." He chuckled. "Doesn't sound all that pure to me."

"Oh, sweetheart, you still are. Believe me." Staring down into his eyes, he smiled. "And I don't care if you have an orgasm in ten minutes or ten seconds, just as long as you're feeling good. It's so incredibly hot seeing you like that."

"Thank you. But what about you? You're still..."

Josh cut him off with a kiss. "Don't worry about me, sweet boy, I have plenty of mischief I can get myself into." He smiled as Tyler's cheeks turned an even darker shade of red. "Hey, I have an idea. Why don't you go clean up and then after you're done, we can turn on a movie and cuddle?"

Tyler gave him a shy smile. It was amazing how fast he went from a moaning, hot mess back to his usual bashful self. "I'd like that. Can I pick the movie this time?"

"Of course you can, sweetheart."

He paused for a moment. "Um... Josh?"

"Yes, hun?"

"Thank you."

Josh smiled. "You don't need to thank me, Ty. You're my Keeper, and whenever you want to try something new, you can just tell me. And if you don't like it, we can always, always stop. No questions asked."

At this point, Tyler felt like his head was spinning. "You're so sweet to me, J."

"So are you." He nuzzled his nose into his neck, making said boy giggle. "Also, just in case you don't remember, you're still a freaking tease."

Tyler gave him a playful smile. "Hey, I can't help it."

Josh grinned. "What goes around, comes around, baby boy."

Chapter Text

"My little lo-o-ve bu-u-g..."

Tyler giggled as soon as he heard the front door close and his Protector's voice ring through the air.

It had been a few hours since their "mischief" and while most of it had been spent watching a movie, they had decided in the last hour that they were hungry, so Josh went out to pick up a pizza, along with some drinks.

But now he was back and Tyler was so glad. Even though Josh had only been gone for a little over 30 minutes, he still missed him terribly... but that was his Time Keeper for him.

The smile returned to his face when Josh appeared with the pizza box in one hand and several bags in the other. "I'm back, angel," he said, flashing him a sweet smile. "You staying cozy?"

Pulling his blanket up so it covered his face, Tyler giggled again, his toes curling a little at the sight of his most favorite person in the world. "Mhm. I missed you."

"I missed you too, sweet boy." Josh came over and placed a soft kiss on his forehead. "You want a drink? It's okay if you don't."

"Maybe just a sip of yours." Tyler gave him a tiny smile. "I'm still only twenty, you know."

"So? You'll be twenty-one soon enough." Josh stuck his tongue out at him. "But look at you being a good boy. I'm proud of you."

Tyler giggled. "Only for you, J."

"Oh, I got some Sprite if you want that."

"Mm, that sounds good."

"Let me go and get some plates and cups."

"No, let me." Tyler pulled the blanket back down, a shy but willing smile on his face. "I know it's still Happy Tyler Day but I want to do at least something for you."

Josh knew it'd be pointless to try and argue with him so he just held his hands up, laughing a little. "Okay, be my guest, darling."

Pleased with his reaction, Tyler hurried off to the kitchen. After filling a glass with some ice and grabbing two plates out of the cabinet, he returned to see Josh struggling to open up his wine cooler. "Need some help?" he asked as he set everything down on the coffee table.

Josh looked up at Tyler, a quizzical expression on his face before he handed the bottle to him.

Almost with a graceful elegance, the younger boy cracked it open before handing it back to him. "Here you go."

"Whoa, that was sick!" Josh exclaimed. "How did you open it so fast?"

Tyler shrugged. "Lots of practice, I guess. Always had to have an open beer waiting for my ex-Protector when he came home from work."

"Oh." Josh placed his drink down before reaching out for Tyler's hands. "Does me drinking bother you? Because I swear to you, I will throw this whole case away right now if it does."

The brunette shook his head. "No, not at all." He squeezed Josh's hands and gave him a small smile. "I know you won't hurt me. Not like he did."

"I wouldn't dream of it, Tyler. I'd rather kill myself than even think about hurting you." Leaning over, Josh pulled him into a tight hug. "But are you certain?"

Tyler accepted the hug, grateful to share some physical contact with his Protector. "Positive."

"Well, if you change your mind, just let me know, okay?" Josh gave him a sweet smile when he nodded in response. "Oh, and thank you for opening my drink."

He giggled. "You're welcome, Josh."

Josh filled up Tyler's cup with Sprite and the two set in on their pizza, making light conversation with each other as yet another movie played on in the background.

"So, guess who called me while I was at the store?"

Tyler bit his bottom lip as he tried to guess who it might've been. "Umm... Fynnley?"

"Nah, not this time. He's not that significant." Josh laughed before clearing his throat. "Um, it was my mom. She called to tell me they're going to get a new dog in a few weeks."

He smiled. "Aw, that's so sweet. I love animals."

"Yeah, it is. So that conversation led into her inviting me over for dinner."

"That's good, J! When does she want you to come over?"

"Wednesday night." Josh nudged Tyler's leg with his knee. "Um, I also told her there's someone I wanted to bring with me for them to meet."

Tyler's heart nearly stopped at the thought of meeting Josh's parents, especially after all he had heard about them. "Oh, gosh..."

"Only if you're okay with it, though," Josh added quickly. "I know my parents can be a real pain in the a--" He stopped when Tyler raised an eyebrow. "--behind. But you're really important to me, Tyler, and I want them to know you."

"Meeting them is all fine and dandy, but..." Tyler looked away, his hand instinctively moving to cover up his Time Keeper symbol. "...what about me being a Keeper?"

"I don't want to hide you, Tyler. I want them to know the real you, and if they don't like it, then that's their problem. I'll still lo-- um, I mean, like you, no matter what they say."

Tyler's eyes slowly returned to Josh's gaze. "You... you promise?"

"I promise." Reaching for his hand again, Josh curled his pinky around the younger boy's. "Let's pinky promise on it, just to be safe."

And just like that, the smile was back on Tyler's face. "Okay, pinky promise." He let out a small sigh after they sealed their promise. "I don't even have anything nice to wear."

"Looks like we're going to have to set you up an appointment with Columbus' best-dressed house manager, Fynnley Harrington."

Tyler laughed. "Yeah, I think he enjoys it more than I do when we go shopping."

"I bet." Josh leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "I've gotta go into the office tomorrow morning but I'll let Fynn use the credit card so you two can go look for something nice. And don't worry about the price tag, sweetheart, just get whatever catches your eye."

"So, if I see a $500 tie, I can buy it?" He giggled.

"Naughty boy," Josh teased. "I mean, technically, sure, but how about we save the expensive ties for somewhere nicer than my parents' house?"

"Fair enough." Tyler's eyes lit up. "Oh, can I buy you something too?" He gave him a sheepish smile. "If it's okay with you, that is. After all, it's your money."

Josh chuckled. "Of course you can, baby doll. Fynn knows all my measurements."

Tyler bounced up and down, a huge grin on his face. "I hope I can find something you'll like."

He leaned over and gave him a kiss. "If it's coming from you, Ty, then I'm sure I'll love it."

The brunette giggled. "Your lips taste like pizza."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Josh teased.

"That just means it's time for some ice cream." Tyler giggled again before settling back and pulling the blanket back over his body. "You know, so our kisses will taste like chocolate and vanilla."

Josh chuckled. "You read my mind, baby boy."

Chapter Text

Annaliese: Tyler baaaabbyyyy

Tyler was excited when he received a text from Annaliese the following afternoon.

Tyler: annaliese baaaaabbyyyy

Annaliese: I miss you! How are you doing?

Tyler: miss you too :) I'm okay. getting ready to go out shopping

Annaliese: I love shopping!

Tyler: lol yeah I'm supposed to be going to meet jish's parents on wednesday night so fynnley is taking me to look for something nice to wear. they don't know me and that I'm a keeper and all that haha..

*josh's parents but I kinda like jish too

Annaliese: I'm sure they'll love you!!

Tyler: hope so :( I'm really nervous

Annaliese: Don't be, sweetness. You'll be fine.

Tyler: thanks annaliese. <3 hey I have an idea

Annaliese: What's that?

Tyler: you should come shopping with us. :)

Annaliese: Really? Little 'ol me?

Tyler: of course, I want you to meet fynnley and hang out with us. <3

Annaliese: Aww, bless. <3 I'd love to! Where are you guys going?

Tyler: I think we are gonna start at the mall and go from there. how does that sound?

Annaliese: Sounds good to me. ^_^ I'll meet you there!

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"I don't know if I can handle two Keepers at the same time. Sounds like a recipe for trouble."

Tyler couldn't help but laugh at the smirk on Fynn's face. The blonde had been nothing short of thoroughly amused ever since he'd asked if Annaliese could tag along with them on their shopping adventure.

"I think you'll be able to keep us in line. Once a Protector, always a Protector, right?"

Fynn chuckled a little, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Right." Shuffling back and forth on his feet, he looked around at the hustle and bustle of the mall. "So when is the woman of the hour supposed to be here?"

"Should be any minute now."

Almost as if on cue, said girl came through the front doors, looking around for a moment before locking eyes with Tyler. "Ty!" she exclaimed before running over and throwing her arms around him.

Tyler hugged her back, a big smile on his face. "Hey, Annaliese, I'm glad you could make it."

"Me too!" When she pulled away, her attention went from Tyler to the tall blonde standing next to him. "I take it this is the Fynnley I've heard so much about?"

"Hopefully all good things." Fynn chuckled before offering his hand out to her. "You can call me Fynn."

She shook his hand, laughing a little. "You're a lot taller than I expected!"

Fynn snorted. "And you're a lot shorter than I expected."

"Wow, making fun of the Asian girl's height, how rude." She stuck her tongue out at him. "I'm 5'3" to be exact."

"6'2" to be exact," he retorted.

Tyler giggled. "Okay, if you two are done flirting with each other, we should get started."

Annaliese scoffed. "As if. My Protector's way cuter than him."

Fynn ran a hand through his hair, a smug look on his face. "Hey, nobody's cuter than Fynnley Harrington."

The younger boy grabbed onto both of their hands and pulled them away. "Okay, my two cuties, let's get going."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"You're going to look so good on Wednesday night, Tyler!"

Two hours later, Tyler and Annaliese were sharing a cup of ice cream together while Fynn looked around the Gamestop for some new video game that just came out. Thanks to the great advice and feedback from his friends, Tyler had bought a suit and tie combo, along with a couple of new dress shirts for Josh.

"Aww, you think so?" He gave her a shy smile.

"For sure!" Annaliese nudged him in the arm with her elbow. "Josh's parents are gonna adore you."

"Thank you." His smile turning into a soft one, he nudged her back. "I adore you. Thank you for all your help, Annaliese."

"Stop, you'll make me blush." She giggled. "Of course. I adore you too, Ty! Also, I bet Josh won't be able to take his eyes off of you."

Tyler set his spoon down, wanting to hide his blushing face. "I don't know if I can handle that. My Time Keeper already goes crazy every time I see him."

"I went through that with Noah. It's a fun feeling, so enjoy it while it lasts." She smiled. "It still gets that way every once in a while but now it's more of a... contented feeling. I love him and I know he loves me, so I'm happy."

"Well, I know it's still too early to tell him this, but..." Tyler's cheeks turned an even darker shade of red as his voice lowered to a whisper. "I think I'm starting to fall in love with him."

Annaliese squealed, catching the attention of the other tables. "Aw, Tyler!"

He buried his face inside of his hands, a bit embarrassed by all the eyes on them. "Annaliese, not so loud," he groaned.

"Oops, sorry. Got a little carried away." She gave him a sheepish grin when he took his hands away from his face. "You totally need to tell him how you feel, though!"

"I'm too shy," he mumbled. "Besides, it's only been three months. I feel like it's still too early."

"Yeah, I understand." She reached over and laid her hand on top of his. "I remember the first time I told Noah that I loved him. Wasn't planning on it at all, it just kinda slipped out one morning when we were saying goodbye to each other." Her eyes glazed over as she reminisced over the memory. "I can still see the smile he had on his face when he said 'I love you too.' Which was good, because I was gonna pee my pants if he didn't say it back."

Tyler laughed. "Aw, that's so sweet. I want to tell him... but only when the moment feels right. Does that make any sense?"

She patted his hand. "Perfect sense." Grinning, she gave him a wink. "Just don't say it for the first time after sex, that would be kind of cheesy."

Tyler's cheeks started burning at the mention of the word 'sex.' Running his hand up and down his arm, he tried to avoid his friend's gaze. "Um... Josh and I haven't had sex yet."

Annaliese gasped. "Seriously?"

He nodded, chewing at his bottom lip as he worried what her reaction might be. "Seriously."

"That's so cute!" And there was that delightful squeal again. "I think it's so sweet that you guys aren't banging like bunnies already."

"Oh, gosh." Tyler was more than embarrassed, there was no doubt about it, but he was also pleasantly surprised that Annaliese wasn't making fun of his lack of a sex life.

"Sorry, I'm being weird." She giggled before eating another spoonful of their melting ice cream. "I don't know Josh that well yet but I can tell he treats you well."

A soft smile on his face, Tyler nodded. "He does. He's so sweet and patient with me." He cleared his throat. "My old Protector didn't have much interest in me... but on the rare occasion he did, he tried to push me to go all the way with him. And I didn't want to, because one, I wasn't ready, and two, I was scared he'd be too rough and hurt me. So I paid for it later, of course, but at least I was able to keep my virginity."

Frowning, she gave Tyler a compassionate look. "Aw, sweetness. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I know I'm never gonna fully understand how much your old Protector put you through but I'm just so glad you got out of that situation and you're with someone who genuinely cares about you now. You deserve that and so much more, Tyler."

"Thank you, Annaliese. You deserve that too." He smiled at her. "I'm so glad we met. It's nice not to feel so alone anymore."

"Same here." She slid her bangles down her arm, exposing her Time Keeper symbol, before placing her arm next to his. "We're Keepers, right? We need to stick together."

"Right." Tyler picked up his spoon before placing it back down again, a nagging question on the tip of his tongue. "So, um... are you and Noah banging like bunnies?"

Annaliese broke out into a fit of giggles. "That's only for me to know, Tyler Joseph!"

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"You know, Josh says I can't bake, but these brownies are going to prove that redhead wrong!"

Tyler was about... half-listening to Fynn as he ranted on about sweets while cooking dinner/baking dessert. It had been a few hours since they got back home but as far as Tyler was concerned, his mind was still in the food court with Annaliese, giggling away about things he wouldn't dare discuss with Fynn... or even his own Protector for that matter.

It wasn't that he was even horny, per se, just... insatiably curious. And it wasn't even really him, it was his Time Keeper calling all the shots, as usual.

"Tyler... oh, Ty-ler..."

Said boy snapped out of his thoughts to see Fynn staring at him. "Oh, I'm sorry," he mumbled, shaking his head a little. "What did you say?"

Fynn raised his eyebrow at his attention lapse. "I asked how you were feeling."

"Oh." Tyler pulled his legs up onto the bar stool. "I'm ok. Just feeling a little... jittery."

"Jittery?" The blonde frowned. "Are you okay? Do you need me to get you something?"

He shook his head again. "No, I'm okay. My Time Keeper's just being... weird right now."

"Oh, yeah?" Fynn raised another eyebrow, a coy look on his face. "You know, whenever Oliver said that, he was usually in the mood to... you know."

Tyler willed the ground to open up and swallow him whole but, unfortunately, the floor just stared back at him with a sense of contempt. "Oh, my gosh, you're too much..."

"What? I'm just being honest. I know how you Keepers can be. And besides..." He gave him a wink. "You know how to take care of yourself now, don't you?"

Rolling his eyes, Tyler groaned before hopping off the stool. "Ugh, I'm going to my room. Just tell me when dinner's ready."

"Aye-aye, Ty-Guy!" Fynn snickered. "Have fun."

"Yeah, as if!" he called over his shoulder as he left the kitchen.

Within a few minutes, Tyler was in his room, huffing a little as he searched around on his bed for his notebook. He really needed a creative release, especially after Fynn teased him like that. Deep down, he knew his friend meant well but it was still so embarrassing.

He hated how, despite the fact that he was nearly twenty-one, he was still so awkward when it came to sexuality and intimacy. Forget the fact that he didn't know much about either subject... but he'd actually grinded on Josh until he came, for Pete's sake, and yet he was still so incredibly weird about it.

Intimacy was a weird concept for him. Before he met Josh, the idea of baring one's soul and sharing warmth (among other things) with someone was a borderline revolting thought. But now that some time had gone by and Josh wasn't such an unfamiliar person anymore, the idea really wasn't so bad.

Take away the fact that a need for affection and love were hard-wired into his entire existence as a Keeper, and underneath all of the fear and insecurity was a true, honest desire to be close to Josh in many more ways than one.

Josh was so sweet with him, though, a fact he would be eternally grateful for. He knew his Protector had hormones just like any other guy, yet he was still so patient and gentle, never implying that he had to receive something Tyler wasn't quite ready to give away yet.

At this point, his notebook had been long forgotten as he indulged in the new, exciting feelings that started inside his Time Keeper and radiated throughout his bones, exciting his senses and sparking hints of wonder.

Tangling himself up into his blanket, he curled up into a ball, giggling a little as the tick, tick, tick sped up a little inside of his arm.

Josh, Josh, Josh...

"Tyler?"

Peeking out from underneath the blanket, his heart nearly stopped when he saw a confused-looking Josh standing in the doorway. "Ty? You okay?"

Eyes widening, Tyler flailed around as he tried to untangle himself. "Josh, I, uh, jeez, uh..."

Josh hurried over and helped him get out of the blanket. "Slow down, hun, I got you." Once he was out, he paused to take in the bewildered look on his Keeper's face. "Are you okay? Your pupils are, like, blown right now."

Tyler gave him a nervous smile, his hands shaking a little as he tried to calm his nerves (and hormones). "Yeah, uh, never better."

Josh raised an eyebrow. "Fynn told me you were feeling a little weird." He wasn't going to mention the whole 'being too soft for his own good' part. "Anything I can do to help?"

Eyes growing bigger and bigger with every minute that went by, he gave Josh a shy smile. "I haven't seen you all day, so a kiss would be really nice."

"Just one kiss?" Josh teased as he came closer.

Giggling, Tyler threaded his fingers through the redhead's hair as he closed the distance between them. "Maybe one, maybe ten," he muttered before pressing his lips to Josh's.

After a few soft kisses, he started to smile, hands still trembling a little as they memorized every subtle curl in the hair he had grown to know and love.

"What's got you smiling, love?" Josh asked, nuzzling his nose against Tyler's neck, making tiny shivers go up and down his arms.

"Nothing," Tyler said softly. "I just really missed you today."

Josh hummed in response, a warm smile on his face. "I missed you too, sweet boy. You're all I think about when I'm at work." He kissed him on the forehead. "Fynn told me you found something to wear for Wednesday?"

Tyler nodded. "Can't wait for you to see it."

"I'm sure you'll look totally sexy, babe."

And just like that, he broke into a fit of tiny giggles. "Joshua, I'm not sexy."

"Yes, you are!" Josh exclaimed before launching another one of his legendary tickle attacks onto Tyler. "My beautiful, sexy baby boy! And don't you forget it!"

Laughing harder than he had all day, Tyler finally managed to grab Josh's hands after a few moments of tickling. "Ha, got you."

"I let you." Josh stuck his tongue out at him and grinned. "You're so silly."

"So are you." Letting go of Josh's hands, he scooted in a little closer so he could lean his head onto his shoulder. "Oh, I bought you some shirts, they're hanging up in your closet. I hope you'll like them." He laughed a little. "But I won't be offended if you totally hate them."

"I'm sure I'll love them, sweetheart." After a few moments of silence, he picked up Tyler's hand and pressed it over his heart. "Feel that?"

A bit mesmerized by how nice Josh's heartbeat felt, he nodded. "Yeah. It's your heart."

"It is," Josh said softly before kissing him on the lips. "And it's all for you."

Fearing that he might spontaneously melt into a puddle, the brunette held his free hand up to his lips, eyes squeezing shut as he blushed and smiled away. "Really?"

"Really." He pressed a breathless kiss to his forehead, cherishing the warm feeling inside of his chest. "And nothing's ever gonna change that, okay? No matter how fast or how slow we go with each other... I'm with you. Always."

Tyler wanted to cry at how Josh always seemed to know the right thing to say. "Even if I'm awkward and come way too soon in my pants?"

Josh chuckled. "I mean, coming in your pants is always a bit of a risk when you're around me..."

Laughing a little, Tyler tapped him on the tip of his nose. "Silly goose."

Grinning, the redhead brought Tyler into a hug, lulling the boy's Time Keeper into a more calm and relaxed state. "Remember... always."

Squeezing his eyes shut, Tyler tightened his grip around his Protector as four words burned from the bottom of his lungs to the tip of his tongue, desperately wanting their way out into the open air.

I love you, Joshua.

Chapter Text

"So, Tyler, what do you do for work?"

All eyes seemed to be on Tyler as he sat around the dining room table with Josh and his surprisingly curt parents. Ever since they'd arrived a half hour ago, Mr. and Mrs. Dun had been drilling Tyler with question after question.

"Um... I'm not working at the moment." Tyler poked at the chicken on his plate. He wasn't quite sure how to say 'I live with your son and he's basically my sugar daddy/Protector right now,' so he didn't elaborate any further.

"If he's living with you, he really should be pulling his weight," Mrs. Dun mumbled underneath her breath before taking a sip of her wine.

Josh frowned. "Mom, that's so rude."

She just shrugged in response. "But it's true. Nobody likes living with a freeloader."

Noticing the defeated expression on Tyler's face, Josh quickly jumped to his defense before things escalated. "For your information, Mom, I know for a fact that Tyler is a hard-working guy. He may not have a job but I'll be damned if he doesn't do a good job keeping me and my house in order. Him and Fynn are always splitting the chores and he is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a freeloader."

Tyler's frown turned into a smile, feeling absolutely honored by Josh's words. There were only a few things truly coveted by Keepers and one was the approval of their Protector.

Moving his hand underneath the table, he let it rest on top of Josh's knee before giving it a gentle squeeze. "Thank you," he whispered.

Mrs. Dun, not surprisingly, was speechless, her lips pressed tightly together as she went back to cutting her chicken. Mr. Dun, on the other hand, seemed rather impressed, though he wouldn't dare admit it in front of his wife.

After a few minutes of silence, Josh finally broke it again when he set his silverware down and cleared his throat. "Mom and Dad, I know you're aware that Tyler is staying with me. But we're a little bit more than just roommates." When he saw their eyebrows raise, he gulped, anxious over what he was about to tell them. But when he glanced over and saw the supportive look in Tyler's eyes, it urged him to go on. "As both of you already know, I'm bisexual. Tyler is my boyfriend. But... that's not all." Reaching underneath the table, he brought Tyler's hand onto the table with him before interlacing their fingers. "Tyler is a Keeper. And I'm his Protector."

Mrs. Dun gasped as she dropped her fork onto the table. "Joshua William Dun!"

"Is this true, son?" Mr. Dun asked, his tone considerably calmer than his wife's.

Swallowing thickly, Josh nodded, willing his voice not to waver as he spoke. "Yes. And I want you both to know that I care for Tyler a lot, no matter what you think of him, and nothing is ever going to change that."

Choking on her words, Mrs. Dun looked like she was about to have a heart attack. "But Joshua, we raised you not to have unnecessary dealings with the "lower-class," and especially not with the likes of..." Her eyes narrowed to slits as she glared at Tyler. "...Keepers."

Josh shook his head. "I never, ever conformed to your narrow-minded views, Mom, and I never will. This may come as a surprise to you but Fynnley had a Keeper too." Her loud gasp confirmed to everyone that it definitely was a surprise. "Him and I have talked for hours on end about being a Protector. So when I found Tyler, I knew I wanted to take care of him, even though I had never done it before."

He paused before sighing. "I'm not asking for your approval, even though I would love to have it. But what I am asking for is your support. Tyler is very special to me, and I want him to be a part of your lives too."

Mrs. Dun jumped up from her chair, slamming her fists down on the table. "No son of mine will have a Keeper!" And with that, she threw her napkin down and stormed out of the dining room.

Tyler felt like he was stuck in the middle of a bad drama movie. Could things have possibly gone any worse?

Expecting a similar reaction from Mr. Dun, he was surprised when he noticed the calm look on the older man's face, seemingly undisturbed by all the drama.

"Dad?" Josh's voice came out cautiously.

"Josh... I'm not mad at you." He cleared his throat. "While I am a bit... surprised by all this, I'm not against it. You're a grown man, and you're entitled to live your life however and with whomever you want to. Now, I don't know much about Keepers, but I think what you're doing is for a very noble cause." Turning his attention to Tyler, he gave him a polite smile. "My son is quite intelligent and charming, as I'm sure you already know. Don't let that get away from you."

Tyler gave him a small, albeit forced smile in return. "I don't plan on it, sir."

"Please, call me Bill." He brought his wine glass up to his lips, a thoughtful expression on his face. "All I expect is for you two to treat each other right. The rest is just an afterthought. So I suppose you could say you have my approval."

Josh was astonished, to say the least. "Wow, thank you, Dad. That seriously means a lot."

"Of course. However, I can't exactly say the same for your mother." Bill sighed, shaking his head. "I think she forgets about her 'rags to riches' story. She fails to realize that not everyone can be as fortunate as we've been over the years. It's quite a shame, if you ask me."

Inside his mind, Josh was shocked by how... humble his father was being right now. This certainly wasn't the man he had grown up with. Did he truly mean what he said or was this all just part of an act?

"Maybe she'll come around," Tyler offered.

Bill chuckled. "You're betting on a rigged game there, Tyler. But anything is possible." Sighing, he stood up from his seat, taking his glass of wine with him. "Ms. Carmen fixed an apple pie to go with our dinner tonight, which you two are welcome to have a slice of. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to catch the rest of tonight's game."

They nodded in response.

"You two are welcome to join me afterwards," he continued. "But you know how your mother can get, Josh, so it might be in your best interests to leave and let her cool off for a while."

Josh didn't have to be reminded of the countless times his mother had lost it on one or both of them throughout his childhood. "Yeah, I know."

After Mr. Dun left the room, Tyler wanted to say a million things at once to Josh but found the only thing he could actually manage to get out was a tiny 'hello.'

"Hello," Josh replied, smiling a little. "So that's my parents. A bit on the crazy side, huh?"

Tyler laughed. "You've never met my family then. They were crazy but I loved them."

In the back of his mind, Josh wondered why Tyler referred to his family in the past sense. Weren't they still around? Didn't he get to talk to them on a somewhat regular basis?

Sensing that this wouldn't be the best time to bring it up, he focused his attention elsewhere. "Are you ready for some pie? You'll love it."

"Sure." He gave Josh a shy smile. "Could we share a piece? I just don't know if I..."

Josh put a finger up to Tyler's lips before returning the smile. "Of course we can, hun, I'm way ahead of you."

"Thanks," Tyler whispered before leaning over and pecking a kiss on his cheek.

"By the way, you did so well eating your food tonight, Ty. I'm so proud of you."

Blushing, the brunette wanted to hide his face away from Josh and all of his endearing compliments. "Thank you, I appreciate it."

"Mhm," he hummed in response. "It's been a night. I'm ready to go home and relax."

"So am I."

"Hey..." Leaning in closer, Josh nuzzled his nose into that one special spot on Tyler's neck that always made him giggle. "When we get home, how does a nice, hot bath sound?"

Tyler's eyes lit up. "Will there be bubbles?"

Josh pressed a quick kiss to the side of his neck. "All the bubbles in the world, baby boy."

Squirming a little at the sensation, Tyler blushed and nodded eagerly as an overwhelming sense of excitement built inside of his chest.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Close your eyes, Joshua! And no peeking!"

Already inside the tub, Josh laughed as he put his hands over his face. "Okay, okay, I'm not looking." He resisted the urge to peek even just a little bit through the spaces between his fingers, wanting to respect Tyler's privacy.

Face and neck almost as red as Josh's hair, Tyler slipped his underwear off from around his hips and down his legs before tossing them onto the clothes pile in the corner of the bathroom. Being careful not to slip and fall, he stepped into the bathtub before sitting down on the opposite end from Josh. "It's so hot," he hissed out.

"Want me to run some cold water for you, baby?" Josh asked, his hands still pressed tightly over his face.

Tyler giggled. He had to admit that Josh looked a little silly right now. "No, I'll be okay, thank you." As he settled down into the water, the initial burn on his skin turned into a pleasant, relaxing feeling.

"Can I open my eyes now?"

"Mmm..." The brunette bit his lip, feeling a little playful. "I think you should keep your eyes closed the entire time we're in here!"

Josh made a fake pouty face. "Aww, but I wanted to look at my Tyler's beautiful face..."

Giggling again, Tyler nudged Josh's foot with his own. "Okay, silly goose, you can open your eyes." His heart started beating just a little bit faster as he watched Josh's eyelids flutter open.

"Oh, look, Tyler's here!" Josh gasped before smiling and scooping up some bubbles to blow at him.

"Dork," Tyler mumbled, a coy smile on his face. "I can't believe we're taking a bath together."

"We're just two dudes taking a bath, nothing weird about that. I needed a good soak anyway."

"Me too." Tyler shifted around in the tub so his feet were on either side of Josh's thighs. "Hey, can I tell you something?"

The expression on Josh's face softened as he prepared himself for whatever Tyler had on his mind. "Of course, darling, anything."

"I wanted to thank you for what you said about me earlier. That was really brave of you to stand up to your mom like that." He scratched at the back of his head. "Even though I get the feeling she isn't too keen on me at the moment..."

Josh gave him a smile. "She'll get over it."

An uncertain look came over Tyler's features. "You don't really think I'm a freeloader, do you?"

"Of course not, sweetheart. You're my Keeper and I want to take care of and provide for you. But even if that weren't the case, you still contribute so much to the household. You help Fynn out, you tidy up after yourself." Reaching underneath the water, he laid a hand on top of Tyler's foot. "And if you ever want to work, that's fine. But if you don't, that's fine with me too. Like I said, I want to take care of you." He smiled. "I adore you, Tyler."

Tearing up at Josh's sweet words, the brunette felt like disappearing underneath the bubbles with how hard he was blushing right now. "Thank you," he whispered, toes curling a little underneath the older man's touch. "I adore you too, Joshua."

Picking Tyler's foot up out of the water, Josh rested it on top of his shoulder before giving it a massage. "Not to change the subject, but might I mention how absolutely stunning you looked tonight... dare I even say sexy?"

He giggled. "Aww, thank you, Josh. You looked great too. I loved the shirt that you had on."

"I bet, since it's the one you picked out for me." Josh gave him a playful smile. "No, seriously, I love all of them, sweetheart. Thank you."

"Good, I'm glad to hear that." Teasing the side of Josh's neck with his toe, he smiled. "You know, your dad seems pretty cool."

"He's definitely not as neurotic as my mother. But don't worry, I think she'll come around." He pressed a chaste kiss to the very tip of Tyler's big toe. "I wish you knew how adorable you look right now."

Tyler giggled a little at the brief contact. "That tickles," he mumbled.

A sly smile tugged at the corner of Josh's lips, fingers arching against the foot on his shoulder. "It tickles, huh?"

"Don't you dare."

"I can't resist, baby." Teasing the side of his foot with his fingernails, he smirked when Tyler flinched a little.

"You know, Josh... seeing that my other foot is literally inches away from your private parts, I wouldn't do that if I were you."

When Tyler raised a quizzical-looking eyebrow at him, Josh broke out into laughter. "You're being awfully sassy tonight, lovebug!"

He chuckled. "Aren't I always?"

"Not always. Most of the time, you're my shy, sweet baby doll."

"I still am," he said, nudging Josh's neck with his toe again. "Just with a little bit of sassiness mixed in."

The redhead sat up before moving closer to Tyler. "C'mere, sassy boy."

Leaning forward, Tyler let his Protector guide him into a kiss. Stomach exploding into a million butterflies, they kissed for a few moments as the younger boy's hands explored up and down Josh's shoulders and arms.

After a while, Josh pulled away from the kiss. The words on Tyler's tongue disintegrated into nothing but a soft moan when the redhead pressed wet lips to his neck.

"J-Josh," he breathed out, fingernails lightly scratching down his Protector's back.

"Feel good, baby?" Josh murmured against his skin.

"Mhm," he hummed before smiling. "You're so sweet to me, Jishwa."

Josh giggled, which made Tyler smile. "Did you just call me Jishwa?"

"Oh, yes, sorry. It just popped into my head," Tyler admitted, his smile turning bashful. "Do you hate it?"

"No, I love it," Josh said, trailing his kisses up from Tyler's neck to his face before finally stopping on the top of his forehead. "Jishwa and Ty, a sassy but sweet Keeper and an anxious but mildly confused Protector against the world."

Giggling, Tyler sat up onto his knees, being careful to keep his lower half hidden underneath the bubbles. Leaning his head onto the older man's shoulder, he let his lips linger by his earlobe, eyes taking in the way his red strands curled a little on the nape of his neck.

"I adore you," he whispered into his ear, a soft smile on his lips and a light pink blush dusted across his cheeks.

Chapter Text

It had been almost six months since Josh had found Tyler and sealed their alliance as Keeper and Protector. Aside from the occasional disagreement, things had been going really well and they were getting to the point where they knew all the little details about each other.

On the very eve of their anniversary, early in the morning, Tyler found his way into Josh's bed.

"Good morning," Tyler whispered into Josh's ear before throwing his arms around him, wanting to be as close to him as physically possible.

"Morning, baby boy," Josh greeted him, voice still a bit hoarse. He cleared his throat a little before wrapping his arm around Tyler's shoulder. "You're being awfully cuddly today."

"Am I?" Tyler gave him a shy smile. "I love cuddling with you, you always smell so nice."

"Do I?" Josh smiled. "You always smell like... body wash and adorableness."

The brunette giggled. "J, I'm pretty sure 'adorableness' isn't a smell."

"It is when it comes to you," he teased. "What do I smell like?"

"Coffee and Joshua-ness." He giggled again before dipping his face into the crook of Josh's neck. "Sorry, I'm being silly."

"No, no, I like it when you're silly." Josh turned over so he could kiss Tyler on the forehead. "What's on your mind, sweetness?"

"You." Tyler smiled. "Tomorrow's our six-month anniversary."

Josh grinned back. "I know, isn't it exciting?" He gave him a gentle poke in the side. "Hope you aren't too tired of me already."

"No, you dork," Tyler said, laughing a little, though it sounded more dry than anything. "More like I hope you aren't tired of me. I'm needy and I whine too much." He sighed. "Josh, I know I haven't been the best Keeper to you this week. It's because of the depression, even though I know that's not an excuse. So I really want to apologize because..."

"Ty, Ty, baby boy," Josh cut in, putting a finger up to his lips. "Shh. First off, you don't whine too much. Second, I don't mind if you're needy. I'm your Protector and part of being that for you is making sure you feel secure. Even if it involves you demanding cuddles from me at two o'clock in the morning." He chuckled when Tyler cracked the tiniest of smiles. "You don't need to apologize for any of that, okay?"

Tyler nodded. "I guess I've just been having one of my "down" weeks." He sighed a little. "I'm really happy with you, Josh, and I remind myself all the time of how blessed I am to be with you. But sometimes I feel like I'm being... ungrateful because of my depression."

"Oh, sweetheart..." Pulling Tyler even closer, Josh pressed soft kisses all over his cheeks, heart pulling when he tasted warm, salty tears. "Shh, shh, don't cry, baby boy. Please listen to me: You're not ungrateful. Even people who have everything they could ever dream of still deal with mental health issues. I know you're going to have your good days and your bad days." He wiped away any leftover tears from Tyler's face. "But none of that changes how we feel about each other. No matter what happens, you're still my baby boy and I'm still your Jishwa. I promise."

Tyler wanted to start crying again, this time from how thankful he was to have such a wonderful man in his life. "Thank you, Josh. I don't know what else to say except 'thank you.' I don't deserve to have you in my life."

"You deserve everything your heart could ever want and more." He gave Tyler a gentle kiss on the lips. "So dry your eyes, lovebug," he said softly. "I wanna see that beautiful smile of yours."

He gave him the sweetest smile he could manage. "Hey, J?"

"Yes, my love?"

"I'm hungry."

Josh chuckled. "You go from here to there, don't you?"

"Of course. I'm trying to be good this weekend."

"What do you mean?"

"Today and tomorrow, for our anniversary, I want to try and eat three full meals. We both know how hard it's been for me to eat on a regular basis. But you've never stopped encouraging me. So I want to show you that I'm getting better."

"Wow, Ty." Josh had the biggest smile on his face. "That really means so much."

"And it would mean the world to me if I could try for you."

"Okay, baby, let's give it a shot then. Let's start off with something light for breakfast, like cereal." Josh chuckled before leaning in to kiss him on the cheek. "And then after we're done with that..." His eyes squinted a little as his voice turned sing-songy. "I have a surprise for you!"

Tyler's eyes lit up. "Really? What kind of surprise?"

"If I told you, then it wouldn't be a surprise, now would it?" Josh teased. "C'mon, let's eat, take our showers and then see what kind of mischief we can get ourselves into, yeah?"

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Tyler nodded. Patience was not his strong suit but if the surprise was coming from Josh, he knew that, nine times out of ten, he'd probably love it.

"I'll get the coffee started."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *    * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Tyler squirmed around for about the twentieth time in ten minutes as he held his hands over his face. "When can I open my eyes?"

"When we get there," Josh replied, laughing a little as he draped his wrists over the steering wheel. "Just a few more minutes."

He huffed a little. "Joshua, I swear to goodness, if you're taking me someplace weird..."

"Like a sex shop?"

"Oh my gosh," he groaned, shaking his head.

Josh chuckled. "No, we'll save that for next time. Seriously, though, I promise you we're not going anywhere weird. I know you're gonna love it."

"Drive faster!" Tyler whined, smiling a little.

"We're at a light, I can't go anywhere, silly goose!" Josh laughed. "We'll be there soon."

Resigning himself to waiting, the ticking inside of Tyler's arm sped up once the car started moving again. Just where was this Protector of his taking him?

Listening to the turn signal, he grounded his feet on the carpet as they made a right turn, willing himself not to get dizzy. As badly as he wanted to peek through his fingers and try to see where they were, he decided not to spoil the surprise and be (somewhat) good for Josh.

The car turned again and once he felt Josh stop and put the car into Park, he knew that they were at least... halfway there? Maybe?

Josh spoke again, his voice slow.  "Okay, on the count of three, I want you to open your eyes."

Heartbeat racing to keep pace with his Time Keeper, Tyler nodded eagerly as he bounced up and down in his seat. "Okay, Josh."

"One... two... three."

Tyler took his hands away from his face, the returning light almost unbearable. Blinking a few times, the first thing that came into view was a large building with three words etched across it in vibrant, fun colors.

 

 

COLUMBUS HUMANE SOCIETY

 

 

Gasping, Tyler's eyes lit up as pure excitement flooded his veins. "We're at an animal shelter?!"

"Sure are." Josh had a grin from ear to ear. "But that's only part one of the surprise; part two is inside."

Part... two?

The redhead laughed at Tyler's facial expression before reaching around to take off his seat belt. "C'mon, let's go see!"

Tyler didn't waste any time getting out of the car, feeling a bit antsy as he waited for Josh to get out and lock the car. Finally, after a moment or two, they walked through the entrance.

A friendly, middle-aged woman at the front desk greeted them when they came in. "Hello, what can I help you gentlemen with today?"

Josh smiled at the woman. "Hi, my name's Josh Dun. I believe I spoke on the phone earlier with... Leigh?"

She smiled back at him. "Oh, yes, that's me. It's nice to meet you, Josh. May I ask who this is that you have with you?"

"This is my boyfriend, Tyler."

"Hi," Tyler said softly, a shy smile on his face.

"Nice to meet you as well, Tyler." She turned back to her computer. "Now if I recall our earlier conversation, Josh, you were inquiring about our newest cat here, Stitches."

Stitches?

"You got it." Josh grinned. "Is he still here?"

"Surprisingly, yes. But he has been quite the celebrity today." She stood up from her chair. "Let me take you two to one of our socialization rooms to get settled before we bring him in."

Inside of his mind, Tyler was freaking out. Were they really about to meet a cat, and one named Stitches, at that? He wanted to scream, jump up and down, and cry all at the same time.

"I'm so excited," Tyler whispered into Josh's ear as they followed Leigh down the hallway.

"I'm glad you are, baby," Josh whispered back. "Me too."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"And here he is!"

Josh and Leigh couldn't help but smile at the squeal that came out of Tyler's mouth at the sight of Stitches.

Josh and Leigh couldn't help but to start smiling at the squeal that came out of Tyler's mouth at the sight of Stitches     

"He's beautiful," Tyler gushed as Leigh placed the cat into his arms

 

 

 "He's beautiful," Tyler gushed as Leigh placed the cat into his arms. "Hi, pretty baby," he said as he held Stitches up against his chest. "You're such a beautiful boy."

"Hey, you never call me all that," Josh teased. "Isn't he stunning?"

"Oh, my gosh, yes." He nuzzled his face into Stitches' fur, loving how soft and warm he felt in his arms. "He's beautiful."

"I'll leave you two to play with him for a bit," Leigh said, smiling at the adorable scene unfolding before her. "I'll come back in a little while and see how you're doing, okay?"

"Thank you," Josh replied before reaching over to rub the kitty on his head. After the door closed, he gave Tyler a big smile. "Meet part two of your surprise!"

"Is he... is he..." Tyler's voice faded away, not wanting to assume something he shouldn't.

"If you like him." Josh's voice came out gently. He leaned over and kissed Tyler on the cheek. "But only if you like him."

Tyler smiled. "I don't like him... I love him."

Stitches looked up at him and chirped, making him giggle away. Green eyes watching their every move, the cat batted at Josh's hands as the redhead teased him with his fingers.

After ten minutes of cuddling and playing, Leigh came back into the room, an expectant smile on her face. "So how is everything going?"

"Great," Josh replied. "He's so playful and sweet."

"Stitches is very playful but he is also well-socialized too as you can tell. We believe he may have been abandoned by his previous owner because it's very rare to find a stray Savannah cat. It's a shame, though, because they're such an exotic and highly sought after breed. That's why we put the adoption fee so high because we want him to go to a good home." She laughed. "We were getting calls quite literally minutes after we posted about him on our Facebook."

"Well, I think you may have to take it down..." Josh gave Tyler a knowing smile before turning to look at Leigh again. "We really, really like him and would like to take him home with us."

Her face lit up into a smile. "Fantastic! Shall I go get the paperwork for you then?"

"Yes, please," Tyler said softly.

"Before I go and do that, there's one thing I need to know. Would you like to keep his shelter name or change it? We need to have it for our records, just in case something happens."

Josh turned to look at Tyler. "Do you have any other names in mind?"

Tyler looked down at the kitty in his lap, scratching him behind his ear as a soft smile formed on his face. "Cheetah."

Chapter Text

Nestled in the corner of the sofa with a good book, Josh looked up to see Tyler pass by for the umpteenth time in the living room corridor with Cheetah in his arms. He didn't know exactly what his Keeper was doing but from the looks of it, he was circling around the downstairs area, kissing and nuzzling their new cat as he went.

The corner of his lips tugged a little at the thought of how excited Tyler had been when they brought Cheetah home yesterday. Josh had been nervous that the cat might be a little stand-offish at first but thankfully, he just sniffed around for a while before finding a basket of laundry to curl up and go to sleep in.

After some searching around, Josh and Tyler finally found a big enough litterbox, water bowl and food dispenser for him. (And, of course, Tyler just had to buy him a bunch of toys because what was a cat without stuff to play with?)

For now, though, Cheetah was settling in quite nicely. He seemed to be quite fond of Tyler... though, Josh could certainly think of one big reason why that might be.

When he saw Tyler pass by yet again, he finally placed his book down, laughing a little as he did. "Tyler?"

"Hm?" He sounded far away, so Josh called him into the living room. He appeared a few moments later with Cheetah still in his arms. Sitting down next to him on the couch, he smiled. "Hi, J."

"Hey you." Reaching over, he scratched Cheetah underneath the neck. "What are you doing? I keep seeing you go back and forth."

"Just showing Cheetah around the house." Tyler made a pouty face before nuzzling his face into his fur again. "Don't want him to get lost."

The redhead wanted to laugh at how adorable Tyler was being right now. "Mm, no, that wouldn't be good. But don't you think you ought to let him poke around by himself?" He laid a reassuring hand onto the younger boy's thigh. "Cheetah's smart, he'll come find you when he's done exploring."

"Oh..." Tyler nodded slowly before placing him onto the floor to which said feline looked up at him before sauntering away. A soft giggle left the brunette's lips. "Cheetah's so silly."

The redhead smiled. "That he is. You better watch out, though, he seems to have taken a liking to your hoodies."

"Guess we'll have to get used to cat hair now." Scooching closer to Josh, he laid his head onto his shoulder. "Hey, can I tell you something? I meant to tell you earlier, but I've been a little distracted." He gave him a sheepish smile.

"Of course, baby boy, I'm all ears."

"Well, in honor of our six-month anniversary, I wanted to tell you that... I think I'm ready to move my stuff into your bathroom."

Josh wanted to laugh but stifled it so he wouldn't offend Tyler. "Oh yeah? I think my toothbrush could use some company."

He giggled, hiding his face in the fabric of Josh's shirt. "Yeah, toothbrushes get lonely too, you know." Taking his face back out, he looked up at his Protector. "Also... I think I'm ready to move my stuff into your bedroom."

"I know a certain Protector who could use some company too." Josh teased before pulling Tyler into a kiss. "That makes me so happy, Ty! I'd love to have you with me."

Tyler threw his arms around him in a big hug. "So do I have to pay you rent?" he teased before sticking his tongue out at him.

"Yes, you can pay me in cuddles and bad jokes." Josh grinned. "And you better watch that tongue of yours, baby boy, someone might lick it."

Tyler nudged him in the side with his elbow. "Weirdo."

"Hey, to be fair, we haven't French kissed before. So you might actually like that."

Giggling again, Tyler leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Hey, you never know what we might get into now that we're bedmates."

"Ooh, la, la, so scandalous." If Tyler looked closely, he could see the tiniest hint of a blush on Josh's face. "Hey, I've got an idea!"

The younger boy raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Let's go buy some cool new bedroom stuff, in honor of you moving in... for the second time." He chuckled when Tyler smiled. "I'll even let you pick out some new sheets."

His face lit up into a smile. "Can we buy some galaxy sheets?"

"If we can find some, sure." Josh smothered the side of Tyler's neck with a bunch of tiny kisses. "We can buy anything you want, darling."

Giggling, he squirmed around a little at the sensation. "And a cute collar for Cheetah?"

Laughing, Josh stood up, pulling Tyler up along with him. "Maybe. Come on, Ty-Guy, let's go see what we can get ourselves into."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"I think a leopard-print pillow will go nicely with our new cat lady aesthetic."

Tyler laughed. "But it won't match with the rest of your room."

"So? There's always got to be a little randomness thrown in somewhere. Mind you, this is coming from the guy with bright red hair." Wrapping his finger around a few strands of hair, he frowned a little. "Well, faded red hair."

"You should get more hair dye so you can be bright again!"

"Well, I think I'm ready to change colors. But I don't know which one to pick. I've had pink, blue, purple, green, orange, red... what's next?"

"What's your natural hair color?"

"Black, if I remember correctly." Josh chuckled.

"Nothing wrong with going back to basics," Tyler said as he threw the pillow into the cart.

"Very true. I'll think about it." Pushing the cart out of the aisle, Josh let out a soft sigh. "So where to next, baby?"

"Let's just walk around for a bit."

And so they did, making their way up and down the seemingly endless aisles of Walmart. When they got to the kids section, Tyler slowed down to a stop as he noticed an entire end cap of pacifiers. "They're so cute!"

Josh smiled. "They sure are, Ty-Guy. Look, they even have a galaxy one." He wrapped an arm around Tyler's shoulder. "That would go nicely with our new sheets, huh?"

Tangling his fingers, the younger boy looked down at his feet as he felt shy all of a sudden. "It would, but... I think it'd be kinda weird for a twenty-year-old guy to have a pacifier."

"Says who?" He kissed the side of Tyler's forehead. "You know, I was in a relationship once with a girl who was a little and she liked having a pacifier. It was comforting to her."

"Um..." Tyler gave him a confused look. "What's a 'little'?"

Josh scratched the back of his neck, unsure of how to phrase it. "Uh... it's a bit too complicated to explain right in the middle of Walmart."

"Joshua," Tyler whined, pouting a little.

"Tell you what. Let's do some research together so you can learn more about it. I'm not saying you are one but it's still good to be aware of different relationship dynamics."

Tyler nodded. "Okay, J. So does that mean we could... maybe... get it?"

Letting go of his shoulder, Josh reached up and took the box off the shelf. "Way ahead of you, baby."

His face lit up at that. "Yay, thank you so much, sweetheart."

Josh smiled. "Aw, you called me 'sweetheart.'"

"Today's a special day." He giggled a little. "So feel special, okay?"

"I always do whenever I'm with you, baby doll."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

When Josh asked Tyler what he wanted to do for their anniversary that evening, he expected him to suggest a movie, maybe a nice dinner out or any of the other cute "couple-y things" there were to do around Columbus...

Not eating Chinese take-out, drinking champagne, watching silly movies on Netflix and cuddling under way too many blankets.

Josh could now officially confirm, with 100% absolute certainty, that Tyler was definitely a Keeper after his own heart.

As he looked at the sweet boy sitting next to him on the couch, his long legs looped over each other and a thoughtful expression on his face, Josh couldn't help but feel very, very proud.

"Hey, Tyler?"

Tyler turned to look at Josh, a noodle hanging out of his mouth. "Hm?"

"You've been doing so well with eating. I'm so proud of you." Josh smiled. "And not just for that. I noticed you didn't even wear your hoodie when we went to Walmart. I know that took a lot of courage for you to do. You're so brave."

He noticed that? Tyler was a bit dumbfounded by all of the compliments but pleasantly surprised, nonetheless. "Thank you so much..."

"Of course. Have you been feeling okay after you eat? I don't want you overdoing it."

"I was feeling a little sick after breakfast this morning but I think it's because I had too much coffee." Tyler gave him a small smile. "But besides that, yeah, I've been okay."

"Good." Josh leaned in and pecked a kiss onto his lips. "You're such a cutie, you know that?"

He smiled. "Nah, I think you're the cutie."

"No, you."

The two laughed before going back to their food. After Tyler finished his lo mein, he reached over to the end table and opened the second drawer. Josh watched out of the corner of his eye as said boy pulled out some sort of small... envelope?

"Jishwa?"

He tried his best to pretend he hadn't been totally watching what he was doing. "Hm?"

"I, um... I have a surprise for you too. You know, for our anniversary." He clutched the envelope against his chest, cheeks reddening a little. "I know it's nowhere near as good as a cat but I hope you'll still like it anyway." And with that, he held the envelope out to him.

Josh let out a soft 'aww' as he accepted it, heart pulling a little when he saw his name written on the front in delicate cursive. Sliding his thumb underneath the fold, being careful not to rip it, he opened it and gasped at what he pulled out.

It was a homemade card with a picture they had taken on the day they painted pottery glued to it. Right underneath the picture were the words 'My Best Friend' written in sparkly red ink.

Smile stretching from ear-to-ear, Josh opened the card and read what was inside.

Joshua,

These past six months have been wonderful. Before all of this, I never would have imagined that I would be with such a wonderful, caring man. You help me to see the light at the end of the tunnel and you're always there to pick me up when I'm down. And even though you've never been a Protector before this, I want you to know that you've been nothing but amazing to me. You're everything a Keeper could want and more. I love how there are still so many things I'm getting to know about you every day, yet there are just as many things I have already come to love about you.

You're my world, Joshua William Dun. I adore you. Happy anniversary, you silly goose.

-Ty(ler)

"Aww, Tyler!" Josh felt like crying after reading the card. "I don't even know what to say, that was gorgeous. Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Tyler's heart pulled, absolutely ecstatic that Josh liked his card. He threw his arms around him in a big hug. "Happy anniversary, Jish."

When he pulled away, Josh gave him a cheesy smile, the one Tyler had grown to know and love. "Happy anniversary, Tyler!"

But that wasn't the only thing...

"J?"

Said redhead turned to look at him again after putting the card on the other end table for safe-keeping. "Yes?"

His Time Keeper and heart going a mile a minute, he reached for Josh's hands, struggling to keep eye contact as his hands started to shake. "You know, people usually write 'love' at the end of cards."

Josh laughed a little. "Yes, I know."

"I didn't." He glanced down for a moment before locking eyes with Josh again, his stomach tightening into a knot. "Because I wanted to say it to you instead." He squeezed his hands as hard as he could. "I love you, Joshua."

Josh's face morphed into a huge smile, mind going crazy at what just happened. "I love you too, Tyler," he said back before giving him another hug. "I've been in love with you for a while now. I was just, uh, too scared to tell you."

Tyler was surprised. "Really? Me too. That and I didn't want it to seem like things were moving too fast." He frowned a little. "Is six months still too early? I hope not."

"No, you're actually five months too late in telling me." Josh gave him a playful smile. "Seriously, though, I appreciate you wanting to take things slow. It tells me you're serious about this and it's not all just some whirlwind, hormone-filled mess, like all of my past relationships."

Tyler couldn't really relate to the last part of his sentence but he still appreciated the sincere compliment. "Thank you, Josh. I appreciate you always being so patient with me."

"Of course, love." Josh gave him a kiss before settling back onto the couch, a big sigh leaving his lips. "Wow... what a day, huh?"

"I know. New roommates, shopping, 'I love you's' and champagne." They laughed before Tyler cuddled up next to Josh and laid his head on his shoulder. "Not to be redundant or anything like that, but..." He gave him a teasing smile. "I love you."

"And I love you, baby doll." He smiled, so happy they could express their feelings for each other openly now. "How about one more movie and then we go set up our room with the new stuff we bought?"

"Okay, but I call dibs on the new pillow!"

"Then I call dibs on cuddling with Cheetah tonight!"

Tyler stopped at that one. "Okay, never mind, you can have the pillow then."

Josh just laughed. "Silly, silly boy."

Chapter Text

"Fynnley..." Tyler couldn't help giggling at the bewildered look on the blonde's face. "He's not going to hurt you."

"But... he's huge!" Fynn backed away even further from Tyler as he came closer with Cheetah.

A few days had passed since Tyler had "moved into" Josh's room and things had been relatively uneventful ever since then. Excluding, of course, Fynnley nearly losing his mind every time he crossed paths with Cheetah (which, in a typical day at the Dun residence, was a lot).

"He's a sweetheart, though," Tyler cooed before pressing a big kiss to the cat's cheek. "He's my pet Cheetah."

"But he hissed at me earlier."

Tyler looked at Cheetah. "Is that true, baby boy? Were you being mean to Fynn?" Said cat looked back at him before meowing. He giggled a little in response. "Cheetah said he has no clue what you're talking about."

"Ha, ha, very funny." Fynn rolled his eyes a little at the younger boy's antics. "Say, where's that Protector of yours at?"

"Mm, I think he's on a conference call for work." He finally put Cheetah down, much to Fynn's relief. "It's been kind of strange waking up these past few mornings and not feeling afraid."

The blonde raised an eyebrow. "Afraid?"

"I was always afraid whenever I slept in the same bed with my ex-Protector. There were a few times I woke up to him choking me; I managed to get him off of me each time but he never told me why he did it." Eyes drifting away, his voice took on a more sad and distant tone. "I spent a lot of nights awake, just exhausted and crying, because I was too afraid to go to sleep around him."

A sad look came over Fynn's facial features. "That's awful, Tyler. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. Does Josh know?"

He shook his head. "No, I didn't want to worry him. It took me forever to get used to even the idea of sleeping in the same bed with him but... I'm trying." He sighed a little. "Every time I feel him move around, I wake up and then I can't get my mind to calm down enough to go back to sleep."

Fynn nodded. "I understand, it'll get better. Just give it some time, yeah?"

"I'll try..."

"And you know we love you, right?"

"I know." Tyler smiled at him. "I love you guys too. Both of you mean the world to me."

"Hey, that's what we're here for. Say, how about a pick-me-up? I'm done with my chores for the day, so how about we go put on a movie?"

"Will there be cuddles involved?" Tyler teased. "I'm in a really cuddly mood."

The blonde snorted a little. "Hey, I'm always up for that but I don't think Josh would be too happy to find me cuddling with his Keeper."

Tyler giggled. "Yeah, probably not. Hey, you can always cuddle with Cheetah!"

"Over my dead body."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

When Josh came downstairs, he found Tyler curled up on the couch underneath a blanket and Fynn sitting on the other couch, looking mildly uncomfortable as Cheetah stared at him from across the room. "Dude, you know he's not going to hurt you, right?"

"Yeah, that's what everyone keeps telling me, yet his face says otherwise!"

Josh shook his head before taking a seat next to Tyler, who was now sitting up and looking quite happy to see him. "How's my Ty-Guy doing?"

"I'm okay." He leaned over and placed a kiss on his cheek, a shy smile on his face. "Missed you."

He smiled back. "I missed you too, baby doll." Fynn made a fake retching noise, to which he threw one of the pillows over at him. "Don't mind the giant hater over there."

"Yo, I'm not giant, you're just short."

Tyler giggled. "How did your conference call go?"

Josh chewed at his bottom lip a little. "Well, as you know, my dad's the Vice President of the company and he told everyone that the CEO is calling an impromptu meeting with our division at the beginning of next week. Problem is... his office is on the West Coast, so we have to go to LA."

"Whoa!" Fynn exclaimed. "You get to go to California? That's so sick!"

Tyler was in awe, to say the least, if not a bit worried. "Wow... that's so far away from here."

"Just a little." Josh gave him a sly smile. "But guess what? My hotel room just so happens to have space for a special someone."

"Um... does that mean Fynnley's going with you too?"

Fynn snorted loudly. "No offense, Tyler, but Josh wouldn't take me out to dinner, let alone to Los Angeles."

Josh stuck his tongue out at Fynn. "Hey, I'd take you to McDonald's. That's dinner, right?"

Tyler giggled, his Time Keeper ticking faster at the thought of what was to come. "I'm... I'm really going with you?"

"If it's alright with you." Placing his hands on top of Tyler's, he leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "But if you don't want to, I won't be offended at all."

"Hmm... let's see. Leaving Ohio for the first time and getting to fly across the country with my Protector? Sounds totally boring." He gave him a cheeky smile, much to Josh's amusement.

"Let's go have ourselves a boring time then. Maybe we'll even get into some... mischief while we're there."

Tyler blushed. "Maybe."

Fynn spoke up again. "Get a room, you two."

Josh chuckled. "We are."

He rolled his eyes. "Gross. Hey, what am I supposed to do while you two are gone?"

"Stay here and watch Cheetah, of course."

"No way! That cat's gonna kill me in my sleep!"

"Cheetah wouldn't hurt a fly," Tyler said before clicking his tongue to call over said feline. "You wouldn't hurt 'ol Fynnley, would you?"

He chirped in response, to which Tyler giggled and reached down to pat him on the head. "Good boy."

"I swear to God..."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Tyler watched with curious eyes as Josh went back and forth to the closet, returning each time with another armful of clothes. At this point, his suitcase looked like it couldn't hold much more, leaving him to wonder how he was going to close it. "Are you gonna be able to carry that?"

"Probably not." He laughed. "But we'll be checking our luggage so we won't have to worry about dragging our suitcases around the airport. You can pack a small bag, though, for the stuff you want to take with you on the plane."

"Is flying in a plane scary?"

"Not at all. You may get a little lightheaded but that's about it. The plane goes really fast when it takes off but then it's not much different from what you'd feel inside of a car."

Tyler looked a bit worried at that. "Oh. Can you see inside the clouds up in the air?"

"You can. And as the plane goes higher, you'll even see over the clouds. It's super pretty."

His face lit up. "That sounds amazing."

"It is. Can't wait for you to see it, sweet boy." At this point, Josh was tugging on the zipper, somehow getting it to close a little bit more with each time he smushed his clothes further down. "See? There's a method to my madness."

He laughed. "I see. Can you help me pack later?"

Josh gave him a sweet smile. "Of course I can."

As Tyler watched his Protector alternate between tugging and smushing, his mind went back to the 'mischief' that he had mentioned earlier. Honestly, he wasn't quite sure what all Josh had meant but the mere thought was scary, yet a little exciting at the same time.

Should I pack some cute underwear? Should I shave down there? Should we go buy some condoms? Should--

"What's on your mind, sweetness?" When Tyler finally snapped out of it, Josh couldn't help but chuckle. "You look like you're deep in thought."

"Just stuff." As much as he tried to hide it, he knew the blush on his face would give him away.

Josh tilted his head a little. "Yeah? What kind of stuff?"

"Mm... nothing special." Tyler smiled when Josh came and sat down next to him. "You know me, my mind's always going a mile a minute."

"I know." He smiled back at him. "Just making sure you're doing okay."

Tyler nodded, teeth grazing over his bottom lip. "Yeah, I'm okay. Can I ask you something?"

"Of course, baby."

"Um..." The tick, tick, tick in his arm grew faster as he contemplated what he was about to say. "Remember the other day when we were joking around about French kissing?"

Josh wanted to laugh at the look on Tyler's face but he didn't want him to take it the wrong way, so he just smiled and nodded. "Yes, I remember."

"I know this is super random but I was thinking we could... um, just because I've been really curious and... so I can get used to doing different stuff with you..."

The redhead put a finger up to Tyler's lips before he started rambling on even more. "Say no more, my love."

"Would... would you really want to do that with me, though?"

He chuckled. "I think you already know the answer to that. You want to try it now?"

Tyler nodded, eyes wider than ever as he looked up at Josh, who seemed 100x bigger than him right now. "So how does it work? Do I just stick my tongue out and you kiss it?"

He chuckled. "Not quite. Here, I'll show you." He placed his hands on Tyler's shoulders. "You wanna sit in my lap? Or do you want me to lay you down?"

Face already burning, Tyler tried his best to keep his heart inside of his chest as it raced away. "Lay me down," he said softly.

Tingles ran up and down his body as Josh gently laid him back on the bed. Eyes closing, he focused his attention on every sensation running through him as his Protector started kissing him. Letting out something between a soft sigh and a moan, he threaded his fingers through his Protector's curly, red hair.

As their kiss deepened and turned more intimate, his mind went blank until he felt something warm and soft brush over his bottom lip.

Was that...?

His suspicions were confirmed when he opened his mouth a little bit wider and Josh slipped his tongue inside, gently brushing it over his own between kisses.

Tyler tried his best to keep up, fingernails digging into the fabric of Josh's shirt whenever his tongue brushed over a particularly sensitive spot. No matter how hard he tried to will it away, he still felt himself getting a little turned on, which he hoped wouldn't kill the mood.

After a few moments, Josh broke the kiss, pausing briefly to glance up at Tyler before moving down, letting his breath ghost across the brunette's skin as he pressed wet, soft kisses to his neck.

"Oh, my gosh," he breathed out, digging his fingernails in even harder.

Josh made a low, strained noise, making Tyler's head feel dizzy. "Does that feel good, baby?"

"Really good," he whispered. "C-Can you... can you bite me a little bit?" As soon as the words came out of his mouth, he regretted it.

But to his surprise, Josh just smiled before dipping his head back down. Arching his back, Tyler let out a soft whine as the redhead gently bit the skin on his jaw line, being extra careful not to hurt him. Lifting his legs up, he wrapped them around the older man's waist, their position alluding to a more intimate moment he hoped to share with him someday.

His mind caught in a haze, he barely noticed when Josh spoke up again. "Can I touch you here?" When he looked down and saw Josh's hand hovering over the hemline of his shirt, everything in his mind said, 'Yes, yes, yes.'

Nodding, he took Josh's hand and guided it underneath his shirt, the inside of his stomach exploding into a million butterflies. Closing his eyes, he moaned a little as warm fingers brushed over his left nipple, the contact sending a shiver straight down his spine.

"Such a pretty baby," Josh whispered into his ear. "You're so beautiful."

"J-Josh..." Mind reeling from all of the praise, Tyler wondered if it was healthy to be as turned on as he was right now. Moving his hands to Josh's back, he gingerly slipped his fingers underneath the older man's shirt to explore the skin there.

Josh let out a moan before pulling away from Tyler, his pupils so blown that his eyes nearly looked black. "Hey, don't take this the wrong way, baby, but you're getting me really riled up and I don't want to do anything you're not ready for."

While Tyler hated that they had to stop, he was also weirdly... honored he had made his Protector feel that way. "It-it's o-okay," he stuttered out. "That felt amazing."

The older man smiled. "It did. And I think another part of you would agree as well." Just to prove his point, he shifted his hips against Tyler, who let out something between a giggle and a moan.

"You feel the same way too, you dork," Tyler teased. "I'd say we could do what we did before but all of my clean underwear is in the washing machine right now."

"Hm, you can always wear some of mine." Nudging his nose against Tyler's neck, he smiled. "Seriously, though, I'm fine, baby doll. That's what my right hand is for."

Tyler blushed. "Um, I haven't... you know... since that one time. Whenever I try, I get too shy, so I just stop and wait it out."

Moving back next to the younger boy, Josh placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. "That's okay, sweetheart."

"How... how do you do it?"

Josh chuckled. "You wanna watch me sometime? I can show you what I do and you could join me too, if you want."

Tyler looked a bit... dumbfounded. "That wouldn't be awkward for you?"

He shook his head. "Not at all. Lots of couples watch each other touch themselves, and sometimes, they even do it together. It's one way to be intimate without going all the way."

"Oh..." He'd never say it out loud but that did sound nice. "Maybe. Let's see what California has in store for us," he hinted, a sweet smile on his face.

Josh nudged him with his elbow and smiled back. "You're such a cute boy, you know that?"

Giggling, Tyler held his hand up to his mouth, gently biting down on one of his fingertips. "No, you."

Chapter Text

Half-past 1PM on Saturday and Josh had just finished packing the car, thereby wrapping up the last of their trip preparations. Even though the "big meeting" wasn't until Tuesday, he had booked the flight to LA a few days in advance so he could have a chance to relax with Tyler beforehand.

"Think you're about ready to go, sweetheart?"

"Mm, I guess so." Tyler was nervous, to say the least, but also really excited. "I gave Cheetah exactly 20 hugs and kisses so hopefully that'll be enough for him until we get back home."

"I'm sure it will, baby." Josh chuckled before holding his hand out to him, guiding the younger boy up to his feet. "We'll Facetime with Fynn at some point, and maybe he can show you how Cheetah's doing."

"He'll probably be hiding from him."

"Cheetah?"

"No, Fynnley."

Josh laughed. "Well, you never know. Let's get your shoes on so we can get going."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Flight Number 0615 from Columbus to Los Angeles will now start priority boarding. Please keep in mind that priority boarding is reserved for [Insert Airline Here] gold card members, those in wheelchairs, families with small children and first class passengers."

Tyler stared at the boarding pass in his hands as they stood in line. "Whoa, are we really in first class, Jish?"

"Sure are." Josh smiled. "Jish and Ty-Guy fly in style."

He giggled. "Well, don't I feel awfully special."

"You are special," Josh whispered into his ear, making him blush a little.

Their last hour and a half inside of the airport had been... interesting, to say the least. Checking their luggage had been easy enough but there was a hold-up at security after Tyler was stopped by one of the TSA agents.

It hadn't been entirely surprising. After all, Josh had warned him beforehand that he might be stopped because of his Time Keeper. And sure enough, one of the agents pulled him aside.

After showing his ID (again) and answering a few questions, they let them continue on but it was still rather... unsettling for Tyler. Why did he have to be treated with such unwarranted suspicion just because of something he considered to be a beautiful and unique part of himself?

In the back of his mind, he knew the reason from all of the stories he had been told back in Keeper Training School. But still, he never stopped questioning why, holding onto the slim hope that maybe someday the answer would change.

"Are you doing okay?" Josh asked, his tone soft.

Tyler looked up at him, a sweet look in his eyes. "Yeah, I'm just a little nervous."

"Well, I'm right by your side, okay? See, we're almost to the front. Once we're on, we can get settled before the rest of the plane fills up."

Feeling a bit more reassured, the younger boy smiled a little. "Thank you for always being so patient with me, Joshua."

"Of course, lovely. No need to thank me." Smiling at him in return, he turned to see the young man standing in front of them had turned around to look at Tyler.

"Nice hoodie," the guy said, flashing him a flirty smile. "It looks great on you."

Caught off guard by the compliment, a shy smile appeared on Tyler's face. "O-Oh, thank you so much," he mumbled.

The man chuckled at the younger boy's reaction before he made eye contact with Josh. Said redhead gave him a dirty look, his arm instinctively going around Tyler's waist, as if to silently say, 'Back off, he's my Keeper.'

"Josh, you're hurting my side."

"Oh." Josh loosened his grip on Tyler, feeling a bit guilty over being so... protective over him. "I'm sorry, baby."

"It's okay." A glimmer of mischief flashed inside of Tyler's brown eyes as he picked up on what was going on but he said nothing else, deciding to save the banter for later.

A few minutes later, it was finally their turn. After the gate agent scanned their boarding passes, they made their way down the jet bridge. Josh couldn't help but smile at the awestruck look on Tyler's face as he took in everything around him, thin fingers looped tightly around the straps of his backpack.

Once they stepped onto the plane, a cheerful flight attendant greeted them, putting Tyler at ease. It didn't take long for Josh to identify their seats as the last row between the wall dividing first class and coach.

"And here we are." Josh let Tyler go in first before he sat down in the seat next to him. "That wasn't too bad, now was it?"

Fumbling around with his seatbelt, Tyler let out a nervous laugh. "Yeah but we haven't left yet, so there's a possibility we could still die."

Biting back a laugh, Josh laid a hand on top of the brunette's knee. "We're not going to die, babe. And even if the plane does crash... let's try to be the only two survivors, okay?"

That made Tyler smile. "I'll try my best."

Minutes passed by quickly as the plane filled up with people, Josh flipping through a magazine he found in the seat pocket while Tyler stared out the window at all the other planes on the tarmac. Despite the fact that they probably weren't as far off the ground as it seemed, the younger boy felt like they were in a whole other world, caught inside of a giant bubble while the airport workers scurried around the plane.

Was any of this even real?

"Are you a little less nervous now?"

Josh's voice brought him back to the present, a pleasant reprieve from his thoughts. "Kinda," he replied. "I think it's always the anticipation that's the worst." Turning his body so he could look at Josh directly, he gave him a smile. "So back in the airport... I think that was the first time I've seen my Protector get a little jealous."

The redhead shrugged a little, a light blush stinging his cheeks. "Wasn't really jealous, just being protective over you. That guy looked like a creep." He frowned a little as the guilt came back. "Did I freak you out? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to. And I'm sorry for holding onto you so tightly, that wasn't nice of me."

Tyler shook his head. "No, you didn't freak me out. It was actually... kind of flattering. I know I'm yours, but knowing you still have that instinct as a Protector makes me feel really safe and secure around you."

"Are... are you sure?" Josh reached over and took Tyler's hand. "Because I don't want you saying things just to try and make me feel better."

"Positive." Tyler leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you, Joshua, and I know you would never put your hands on me. I trust you with my life."

In the back of his mind, Josh wondered what he had done to deserve such a wonderful person, even through all his screw-ups. "I love you too, Tyler. I'm still a work-in-progress but I'm trying my best." He gave him a sheepish smile. "Even if I do get a little jealous when someone else looks at my baby boy. I can't really blame them, though, because you're so beautiful."

Blushing, Tyler squeezed Josh's hand, a pleasant buzz running through him at the compliment. "I swear to goodness, Josh, for a work-in-progress, you sure know how to push all the right buttons."

Dipping his nose into the curve of the brunette's neck, he chuckled, the vibrations sending a shiver down his spine. "I know my Ty Guy well."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Thirty minutes later, the plane was in the air, they hadn't crashed yet and Tyler was in absolute awe at the view.

"It's so breathtaking." His voice came out high-pitched and slightly cracked with excitement as he snapped photo after photo on his phone. "You see all the different clouds, J?"

Josh smiled. "I sure do, lovebug. It's gorgeous."

Tyler stopped taking pictures once the plane entered into thick cloud cover and he couldn't see much anymore. Pulling the window shade down, he settled back into his seat before looping his arm underneath Josh's. "Hi."

He chuckled. "Hi, cutie. Are you enjoying yourself?"

"I am. I don't even know why I was so afraid in the first place." He leaned his head onto Josh's shoulder. "Thank you, Joshua."

"Of course, but what are you thanking me for?"

"For taking me with you." He closed his eyes, a sense of contentment settling over him. "For letting me experience this for the first time."

Josh just smiled. "Tyler, I'll spend the rest of my life trying to find new things for you to experience if it means seeing you this happy. I never want your smile to go away."

Almost like clockwork, Tyler gave him a soft smile, unsure of how to express how he was feeling but hoping his eyes told more than words ever could. "I love you, baby."

"Ooh, you called me 'baby,'" Josh teased him. "I thought you'd need to be grinding away on my lap to get you to call me that again." He grinned. "But I love you too, cutie."

"Dork," Tyler mumbled, cheeks already starting to burn. "Don't give me any ideas, I already want to kiss you as it is."

The redhead raised an eyebrow. "Oh yeah? I'm certainly not objecting."

"We're on a plane."

"Haven't you heard of the Mile High Club?"

"Oh, gosh..."

"I'm just messing with you, hun. To be fair, though, there is no one sitting across from us. And they won't be serving drinks for a little while now." Nuzzling his nose into the side of Tyler's neck, he smiled. "Just saying."

He tugged his bottom lip between his teeth. "Maybe just a few quick kisses then."

"Only a few?" That usual tilt came over Josh's voice, making Tyler want to unbuckle his seatbelt and climb into his lap right now.

"Kiss me, please," he whispered.

Josh didn't have to be told twice. He leaned in, splaying his fingers across the boy's neck before connecting their lips in a kiss.

Only a few kisses in and Tyler's face was already on fire. Moving his hand up Josh's thigh and resting it dangerously close to other areas, he let out a soft whine when said man broke the kiss and moved his affections over to his jawline.

That, combined with the way Tyler was grabbing at the fabric of his jeans, caught the attention of Josh's lower regions, his underwear suddenly feeling a bit too tight. Placing his hand on top of Tyler's, he gently moved it back down to his knee, not wanting him to accidentally touch something he wasn't comfortable with yet.

"J-Josh." Tyler let out a quiet moan as said man grazed his teeth over his neck.

"Such a beautiful boy," Josh breathed out, sending chills up and down his spine.

After a few moments, the redhead trailed his kisses back up to Tyler's lips, not wanting his hormones to cloud over his judgment. "Feel a bit better now?" When the brunette nodded, he smiled. "Did I make you feel good?"

Tyler nodded again, a soft, almost delirious smile on his face. "You always make me feel good, J." Leaning his head onto his shoulder, his fingers went up to his lips, eyes dazing in and out. "Wanna give it to you so badly."

His words went in Josh's ear and straight to his dick, further perpetuating an already... pressing situation. "I know you do. We can start building up to it whenever you're ready, okay?"

"Okay." Biting the tip of his finger, Tyler wasn't quite sure what to feel or think; all he could focus on right now was Josh, Josh, and even more Josh. "Can I ask you about some... stuff later on when it's just the two of us?"

"Absolutely. I'm always an open book, babe, so don't be shy."

"Can't help it, I'm always shy." Tyler giggled a little, his thumb brushing back and forth over his lips. "I'm feeling so soft right now."

"Yeah?" Noticing how Tyler's thumb kept drifting into the curve of his now kiss-bruised lips, Josh wondered if this was a sign he wanted something more. "Baby?"

Tyler looked up at him, eyes getting bigger and bigger by the second. "Yes?"

Josh approached the question carefully, his tone gentle. "Do you want your pacifier? I put it in my backpack, just in case you wanted to try it out."

His eyes lit up for a brief moment when he heard Josh's suggestion but then he shook his head. "No, thank you. I don't want the flight attendant lady to see it and kick us off the plane for being weird or something."

"We're 30,000 feet in the air. Where are they gonna kick us off to?" Josh teased.

He made a mental note that his Keeper didn't age-regress like his former girlfriend had; he was the same old adorable, sassy Tyler, just a little bit more cuddly, shy and clingy.

"I want to try it," Tyler mumbled. "Just not now."

"Okay, baby, I understand." He pressed a delicate kiss to his forehead. "Maybe when we get to the hotel, if you're still feeling soft, you can give it a try then and see how you like it."

Tyler smiled at that. "Could we?"

"Of course." Josh chuckled a little. "Probably will be much more comfortable than sucking on your thumb too." Pushing away any thoughts of "much better things Tyler could be sucking right now," he shifted around in his seat, willing away his raging boner.

Giggling, Tyler closed his eyes and let out a contented sigh, wondering if Josh would ever learn not to wear skinny jeans when he was in one of his "affectionate" moods...

Chapter Text

"Welcome to LA, my love!"

Tyler stared out the window with wide eyes as he watched all the buildings, concrete and cars pass them by on the highway. "It's so big!"

Josh chuckled. "Yep, it is. Busy too, huh?"

"Yeah, I thought Columbus traffic was bad." Tyler smiled, bouncing up and down in his seat. "This car's so nice!"

He reached over and laid a hand on top of Tyler's knee. "It's even nicer with you in it." He smiled when he started blushing. "I'm so glad you came with me, baby."

"Me too." Tyler grinned. "And the plane didn't crash either!"

The redhead laughed. "Not crashing is totally sick."

"So sick." Crossing his leg over the other one, he took Josh's hand and interlaced their fingers together. "Um, where are we going?"

"Heading to the hotel right now so we can check in and relax. A four hour flight can make you a little stiff." He laughed a little, his mind going to the "problem" he had earlier which, thankfully, had gone away after a while. "It's about 5:00 right now, which means it's 8:00 in Columbus. Are you feeling hungry or do you want to wait until later to eat?"

Tyler thought about it for a moment. Honestly, his stomach was still full of so many butterflies that hunger was the last thing on his mind. "We can wait till later if it's ok with you."

"Of course it is." Josh squeezed his hand. "We can go get checked in, unpack your favorite blanket, watch some TV, snuggle a little..."

Tyler's thumb went up to his lips. "That sounds really nice."

"Are you still feeling soft?"

He gave him a shy nod. "A little."

Josh smiled. "Well hang in there, baby boy. I'll take care of you, okay?"

"Will you carry me to the hotel room?" he teased.

"I mean, if you want me to..."

He giggled. "Josh, I'm not that needy."

The redhead nudged him with his elbow, chuckling a little. "Hey, you know what I always say... anything for my baby boy."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Did you text Fynn that we made it?"

"Mhm, Annaliese too. She says she's jealous."

Josh laughed. "Aww, we'll have to plan a Keeper and Protector trip with her and Noah."

As Tyler followed Josh down the hallways of the Waldorf Astoria hotel, he was in absolute awe at the pure... luxuriousness of everything. If all of this was a dream... he never wanted to wake up.

Josh stopped in front of the door, a playful swagger in his step. "And here we are, my darling. Ready to see your new room?"

The brunette smiled back at him. "Ready."

Opening the door up wide, Josh let him go in first, his smile growing even bigger as he watched Tyler's mouth drop.

"Oh, my gosh..."

(The hotel room they are staying in. ♡
https://waldorfastoria3.hilton.com/en/hotels/california/waldorf-astoria-beverly-hills-LAXWAWA/accommodations/K1S.html)

Closing the door behind them, Josh chuckled. "Do you like it?"

"Like it? I love it!" Walking over to the king-sized bed, he ran his hand across the bedspread. "This room is gorgeous. And the view... wow." He turned around to look at Josh. "I've never stayed in a hotel before, so all of this is amazing."

"Aww, this is your first time in a hotel?" Walking up behind him, Josh wrapped his arms around the younger boy's waist and nudged his face against the side of his neck. "I should have booked us one of the penthouse suites then. You know, to spoil my baby doll a little bit."

"Oh, gosh, I'm already so spoiled with this," Tyler breathed out, giggling a little at the contact. "Six months ago, I would have laughed if you told me I would be flying to Los Angeles and staying in a five-star hotel with my Protector."

Josh hummed against his skin. "Well, I'm so glad you came here with me."

Tyler turned around so they faced each other directly. "I love you," he whispered before giving him a simple peck on the lips.

The redhead grinned. "I love you too, sweet boy." Hands sliding down to rest on Tyler's arms, he nodded towards the bed. "Why don't you go and get comfy? I'll get your blanket out, close the shades a little and then we can find something to watch on TV. Is that okay with you?"

If Tyler was soft before, he was even softer now. He nodded, a subtle hint of excitement written across his face. "Yes, please," he whispered, his voice a little high-pitched.

While Josh set off on what he had to do, Tyler took the opportunity to slip off his shoes and climb into bed. Settling back against the pillows, he watched as his Protector moved around the room, admiring how gorgeous Josh's skin looked bathed in the California sun.

Tilting his head to the side, he took in the gentle curve of Josh's profile, the way his muscles flexed almost effortlessly, and his strong but sure hands as they dug around in his suitcase. There wasn't a day that went by that his Protector never failed to steal his breath away every time he smiled, giggled or gave him one of those knowing looks.

"You're so pretty, Josh."

"Aww." Josh gave him a loving smile. "That's so sweet of you to say, Tyler, thank you. You know what? I think you're absolutely gorgeous."

Fingers going back up to his lips, Tyler giggled, the compliment washing over his body and making his Time Keeper tick just a little bit faster. "T-Thank you, Joshua."

After a few moments, Josh came back over with his blanket in hand. "Here you go, babe. Pass me the remote, please?"

Tyler handed him the remote before throwing the blanket across his body, grateful to have something from home with him. Josh, on the other hand, climbed underneath the comforter, leaving his arms uncovered so he could hold his baby boy close while they watched TV.

"Comfy?" Josh asked as he flipped through all the channels.

"Mhm." Tyler's thumb went up to his mouth again as he stared ahead at the TV with a soft look on his face. Josh thought about getting his pacifier but he decided to wait for him to bring it up himself so he wouldn't feel pressured.

Eventually, they settled on a movie that neither of them had seen in years, the nostalgia coming back and settling in with the pleasant warmth surrounding them.

"You smell good," Tyler mumbled as he nuzzled his nose into Josh's shirt. "Like body wash and Josh-ness."

Josh giggled. "You know, I really ought to release my own cologne: Eau de Josh-ness." Leaning over, he kissed him on the forehead. "But thank you, love, you smell good too." He gave him a playful smile. "You're just showering me in compliments today, aren't you?"

Tyler shrugged a little. "It's only fair. You're always telling me such nice things and you deserve that too because you're my everything."

"You're gonna make me blush, you lame-o," Josh teased, a wide smile on his face. "You're my everything and then some. So that means you're extra special."

Tyler smiled as he reached over to brush a stray red hair behind Josh's ear. "Hey, we can go back and forth about this all night, if you want."

"Silly boy." Josh gave him a brief kiss on the lips. "Hey, wanna make out again?"

Giggling, Tyler's cheeks tinged a light shade of pink as he nudged him in the side with his elbow. "Dork," he teased. "Maybe later, I'm trying to burrito right now."

Josh snorted a little. "Fair enough. Oh, by the way, feel free to ask me those questions whenever you're ready."

"Oh, yeah." Tyler's eyes widened a little as he remembered what he had been thinking about asking Josh earlier. Maybe making out would be a good idea right now...

"Whatever you're comfortable with," Josh put in before smiling. "No pressure."

"Thank you, J."

A comfortable silence fell over them for a while as they continued watching the movie. After a while, Josh looked down and smiled when he saw Tyler gently sucking on his thumb.

Such a sweet boy, he thought. Should I ask him...?

"Hey, J?"

Before he could even finish his thought, Tyler's thumb was out of his mouth and he was staring up at him with wide eyes.

"Yes, my love?"

"Can I, um... could I maybe try the..."

"Pacifier?" Josh finished for him. He smiled when Tyler nodded, teeth grazing over his bottom lip. "Of course you can, sweetheart, let me get it for you."

Tyler almost whined at the loss of body heat but he bit it back, not wanting to seem clingy and... more weird than usual.

Josh returned with his galaxy pacifier in hand, still attached to its original backing. The mere sight of it made the tick, tick, tick inside of Tyler's arm slow down to a relaxed, more gentle pace than what he was used to.

"Look what I got," he said in a sing-song voice.

Settling back down next to Tyler, he gently took away the younger boy's thumb before slipping the pacifier into its place. He took to it almost immediately, eyelids drooping as he let out a content sigh.

Josh smiled before wrapping his arm back around his Keeper. "Do you like it?"

He nodded, fingernails digging into Josh's shirt as he clung onto him. He wouldn't dare say it, but it was truly a source of comfort he hadn't known how much he really needed... until now.

"You look adorable," Josh whispered before placing a gentle kiss onto his forehead, making him giggle. "Maybe I should get one too. Then we can be adorable galaxy boyfriends."

Tyler took the pacifier out of his mouth for a moment, a hint of mischief inside of his eyes. "Nobody can be as adorable as a Keeper," he quipped before putting it back into his mouth.

Josh started to laugh, shaking his head a little as he pulled him even closer to his body. "You're such a troublemaker, baby boy."

Chapter Text

"Hey, Josh?"

Two hours, an order of expensive room service and a glass of wine later, Tyler was relaxed and feeling a lot more... open.

"Yes, Ty?" Josh turned the TV down so he could hear him better.

Tyler's thumb went back up to his lips, even though he knew now wouldn't be a good time to have his pacifier again. "Can I ask you some of the questions I had for you earlier?"

Josh smiled. "Of course, baby boy. I'm all ears."

He took a deep breath in. "I didn't want to ask you this on the plane, but, um... what was your first time like?"

Josh raised an eyebrow. "With a guy or with a girl?"

He thought about it for a moment. "Both."

"Well, the first time I had sex with a girl, I was 18. I was so nervous I could barely keep it up." He laughed a little, to which Tyler smiled. "She was super reserved and didn't want to do anything too soon so we waited almost a year before having sex. We did touch each other and do other stuff before that, though."

"Oh... Annaliese told me the first time can really hurt for a girl."

"It can. But it'll feel a lot better for her if she's really wet beforehand. So when it happened, I went down on her first so she would be relaxed and wet enough to take me." Josh cleared his throat a little. "She still bled a little bit, which is natural, but it wasn't bad at all."

"What happened between you and her?"

"Her family moved and she had no interest in being in a long-distance relationship, so we broke up." He sighed. "It really hurt because she was my first serious relationship."

Tyler frowned. "I'm sorry, Josh."

"No, it's okay. If I were still with her, then I wouldn't have met you, sweetness, would I?" Leaning over, he kissed him on the forehead. "As far as my first time with a guy, I was around 25. Same concept, just different location." He laughed. "But I've never been a bottom before. Does that answer your question?"

He nodded. "I, um... I read online that a lot of people have certain turn-ons. Do you have any?"

"You." Josh smiled when Tyler looked away and blushed. "I like the usual things: Neck kissing, biting, dirty talk. I also like praising, being dominant, giving hickeys and just making my partner feels good." Reaching over, he brushed his fingers over Tyler's cheek. "There's probably a bunch of other stuff I can't think of right now."

"I wish I knew my body as well as you know yours."

"You will," Josh reassured him. "It just takes time. As you experiment with different things, you'll learn what you like and dislike."

He nodded, eyes casting downwards. "I guess that's where you come in, huh?"

"Whenever and whatever you allow." Smiling, he squeezed his hand. "I love you, Tyler."

Tyler gave him a soft smile in return. "I love you too, Josh."

"Hey... I have an idea."

"What's that?"

"I'm feeling kinda gross and the bathtub in there looks really nice." He chuckled. "Wanna join me? I brought the bubbly stu-uu-ff..."

Blush spreading down to his neck, Tyler's mind went back to the night they took a bath together for the first time. "That sounds lovely."

"I'll get the water ready then." Letting go of his hand, he gave him a quick kiss on the lips before getting up. "Oh, yeah." He turned around mid-step. "Eyes open or closed?"

Tyler was confused for a moment until he remembered he had made Josh close his eyes before he got into the tub last time. He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, heartbeat speeding up to keep pace with his Time Keeper.

"Eyes open."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Jish? Can I come in?"

"Door's open, baby!"

Wrapping his hand around the doorknob, Tyler's mind went to how... bare he felt right now, quite literally and figuratively. He had considered taking his underwear off once inside the bathroom but the idea of doing that in front of Josh made him want to jump out the nearest window. So with that, he settled on taking all his clothes off right from the start.

Once the door was open just enough for his head to fit through, he peeked in to see Josh already inside the bubble-filled bathtub. "Hey," he said softly. "You look comfy,"

Josh smiled at the sight of him. "Sure am. Are you ready to come join me?"

"I... I think so." His Time Keeper ticking so fast that he feared it might come right out of his arm, he nudged the door open with his hip. Keeping his hands behind his back so he wouldn't try and cover himself up, he walked in slowly, cheeks painted a dark red as he gave him a shy smile. "Hi there," he said quietly.

"Hi," Josh said back, a look of awe written all over his face. "You look beautiful."

Crossing his left leg behind his right, he tapped his big toe against the cold tile. "Thank you, Joshua." Walking over to the tub, he held onto his Protector's hand as he climbed in before sitting down. "So that's me."

Josh wanted to laugh at how nonchalant Tyler was acting. If anything, he expected him to be losing his mind right now. "You look really nice. I'm proud of you, baby boy."

"Thank you." Tyler smiled. "Now you have to show me yours, you dork," he teased before scooping up a pile of bubbles and blowing it towards Josh. "I think it's only fair."

The redhead motioned for him to come closer, a sly smile on his face. "If you come and sit with me, I might show you. Or I might tickle that cute little tummy of yours. I'm not sure yet."

"I swear to goodness, Josh, if you tickle my stomach, I'm getting on the next plane back to Columbus." He huffed a little as he sat up on his knees and scooted his way over to Josh. "You know I'm really sensitive there."

"I know you are. That's why I can't wait until you let me kiss it for just a little bit." Once Tyler was resting against his chest, he circled his arms around him, nudging his nose against the side of his neck. "I think you'd really like that."

Teeth grazing over his bottom lip, the brunette tried to fight the curiosity building inside of him. "Yeah?" Leaning his head back onto Josh's shoulder, he glanced up at him. "I got a little sneak peek of you on the way over, by the way."

"Oh yeah?" Now it was Josh's turn to blush, surprisingly flustered by the thought of Tyler seeing that part of his body for the first time. No wonder he had told him to close his eyes the first time they took a bath together...

"Yeah. It's really... big." Tyler felt like dying after the words came out but he also knew there was no point in trying to hide his true thoughts from Josh. No matter how hard he bluffed.. he'd be able to see through it. Every single time.

Josh winked. "Lucky for you, it gets even bigger."

"Oh, my gosh," Tyler mumbled as his hands went up to his face. "You're going to be the absolute death of me, Joshua Dun."

"Hey, if you die, I'm gonna die too. So will that make us spooky boyfriends?"

"Spooky galaxy boyfriends," Tyler corrected, giggling a little. "But, um... does it really get bigger than that?"

"That's for me to know and you to find out, my dear," Josh teased before placing a single kiss on the side of his neck. "Guys always like to brag about their dick size--" Tyler cleared his throat, to which he gave him an apologetic smile. "--I mean, penis size. But that's really dumb because a penis is a penis. No matter how big or small or what shape or color it is, it's a part of who you are. And that's pretty sick, if you ask me."

He smiled at the end of Josh's sentence. "So sick. That's really sweet of you to say, Josh." He looked down, a serious expression on his face. "My ex-Protector used to tell me mine was gross because it wasn't... ten inches or whatever. It made me feel really bad about myself." He sighed. "It's still hard for me to look at myself in the mirror without feeling self-conscious."

"Listen to me, Ty." Josh cupped Tyler's chin in the palms of his hand and tilted his head back so they could look at each other. "Your body is beautiful, understand me? Every single inch of you is perfect, from the tiny freckles on your cheeks to your stunning smile. And don't ever let anyone try and tell you otherwise, okay?"

The brunette felt like crying, the smile on his face as big as his over-flowing heart. "Thank you," he whispered. "I love you so much."

Josh smiled back at him before nuzzling his nose into the crook of his neck. "I love you too."

At this point, Tyler was feeling so soft, overwhelmed and slightly aroused that all he could think about was having Josh's lips all over his body. "Can you... can you kiss my neck a little?"

Josh didn't have to be told twice, tilting the brunette's head back before trailing kisses all over his neck. Hands resting on both sides of Tyler's arms, he tried his best not to get hard as he listened to the soft noises coming from his baby boy's mouth.

Digging his fingernails into the side of Josh's thigh, Tyler let out a high-pitched, breathless moan as said man bit down on that one spot where his neck and collarbone met.

Too late.

"You're so sexy, baby doll," Josh whispered before moving his lips back up to Tyler's mouth. Tugging his bottom lip between his teeth, a sense of accomplishment came over him as he felt the younger boy's whole body relax against his own.

"M'so turned on," Tyler whined, wanting to be as close as physically possible to his Protector.

Josh hummed a little. "I can see that, sweetheart."

Tyler looked down to saw his dick resting against his tummy, the tip of it shamelessly visible through the bubbles. A small part of him wanted to curl up and die but he also knew everything was completely natural and Josh would never judge him for it.

His mind went back to a couple of days ago when Josh had the idea of Tyler watching him masturbate and joining in, if he wanted to.

"Let's see what California has in store for us."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"I feel like I'm a student waiting for a lesson from his beloved senpai."

The two boys laughed as they sat facing each other, only minutes out of the bathtub yet still just as turned on as ever.

"It's sort of a lesson. I'm not much of a teacher, though." Josh smiled, his hand resting on Tyler's knee. "Are you sure you want to watch?"

Tyler nodded. At this point, his mind was completely blown by how... impressive Josh's dick looked while hard (though he would never dare say it out loud). It was embarrassing enough that he had to take a lesson from his Protector on how to touch himself, let alone compliment him on being well-endowed...

Josh wasn't really sure how to start things off, so he picked up the bottle of lube he had pulled out of his suitcase just moments earlier. "This is my favorite kind of lube to use. But you may find you like something different. There are all kinds of flavors, scents, and even sensations."

Tyler raised an eyebrow at the word 'sensations,' but continued watching with wide eyes as Josh flipped open the top and poured some into his hand. "When I tried it that one time, I used a little bit of spit, but there was still too much friction at first."

"Lube helps a lot, believe me. It feels so much better than spit." He let out a soft hiss as he rubbed everything in. "So, um, I don't really know if you want a play-by-play on how to do this or not." He chuckled, already feeling a bit awkward. "But I just use my right hand and move it up and down... like this. And when my hand comes back down, I twist my wrist so my thumb goes underneath the tip. Does that make any sense?"

Tyler was in awe, to say the least, as he watched his Protector settle into a slow, yet purposeful rhythm. How did he manage to make it all look so easy?

"It does," he replied. "Looks like it feels good."

"It does," Josh echoed, a smirk tugging at his lips as he started to pant a little. "But I've been hard on-and-off all day."

Tyler thought back to what had happened on the plane ride here. "Oh..."

"Do you want to try?" Josh asked. "It's totally okay if you don't want to."

He glanced down at his own dick, a little bit of pre-cum leaking from the tip, before looking back up at Josh. "Can we move a little bit closer to each other? So I can touch you too?"

Smiling, Josh nodded and slid closer to him, looping his legs over his Keeper's so their hips were just inches apart from each other. He kept his own pace going as he watched a very timid Tyler rub a little bit of lube over himself, the beginnings of another blush making its way onto his face and neck.

Memories from his first time came rushing back to him as he tried his best to mimic Josh's movements, legs trembling just slightly from how nervous he was.

"You're doing so good, baby," Josh praised him before letting out a low moan.

A warm feeling washed over Tyler's body at the praise, already feeling overwhelmed by all the mental and physical stimulation. "J-Joshua," he whimpered, his free arm going up to wrap itself around his Protector's neck.

Having Tyler so close to him sparked an idea inside of Josh's head. "Hey, do you wanna try something?"

Right now, Tyler would fly a rocket ship to the moon if Josh asked him to. "What is it?"

Josh stopped so he could think somewhat clearly while he was talking. "It's called frotting," he explained. "It's when you rub yourselves together, kind of like jerking off with each other. It feels really good."

Tyler really, really liked the sound of that, an anticipatory shiver running down his spine. "Yes," he agreed, giving his consent as he allowed Josh to pull him in even closer for their most intimate parts to touch.

Wrapping his legs around Josh's lower back, he tried his best not to come right then and there as Josh started to jerk both of them off, moving his hips in tandem with the redhead's movements.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered into Tyler's ear as said boy's fingers dug crescent moons into his skin. "Doing so good for me, baby, letting me touch you like this. You feel so amazing."

"J-Josh," he moaned out, cherishing the wonderful feeling of being praised by his Protector.

After a few minutes, Tyler knew from the familiar ache building inside of his Time Keeper and deep within his tummy that he was near his end. "I'm so close, Josh," he panted out. Hips desperately struggling to chase that one spot Josh was ever-so-intentionally avoiding, he teetered back and forth on the point of no return.

Right before he thought he couldn't take anymore, Josh pressed a hard kiss to his neck at the very moment he finally rubbed himself up against that one special spot.

Tyler completely fell apart, legs and arms tightening around Josh as his mind went blank. His orgasm came over him in waves, moans getting higher and higher as the pleasure peaked to a fever pitch. Listening to his baby boy whine and pant sent Josh straight over the edge as well, his cum mixing in with Tyler's.

As they both came down from their highs, Tyler's legs started shaking from the intensity of it all, an almost delirious-looking smile on his face. "Oh, my gosh..." he breathed out.

"Doing okay?"

"I'm g-great," he stuttered out. "That was... wow."

Josh grinned. "Totally sick, huh?"

"Sick." Tyler looked down at Josh's hand, which was now thoroughly covered in cum. "Who came so much? It's everywhere!"

"I believe that would be you," Josh teased. "You cum a lot. Which is really hot, by the way."

"Oh..." He blushed, the same old Tyler Joseph coming back with a vengeance. "Jeez."

"Want to taste it?"

"Ew."

"Want me to taste it?"

"Oh, gosh, no..." he groaned.

Josh laughed at his reaction before kissing him on the forehead. "I'm just messing with you, baby. I still love you, lots of cum and all."

Post-orgasm oxytocin working its magic inside of his body, Tyler gave his Protector a tight hug, never wanting to let go. "Hey, Josh?"

"Yes, sweetheart?"

Leaning up to Josh's ear, the words slipped out as effortlessly as the soft, 'hopelessly-in-love' smile etched across his face. "I adore you," he whispered.

Chapter Text

Monday came around quickly, bringing an extremely nervous Protector along with it.

Originally, "the big company meeting" had been scheduled for Tuesday morning. But since the CEO was notorious for changing things at the last minute, it was now due to be held later on that afternoon. Which meant Josh had the whole morning to spend in the office catching up on work and panicking about what was to come.

Sitting in conference rooms all day wasn't exactly Josh's idea of a "fun" day at work. But he also knew that if the CEO had called their division all the way to LA for a meeting, they had either done something really good... or really bad.

As he stood in front of the bathroom mirror, straightening his tie out for the fifteenth time, he tried his best to bury the anxiety that had been brewing inside of him ever since he woke up. He had already taken his medication as a preemptive measure, but so far... it didn't seem to be doing him much good.

"It's going to be okay," Josh whispered, trying his best to convince the reflection staring back at him. "You'll be fine. Just breathe. Relax. Stop worrying."

"Joshua?"

His self-mantra was interrupted by the soft sound of Tyler calling for him from the bedroom.

"I'm in the bathroom getting ready, baby," he called back, fiddling with his tie yet again.

"Want 'chu," Tyler whined in response. "Please?"

Josh smiled, knowing he couldn't possibly say no to that. He came out the bathroom and rounded the corner to see a very sleepy-looking Tyler, laying on his side with his blanket pulled up to his chin. His heart tugged a little at the sight of messy hair and sun-kissed cheeks, leftover evidence from the sightseeing and fun they had gotten themselves into on their second day here.

"Good morning." He leaned down and placed a quick kiss on Tyler's forehead before sitting down on the bed. "I didn't expect you to be up this early."

Tyler rubbed at his eyes, vision still a bit blurry. "Well, I woke up when I turned over and didn't feel you next to me." He paused for a moment to yawn. "I forgot they switched your meeting to today instead."

"Yeah, I've been up for a while. You usually stir around whenever I get out of bed but I guess I must have tired you out too much yesterday, huh?" He gave him a playful wink.

"Guess so," he mumbled. Inside of his head, he theorized that his sub-conscious was finally comfortable enough to let him stay asleep whenever Josh moved around. But he wasn't going to tell him all that, of course. "What time do you have to be at the office?"

"Around 8:00. I'm sure traffic will be awful, so I'm gonna leave now, that way I can give myself at least an hour to get there."

"Be careful," Tyler said before sitting up, letting the blanket fall down to his lap. "I don't want you to get into an accident or anything."

Josh chuckled. "I think I saw enough crazy drivers yesterday to just take my time and stay out of everyone else's way. But I promise I'll still be extra careful." He reached over for the younger boy's hand. "Are you sure you'll be okay here by yourself?"

"I guess." Tyler could already tell from the way his Time Keeper was aching that it was going to be one of those, as Annaliese deemed it, 'needy hoe' days. But at the same time, he didn't expect Josh to blow off his meeting just because he was feeling particularly... clingy. "Can I text you?"

The redhead smiled. "Of course you can, sweetheart, I'll have my phone on me."

"M'gonna miss you," Tyler mumbled before sitting up on his knees and throwing his arms around Josh. "I love you, Joshua."

"I'm gonna miss you too, lovebug." Josh gave him several quick kisses on the lips. "I love you and I'll be back real soon, okay?"

Tyler nodded, trying his best to put on a brave face and not burst into tears. "Okay."

Josh stood back up. "Let me know if you want to go out anywhere later. I can get an Uber for you. Also, feel free to order whatever you want from room service. I think breakfast ends at 10:00 so you have time to go back to sleep if you want."

Resisting the urge to start pouting, Tyler let out a soft sigh. He didn't want breakfast... he wanted Josh. "Thank you, J."

"So how do I look?"

"Great." Tyler knew from the look in his Protector's eyes, though, that his anxiety was starting to get the best of him. "Don't worry, Jish, you'll do great today."

Josh smiled back at him, simply amazed at how Tyler always seemed to know the right thing to say. "Thank you, baby boy. I'll see you a little later, okay? Be good."

Tyler gave him a coy look, teeth grazing over his bottom lip. "Can't make any promises..."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

The next thing Tyler knew, he was opening his eyes again. Glancing over at the clock, his eyes widened when he saw it was quarter to 11:00.

He vaguely recalled texting Josh back around eight o'clock after he said he had made it to the office... but after that, it was all blank.

Stretching out as far as he could, he tried to make himself feel more alert and less out of it. After all, he had to wake up at some point, right?

Turning back onto his side, he nuzzled his face into the pillow, smiling at the faint scent of Josh. It never ceased to amaze him how many things his Protector left his scent behind on -- the bed, his clothes, towels, even his own skin.

It was comforting, intoxicating... it was Josh.

Josh, Josh, Josh...

Of all the days for his Time Keeper to be in special need of some love and attention...

"Miss you," he mumbled to himself, his thumb going up to his mouth. Why did his pacifier have to be on the other side of the room?

Just as Tyler considered pulling himself out of bed to get it, his phone buzzed over on the bedside table. When he picked it up, he saw that Annaliese was calling him.

He frowned a little. She never called him unless it was something really important... or bad. Mind cycling through all the worst possible scenarios he could think of, he hit Answer.

"Hello?"

"Ty-Ty!"

He smiled as soon as he heard her cheerful voice, any worry he had quickly fading away. "Good morning, love."

"Good morning?" She laughed. "It's almost 2:00. Did you just wake up?"

"Not in California," Tyler teased. "Yeah, I did. But I was up earlier this morning when Josh left for work. His company meeting is today."

"Wow, that's big."

"Yeah, I could tell he was nervous. I tried to be a good Keeper and reassure him but I don't feel like I was much help at all..."

"Aw, I'm sure he appreciated it. Who wouldn't? You're such a sweetheart."

"Thank you, Annaliese." He paused for a moment before sitting up so he could lean against the pillow. "Don't take this the wrong way, but is something going on? We both know how much you hate talking on the phone."

"You know me well." Annaliese giggled. "Well, for one thing, I wanted to say hi. And secondly, I'm kind of pissing myself right now."

He raised an eyebrow. "Err... literally or metaphorically?"

"I don't know anymore." She laughed. "Um... so you know how I told you about that stomach bug I had last week? And how I keep going back and forth between wanting to rip Noah's head off and wanting to smother him in kisses?"

He laughed a little. "Yes, I remember."

"Well, I went to the drug store this morning..."

"Yeah?"

"Do you, um..." She giggled again. "Do you know what First Response is?"

"Isn't that..." Tyler cut himself off with a gasp. "Oh, my gosh! What did it say, Annaliese?"

"Well... it turns out that my stomach bug is actually a baby. I'm expecting, Tyler!"

He let out a squeal. "Are you serious?!"

"100 percent! I can't believe it! I keep asking myself, 'How in the world did this happen?'"

"Well, I mean..."

"I mean, I know how it happened." She laughed. "And I know Noah will be a good daddy to our baby. But what about me? What if I'm a bad mom and our kid totally hates me?"

Tyler pulled his legs up to his chest. "Aww, don't say that, Annaliese. I know you're going to be a great mom already."

She gasped. "Really? You mean that?"

"Absolutely." Tyler smiled. "You're amazing, love. And I can't wait to meet the new little one."

"Then I hereby dub you and that Protector of yours as Uncle Tyler and Uncle Josh! And as uncles, that means you're going to have to change a few diapers, mmk?"

Tyler laughed. "I'd be honored to. Have you told Noah yet?"

"Not yet. I'm going to tell him tonight. I was a little pissy with him when he went to work this morning, so I want to apologize first."

"Well, at least he'll know it's nothing personal." Tyler rested his chin on top of his knees. "Can I tell Josh? Or do you want me to wait?"

"You can tell him. But only him, okay? I want to keep it between Noah and my closest friends for right now," she said shyly. "So don't go spreading the news all around California!"

"Don't worry, my lips are sealed!"

"Aww, love you lots, Tyler. How are you feeling?"

"I love you too, Annaliese." He sighed a little. "Right now, I'm feeling impossibly soft. I need my pacifier and Josh's lips on mine."

She laughed. "Aw, you're so cute, Ty."

He giggled a little. "My Time Keeper's ticking so fast after all this talk about babies."

"Dude, mines too!"

After a few more minutes, their phone conversation ended, Annaliese needing to call the doctor and set up an appointment for her and the new little one.

Tyler decided to text Josh, hoping he wasn't busy since it was so close to lunchtime.

Tyler: hi jish... are you busy?

Josh: We just finished a little mini-meeting haha and now we're about to grab some lunch. So no not really. (: How are you doing?

Tyler: i'm ok. been feeling really soft...

Josh: Aw I'm sorry I can't be there with you, baby doll.

Tyler: s'okay, I might get my pacifier or something. trying to be good for you...

Josh: You are good for me, sweetheart. <3

Tyler: thank you. <3 I'm hungry.. I missed breakfast lol slept a little too late.

Josh: You're welcome to order room service or I can get you an Uber if you want to go out and eat.

Tyler: I wanna go out but what if I get lost? :(

Josh: If you get lost, I'll come and find you sweetness. <3 You'll be okay.

Tyler: promise? :(

Josh: Promise! Hey, tell you what... I'm gonna have to stay a while after the meeting because my dad wants to talk to me about something. So how about after you have lunch, I'll get an Uber to take you to the office? You can come hang out with me and I'll even introduce you to some of my co-workers if you want.

Tyler: oh.. are you sure it won't be a problem?

Josh: Of course not. Maybe we could even find a nice, quiet room to go in and kiss for a little bit. You know, since you're feeling soft and all. :P

Tyler: you're such a silly goose. <3 I'd love to see you.

Josh: Let me know where you want to go for lunch and I'll take care of the rest, okay?

Tyler: okay thank you J. could I...um...could I bring my pacifier with me? might need something to suck on if I get too soft. ;)

Josh: Hehe. Of course sweetheart.

Oh, by the way...

Are you sure you're being a good boy? ;)

Tyler: not telling you. :P you'll just have to find out when I get there.

Josh: Mm, you're such a tease, baby boy.

Tyler: only for you josh. <3

Chapter Text

If one were to name one defining trait of Tyler Joseph, it would definitely be his insatiable curiosity.

Perhaps it wasn't the greatest idea to check the Time Keeper Database to see if there were any other Keepers in the area. But he also knew there had to be another one besides him in the entire state of California, right?

To his surprise, there were over 50 Keepers spread across California, some young and some much older. Right in LA, though, there was another young man who, like Tyler, was currently visiting from out-of-state.

All of which led him to a café on the outskirts of LA, nestled in the corner with a sandwich and a redhead named Shiloh in front of him.

"Are you sure you don't want anything to eat?" Tyler asked, feeling a bit awkward to be the only one eating.

The young man just gave him a smile. "Nah, I'm fine with just a drink, thank you. I had a big breakfast and I'm still full from that."

"Makes one of us." Tyler smiled back at him. "Are you staying in this area?"

"Not too far away. My Protector's here on business right now. He usually works from home but his company made everyone in the division come here for a meeting today."

His mind went straight to Josh and where he was right now. "Hey, mines here on business too! I wonder if they work for the same company?"

"SRN Corporations?"

"Yeah, that's it! Wow, what are the odds? We're from two totally different states and yet we're both here with our Protectors."

"Well, you know how we don't do too well on our own for a long time." Shiloh gave him a shy smile. "It's always nice to meet someone else like you, though." Letting out a sigh, he looked away. "I just wish society didn't hate us so much."

"Same here..." Tyler looked down at the sleeve of his hoodie, wishing he didn't have to cover up what he considered to be the most beautiful part of his body. "We don't treat people who aren't Keepers any differently. After all, most Protectors are made up of the few people in this world that aren't disgusted by us. We don't hate them because they're not like us, so why should they hate us because we're not like them?"

Shiloh shook his head and sighed. "I don't know, Tyler. I wish I had an answer for that." Taking a sip from his drink, he cleared his throat. "Hey... if I tell you something I heard from someone else on the Time Keeper Database, will you promise to keep it a secret?"

Tyler could tell from the look on his face that it was something quite serious, so he nodded. "Yes, I promise. What's going on?"

"It hasn't been confirmed yet, which is why there hasn't been an official announcement about it or anything, but... there are rumors that there's some sort of secret operation going around kidnapping Keepers."

He gasped. "Oh, my gosh... are you serious? Has anyone gone to the police about it?"

"Well, that's the thing, Tyler... they think the government might have a part in it. But like I said, nothing's been confirmed at this point, so it could be anything or anyone's fault."

Tyler wasn't quite sure what to say, let alone think. "How... how many Keepers have gone missing?"

"At least ten so far. It's been happening in so many random places that no one's been able to figure out who may be behind it."

"Haven't there been any witnesses? I mean, somebody has to know where they went."

"If there are, no one's come forward. You aren't going to hear about it in the news, that's for sure. Most people don't care what happens to us, Tyler, not even the police." He sighed. "As far as they're concerned, having Keepers disappear means less for them to keep an eye on."

Tyler looked down at the table. He knew better than anybody the extreme measures the government went to in order to keep track of them. "Well, what can we do? We can't just let whoever's behind this kidnap more Keepers."

"I was told that the founders of the Time Keeper Database are trying their best to investigate and when they get some more information about what's going on, they're going to announce it." When Shiloh noticed the disturbed look on the brunette's face, he reached over and touched his hand. "I know. I'm worried about them too. But we'll try and do what we can. We won't let them bring us down like that, right?"

He slowly nodded. "Right. We're Keepers."

Shiloh smiled before flashing his Time Keeper symbol. "And we're strong."

Just before Tyler could say anything else, his phone buzzed in his pocket. Taking it out, he looked to see who it was.

Josh: Let me know whenever you're ready to come to the office, doll face. There's no rush, of course, but the meeting starts in an hour and I'd like to see you before I go. ♡

Tyler looked up from his phone. "Oh, I think I'll have to get going. I'm supposed to go to the office and see Josh before the meeting."

"Aww, that sounds like fun. Well, if you happen to meet a guy named Jasper, that's my Protector." A sweet smile appeared on Shiloh's face. "I miss him a lot."

"Hey, do you want to come with me? That way both of our Time Keepers can get some attention." He laughed a little.

"Oh, no, that's okay. Jasper doesn't even know I'm here." He chuckled. "I know, I know, I'm being a naughty Keeper."

Tyler gave him a sheepish smile. "Well, Josh knows I'm here... he just doesn't know you're here too."

He grinned. "Fair enough. And besides... we made love last night so my Time Keeper has more than enough to go on for a little while."

"Oh..."

Shiloh laughed. "Sorry, that was probably TMI. Anyway, it was really nice meeting you, Tyler. You seem so sweet."

"You too, Shi." He scratched the back of his neck. "I'm sorry, can I call you Shi?"

"I don't mind." He smiled. "Jasper calls me Shi-Shi."

"Well, Shi-Shi..." Tyler giggled. "Can we keep in touch on the Database? Just in case you find out any more information about what's going on."

"Of course we can. I'll try my best to keep you in the loop." Standing up from his seat, he patted Tyler on the shoulder. "Be safe, okay? And take care of that Protector of yours."

"I will. Try to stop being so naughty all the time, yeah?" Tyler giggled.

Shiloh shrugged. "I can't make any promises. Catch you on the flip side, Tyler."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

When the brunette came through the glass doors of SRN Corporations, he was met by a smiling Josh, one person he was very, very happy to see. "Joshua," he whispered excitedly as he wrapped his arms around him in a tight hug. "Missed you so much."

"Hi, baby boy," Josh greeted him. "I missed you too! How was the ride over here?"

To be honest, Tyler didn't remember any of the ride... all he could focus on was how desperately he wanted to see Josh. "It was okay."

"Let's head up to the conference room and get you settled before I head to my meeting, okay?"

Adjusting his backpack strap around his shoulder, he nodded, otherwise remaining silent. There were so many things on his mind, yet he had not a clue on where to even begin with any of it. Inside of the elevator, he let his head rest on Josh's shoulder as he stared off at nothing in particular.

Josh frowned a little. "You doing okay, Ty?"

No. "I'm okay."

"You know you can tell me if something's bothering you, right?"

Tyler nodded. "I know. Thank you, Josh." He gave him a soft kiss on the cheek, trying to alleviate some of his Protector's worries. "I love you."

"I love you too, sweet boy. So much."

Before he knew it, they were inside a fancy conference room. With only the two of them in there, the room felt almost... too big. But right now, maybe space was exactly what he needed.

Josh watched as Tyler opened his backpack and pulled out his notebook and pen. "You're flying through that notebook," he stated before giving him a sweet smile. "I'll have to remember to buy you a bigger one next time."

Tyler returned the smile. "Guess I've had a lot of things to get off my chest lately."

"And I think that's a beautiful thing. Writing is a form of art just as intricate and complex as a song or a picture." He reached over and laid his hand on top of Tyler's. "They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a word picture... that's priceless."

His heart melted a little at Josh's words. "That's beautiful, Josh. Thank you for saying that." Scooting his chair in closer, he gave him another big hug. "You mean so much to me."

"You mean so much to me too, lovebug. You're my world." He gave him a soft kiss on the lips before cupping his cheeks inside of his hands. "My heart is all yours, remember?"

"I know."

Tyler's thoughts went to all of the Keepers that had been snatched away from their Protectors. How were they to survive without the love and attention they needed? What if someone was hurting them... or worse?

What about their Protectors? What were they supposed to do with themselves not knowing whether their beloved Keepers were okay or not?

"Sweetheart?"

He snapped out of his thoughts, frowning a little when he noticed the worried expression on Josh's face. "I'm sorry, J."

"Hey..." Josh tried again, voice a bit softer this time. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Tyler nodded and cleared his throat as he tried his best to silence the intrusive thoughts and nagging questions swirling around inside of his head. He knew he had to tell Josh... but not now. The last thing he wanted to do was make him feel more anxious before his big meeting.

"I want to be strong for you, Josh."

"Oh, baby..." Josh kissed him again, lingering by his lips for a few moments as he took in the younger boy's breath ghosting across his skin. "You're stronger than you'll ever know."

He smiled a little at that. "Thank you. I'm really proud of you for doing this. Go in and kick that meeting's butt, okay?"

Josh blushed at the comment, much to Tyler's delight. "I'll try." He looked at his watch and sighed. "Guess I should probably get going. If you need me, the conference room is right down the hall and to the left. There's also an empty office across the way with a sofa in it if you want to sit someplace more comfortable."

"Thank you, Joshua." Anxious thoughts turning into all things soft and sweet, Tyler started nibbling on the tip of his thumb. "Want my pacifier but I don't want someone to see me on accident and be weirded out."

"No one's gonna bother you, sweetness." Josh gave him a reassuring kiss on the forehead as he stood up. "Just crack the office door for air, put your pacifier in and I'll be back before you know it. And besides, even if someone did see you, they'd probably just melt into a puddle from seeing such a cute baby boy." He smiled.

He giggled, quiet and sweet. It was amazing how his Protector always seemed to know the exact thing to say to calm him down. "Hurry back."

Josh blew him a kiss, returning what he had received that morning. "Always."

Chapter Text

"Aww, he's so cute!"

Tyler's eyes fluttered open and he nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw Josh and a young woman with bright blue eyes standing in the doorway.

His hand flew up to his pacifier, a look of terror written all over his face. The woman hurried over to his side, shushing him. "Shh, shh, sweetie, it's okay," she said as she crouched down next to him. "Keep your paci in, love."

Tyler lowered his hand, sleepy, doe eyes staring back at her. The corners of his lips turned up into a smile when she placed her hand on top of his. "Is that better?" she asked.

When he nodded, Josh came over and sat down next to him. "Hi, sweet boy. This is my co-worker and friend, Jenna."

Jenna gave Tyler a gentle smile. "Hi, Tyler. Josh has told me a lot about you."

"All good things," he put in, a grin on his face.

Tyler finally took the pacifier out of his mouth and gave her a shy smile. "S'nice to meet you, Jenna," he said softly. "You're so pretty."

"Aww!" She giggled. "You're such a cutie!"

Cheeks stained a bright red, he made a small 'teehee' noise. "How did the meeting go?"

"Good and bad." Josh laughed, albeit a bit dryly. "It ended a little while ago but I just finished talking with my father. Jenna wanted to meet you, though, so she waited until I was done."

The brunette thought about asking what his father had to say but he decided to wait until later on when they were alone. "Well, do you have more work to do?"

"No, we're all done for the day." Josh looked at Jenna and smiled. "We wanted to see if you felt up to going out for dinner. Jenna knows a really good Chinese place here in LA."

She smiled. "Yeah, I think you'll like it."

"Oh..." Honestly, he wasn't all that hungry. The day's events had left his stomach feeling quite... uneasy. "Are we going right now?"

"Go out to dinner in these gross work clothes?" Jenna laughed. "No way, I'm definitely going back to the hotel to freshen up. It's almost 5:00 right now, so how about I pick you guys up around 7:00-ish?"

Josh looked at Tyler for his approval, to which he finally nodded. "Yeah, that sounds good."

"Awesome!" Standing back up, she smiled and gave them a little wave. "See you guys in a bit."

Now by themselves again, Tyler leaned his head against Josh's shoulder and sighed a little. So much to say, yet not enough time...

"I can tell something's on your mind," Josh stated. "Wanna talk about it later on?"

Tyler just nodded, otherwise silent as his mind flip-flopped between excitement over Annaliese's big announcement and sadness over what Shiloh had told him about the missing Keepers.

What was he supposed to do when everything he knew was starting to change before his eyes?

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Did you have fun tonight, Ty?"

Half-past 10:00 and the boys had just arrived back at the hotel. Despite only five minutes having gone by, they were already shirtless and lying in bed together, savoring their skin-to-skin contact.

"I did," Tyler said quietly. "Jenna is nice." Much like this afternoon, his mood was somewhere between "anxious" and "soft."

"She is. I can tell she really likes you." Josh leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "You did so well with her tonight."

"Thank you, J." His mind went back to how she had reacted when they first met. "How come she wasn't weirded out by my pacifier? Did you tell her about it beforehand?"

Josh shook his head. "Not at all, babe. Don't tell her I told you this, but Jenna was a mommy at one point. She even had her own baby boy."

Tyler raised an eyebrow. "She has children?"

Stifling a giggle, the older man shook his head again. "No, remember that time we talked about little space? A lot of times, the "dominant" person in the relationship is called a 'mommy' or 'daddy' by the little."

"There is no way I'm calling you daddy."

Laughing, Josh nudged him in the side. "Nor do I expect you to. That's just what Jenna and her partner did. Besides, I don't think you're a little, anyway."

Tyler thought about what Josh had told him. If Jenna had done that sort of thing before, it would explain why she was so nurturing and sweet towards him all night long. Not that he was complaining... after all, having two people dote on him felt amazing (and his Time Keeper certainly didn't mind the attention either).

"Maybe she should be a Protector too."

"Well, you never know." Josh nuzzled his nose into the side of Tyler's neck. "Hey, Fynn's been texting me. Do you want to FaceTime with him and find out how Cheetah's doing?"

Tyler's face lit up at that. "Yeah, I wanna see my baby."

Josh chuckled as he reached into his pocket. "Okay, sweetheart, let me call him."

While they waited for the video call to connect, they shifted around on the bed so Josh was laying on his side with Tyler's head and upper body perched on the side of his arm.

"Yo!" Both of them smiled when Fynn's face appeared on the screen. "What's up, my dudes?"

"Long time, no see, weirdo!" Josh stuck his tongue out.

He snorted. "The only weird one is you, Dun. How ya doing there, Ty-Guy?"

"I'm good. We miss you, Fynnley!"

Josh turned his head to look at Tyler, eyebrows raised a little. "Hey, speak for yourself."

"Don't mind that not-so-giant hater you're laying on, Tyler. He's just mad because he'll never be as cute as I am."

Tyler giggled. "Both of you guys are cute. Does that make you feel any better?"

"No." Fynn laughed. "Hey, both of you are shirtless. Am I... interrupting something?" He winked.

Josh rolled his eyes while Tyler just blushed. "Yeah, because if we were, we would totally just stop so we can FaceTime with you."

Fynn shrugged. "Hey, I don't mind watching."

"I'm about two seconds away from hanging up right now."

Tyler just giggled quietly as he listened to Josh and Fynnley go back and forth with each other, a subtle ache over his heart. He hadn't realized how much he had missed home until he saw Fynn's face and their living room in the background.

What would he ever do without his Protector (and an ex-Protector) to keep him safe?

"Ask him about Cheetah," he whispered in Josh's ear after a few minutes.

"Oh, right." Josh cleared his throat. "As much as I'd love for us to keep roasting each other, Fynn... we actually called to see how Cheetah is doing."

"Well, he hasn't killed me yet, so that's a good thing, right?"

"Depends on who you ask."

Tyler nudged Josh with his elbow. "Hey, be nice to Fynnley."

"See! At least someone cares about me." The blonde grinned. "Cheetah is fine. He stays out of my way and I stay out of his. Though I woke up the other night to see him sitting in the doorway staring at me. I honestly believe he's plotting my death."

"Maybe he's just trying to get a feel for you," Josh offered.

"Yeah, getting a feel for what my dead body might taste like."

"Can we see him?" Tyler asked.

"Sure, hold on."

The camera view changed from Fynn to the sofa, where a very majestic-looking Cheetah sat washing his ears and face.

"Hi, baby!" Tyler squealed.

Cheetah stopped and looked up at the sound of Tyler's voice before he went back to grooming himself.

Fynn scoffed a little. "Typical cat..."

Tyler pouted. "Hey, he's busy."

The camera changed back to Fynn. "Jeez, I'm so tired. It's 1AM here and I literally just finished watching this dumb movie."

"Go get some rest, Fynn," Josh said. "We'll be back on Wednesday morning, so you only have one more day left to goof off."

"Hey, I don't know what you're talking about, I've been busy. It's not easy keeping this entire house clean all by yourself, you know."

Josh smirked. "Would you like me to hire some additional help then?"

"No way. Fynnley Harrington works alone."

Tyler decided to speak up again before another round of useless banter ensued. "You really should go to sleep, Fynn."

"Yeah, I will." He yawned. "I'll catch up with you two lovebirds later. Love you guys."

"Love you too," they said in unison before Josh ended the call.

"Sounds like Fynn misses us," Tyler said as he took his head off of Josh's arm.

"Yeah, I doubt it." Josh laughed. "Nice to see Cheetah though, huh?"

He nodded, a big smile on his face. "Mhm. He's my little baby boy."

"And so are you." Josh turned over so he faced Tyler directly. "You're so beautiful, you know that?"

Tyler blushed. "T-Thank you, Joshua..."

Josh brushed a stray piece of hair off Tyler's face. "Do you still want to talk about what was on your mind earlier? Or do you want to wait?"

"No, we can talk." There was no point in putting off what could be done right then and there. "But first... can I ask you what happened with your dad?" He paused for a moment. "It's okay if you don't want to tell me."

"Of course, hun, I don't mind." Lifting Tyler's hand up to his lips, he pressed a soft kiss to his knuckles. "A big part of the meeting we had today was the CEO announcing that he's retiring at the beginning of next year. Over the next few weeks, he's going to start interviewing different higher-ups for his replacement. That's what my dad wanted to talk to me about; he wants to take the CEO's position and he thinks I should take over for him as vice president."

"That's great, Jish!"

"I would agree, but... my dad isn't exactly on the up-and-up. He wants me to use my influence to... well, make sure he gets his way."

He frowned. "Isn't that unethical?"

"Very." He sighed. "I told my dad I can't do that and he didn't take it too well."

"What did he say?"

"That I would regret it if I got in his way. I don't know what that means but I'm guessing it has something to do with my job."

"Oh, my gosh," Tyler mumbled, a worried look written all over his face. "What if he does something really bad to you?"

"I know, baby. But he's my dad. I'd like to think he just said that stuff out of anger and didn't actually mean it."

"I really hope so. But that really worries me, J." Tyler leaned his forehead against Josh's, squeezing his eyes shut as he tried his best to fight back tears. "I love you so much, Joshua, and I don't ever want to lose you."

Josh reached up to run his fingers through Tyler's hair. "Hey, shh, shh, don't get upset, sweetheart. I'm not going anywhere. You're always going to be my baby boy."

"And your Keeper?"

"Till the day I die. I promise."

Tyler felt a huge sense of relief wash over him. If he hadn't felt so anxious, he might have laughed over how up-and-down his emotions had been all day. "I'm sorry, I'm a bit of a mess today."

"No apologies at all, hun." He gave Tyler a sympathetic smile. "Now it's your turn. What's on your mind?"

Tyler's mind went to the two big things he had found out today. At this point, he didn't even want to mention the missing Keepers situation until he got more information. The last thing he wanted to do was make Josh worry over something that hadn't even been confirmed yet.

In the end, he decided to stick with just the positives of the day. "Joshua..." He gave his Protector an excited smile. "Annaliese called me this morning and told me she's pregnant!"

"Wow! Seriously?" Josh grinned. "That's so sick!"

"I know! And she wants you and me to be honorary uncles. That means we're going to have our first little niece or nephew!"

"Aww, that's amazing. I bet you're so excited, darling. Babies are precious."

"They are. Having a baby is a really big deal for Keepers. It's much more instinctual for us."

"Well, I'm so excited for Annaliese! Let's stop by their house this weekend and give them a 'Congratulations' card. I'm sure she'd love to see you when we get back home."

"I'd like that." Tyler leaned over and gave him a quick peck on the lips. Before Josh could do anything else, he turned over onto his side and scooted back up against the redhead's body. "Can you hold me?"

"Of course I can," Josh said, wrapping his arm around Tyler. "I'm always down for spooning."

After a few moments of shifting around to try and get comfortable, Tyler finally settled down, sighing a little. "Mm, that's better."

"You're a little wiggle worm, aren't you?"

He smiled. "Maybe a little. Why? Does it..." He cut himself off with a giggle. "Joshua, is it just me or do I feel something poking me in my back?"

"It's just you."

Tyler laughed. "You're a silly goose, you know that?"

"Nuh-uh, that's you." Josh placed a single kiss onto Tyler's neck. "Wanna turn on a movie and kiss a little? I've missed those lips of yours."

He chuckled. "Sure. Oh, by the way, are you working tomorrow?"

"Just a few things here and there, but I don't have to go back into the office since we already had the meeting."

"Well, there's something I've been thinking about trying with you..." Tyler tilted his head back so he could look up into Josh's eyes, the slightest hint of mischief hidden within his smile. "And I'm gonna need your full attention."

Tyler's eyes giving away more than words ever could, Josh's mind went through a million possibilities at once, a good majority of them being things he wouldn't dare whisper into his Keeper's oh-so-innocent ears. "So, uh... can tomorrow be here now then?"

Tyler gave him a sly smile. "Just hurry up and find a movie so I can kiss you already."

"Ooh, he's impatient." Josh chuckled. "Where has my sweet and shy baby boy gone?"

"He's still in there." He giggled. "But when you've been as soft and needy as I've been all day..."

Josh just smiled and wrapped his fingers around Tyler's arm. Lifting his wrist up, he pressed a soft kiss onto his Time Keeper symbol, sending chills up and down the younger boy's body.

"You've got me all to yourself, love bug."

Chapter Text

"Jish... Jishwa... wake up..." Tyler giggled when Josh's finally opened his eyes. "Good morning."

Said redhead smiled when he focused in on the brunette's face. "Good morning, lovely."

Before he could say anything else, Tyler leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. "Happy Josh Day," he whispered out.

"Happy Josh Day?" Josh chuckled. "Oh my, I didn't know that was today."

"It is." He kissed him on the lips before giggling again. "Today is all about you! You deserve to have your own special day too."

Josh's smile widened, a bit speechless from such a kind gesture. "Oh, Ty, you don't need to do that."

"But I want to." He leaned his forehead against Josh's, a soft smile on his face. "I already have our breakfast in bed on the way here."

"So they're bringing us up some cereal?"

Tyler giggled before nudging the redhead in the side. "No, you silly goose."

"Hey, you did say it was Happy Josh Day," Josh teased. "Seriously, though, thank you so much, baby. You're too good to me."

"No, that's you. I love you, Josh."

"I love you too, baby." Tyler gave him a sweet smile before sitting up. "I smell that you've already showered, so can I go and take one too before the food gets here?"

"Of course." Tyler chuckled. "I'm not gonna stop you from showering... though, I mean, I should since you never dry off all the way."

He laughed. "I've told you already, Ty, I let nature do the rest for me."

"Mhm. My silly Protector."

Josh grinned. "Your one and only."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"You have great taste in breakfast, my darling. That was delicious."

"Aw, thank you. It really was. Everything we've had to eat here so far has been amazing." Settling back against the pillows, Tyler curled up next to Josh. "Are all hotels like this?"

Josh chuckled. "Not exactly. But I think what's more important is who you're with rather than where you're staying at."

He nodded. "M'so glad I came with you, J."

"So am I, baby boy." Josh kissed him on the forehead and laughed. "But I guess we're heading back to cold Columbus tomorrow, huh?"

"Yeah, I'm not looking forward to that. But at least I have you to keep me warm, right?" He looked up at him and smiled. "Well, when you're not working, that is."

"Work is a pain in the butt. And I'm sure it's about to get even crazier with this shake-up." Josh sighed a little. "Help keep me sane?"

"Of course." Tyler moved in even closer to Josh's body. "I'll always have a listening ear and a big hug waiting for you when you come home. Just so you always know how much I care about you."

Josh smiled. He didn't know whether it was from all the positive attention or if the moon and stars had aligned just right in the sky, but he felt tears start to form on his eyelids. "Oh, jeez," he muttered as he swiped away a falling tear. "Sorry, I'm a bit of a hot mess right now."

"Hey, don't apologize. You know me, I'm always crying." Tyler laughed a little before leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. "Is something bothering you?"

"No, I think I'm just feeling... emotional over how special you are to me. You help me in so many ways that I can't even begin to describe, Tyler."

He gave him a big smile. "Aw, thank you. You're special to me too."

Josh closed his eyes and smiled, a content sigh leaving his lips. "I don't know how this morning could possibly get any better."

"Well..."

He opened his eyes to look at a now blushing Tyler. "Ty? What's wrong?"

"Um... remember what I told you last night?"

"Well, there's something I've been thinking about trying with you... and I'm gonna need your full attention."

All of the available blood in Josh's body raced straight to his crotch. "Oh, how could I possibly forget? You really piqued my curiosity." Among other things...

"Oh gosh, this is so embarrassing." The only thing Tyler wanted to do was curl up into a ball and die, but he hadn't spent all morning psyching himself up to do this just to back out of it now. "While I was waiting for you to get out your meeting yesterday, I was doing some research about some, um... stuff."

Josh raised an eyebrow. "What kind of stuff?"

"Um... various articles on how to better please your partner." By this point, Tyler's blush had turned a dark shade of red. "And that led to reading stuff about... um, oral sex."

Inside of his mind, Josh battled with his dick to calm down a little before it jumped right out of his pants. "Yeah?"

"And..." Tyler gave him an embarrassed smile. "I want to try it with you."

Josh was... speechless, to say the least. Was he still asleep? Was all this food and unexpected suggestion of a blowjob just part of a really long and unfair dream?

Reaching up to his arm, he pinched his skin between his thumb and pointer finger. When everything around him stayed the same, including the wide-eyed look on Tyler's face, all of the air rushed out of his lungs. "You aren't messing with me, are you?"

Tyler shook his head. "Not at all."

"And... you're sure? Because I don't want you to feel like you have to do stuff with me just to make me happy. We only do things when you're ready, remember?"

"Yes, I remember. That's why I looked it up first." Tyler gave him another smile. "I... I think I'm ready to try something new with you."

"Well..." Josh let out a big sigh before giving him a smile. "If you're 100% sure, then I'm definitely not going to be one to turn you down."

Tyler giggled. "Sick."

"So sick." He leaned over and gave him a quick peck on the lips. "But if you change your mind, we can stop at any time. No questions asked."

Tyler gave him a grateful smile. "Thank you, Joshua."

"No need to thank me. I'm the one who should be thanking you." He scratched the back of his head, an awkward look on his face. "Though I'm not quite sure the best way to say, 'Thanks for wanting to give me head.'"

"Exactly how you just said it." Tyler giggled before sitting up. "So, um... is now a good time?"

"Anytime's a good time for me, baby boy."

Blushing, he switched his position so he could kneel next to Josh's legs, taking in how alluring his Protector looked wearing just a loose pair of jeans and nothing else. "Um... I guess you need to be turned on for this, right?"

"Oh, I've been hard."

Tyler rolled his eyes a little. "Silly goose." A soft smile on his face, he crawled over so his body laid halfway on top of Josh's, his lips just inches away from the older man's collarbone. "Just let me know if you want me to stop... you know, just in case I'm absolutely terrible at this."

"You'll be fine, baby. Just having you do this is a dream come true for me."

Tyler looked up at Josh one last time before focusing his attention elsewhere. Breath coming out in tiny huffs, he kissed down the older man's chest, cheeks burning at the sheer... thought of what he was about to do.

Noticing how close his mouth was to one of the redhead's nipples, Tyler glanced up at him again. "Hey, are your nipples sensitive?"

"Guess you'll have to find out." Josh stuck his tongue out at him, a playful smile on his face.

He smiled back at him before going back to what he had been doing. Trailing his kisses further and further down Josh's abdomen, his fingers went up to Josh's right nipple, being as gentle as possible. A pleasant feeling came over him as he listened to the soft exhale in response.

Fiddling with the zipper on Josh's pants, he hoped to all things good and holy that he didn't look like a complete and total idiot right now. Once he finally got them undone, he slid his pants and underwear down in one fell swoop, said man lifting his hips up to help him along.

Tyler laughed nervously. "Guess you weren't kidding when you said you were hard."

Josh chuckled. "Seeing your pretty little mouth all over me didn't make it any better."

He gave him a shy smile before focusing his attention back on what was in front of him. A few nights ago, touching each other for the first time had been one thing... but this was on an entirely different level.

A terrifying, yet exhilarating level.

"Tell me if anything hurts," he mumbled as he slowly took Josh into his hand.

He grinned. "Just watch your teeth, hun."

Blushing so hard he feared his face might explode, Tyler locked eyes with Josh as he placed a gentle kiss against the tip. A bit surprised by how soft and warm it was, he trailed his kisses to the base before licking a stripe all the way back up.

"God, Ty, you're such a tease," Josh groaned.

A bit pleased with himself, Tyler gave him a playful grin before laying his tongue flat against the tip, tapping his length against his tongue a few times. At this point, he had no clue if he was actually doing anything right, but Josh seemed to be enjoying it, so he kept going.

After a few more minutes of teasing, Tyler finally slipped the entire tip into his mouth. He expected it to taste weird, but it was more of a salty, skin flavor with just a hint of body wash... strange but certainly not unpleasant.

"Yeah, Ty, just like that," Josh moaned out.

Tyler wanted to laugh as his mind went back to the time he had accidentally overheard Josh saying the same thing while masturbating. Moving his head up and down, he closed his eyes and settled into a slow, yet firm pace.

Minutes slipping by, Josh's hand went up to Tyler's head, tangling his fingers in his hair as an overwhelming urge to be more... dominant came over him. "Hey, Ty?"

When Tyler looked up at him with those gorgeous, doe eyes, he resisted the urge to cum right then and there. "Yes, J?"

"Can I pull your hair a little? I won't be rough, I promise."

To his surprise, the brunette nodded, reaching for Josh's other hand and placing it on top of his head as he switched his focus back to his ministrations. A soft, albeit muffled, moan came up his throat as he felt fingers tug on his hair, gently guiding his head up and down.

"Doing so good, baby," Josh breathed out as he tried his best to keep from bucking his hips in Tyler's mouth. "So beautiful with your pretty, red lips around me like that."

Tyler hummed, his Protector's words egging him on even more. Hands moving up and down Josh's thighs, he slowly became more and more aware of how aroused he felt from how sweet, yet dominant Josh was being.

"Such a good boy for me," Josh praised him again. "You're such a little tease."

He giggled (or tried to anyway) as he focused on sucking right at the tip where Josh was most sensitive. Breath shallowing out, Tyler could tell his Protector was close to falling apart.

"Tyler, I'm..." Josh moaned out, his face contorted into the most beautiful, pleasure-filled expression. "Let go if you don't want to--"

He was cut off by Tyler shaking his head and humming a 'Nuh-uh' as he went at it with everything he had.

Was he really going to...?

Any and all concern faded into the background as Tyler slid his tongue over just the right spot, sending Josh right over the edge. Soul breaking into tiny, delicate pieces, his mind went blank as he panted his Keeper's name out over and over again.

Josh's dick throbbing away in his mouth, Tyler slowed down, memorizing how hot and sticky his lover's cum felt all over his tongue.

Pulling off of him, he locked eyes with Josh before letting the cum run down his lips, some of it even dripping onto the redhead's stomach. After it was all gone, he swiped his tongue across his front teeth before giggling.

Josh was... flabbergasted, to say the least. "Holy sh--"

Tyler put a finger up to his lips. "Language, J."

Josh had to laugh at the sheer absurdity. Was Tyler, the guy who had just done something that would make even the best porn star jealous, really telling him to watch his language?

"Wow." He watched as Tyler reached for a tissue on the bedside table, his head stuck in an absolute daze. "Jeez, you're a quick learner," he said, a breathless laugh leaving his lips.

The smile returned to Tyler's face as he crawled back up to be face-level with Josh, cheeks now dusted a light pink color. "Did you like it?"

"I loved it." Josh leaned over and kissed him on the forehead, returning the smile. "So, so proud of you, baby boy. You did so good for me."

"T-Thank you..." Cherishing the intimate moment they had just shared together, he curled back up next to Josh. If there was one thing he'd never get tired of, it was the feeling of a full Time Keeper. "Hey, Joshua?"

Eyelids lulling a little from the oxytocin flowing through his veins, Josh hummed a little as he focused back onto his Keeper. "Yes, lovebug?"

Tyler's voice came out in a soft whisper. "Happy Josh Day."

Chapter Text

"Attention passengers, this is your captain speaking. We are now at cruising altitude, so the seatbelt sign will be turned off. You are now free to move around the cabin. However, if you choose to remain seated, we ask that you please keep your seatbelts fastened."

Despite the fact that they were approximately 30,000 feet in the air, Josh's head felt more like it was in space. At this point, he didn't know whether it was from only being about 55% awake or whether it was more of concern over his precious Keeper.

Looking over, he sighed at the sight of Tyler curled up in the seat with his blanket draped over him. The younger boy had woken up with a headache and sore throat that morning, a sure sign he had probably caught some sort of bug.

At least it's not from his Time Keeper this time, Josh thought. He always hated it when his baby boy wasn't feeling well but at least he was actually in somewhat good spirits.

"Ty?" Josh reached over and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You doing okay?"

Tyler looked up from underneath the blanket, sniffling a little. "I'm okay. Just tired."

"I bet." He leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "If I had known you would get sick, I would've said no to you yesterday," he teased him. "I swear I don't have any cooties."

Tyler giggled a little. "It's not your fault, J. We did go out last night, so I could've picked it up anywhere." Moving around so he faced Josh directly, he gave him a small smile. "But I do think it was a really nice way to end our trip."

Josh smiled. To be honest, he was still trying to figure out how Tyler, a guy who had never done anything like that before, managed to give him such a fantastic blowjob. "It was amazing," he admitted. "This is probably a really dumb question, but... how was it for you?"

"That's not dumb." He paused for a moment before continuing. "It was a little weird at first but then I liked it. I also liked it when you were being dominant with me." He tugged his bottom lip in-between his teeth. "It was kinda hot."

"Oh yeah?" If Josh didn't calm himself down while he had the chance, there was sure to be a repeat of what happened on their last flight...

Tyler nodded before snuggling closer to Josh. "Mhm. And hearing you praise me like that was really nice; makes me feel like I'm all yours."

"You are. All of you, baby boy, from your head to your toes." Josh smiled at the soft blush that appeared on his cheeks.

"You're so sweet to me, J." Leaning his head on Josh's shoulder, he closed his eyes and sighed a little. "M'starting to get really soft..."

A small 'aww' leaving his lips, Josh took the opportunity to wrap his arm around Tyler. "Is there anything I can do to help you out?"

He looked down, chewing away at his bottom lip. "I really want to kiss you, but I don't want to get you sick."

"But you know I'd never turn down a kiss from my lovebug." Josh gave him a sweet smile. "Germs or no germs."

"I'd still feel awful..."

"And so would I knowing that my beautiful boy is all soft and kiss-less." He nuzzled his nose into the crook of Tyler's neck, grinning against his skin when he heard a soft whine leave his lips.

"Ji-i-sh... that tickles," Tyler whined as he squirmed around a little.

"I know it does." Josh laughed. "That's what makes it even more adorable."

Giggling, the younger boy tried his best to keep his composure. "Can we at least wait until I take some cold medicine before we kiss again?"

"Hmm..." Josh thought bout it for a moment. "Alright, fair enough. Want me to kiss your neck instead?"

Tyler stifled a laugh before shaking his head. "No, because if you kiss my neck, we'll definitely have a bigger problem on our hands."

Josh leaned over and whispered into his ear, making a rush of goosebumps go up and down his arms. "Such a naughty baby boy."

If Tyler was feeling soft before... he was even softer now. "Hey, J?"

"Yes, love?"

"Um, I was thinking..." Tyler looked away, the beginnings of a blush forming on his face. "What I did to you yesterday looked like it felt really nice. So maybe... I mean, you don't have to..."

Josh put a finger up to Tyler's lips before he could start rambling. "Hey. Whenever you feel like you're ready, I'm ready." He leaned in closer to his ear. "You know I'd do anything to hear those sweet lips of yours moaning my name like that."

Blush spreading down to his neck, Tyler felt like he was dying and being reborn all at the same time. "You're such a tease."

"So are you. Two can play at that game." Josh grinned before lowering his voice to a whisper. "M'gonna kiss that beautiful neck of yours before I lick all the way down your body. Intertwine our fingers together and let your legs wrap around my shoulders while you squirm and make those pretty little sounds for me."

"Jo-o-sh," Tyler whined. In the back of his mind, he was so glad that he had decided to wear loose sweat pants and boxers today.

"So sweet, yet so naughty." Josh kissed him on the cheek before smiling. "Love you, Ty Guy."

Tyler pouted a little. "Love you too, J, but you suck."

"Not yet." Josh winked, much to Tyler's chagrin as he tried to hide his blushing face. "I'm just messing with you, sweet boy."

Taking his hands away, he gently nudged Josh in the side with his elbow. "Can't turn me on like that when I'm feeling soft," he murmured as his thumb slowly went up to his lips.

"Aw, I'm sorry, babe." Josh kissed him on the forehead before noticing he was nibbling on the tip of his thumb. "Want your pacifier?"

Tyler looked up at that word, knocking him out of his trance. "What if people look at me weird?"

"Then I'll punch them in the face." Josh laughed at the mortified look on the brunette's face. "Just kidding. Everyone's asleep right now since it's still so early. So I think you'll be okay."

"Are... are you sure?"

"Positive." Josh gave him a loving smile. "Here, let me get it out for you."

He waited patiently as his Protector unzipped his backpack and rummaged around inside for his pacifier. Once he finally pulled it out, his eyes lit up a little, teeth biting down even harder on his finger.

Moving his thumb away, Josh slipped the pacifier into his mouth. "Is that better?"

He nodded before pulling his legs back onto the seat and moving his blanket back to rest underneath his chin. Eyelids lulling a little, Josh could tell that he was starting to get sleepy.

"You know what you are, Tyler?" He smiled when Tyler raised an eyebrow. "You're my adorable galaxy boyfriend."

Tyler took the pacifier out of his mouth to give him a smile. "And you're my sexy, redheaded space babe."

He giggled before closing his eyes and putting the pacifier back into his mouth, leaving Josh a surprised, mushy and hopelessly-in-love mess.

Chapter Text

A few days had gone by since Josh and Tyler had arrived back home from Los Angeles, and thanks to Fynnley's "pseudo-nursing skills," the brunette's cold hadn't turned out as bad as anticipated. Aside from some body aches and a lingering cough, he felt a whole lot better than he had on the plane back to Columbus.

"I don't understand how you can just let that... giant cat lay on you like that."

Tyler giggled at the blissfully confused look on Fynnley's face. Body stretched out across the sofa, perched on his hip was the ever-growing Cheetah, green eyes narrowed to near slits as he stared down his human archenemy.

"Because he's my pet Cheetah." Just to prove his point, Tyler blew a kiss in Cheetah's direction. "I think you're just jealous."

"Jealous? Of him?" Fynn rolled his eyes. "As if. I'd much rather have a puppy than a freakishly large cat."

"Hey, Cheetah may be a big boy, but he's mine and I love him."

Sighing a little, Fynn stood up and shook his head. "Whatever floats your boat, Ty-Guy."

"Try being a little nicer to him," Tyler suggested. Sitting up, scooping Cheetah up in the process, he nestled him into the crook of his arm, much to the feline's annoyance. "Come over and let him sniff you. That's how cats say hi."

Cringing a little at the thought of coming within five feet of the cat, Fynn let out a groan before trudging over to the couch. When he got within reaching distance, he held his finger out for Cheetah to sniff.

Ears laying back against his head, said cat leaned forward and sniffed his finger for a few seconds. When Fynn moved his hand to try and touch him, he flinched back and hissed at him.

Fynn nearly jumped out of his skin. "Jeez!"

Tyler frowned a little. "Be nice, Cheetah. I know you're one step away from being a wild cat but you can at least try to be nice to Fynnley."

Not amused at Tyler's "conversation" with Cheetah, the blonde rolled his eyes. "Oh, yeah, he's totally gonna listen to you. That cat has a death wish out on me and nothing is going to convince me otherwise."

Just as Tyler opened his mouth to reply, it was cut off by a knock on the front door. Frowning, his mind went to the worst as he let Cheetah jump out of his arms. "Who could that be?"

"Only one way to find out." Fynn grinned a little. "Be right back, okay?"

As he waited for Fynn to see who it was, Tyler's stomach turned at the thought of who it might be at the door. He never mentioned it, but in the back of his mind, he was still just as paranoid that his ex-Protector would find a way to track him down and try to kill him again.

Josh wouldn't let that happen to him... right?

"Hey, it was just the delivery man." A wave of relief washed over him as he watched Fynnley walk back into the living room with a package in his hands. "It's for you, actually."

"Me? But I didn't order anything."

Fynn chuckled, a mischievous expression on his face. "I know you didn't. It's from Josh, actually."

"Josh?"

"Yeah, he told me it'd be delivered today but I didn't think it'd be this early." Just to prove his point, Fynn set the box down in Tyler's lap. "It's a gift!"

His eyes narrowed a little. It wasn't that he didn't trust Josh, but if Fynn was somehow in on this... there was a high chance it would wind up being something really dumb. "Well, what is it?"

"Josh made me promise not to tell you. But if I were you... I would open that up when you're by yourself." He winked.

Tyler felt like dying right then and there at the dirty look on Fynn's face.

What was he about to get himself into?

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

After Fynn's not-so-subtle suggestion, Tyler decided to take the package up to his room. He knew it would be pointless to try and do anything else when his curiosity was at an all-time high, so he made up some lame excuse about wanting to take a nap.

Taking the pair of scissors he had found on Josh's desk, he cut the seal on the box before tearing the rest of it open. The first thing that he saw was an invoice with Josh's billing information on it from a company called...

Secret Delights?

Removing a large layer of paper and bubble wrap, he finally pulled out a small rectangular box. He nearly stopped breathing when he read the name printed across it.

Secret Delights: Dildo/Vibrator - Red

Was he dreaming right now? Was this another one of those weird 'whipped cream' kind of dreams? Because Josh really didn't buy him a sex toy off the Internet... right? Right?

Just as he was about to melt into a giant puddle of embarrassment and hormones, he noticed a small note attached to the back of the box with the heading: "Message To Recipient."

Hi, baby boy. ♡ If you can't already tell, I bought you a toy for you to use and experiment with as you please. ;) Remember to go slow, use lots of lube and most importantly, enjoy yourself!

I love you so much.

-Josh(ua)

Almost on cue, Tyler's phone buzzed over on the bedside table, making him nearly jump out of his skin. Picking it up, his heart pulled a little when he saw it was a message from the man of the hour...

Josh: Hey sweetness, I just got the notification that your package was delivered. Knowing you, I bet you've opened it already lol. I really hope you like your present!

Tyler: josh I swear to goodness

where the heck did you find a dildo at?

Josh: Secret Delights, duh. :P Do you like it?

Tyler: it looks really nice but I don't know if it'll fit...

Josh: Like I said, go slow and if it starts to hurt, take a break. ♡ Don't push yourself.

Tyler: oh my gosh my face is about to explode from how hard I'm blushing right now..

Josh: Wish I could see that cute face of yours right now. By the way, I'm not trying to "imply" anything... I just wanted you to have something in case you get a little curious and want something more than fingers when you touch yourself.

Tyler: oh goodness, I haven't even USED fingers yet. it's really... uh, tight.

Josh: You better watch it, baby boy. I can't have a hard-on while I'm at work. ;)

Tyler: you're gonna be the death of me, J.

Josh: ♡ I love you!

Tyler: I love you too, Joshua. ♡ thank you for the gift.

Josh: Of course, hun. Though I must admit, I'm having the biggest fantasy right now...

Tyler: what is it?

Josh: Well... I'm fantasizing about coming home from work and finding you completely naked on our bed.. fingering yourself...

Tyler: um...

is it bad that I'm kinda turned on by that?

Josh: Not at all , sweetness. ;)

Tyler: well... can we do that?

Josh: You mean...?

Tyler: I want you to touch me when you come home, J. I really need you. ..

Josh: God, baby...

After work, I'm picking up something special and then I'll be home. When I come upstairs, I want you to be in just your underwear and have your eyes closed. Can you do that for me baby boy?

Tyler: of course, J. ♡ can't wait for you to be home.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

It was quarter to 5:00 and Tyler finally had the house to himself. Fynnley had made up some lame excuse about "needing to clean his closet out" or something like that, but he figured that Josh most likely had something to do with him leaving so early.

What could his Protector possibly have in store for him?

Ever since his conversation with Josh, Tyler had been as soft as could be. So, naturally, that meant laying in bed and sucking on his pacifier while watching TV and doodling Josh's name over and over again in his notebook.

His heart skipped a beat when he heard noise come from downstairs, signaling that his J was finally home.

Remembering what Josh had told him (and knowing how fast said man walked), he turned off the TV, shoved his notebook in its usual place underneath his pillow and closed his eyes. As odd as it felt to be leaving himself this vulnerable, he also trusted Josh not to do anything weird or bad to him.

The ache in his arm intensified as he listened to Josh come up the steps and down the hallway to their room. As soon as the door opened, he remembered he hadn't taken his pacifier out, much to his annoyance. Hopefully, Josh wouldn't be turned off by how absolutely soft and pathetic he was right now...

"Hey, cutie." Even though his eyes were closed, he could still hear the smile in Josh's voice. "Look at you, up and waiting for me, just like I told you to." He felt the pacifier slip out of his mouth before being replaced with his Protector's soft, warm lips. "Such a good boy," he whispered after pulling away.

Tyler made a soft noise at the praise, wanting nothing more than to open his eyes and look at his Protector. Still, he kept them closed until Josh said otherwise. "Thank you, J," he whispered.

Curiosity piqued by the sound of a plastic bag rustling around, he began to wonder what Josh had bought. Hopefully, it wasn't another dildo...

"Darling? Can you stand up for me?"

Nodding, he scooted over to the edge of the bed, smiling a little when he felt Josh take his hand and guide him up on his feet. "Where are you taking me?"

"Just over here to the mirror. No peeking, okay?"

Tyler giggled, butterflies fluttering around in his stomach from the anticipation. "Okay."

"Alright, hold still." Josh let go of his hand before the sound of more crinkling. "Gonna slip something on you, okay? Is that alright?"

Something...? "That's fine."

Goosebumps ran up and down his arms as he felt a soft, cool... fabric slip over his shoulders. If he didn't know better, he would say it almost felt like some sort of...

"Ready to see yourself?"

Face already red, Tyler nodded. "Yes."

Josh chuckled. "Open your eyes, love."

Eyes fluttering open, he gasped when he saw himself wearing a long, floral kimono, the exact same one he had been 'ooh'-ing over at his favorite store a few weeks ago. "Joshua," he said, hand going up to his bare chest as he struggled to find the right words to say. "You-you  remembered this? After all this time?"

"Of course. I knew I had to get it for you after I saw how much you liked it." Circling his arms around Tyler's waist, he smiled before pressing a gentle kiss to the side of his neck. "You look beautiful."

"Thank y-you." He reached up to tangle his fingers into Josh's hair as he leaned back into his touch. "I... I feel beautiful."

"You are," he said softly. "Can... can I make you feel even more beautiful?"

Tears stinging at his eyelids, Tyler gave him a soft smile before nodding. "Yes," he whispered. "Be gentle?"

"Always."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

When Josh had said he would get back at Tyler for being such a tease... he wasn't kidding.

For the past ten minutes, the older man had peppered kisses onto his lips, face, neck, chest and even legs, leaving him a blushing mess.

"Joshua," Tyler whined as he stared at himself straining against his underwear. "Stop teasing."

"Hmm?" Josh bit down gently on the younger boy's hipbones. "What's that I hear?"

"Stop being such a lame-o," Tyler said between giggles. "I'm really turned on and I don't know what to do with myself."

"Well, I could think of a few things," Josh said, chuckling. "Let's stop for a moment." He paused to look up at Tyler. "Is it okay if I take your underwear off and touch you?"

Tyler looked back at him with his usual wide eyes. "More than okay."

Josh didn't need to be told twice, looping his fingers underneath the waistband of Tyler's underwear. Inching, inching, inching them down, he felt himself get even harder at the sight of Tyler's dick standing to attention against his tummy, a bit of pre-cum pooled at the tip.

"So gorgeous, baby," Josh whispered as he slowly started to stroke him, loving the soft, shaky sound Tyler made in response. "How does that feel?"

Despite the fact that Josh was only a few strokes in, he felt like he could cum right then and there. "G-Good..."

When Josh took his hand away a few minutes later, Tyler opened his mouth to say something but it quickly morphed into a broken moan as the redhead took the whole tip into his mouth.

Closing his eyes, Tyler let himself focus on the sensation, draping his calves over Josh's shoulders as said man laced their fingers together. With such strange, yet addicting feelings making its way through his body, Tyler wondered if any of this was truly real.

With the way Tyler was whimpering and squirming around, Josh decided to move on before his baby boy was too far gone. "Do you want to try a finger, love? I'll go slow, I promise."

Tyler bit his lip. "Will... will it feel good?"

"It will. Don't worry, I know all the right spots." Josh gave him a wink. "And if you don't like it, just tell me and I'll stop, okay?"

Nodding, he watched with curious eyes as Josh took the bottle of lube out the bedside drawer and set it down next to them. Wrapping his hands around Tyler's hips, he slid him closer before settling back down onto his stomach.

Slicking his fingers up with lube, he kept one hand on Tyler's ankle before slowly easing a finger inside him. Wincing a little at the foreign sensation, the younger boy let out a soft whine.

"Shh, shh, it's okay, baby," Josh shushed him. "You're doing so good, sweetheart."

After a few moments, Tyler finally started to relax a little, feeling brief sparks of pleasure run through him as the tip of Josh's finger brushed against something quite sensitive...

"Wanna try another finger?"

Tyler wanted to melt at the soft, concerned tone his Protector had. "Y-Yes," he whispered. One more finger and the change of angle hit that spot dead on, making him cry out softly, much to his embarrassment.

Josh, on the other hand, was quite pleased with what he heard. "Don't be shy, lovebug, let me hear you."

Letting his guard come down some more, Tyler moaned and panted more freely as Josh explored inside him, the older man kissing up and down one of his legs.

"You're so tight," Josh murmured against his skin. "Wanna make love to you, darling."

"Wanna give it to you so bad," Tyler panted out. "Yours, only yours."

At this point, Josh was practically rutting against the bed, craving a bit of pleasure himself as he made his Keeper feel so, so good. "I love you," he whispered before taking Tyler back into his mouth, moving in tandem with his fingers.

Fingernails clawing at the sheets, Tyler was starting to lose track of time, space and what his name even was as the ache in his lower stomach grew more and more intense. "J-Josh," he moaned out. "Feels so good..."

Loving what he was hearing, Josh changed his angle to brush against that spot once again.

"R-Right t-there," Tyler stuttered out, curling his toes until they started to hurt.

Josh ran his tongue back over the underside of the tip and Tyler's orgasm greeted him with a quick and intense flurry of pleasure. Vision going white, his heart and Time Keeper felt close to exploding as he arched his back in pleasure.

The next thing he knew, he was opening his eyes back up to a smiling Josh. Ears still ringing, he struggled to remember where he was and what they had been doing.

"Hey." Josh's voice was soft. "You with me?"

"I... I think so." Blown away by what had just happened, he tried to move but found he was simply too exhausted. "Did you, um..."

Josh gave him a grin. "Sure did."

"Oh, gosh." Tyler blushed, his usual, shy self coming back full-force. "Did I do okay?"

"You did perfect, hun. Sounded like you had quite the orgasm there." When he nodded, Josh gave him a sheepish smile. "Um, I was grinding against the bed too much, so when you came, I came too."

"Oh wow. See, I finally made you come in your pants too." He giggled. "I feel really special for some reason."

"That's because you are special, Ty." Climbing back up to be by his side, Josh leaned over and kissed him on the lips. "I wish you could see how you look when you're like that because you're breathtaking."

"Really?" Tyler whispered. "Thank you."

Josh nuzzled his nose into the brunette's neck. "So how did my fingers feel?"

"Really good. Maybe I can experiment with it a little bit more in the future," he said, a coy smile on his face as he hinted towards his gift.

Josh smiled back at him, chuckling a little. "You're a little troublemaker, you know that?"

"I know." Tyler giggled. "But I'm your troublemaker."

Chapter Text

"Why are you eating pickles?"

As Tyler sat with Annaliese on her and Noah's bed, he couldn't help but giggle at her antics.

Annaliese giggled as she cradled the jar of pickles in her arms. "My newest pregnancy craving. Can't get enough of 'em."

Tyler laughed a little. "I would've thought it'd be too early for you to have weird cravings."

"Well, according to the doctor, I'm about four months along. My cycle has always been really irregular, so when I first started missing, I didn't really think much of it. If the morning sickness had started earlier, I probably would have found out sooner." She placed a hand on her bump and smiled. "My OB-GYN has always been a little weird about me being a Keeper, so my regular doctor recommended a new one for me. Apparently, she's been doing this for years and has even had Keepers as patients in the past."

"Aww, that's great, Annaliese." Looping his legs over each other, he gave her a soft smile. "I'm so happy for you guys."

She smiled back. "Thank you, Ty. Noah and I decided to wait a couple more weeks to find out the gender of the baby... just so we can be 100% sure." She laughed a little.

"Whether it's a boy or a girl, I know they are going to be beautiful." He scratched a little at his Time Keeper symbol before clearing his throat. "Ever since you told me you're pregnant, I've been feeling so... maternal. I mean, I know I'm only abut to be 21 soon but I really want to have a baby too."

"I can understand. Babies are a lot of work, though. I have two younger siblings, and since I'm the oldest, I had to help take care of them all the time growing up. Once you change enough poopy diapers, the charm wears off real quick, believe me." She laughed.

The younger boy chewed at his bottom lip. "Yeah, you're right. And then there's always a chance the baby will inherit the Keeper gene; which isn't a bad thing, of course, but it's not exactly getting any easier for us out there..."

She looked down and sighed. "Yeah, that's what I worry about. Did you see what they posted on the TKD last night about the missing Keepers?"

Frowning, he nodded, wishing the news had been something better. "I did. They've been missing for weeks now and they still don't have any leads." He looked down at his lap, heart aching at the thought of being separated from Josh. "I can't even imagine what their Protectors must be going through right now."

"Well, you know what they told us to do... lay low and don't draw any unnecessary attention to yourself. But Tyler..." Her voice cracked a little as she looked away. "I can't afford to be separated from Noah. If my Time Keeper gets too low... that would be really bad for the baby."

"I know, Annaliese." He reached over for her hand and gave it a squeeze. "He'll protect you."

"Are... are you sure? I'm so scared he won't be able to keep me safe from these people."

"I know he will. Josh and I will always have your back too, okay? I'm scrawny but I can bite and scratch someone if I need to."

"Thank you, Ty-Ty." Her frown turned into an appreciative smile, much to Tyler's pleasure. "You're not scrawny at all, you look so great."

Now it was Tyler's turn to smile. "I can finish most of my meals now, though it still can be kind of hard for me at times."

"I know you're trying your best, sweetheart."

"Joshua has been such a big help. If I can't finish something, he'll eat it for me. It helps me not feel so weird and insecure." He looked away, feeling a bit shy as he rambled on and on about his Protector. "I'm sorry, am I talking too much?"

"Of course not! I love it when you talk about Josh." She giggled. "You're hopelessly in love, Tyler Joseph!"

Tyler's finger went up to his lips, nibbling on the tip of it as he tried to keep from getting soft. "I am." He sighed a little. "But I'm so afraid that I'll lose him somehow. I don't think my Time Keeper would be able to handle that kind of trauma..."

"I know, Tyler. But let's try not to worry about it too much." She gave him a small smile. "Here's to forever with Josh and Noah, right?"

"Right. And here's to your little Keeper in training." He smiled as Annaliese ran a loving hand over her belly. "We have to stay strong."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"There has been a possible new development in the case of the missing Keepers.

Keeper #11071992, Anya Stevens from Maine, has sent in a video describing her harrowing ordeal this evening with a group of individuals that may potentially be involved in the case.

'Hi, I'm Keeper #11071992 and I'm sending in this video to detail what happened to me this evening.

Around 5:30 this evening, I was at home fixing dinner for my Protector when I heard a noise outside. I thought it was just an animal messing or something, so I didn't think anything of it. But then I heard it again.

The next thing I knew, someone had kicked the door in and there was a hand wrapped around my mouth. I saw two other people as well but they had on masks on so I couldn't see their faces.

Thankfully, my Protector, Evan, heard all the commotion from upstairs and rushed down to the kitchen. One of them hit me in the head and the rest is pretty fuzzy after that. Evan wasn't able to stop them from getting away but he told he noticed their masks had the letters 'N-A-T-N' on the back of them.

Evan was able to get their license plate and submitted it to the TKD. We know the police won't do much to help us, so we're hoping that somebody on the Database can.'

Since receiving this video, we've been able to trace the license plate to an individual working with an undercover operation. At the moment, it seems this operation is only limited to within the United States but as the number of missing Keepers increases, there is speculation that the kidnappings may expand to other countries as well.

Due to this, we will be reaching out to certain Keepers for their help in an effort being planned by the TKD. Though the decision to participate in this effort is entirely voluntary, we are hoping to receive the needed support for this to be a successful mission."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * * *

Josh ran his fingers through Tyler's hair, looking down at the head in his lap as said young man stared at the screen, his expression unchanged from the last two times they had watched the video.

After the screen went dark, Tyler let out a slow, shuddering sigh. "Josh?"

"Yes, Ty?"

"Why me?"

Josh was silent for a few moments before he finally replied. "Maybe because you're an inspiration. You've escaped before."

"But, Josh..." Tyler closed his eyes as tears pricked at the corners of his eyelids. "I didn't think I'd have to be the one to save them."

Chapter Text

"Are you feeling any better, sweet boy?"

It had been a few days since Tyler had received the news he was going to play a major role in the ever-evolving effort to rescue the missing Keepers. Just in that short period of time, he had gone through a whole slew of emotions -- shock, numbness, anger, denial, fear, sadness, and then finally... acceptance.

The day was cold and rainy, the weather outside matching the chill Tyler felt inside of his bones. Heart and limbs tangled up with the one person where they both fit in perfectly, he cherished the feeling of Josh's hand on the small of his back, tracing tiny circles into bare skin as they laid in bed together.

"I'm... not sure how I feel," Tyler answered, ducking his face into the crook of Josh's neck, his voice soft. "I've been feeling so much lately that I don't know what's what anymore."

Josh nodded. He understood more than he'd ever admit. But if there was one thing that Tyler didn't need right now, it was yet another thing (or person) to worry about. "I just want you to know that I'm proud of you. You're such an inspiration to me and I know you're going to be the same for them too."

Tyler looked away, fingers curling against Josh's chest. "I don't know what's so inspirational about running away from your abusive Protector. If you ask me, I shouldn't have let him do all those things to me in the first place."

"You left him. You escaped. A lot of men and women aren't even able to do that because they're afraid of what could happen to them. I know you felt the same way, Tyler, but you still didn't let that stop you. And if you ask me... that's pretty darn inspirational."

He was silent for a few moments, taking in the simplicity and power behind Josh's words. "You... you don't think I'm a coward?"

Josh frowned at that. "Of course not. Why would I ever think something like that?"

Eyes shifting away, his facial expression went blank as memories of laying on the floor bleeding with his ex-Protector hovering over him came rushing back into his mind.

"I could beat you until every part of you is black and blue, but you still wouldn't dare to leave me. You know why? Because you're nothing but a coward."

"No reason, I guess."

No matter how much Tyler tried to deny it, Josh knew there were still so many mental and physical scars left over from his ordeal with his ex-Protector. But that was okay because some scars didn't fade as quickly as others.

In the back of his mind, though, he worried if taking on such a huge responsibility would have the potential to cause Tyler much more harm than good.

Josh was brought out of his thoughts when Tyler spoke again. "I don't think I can... express how much your words mean to me. You give me so much hope and courage, Josh, and I don't say 'thank you' nowhere near as much as I should for all that you do for me."

Pure love flooding his veins, the redhead pressed a kiss to the younger boy's forehead. "You don't need to thank me for anything, baby. I try to give you my all, and believe me, that's only a fraction of what you truly deserve."

Thunder rumbled through the air as Tyler closed his eyes, taking in the precious scent of the person he loved so much. "I think I know how I'm feeling, Josh," he whispered.

Josh tightened his grip around him before whispering back to him. "Tell me."

"Calm."

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When Tyler asked Josh to take him to the park, despite the fact that it was raining outside, the latter couldn't find a good enough reason to say 'no' when time wasn't on their side anymore.

Tyler held the umbrella (much to his insistence, since 'he was a bit taller') over them, nothing but light conversation between them as they listened to the rain hit the ground beneath them.

"Feels kind of therapeutic, huh?" Tyler mused as he slowed down to a stop in the middle of the walkway.

"I've never been one to willingly be out in the rain," Josh said, chuckling a little. "But yeah, being out here with you is relaxing."

A sad feeling came over Tyler as he stared out at the wet, muddy landscape. "I used to do this a lot when I was still with him. He'd be passed out drunk and I'd just sneak outside and let the rain just... drown me." He chuckled dryly. "Sorry, I know all of that probably sounds so melodramatic."

"Not at all." Josh wished he had known Tyler back then so he could've tried to save him from being with such an awful human being. "If anything, I'm glad it helped you get through it."

Tyler turned back around to face the path. "Hey, let's go to that jungle gym. At least it's covered."

It didn't take long for them to reach the spot that held so many beautiful memories. Even as they sat underneath the canopy, Tyler still felt just as nervous as he had the first time they came here.

"Little drier here," Josh stated as he settled down next to the brunette. "You know, I think we had our first kiss here," he teased.

He smiled, the first real one Josh had seen from him in what had to be days. "We did. Remembering it still gives me butterflies."

Josh smiled back. "Yeah?"

"Mhm." Tyler leaned his head on Josh's shoulder, feeling safe and warm in such a familiar spot. "Well, to be honest, you give me butterflies. Every time I see you smile or when you touch or kiss me, it feels like I have a giant nest of them inside my stomach."

"Hey, that's funny, Ty, because I feel the exact same way about you." Josh smiled as the blush he knew and oh-so-desperately loved came back to Tyler's cheeks. "What are the odds of that?"

"I dunno, but the odds are high that you're a dork."

The two of them started laughing and for a moment, things felt... normal again.

"You know, s'only fair for you to kiss me since we're in our special spot," Tyler murmured, hinting at what he wanted... and maybe more.

"Is it?" Josh smiled as he closed the distance between them.

Tyler let out a soft sigh when their lips finally met. But they were interrupted just a few kisses in when his phone started buzzing in his pocket.

Huffing a little, he pulled away and reached for his phone, already annoyed at whoever was trying to message him. Looking at his notifications, he saw that he had just received a new message from the Time Keeper Database.

"Josh," Tyler breathed out as his eyes flicked back and forth across the message. "Look at this."

New Message: Keeper #12011988,

Tyler,

All of us at the Time Keeper Database want to extend a warm 'thank you' for accepting your role in locating and rescuing the missing Keepers. We understand that this is quite an undertaking for a Keeper, both physically and emotionally, so we would like to provide you with an update.

In about a week or so, our goal is to put our plan into action. This will include traveling to a rural location outside of Kharkiv, Ukraine, where we believe the NATN group may be operating from. We will provide further details about how and when this will be carried out in the days to come.

However, because of your background, the enormity of the situation, and the effect this no doubt will have on your Time Keeper, we have made arrangements for your Protector, Joshua Dun, to come with you to Ukraine. Also, we have reached out to Fynnley Harrington, the Protector currently working for Joshua, for his experience and much-needed assistance in this effort.

Again, we want to express our deep appreciation for the courage and bravery you have shown both in the past and the present .

Warm regards to you and Josh,

-TKD

"Baby boy," Josh whispered excitedly as he pulled Tyler into a hug. "We'll be together!"

Having been on the verge of tears all day, Tyler absolutely fell apart. Sobbing into Josh's shirt, he held onto him as tightly as he could, never, ever wanting to let go, short of being placed six feet underground.

"Shh, don't cry, sweetheart, I'm here," Josh said as he rubbed his hand up and down his back. Once the younger boy's cries turned into just soft hiccups, he pressed a slow, breathless kiss to his forehead. "I love you so much, baby. Please don't cry."

"I love you too," Tyler whispered back. He sniffled before wiping at his eyes. "I'm just so relieved. Because I can't do this on my own, Joshua. I need you."

"And you have me. I'm here, I promise." Cupping the brunette's tear-stained cheeks in his hands, he gave him a long, sweet kiss. "I'm so proud of you. You're so strong, Tyler. Please believe that."

"T-Thank you..." He leaned his forehead against Josh's, a wobbly, but happy smile on his face. "Do I really deserve you?"

"You deserve the stars, Tyler." Josh reached down and picked up Tyler's arm. Bringing it up to his lips, he placed a soft kiss onto his Time Keeper symbol. "I can't give you all the stars. But I can love you to the moon and back."

Tingles running up and down his arm from warm lips against cold skin, Tyler closed his eyes and blushed, the softest of giggles leaving his lips. "Can we make every day Happy Josh Day, please?"

"Right after we make every other day Happy Tyler Day." Josh smiled before giving him a few more kisses. "Hey, I have an idea."

"What's that?"

"Let's head back home and put on some warm pajamas. You can get your galaxy paci and then we can turn on a movie and snuggle." Josh nuzzled his nose into Tyler's neck, making said boy squirm around. "And maybe a little kissing? We need to get in all the kisses that we can."

Blush intensifying, Tyler's thumb went up to his lips as he felt himself start to slip back into his usual state of softness. "Could... could we try some more French kissing too?"

"Um... I think anything less than a 'yes' would be an unacceptable answer, sweet boy."

Tyler laughed a little. "Wait, we should eat some ice cream beforehand."

"Ice cream?"

"Yeah, there's just something amazing about how sweet your lips taste afterwards."

"Well, I could think of something else sweet for you to taste..." Josh winked at him, a mischievous smile on his face.

"You're such a dork." He tugged on Josh's hand, now visibly flustered. "Come on, J."

Chapter Text

"I can't believe I'm wearing a unicorn onesie right now."

"Unicorns aren't even real, Josh."

"You're not real, Fynn."

6:00PM on a Friday night and Tyler was nothing but smiles during their first ever "animal onesie pajama party." (Though, in reality, it was more like Fynn coming over to stay the night while they dressed up in onesies, ate junk food and watched movies.)

Watching his two favorite boys banter back and forth in their unicorn and panda onesies while they stuffed their faces with candy was somewhat entertaining to him, if not a source of comfortable familiarity that made him want to close his eyes and smile until he couldn't anymore.

This was right. This was... home.

"What do you think of yours, Tyler?"

He snapped out of his thoughts when he heard Fynn say his name. "Oh, I love it," he said as he reached up to touch the cat ears on his onesie. "It's so warm and cozy." He giggled.

Josh leaned over to kiss Tyler on the cheek. "Making you feel a little soft too, huh?"

Pulling his "paws" over the top of his hands, Tyler nodded as he looked back up at Josh, almost hating how easily his Protector could see through him sometimes. "Maybe a little," he mumbled. "But my pacifier's upstairs."

"Want me to go get it for you?"

He shook his head. "No, that's okay, it'll just make me sleepy. And I wanna stay up for a while with you guys." He let out a tiny giggle. "Hey, I could always suck on your thumb..."

Fynn snorted. "Wow, kinky."

Josh rolled his eyes. "You're just jealous because no one wants to suck anything of yours."

"Ouch, my heart." The blonde feigned a hurt expression. "So much hate from such a short man."

And with that, they were off again. Tyler just reached for the bowl of sour gummy worms and kept his body weight leaned onto Josh as he wondered how the evening would progress.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Three movies, too many sweets and a million bad jokes later, things finally began to wind down. After they had cleaned everything up and made their way upstairs to change into their regular pajamas, the three boys found their way into Josh and Tyler's bed, chit-chatting away as a random TV show played in the background.

"I have to admit, tonight has been pretty fun," Fynn said as he stretched out across the bed. "That onesie got way too hot after a while, though."

"But you looked so adorable," Tyler said, smiling.

"Excuse me, Fynnley Harrington is not adorable." He crossed his arms, a smug look on his face. "He's only handsome."

Josh scoffed. "Yeah, only handsome if you like blonde beanpoles."

"Hey, no more picking on each other," Tyler warned, soft voice struggling to sound authoritative. "Let's call a truce and hug it out."

"I like hugs." Fynnley held his arms out before lunging himself towards Josh. "Love me!"

Tyler couldn't help but smile. As entertaining as it was to listen to their constant banter, seeing their 'loving' side was a welcome change.

Bringing his legs up to his chest, he rested his chin on the top of his knees as he let out a small sigh. Just a few days from now, I'll be leaving this house... Will I ever see it again?

Everyone was giving up so much; Josh had to take a leave of absence from work and Fynnley had to switch a bunch of stuff around in his schedule... all because of him. All because of the role he had to play to help the Keepers escape.

But could he really do it? Was he strong enough to stay alive?

"Ty-Guy?"

When he held his head back up, he realized that Fynnley and Josh were staring at him. "Oh, I'm sorry," he mumbled.

"What's on your mind, love?" Josh asked, nudging Fynn off of him so he could reach for Tyler's hand.

He just shrugged a little. "A lot. I guess I'm just worried about Tuesday. It's such a long trip and then once we get there... there's still that fear of the unknown. What if we can't find them? What if I can't help them escape?" He looked down, sighing. "This is just all so confusing."

"Aw, Ty..." Josh squeezed his hand. "I know it's hard not knowing what to expect, but Fynn and I will be by your side right up to the end. That's what we're here for. Even if we don't always know what to say or do, please know we still love you so, so very much."

"Yeah, you're our number one, Tyler." Fynn made a heart shape with his hands, a big smile on his face. "Josh will do his thing as your Protector and I'll be your comic relief."

The brunette had to smile at that, his heart over-filled from having such beautiful individuals in his life. "I love you guys too," he said softly. "Could I get one of those hugs?"

"Group hug!" Fynnley exclaimed before pulling both of them into a tight embrace. "Yo, we should totally make a cuddle puddle."

Josh rolled his eyes. "Dude, you smell like Skittles, no one wants to cuddle with you."

Fynn stuck his tongue out at him. "Taste the rainbow, bro."

Tyler spoke up, which surprised the both of them. "You know, I have always wondered what it'd be like to cuddle with the both of you..."

Heart pulling at the blush dusted across Tyler's cheeks, Josh locked eyes with Fynnley in a silent question. "Well, I mean... I'm down."

Fynn laid back against the pillows, arms going up behind his head. "Hey, you know I'm always down for some snuggling."

A shy smile on his face, it didn't take long for Tyler to settle down between Josh and Fynnley. Watching out of the corner of his eye, he couldn't help but smile as the blonde tried to figure out what to do with his hands.

Josh chuckled. "Fynn, you look like a fish right out of water."

"Hey, I haven't exactly done this in a while." Fynn chewed at his bottom lip. "Plus, I don't know what's off-limits to me."

Josh rolled his eyes. "Well, it's not like you're some random dude. I trust you. Whatever Ty's okay with, I'm okay with." He narrowed his eyes a little. "However, if your hand goes anywhere near his dick, I can and will kick your ass."

"Language, J."

Fynnley laughed. "Noted. Ty-Guy... may I please put my hand on your side?"

Tyler couldn't help but giggle at how new and exciting all of this was. "Y-Yes," he replied.

And that's how they stayed for a while, Tyler curled up against Josh with Fynn sort of half-hanging off his side. A bit of an uncomfortable position, yet the three of them enjoyed it more than they'd ever admit.

When Josh shifted around, Tyler took the opportunity to move his head so he could peer up at his Protector. "Jishwa," he whispered before giggling a little. "I love you."

"I love you too, baby boy," Josh whispered back before kissing him softly.

Smiling into the kiss, Tyler let out another tiny giggle before pressing their lips together again, his hands moving up to tangle into Josh's hair.

After a few moments of quiet kissing, they heard Fynn clear his throat. "Jeez, get a room, you two."

"We are in a room," Josh said before placing a soft kiss on Tyler's forehead. "Don't be jealous, Fynnley."

The blonde rolled his eyes. "As if. You're not even that great of a kisser, anyway."

"Ha. I think Tyler would tell you otherwise."

Said boy raised an eyebrow, feeling a bit confused as to what Fynnley meant. "Wait... have you two kissed before?"

"Way back in the day." Fynn moved his head to rest on the side of Tyler's hip, a cheesy grin on his face. "And there may have been some alcohol involved..."

Tyler's mind went to the thought of Josh and Fynnley kissing, and honestly, it made his stomach tingle a little. "Wow, that's kinda sexy."

"Ooh, such naughty words, Ty-Guy," Fynn teased him. "So that's why I can't take you guys seriously whenever I see you kissing."

"Don't pretend you didn't totally love the taste of lust and liquor," Josh said before laughing.

He rolled his eyes again. "That was so long ago, Dun, I barely even remember it."

"Well..." Tyler dragged his bottom lip between his teeth as he toyed with an idea inside of his head. "You could always do it again."

"Kiss him?" Josh stifled a laugh. "You couldn't pay me enough to kiss that dork."

"I don't want to pay you," Tyler murmured, a deceivingly innocent look on his face. "I just want to see what it'd look like."

Josh had to pause at that, a bit surprised by Tyler's suggestion. He knew his Keeper had a bit of a sassy side to him, but this... this was on a whole new level. "Are you sure? It wouldn't be weird for you?"

Tyler shook his head, eyes as wide as could be. "Nuh-uh. I've always been a little curious."

Fynn cleared his throat before sitting up onto his knees, locking eyes with Josh. "What do you say, Dun? Shall we give the cutie what he wants?"

Laughing a little, Josh finally shrugged, a grin on his face. "Sure, why not?" He scooched closer so he was mere inches away from Fynn. "Just don't slobber all over me, please."

Fynnley snorted a little. "As if. More like watch those giant front teeth of yours, please."

The two of them stared at each other for a solid five seconds before they started laughing.

"I can't look at you without smiling!" Josh exclaimed.

Fynn rolled his eyes. "Dude, close your eyes then! Kissing is serious business."

"Yeah, but kissing you isn't."

And with that, Josh closed his eyes, still smiling a little as Fynn leaned in closer. Their lips met, albeit a bit clumsily, as they started to kiss, the soft sounds filling the otherwise quiet room as Tyler took everything in, a strange but pleasant ache settling in the pit of his stomach.

When Fynnley pulled away a few moments later, he immediately turned to look at Tyler, eyebrows raised. "So how was that?"

Tyler pulled at the hem of his shirt, squirming around a little. "Really hot..."

"Ooh, Josh, I think we've got a little voyeur on our hands!"

Josh just laughed as he watched Tyler lean over and try to swat at him. "Dude, your breath tastes like Skittles. You need to brush your teeth before they all rot out your mouth."

"You're just jealous because I'm a better kisser than you."

Mind reeling from everything that had just happened, Tyler tuned their voices out as his fingers went up to his mouth, wanting nothing more than Josh's lips on his own after seeing how nice they looked against Fynn's.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"I can't believe you actually kissed Fynnley."

After a few silly stories, more laughs and then a final exchange of good nights, Fynnley had retired to the guest bedroom, leaving Tyler and Josh to settle down and engage in some much-needed pillow talk before bed.

"Hey, you wanted me to," Josh teased. "And you know I can't say no to my sweet boy."

"I know, but I didn't expect you to actually do it." Tyler giggled. "I liked it, though."

Josh smiled. "Good, I'm glad. I know you're still learnimg about your own fantasies, so you're always welcome to talk about them to us. We'll never make fun of you for it, I promise."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive." He chuckled. "One day, I'll have to tell you about some of my own fantasies."

Blushing, Tyler looked down. "Thank you, J. But did you... did you like it too?"

"It was okay. Just a kiss." He nuzzled his nose into Tyler's neck and chuckled again, sending pleasant little vibrations across his skin. "Certainly nothing like kissing you. I'll kiss Fynn for you any day of the week, but your lips... mine and only mine, baby doll."

Tyler giggled. "It's all yours, J," he whispered. "Every inch of me."

"Every inch?" Josh's voice took on a huskier tone before he captured Tyler's lips into a feverish kiss. "Can't wait till I can explore those last few inches of you, baby," he whispered back.

"Me too," Tyler breathed out. He tried his best not to get turned on, but as always, his crotch had other ideas. "But I want myself to be 100% too. I want to remember everything about my first time and not have all this bad stuff weighing on my mind when it happens."

Nodding, Josh kissed him gently before pulling him a bit closer. "Of course, baby, I understand. I want you to be in the right mindset too."

He looked up at the redhead, taking in how the soft illumination from the dimmed lights painted his eyes an even richer shade of brown. "Um, when we come back... maybe we could think about..."

A sweet smile on his face, Josh put a finger up to Tyler's lips to keep him from rambling. "I'm gonna treat you to the nicest dinner and we'll celebrate all we've been through together," he said, his voice coming out softly. "And then I'm gonna take you home, lay you down on this bed and make love to you until you can't breathe."

Closing his eyes, Tyler leaned his head against Josh's forehead, a shiver running down his spine as he let out a long, shuddering sigh. "Please."

Wrapping his hand around Tyler's wrist, he memorized the delicate melody of his heartbeat and the slow ticks from his Time Keeper, a unique sound that meant more to him than he could ever put into words.

"I promise."

Chapter Text

"Do you think they still see the sunsets?"

"I don't know, Ty. Maybe you can help them to."

Change of plans.

That's what Tyler had been told the day before by the Time Keeper Database. All of this wasn't just a simple effort to try and rescue them anymore. With the more information they found out about NATN, the less confidence they had that Tyler would be able to break into their compound, rescue the Keepers and make it out alive... running blind the entire time.

At this point, the only way they could try to rescue them was by having an eye on the inside. NATN would know that Tyler, one of the few Keepers to endure past abuse and actually live to tell the tale, was a prime abductee. He had heart, endurance, strength...

All the more reason to try and break him.

So it was now an official "infiltration mission." The orders were simple: Get as close as possible, send Tyler out as "bait" and wait for the match to be lit.

Being willingly kidnapped by NATN hadn't been part of the original plan. But Tyler had been imprisoned before, emotionally shackled to his ex-Protector... and he had made it out alive.

Those Keepers deserved to have that same chance.

"How long do you think I'll be there?" Tyler's voice was quiet, barely audible over the roar of the plane engines.

After a layover, the longest part of the trip was finally underway. Flying into the next day was disconcerting, not only because of the time difference but the events that laid ahead.

"I don't know." Josh had been saying that a lot ever since they got the news. Tyler couldn't fault him for it, though, because, honestly, he didn't know much of anything either. "I hope not very long. I don't want you to get sick again, like you were when we first met..."

"Me neither." Tyler sighed before looking at Josh with a small, but sad smile on his face. "My Time Keeper is better than it's ever been, though, so I'm not too worried about myself right now. I just want to help them."

"And you will. You're so brave, Tyler." He reached over and laced their fingers together. "I don't know if I'd be able to do it, if I'm being completely honest. I'm a bit of a scaredy-cat."

"So am I." The brunette laughed dryly. "But I also know I could've easily been in one of their positions. So I need to do something. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't."

"You're gonna do so great." Josh's voice lowered to a whisper as he leaned his forehead against Tyler's, his eyes closing. "So, so great."

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By the time they finally arrived in Kharkiv, it was late the next evening. Right outside the city, in an abandoned house that had became the unofficial "HQ" for their operation, the three men finally met their destiny and the people responsible for it.

As they all stood in the foyer with nothing but dust and peeling paint surrounding them, Tyler eyed the woman standing there.

"My name is Genevieve. I'm one of the representatives from the Time Keeper Database that they sent here to help complete this mission." She took a few moments to shake all of their hands, a cordial, yet vaguely unsettled smile on her face. "Where we are right now is the main house; this is where Josh, Fynnley, a few other key people and myself will stay during all of this."

"It's only a few of you guys here for this entire thing?" Fynn asked.

"Not at all. In total, there are over 100 volunteers heading this up, but most of them are scattered around the area. We didn't want to draw any undue attention to ourselves, so we split up into separate groups."

"Wow." Tyler couldn't believe that this much work had gone into the mission. He looked down at the floor, unsure if he should bring up the burning question on his mind. "Genevieve, I'm sorry if this is too soon to ask, but... what's going to happen to me?"

She shook her head. "No, not at all, Tyler. Why don't you all set your stuff down and follow me into the living room so we can talk more there?"

It didn't take long for them to reach the living room, the large area, thankfully, being in better condition than the foyer. Fynnley sat in an old leather chair across from Genevieve, while Tyler and Josh took their places on a loveseat.

After exchanging some general pleasantries about their trip, Genevieve set in on the discussion that no one really wanted to have, yet desperately needed to be addressed.

"If everything goes according to plan, we expect to have Tyler complete the "infiltration" by early tomorrow evening. Most of the day will be spent preparing everything and getting Tyler as close as possible. We do know that the area is regularly patrolled by members of NATN and once they find out that there's a Keeper nearby,.there's no doubt they'll try to capture him. Before he goes, though, we're going to implant a tracking device in his arm so we can know his whereabouts at all times.

"To put it simply, Tyler, your job is to relay as much information as you can to us so we can set up our part of the rescue. We won't be able to communicate with you regularly, but there will be a means of communication that we'll use once we feel the time is right. Most importantly, though, you need to try and give the Keepers a sense of hope. I can only imagine the current state their Time Keepers must be in right now."

She let out a long sigh. "We don't know how long this will take. But I promise you we'll be working as hard as we can." Her eyes set in on Tyler, she gave him a solemn look. "Give them a reason to stay alive for another day. Please."

"I'll... try my best." Tyler turned to look at his Protector and his friend. "What about Joshua and Fynn? What will they be doing?"

"Helping in whatever way that they can."

Fynn offered him a small smile. "We're right behind you all the way, Ty-Guy. Promise."

Tyler nodded before leaning his head onto Josh's shoulder, feeling a bit sad and confused by everything that was to come. Sighing, he closed his eyes when he felt Josh's hand on his knee, trying his best not to burst into tears as his intrusive thoughts came back with a vengeance.

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"This might sting a little bit going in."

Wide eyes squeezed into a pained wince as Genevieve's assistant pushed the tracker underneath his skin, strategically positioned right below his Time Keeper symbol.

A necessary evil to fight an even more evil problem.

Josh watched with a concerned look, not enjoying the sight of his baby boy in pain. Ever since yesterday, there had been nothing short of a hurricane of emotions whirling around in his head.

On one hand, he knew that everything would probably turn out alright. But on the other hand... why Tyler?

He's already been through so much and he deserves nothing but happiness and a calm life. But how can he have that with so many people relying on him to do something like this?

After his wound was bandaged, the man left Tyler and Josh alone in their room, nothing but the dim glow from the lamp and the silence to keep them company.

Box springs creaking as Tyler sat down next to him, Josh tried to come up with the perfect words to say on their very last night together. But no matter how much he struggled, how much he digged around... nothing seemed even remotely good enough.

"Josh?"

"Yes, Ty?" When he turned, his heart pulled at the indescribably sad look on Tyler's face.

His voice came out a near whisper. "I'm gonna miss you so much..."

Before he knew it, they were hugging, tighter and harder than they had ever hugged before. As Tyler buried his face into Josh's shirt, he tried his best to memorize every little detail about his Protector, desperate to have some sort of memory to cling onto while they were apart.

"I'm gonna miss you too, Tyler," Josh replied, no longer holding back the tears he had been pushing down for days as he placed kiss after kiss all over the brunette's face. "So proud of you, okay? I'm gonna be right here when you come back. And when I see you, I'm gonna hug until you can't breathe... just like in the movies." He chuckled a little.

That made Tyler smile. "Always a flair for the dramatic, huh?"

"Only for you, doll face." He smiled when Tyler reached up and wiped away the tears on his cheeks, heart filling with pure adoration. "But knowing me, I'll probably just say something really awkward and then we'll stare at each other for a while."

"Anything is fine with me," Tyler said as he leaned his head onto Josh's shoulder, staring off at nothing in particular. "Just as long as I can be back by your side again."

Silence came over them as Josh held onto the younger boy, eyes roaming around the room he had to learn to call "home" for an unknown period of time. He keyed in on an area of bright color in the corner of the room, the hues lighting up the otherwise surroundings.

His curiosity piqued, he gently let go of Tyler before standing up. He cautiously made his way over to the corner, unsure of what he was about to find.

A... flower?

When Josh came back into the light, Tyler raised an eyebrow at the small vase of dandelions in his Protector's hands. "Where did those come from?"

"I don't know. But they're so pretty." Josh reached into the vase and plucked a single dandelion before holding it up to the side of Tyler's face. "Just like you."

Lamp illuminating the soft blush dusted across his cheeks, Tyler looked down, a small smile playing at his lips. "T-Thank you, Joshua."

"I think they mean hope," he added before placing the flower into the palm of Tyler's hand. "We need more of that."

Staring at the bright petals, he nodded. "We do."

"We'll be looking out for you, Tyler. I promise. I don't know too much about the "communication" they have planned but I hope it means that you and I can talk at least once while you're in there."

"I hope so too." Picking up the flower, he twirled the stem in between his fingers as he tried his best to calm his mind. "I think we should have code names. One for you guys and one for us."

"Yeah? What do you think yours should be?"

Tyler debated on the burning idea inside of his head that seemed so idyllic, yet held such a high risk of being misinterpreted by all the others.

"It'll come to me."

After a few minutes, Josh excused himself to go and take a shower, leaving Tyler to deal with his ever-intensifying thoughts... thoughts that needed to be released onto a page and not kept bottled up inside of his brain.

Once he found his notebook and pen, the turn of phrase came out effortlessly, proving yet again that things sounded much better on paper than it did coming out of his mouth.

"I could take the high road, but I know that I'm going low. I'm a bandito."

Chapter Text

"He's waking up."

Two figures, shrouded in the glow of candlelight, crouched over a shaking mess of bones as the owner of them came to after hours and hours of unconsciousness.

A groan slipped out of the young man's mouth, eyes scrunching together in pain as he stirred around.

"Rhea, cut the ties from his hands."

Brown eyes drifting to the girl stooped in front of him, Tyler tried his best to focus on her as she took out a razor blade and started slicing away at his bound wrists. After a few minutes, his hands were free, though now a bit bloody.

"I'm sorry," she whispered out. "Shaky hands."

"Not as shaky as mine are." Next to her was a young man, his blue eyes piercing through the near darkness. "Try not to move too much at first, okay? X does a number on you the first couple of times you get it."

Opening his mouth, Tyler's voice came out barely recognizable to him. "What's... what's X?"

"It's what they use to try and make us forget." Rhea slowly stood up to her feet. "You want me to get some water for him, Sense? There's still a little bit leftover from earlier."

"Please." Said man gave her a small appreciative smile. "Thank you, Rhea."

After she disappeared back into the darkness, her footsteps echoing against the walls, Tyler mustered up the little strength he had to turn his head so he could look at the man in front of him. "Did she... did she call you Sense?"

"That's my nickname. It's short for 'Sixth Sense.'" Picking up Tyler's arm, he took a look at his Time Keeper symbol. "Yours is so nice. You can't even see mines anymore," he mumbled as he traced his finger over the younger boy's mark. "Must have had a really good Protector."

Tyler's mind went to Josh. "He's a beautiful person," he said softly. "I miss him so much already."

Sense's eyes narrowed a little. "Already? You say that like you knew this was going to happen."

"I..."

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of hurried footsteps against the cold, hard concrete. Rhea appeared again, kneeling back down next to Tyler and handing him a small cup of water. "Drink up," she coaxed him. "It'll help you feel a little better."

After Tyler finished his water, Sense broke the silence in the air. "What's your name, anyway?"

"My name's Tyler," he replied as he struggled to sit up a bit straighter. "Keeper #12011988."

"Do you remember any of what happened to you, Tyler?" Rhea asked, her voice gentle.

"Maybe because you're an inspiration. You've escaped before."

A sense of clarity returning to him, Tyler tried his best to ignore the pounding in his head as reality began to sink in.

"No. But I know why I was sent here." He closed his eyes, suddenly wanting nothing more than to close his eyes again. "We're getting you out," he mumbled as he felt himself starting to slip again. "You have to stay alive for me, okay?"

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

When Tyler woke up again, he found himself in a different area, this time laid out on a bed. Sitting up with a start, his hand immediately went up to his eyes as the daylight poured through a small window in the room.

Where am I?

"You're quite the sleepyhead, aren't you?"

Tyler whipped around to see Sense sitting on top of a desk in the corner of the room, an open book in his hands. "What are you doing here?"

"I think I should be asking you that." Closing the book, he stared at Tyler with unrelenting blue eyes. "Who were you sent here by?"

"The Time Keeper Database." Slowly moving to the edge of the bed, he let his feet touch the ground for the first time in days. "There are people here in Ukraine, people just like us, that are trying to get you out of here."

Sense's eyes softened a little at that. "They... they know about us?"

"Of course. They've been looking for so long." Tyler looked down at his hands, noticing the nicks on his wrists were now swollen and crusted over. "That girl, Rhea, sure did a number on me," he said quietly. "I haven't seen this many cuts on my skin for years."

"She's good at it." Sense rolled up his right sleeve before holding his arm out. "We're all good at it."

"Oh, my gosh..." Tyler's eyes widened at what he saw. Deep lacerations, all concentrated on and around what looked to be his very, very faded Time Keeper symbol. "Is that... is that why she had that razor blade with her?"

"We all have them. They're everywhere. It's the one thing they actually give us enough of around here."

"But... why?"

"They force us to. They give us the X to make us forget and then they make us try and cut our symbols out of our skin. They want us to hate it. Degrade it. And if we don't, we get beaten and sometimes... even worse."

"Worse?"

A grim look on his face, Sense turned away before sighing. "Let's just say there are some Keepers here that aren't getting out..."

Anger filled Tyler's veins as he thought about the pure torture these poor Keepers had endured over the endless weeks they had been here... Keepers that had died as a martyr for not degrading the most sacred part of their body or that had just slipped away after fighting against a dangerously low Time Keeper for so long.

"I don't understand why they're doing this," Tyler finally said.

"They want to get rid of us." Sense's hands balled up into fists, jaw tightening a little. "They kidnap you, taunt you, beat you and make you mutilate yourself until your Time Keeper is too low for you to even hold your head up. And then once you're dead, they bury you somewhere in Dema and count you as yet another success." He sighed. "And the cycle just goes on and on."

Tyler couldn't even... comprehend the half of what Sense and all the others in here had been through. "How... how have you managed to hang on for so long?"

"I don't know. Sometimes death seems a lot better than another day in Dema. But here I am, still alive." He stood to his feet, running a hand through his curly hair as he walked over to the window. "We all try to give each other as much support and affection as we can. It's nothing compared to what we need from our Protectors, of course, but it's helped us hang on for just a little while longer."

Chills running down his spine, Tyler crossed his arms over his chest and tried to will his racing heart (and Time Keeper) to calm down some. "I want to meet everyone else."

Sense's eyes lit up a little. Walking over to the bed, he offered his hand out to Tyler to help him stand up. "Well, lucky for you, it's almost meal time."

The brunette, still unsteady on his feet, lurched forward before catching himself. "Is it breakfast? Lunch?"

"Breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's our all-in-one meal." Sense gave him a wry smile. "Our daily ration of stale bread and water."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Tyler tried his best to stand somewhat confidently as five new faces stared at him, feeling any comforting words he had in mind fade away as he took in the bruised skin, disfigured Time Keeper symbols and raw fear that hid behind their eyes.

Hands going behind his back, Tyler held his head down as he internally chided himself for being so shy at such an inopportune time. Had Genevieve really sent the right guy for this?

"I'm sorry," he said quietly, biting his lip as he tried his best to hold back tears.

Stupid, stupid, stupid...

A high-pitched ringing filled Tyler's ears as every negative emotion came over him at once, trapping his lungs in a vice grip and paralyzing his entire body. Before he knew it, he was crouched on the ground, hands gripping onto his head as he tried to calm his heartbeat down.

Sense, along with the other Keepers, rallied around Tyler, obviously concerned over his sudden breakdown.

"Is he okay?"

"Maybe the X is still affecting him."

"Give him some air, guys."

When the ringing in his ears finally began to subside, Tyler slowly came back to reality, his cheeks turning red when he realized that he was surrounded. "Oh, my gosh," he mumbled, absolutely mortified over what had just happened. "I'm so sorry, you probably all think I'm a total basket case now. I'm such an idiot, I--"

His flurry of words were cut off by a finger to his lips. When he looked up, he was met by the glance of a girl with dark blue eyes. "Shh. Hey, we don't think you're a basket case at all. We've all had those moments in here," she said gently. "My name's Margo. What's yours?"

"Tyler." He loosened the tight grip he had on his head. "It's nice to meet you, Margo."

"You too, Tyler." She looked away, a sad, distant smile on her face. "I just wish it could've been under better circumstances."

"Me too." He turned around to look at the rest of them. "What are your names?"

One by one, they introduced themselves. Sense, Margo, Corbin, Nicholas, Violet, and Rhea. A motley crew of broken souls just trying to make it through another day under the oppressive rule of Dema.

"The Time Keeper Database sent him here to help us," Sense told everyone. "We... we might actually have a chance to get out of here."

"How are you going to help us?" Corbin asked. "None of us are strong enough to go up against Nico and the Niners."

"Maybe we aren't." Tyler reached into his pocket and pulled out a slightly torn, yet still just as beautiful dandelion. "But we have so many other people on our side. Right now... we're Banditos. And we've got to escape."

Violet stared at the flower with wide brown eyes, fingers tracing over her scarred Time Keeper symbol. "When are they going to save us, Tyler? I don't know how much more we can take."

"Soon." Tyler wanted to give them a definite answer but at this point, even he didn't know anything. "Any information you guys can give me will be a big help. I don't know how exactly I'm gonna communicate with them, but they said they had a way so I trust them."

Feeling a bit worn out by all the talking he'd been doing, Tyler settled back down onto the floor, watching his newfound "friends" nibble away at their meager pieces of bread.

Mind going back to the nice meal he had shared with Josh on the plane just days ago, he longed for something similar. Yet, in the back of his mind, he felt so incredibly guilty for even thinking about something that all these other boys and girls could only dream of eating.

Ignoring the hollowness in his stomach, he sighed. He had gone without for months at a time before and he could do it all over again...

Right?

"Here."

Tyler looked down to see a small piece of bread being placed into his hand. Nicholas...

"T-Thank y-you," he stuttered out, unsure of how to properly express his gratitude.

Nicholas shook his head, a sad smile on his face. "No... thank you for giving us hope."

When bishops come together, they will know that Dema don't control us. ..

Chapter Text

"Tyler... I think this is for you."

A few weeks had passed by since Tyler had been taken into captivity by NATN. During that time, he had forged a strong bond with his fellow Keepers, the only glimmer of hope inside a dark hole of hunger, blood, beatings and a Time Keeper that wasn't ticking as fast anymore.

Each day that went by had held its own version of pain and monotony... until now. When Margo and Violet came into his room after meal time, Tyler immediately knew something was up, the small, unfamiliar object in the latter girl's hand not withstanding.

Eyebrows knit together in confusion, the brunette accepted the item into his hand, unsure of what it was. "Where did you guys find this?"

"Violet saw this at the bottom of the bread parcel," Margo answered. "We have no clue what it is or how it got there, but I don't think they would have put anything like that in there for us."

"We think it's for you," Violet put in. "From the outsiders."

Turning the object over in his hands, he tried his best to figure out what it was. At first glance, it appeared to be some sort of... digital tape recorder. But was it really? Why would they have sent him a recorder?

"Violet wanted to turn it on, but I told her not to." Margo laughed. "She can be a little nosy sometimes."

Tyler smiled a little. "No, that's okay, I don't mind." Pressing one of the buttons on the side of the device, his eyes widened when the small screen lit up with a message.

New voice message: Spooky Jim
Press ● to play or ■ to delete

"What does it say?" Violet asked, her curiosity piqued by the confused look on Tyler's face.

"I..." His words came out slowly. "I think it may be from Josh."

Finger hovering over the Play button, he battled with doubts over whether this was actually real and not just some sick joke from Nico and his anonymous cohorts. Deep down, though, he knew that time was of the essence and he would never want to do anything that could potentially jeopardize their coveted escape from Dema.

Pressing Play, a gasp left his lips when a familiar voice filled the room.

"Hi, little Bandito. This is Josh, or Spooky Jim. I finally came up with a code name for myself. Fynn doesn't have one yet because he's lame."

"I am not lame."

"I miss you so much, baby boy. We've made so much progress here in the last few weeks that I don't think we need as much information as we initially thought. At this point, we know all the ins-and-outs of Dema, so we're coming in to get everyone soon. I promise.

At this point, you're probably wondering how we even got this thing in there. You can thank Genevieve and her team for that. Pretty sick, huh? Don't ask me how they did it, though, because I honestly have no clue.

The tech guy told me that once you listen to my message, you'll be able to record one send it back to my recorder. You can only send one message a day, unfortunately, but I'm so happy we'll at least be able to hear each other's voices. I've been so worried about you and your Time Keeper... I hope you're okay.

We love all of you so much and can't wait to see you soon.

Stay alive for me."

By the time the message was over, Tyler was in tears, incapable of forming any coherent words to say to the two girls still standing there.

"Your Protector sounds so sweet," Margo said softly.

Tyler just smiled and nodded, wiping at his tear-stained cheeks as a newfound sense of hope came over him, now feeling more determined than ever to keep it together for himself and more importantly... for everyone else.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Put this against your cheek, Ty. It'll help with the bruising."

A few more days had passed by, and while Tyler still had the determination... his body was quickly running out of the fight.

He looked up at Corbin with grateful eyes as the younger boy handed him another cold cloth for his face. "Thank you. Does it look as bad as it feels?"

"Well... let's just say they got you pretty good." Sitting down next to him on the bed, he placed a gentle hand on Tyler's knee. "I'm so sorry, Ty."

"It's alright. I guess that'll teach me not to resist the next time they try to give me X." Tyler laughed dryly. "After a while, you just kind of stop... feeling the hits. Your body's still there, of course, but your mind goes elsewhere."

"Wish my mind would do that." Corbin looked down, fingers absent-mindedly tracing over the red and swollen lines on his Time Keeper symbol. "I want to be as strong as you, Ty."

"I don't think I'm very strong," Tyler mumbled. "Just something I'm used to dealing with from back when I was with my ex-Protector."

His eyes widened a little at that. "You... you had another Protector before Josh?"

"Yeah, I was matched with him right out of Keeper Training School. He turned out to be my worst nightmare." A rush of unpleasant memories flooding into his mind, Tyler tried his best to repress the nausea he felt whenever he talked about him. "Abuse is pretty much unheard of in Keeper-Protector relationships because of how sensitive and fragile our Time Keepers are. But I was an exception to the rule."

C"Were you scared when you left?"

"Terrified." Tyler moved the cloth around on his face, wincing a little at the pain. "But underneath all of that fear, I knew if I didn't leave... he was going to kill me. I couldn't make any more excuses for him at that point. I could either let the fear liberate or paralyze me... and once I made a decision, I knew I had to follow through with it. So I ran away."

"Wow, that's so brave of you," Corbin breathed out. "So how did you wind up meeting Josh?"

Tyler spent the next few minutes explaining everything to Corbin and by the end, he was nothing short of amazed. "I'm so happy he found you, Tyler, and that you're still around to tell your story. You're such an inspiration to me."

He smiled a little. "Thank you. So am I."

By this point, Corbin was full of questions. "Did it take you a while to fall for him?" A quiet giggle leaving his lips, he tried his best to hide his blushing face from Tyler. "I fell for mine really quickly but I couldn't help it. He's so sweet."

"It did. My ex-Protector left me with a lot of trust issues. So even when I realized I was in love with Josh, it still took me a while to tell him. I guess I was afraid he wouldn't say it back." He sighed a little. "Saying it to my ex and not hearing him say it back was... devastating, to say the least. I didn't want to experience that kind of pain again."

"Wow. So... Josh said it back to you, right?"

Tyler's mind went back to that wonderful night they had shared together on their six-month anniversary, making him smile. "He did."

"Good. Because if not, I'd have to kick his butt when we meet." Corbin flashed him a grin.

He laughed. "I know you'll love him. He looks really intimidating with his bright hair and tattoos, but he's really just a big teddy bear."

"Aww." Corbin sighed wistfully. "I miss my Protector so much. I can't wait until we can just be together again and forget any of this ever happened."

"I know you do." Leaning over, he placed a soft kiss onto the younger boy's cheek. "Hang in there, okay? We'll see them soon."

Corbin nodded, smiling a little at the cherished physical contact. "I'll try. I just hope everyone else can do the same."

"Speaking of which... where's your partner in crime?" Tyler asked, referring to Nicholas.

"In his room, upset." Corbin chewed on the corner of his lip. "He and Sense had a fight while you were gone."

"A fight?" He frowned. "About what?"

"I don't know. Sense has been acting really weird lately." He sighed. "I think something's bothering him, but whenever we ask him what's wrong, he just denies it."

"Well, you guys have been in here for a long time without your Protectors. I bet it's just because of that."

"But Tyler... Sense doesn't have a Protector."

"Wait..." Tyler paused for a moment to make sure he had heard him right. "What do you mean, he doesn't have a Protector?"

"He doesn't talk about it much. All he's told me is that, technically, he's not even supposed to be alive right now." Corbin's voice dropped to a soft whisper. "Sooner or later, though, his Time Keeper's not gonna be able to take it anymore... and he won't have anyone around to save him."

Tyler let those words sink in for a minute before he finally shook his head. "No... there's always someone to save you. There has to be."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Josh's daily message had already come and gone, consisting of the usual progress update and words of encouragement for all of them to hear so they could try and keep going.

And usually, Tyler's message in return was short and sweet, never able to express any of the feelings swirling around him at any given point.

But now, even as he stared out the window, finger holding down the one button connecting him to his beloved Protector...

He knew that tonight was different.

"In city, I feel my spirit is contained
Like neon inside the glass, they form my brain
But I recently discovered it's a heatless fire
Like nicknames they give themselves to uninspire
Begin with bullet, now add fire to the proof
But I'm still not sure if fear's a rival or a close relative to truth
Either way it helps to hear these words bounce off of you
The softest echo could be enough for me to make it through"

Chapter Text

Yet another sleepless night...

Whenever the sun dipped below the horizon and the night sky came into view, it signaled the beginning of what was always the hardest and longest hours of Tyler's "life" (if it could be called that) here in Dema.

After the candle in his room was blown out, his thoughts were liable to go anywhere. Columbus, their house, Josh, Fynnley, Cheetah, Annaliese, his time in Keeper Training School... sometimes even as far back as his childhood and memories of his now estranged family.

But he also knew that if he didn't stop himself, the thoughts would quickly spiral into dark moments he never desired to re-live again.

So, tonight, instead of staring out the window and spiraling, he decided to leave his room and pace the confines of the area that had became more like a home to him.

As he passed by the line of rooms for the third time in a row, the majority of them closed-off and dark inside, he finally noticed that Sense's room was still illuminated with candlelight.

He's still awake?

Normally, Tyler wouldn't be one to bother any of the other Keepers in their rooms (unless invited to) but what Corbin had told him days earlier about Sense still lingered in the back of his mind.

What if his Time Keeper was already at its breaking point?

Three gentle knocks on the wooden door. "Sense?" His voice came out quietly, not wanting to cause a disturbance. "It's me, Tyler."

There were a few moments of silence before the brunette heard some stirring around and finally, the low creak of the door as it opened up.

Brown eyes met blue, the latter appearing quite surprised at the sight of Tyler outside his room. "Fancy seeing you here," he said quietly. "Come on in."

The first thing Tyler noticed upon entering Sense's room were the stockpile of old razors sitting on his desk. When the older boy had told him they were everywhere... he hadn't expected most of them to be in his own room.

"Sorry for bothering you," Tyler said softly as he took a seat on Sense's bed. "I just saw that you were still awake."

"Nah, you're fine." Picking up the candle from the window sill, he brought it over to the bed so they could see each other better. "Can't sleep?"

Tyler shook his head. "Sleep's a rarity around here nowadays."

"Tell me about it." In the lighting, Tyler could see that Sense's eyes were red and puffy, signaling he had been crying. "You would think I'd be used to it after all this time."

"How... how long have you been in here, Sense?"

"I don't know anymore. Too long." He sighed. "I kept up with the days at one point but once I came to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to escape... I stopped counting."

"But you will escape."

"Maybe. I'm still gonna die, anyway." He turned away from Tyler, chin wobbling a little bit. "Because what's a Keeper without his Protector, right?"

On one hand, Tyler really didn't want to pry. But on the other hand, he knew that finding out the whole truth was the only way to get to the root of the problem. "Sense... what happened to your Protector?"

"I... I'm not sure. I haven't seen him in over a year." Sniffling a little, he scrubbed his eyes with the back of his hands. "I'm not even supposed to be alive right now. As far as he knows... I'm dead."

Tyler's eyes widened. "Seriously? What happened?"

The older man explained the story carefully, voice wavering with emotion every now and again. "I had been sick for months with a terminal illness. My Protector took care of me and he was right by my side to the end. Ever since I was diagnosed, my wishes had been for my body to be used for science so they could hopefully find out more about the disease I had.

"What happened from that point on is fuzzy, but I was told weeks later that one of Nico's Niners stole my body from the morgue and took me away to some sort of secret laboratory. At that point, X was still a work-in-progress, so they experimented on me until they found a way to bring me back to life. And from that point on... I was shuffled from place to place, being abused and mutilated the entire time, before they finally locked me away here in Dema."

He sighed, his voice lowering. "For a while... it was just me in here. But then all of the kidnappings started and all of a sudden... I wasn't alone anymore."

Tyler was... shocked, to say the least. "Oh, my gosh," he mumbled, his heart and Time Keeper aching for Sense. "I had no idea. I'm so sorry."

"Yeah, it's not something I mention a lot because it brings up too many questions I don't have the answers to right now." Pulling his legs up to his chest, Sense's eyes dazed out a little as he laid his head on top of his knees. "It's been such a long time, but I still miss him a lot."

"Sense..." Tyler laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "When we get out, I'm sure we could try and find him again. I mean, he has to be out there somewhere, right?"

He shrugged a little. "Maybe. I'm sure he's already moved on by now. After all, I am legally dead. Oh, and by the way..." He held his head up again to look at Tyler. "Sixth Sense, or Sense, isn't my real name."

Tyler raised an eyebrow. "What is it then?"

"Oliver."

At that moment in time, Tyler's mind traveled back months ago to a certain emotional moment  he had shared with a certain emotional blonde.

"I guess I had this... nagging feeling. Now that I think about it, my Time Keeper probably knew before I did. I like to think it's smarter than me sometimes." Fingers tracing over his symbol, he silently willed it to calm down inside of his arm.

"Yeah, they can be real sensitive. Oli always called it his 'sixth sense,'" he said, a distant, sad smile on his face.

"Oh, my gosh." Jumping off the bed, Tyler slowly backed away from the blue-eyed boy. "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh..."

"What?"

Tyler's eyes were as wide as saucers, his hands shaking a little. "I... I can't believe this..."

"Dude! Tell me what's wrong, you're starting to freak me out."

"You're Oliver!" Tyler exclaimed. "You used to be Fynnley Harrington's Keeper! You're alive!"

The bewildered look on Oliver's face quickly turned into one of pure and utter confusion. "Wait... you know him?"

"Know him? He's Josh's best friend!"

"Wait, wait, wait... Josh Dun is your Protector?"

"Yes! And holy crap, Oliver, Fynnley is here with Josh right now!" Tyler started pacing around the room, hands going up to his head. "He's never going to believe this! Just wait until you--"

He was cut off by the sound of a sob. When he turned around, Oliver was crumpled over, crying harder than he had ever seen someone cry before.

"Oh, Oli..." If he listened closely, he could hear his heart shattering into a million pieces. Walking back over to the bed, he sat down and wrapped his arms around Oliver to try and provide him some sort of comfort. "Is it okay if I call you that?"

Hiccuping, Oliver looked up at Tyler with tear-stained eyes. "Yes... Fynnley called me that all the time."

"I know. He's the one who told me." Tyler smiled a little. "He's told me a lot about you, actually."

"Bet you he doesn't even love me anymore," Oliver mumbled under his breath.

Tyler just shook his head, laughing a little in disbelief. "Oh, if you only knew, Oliver..."

"What do you mean?"

"You matched with him five years ago when you were 18, right? That's a long time to be with someone and then lose them like that. Oli, he wishes he had died instead of you. Believe me, he still loves and misses you." Tyler reached over and took his hand, squeezing it a little. "I can't promise you he's not going to be totally freaked out at first because, let's face it, as far as he knows, you're dead. But underneath all of that... I know he's gonna be beside himself."

"I..." Oliver opened his mouth to reply but couldn't find the right words. So instead, he smiled, the first genuine one Tyler had seen on his face since they first met. "I just can't believe he's actually here. After all this time, we might get to see each other again."

"Do you want to make a voice message for Josh to give to Fynn?"

He shook his head. "No... this has to be done in-person." Smiling a little, he gave Tyler's hand a squeeze in return. "After we escape, right?"

Tyler nodded. "Right."

"Do... do you think he'll still want to be my Protector even after all this time?"

"Of course he will, silly. Besides, he's always making fun of me and Josh, so I think he definitely needs some attention of his own."

"That definitely sounds like Fynn." For the first time since meeting him, Tyler heard the tiniest giggle come out of his mouth. "I miss that. I miss him."

"I miss my J too," Tyler mumbled. "So, so much."

"Hey... we'll see them soon."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Hey, little Bandito.

I can't talk for long today. But we're almost ready.

We're thinking that in the next two days, we'll be ready to infiltrate. Don't worry, I'm going to send you a message beforehand to let you guys know what you need to do. But we need you all to be ready .

I... I think we can pull this off.

Stay strong for me, okay?

East is up."

Chapter Text

"I can't wait to feel the sun on my face again."

Yet another late-night conversation between Tyler and Oliver, sleep escaping the both of them as they contemplated what laid ahead in the hours to come.

"How long has it been since you've been outside?"

"Too long," he replied. "Almost a year and a half, I think."

Binding up his arm for what he hoped to be the last time, Tyler gave Oliver a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry, that's awful."

"You get used to it." He sighed. "But right now, all I really want is to see Fynn."

"I have a feeling he'll be speechless." Tyler smiled a little. "Which, knowing him, that'll be a miracle in itself."

Oliver chuckled. "That's my Fynn, though. A big mouth but an even bigger heart."

"He loves you a lot. And the two of you deserve to be happy again."

"So do you and Josh. I always thought he would make a really good Protector and now he's yours. That's amazing." Oliver smiled.

"All mine." Tyler giggled a little. "Oh, Oliver, I'll have to introduce you to my other Keeper friend, Annaliese. But we'll have to explain the whole story to her so she won't freak out."

He laughed dryly. "Yeah, it's not every day that you find out someone wasn't quite as dead as you thought they were."

"She's pregnant too." He smiled a little. "We wouldn't want to make the baby upset."

"Aw, that's so sweet." Oliver leaned his chin on the palm of his right hand. "Fynn and I really wanted to foster a child at one point... but then I got sick."

"Well, you still could." Tyler laid a hand on Oliver's knee. "Everything starts from tomorrow."

"You're right." Leaning over, he pulled the younger boy into a hug. "You've been through so much, Tyler, yet you're still so positive. I admire that about you."

"Thank you. It hasn't always been that way, though."

"I know. But hey, you turn 21 tomorrow, right?" When he nodded, Oliver smiled. "I guess this will be quite the present then, huh?"

"For all of us." His eyes traveled to the already blood-soaked bandages on his arm and he sighed. "I think it's time for all of us to heal."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

What a beautiful day for making a break for it.

"Keep your heads low and stay alert."

The plan was simple: Wait for one of the bishops to drag someone off for their daily dose of X, gang up on him with their razor blades, take advantage of the unlocked door and then...

Run.

It took almost all of the energy they had to escape, but even as they made their way through the dark underground passageways of Dema, they knew they couldn't slow down, not even for a second. Time was not on their side and if they stopped, Nico would be right behind them, ready to drag them right back into Dema.

This was a game where they had to stay one step ahead.

Hours had gone by and Corbin and Rhea were struggling to keep up, their Time Keepers far too weak. Violet and Margo tried their best to help them along while Nicholas and Oliver tried their best to help Tyler navigate the darkness of what seemed to be an endless tunnel.

"How do we know we're going the right way?" Nicholas asked after what seemed like forever.

"They said to 'follow the first tunnel until you see the light.' So this has to be it," Tyler replied, trying his best to sound confident.

"I can't believe we made it out," Margo said, a bit breathless from all the walking. "Who would've thought there'd even be tunnels like this in here?"

"Maybe it was meant for us," Violet responded.

"Vi..." Oliver turned to look at her, a grim expression on his face. "They were never going to let us go."

Nobody wanted to admit it, but deep down, they knew he was right. It was either submit to NATN's rule or face a painful, untimely death, as the bones hidden within the darkest depths of Dema could testify.

But on this fateful day, they were taking matters into their own hands and carving out an entirely new destiny for themselves...

Freedom.

Tyler had lost track of time in here, but he knew that he, along with everyone else, would feel the aftereffects of their ordeal for the days, months, and probably even years to follow.

But there was hope for them and their fragile-as-glass Time Keepers. And right now... maybe hope was all they really needed.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Just when everyone was on the brink of collapse, a tiny sliver of light reflected back into their eyes, signaling that maybe, just maybe their long fight was almost over.

"Come on, we have to keep going," Tyler urged everyone, ignoring every fiber in his body that screamed at him to just stop and give up.

Slowly, the sliver grew bigger and bigger until it became a giant chasm of light, one that held a symbolic, almost spiritual meaning.

"It's so bright," Corbin groaned, joining the others as they shielded their eyes.

"But it's beautiful," Violet said softly.

Squinting, the seven Keepers managed to stumble out of the tunnel, leading out to what appeared to be a huge canyon.

"Where are we?" Nicholas asked.

Tyler looked around at the towering clifftops surrounding them. "I don't know. But I think we finally escaped, Banditos."

After a few minutes of struggling against the steep elevation, the top of the horizon finally came into view, revealing a large group of people advancing towards the dirty, weak camaraderie of Keepers.

As soon as Tyler laid eyes on the person at the very front of the group with a yellow bandana across their face and an unmistakable confidence in their gait... he knew.

He always knew.

Tyler took off running, the adrenaline coursing through his veins as he closed the few hundred yards distance between them. "Joshua!"

"Tyler, look out!"

Chapter Text

Blank.

That was the inside of Tyler's mind when he came to, his vision blurring and doubling as he tried to figure out where he was.

"Doctor, I think he's starting to wake up."

When he turned his head to see who the voice belonged to, he was surprised to see a familiar face in front of him. "G-Genevieve?" Trying to sit up, he was hit by an awful pain in his stomach, the sensation knocking all the air out of his lungs.

"Easy, easy," she chided him. "Not too fast, okay?"

"You're lucky to be alive." Yet another voice. When Tyler's eyes drifted over to the right, he identified the other person as a doctor. "That was quite a fight, but you only made it out a mild concussion and a few bruised ribs. Uncomfortable, yes, but certainly not life-threatening."

Fight?

"Where... where am I?" His voice cracked as he spoke, throat feeling dryer than ever before.

"Base camp," Genevieve answered. "We're about five miles from the house we were originally stationed at. Some of our behind-the-scenes people are still there, but the medical personnel, along with the rest of us, are here for right now."

His vision finally re-focusing, he looked up at the tent surrounding them, wondering how long Genevieve and the doctor had been looking after him. "Where are the other Keepers?"

"Being taken care of in tents just like these," the doctor answered. "They were injured as well, but you're all expected to make a full recovery."

What... had even happened? He remembered seeing everyone from a distance and then taking off running to get to...

Josh.

"He's visiting Oliver." When he turned to look at Genevieve, she gave him a small smile. "I knew you were going to ask about him next. I could see it in your eyes."

Mind going to Oliver, he couldn't help but wonder what Josh's reaction had been when he found out he was still alive. But the real question was... did Fynn know yet? Was he here in the camp too?

"Here, drink some water," the doctor said, handing him a small paper cup. "The last thing you need right now is to get dehydrated."

Grateful for the water, Tyler wasted no time drinking it, leaving him feeling a little better afterwards. He turned his head just in time to see Genevieve pat him on the shoulder. "I'm going to tell Josh that you're awake, okay? You and Oliver are the only ones that haven't been reunited with your Protectors yet."

That answered his question, but... where was Fynnley at, anyway?

Once she left the tent, Tyler turned his head back to the doctor. "Could I could sit up some?"

A few minutes later, the doctor had managed to prop him up against some pillows, the pain in his ribs uncomfortable but relatively bearable under the past circumstances. Once the doctor finally excused himself, Tyler was left to deal with his racing thoughts and the extremely faint ticking he felt inside his arm.

Will my Time Keeper ever be the same again? Are there big enough pieces of my heart left for Josh to try and glue back together?

His thoughts were cut off by the tent flaps opening. In peeked a yellow head with a smile Tyler couldn't forget even if he wanted to.

"My little Bandito!"

Tyler didn't know where it came from or how it happened but he burst into tears as soon as he saw Josh's face, hiccuping and gasping away from the relief, happiness and physical pain he felt all at the same time.

"Aw, you're gonna make me cry," Josh said as he hurried over to be by Tyler's side, quickly (but carefully) taking him into his strong, reassuring arms. "Shh, shh, it's okay, sweetness."

"Joshua," Tyler croaked out, squeezing him as tightly as his injuries would allow him to. "Is this real? Are you really here?"

"I'm here. And I'm never leaving you again." Josh ran his fingers through his Keeper's ragged brown hair. "I promise."

They hugged for the longest time as Tyler's cries slowly turned into soft sniffles, the older man placing breathless kisses all over his face throughout.

Once he was calmed down some, Tyler pulled away so he could look into Josh's eyes. "I can't believe you're here."

"Me neither," Josh responded before chuckling quietly. "I had this whole speech planned in my head, but I forgot everything I was gonna say as soon as I saw you."

He laughed a little. Oh, how he had missed being around his cheesy, adorable Josh. "You're so cute. This is perfect just the way it is."

"Not as cute as you." Josh gave him another quick kiss. "I can't even begin to describe how much I missed you. But at the same time..." He looked down and sighed. "I know it was even harder on you because you're a Keeper."

"To be honest, Josh... I don't think some of us have made it another week in there." He sighed. "But... we did it. We escaped."

"And I've never been more proud of someone in my entire life." Josh leaned over and placed a long kiss onto his forehead, cherishing their physical contact. "You're a hero, Tyler."

"I couldn't have done it without my Banditos." His voice lowered just a little, a sweet smile on his face. "Keepers have to stick together, right?"

Josh smiled back. "Right. I wish everyone had the kind of bond that you guys have."

"Thank you." He shifted around, grimacing a little at the sharp pain in his ribs. "Ouch."

"Are you okay, baby?"

"I guess, but... what happened to me, Josh?"

Josh explained what happened past Tyler's memory lapse. "While you were running towards me, Nico and the Niners appeared out of nowhere. One of them hit you over the head and there was this big fight between everyone. A lot of people were injured, including the Keepers, and in the end... most of the Niners were killed. But Nico still managed to get away. We don't know where he went, but there are some scouts looking around Dema right now." He clenched his jaw together as he frowned. "They're going to pay for what they did to you guys. But not only that, there needs to be justice for all the other Keepers that died in there."

We'll win, but not everyone will get out.

"Oh, my gosh," Tyler whispered. "That's so scary. What if... what if you guys hadn't been there when they attacked us like that?"

"I don't really want to think about that," Josh said quietly. He reached over and laid his hand on top of Tyler's. "I promised you I'd be there."

"And you were." Tyler turned his hand over and laced their fingers together. "You always are, Josh."

He smiled at him before leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. "Not to change the subject, Tyler, but I think you should know I almost crapped my pants when I found out about Oliver."

"Tell me about it." Tyler chuckled a little. "Did he tell you about what happened to him?"

"He did. Both of you are so much stronger than you realize." He squeezed his hand a little. "Just thinking about what their reunion will be like makes me want to smile."

"Where is Fynn, anyway?"

"They made him stay behind at the base house for tech support." Josh smiled. "After all, he had to make himself useful somehow."

Tyler chuckled. "So... he doesn't know yet?"

"Not a clue. Right before I left Oliver's tent, he was trying to convince the doctor to find someone to drive him back to the house so he can surprise Fynn."

"Unlike you, I think Fynn actually will crap his pants," Tyler put in, a small smile on his face.

"Probably so." Josh gave him a gentle kiss on the lips. "I'm so happy I can see your smile again."

"Me too." The younger boy closed his eyes, feeling a bit sad again over what had happened. "I never stopped thinking about you, Joshua."

"Neither did I." Josh brushed his thumb across Tyler's cheek. "It makes me so angry that they did all this to you. You're so bruised up again."

"My face is only the half of it," he said softly, glancing down at the bandages on his arm, it only being just a glimpse of what was underneath his clothes. "But I'll keep moving."

"And I'm with you every step of the way, baby boy. Broken, but not incomplete, remember?"

Tyler held his head down, a single tear sliding down his cheek. "I think... I think it's time for me to heal."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Are you ready, Oliver?"

Tyler's voice was low as the two of them stood outside the front door of the base house. Josh was already inside, making sure that everything, including Fynn, was ready for him.

And now... all that was left to do was for Oliver to go inside and face the sweet, beautiful music.

"I... I think so," the older man said softly. "I'm so nervous. What if he doesn't love me anymore?"

"He does," Tyler reassured him. "I promise." He took a moment to reach up and smooth down Oliver's curly hair for the umpteenth time. "Come on, let's go see that Protector of yours."

Pulling a little at the new clothes the TKD had provided for them, Oliver let out a shaky sigh before nodding. "Okay, I think I'm ready."

The brunette opened the front door, the two of them stepping inside, before he grabbed his hand and led him down the corridor.

When they came into the living room, Oliver's free hand went up to his mouth, choking back a noise as he laid eyes on Fynnley, who was on the couch with his eyes closed, blissfully unaware of anything going on around him. Josh, sat right next to him, smiled from ear-to-ear as he watched the touching scene about to unfold.

Finally letting go of his hand, Tyler held a finger up to his lips, whispering out a small 'shh' before stepping closer. "Fynnley," he greeted him, to which the blonde smiled at the sound of his voice. "It's me, Ty. Keep your eyes closed, okay? I have a surprise for you."

Fynn tugged his bottom lip between his teeth. "I don't know if I should be nervous or excited."

Tyler motioned for Oliver to come closer, backing away as he did to let him initiate their much-anticipated reunion.

Kneeling down in front of Fynnley, Oliver reached up with shaky hands to touch his beloved Protector's face. As soon as his fingertips brushed against the subtlest of facial hair, a visible shiver went down his spine, eyes squeezing shut as he fought back tears.

"Fynn. It's me, Oli."

Chapter Text

Not many words had been exchanged between Fynnley and Oliver as they clung onto each other, not wanting to let go in fear of even the slightest possibility of being separated again.

By this point in time, everyone had been crying for a good ten minutes or so (excluding Oliver, who had been outright sobbing) and the tension in the air was gone, replaced with nothing but disbelief and pure elation.

After a few minutes, Fynn finally pulled away a little from Oliver, thumbing away the tear streaks on his Keeper's cheeks. "Oli," he said, his voice softer than it had ever been before. "You're alive. You're really here."

Oliver sniffled. "I never thought I'd see you again, Fynn."

"I... I thought you were dead," Fynn mumbled. "I still remember kissing your forehead for the last time before they took you away." He wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. "You were... you were so cold, baby."

The blue-eyed boy looked away. "I was dead. But NATN took my body... experimented on me with X... and they brought me back to life somehow. But all of that was just the beginning."

He spent the next ten minutes explaining what NATN had done to him, how many Keepers he had seen die from the torture, and how many times he had thought about turning his razor blades on himself... for good.

By the time Oliver finished talking, there was an indescribable look of anger on Fynn's face. "I can't believe that bastard did those things to you," he said through gritted teeth, hands balled up into fists. "I want to kill him."

Oliver shook his head. "Fynn, death would be too good for him. He needs to rot in a prison cell for the rest of his pathetic life." He sighed a little. "We need justice, not just for us, but for those Keepers whose lives were taken away from them. They deserve at least that much."

"That's why they're searching high and low for Nico," Josh reassured him. "He's not going to get away with this. He'll pay for what he did."

"My heart's so conflicted right now," Fynn admitted. "I hate this Nico guy's guts... but at the same time, I'm so happy you're alive." He looked away, chewing at his bottom lip. "It just about killed me myself when you died, Oli. But it hurts me just as bad knowing that they did all those horrible things to you and I wasn't there to protect you."

Oliver reached up to his Protector's face, turning his head towards him so he looked right into his eyes. "It's not your fault. I survived, Fynn. Knowing you were out there, even if you had already moved onto someone else... that hope kept me alive. I had plenty of opportunities to give up and die, but having you on my mind all the time... that's what kept me from slipping."

Fynn threw his arms around Oliver in another big hug, who let out a small 'oof' at the pain but returned it with just as much intensity.

"Jeez, Fynn, don't break him," Josh said, nudging the blonde to loosen his grip on Oliver. "Our boys are really fragile right now."

The blonde rolled his eyes. "We're trying to have a moment here, Josh. God." Still, he let go of Oliver, now worried he might accidentally hurt him even more. "Hey, I'm sorry, Oli."

Thankfully, Oliver just smiled and wrapped his arms around Fynnley in another hug, albeit a bit more gently this time. "You're okay, Fynnie. I'm just still a little sore." Pulling his head back up, he smiled, the sight of it rare but very much welcomed. "We have a lot of hugs and kisses to catch up on, you know."

Hearing the nickname made Tyler smile a little. "Aww, you call him 'Fynnie.' That's so sweet."

"Guess you can't tease me and Tyler about our nicknames for each other now, huh?" Josh put in, a playful smile on his lips.

Fynn raised an eyebrow, the slightest of a blush tinging his cheeks. "Hey, it's still better than Tyler's nickname for you. 'Jishwa,' 'G-string' or whatever the heck you call him."

The two Keepers couldn't help but start laughing as Josh whacked Fynn over the head with one of the pillows. All of them together like this was a new dynamic, but one that already felt so soft, loving and... perfect between all four of them.

Oliver leaned his head onto Fynnley's shoulder, letting out a sigh as he squirmed around a little. "I wanna kiss you so bad right now, but you know how I feel about PDA and stuff..."

Almost like clockwork, Fynn turned to look at Josh and Tyler. "Okay, kindly make yourselves scarce. My baby boy and I have some catching up to do..."

"Oh, so you can be a total voyeur with us, but we can't with you?" Josh teased before standing up from the couch. He held his hand out to Tyler. "Wanna go snuggle in bed, Ty?"

Snuggling sounded like absolute heaven right now. "Yes, please." Standing up slowly, Tyler took Josh's hand before turning back to look at Oliver, a soft smile on his face as their new reality began to set in. "You did it, Oli."

Oliver smiled back at him before leaning his forehead against Fynnley's and closing his eyes. "No... we did it."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Easy, baby," Josh said softly as he watched Tyler maneuver himself underneath the covers, his face contorted in pain. "Do you want me to get you some more of that medicine?"

He shook his head. "No, I think I'm okay." After a few moments, he had finally settled down, head laid onto Josh's chest as he tried his best not to breathe too deeply. "If the pain in my chest would go away, I'd be fine. But at least my ribcage isn't broken, I guess..."

"I still don't like seeing you in pain." Josh wrapped his arm around Tyler's shoulder carefully, cherishing the little bit of heat his Keeper gave off. "This okay?"

Tyler nodded, even though his body language still read a bit stiff and uncomfortable. "It's okay, but... I feel really self-conscious."

Josh frowned. "Why?"

"My body is disgusting." He reached down and pulled his shirt up to expose his skin. "Look at me. I lost all the weight I had gained back, my ribcage is poking out again, I'm covered in cuts and bruises, my Time Keeper is so faint..." He sniffled as a few tears rolled down his cheeks. "I'm not good enough for you anymore, J."

"Oh, baby." Josh pulled Tyler up so his head was right up against his. "You'll always be good enough for me. And your body is not disgusting. It's gonna take a while for you to recover, but I love you so much, no matter what you look like." He pressed a soft kiss to his forehead. "Right now, building your Time Keeper back up to where it was is what's most important." His voice lowered a little. "I don't want to lose you again, Tyler."

"I don't want to lose you either," Tyler whispered, hand moving to rest on his cheek. "I love you, Joshua."

"And I love you." He pressed a few more kisses to his forehead before letting out a contented sigh. "I missed this so much. It broke my heart when I stopped smelling your scent on me after awhile."

"I missed everything about you," Tyler said. "Your scent, your smile, your laugh, your kisses, waking up next to you every morning." He looked away. "You don't realize how much you take for granted until you don't have it anymore. Everything, even water, was a luxury we couldn't afford in Dema."

"Not out here." Josh took his hand and squeezed it. "Not anymore."

Tyler nodded before chuckling a little. "I probably smelled like absolute death when you first came near me. Sorry about that."

Josh chuckled in return. "Hey, don't apologize, it's not your fault. The nurses cleaned everyone up really nicely, I promise."

"I don't know how I can ever repay you guys for all you've done."

"You don't need to repay us, Tyler. In fact, it really should be the opposite. None of this would've been possible without you."

"Well, despite what everyone keeps telling me... I don't feel like much of a hero." Tyler frowned. "Nico is still out there somewhere."

"We'll find him."

Tyler just nodded, eyes casting away as more and more doubt began to sink in. Noticing his change in demeanor, Josh decided to take the conversation in a different direction. "Hey, how does a nice soak in the bath sound?"

His eyes lit up again. "Really?"

Josh smiled. "Of course. You deserve it."

"That... that sounds amazing, actually." Leaning over, he brushed his lips against Josh's in a hesitant, but gentle kiss. "Can there be bubbles?"

"You already know it, sweet boy." He smiled before releasing his grip on Tyler and crawling out of the bed. "I'll go get the water started." Just as he turned to walk away, he paused for a moment. "Oh... eyes open or closed?"

Tyler gave him a shy smile. "Eyes always open, J."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Josh smiled at the sight of his baby boy playing in the bubbles, adoring the first joyful look he had seen on his face in a long time. He found himself blurting out exactly what was thinking before he realized it. "You're so beautiful, Ty."

Tyler looked up at him, the beginnings of a blush spreading across his face. "Thank you, Joshua. So are you." He smiled as he noticed Josh's wet hair sticking to the side of his face. "I love your new hair color, by the way."

"Aw, thanks. Guess you can call me 'Josh Dunshine' now." He gave him a playful smile. "The yellow's all for you, lovebug."

"Wow," Tyler breathed out. "Really?"

"Of course."

"It meant so much to me when everyone threw those flower petals."

"We were sending you hope," Josh said, his voice taking a more quiet tone. "A mere flower can bloom under adversity. And so can you."

Smiling, Tyler tried his best to keep from tearing up again. "That hope kept me alive, Josh."

"We've been rooting for you." Josh picked up a handful of bubbles and blew them at Tyler, making him giggle. "Especially Annaliese. She's been emailing me on a regular basis."

A big smile appeared on Tyler's face at the mention of his dear friend. "How is she?"

"Doing well. Getting bigger and bigger by the week." He chuckled. "Oh, and by the way, looks like you won't be the only little princess..."

Tyler gasped, his eyes lighting up.

"...or baby boy around anymore." Josh grinned.

"Oh, my gosh! Twins?!" Tyler broke out into excited laughter before grabbing at his abdomen. "Ow, ow, jeez, not a good idea..."

"Careful, sweet boy, don't hurt yourself." Josh leaned over and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. "But she couldn't wait for me to tell you. The doctor thinks she may carry close to full-term, but since twins usually come early, it's still up in the air." He chuckled. "Turns out twins run on Noah's dad's side of the family."

"That's amazing, I'm so excited for her." Cheeks red and eyes full of joy, he had a grin from ear-to-ear. "Now we need to go buy twice as many presents!"

"Definitely." He laughed. "Oh, she also wanted me to tell you that Cheetah has been doing just fine. He follows Noah around all the time and when he's not doing that, he likes to lay on her tummy."

"Aww, my pet Cheetah." He pouted a little. "I miss my baby so much. I want to see him."

"Hey." Josh moved in closer to Tyler and wrapped his arms around him. "Let's find out what happens from here and then maybe we can go back home. After all, I still have a lot of promises to follow through with, you know..." He chuckled a little, the sound sending tiny shivers down the brunette's spine.

Tyler closed his eyes before leaning his head on Josh's shoulder, a soft smile on his face. "Please."

Chapter Text

After tying up some loose ends, the Time Keeper Database set up Tyler and Josh's flight back home and after hours and hours of layovers and flight changes... they were finally on the final stretch to Columbus.

Watching as the sun dipped below the horizon, Tyler couldn't help but think of the last time he saw the sunset like this and how much... different everything was now.

Coming here, there was so much fear and uncertainty... but going, there was nothing but a faint sense of accomplishment.

He did it. He helped them escape.

"Doing okay, sweet boy?"

Tyler snapped out of his thoughts when he heard Josh's voice. He hadn't even realized he was crying until he felt his Protector thumb away tears from his cheeks. "Oh, I'm sorry. Guess I just got caught up in the moment." He sighed. "I can't believe we're going home."

Josh reached over and took his hand. "Back home where we belong, right?"

He nodded, squeezing his hand a little. "I'm still so scared. What if it takes longer than I anticipated for me to get used to everything again? I don't... I don't want to keep you waiting for anything, Josh. Especially after what we promised each other before we left."

"Hey." Josh turned so he could look right into Tyler's eyes. "Remember what you told me? You want to be in the right mindset. I want that for you too, Tyler. Even if I have to wait five more years to be with you... I don't care. My promise still stands, no matter how long I have to wait to fulfill it. Whenever you're ready, I'm ready."

Tyler felt like crying again but he tried his best to keep it together. "You're so sweet to me."

"No, I think that's you." He smiled. "It's been such a long time for us. So whenever you feel like you're ready, we can start exploring each other's bodies again. I don't want you to be in a lot of pain when it does happen."

"Oh..." He said softly, a faint blush dusted across his cheeks. His libido had all but disappeared after a certain point, but now that he was back with Josh again... he hoped the spark could come back to life again. "Did you, um... do stuff while I was gone?"

"Only once." He gave him a sheepish smile. "And that was only after I heard your voice again. But it was more stress relief than anything. The rest of the time, I was either too exhausted or worried about you to even think about that." He sighed. "I barely left the house most days. I had to ask Fynn to find the dye for my hair because I was too anxious to go out."

"Are you... are you doing better?"

"Much better now that you're back with me." Josh smiled a little before patting the younger boy's knee. "I'm so proud of you, Ty."

He smiled back before resting his head on Josh's shoulder. "Thank you. I love you."

"I love you too." Josh pressed a soft kiss to his forehead. "Tell me, what's the first thing you want to do once we get home?"

"Sleep." Tyler chuckled. "I want to sleep and write. Watch movies, eat cereal with you and cuddle under the blanket." Eyes lulling a bit as he felt Josh's soft hair brushing against his skin, he smiled a little. "I want my galaxy pacifier, I want to feel soft again... m'tired of having to be a 'tough Bandito' all the time. I want you to take care of me, Josh."

"I know. I miss my soft, shy Tyler. I still see tiny hints so I know he's still in there somewhere." Josh smiled. "You've always been a little independent, though, which I love about you."

"Force of habit, I guess." He lifted his head up so he could look at Josh. "I know how to fend for myself. But I also know when to just let go and allow you to lead me where I need to be at emotionally."

"You're so amazing, Tyler..."

"So are you." Tyler smiled at him before laying his head back down. "I miss Oliver and Fynnley so much already."

"They're just a few days behind us," Josh reassured him. "Once Oliver's ID and passport come in the mail, they can leave too." He paused for a moment to think about something. "Hey, how about once they get back, we can all go out to dinner together? It could be a little 'welcome home' present for you and Oliver."

Tyler nodded. "I'd love that."

"Me too." Josh laid his head to rest on top of Tyler's, a sweet smile playing at his lips.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

By the time Tyler had painstakingly finished putting on a tee shirt after his first shower back at home, the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it!" he heard Josh yell from downstairs.

A few moments later, there was a big commotion downstairs, complete with the sound of squealing from a Keeper quite near and dear to Tyler's heart.

Once he had his sweat pants on, he made his way downstairs, feeling a bit nervous to see his friend for the first time in forever. Stepping down onto the hardwood floor, he swallowed the hard lump in his throat as he walked into the living room, a medley of conflicting emotions running through his body.

"Tyler!"

Before he knew it, he was being engulfed in a huge hug from Annaliese. Laughing, he returned it as tightly as he could, trying his best to avoid bumping up against her large belly. "Annaliese! I missed you so much!"

"Me too!" Standing up on her tippy-toes, she kissed him on the cheek. "I'm so glad you're back! How are you feeling? Are you okay?"

"Getting better." Tyler gave her a smile. "But I think I should be the one asking you that. How are you even still walking around at this point?"

"Tyler, honest to God, I don't know. These kids are killing me. My back is shot, my bladder is non-existent, one of them has their foot constantly shoved into my ribs and no matter how much I eat, they still can't get enough." She laughed. "They haven't even been born yet and they're already driving me crazy!"

"Aww, I'm sorry." Tyler really couldn't relate to pregnancy but he still felt for her. "You look so good, though! Your face is glowing."

She smiled. "Aw, thank you, Ty-Ty!" Reaching up to his face, she brushed a stray piece of hair behind his ear as she gave him a once over. "Josh told me you were all bruised up but I can barely even see anything on you."

"I'm healing. Slowly but surely. My abdomen is worse than my face." He placed a hesitant hand on Annaliese's tummy, surprised at how hard it felt. "Oh... where's Josh at, anyway?"

"Getting Cheetah out the car. I'm so glad Noah put him in the crate before he went to work because chasing him down like this is not an easy job. I can't even lean down to pick him up."

He laughed. "Yeah, Cheetah can be stubborn."

They heard the front door open and then close again. Tyler's heart melted a little when the sound of whining came into earshot. His face lit when Josh came in with Cheetah's carrier in hand, the feline obviously displeased from being confined to such a small space. "Cheetah!"

Cheetah darted out the cage as soon as Josh opened it, meowing away as he sniffed around his "new" surroundings. After a few moments of circling around the room, he finally came over to his master, snaking in and out of his legs.

Smiling, Tyler picked him up and nuzzled his face into his fur. "I missed you so much, baby," he murmured before kissing the top of his head. "Have you been a good boy for Annaliese and Noah?"

"He was no trouble at all. A lot of energy, yes, but we had so much fun with him." Chuckling, Annaliese waddled over to the couch before sitting down with a huge sigh. "Sorry, my back can't take anymore standing up right now."

"You don't need to apologize." Tyler sat down next to her with Josh joining on the other side. "We're so happy and excited for you, Annaliese."

She blushed at the compliment, hand going to rest on top of her belly. "Thank you, that really means a lot. I'm just so glad you're finally back. It's really nice to have friends around that actually care about you..." Her voice trailed off.

Tyler frowned at her change in demeanor. "Why do you say that?"

"I told my old friends at the nail salon about my pregnancy a while back. They seemed so happy for me at first but then... everything changed. They started ignoring my texts, blowing me off when I tried to make plans with them. I really thought they cared about me..."

"That's awful," Josh said, shaking his head. "True friends don't treat each other like that."

"I think loyalty is somewhat of a rarity, nowadays," she mumbled. "Stuff like that just takes me back to my teenage years when the kids would pretend to be my friend for a while and then as soon as I started opening up about being a Keeper... they left me."

"Hey." Tyler gave her a comforting smile. "We'll always be loyal to you, ok?"

She smiled back at him. "I know, thank you. I don't know what I'd do without you guys."

"Those that truly love you won't leave your side," Josh put in. "Don't ever forget that, okay?"

"I won't."

Nice to know my kind will be on my side.

Chapter Text

"Oliver said they'll be here in ten minutes. Apparently, Fynn bought up the whole candy aisle at the grocery store."

Tyler giggled as he passed Josh by with a bowl of popcorn in his hands. "You know, technically, they were supposed to be here thirty minutes ago."

"Yeah, I know. Fynn has been a bit of a hot mess ever since they got back." Josh chuckled as he finished setting up the pillows and blankets on the couches. "Coming back to the US after such a long time in the Ukraine is a big change."

"Well, maybe our onesie party will help him relax a little." Kneeling down in front of the coffee table, he arranged the various cans of soda and Red Bull next to the bowl of popcorn.

"How can you not relax when you're wearing animal onesies and stuffing yourself silly with junk food?" Josh stuck his tongue out at Tyler. "Sounds like the perfect night to me."

He smiled. "Exactly. Hey, we should pick out the first movie, otherwise Fynn will have us watching sappy rom-coms all night long."

Josh laughed a little. "Good idea."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Right after the second movie, Fynnley and Josh disappeared off to the kitchen to make themselves some drinks, leaving Tyler with the perfect opportunity to talk to Oliver for a bit.

"Hey," he said softly as he moved in a bit closer to the blue-eyed boy. "You having fun?"

"I am." Oliver smiled. "Thanks for inviting us. I can't tell you the last time I've done something like this."

"Of course." The brunette reached up and touched Oliver's bunny ears, giggling a little. "You look adorable, by the way."

He smiled. "Aw, thank you, Ty, so do you. I've never worn a onesie before." Pulling the sleeves over the top of his hands, he shifted around on the couch. "Hey, can I ask you something?"

"Anything."

Oliver's eyes darted away, a nervous expression on his face. "Fynn told me you have this, um, thing you like to do when you feel... um..."

"Soft?"

"Yeah, that's it." Tyler's heart fluttered a little when he noticed a tiny blush dusted across Oliver's cheeks. "What does it feel like?"

"Soft... warm... comforting. It feels even better when Josh is around to stay with me through it." Tyler gave him a smile. "Hey, something tells me that you're curious."

He shrugged. "Maybe a little."

Before Tyler could respond, their Protectors came back into the living room, a now noticeably annoyed look on Josh's face.

"Since Fynnley here has decided he absolutely needs a certain brand of vodka to make his drink with..."

"It's a specialty of mines," Fynn interjected.

Josh rolled his eyes a little before continuing. "We have to run to the liquor store. Do you two want to go with us or just stay here and keep each other company?"

Tyler looked at Oliver and smiled, an idea already forming inside his head. "I'm fine with staying here."

"Yeah, me too," the older boy echoed. "Just hurry back or you'll miss the rest of the movie."

"If this dork can keep himself from getting distracted, we'll be right back," Josh teased. "Try not to burn the house down while we're gone, yeah?"

Oliver grinned. "Can't make any promises."

And with a few kisses, the two men were off, leaving their Keepers to their own devices.

"Hey..." Tyler leaned in closer, a mischievous smile on his face. "I have an idea."

Oliver raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

"Josh bought me a pack of spare pacifiers the other day. You know, just in case I ever lose my main one." He giggled a little. "I can go up to my room and get one if you want to take a closer look at it. But only if you want to."

Oliver thought it over for a few moments before responding. "It wouldn't be weird for you?"

Tyler shook his head. "Of course not. Hey, I'll even get mines too so it won't be just you."

"Hmm..." The blue-eyed boy worried at his bottom lip for a few more seconds before looking back up at Tyler. "Alright, deal."

It only took Tyler a few minutes to pad up the steps, grab what he needed and make his way back downstairs. Thankfully, his ribcage was healing up nicely, so he could move around a lot faster than before, much to his relief.

"Wasn't sure which color you wanted, so I picked blue," Tyler said as he placed the pacifier into Oliver's hand. "Fair warning, it can taste a little plastic-y at first but it goes away once you start using it on a regular basis."

Oliver turned the object over in his hands, a curious expression on his face. "So how do you know when... you want to use it?"

"Most of the time, I'll start nibbling and sucking on my thumb. And then I'll feel really calm and relaxed." Just thinking about it made Tyler want to curl up with his own pacifier but he knew he had to try and keep it together for right now. "It's hard to explain. It always feels really nice, though."

Oliver smiled. "That's so adorable. I guess you could say I've been looking for some sort of stress release. Maybe this could be the thing I need."

Tyler smiled back at him. "It never hurts to try." He paused for a moment. "How have things been going for you since you got back?"

"A bit chaotic. But at the same time, it's such a strange feeling being... free."

"Does it feel like your Time Keeper is getting any stronger?"

"Kinda." He pulled up his sleeve, giving Tyler the latest look at his scarred over, but still healing Time Keeper symbol. "It's amazing what just a little bit of love can do for it, huh?"

"Yeah. Everything still feels so strange, though. We have Protectors with all the love in the world to give, yet our minds are so... screwed up from Dema that we can barely accept any of it."

"I know. It's been hard on me too." He sighed a little. "Me and Fynn were finally able to get a little bit intimate last night. One half of me wants him to just drown me in love and affection, but the other half of me doesn't even know if I can trust anyone to touch me."

"Wow. I thought I was the only one who felt that way."

"I'm sure we all do. I mean, think about it: We were trapped in there for months and the only physical contact we ever had was through beatings. That fear of being hurt isn't going to instantly go away just because we're back with our Protectors. I mean, we know they would never hurt us but there's always still that "what if" lingering in the back of your mind."

"Yeah, you're right, Oli."

Mind drifting to the past, Tyler thought about what had happened with his ex-Protector and how long it had taken him to feel comfortable around Josh. In a way, this was a little similar to that situation... but at least he still had some level of trust left from before Nico took him away to Dema.

Not all was lost.

"It was really nice to just kiss and touch him," Oliver admitted. "We've been too exhausted to try and make love again. After all, it's been over a year for us."

"Yeah?" Tyler blushed at the very mention of sex, a sensitive, but oh-so-tantalizing topic for him. "Are you nervous about it?"

"Sort of. But I know Fynn will be sweet with me. At first, anyway." He winked at him. "There's times when we both like things a little rough."

Tyler's blush intensified even more. "Oh, gosh..."

"How about you?" Oliver teased him. "Is there stuff you like to do in bed with Josh?"

"Um..." He looked away, suddenly feeling way less experienced than his counterpart. "We actually haven't had sex yet."

"Aww, Tyler! You're still so innocent!"

He thought back to the things he and Josh had done together. "Well, I don't know about that..."

"I know Josh is going to be good to you," Oliver reassured him. "If your first time is anything like mines, it'll definitely be unforgettable."

"In a good way or...?"

"Well, let's see... Fynn slipped out of me three times and when we finally did get into it, I came within, like, three minutes." He grinned. "But I wouldn't have had it any other way."

Tyler let out a nervous laugh. "I'm just afraid I'll sound weird. I always get all loud and whiny."

"Dude, guys love that!" He nudged Tyler in the arm with his elbow. "Fynn used to tell me that listening to me was one of his favorite parts."

At this point, Tyler was strongly convinced his entire upper body was beet red. "Wish I was as confident as you are," he mumbled.

"Hey, don't compare yourself to other people. It's a learning process for everyone. Believe me." Oliver gave him a sweet smile. "Just promise me you'll tell me when it happens?"

"I promise." The brunette giggled a little before bringing his thumb up to his mouth, teeth grazing against the delicate skin. "All this talk about intimacy is making me soft."

"Yeah?" Oliver picked up the pacifier and looked at it again. "Is that why I'm feeling kinda weird?"

"Depends on where you're feeling weird at." He giggled again.

"Not there, you silly billy." Oliver shook his head a little at the younger boy's antics. "So, um..." His voice trailed off when he noticed that Tyler was fidgeting around a little. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm just feeling a little shy." He squirmed around again. "I'm not used to being like this around someone else besides Josh."

"Oh... do you want me, to, uh... go away?"

He shook his head. "Stay with me, please?"

Oliver nodded before bringing Tyler into his arms, pushing the "hood" of his onesie down so he could thread his fingers through his soft, brown hair. "Does this feel okay?"

"Mhm." Tyler's voice came out quietly. "Is it okay for you?"

"I love it." Oliver bit down on his bottom lip. "I'm starting to feel more... relaxed? Carefree? I don't know, it's a really hard feeling to describe."

"Someone's getting so-o-ft," Tyler sung out before bursting into another giggle fit. "You're so cute, Oli."

"No, you're the cute one." Oliver smiled before sighing a little. "I don't think I feel like trying out the pacifier you gave me yet. I need to get more comfortable with the idea first."

"I understand." Tyler patted the top of his hand. "You can keep it, okay? That way, if you ever decide to try it, you'll have one right there for you!"

"Such a sweetheart," he said softly. "Thank you, Ty. Do you want to have yours now?"

Tyler's eyes drifted to the end table where his galaxy pacifier sat next to his open can of Red Bull. "Please?"

When Oliver reached across and picked it up, he wasn't sure whether to just hand it to him or atempt to be somewhat helpful by putting it into his mouth for him. "Um..."

Noticing the uncertainty in Oliver's eyes, Tyler took it upon himself to make a suggestion. "Hey, you wanna snuggle?"

"Yeah, I'd like that."

After a bit of moving around, the two finally settled back down, Oliver's body splayed across the couch while Tyler laid his head on top of his chest. Without another word, he slipped Tyler's pacifier into his mouth, the latter letting out a small sigh as he took to it immediately.

"So adorable," Oliver said quietly as he stroked the side of Tyler's face. "Pretty little Bandito."

Giggling a little, Tyler looked up at him, affection apparent in his wide, brown eyes. Usually, Josh was the only person to compliment him like that but during times like these, his Time Keeper was definitely not one to discriminate.

"So glad to be back," Oliver whispered into his ear. "We did it, Ty. We really did it."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"How do you think the boys are doing?"

Josh and Fynnley were on their way back from the liquor store, the blonde having bought more alcohol than they actually needed, as expected.

"I'm sure they're fine," Josh replied. "Something tells me they're probably snuggled up together, sharing embarrassing secrets about us or something."

Fynn laughed. "Knowing Oliver, you're probably right."

Josh smiled for a moment before clearing his throat, a more solemn look coming over his facial features. "Fynn... while we were in the store, I got an email from the Time Keeper Database."

"Yeah? What did it say?"

"They captured Nico a few days ago and they're extraditing him back to the US. We're not supposed to tell our Keepers anything yet because they don't want the news to impact their healing process. But..." He trailed off before sighing. "Nico is planning to take a plea deal in order to avoid the death penalty. On one hand, it's a good thing because it spares us from having to go through a long trial. But listen to this... the TKD wants the Keepers to give a victim impact statement at his hearing."

"Wow," Fynnley murmured. "So every single one of them will have to speak in front of the court?"

"Yes, they want it to be their "final words," so to speak." He sighed. "I don't know if Tyler will be able to handle that."

Fynn frowned. "Same with Oliver. I think if he ever saw Nico's face again, there'd be a fight. Heck, I'd fight him for what he did to them."

"I know what you mean." Josh clenched and unclenched his hands from around the steering wheel. "But we can't let our emotions get the best of us. There has to be some form of justice for what happened to them and those that lost their lives. We can't let something like this happen ever again."

Fynn nodded. "You're right."

"But until that point, I think we need to focus on Tyler and Oli. They need us the most right now." He sighed again. "It hurts to see them so vulnerable from everything that's happened."

"But that's the amazing thing about Keepers, Josh... with a little time, love and attention, they can heal again." Fynnley gave him a hopeful smile. "We just need to be there to help them. None of this has been easy but I know we can do it. We've got each other."

Taking one hand off the wheel, Josh held his pinky out, a small smile on his lips. "Promise?"

Fynnley chuckled a little as he linked their pinkies together. "Promise."

Chapter Text

It had been a little over a week since the onesie pajama party when Josh texted Fynnley with a curious suggestion.

Josh: Hey, what are you up to this weekend?

Fynn: Cleaning and trying to get my life together. What about you?

Josh: I got an email from my credit card company that said I have enough points for a free two-night stay at a hotel. I was thinking maybe we could take the boys for a little weekend getaway… we don't have to go far, of course, but I figured they might appreciate a change in scenery.

Fynn: Oh yeah? Will there be food involved?

Josh: As always.

Fynn: I'll ask Oli and let you know but I'm sure he'll say yes. When?

Josh: I was thinking Friday-Sunday. Maybe we could stay someplace outside of Columbus that's quieter… maybe more intimate?

Fynn: Ooh la la. ;) Planning to make your move?

Josh: Shush. Not that it's any of your business, anyway, but no… I was just thinking we could use the time to talk to the boys.

Fynn: About Nico's hearing?

Josh: Yeah. They need to be ready for whenever they decide to schedule it.

Fynn: You're right. The sooner, the better.

Josh: Let me know what Oliver says and I'll check with Tyler too, yeah?

Fynn: Looking forward to it, dork!

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Barely an hour into the drive, Tyler was already feeling soft. He didn't know whether if it was from the lack of a good night's sleep or all the familiar banter between Josh and Fynnley… or maybe it was the fact Oliver was sitting so close to him right now.

Fighting the urge to reach into his backpack and grab his pacifier, he focused his attention on the landscape rushing past them on the interstate. Despite the fact that it was only mid-morning, he already longed for it to be bedtime again. Sleep was always scarce for him when he had something important planned for the next day, and this trip hadn't been an exception.

Switching his attention to the rearview mirror and how focused (and if he was being honest... sexy) Josh looked as he drove, he watched him for a few moments before the older man accidentally caught his own eye.

"I see you watching me, cutie," Josh teased. "You look so sleepy."

Tyler nodded, teeth worrying away at his bottom lip. "I am."

Fynn turned around from the front seat to look at Tyler. "Hey, we can turn the music down if you want to take a nap."

He shook his head. "No, I don't mind the music. I'm just afraid if I fall asleep, I'll miss something important."

"Trust me, Tyler, if Josh is talking… you're not missing out on much."

"Oh, kiss my ass, Fynnley."

"Language," Tyler scolded them. When he heard a snicker, he turned to look at Oliver, who had the biggest smile on his face. "What's so funny?"

"You," he replied. "I've known a lot of Keepers over the years but I think you're the most precious one I've ever met."

Tyler blushed. He didn't know what it was but lately… compliments from Oliver meant so much more to him now. "T-Thank you…"

"Well, aren't you two a pair of lovebirds?"

When Tyler turned to look back at Fynn, he expected him to have a weird look on his face, but instead, the blonde was nothing but smiles.

"Y-You're s-silly," he stuttered out in response.

"I may be silly but I'm also right." Fynn chuckled before turning back around in his seat.

Noticing the bewildered look on Tyler's face, Oliver leaned over and whispered into his ear. "Don't mind, Fynn. He's just a dork."

"I know, but…" Sentence trailing off, he bit down on his lip even harder before turning back towards the window, feeling a bit perplexed by everything going on around him.

Frowning a little, Oliver moved his seatbelt so he could lean up and whisper into Fynnley's ear. "Hey, don't be so hard on Tyler. I think he's kinda soft right now."

The blonde leaned his head back, their blue eyes mirroring each other. "Oh, I'm sorry, Oli." He gave him a sheepish smile. "Why don't you sit next to him and give him his pacifier?"

Oliver turned to look at Josh, silently asking for permission, to which the older man just smiled and nodded in response. "Um… where does he keep it at?"

"First outside pocket on the left," Josh replied.

Sitting back, he looked over at Tyler and had to stifle a laugh at how quickly he had managed to curl himself up against the side of the car door. Boy, Tyler sure is cranky when he's tired...

After retrieving his pacifier, Oliver took his seatbelt off before scooting over to the middle seat. "Ty-Guy," he said softly as he finished buckling up again. "Can you look at me?"

Tyler held his head up, a tinge of excitement flashing in his eyes when he saw what Oliver had in his hand. "Hi, Oli," he mumbled.

"Hi, sweetness. There's those beautiful eyes of yours." Oliver smiled at the small giggle he made. "Josh and Fynn want me to sit with you for a while. Is that okay?"

"Y-Yes..."

"Good." Oliver smiled again. "Want your pacifier?"

He nodded, no words needed as he allowed his friend to slip it inside his mouth. Sighing softly, he started to doze in and out as he began to feel more relaxed.

"Somebody's getting sleepy," Oliver teased, his voice light and soothing. "Just relax and close your eyes, okay? You're doing so good..."

At this point, Tyler felt like his heart might very well explode. Whining against the pacifier, his eyelids lulled a little as he stared ahead at nothing in particular.

"Baby boy," Josh spoke up, catching his attention. "Is Oli making you feel good?"

Tyler nodded, his head feeling far too heavy to move it from its place on Oliver's shoulder. Lazily, he held his hands up for Josh to see and made a heart shape with his fingers.

Josh couldn't help but grin at the affectionate gesture. "I love you too, darling," he replied.

Fynn turned around and locked eyes with Oliver. "And I love you, cutie," he echoed to his own Keeper, a teasing smile playing at his lips.

"I love you too, Fynn. Am I doing okay?"

"Ty looks like he's enjoying it." Fynnley chuckled. "You two are so cute together."

Oliver gave him a surprisingly shy smile before stifling a big yawn. Tyler's sleepiness was definitely starting to rub off on him. "Hey, how much longer do we have?"

"At least another hour or so."

Shifting around in his seat, Oliver leaned his head against an already faded Tyler and closed his eyes. "Mm, wake me when we get there."

"Will do, my love."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Thirty minutes or so had passed since the boys fell asleep, and aside from music playing in the background, things were relatively quiet inside the car. After Fynnley turned around and checked on the two boys for the second time in ten minutes, he finally broke the silence between him and Josh.

"Our Keepers are such a mess."

Josh laughed. "Yeah, tell me about it. I love that they have each other as friends now."

"Me too." Fynn looked down at his lap, feeling a bit awkward over what he was about to say. "Um… I feel like Tyler might have a tiny crush on Oliver. I could be wrong, though."

"Well, I'd have to say the same about Oliver." Josh poked his tongue out, a playful look on his face. "Tyler seems to admire him a lot."

"Aww, I think it's puppy love." Fynn grinned. "Does this mean we're going to have a foursome?"

"God, no." Josh made a fake retching sound. "Kissing you that one time for Tyler was one too many times for me."

"Uh-huh. You're just mad that you're not a super awesome kisser like I am."

Josh rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right."

"Seriously, though… how do you feel about it?"

"I think it's cute. If they find a sense of comfort and companionship within each other after all they went through in Dema, who are we to stop it? We still know they depend on us for love and affection so it's not that big of a deal."

"Yeah, you're right. I'm okay with it if you are." Fynnley crossed his arms over his chest before narrowing his eyes at Josh. "He's still my Keeper, though. Touch him and I'll pickle your nuts."

Josh laughed. "Ditto, my friend."

In the backseat, a certain blue-eyed boy smiled a little before tightening his grip around Tyler's shoulder.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"My baby boy seems to be in a much
better mood now," Josh murmured against the side of Tyler's neck as he peppered it with tiny kisses.

"Jos-shu-aa," Tyler whined, giggling. "That tickles."

"Good." Josh chuckled. "I like tickling you." He poked Tyler in the side, being careful to avoid any of the still sensitive spots on his ribcage. "If there's one thing in life that makes me happy, it's seeing you smile and laugh."

"Silly goose." The younger boy leaned over and kissed Josh on the cheek. "I can't believe Oliver's taking another nap with Fynn when he just woke up an hour ago."

"But are they really?" Josh stuck his tongue out at Tyler. "They could be getting up to some mischief right now, you know."

Tyler blushed. "Oh, gosh..."

Josh chuckled. "Nah, believe me, if they were up to something, you would hear it. Oliver can be a little… uh, noisy sometimes."

If his face was a little pink before, it was bright red now. "Um… how do you know?"

"There's been times where I've slept over their place and they thought they were being sneaky..." He laughed. "Yeah, not quite."

"Oh." Tyler giggled, feeling a bit flustered as he thought back to the conversation him and Oliver had at their onesie pajama party.

"Enough about that, though. I have an idea."

His eyes lit up a little. "Yeah?"

"Well, when I went to the store the other day, I remembered you telling me you've never  swimming before. So I decided to buy you a swimsuit for you to use on our little getaway."

Tyler gasped. "Really?"

"Sure did." Josh leaned over and pressed a kiss to his lips. "With that being said… wanna head down to the pool? I'm sure it won't be very crowded this time of day, if at all."

He looked down, worrying at his bottom lip with his teeth. "But what if I drown?"

"I would never let something like that happen to you, sweet boy. I promise." Josh reached down and brushed his fingers up and down the boy's arm, being extra careful as he passed over his healing Time Keeper symbol. "I'll hold onto you the entire time and only let go when you feel 100% comfortable, okay?"

He nodded, a soft look painted across his facial features. "You're so good to me, J. I love you."

"And I love you, Tyler." Josh kissed him on the forehead. "Come on, let's get changed."

Chapter Text

"Are you sure it won't hurt?"

Josh bit back a laugh as he watched Tyler dip a single toe into the pool. "I'm sure, baby love." Leaning over, he kissed him on the cheek. "How about this? I'll go in first so I can hold your hand while you step in."

Tyler nodded slowly. "Promise you won't let go?"

"I promise." Reaching down to the hem of his shirt, he pulled it up and over his head.

Curious as ever, Tyler couldn't help but do a quick once-over of Josh's torso, his eyes widening a little bit. He had seen Josh shirtless a handful of times since Dema, but today, he looked so much more… different.

"Like what you see, cutie?"

Realizing he had been staring, he quickly looked away, cheeks burning away. "Oh, I'm sorry."

"No, don't be." Josh gave him a sweet smile. "I like it when you look at my body."

Tyler giggled a little. "Well, it looks really nice. Have you been working out behind my back, Mr. Josh Dun?" He poked his tongue out at him, a teasing smile playing at his lips.

"Hey, I have to do something to release the tension." Josh flexed his biceps. "My body may look stronger but I promise I'm still the same, 'ol useless Josh."

"You're not useless. I think you're strong, inside and out."

Josh gave him a big smile. "Aww, it must be Happy Josh Day or something because you're being so sweet to me."

"Every day can be Happy Josh Day if you want it to be," Tyler said softly before leaning in and pecking a shy kiss onto his lips. "I love you, J."

"I love you too," Josh echoed before smiling. "Let's get in the pool before I get all mushy."

Tyler watched as Josh descended down the pool stairs, his body sinking lower and lower into the water with every step. When said man turned around and held his hand out, crinkly brown eyes meeting wide ones, the younger boy felt a tiny shiver go down his spine.

"Ready?"

He nodded, left hand gripping onto the pool rail for dear life as he gingerly stepped into the water. "It's warmer than I thought it'd be," he commented, watching as the water circled around his ankles.

"That's because it's an indoor pool. Outdoor pools are usually a lot colder." Josh smiled before stepping closer to meet him at the bottom of the steps. "Eyes on me, sweetness. I got you."

As soon as his hand slipped inside of Josh's, a great sense of relief came over Tyler. Before he knew it, he was standing almost waist-deep in the water. "This feels so weird," he said, squeezed the older man's hand a little.

"You did it!" Josh grinned. "Good job, baby."

"Thank you." Tyler smiled back. "So how deep does this go?"

"I think the entire pool goes up to about five feet." Leaning over, he pressed a kiss to Tyler's cheek. "So in the rare event we are over on the far end of the pool and I decide to have a heart attack… you won't drown if I let go of your hand."

"Silly goose." Tyler giggled. "I'm glad to know you're so dedicated to this hand-holding business."

"Always."

"I like how the water feels."

"Me too. Being underwater feels even better."

"Can we go underneath?"

"Sure. Just make sure you hold your nose, cutie."

Holding his free hand up to his face, Tyler plugged his nose with his thumb and pointer finger. "Like this?"

Josh chuckled at Tyler's nasally voice. "Perfect." Mimicking his actions, he tightened his grip on the younger boy's hand. "Eyes on me, okay?"

"Okay, Josh."

"On three. One… two… three!"

And with that, the two of them dove underneath the water. Staring at each other through squinted eyelids, the brief moment underwater was silent, almost a bit hypnotic as time itself seemed to stop between the two of them.

Tyler was nothing but smiles after they resurfaced. "Whoa, that was sick!"

"So sick." Josh chuckled. "Just wait till you start swimming, it feels even better."

"Baby steps." Tyler's smile turned into a shy one as he rubbed at his eyes. "My eyes are stinging."

"Oh, that's just from the chlorine."

The unfamiliar word piqued his interest. "Chlorine?"

"It's a chemical they use to sanitize the pool so you won't get sick from any water you ingest. Your eyes get used to it after a while."

"Oh… so that's what I've been smelling then." Tyler held his forearm up to his nose. "I like it."

Biting his lip, Josh tried not to laugh at his Keeper's rather… odd actions. "Well, at least we know our skin is sanitized, right?"

"Yeah." Tyler looked away from his gaze, frowning a little. "I feel like the inside of me needs sanitizing more than anything."

"But I love your insides." Josh brushed his hand across Tyler's cheek. "You're so pure as it is."

"That whole sentence sounds so wrong." Tyler giggled. "But I love your insides too, Joshua."

Josh smiled. "C'mere." Pulling Tyler in close, he let his arms rest around his lower back. "Mmm…" he hummed softly. "You feel so nice."

"So do you," Tyler echoed as he circled his arms around Josh's neck, blush dusted across his cheeks.

"This is all so surreal," Josh said quietly. "Ever since we've been home, I always wake up at least once in the middle of the night just to make sure you're still right there next to me."

He felt his heart pull a little at his Protector's words. "Joshua… that's so sweet."

"I'm just so glad you're back..."

"Me too."

"Because what is a Protector without his Keeper by his side?" He smiled.

Tyler giggled before threading his fingers through Josh's wet, yellow hair. "My Josh Dunshine," he mumbled before leaning his head to rest on top of his shoulder. "You're always so bright. No one could ever forget you."

"It's all for you, sweet boy." Josh smiled and kissed the side of his forehead. "Every bit of me."

Starting to feel just a little bit soft, Tyler opened his mouth and started to sing, oh so quietly.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away..."

Josh was nothing but smiles after that. "Now I'm certain it's Happy Josh Day because you're about to kill me with all this adorableness."

"Guess you'll just have to be my Spooky Jish then, huh?" Tyler held his head up and pecked a quick kiss onto his lips.

He chuckled. "The spookiest of them all."

"Aww... are you crying, J?"

"No, it's just from the chlorine." Josh laughed before swiping at his eyes with his fingers. "Come on, cutie, let's go a little deeper."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

It was later that night, not long after the foursome came back from dinner, that Josh and Fynn decided it was time to approach their "big announcement."

While their Keepers were changing into their comfy clothes, the two of them sat together on the couch, whispering about their plan of action.

"How do you think they're gonna take it?" Fynnley asked. "I know we have to tell them, but I really don't want to ruin the mood. It's been such a good night."

"Yeah, I know. They were joking around a lot at dinner, so I'm hoping that means they'll take it well."

"Same here, dude. Same here."

They stopped talking when one of the bedroom doors opened and out came Oliver dressed in his cat pajamas. "Good evening, dear Protectors."

Josh shook his head. "Oliver, you have the strangest pajama collection I've ever seen."

"Hey, we all need a hobby, don't we?" Oliver stuck his tongue out at Josh. "Besides, you can never go wrong with cats."

Fynnley snorted a little. "You can when you have a giant cat named Cheetah."

"C'mon, Fynn, you're not a cat, so stop being such a pussy," the blue-eyed boy teased, a playful smile on his face.

"Language, you guys."

All of them turned around to see Tyler come into the living room, clad in nothing but his boxer briefs and his beloved floral kimono. When he noticed the three pairs of eyes staring at him, he started feeling shy. "What? Is something wrong?"

Fynnley and Oliver just shook their heads, clearly enamored by what Tyler had on.

Rolling his eyes a little at his friends, Josh decided to speak up for all of them. "Nothing at all, baby," he reassured Tyler. "You just look beautiful. You always do when you wear that."

And that was all it took for him to start blushing. "Oh, thank you," he whispered, eyes dropping down to his feet. "You guys are so sweet to me."

"Josh got it for you, right?" Oliver asked, to which he nodded. "That's an A+ Protector right there."

"Yeah, I'd like to think so." Tyler gave Josh a shy smile before giggling a little.

"Not to break up this insanely cute moment or anything…" Fynn started, chuckling a little. "But there's something important that Josh and I need to talk to you guys about."

"A little Bandito meeting, if you will," Josh put in.

Tyler and Oliver looked at each other when they heard that infamous word 'Bandito. "What is it?" the latter of the two asked.

"Come on, let's go into the bedroom and talk."

Once the four of them were settled onto Fynnley and Oliver's bed, Josh decided to start the discussion. "I know we've all been doing our best to not think about what happened in Dema. But there's been some recent developments with Nico that you guys should know about." He paused before continuing. "They finally captured him and they expect him to plead guilty to all the charges against him."

"So... does that mean there isn't going to be a trial?" Tyler asked.

"For now, yes. Unless he changes his mind before the court hearing, which they don't expect him to do."

"Thank God," Oliver mumbled. "I don't want to have to re-live everything for weeks on end."

"But it's still not that simple," Fynn said. "The TKD is asking for the Keepers to come to Nico's sentencing so all of you can give your own individual victim impact statement to the court."

Oliver frowned. "A statement? What's the point in that?"

Tyler nodded in agreement. "Yeah, the court isn't going to care about what we went through in there. We're just Keepers."

"But that's the thing," Josh answered. "If Keepers can finally have their voices heard like this… it could really change things for the better."

Fynnley jumped in. "And even if that doesn't happen, don't you guys want a chance to tell that bastard what you really think about him? If there's one thing I think everyone needs after all of this… it's some closure."

The two of them thought about it for a few minutes before Oliver spoke up again. "How much time do we have to write our statements?"

"We don't know yet," Josh replied. "The TKD said they'll give us more information once the Supreme Court sets a date for his hearing."

Fynn reached over and laid a hand on Oliver's knee. "But we just wanted to let you guys know what's been going on so you'll have time to prepare yourselves."

"This is never gonna end..." Oliver mumbled.

"It'll be over soon," Josh reassured him. "We're almost there, okay?"

After a few more minutes of silence, Fynn spoke up again. "Sorry to be a total buzzkill but we kinda had to tell you sooner or later."

Oliver shook his head. "It's not a buzzkill. It's great news that they caught him. After all we've been through… it means a lot, actually."

"Yeah… we're Banditos," Tyler said softly. "And we'll keep fighting until it's over."

Josh couldn't help but feel so proud of how well Tyler and Oliver were taking the news. "We're here for you every step of the way. I promise."

"I can only promise to be there maybe… every other step," Fynn said before grinning.

Oliver just shook his head. "You're such a dork."

Now that the tension in the air had cleared away, the tone of the conversation went back to light and playful.

Oliver sighed as he laid back against the pillows. "This has been a fun first day here."

Josh laughed. "Seriously? All you two did was sleep and eat the whole day."

"Which is, like, the perfect day." Fynnley laughed. "Oh, don't act like you two weren't down at the pool making out the entire time."

He rolled his eyes. "Was not. But I'm sure you two were up to something when you finally did wake up."

"Don't be jealous," Oliver teased. "If Ty's face tells even a little bit of the story, you two must've been up to something naughty."

"Just a little bit of kissing," Tyler admitted, voice soft as his thumb went up to the curve in his lips.

Josh faked a gasp. "No, Tyler, now you've told the two weirdos our dirty little secret!"

Fynn rolled his eyes. "Hey, speak for yourself. Oh, by the way, there's one more thing we wanted to tell you guys. You know this whole… thing you two have going on right now? We're okay with it. So don't feel weird because, honestly, we think it's pretty freaking adorable."

"I know," Oliver said, a cheeky smile on his face. "I heard you two talking about it in the car."

Josh laughed. "You're such a sneak, Oli."

Fynnley clapped his hands together. "Two ground rules, though! Number one, no intimate touching; our bodies belong to each other and each other only. And number two, no plotting any kind of sneaky Keeper business together."

"Hmm…" The younger blue-eyed boy held a finger up to his lips, a thoughtful look on his face. "So does that mean I can steal a kiss on the cheek from Ty-Ty?"

"Sure, but only on his left cheek." Josh winked at Tyler. "His right cheek's all mine."

Oliver leaned over and gave a cheek kiss to an elated (and unbelievably soft) Tyler, the younger boy giggling away in response.

Chapter Text

One o'clock in the morning and with no sleep in sight, Tyler seriously regretted taking a nap on the way down here. Ever since he had escaped from Dema, he constantly flip-flopped between sleeping too much and staying up for hours on end with nothing but a million thoughts inside of his head.

Turning over onto his side, he smiled a little at the sight of his Protector asleep next to him. Josh had fallen asleep about two hours earlier after some much-needed pillow talk about the day's events.

Ever since then, he had done every "quiet" thing he could think of -- daydreaming, staring at the ceiling, reading old lyrics in his notebook via, looking up random things on Google -- and he still wasn't sleepy.

In the back of his mind, though, he knew the longer he spent laying there with nothing but silence to keep him company, the more vulnerable he was to intrusive thoughts and the bad memories that came along with them.

And, in his eyes, there would be nothing worse than waking up Josh with another breakdown that could have easily been avoided.

Sighing, he sat up before manuevering himself out of the bed. Maybe stretching his legs would do him some good. After he made sure that Josh was still asleep, he straightened his kimono out and opened the door out to the living room.

Walking into the kitchenette area, he took out a plastic cup and turned the sink onto the slightest stream, not wanting to wake anyone with the sound of the faucet running.

Just as he finished drinking his cup of water, a noise pricked his ears, making him freeze.

"Deeper, Fynn, deeper..."

Flashbacks of that fateful day Tyler had accidentally overheard Josh touching himself came back to his mind, except this time... it wasn't Josh and there definitely wasn't any masturbation going on.

He quickly threw his cup in the trash before tip-toeing back to his room... of course, not before hearing the sound of creaking box springs and a string of curses from Fynnley's mouth.

Once he made it back into their bedroom and had the door closed, one half of his body's blood volume was in his face while the other half had rushed somewhere much... lower.

Why were Fynnley and Oliver even still awake this late? Who could possibly want to be rolling around in bed with someone in the middle of the night?

He winked at him. "There's times when we both like things a little rough."

Tyler groaned and buried his face inside of his hands. He just had to think about that, didn't he?

"Baby?"

His heart nearly stopped when he heard Josh's voice. Peeking out through his fingers, he saw his Protector sitting up in bed, rubbing one eye while he stared at him with the other one.

Slowly taking his hands away from his face, Tyler wished for lightning to strike him down right there so he could avoid the question of why he was standing in front of the bedroom door at one-thirty in the morning with a slight boner. "Hi, Josh," he said softly. "Did I wake you up? I'm sorry."

"No, I rolled over and didn't feel you next to me." Josh reached over to the bedside table so he could turn on the lamp. "But... are you okay? Your face is beet red."

He tried to avoid the question. "Yeah, I couldn't sleep so I went to get some water."

"Did you run a marathon or something in-between?"

Tyler could tell from the look on Josh's face that he was thoroughly amused by what was going on. "Hey, aren't I supposed to be the sassy one?"

"It depends." Josh smiled before motioning for him to come get in the bed. "Well, I'm awake now, so you might as well tell me what's got you all flustered."

Tyler climbed in next to him, being careful to avoid any position that would make his "problem" worse. "Oh, you know, just another sleepless night for your Keeper."

"Aw, baby." Josh pressed a soft kiss to his forehead. "I'm sorry, I had assumed you fell asleep too while we were laying down together. What have you been doing all this time?"

"This and that. On my phone... getting water from the kitchen... overhearing Fynnley and Oliver having loud sex in their room..."

Josh stifled a chuckle. "So that's what it is. Hey, I warned you they were loud."

"Yeah but I didn't think they would be doing it at one-thirty in the morning," Tyler said, laughing.

"Hey, haven't you heard of morning sex?" Josh teased. "I'm just kidding, baby. I can go tell them to pipe down if it bothers you."

"No, it sounded like they were, um... almost done." Tyler put his hands over his face again and groaned. "God, I'm such a creeper."

He gently took the younger boy's hands away from his face and gave him a sweet smile. "Hey, look at me. You're not a creeper. Intimacy is a natural thing. Some people can be a bit more... vocal about it than others. But that's okay too."

"I know, but I always feel so embarrassed when I make noise," he admitted.

"Don't be embarrassed, sweetness." Josh leaned his forehead up against Tyler's. "I love to hear your voice. Especially when I know that I'm making you feel good."

A wave of affection washing over him, Tyler smiled before connecting their lips in a soft kiss. "You always make me feel good, J." Feeling a bit more brave, he moved his kimono so his underwear and everything within it was exposed. "I know this sounds dumb, but I'm a little turned on right now. Just a little bit, though."

"It's not dumb at all," Josh reassured him. "Wanna know a secret?"

"Hit me."

"Earlier, when you came out in the living room with your kimono on, I got a boner." Josh snickered a little at the embarrassed look on Tyler's face. "But I also got kinda jealous."

"Jealous?"

"Yeah, of the way Fynn and Oliver were looking at you. I want to be the only one who sees your beautiful body like that." He gave him another kiss on the cheek. "But maybe that's just the Protector side coming out of me."

"It's yours and only yours," Tyler whispered, his fingers stroking the side of Josh's face. "I want you, Josh... whenever you'll have me."

"Whenever you're ready for me," Josh whispered back. "But hey, we're not going to be freaks like them." He smiled when Tyler giggled. "I'm gonna be so sweet and gentle with you."

"But... what if I mess up or do something silly?"

"Then we laugh it off and keep going. Making love isn't always a perfect process, baby boy. But I sure can make it feel perfect for you."

Shivers ran up and down Tyler's spine at Josh's words. "It's been so long," he said softly. "My Time Keeper got too low and all those feelings went away. But... I think it's getting better now."

"I know, baby," Josh replied, internally willing himself to keep a calm head and not let his hormones get the best of him. "That's why I wanted to take things slow and not rush into anything right after we came home."

"Can I tell you something?"

"Of course, love."

Tyler giggled as he looked away, the cutest smile on his face. "I still think about some of the things that we did together. Remember when I went down on you for the first time?"

And with that, his "calm head" plan went right out the window. "How could I ever forget, sweetheart? You blew my mind... no pun intended."

Tyler giggled again. "You're such a dork, J."

"I try to be." Josh gave him a quick peck on the lips. "Guess you'll just have to put up with your dorky, horny Protector, huh?"

"Guess so." Tyler grinned. "I love you, Josh."

"And I love you, Ty." He placed a hand on Tyler's hip, just barely teasing his fingers underneath the waistband of his underwear. "Call me crazy, but I don't think you told me all that for no reason."

The grin on his face turned into a shy one. "Maybe."

"I'm always willing to make my baby boy feel good," Josh breathed out. "You want me to do that for you?"

His teeth grazed over his bottom lip. "Y-Yes, please..."

Josh moved around on the bed so he rested on top of Tyler, the skin-to-skin contact almost overwhelming after such a long time apart. "Such beautiful eyes," he whispered before connecting their lips in a soft kiss.

Soft quickly turned to passionate as Josh tried his best to make up for lost time while Tyler just tried his best to keep up. Still, he loved every moment as his Protector's fingers found all the sensitive spots he had forgotten about.

Closing his eyes, Tyler let out a soft moan as Josh trailed his kisses down to his neck. "T-that tickles," he mumbled.

"Yeah?" Josh looked up at him, eyebrows raised, before smiling. "Then how come you aren't laughing?"

Tyler smiled back at him as he squirmed around a little. "I'm laughing on the inside."

Josh bit down on the brunette's collarbone in response. "Silly boy." He took off Tyler's kimono in one fell swoop, loving the sight of his completely bare chest. "I feel so lucky, I've seen you shirtless twice in the past 24 hours. You have such a gorgeous body, baby doll."

He wasn't sure whether to blush, smile or hide his face away again. "Thank you, J..."

Cupping Tyler's cheeks in his hands, Josh kissed him for a few more moments before moving straight down to his chest. The younger boy closed his eyes, memorizing the way his Protector's lips felt as they made their way from his nipples to the dip of his navel line.

When Josh got to the top of his hipbones, he paused, glancing down for a moment before looking back up into Tyler's eyes. "You're hard," he said, voice tilting a little with genuine excitement. "Really hard."

"I am," Tyler replied, feeling shy, soft, overwhelmed and horribly turned on all at the same time. "I haven't been able to for the longest time. I know that probably sounds really pathetic..."

"No, no, not at all, baby," Josh murmured as he pressed kiss after kiss to his hipbones. "I'm so proud of you. So, so proud."

Fearing he might ruin the moment by spontaneous combusting, Tyler pulled Josh back up so he could kiss him. "You're gonna be the death of me, Josh Dun," he breathed out, their faces mere inches apart as they stared into each other's eyes.

"No, don't die, I haven't made you come yet." Josh grinned.

Tyler rolled his eyes, even though deep down, that sounded amazing. "A part of me wants to turn into a soft mess but the other part of me wants to find out what you have up your sleeve." He gave him a smile. "I know you're planning something."

"Me? Planning something?" Josh teased before picking up Tyler's hands and intertwining their fingers. "Well, if you are up to trying something new, I packed something special of yours in my suitcase... you know, just in case."

It took him a few moments to realize what Josh was talking about. "Oh, gosh, you still have that thing?"

"Still in the box." Josh chuckled. "I can't believe you didn't even open up just to see what it looked like."

"The box said it was a red dildo and that's all I really needed to know." Tyler giggled before kissing him. "But what about you? What can I do for you?"

"Don't worry about me. I can jerk off and be done with it. This is about making you feel good. You deserve that after so long, Tyler."

A silence fell over them for a minute or two as Tyler thought about his Protector's proposition. "Can we stop if I don't like it?"

"Of course. No questions asked."

"Please be gentle," Tyler said softly.

The older man's heart pulled at the nervous, yet subtly excited look on his Keeper's face.

"Always."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

One wouldn't have known Tyler had done this before with how hard he was blushing right now. Watching as Josh peppered tiny kisses all over his inner thighs, his toes curled a little as he felt two fingers spread cold lube all over his entrance.

"Are you ready, baby doll?"

Josh, being the gentleman that he was, had offered to start with just fingers and progress to the toy when he was ready. But Tyler, being the 'likely to come after two fingers because of how turned on he was right now' kind of guy he was, wanted to skip right to the main event.

"I am." He tried his best to avoid Josh's gaze from down between his legs. "I don't know why I feel so shy right now."

"That's okay, darling." Josh's voice came out softly as he ran his free hand up and down Tyler's calf. "I'm gonna be good to you, okay?"

Tyler closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the pillow. "You're always so good to me, J," he breathed out. And with that, he finally let himself relax, trusting his body over to Josh.

"Don't hold your breath, okay? There you go, baby, just like that... good boy..." Josh continued kissing all over his thighs as Tyler let out a soft whine, moving his ankles so they draped over his Protector's shoulders.

"J-Josh," Tyler gasped out. As he felt the toy move closer and closer to the spot he definitely hadn't forgot about, he squirmed around, already wanting more. "It's so big."

"I'm bigger, you know." Josh gave him a cheeky grin before nipping a piece of skin on his thigh. "Just saying."

"Such a tease," Tyler groaned, rolling his eyes.

"Can't help myself." Josh winked at him before chuckling. "You're so beautiful, baby boy." He twisted his wrist a little, angling the toy differently. "How does it feel?"

Tyler reached down to tangle his fingers into Josh's hair, soft pants already leaving his lips. "It feels amazing..."

"Pull my hair, baby," Josh said as he sped up his movements, voice turning huskier by the second. "Makes me so hard when you do that."

Heels rutting against Josh's back and hands pulling at curly, yellow strands, Tyler tried his best to chase off his orgasm and ignore the tiny lightning bolts striking inside of his veins every time Josh hit that one spot.

Talented mouth, talented hands... was there any part of this man that wasn't absolutely perfect?

It didn't take long before he was whining, squirming and tempting fate to not cross over into the point of no return. As much as he wanted to open his mouth and tell Josh how close he was, he feared if he said one word, he might fall to pieces, never to be put back together again.

But Josh knew. No explanation was needed as he listened to his lover's moans rise octave after octave, mimicking the rarest of songs, one that only they knew the lyrics to.

Wrapping his hand around Tyler, he started to stroke him in tandem with the movement of the toy. "I love you," he whispered, biting down on the younger boy's hipbone as he felt his thighs start to tremble around him. "Come for me, baby boy."

Tyler opened his mouth but all that came out was something resembling a gasp, strangled in its short journey from his throat to the heavy air surrounding them. And then...

Blank.

Worried that his Keeper might pass out from how tensed up he was, Josh slipped the toy out of Tyler so he could just focus on the feeling and not hold his breath. "Breathe it out, angel..."

After what seemed like an eternity, he let out a broken moan, followed by a string of gasps and whimpers as the pressure in his stomach finally exploded. Reaching up to intertwine their fingers, Josh whispered sweet nothings and coaxed him through his orgasm, though he wasn't even sure if Tyler noticed (or even cared) with how much he was shaking right now.

It took a few moments for Tyler to regain some mental clarity. When he locked eyes with Josh for the first time in what seemed like forever, he could almost feel the oxytocin flooding through his veins. "Hey..."

Josh smiled at the way Tyler's voice cracked a little. "Hey. Are you with me?"

Tyler exhaled, releasing any leftover tension in, before he responded. "I'm with you."

Climbing back up to lay down next to him, Josh gave him a long kiss on the lips. "Thought I was gonna lose you there for a second. You held your breath for so long," he said, an amused smile on his face. "But that had to be the single hottest thing I've ever seen in my life."

"I don't even remember that," Tyler admitted, a sheepish smile on his face. "I'm such a dork."

"No, you're my gorgeous baby boy." He pressed a kiss to his cheek before glancing down at the "mess" all over Tyler's stomach. "I think the second hottest thing is seeing how much you cum when we do this stuff together."

Tyler rolled his eyes a little, even though he secretly loved it. "Oh, don't remind me."

Laughing, Josh threaded his fingers through Tyler's damp hair, amazed by everything that had just happened. "I'll get a washcloth for you, sweet boy. Me, on the other hand, I think I need to take a quick shower, if you know what I mean..."

Tyler blushed. "Well, I would join you but I think I'm finally getting sleepy..."

"See? I'm the perfect cure for insomnia," Josh teased before kissing him. "I love you so much."

"I love you too," Tyler echoed, quite convinced that his heart and Time Keeper were at full capacity.

"Oh, by the way..." Josh had sat up in bed, just about to get up, when he paused. "The third hottest thing is the fact that I'm probably going to have bruises on my back from how hard you were digging your heels into me."

He gave him a wink before disappearing off into the bathroom, leaving Tyler nothing short of a speechless, soft mess.

Who could possibly want to be rolling around in bed with someone in the middle of the night?

Apparently... them.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure you'll be okay here by yourself, baby?"

It had been almost four days since their weekend getaway, a much welcome reprieve from all that had been going on. But now that some time had gone by since their return from Ukraine, it was no surprise at all to Tyler that his Protector's job had wasted no time piling on all the demands he had before his leave of absence… and more.

"I'm sure, J." Deep down, if Tyler had his way, he would shake his head and refuse to let his Protector leave him alone all day. But Josh was the sole provider for the family… and pouting certainly wasn't going to pay the bills.

Still, said man wasn't too convinced by the tone of his Keeper's voice. "You know what, let me call Fynn and see if they can come by here after Oliver's doctor appointments…"

Tyler shook his head quickly. "No, no, you don't have to do that. Let them enjoy his day off." He reached out and laid a hand on Josh's arm. "I'll be fine, J. Promise."

Josh hesitated for a moment, then sighed. "Okay, sweetness. I'll have my phone on me, so text or call me if something's wrong, okay? I'll try to get as much done as I can this morning so I can come home a bit earlier."

"You're so sweet to me." Tyler held his arms out, smiling when Josh enveloped him in a big hug. "Thank you for always taking care of me, Josh. I know your anxiety makes it hard for you to go into the office but you still do it, anyway. I'm so proud of you for that."

"Oh, jeez, please don't make me cry before work." Josh tightened his grip around Tyler, the biggest grin on his face. "Thank you for saying that, baby. You made my day."

"Just seeing you makes my day." He giggled a little before pecking a tiny kiss onto his lips. "I love you, Joshua."

"I love you too," Josh echoed before letting go of the younger boy, even though he didn't want to at all. "Text me later on, okay?"

Tyler handed him his coffee thermos, a soft smile on his face. "Of course. Drive safe, love."

As soon as the brunette heard the front door shut, a faint sense of emptiness came over his heart. It wasn't an overwhelming feeling, yet it still held enough weight to make him wonder if he'd make it through the day without his Protector around.

Even though this certainly hadn't been the first time Tyler had been alone since escaping Dema, something still refused to set right inside of his bones. But the more he tried to put his finger on it, the more muddled everything became...

Why was he so afraid of being alone?

Don't leave me alone...

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Tyler hadn't been inside of his childhood home in years. Everything -- from the kitchen, the basement, the bedroom he had shared with his brother up until the day they sent him away -- seemed smaller, more confined compared to the things he had experienced since Keeper Training School.

"We still remember you. Do you remember us?"

His mother. How could he ever forget her?

"I still remember the pain," he responded. "Four kids and I had to be the one with the mutated gene, right? You never stopped reminding me."

"We just wanted you to know you were different from an early age before someone else could point it out and hurt you."

"But you hurt me." Tyler swallowed hard, fighting back the emotion he had kept buried inside of him for years. "Why am I even here?"

"You tell me." His mother came a few steps closer. "Nico is still out there, you know."

"They... they captured him."

"But did they capture what he left behind? What about the X still coursing through your veins? What about the bruises on your skin from the Niners beating you black and blue?"

He looked away. "Dema doesn't control me anymore."

"But does it control Josh?"

"How do you know who…"

"Face it, Tyler. You're useless to him now. As soon as your little 'speech' is over with, he's going to leave you for someone else. Someone better, someone stronger, someone who isn't a pathetic, broken excuse of a Keeper."

He backed away from her slowly, fear rising inside of his heart as she pressed in closer and closer. "He… he wouldn't..."

"Go ahead. Send Nico to prison." Her voice lowered to a cold whisper. "But he'll still win. He always wins."

A pair of stained black hands wrapped around his mouth, muffling the sound of his screa--

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Tyler woke up to the taste of blood on his tongue. Reaching up to his face, he brushed his hand across his mouth, eyes widening a little when he held it up and saw red all over his fingertips.

A trip to the bathroom mirror confirmed that he had split his lip. The faint hint of blood on his front teeth told a story of how hard he had bit down on his lip during his nightmare.

His feet took him back to bed, even though he didn't really feel himself moving. Everything around him was going in slow motion while his mind was still miles away in the house he had tried his hardest to forget.

It had been ages since he had last spoken to any of his family members, so why his brain had decided to mix the bad memories of his mother with all the worries surrounding Dema was truly beyond him.

Still, one seemingly insignificant thought lingered in his mind…

Do… they remember me?

Before he could think anymore about what had just happened, he felt his phone buzz from underneath the pillow. He pulled it out, hoping it to be a well-timed message from Josh.

Fynn: yo what's up ty-guy?

Tyler sighed. As much as he loved Fynnley… he had really wanted it to be a text from his beloved Protector.

Tyler: Hey Fynn. I just woke up.

Fynn: it's 12 o'clock lol. but okay.

Tyler: It's been a morning. How was Oli's appointments?

Fynn: great, actually. he's progressing really well and his body doesn't show anymore signs of the illness he had before.

Tyler: Aw, that makes me so happy to hear! ♡

Fynn: me too! we are ecstatic. i'm taking him out on a well-deserved lunch date to celebrate…

josh texted me earlier and asked if we could stop by later to keep you company. he doesn't want you feeling lonely…

Tyler: Kinda too late for that haha. But Josh is such a silly goose, I told him he didn't have to ask you that.

Enjoy your day together with Oliver. I'll be fine, okay?

Fynn: are you sure? because we really don't mind.. you know oliver and I love spending time with you, ty.

Tyler: I'm positive. Go take that Keeper of yours on a date. :)

Fynn: well thanks! celebratory food and sex is definitely in order. ;)

Tyler: Um… yeah you two have fun with that.

Fynn: haha don't hesitate to let us know if you change your mind. catch ya later!

No sooner did he exit out the conversation thread with Fynn did his phone start ringing, a picture of Josh and one of his bright, cheesy smiles popping up on the screen.

He wasted no time pressing Answer, a soft look already making its way onto his face. "Hello?"

"Good afternoon, sweetness." Tyler smiled as soon as he heard Josh's voice. "Your voice is all raspy. Am I right to assume you just woke up or…?"

Tyler laughed a little. "Yes, I was actually sleeping this time."

"I mean, I'd be fine with either answer you gave me." Josh chuckled. "I just took my lunch break. How are you feeling?"

He ran his tongue over his bottom lip, wincing a little at how it stung. "I… I'm not really sure, honestly. I had a bad nightmare."

"Oh, baby…" Tyler could hear the frown in Josh's voice. "Would you like to talk about it?"

"Maybe later. I'm still trying to process everything right now."

"I understand. I'm sorry I couldn't be there to hold you, Tyler… gosh, I hate having to leave you alone like this."

Tyler shook his head, even though he knew Josh couldn't see him. "No, no, don't say that. It was just a bad dream. Besides... none of those things could ever happen."

"What about your Time Keeper? Is it okay?"

"A little fast right now, but it's still ticking." He smiled. "Thank you for asking, J, that's really sweet of you."

"It is the second most important part of your body."

"Oh, yeah? What's the first part then?"

"Your lips." Josh laughed.

Blushing, Tyler closed his eyes and giggled a little. "What am I going to do with you, Spooky?"

"Hmm… give me lots of kisses when I get home from work?"

"Deal."

A comfortable silence fell over the line as Tyler's thoughts went elsewhere, an idea brewing inside of his mind. Why settle on just kisses when he could give his Protector something nicer and much more… substantial?

"Jishwa?"

"Yes, sweetheart?"

"Can I borrow the car?"

The older man laughed a little. "Of course. But for curiosity's sake… may I ask why?"

"It's a surprise."

He tisked a little. "Always such a tease. But sure, go ahead, baby. Just be sure to let the engine warm up before you leave since Fynnley hasn't driven it anywhere yet this week."

"I will." He smiled. "Thank you, Josh."

"No need to thank me. Be careful, okay?"

"Always."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

When Tyler pulled back into the driveway, the clock read 3:15PM, reminding him of the fact he had spent way too long inside the store.

It had taken a lot of going back and forth and price comparisons, but he had finally decided on a nice present for Josh, along with a bouquet of the sweetest-smelling roses.

Everything was perfect. All he had to do now was come up with something cheesy to say while he waited for Josh to come home.

He stifled a yawn as he took the keys out of the ignition and propped the door open up with his knee so he could grab his bag from the passenger seat. Being around so many people had definitely worn him out a little…

Just as he leaned back down to grab his phone out of the car, he felt something cold and hard stick into him. All of the blood in his body ran cold when he looked down and saw the barrel of a gun shoved against his ribcage.

The grip on his arm was unmistakable, one he'd never forget until he was six feet underground.

"Bet you thought you'd never see me again, my little Keeper."

Chapter Text

"Why are you doing this to me, Gabriel?"

Tyler tried his best not to show fear in the face of his ex-Protector, but the more he looked at the gun in Gabriel's hand, the more his own hands shook.

"You and I have some unfinished business, Tyler." Pacing back and forth across the living room, Gabriel kept his eyes on the younger boy the entire time, finger not moving an inch from around the trigger. "You had a lot of nerve leaving me that night. I didn't think you even had the balls, coward."

Tyler wanted to jump up from the couch and scream in Gabriel's face, but he also knew that this man could take his life with just the squeeze of a finger… and the last thing he wanted was for Josh to come home and find him dead.

"How… how did you even find me? It's been…"

"Eleven months? But who's counting, right?" He gave him a mocking smile. "To be honest, I stopped looking for you after the first month. I figured you were just dead in a ditch somewhere. Because let's face it, no one else was gonna look for you. It turns out, though, when it comes to your little Protector and his family… blood isn't thicker than water."

"What are you talking about? Josh… he would never do that…" Tyler's voice trailed off as all the air rushed out of his lungs.

Gabriel scoffed a little. "Please. That's giving him way too much credit." He came a few steps closer, eyes burning straight into Tyler's soul. "I want you to listen closely because I am not going to repeat myself. You understand me?"

Swallowing hard, Tyler gave him a tiny nod. Stay alive for Josh, stay alive for Josh.

"Four months back, I met someone by the name of Bill Dun. Bet that name rings a bell, huh? He was my client but we became friends outside of work. One day, he started complaining about how his son, Josh, was causing all sorts of family problems because he was dating a Keeper now. I thought that was an interesting fact, of course, so I asked him who it was. And lo and behold… a guy named Tyler Joseph."

A hard shiver went down Tyler's spine.

"I kept asking him questions about you and Josh, and he told me some sort of "secret organization" had contacted him recently. I didn't think too much about it at first, but then he told me Josh had just put in for a leave of absence so he could go to the Ukraine for something "Keeper-related." That made him mad because here Josh was leaving him with all the work on short notice... which was unfair since Josh had refused to help him get that CEO position he wanted so bad.

"But that's not the best part. I actually know the CEO of their company. He's a relative of mines. I told Bill that and you wouldn't believe the way his face lit up. So I gave him a proposition: I'd find a way to get him the position, no questions asked, if he give me the info to that secret organization and any info he had on you. And you know what? That bastard agreed to it."

Tyler felt his heart drop to his stomach.

"It turns out... Nico is a pretty cool guy. They knew about you before you even went on your little 'rescue mission.' If you hadn't thrown yourself at them like an idiot, they would've found a way to kidnap you. Just like they did with all those other pathetic Keepers."

The brunette finally found his voice again, words coming out through gritted teeth. "Innocent Keepers died in there, Gabriel."

"Am I supposed to feel sorry for them?" Gabriel laughed, a mocking tone to his voice. "You and all the rest of them should have never been born. That's why I kept in contact with Nico while you were in there… so I could tell him all the ways to try and break you when they gave you X. And if it wasn't for you and the rest of those a-holes on the TKD, you would have been buried right along with the rest of them."

By this point, Tyler felt nauseated, his head spinning more and more with every bombshell that Gabriel dropped. "You… you weren't even there and you still found a way to torture me. It was bad enough being put through the constant abuse from Nico, but knowing you played a part in it…"

Gabriel laughed again as he watched Tyler double over the couch and start dry-heaving. "Give me a break, Tyler. You knew good and well you couldn't run from me forever."

He grabbed Tyler by the hair and yanked his head up so he looked straight at him. "And that brings us to now. Sure, Nico's sitting in a jail cell right now, but guess who still receives phone calls?" He snickered at the terrified look on the younger boy's face. "He's not happy at all that you destroyed everything he spent so long building up. He wants your blood... and so do I."

Tyler closed his eyes, whimpering a little as Gabriel yanked his head back again. "Please don't…"

"I want revenge." Another hand went up to his throat, sending Tyler into flashbacks of waking up to Gabriel choking him. "You should have never left me! I should have killed you while I had the chance!" His hand tightened more and more with every word that came out of his mouth. "You're weak! You're useless! You're nothing!"

Vision blurring, Tyler managed to look across the room when he heard a low growl, though he couldn't make out exactly where it was coming from. Before he knew it, there was a flash of spots and the hand on his throat jerked away as Gabriel cried out in pain.

Coughing and gasping for precious oxygen, he was paralyzed for a few seconds as he watched his cat… his pet Cheetah tear and claw away at Gabriel's upper body, not giving up for one second as he protected his beloved owner.

Realizing that he had to use the brief distraction to his advantage, he jumped up and ran for the front door. His hand barely touched the doorknob before Gabriel caught back up to him and pulled him into another chokehold.

At this point, Tyler was sobbing and thrashing around as he struggled to get away. "Please don't do this," he begged. "Please! I'll do anything!"

Gabriel pressed the gun to the side of Tyler's head. "Should have thought of that before you left me, you cunt..."

Tyler squeezed his eyes shut, the beginnings of a scream leaving his throat, when the front door slammed open. Before he even had a chance to react or see who it was, Gabriel had been knocked out cold, gun clattering to the hardwood floor with a deafening bang.

When he turned around to see who it was, the sight sent him straight into another sobbing fit.

Josh.

He let himself be pulled into his Protector's arms, listening to said man cry and apologize over and over again. "The cops are on their way. You're safe now, Tyler. I promise."

Clinging onto Josh for dear life, a cold, numb feeling settled over Tyler's body as he stared at his unconscious ex-Protector on the floor. "He found me, Josh… he finally found me."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"Tyler, you have two visitors here to see you."

Sat in his hospital bed, the phone call from the nurses station put a slight smile on Tyler's face, though it faded away no sooner than it appeared. "You can send them back, thank you," he said before hanging up the phone.

Josh squeezed the brunette's hand a little. He hadn't let go of it, nor left his side, ever since the ambulance had brought Tyler here a couple hours earlier. "Did they say who was coming back? Annaliese texted me earlier that she wanted to come and see you but she had to wait for Noah to get off work first."

Tyler shook his head. "You know, she doesn't have to do that. I would've thought she was too pregnant to go anywhere," he said, chuckling a little.

"Well, she is worried about you. All of us are." Josh held his head down to rest on the top of their hands. "I'm so ashamed of myself, Tyler. I should have been there. I'm so sorry."

He sighed, a little irritated over hearing Josh apologize for what had to be the hundredth time. "J… you didn't know this was going to happen. Nobody knew. Remember what the policeman who was here earlier told us? He had probably been watching us for a while and decided to corner me when he knew I was by myself."

"But you could have died, Tyler."

"I… I know." Tyler felt bad for even being upset with Josh in the first place as he saw the hurt embedded inside of his brown eyes. "But you saved me, Joshua. I'll never be able to thank you enough for that. I owe you my life."

Josh opened his mouth to respond but was cut off by a knock on the door. "Come in," he called out.

The door opened and in came Fynnley and Oliver, the latter holding a bouquet of flowers in his hands.

"Hey, buddy," Fynnley greeted Tyler, a sad smile on his face. "How are you feeling?"

The brunette managed a small, barely there smile in return. "Eh, pretty crappy."

Oliver came a few steps closer to the bed before holding the bouquet out. "Hi, Ty-Ty. These are for you, I hope you like them."

"Aw, they're beautiful. Thank you, Oli, you can put them over on the table by the window." Tyler watched as said boy placed the flowers down gingerly. "You know, I had actually just bought Josh some roses before I…" he trailed off as the nauseated feeling returned to his stomach with full force. "Never mind, they're probably all wilted now, anyway."

"We could put them in some water," Josh offered, his voice soft. "They may still be alive."

"It'd be a miracle, huh…" Just like me.

A silence fell over the room as Fynnley took the chair next to Josh, while Oli sat down at the foot of Tyler's bed. Said blue-eyed boy reached over and patted him on the leg before breaking the thick tension lingering in the air. "How long are they going to keep you here?"

"At least a day or two," Tyler answered. "They took me back for an MRI right after I got here to look for any signs of brain damage. It came back normal, thankfully. But I still have bruising on my neck, broken blood vessels in my eyes and the nurses have been trying to get my blood pressure to come back down."

"Is that why your eyes are so bloodshot?" Oliver asked softly.

"That and from crying too much." Tyler chuckled, albeit a bit dryly. "They also said I may lose my voice for a few days because my vocal cords are so swollen right now."

"What are we going to do? You're already such a chatterbox as it is," Fynn teased, though his usual light-hearted tone was absent.

Tyler sighed and let his head fall back against the pillow, closing his eyes for a moment but immediately opening them back up when he saw nothing but Gabriel's face behind his eyelids. "It means so much to me that you guys came," he said quietly. "Thank you for that."

"You don't have to thank us," Oliver said, a reassuring smile on his face. "We're just glad you're okay."

"To be honest... I don't even know what to think anymore," Tyler admitted. "I thought things had calmed down some but I guess I was horribly wrong. Maybe that dream I had this morning was trying to tell me something."

Seeing the confused look on everybody's faces, the brunette realized he hadn't told anyone about his nightmare. As he told them what happened, he noticed the pained look on Oliver's face. "Oli? You okay?"

"Yeah, I just…" He sighed a little. "I have nightmares like that too. And I know none of the things said in them are true… but it still scares me. There are times I wake up at night in a cold sweat, wondering if Nico is out there somewhere watching me."

Tyler felt a shiver go down his spine at Oliver's words. "He… he wants me dead. I think he wants us all dead."

"But that's not going to happen," Josh put in. "Nico's locked up in jail and now Gabriel is too. They can't hurt you anymore, Tyler."

"We still have to face Nico…" Tyler mumbled.

Fynnley sighed. "Josh, maybe we should ask the TKD if Tyler and Oli can just skip the sentencing. They've been through way too much."

Oliver shook his head. "No, don't do that. I need to do this. If not for my own sanity, then for the sake of finally having some closure."

Tyler looked at his dear friend, then back at their Protectors. "Me too," he agreed. "Our voices need to be heard."

Fynn just nodded, a soft sigh leaving his lips. All of them knew that pretending nothing had happened and trying their best to live "normal" lives again would be the easiest thing to do… but it wouldn't accomplish anything.

They had to give themselves a fighting chance for the world to finally listen and not just view Keepers as an anomaly within the human population.

"We'll keep moving," Tyler said before squeezing his Protector's hand. "We have to."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

After another half-hour of talking, Fynnley and Oliver finally left Tyler to get some rest, promising to come back tomorrow if the hospital decided to keep him for another day.

Tyler was sitting up in bed, the only somewhat comfortable position he could find with how sore his entire body was. Picking at the tape holding his IV line down, he wondered about all the seemingly insignificant things of the day -- the wilting flowers in his car, his cell phone still sitting on the middle console, whether Cheetah had recovered after his "big fight."

It seemed silly, but thinking about all the little things kept his thoughts from spiraling right out of control... and if there was one thing he needed right now, it was to feel some control.

He looked up when the bathroom door opened and out came Josh. It was the first time they had been apart since they got to the hospital, and even though the absence had only lasted less than five minutes, a part of him still feared that someone might burst into the room and try to hurt him while he was alone.

"You're back," he said softly. "I missed you."

"I missed you too, sweet boy. I tried to pee as fast as I could." Josh laughed a little as he sat back down in the chair, intertwining their fingers once again. "Oh, Annaliese texted me again. She wanted to come up but she keeps having Braxton-Hicks contractions, so Noah suggested she stay home for now. But she said they might try and come by in the morning before he goes to work if she's feeling better."

"That girl's gonna give birth any second now," Tyler said, laughing a little. "I think she'll be 37 weeks soon. She told me the other day that one of the babies dropped and she can finally breathe a little better... but her hips are so loose now that she's scared she might dislocate one of them if she moves the wrong way."

Josh made a pained face. "Jeez. I'm so glad guys don't have to go through that. She hasn't even gone into labor yet and it already sounds awful."

"Guess it doesn't help she's carrying around two babies instead of one, huh?" Tyler chuckled a little. "Having a baby is so special for Keepers, though, especially if the baby is born with their own Time Keeper. It's like... passing on a special inheritance to the next generation."

"Hey, maybe we'll be uncles to two little Keepers." Josh gave him a smile. "Then we'll have to spoil them twice as much."

Tyler gave him a small smile in return, mind lighting up a little at the thought of Josh cradling a tiny little baby in his arms. "I know you'll be a wonderful uncle, J."

He brought the back of Tyler's hand up to his lips, kissing his knuckles softly. "Thank you. And so will you."

Silence fell over the two of them as the conversation lulled and Tyler started to feel the full effects of what had happened to him today.

He could still feel the cold metal against his head. He could hear every insult Gabriel had yelled at him. He could even imagine the horrified, panicked look that would've been on Josh's face when he came home to find his Keeper shot dead in the foyer.

What would Josh have done if he had died? How long would he mourn for him? Would he find another Keeper? Would he forget about him completely as time went on?

"Face it, Tyler. You're useless to him now. As soon as your little 'speech' is over with, he's going to leave you for someone else. Someone better, someone stronger, someone who isn't a pathetic, broken excuse of a Keeper."

Before he knew it, Josh was thumbing tears off his face and whispering sweet, consoling things into his ear. "Shh, shh, it's okay... don't cry, I'm here… I'm not going anywhere."

"I… I was so scared, Josh," Tyler gasped out between hiccuping cries. "But I tried to stay calm because I wanted to stay alive for you."

"Oh, baby…" Josh leaned over so he could rest his head against Tyler's. "I knew something was wrong when I called to tell you I was leaving work early and you didn't pick up. That's when I looked at the recording from the outside cameras and saw what had happened… I was driving 60 in a 45, that's how scared I was." He paused, biting his lip a little as he tried to hold his back his emotions. "I just wanted to get there before something really bad happened."

"Y-You did get there," Tyler rasped out. "You saved my life, J."

"But… I wish I could have been there so it wouldn't have happened in the first place."

Tyler sniffled, finally starting to calm down a little. "Even if you were, he would have just kept waiting for the perfect opportunity… if it wasn't today, it would have been some other day." Letting go of Josh's hand, he reached up, slowly and a bit shakily, and placed it on the older man's face. "I don't want you blaming yourself for this… because it's not your fault. You're helping put him away for good after everything he's done. After all I've been through with him, I really couldn't ask for anything better."

"I... I guess I didn't think about it like that. Both Nico and that lowlife deserve to rot in prison for the rest of their stupid lives." He let out a heavy sigh. "Tyler, I promise I won't say this again, but… please forgive me."

"There's nothing to forgive," Tyler said softly. "But if hearing me say it will make you feel better... I forgive you." He reached down and took Josh's hand into his, thumb brushing over soft, cool skin. "I love you, Joshua."

"And I love you, Tyler. So, so much." Josh brushed his other hand across Tyler's cheek before leaning in and kissing him on the lips. "Do you think we'll ever heal?"

"Soon…" Tyler closed his eyes, cherishing how the only thing he saw this time was just a wonderful image of his one and only Protector. "Will you hold me through the night?"

Josh kissed him on the cheek, making tears sting Tyler's eyes as he smiled, the first genuine one on his face since early that afternoon. "Of course. Remember what I told you when we first met? I'll always hold you until you're not afraid anymore. And that's never going to change."

Chapter Text

On the last night of his hospital stay, Tyler sat cross-legged on the bed with Josh by his side as they stared out the window. Just beyond the glass, everything seemed so much more... vibrant and colorful than usual.

The sky was on fire.

"I never knew how much I appreciated sunsets until I didn't see them anymore," Tyler said softly. "In Dema, we only had the shadows on the walls to look at in the evenings."

"But you helped them see the sunsets again. Remember when we talked about that on the plane?"

Tyler nodded. "I do." He leaned his head on Josh's shoulder, almost immediately calmed by the echo of his gentle heartbeat. "I can't wait to come home tomorrow."

"Me too. Cheetah and I have been patiently awaiting your return." Josh smiled. "He's getting longer, you know. I measured him yesterday and his body is just over 20 inches now."

"Aw, my big baby. He'll need a bigger bed soon." Tyler smiled at the thought of his precious friend. "Both of you are my heroes."

"Well, you've always been my hero." Josh turned and kissed Tyler on the forehead, a sweet smile on his face.

"Dork," Tyler mumbled, the beginnings of a blush forming on his cheeks. He held his head back up to look into Josh's eyes. "Thank you, Joshua. That really means a lot to me."

"Of course. You mean a lot to me… no, no, let me stop before I start getting all mushy." He chuckled before leaning over and kissing him on the lips. "I love you, sweet boy."

"Aw, I love you too. By the way, I love it when you get all mushy." Tyler giggled a little before reaching over to intertwine their fingers together. "Hey, Joshua?"

"Yes, my love?"

Giggling again, Tyler held his free hand up to his lips, biting down on the tip of his thumb. "I dunno… you're just looking cuter than usual tonight."

"Oh, I'm glad you noticed I put on just a little more "cute" after I went home and took my shower." Josh gave him a playful smile.

"Silly goose."

"You seem to be in a good mood tonight."

"I guess I am. Probably because of what you told me earlier today."

Earlier that afternoon, Josh had received an email from the Time Keeper Database saying that Nico's hearing/sentencing had been scheduled for Monday morning. It was unexpected, but good news to hear after everything that had happened just a few days prior.

"How's your statement going?" Josh asked. "I know you said you wanted to work on it while I was gone."

Tyler shrugged a little. "I have about half of it done already. But I had to stop writing because the memories got really bad and you weren't here to keep me from spiraling." He took his hand away from his face and let it rest on top of Josh's knee. "Fynn called and told me Oli was having a really hard time writing his own, so he let me talk to him for a little while. He was crying a lot and it made me sad because I know how much Nico put him through in Dema; he was one of the first Keepers they imprisoned but… he was the only one that made it out alive."

Josh nodded, a sympathetic look on his face. "Oliver has been through a lot. Both of you have. And I just want you to know how proud I am of you two for having the courage to face Nico one last time. I… I don't know how you can do it, honestly." He looked away and sighed. "I mean, I can't even look at my dad without wanting to punch him in the face for betraying us. Nico did so much more than that, yet look what you're doing in a few days."

"It's still hard to face someone who hurt you so badly. I'm scared, Josh, I really am, but I want to do this in honor of those who didn't make it out and for the next generation of Keepers, like Annaliese and Noah's babies. We may have to deal with the scars, but at least we can give them a chance at a better future." Tyler took a deep breath in before letting it out. "And J… you are courageous. I know you may not feel like it, but you're all that and more to me. I look up to you in so many ways."

Josh looked at him with hopeful eyes, and for the first time in a long while, Tyler sensed an air of vulnerability embedded deep within his bones. "Do… do you really mean that, Tyler?"

"Of course I do." Tyler squeezed his knee a little. "You're my Protector and as your Keeper, I always want to do my best to let you know I believe in you, I respect you... and reaffirm to you how much I love and appreciate everything that you do for me."

It didn't take a second thought for Josh to throw his arms around Tyler in a tight hug, being careful to avoid his still bruised neck. Pressing kiss after kiss all over Tyler's cheeks and forehead, he tried his best to keep his heart from bursting with pure joy and adoration. "Oh, baby, you're the most perfect Keeper a Protector could ever ask for," he murmured against his skin. "I love you, Tyler Joseph."

"And I love you, Joshua Dun." The brunette smiled from the affection being lavished all over him, hands going up to rest on his shoulders. "Can you kiss me?"

"Of course, darling," Josh breathed out as he moved in closer. "Always."

Tyler's eyes closed as their lips met, the soft exchange as breathtaking and hypnotic as ever before. Kisses had always been special to them, but ever since the long absence that Dema had wedged between them… something that might've seemed ordinary to most couples was nothing short of a precious gift to them.

And as Tyler felt the way Josh's lips moved against his and the gentle, but sure way his calloused fingers brushed behind his ears and across the baby hairs on the nape of his neck… he wondered how he and his Time Keeper had managed to survive without Josh's touch for that long.

"J-Josh…" Tyler's voice came out soft, fingers digging into Josh's shoulders. His mind went to the scars that had bloomed on his Protector's back after the moment they shared together at the hotel… and how he wanted to leave so, so much more all over him.

No sooner had Josh broke the kiss, he was kissing all over his face again, trying his best to convey even just a fraction of the love he felt for his baby boy.

"Josh…" Tyler's hands moved to either side of Josh's head, guiding his face closer to the area the older man had thought was strictly off-limits. "Heal the scars for me. Please."

Shivers running up and down his arms, Josh leaned in until he was a mere hair's breadth away from Tyler's neck. Letting his breath ghost out, allowing the younger boy to get used to a new sensation on such sensitive skin, he splayed one hand across his back and the other on his upper arm.

Licking his lips, Josh finally pressed the softest of kisses to his neck. Being careful to listen and feel for any signs of pain from Tyler, he kept his lips as soft and wet as possible, fingers scratching up and down his back a little bit as he moved across the bruised skin.

He stiffened a little when he heard Tyler gasp, but quickly relaxed when it was followed by the softest of moans from the younger boy's mouth.

Let me heal your whole body, Tyler…

After a few moments, Josh trailed his kisses back up to Tyler's lips before pulling away. "Did… did I do okay?"

When they looked at each other again, Tyler's eyes were wider than ever before. "Josh."

The intense look on Tyler's face made Josh think the absolute worst about what had just happened. Was he too rough somehow? Did he absolutely hate it? Did his breath stink?

"Y-Yes, lovebug?"

The brunette took Josh's hands and intertwined their fingers again. "I… I've been thinking a lot about something today…"

Josh resisted the urge to raise an eyebrow or say something. Instead, he just kept silent and allowed Tyler to express whatever was on his mind.

A squeeze and the intensity in Tyler's eyes disappeared almost as soon as it had appeared, replaced with a nearly heart-melting soft smile. "I think I'm ready, Joshua."

He didn't even have to ask what he meant because he already knew. "Are… are you sure?"

Tyler nodded and with that one simple movement, Josh wondered if he'd be able to move with how tight his jeans were on him right now. "If you'll have me," the younger boy whispered.

Josh wasn't quite sure how to feel right now... Happy? Honored? Eager? Horny?

"Oh, sweetness… of course I'll have you. Forever and always. I don't know what to say, except I'm so proud of you."

Tyler smiled, blushing a little at the praise. "Thank you, Jishwa. It's daunting to think about, though. Once we make love and I give my virginity to you, my body seals a bond with you that can't ever be broken. I'm yours and only yours. That's how… monumental it is for a Keeper to have sex for the first time."

"Well, in my eyes, I'm already bonded with you for life, sex or no sex. But to make it official for you as a Keeper… I'd be truly honored, Tyler."

"I want you to," Tyler said quietly. "Will you take care of me?"

"I will," Josh reassured him, the sweetest smile on his face as he reached over and brushed his hand across his precious baby boy's cheek. "Remember what I told you?"

"I'm gonna treat you to the nicest dinner and we'll celebrate all we've been through together," he said, his voice coming out softly. "And then I'm gonna take you home, lay you down on this bed and make love to you until you can't breathe."

An audible gasp left Tyler's mouth. "Yes... I never forgot."

"Me neither. And you know I'm not a promise breaker."

"Or a pinky-promise breaker." Tyler giggled a little bit before sighing. "It hasn't happened yet and I'm already so nervous."

"You're nervous and I'm… something else." Josh chuckled. "I'll plan the exactly day but I know it'll definitely be after the hearing is over with. I need your mind to be completely there with me when it happens, Ty."

He nodded. "You're so sweet to me, Josh."

"No, I think that's you." Josh took a glance down at himself, the skinny jeans he had on not leaving much to the imagination. "Jeez."

"Um…" The younger boy bit his lip a little as he stared along with him. "Can I touch you?"

And there was that twitch in his pants as Josh turned away and mouthed an expletive. When he looked back at Tyler, he had a pained grin on his face. "Normally, I'd say yes, a thousand times yes, but... we're in a hospital."

"So?" Tyler giggled. "The nurse already came and took my vitals a little while ago."

"Yeah, but as soon as you take my dick out of my pants, some doctor or whatever will come barging in here and I'll never be able to show my face in this hospital again." Josh laughed.

Tyler burst into a fit of giggles at the thought of that scenario. "Okay, fair enough."

Josh grinned. "But I see you're a kinky little thing, huh? Guess we'll have to add public sex to our list of things to try one day."

Burying his face inside his hands, he groaned and shook his head. "Oh, gosh, no…"

Josh just laughed and wrapped his arm around Tyler's shoulder before kissing him on the forehead. "Love you lots, baby boy."

Chapter Text

“I'm so nervous, Ty-Ty.”

Tyler held his hand out, beckoning Oliver to take it. “Me too. Josh and Fynnley are already in there, though, so I know they aren't going to let anything bad happen to us.”

Oliver squeezed his hand a little. “I just don't want to see Nico's smug face. Especially after what he did to you with Gabriel.”

He sighed. “I know but we have to do this so we can give the other Keepers a chance at having a better future. We need to be strong."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

“We now invite Oliver McGuire to the address the court, the media and the defendant with his victim impact statement.”

Oliver stood up and made his way over to the podium. Staring at the microphone in front of him, he took a deep breath before letting it out.

“Oliver Averi McGuire, dead at age twenty-two. That's the last memories my family, friends and Protector had of me. As far as they were concerned, I was gone way too soon but otherwise finally at peace after my long fight. Unbeknownst to me, though, there was someone out there who wanted to take my body and use it for illicit purposes – that person was Nico. I still have nightmares, to this day, of the horror inflicted upon me after I woke up. And once I was in Dema, I saw the countless other Keepers thrown into prison with me who eventually succumbed to their low Time Keepers.

"Those Keepers were strong, brave people – just like my friend, Tyler. He helped us all escape, something that would've never been possible if he hadn't risked his life to save ours. I'll be forever in debt to him for what he did.” Oliver turned around and gave Tyler a small smile before turning back to face the court. “There is a lot that Nico took from me. But the only silver lining to this was Tyler reuniting me with my amazing Protector, Fynnley. I thought I would never see him again, yet here we are. Even with all we've been through, our love is stronger and deeper than ever before... everything a Keeper and Protector relationship should be.

"On one hand, I want Nico to burn in hell for all the things he did to those innocent Keepers. But on the other hand... I just feel sorry for him. What a pathetic excuse of a man. In my mind, whatever punishment is handed down from the judge will never be enough for all the crimes he committed. Thank you.”

Nothing but silence followed Oliver's speech, yet it held more than applause ever could.

“We thank you for your statement, Oliver. Now, we would like to invite Tyler Joseph up for his own victim impact statement.”

Tyler squeezed Josh's hand before standing up and taking Oliver's place at the podium.

“One of my first memories in life is feeling different. My mother, who may or may not see this later, made sure to remind me of that everyday. For a while, I thought of my Time Keeper as an anomaly, a defect... the same way everyone else viewed it. But as I got older, I realized that wasn't true. And now, for the first time in my life, I have more confidence than ever as a Keeper. It wasn't easy, though.

"When I was first told that I needed to go to Ukraine to help the imprisoned Keepers escape, I was nothing short of terrified. Why me? What could I do? But somewhere along the way, I realized that I had escaped before. My very first Protector kept me in an abusive relationship for almost two years. Abuse in a Keeper-Protector relationship is unheard of because of the fragility of our Time Keepers... but it happened to me.

"But one night, I finally had enough of the abuse. I ran away and never looked back.. Because of that, I've been with my amazing Protector, Joshua, for almost a year now. He's shown me how to love and be loved again. Words can't describe how... amazing that feels.

"For the longest time, though, Nico separated me from that love. He took me – no, everyone and tortured us in the best way he knew how. X has affected me in ways I probably don't even know about yet... but you know what? Dema doesn't control us anymore.” He turned to look directly into Nico's dark eyes. “Nico... you lost. Even though all of the bones buried underneath Dema will never be recovered, their fight to the end and their legacy will never be forgotten.

"There are Keepers... future Keepers who deserve to see a difference in how we're treated. It's been a long, hard road, filled with too much animosity and injustices. We just want to live in peace. We want to feel loved and appreciated by our families. We want people to think of our Time Keeper symbols as the adornment that it really is.

"We're Keepers. We're Banditos. And we escaped.”

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

It was an hour after the sentencing/hearing and Fynnley and Josh had decided to take the duo out to lunch at one of their favorite pizza joints. Sitting in a booth towards the back of the restaurant, the mood in the air was... a bit unsure.

“How do you guys feel about what happened?” Josh asked, looking back and forth between Oliver and Tyler, their facial expressions expressing more than words ever could.

Oliver sighed. “Life in prison, plus 250 years.”

“Isn't that a good thing?” Fynnley asked.

“Yeah, it is. I know there's no way he can get out of prison now but... are we really safe now? Remember how there was one other Niner that got away in the fight outside Dema? They only captured Nico. So where did he go?”

“There's always a chance he could still be alive somewhere.” Fynn reached over and laid his hand on top of Oliver's. “It's been a while since all that happened, though. If he was somehow communicating with Nico, he would've came here and confronted you and Tyler already.”

Oliver turned his hand over and interlaced their fingers together for a moment. “You're right, Fynn... maybe I'm just being paranoid.”

“You'll probably feel that way for a while. But you're safe now,” Josh said before turning his attention to Tyler, who was staring down at the table. “What's on your mind, baby?”

Tyler shrugged a little. “I don't know. I think... I think it's time to heal. We've done our best to do that all the up to this point, but now that the sentencing is over with, we can do it fully.”

Josh nodded. “It's time for a new beginning.”

“Hey, I have an idea,” Fynnley said before picking up his glass of beer. “Let's toast to new beginnings and to having such beautiful, strong Keepers in our lives.”

“Cheers to that.” Josh held his glass up. “Cheers to Ty and Oli.”

Smiling from ear-to-ear, the two Keepers joined in. Oliver spoke up for the both of them. “Cheers to the Protectors that have stuck with us through thick and thin. We love you."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"You know, Tyler, I think taking baths together has become a pivotal part of our relationship."

Tyler giggled as he sunk down a little farther into the bubble-filled water. "I think so too. There's something a bit mesmerizing about bathing with your Protector."

"I feel the same way, lovebug. Now I just have to get you to take a shower with me. We can wash each others hair." He laughed. "Among other things… but that comes later."

A faint blush appearing on his cheeks, Tyler closed his eyes and allowed his mind to go elsewhere. It landed right on the visual of being in the shower with his back pressed to the wall as Josh made out with him and touched everywhere.

"Somebody's blushing," Josh teased. "It's so nice to see you smiling and blushing again. I know it's been a really hard day for you. But Tyler, I want you to know how proud I am of you for getting up there and saying everything you did. I started tearing up when you talked about the Keepers in Dema and the memory of them. I know that will mean a lot to all the Protectors who watched you give your statement."

"Thank you, J. It really means a lot to me." He sat up and reached out for Josh's hands. "Remember that nightmare I was going to tell you about when… um, it happened?"

Josh nodded. He remembered that phone call, the last time he had spoke with Tyler when things were… somewhat normal. "Are you thinking about it?"

"I am. The dream was in my childhood home and my mom was there. She was saying all these horrible things about what happened in Dema… almost like Nico was controlling her." He sighed a little and squeezed Josh's hands, tears pricking at his eyelids. "S-She told me I was useless to you now and that you would leave me for someone else as soon as this was over." By this time, tears were streaming down his face as he struggled to keep his voice steady. "I know it was just a nightmare, but what if it's true? What if you meet someone way better than me and decide to leave me? I couldn't handle that but…" Voice wavering, he buried his face into his hands. "I could understand why you don't want me anymore."

A bit shocked by what he had just heard, Josh sat up on his knees so he could move closer to Tyler. Moving delicate, shaking hands out of the way, Josh pulled him against his chest as he embraced him.

Surprised by the gesture, Tyler opened his eyes a little, his hands wrapping around to rest on the curve of Josh's back. "I'm sorry, Josh," he murmured.

"No, don't apologize." After Tyler stopped shaking so much, he pulled away, hands moving up to drape across the brunette's shoulders. "I want you to listen to me, Tyler. Can you do that for me?"

Tyler nodded, his tear-stained eyes telling more than his words ever could.

"Remember when I came to find you in that homeless shelter? It's amazing how so much time has passed since then. You were so scared, distrusting and pretty much on death's door. But I told you I would take care of you. I did and always will. If there's one that took me by surprise, it was how hard I fell for you. I knew it was different from all the other times... it was the kind of feeling that takes all the breath out your lungs. That love only intensified from there and even to this day, I still get that feeling." He moved his hands to Tyler's cheeks and kissed him. "I guess that's a really long-winded way of saying there is no one else more perfect than you. I'll want you today, tomorrow and forever, baby boy. You're my Keeper, my best friend, my soon-to-be lover and my one and only. I wouldn't give you up for the world… you can't get rid of me that easily." He grinned.

Wiping away more tears, Tyler laughed a little, though it was more from relief than anything else. "You're amazing, Joshua. I don't think you realize how much it means to me to hear you say that... it kills a lot of fears."

"I know what you mean, Tyler. If there's someone who needs to be afraid, it would be me. You're such a… beautiful person. Your soul has so many delicate layers and yet I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface. I want to spend the rest of my life figuring out more and more ways to love you."

Tyler threw his arms around Josh and hugged him as tightly as he could. "I swear, J, you're going to kill me with all these sweet compliments. You're too cute for your own good."

Josh kissed the side of his face and smiled. "I'm just being honest."

He pulled away and smiled. "I know. No one's ever told me that before and that's so special to me. Thank you."

"I'm glad." Josh picked up a handful of bubbles and placed them on top of Tyler's head. "I love you, Tyler."

Tyler giggled a little at Josh's action. "I love you too, Joshua. Can I tell you something?"

"Shoot."

"Um…" he looked down, the beginnings of yet another blush spreading across his cheeks. "I think my head is just about in the right place for it to happen."

Josh raised an eyebrow as he realized what Tyler was referring to. "Oh… do you want to try? We can always stop at any point, no questions asked."

Tyler finally looked up, his eyes more lidded than usual as he gazed at Josh. "I want to. And I want you."

The yellowhead tried his best to calm his hormones down, but as usual, his dick won out over his mind. "I mean, I could  get out this tub and take you to the bed right now. But that wouldn't be very romantic, would it?"

He laughed a little. "I guess not."

"I'll pick a date and tell you so we can make sure it's a night we're not doing anything or will be bothered."

"Fynn will still find a way to creep on us," Tyler said before giggling. "He'll randomly show up for no reason so he can barge into our rooms."

"Eh, don't worry about him. Fynn may be quite the voyeur but he knows how special this is for you. It'll be just me, you… and I guess Cheetah."

"He'll just curl up in his bed." Tyler smiled, feeling excited yet a little terrified over what was to happen. "Josh?"

"Yes, love?"

"Be gentle with me?"

"Aww, little lovebug." Josh leaned in and gave him a sweet kiss on the lips before smiling. "I promise. I'm gonna take care of you."

Chapter Text

"This wine probably costs more than our actual food." Tyler tried to pronounce the label on the bottle but didn't have much success. "Jeez..."

Josh chuckled. "Don't worry about the price, sweet boy. Tonight is special and I wanted to spoil you."

He looked down at the table, the tiniest hint of a blush on his cheeks. "Y-Yeah it is…"

"But not just for... well, obvious reasons." He chuckled. "Tonight is where we celebrate our relationship as Keeper and Protector. The trials we've endured, the tears and the pain… but also the love, the laughter and all the wonderful Happy Tyler and Josh Days we've had together."

"Please don't make me cry in the middle of this restaurant, Josh."

Josh grinned. "Sorry, baby." He reached over and took Tyler's hands into his own. "I guess what I'm trying to say is it's a celebration for you and me. Gosh, I feel like a total prick saying that about myself." He laughed.

Tyler shook his head as he squeezed Josh's hands. "No, you've done so much for me, J. You deserve every bit of it."

"Well, thank you, baby." Moving his hand, he picked up Tyler's wrist and placed a gentle kiss on the top of his knuckles. "I hope tonight will be amazing for you. Uh, I've been told I'm a good partner in bed but I haven't had sex in a long time, even before I met you. So I may be totally awful." He chuckled, blushing a little.

"I'm sure you'll be fine, Jishwa. If there's anybody who will be awful, I think it'd be the anxious virgin." He gave him a sweet smile. "You're cute when you blush, J."

"Well, I think tonight is quite blush-worthy, don't you think?"

Tyler picked up his wine glass and held it up a little. "Cheers to that, I guess."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

No sooner did the two boys get into the car, Tyler's sauve and cool demeanor melted away to reveal a shy, anxious mess.

As usual, the change in body language didn't go unnoticed by his Protector. "Doing okay, sweetheart?"

Tyler wasn't sure whether to nod or shake his head. "I... I guess the reality of what's about to happen just sunk in."

Josh turned his eyes away from the road to look at the younger boy's silhouette, wishing he could see his face right now. "Ty, if you feel like you're not ready yet, we can wait. I won't be upset."

"No, no!" Tyler said quickly before blushing at his overeager response. "Um… sorry."

He smiled. "Don't apologize, baby."

"I am ready. I'm just really nervous."

"That's natural, love. First times are almost always weird, awkward, nerve-wracking and everything else in-between. But the most important thing is being with someone you love deeply and vice-versa." He took one hand off the steering wheel and placed it on Tyler's knee, squeezing it a little. "And I love you oh so very much, darling."

He could almost feel the radiant smile on Tyler's face. "I love you too, Joshua. More than you'll ever know."

Josh kept his hand on Tyler's knee as he turned onto the street where they lived. "So… are we still keeping our plan? Bathe first and then you work on the music playlist while I work on making the room look pretty for you?"

"Yeah, I'm okay with it if you are. But are you sure it won't be awkward to have music on?"

"Of course, it'll just be soft music. We'll save the freakier stuff for another time." He didn't need any light to know Tyler was blushing. "Remember, no going into our room until everything is perfect."

Tyler rolled his eyes a little and smiled. "I won't. Promise."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

As Tyler washed behind his ears, all he could focus on were the events soon to follow once everything was ready.

Would it be long? Short? Would he have to do a lot? Would Josh do everything? Would he be in a lot of pain? Would he have an orgasm? Would his Time Keeper be okay throughout it all?

So many questions but none of them could be answered until things were well underway between him and Josh…

He sat back against the bathtub and sighed. Deep down, he really wanted Josh to be in here with him right now but they had agreed on bathing separately so there was a heightened sense of… allure and mysteriousness to their bodies.

Or at least that's what he had theorized to Josh, anyway...

Just as he finished drying himself off, he heard the shower turn off in the bathroom down the hall. Perfect timing. After he pulled his underwear on, he caught his reflection in the mirror, making him pause for a moment and take in what he saw.

A thin waist that refused to fill in again. A ribcage and back that held fading scars and bruises from his trials inside Dema. Eyes that were too wide and always unsure about the next second to come.

Why would Josh ever want you?

He had been fighting these thoughts for a while. It hadn't seemed important the first few times it happened, but now… things were different. And he knew Josh would tell him over and over again that he was perfect, just like he always did.

But how could be a good Keeper when he was so scarred and broken?

Sighing, he decided that spiraling in front of the mirror wouldn't be the best thing to do right before his first time with Josh. So he pushed the thoughts into the back of his mind, burying them until the next time they decided to make another appearance.

As he left their room to go and make the playlist, his hands started trembling in anticipation of what was to come.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"My sweet boy… I do believe our room is ready for you."

Tyler looked up and gave Josh a shy smile at his outstretched hand. Grabbing it, he stood up to his feet, heart racing away as his Protector led him upstairs.

"Okay, close your eyes!"

He smiled. "It's always a surprise with you, huh?"

"Naturally." Josh kissed the side of his head before guiding him into the bedroom.

The first thing that hit him was the smell of sweet incense. Even without opening his eyes, he already knew he'd love whatever Josh had done.

"On the count of three, you can open your eyes. One… two… three!"

Brown eyes fluttered open and a soft gasp floated across the air and right into Josh's heart. "Oh my gosh."

Small candles were all over the room, bathing the room in a rich, yet muted yellow tone. Rose petals were scattered across the bed but not so much that it was overwhelming. Across the headboard were string LED lights, each of them giving off a different color that, together, made up the galaxy. And last but not least, there was a small note with 'Tyler' written on it at the foot of the bed.

"This… this is beautiful." Tyler turned around and threw his arms around Josh. "You're so amazing, Josh. How did you get all this stuff?!"

Josh wrapped his arms around Tyler's back and rocked them from side-to-side. "I guess Fynnley can be good for something every once and a while..."

Giggling, Tyler pressed kiss after kiss to the side of Josh's cheek. "I don't even know what to say, Josh. Thank you so much."

He smiled, loosening his grip so they could look up into each others eyes. "I'll take that. But I'd also like a kiss, if you don't mind."

Tyler pecked him on the lips before giggling again. "Just a single kiss?" he teased.

"I'll take a million from you, baby boy." Josh kissed him again, smiling at the excited look on Tyler's face. "Wanna go sit down on the bed and read your note?"

"Yes, please." Walking over to the bed, he picked up his note and sat down, being careful not to smush any of the petals. "I'm so nervous," he admitted, another small blush forming on his cheeks.

"Don't worry, sweetheart. I just hope you like it. Oh, and excuse my bad handwriting."

"Your handwriting is fine," Tyler said, smiling a little as he opened up the note.

Tyler,

My Keeper.
My baby boy.
My galaxy boyfriend.
My Bandito.

You mean more to me than words can ever describe. There are still times I wake up and turn over just to make sure you're next to me. I don't want to lose you ever again. But no matter what we go through, I know our love will only grow stronger and stronger. And because of that love, I want to ask…

Will you have me as your first?

Tyler looked up from the note, his eyes filled with tears. "Y-Yes," he whispered before slowly reaching over and embracing Josh again. "A thousand times yes."

"I'm so glad," Josh whispered back. He reached up and started stroking the side of his head. "So this is totally off-topic but you smell really good right now."

"Aw, thank you. I'm making a new line of bubbly stuff for taking a bath. It's called 'Bath Time Tyler.'" He giggled. "No, I just made sure to use the kind that you like."

"Me too. I'm not the biggest fan of smelling like a strawberry but hey, if you like it."

Tyler laughed before letting go of Josh so he could look him in the eyes. "Um… I think there's one more thing we need to do."

Josh raised an eyebrow. "Oh yeah?"

Blushing, he stood up and nodded before disappearing into the closet. The older man was confused, to say the least, but unexpected things from Tyler were usually either super adorable or super hot... sometimes both, if he was lucky.

"Close your eyes!" Tyler called out from the closet. "And no peeking!"

Josh put his hands over his face so his eyes were completely covered. "I'm not looking, promise!"

Without his eyesight, the sound of Tyler's footsteps walking back into the room were ten times louder, making his heart beat just a little faster.

"Okay... open!"

Taking his hands away, his eyes widened at what he saw. It was a familiar sight but one that never got old: Floral kimono loosely hanging off his shoulders and brushing up against the back of his knees, Tyler stood in front of Josh with the sweetest, most shy look on his face. "You like it?"

"Oh, baby, you know I love that on you." Raking his eyes up and down his body, Josh smirked a little when the younger boy started blushing. "You're so, so beautiful."

"Really?"

"Of course." Josh stood up and walked over to Tyler, wrapping his arms around him from behind. "I wish you could see what I see. Your fluffy hair…" He reached up and ran a hand through Tyler's hair. "…your beautiful brown eyes…" He caressed the side of his face. "…your soft lips that get so red and kiss-swollen…" He dragged his thumb down his lips, making said boy exhale just a little bit harder. "…your beautiful chest and those cute nipples of yours." He took one of them between his fingers and squeezed it. "…and last but not least, the most gorgeous part of you." His hand dipped underneath the waistband of his underwear, not daring to touch anywhere intimate yet. "So, so beautiful."

Tyler was trembling when Josh pulled away, all of his earlier insecurities dissipating into the thick air between them. "Josh…"

Josh gave him the sweetest smile in response. "Are you ready, baby doll?"

He slowly nodded, willing his entire upper body to stop shaking. "I'm… I'm ready."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Heart pounding away, Tyler put his arms around Josh's shoulders as he laid him back onto the pillows. The scent of strawberries and roses filled his nose as Josh dipped his head down and captured his lips into a kiss.

A faint hum vibrating against his rib cage, Tyler allowed himself to relax a little bit, fingernails scratching down the back of Josh's neck. Kissing quickly became muscle memory as he felt warm, strong hands run up and down his sides, reassuring him that everything would be alright.

It didn't take long for him to get caught up in the moment… so much so that he didn't even notice Josh brushing his tongue over his bottom lip with each kiss, asking oh so politely for permission.

After a few unsuccessful tries, the older man decided to switch tactics -- nipping Tyler's bottom lip, dragging it along with him as he pulled away.

Tyler's face was completely red. "D-Do that again…"

Josh smiled before kissing him and then repeating it. "You like that?"

He nodded, eyes as big as could be. "Where did you learn to do that?"

"Mm, don't worry about it." Josh chuckled. "I had to get your attention somehow -- plus I know you like a little biting."

"Oh, I'm sorry. What were you trying to tell me?"

Explaining would be way too awkward so he just leaned in close again, their lips only mere inches apart. "Don't apologize, baby. Just follow my lead, okay?"

Tyler nodded before their lips met again in a more gentler kiss. This time around, the feeling of Josh's tongue on his bottom lip was unmistakable. He opened up a little wider, holding back a moan at the sensation of Josh's tongue slipping into his mouth.

It only took a few kisses and more strained noises for Josh to pull away and nuzzle the side of his neck. "Let me hear you, baby, don't hold back."

"M'shy…" Tyler mumbled, moving his hands to rest in Josh's hair so he could tangle the curls between his fingers. "I love you, Jish."

"And I love you too, my darling." Josh pulled his face back up so they could make eye contact as he reached up to gently take Tyler's hands out of his hair. "I'm gonna take good care of you, okay?"

Heart swelling with pure love for his Protector, he nodded. In the back of his mind, though, he wondered what Josh had in store for them.

The sensation of warm lips pressed to his cheek brought him out of his thoughts. He opened his mouth to ask Josh what he was doing, but any questions he had faded into a breathless moan as the older man continued kissing him. From one cheek to the other, his chin, jawline, the spot right below his earlobe...

"I don't know if I've ever told you this, but you have the cutest ears." Just to prove his point, Josh nipped the tip of his right one.

Tyler wasn't sure whether to moan or giggle. "You think so?"

"Know so." Another nip on the left ear and Tyler arched up into him a little bit. "Can I kiss your neck?"

He nodded. "As long as you're gentle."

"Of course, baby."

Josh gave him another kiss on the lips before dipping his head until he was mere inches away from his neck. Eyes searching for an unmarred spot on his skin, the older man's heart pulled as he noticed just how bad and deep the bruises centered on his throat were now. Certainly not what he had seen the last time he'd kissed this same skin.

"Baby," he said, lifting his head up a little. "Tell me if anything hurts, even just a little bit, and I'll stop, okay?"

"Thank you, J."

Settling on the right side of his neck, Josh pressed an experimental kiss to it, all the while watching or listening for a negative reaction from Tyler. Hearing nothing but his Keeper's quiet breathing and the soft music in the background, he smiled a little.

Kissing Tyler's neck came naturally; it had taken a while for him to discover what his baby boy liked but now… he was somewhat of a master on his Keeper's sweet spots. But, as he knew very well, there were always more new things to discover.

Going out on a limb, Josh ran his tongue along the side of his neck before blowing a little bit of air against his skin. He grinned when he felt a hard shiver go down Tyler's body. "You like that, sweet boy?"

He nodded, fingers lightly scratching Josh's biceps as he tried to control his breathing. "Oh, my gosh, where do you learn this stuff at?"

"I just Google it," the older man teased.

Noticing how Tyler's hands kept reaching down his body like he was straining to get to something, Josh took his head back out. "Baby? Do you want to touch me?"

When Tyler nodded, chewing on his bottom lip like he always did when he was feeling shy, Josh smiled and helped the younger boy to sit back up. After some manuevering around, Tyler sat in Josh's lap, their legs looped over each other, the position allowing easy access to most of Josh's skin.

"You can touch me anywhere," Josh said before picking up Tyler's hand and placing it flat against his chest. "I'm all yours, sweet boy. Every inch of me."

Tyler let out a shaky sigh as he pressed said hand a little harder into his Protector's chest. "I can feel your heartbeat."

Josh smiled. "And I can feel your Time Keeper."

Moving his hand down, Tyler watched as he touched Josh's pecs, his stomach, back up to his shoulders and biceps before stopping at his neck. "Wow."

Caught up in enjoying the physical attention from Tyler, Josh startled a little when he heard his voice. "Hm?"

"You're so beautiful, Joshua."

A huge smile on his face, Josh pulled him into a big hug, his heart swelling with affection. "Tyler, I don't know how I even deserve you… thank you so much."

"I'd have to say the same about you." Tyler smiled a little before kissing him. "You're my world."

"You're my universe." Glancing at the twinkling lights, he laughed before grabbing Tyler and rolling them back into the position they were in before. "My turn, sweetness. Is it okay if I touch and kiss you?"

The question made Tyler's heart skip a beat. "Y-Yes…"

Closing his eyes, Tyler savored every little sensation as his Protector scattered kisses and light nips all over his chest and abdomen like they were stars in the very galaxy they laid underneath.

By the time Josh reached his hipbones, he had the goofiest smile on his face. "You're so adorable, it's not even funny."

"Aw, no, that's you." Giggling, Tyler bit down on the tip of his finger. "My sweet Jish."

"My sweet Ty-Guy." Pulling the waistband of his underwear down a little so he could see his hipbones better, he pressed a few kisses there. "You're filling in so nicely again, baby."

Tyler gave him a shy smile. "You… you really think so? I thought I wasn't."

"Know so." He bit down, making the younger boy squirm around a little. "Hmm… I wonder where else I could be kissing and touching right now." Smiling, his lips lingered right near Tyler's crotch, a mischevious look on his face. "Any ideas where that could be?"

"Mmm... my legs?" He giggled again.

"Hey, I like your idea too." Josh grinned, tugging a little at the waistband again before looking up into Tyler's brown eyes. "Tell me if it's okay or not, sweetheart."

"Please."

And with that, Josh inched the brunette's underwear off from around his hips. Tyler blushed at the almost wanton way his dick fell back against his stomach. Still, it was a nice feeling to not be confined by fabric when he was this turned on.

"Look at you in nothing but that kimono of yours." Josh smiled. He kept his eyes on Tyler as he wrapped a hand around the most intimate part of him. "You look amazing, sweet boy."

Tyler bit his lip, trying to keep from involuntarily jerking his hips up into his Protector's touch. He could count on his hand the number of times him and Josh had a sexual encounter with each other, which was made painfully clear by his body's current state of hypersensitivity.

When Josh noticed him squirming around in an unpleasant way, he slowed his hand movements, afraid he was doing something wrong. "Are you okay? Am I hurting you?"

"N-No, I'm just really sensitive and your hand feels amazing… I don't wanna have an orgasm too early and ruin everything."

"Aw, baby." Josh was a little confused with his reasoning at first, but then he remembered he probably wasn't experienced enough yet to have multiple orgasms. "Even if you do have one, it wouldn't ruin everything. I love it when I can make you feel good like that."

"You're so sweet to me..." Sitting up on his elbows, he gave the older man a curious look, worrying at his bottom lip. "C-Can I touch you… there too?"

"Of course." Josh climbed off the bed to pull his underwear off before settling back down next to Tyler. "Hey, I put the lube on your bedside table if you want to grab it."

It wasn't long before Josh had long, shaky fingers wrapped around his dick. Sucking in his breath, he wondered how such inexperienced hands managed to touch him in all the right ways.

"You feel so good," Tyler breathed out. Feeling a sudden rush of confidence, he sat all the way up before scooting all the way back on the bed, warm skin brushing up against the cool headboard. "C'mere and get on your knees, J."

Josh raised an eyebrow but did as Tyler requested. What was he up to?

Feeling a bit awkward hovering over Tyler, he opened his mouth to ask him what was up. But before a single word could come out, he felt something wet and warm engulf the tip of his member, knocking all the air out of his lungs.

Tyler had about half of Josh's length in his mouth, hands up on either side of the older man's thighs to steady himself, humming away and doing amazing things with his tongue as he went.

"Ba-aa-by," Josh drawled out, his hand moving to rest in Tyler's hair. "You're just full of surprises tonight, aren't you?"

He responded by tilting his head up, doe eyes staring straight into Josh's as he let the tip fall out of his mouth, a string of spit connecting the two. Pressing a kiss to the base, he stuck his tongue out before tapping the tip against it, giggling not-so-innocently through it all.

Josh nearly came right then and there. The sudden change in pace was a bit… jarring. It certainly hadn't been part of his original plan. But if it made Tyler feel more in control, who was he to complain about receiving an amazing BJ?

It didn't take long until the older man was moaning a little louder, his hand buried in Tyler's hair but not daring to pull on a single strand. Feeling that familiar ache in his stomach, it took all the willpower he had to pull his dick out of Tyler's mouth.

He frowned, looking up at him as he kept his hand on Josh, still stroking away. "Did I do something wrong?"

"Not at all, baby, you were just about to make me come and jeez, you still are." He took Tyler's hand away before laughing, albeit a bit breathlessly. "We still have some things to do. But Jesus, Ty, how is it you've only done that twice now yet you're already such a pro at it?"

"I told you… research." Tyler smiled, settling back on the pillows. "Thank you for letting me do that."

Josh felt the dominance shift back to him as the coy look in Tyler's eyes morphed back into his usual self. "Jeez, I should be the one thanking you. I mean, holy sh--"

"Language, J."

"Right, sorry." He gave him a sheepish grin before laying back down to rest. "How are you feeling so far?"

"Happy." Tyler smiled back at him. "In love with you."

Lips were quickly pressed together again, though they held less passion and more cautious abandon, a delicacy only matched by the soft noises Tyler made in response. Somewhere in the tangle of hearts and limbs, Josh manuevered the two of them to the middle of the bed.

"Excuse me for being so forward…" Josh smiled as he laid his body on top of Tyler's. Warm lips pressed against the even warmer skin of his forehead. "But I want you."

Tyler closed his eyes, another shiver going down his spine. "I want you too, Joshua."

Sharp nails scratched down a pale back as Josh kissed him again, soft and sweet as ever. Reaching for the bottle of lube, the older man placed kiss after kiss onto his stomach, one of the places he knew his baby boy was most sensitive at, as he tried his best to reassure and calm his fears.

"Is it okay if I touch you there?"

Feeling a bit dizzy from everything going on, Tyler nodded, his eyes squeezed shut.

"Baby, look at me." The brunette opened his eyes again to see concerned ones looking back at him. "Are you with me?"

"I… I'm with you. I'm just so overwhelmed right now… but in a good way." He gave Josh a nervous smile. "Sorry, it feels like my head's spinning. We h-haven't done anything since the trip and that was before…" He trailed off, eyes looking away.

Josh felt his heart pull a little. "Aw, baby. I've got you, okay? I promise. My hands will never hurt you."

"I trust you."

Legs draped over each shoulder, Tyler let his left arm fall over his eyes, chest heaving up and down as Josh moved a single finger in and out of him. "Doing so good for me, baby," Josh praised him as he kissed up and down his inner thighs. "You're so tight around me" he said, dick twitching a little at the feeling of being inside there.

Tyler tried to bite back a moan as he focused on the sensations of touch happening across his body -- Josh's breath against his skin, his left hand resting on the side of his ribcage, his calves touching Josh's sides as he knelt in front of him and the push and pull of a warm, slick finger.

He was here in this moment -- a moment he never wanted to forget.

Josh's voice took him out of his thoughts. "Wanna try another finger?"

With a quick vocalization of 'yes,' Josh leaned down to kiss the top of Tyler's knee as he slipped the second one in. "I'd kiss you, but you're too far away in this position," he said, smiling. "Perks of having a boyfriend who's a little taller than me."

Tyler wanted to smile back but any thoughts of that went away when Josh's fingers moved a little deeper inside of him. Moving his arm down from his eyes, chest heaving even harder, he bit down on his lip again and whined.

"Shh, shh, I've got you, baby." Josh took his free hand off Tyler's ribcage and picked up his hand, intertwining their fingers together. "Just a little bit more, okay?"

At first glance, someone on the outside looking in might think he was in a lot of pain. But oh, how wrong they'd be. They wouldn't even know how close he was to teetering over the edge.

But Josh knew. He always knew.

After a few more moments, the older man withdrew his fingers, leaving kiss after kiss on the boy's skin as he pulled away. "Hang on a second."

Tyler watched with curious eyes as Josh scooted to the side of the bed so he could grab something out of the bedside table. He made a small noise of confusion when his Protector returned with a small packet between his fingers.

"What's that for?" he asked.

"Oh, a condom. I didn't know if…"

Sitting up, Tyler placed his hand on top of Josh's. "You're clean, right?"

"I am, I promise."

"Me too… um, obviously." He blushed. "And I trust you."

Josh smiled. "I trust you too." And with that, he unceremoniously tossed the condom elsewhere. "I love you, sweetheart,"

Tyler burst into a fit of giggles at that. "I love you too, silly goose."

Laughter faded into nothing but comfortable silence between them as Josh wrapped his hands around the brunette's thighs. He pulled him close to the edge of the bed, backing up until he himself was in a standing position. "You want a pillow under your hips, baby?"

Honestly, he wasn't sure what difference it made, so he just nodded and lifted his hips up so Josh could place their leopard print pillow right underneath the small of his back. "That feels better," he said quietly. "Can I have one for my head too?"

"Of course you can." Josh handed Tyler one of their regular pillows before reaching over and grabbing the bottle of lube again. When he finished slicking it on himself, he paused for a moment before he got too far ahead of himself. "Tyler… I know I keep asking this, but I want you to be 100 percent sure. Are you ready?"

"I'm ready." Tyler shifted around, his dick rubbing up against his stomach as he did so, making him moan a little. "Please…"

The older man tugged his bottom lip between his teeth at Tyler's magic word. "I dunno, I think I like hearing that from you," he teased.

Whimpering a little, Tyler placed his hand on Josh's thigh, fingers digging into his skin. "Please, Joshua… I need you..."

Josh swallowed thickly, convinced that his soul had just left him. He had just been kidding around with Tyler, but after hearing that, he was giving this boy what he wanted, even if it killed him in the process.

Lifting up Tyler's legs, he draped them over his shoulders. Reaching down, he positioned himself against Tyler's entrance, the younger boy making a small noise at the feeling of something much bigger than a finger poking at him.

"I love you," Josh said quietly. "Try to relax, okay?"

"Okay, I love you too."

Tyler winced as Josh pressed inside of him, whining a little as he dug his nails even deeper into Josh's thigh.

"Shh, shh… it's okay." Josh wrapped his hands around Tyler, stroking him a little to try and help him with the uncomfortable feeling. "You're doing so well, baby."

As soon as Josh was all the way inside of him, Tyler's breath hitched, his vision blurring a little as an euphoric feeling washed over his body. Words and sounds faded into nothing as everything hit him all at the same time.

The brightest of stars. The darkest of oblivions. Clocks. Ticking. Time Keepers. So, so much time...

"Baby?"

He finally came out of his Time Keeper-induced hallucination, gasping a little. "Oh, my gosh…"

"Are you okay? Do you want me to stop?"

"No, no." It took Tyler a moment to realize that the ticking in his arm had stopped. It had finally happened Looking at his Time Keeper symbol, his face turned into the biggest smile ever. "Yeah. I think I'm good."

Josh loved the look of joy on his Keeper's face, even if he wasn't quite sure what had just happened. But at the same time… he was still buried inside of Tyler. "Tell me when you want me to move."

Tyler, a bit more grounded in the moment now, nodded a little. "You can move... s-slowly..."

Exhaling the breath he hadn't realized he was holding in, Josh drew his hips back so he was almost out of Tyler before pushing himself back in. He felt his heart pull as the younger boy made a small noise of pleasure, his cheeks stained a dark red.

"J-Josh," Tyler breathed out. Finally having his Protector inside of him was simply… indescribable. Everything that had led up to this point made absolute sense now. Just a short time ago, he had been shivering away in a cold room inside Dema… but now here he was laying on this bed, staring into beautiful brown eyes and savoring the feeling of intimate parts engaging in even more intimate acts.

"Look at you, doing so well for me," the older man said quietly as he picked up Tyler's legs. Switching them to rest on just one shoulder, his strong arms held them close to his body, never wanting to let go.

Tyler arched his back to accomodate the change of position, his butt coming off the pillow as Josh kept at his slow, but steady pace. "I love you," he said breathlessly, reaching up to lay a hand on the older man's arm. "Love you, love you."

Josh changed his thrusting so it was more deep, purposeful, searching for that one spot inside of Tyler. He smiled when a soft cry left his baby boy's lips, knowing he had found it. "Such a good boy," he praised him. "Mm, staring at me with those beautiful, doe eyes of yours as I make love to you. You belong to me now, right?"

"Yours, only yours," Tyler panted out. Chasing that one aching sensation he wanted to feel over and over again, he reached to wrap his hand around his aching member but Josh stopped him.

"No touching yet," Josh said before pressing a few kisses to one of his calves. "I'll take care of you, sweetness."

With a soft huff from Tyler and a grin from Josh, the two of them settled back into a comfortable pace, the latter trying to keep from coming at such sweet, tight heat.

Tyler threw an arm over his eyes, a bit overwhelmed from all the sensations in his body as Josh ran his hand up and down his chest and played with his nipples. Biting back moans, he fought the shyness but still felt it making its usual appearance during the most inopportune of times.

"Baby, can you look at me?" He lifted his arm up to see Josh staring at him with a concerned, yet caring look on his face. "Let me see your face, baby boy."

He took his arm away but averted his gaze as soon as he did. When Josh saw the blush and the way Tyler was biting his lip, he realized that said boy was feeling shy.

At this point, he knew that skin-to-skin contact would be the best thing for both of them. So he pulled out of Tyler and crawled back onto the bed, moving the both of them to the head of the bed in the process.

When Tyler laid his head back down on a pillow and felt every inch of Josh's warm skin against his… he wondered if he was in heaven. The second time going in was less painful but it still held a sting, to which he scratched at the older boy's back.

Josh made a mental note in his mind that Tyler was a scratcher. Not that he minded… pleasure mixed with pain, especially while knowing he was making his Keeper feel good, made it feel absolutely amazing.

"Let me hear you, baby," he said after noticing the boy's quiet whimpers and moans. "It's just us. Just me, okay?"

Tyler responded by moaning a little louder, though he was still a bit embarrassed by all the weird sounds. He circled his legs around Josh's back, digging his heels into skin as his Protector touched against that coveted spot over and over again. "R-Right there… please…"

Josh would never get tired of hearing Tyler say that magical word. "Hold onto me, okay? I've got you, I've got you."

Tyler wrapped his limbs around him, desperate for this level of intimacy to never, ever go away. "J-Josh..."

Josh was surprised when he saw and felt tears streaming down his Keeper's cheeks. Though from the absolutely stunning look on his face, Josh knew the emotional response wasn't one of sadness or anxiety...

It was bliss.

"You're so pretty," Josh said softly, dipping his head down to kiss away the tears on his skin. "Such a pretty baby for me. Just breathe it out, you're almost there..."

Was it possible to feel so much love for one person? "M'so… Joshua… d-don't st…"

It took only a simple movement of the hand to throw everything into a tail spin. Tyler's mind registered Josh taking him into his hand and stroking him in time with his thrusts… but he was too far gone to even moan, move or do anything about it…

Tyler had been told there were two phases to a Keeper's life -- before and after the first connection with their Protector. But as he levitated, seemingly out-of-body, watching from above as he painfully arched his back while Josh completely fell apart on top of him, he had to wonder… was he in the before or was he in the after?

A vision of a red Time Keeper symbol appeared before quickly disappearing. With nothing in his mind but time, it didn't take long for him to fall back down into reality.

Josh vaguely recalled telling Tyler to breathe as he reached his own (mind-blowing) orgasm, knowing how intense it could be for him sometimes. But nails and feet in a death grip on his back and spaced out eyes… this was a new one.

Just as he started to panic that he had somehow managed to kill his Keeper during sex, Tyler came back into the moment.

One gasp for breath, two gasps for breath and Tyler's grip on Josh loosened, much to his relief. He whimpered and panted his way through the rest of the lingering waves from his orgasm.

"Sweet boy? Are you with me?"

Josh.

When he looked up into his Protector's eyes, he smiled, seemingly unaware of what had just happened. "Hi… I'm with you."

"You had me worried there for a minute," Josh said, pressing a kiss to his sweaty forehead. "Are you okay?"

"I'm okay."

"You know how I keep pestering you about holding your breath when you come..."

"I know, J, but this was different. It wasn't just that. I... I saw something."

"What was it?"

"I saw a new chapter of my life beginning."

Honestly, Josh was a bit clueless as to what Tyler was talking about. But if it meant seeing him such a sweet smile on his face, he certainly wasn't going to complain.

And unbeknownst to Josh, that sweet smile grew just a tiny bit bigger as Tyler felt his Time Keeper start ticking again, the familiar sensation providing a wonderful sense of comfort. It was a secret inside of his mind, a special highlight of his life that only another Keeper could understand, a beautiful eclipse that made his toes tingle...

"Baby..." Josh's voice came out soft, but excited. "We did it."

Tyler's smile got even bigger. "Oh my gosh, we did…"

He leaned down and was about to kiss Tyler when his face brushed up against more tears on his cheeks. He looked up into his eyes, a gentle look of concern on his face. "Baby? You're crying again."

"M'just so happy," Tyler whispered. "You were so good to me."

"Aw, baby…" Josh smiled and kissed his cheek. "I'll always be good to you. You're my baby boy."

"Mm, and you're my J." Tyler looked down at his stomach, eyes widening a little at what he saw. "Jeez."

Josh laughed. "Hang on baby." He reached over to the bedside table and handed him a towel. "See, I came prepared."

Tyler rolled his eyes a little before smiling. "Josh to the rescue."

"Always. Still has to be one of the hottest things I've ever seen."

"Oh, gosh..."

Laughing, Josh laid down next to Tyler. "Do you want to lie with me?"

Biting his lip a little, he nodded. Curling his body up next to Josh, he laid his head across his chest. It didn't take long for his eyes to lull as he listened to his strong heartbeat.

"What are you thinking about?" Josh asked, breaking the silence.

"Mm.. about how much I love you." He held his head up to look at him and smiled. "What about you?"

"How I think I have rose petals stuck to my butt."

Tyler snorted a little. "Silly goose. I probably have a few stuck to mine too..."

Josh smiled. "Exactly. But I love you too." He shifted around. "I'm also thinking about the cuts, scratches and bruises you left all over me."

"Oh." Tyler frowned. "I'm sorry, Joshua."

"Don't apologize." Josh kissed the top of his forehead. "I love it."

Tyler giggled, an innocent sound after doing some not-so-innocent things. "I'll have to trim my nails so they won't hurt you."

"Mmm... nah, I like them just the way they are." He pulled Tyler in even closer, making his heart soar.

"I want to stay like this forever," the brunette said softly.

"Under the galaxy?"

"Under our galaxy."

Tyler looked up at the still twinkling lights, eyes stinging with more tears of happiness as he felt Josh's hand in his hair… stroking soft strands and whispering sweet nothings.

Twelve million stars
Hold a candle to your soul
Yet the infinity inside your eyes
Makes outer space look bare
You make galaxies dance
With every beat of your heart

Chapter Text

Keeping time and Time Keepers.

Tyler woke up to the faint smell of roses and strawberries, his head nearly all the way underneath his pillow. How he had went from laying on Josh's chest to sprawled out across the bed was a mystery, but not one that he was too concerned with.

Slipping his head out, he squinted a little as the morning light hit his eyes. Even with the curtains drawn, light still came through in the mornings and early afternoons. Josh blamed it on the big windows and told him countless times they could always buy thicker curtains. But Tyler didn't mind… sometimes a little light could do a person good.

Rubbing his eyes a little, he stifled a yawn as he turned over to see if Josh was awake yet or not.

Face smushed into the pillow, yellow hair sticking to the side of his face, and soft snores coming from him… Josh looked like he was having a really nice time sleeping.

It was adorable and strangely... energizing.

Tyler scooted his body a little closer and pressed a kiss to Josh's right temple. "I love you," he whispered.

Letting himself rest against his Protector, his mind went back to what had happened last night. It was weird to look down at his naked body and realize he wasn't a virgin anymore. Him and Josh were official lovers and that thought excited and scared him more than words could ever convey.

Deep down, though, he hoped Josh wouldn't expect sex again right away. For one, he was still processing their first time together. And two, he was still… a little sore.

No sooner did he think about that, he shifted around a little and realized everything down there felt… sticky. Panicking a little, he wondered if he was hurt or if something weird had happened to him from having sex.

I can't die right after losing my virginity!

The feeling of fingers in his hair brought him out of his frenzied thoughts. He looked up and saw Josh gazing back at him, eyelids still heavy and sleepy.

"Good morning," Tyler said, his voice cracking a little.

"Good morning, baby." Josh's voice sounded just as raspy and it made Tyler smile. "I loved waking up to you next to me like that."

"Oh, well you're always warm, so it's hard not to snuggle with you." Tyler giggled a little. "How are you?"

"I'm wonderful, darling." Josh tilted his head a little as he looked into Tyler's eyes, his hand moving to stroke the side of his face with his thumb. "You look like you're upset about something. What's wrong?"

"Um…" Tyler thought about making something up to cover up what he was freaking out over, but he knew Josh could see through him every time. "It's a little embarrassing."

"Don't be embarrassed, love. I won't judge."

"Okay, um… down there feels really sticky and I'm not sure why. You wiped my chest off last night so it couldn't be from that. Unless it really did go everywhere."

Josh had a look of sudden realization before he started laughing. "Oh, I'm sorry, baby. That's my fault. I came inside of you and… yeah. It may be a little messy until you take a shower."

Tyler felt a blush make its way onto his cheeks. "Oh, gosh…"

"I'm sorry, Ty."

"No, I'm not upset. I was just a little confused." He gave Josh a smile. "That's a little hot, actually."

"Oh?" Josh raised an eyebrow, chuckling a little. "Do tell me more, Mr. Joseph."

He giggled. "Silly goose." He pulled himself so he could position himself in the crook of Josh's arm. "How did you sleep?"

"Great. I don't think I woke up once."

"I can tell from the bedhead." Tyler smiled, reaching up to mess with his crazy hair.

"Hey, you have it too." Josh turned and kissed him on the forehead. "How about you? Did you sleep well?"

He shrugged a little. "I had a lot of weird dreams. Stuff about Time Keepers, ones and zeroes… I can't explain it."

"Well, is your Time Keeper okay?"

Tyler realized he hadn't even looked at his Time Keeper symbol yet. It was amazing how one could get so used to something being on their body that they don't even realize it's there sometimes. Pulling his arm out from underneath the blanket, he gasped a little at what he saw.

His entire Time Keeper symbol had turned a dark, blood red color. Even the skin surrounding it held a lighter shade of the same color. With just one night, Tyler had a different kind of mark on his skin to symbolize a new awakening inside of him.

"Whoa, what happened?" Josh asked, wanting to reach out and touch his arm but not wanting to do something wrong in the process. "Are you okay? Does it hurt?"

Tyler nodded. "I'm okay, Jish. You can touch me."

Josh wanted to roll his eyes a little at how Tyler always knew what he was thinking but figured it wouldn't be the best time. As he stroked his fingers over Tyler's Time Keeper symbol, he wondered what had happened. "I'm so confused, yet you don't even look fazed."

He smiled before sitting up, taking Josh's hand and pulling him up as well. "I'll explain it to you, okay?"

"Please."

"Remember how I kind of spaced out a little last night?"

"Yes, you almost took a chunk out of my skin with your fingernails."

"Oh yeah. Sorry." Tyler laughed a little. "When that happened, I saw this… red Time Keeper symbol. It was mesmerizing but so strange at the time. So when I saw my arm just now, everything made sense. You see, when a Keeper loses their virginity, their Time Keeper symbol turns red. It's like… a metaphorical thing about what was lost but what was gained."

"Wow... that is super cool!"

Tyler laughed. "I guess you could say that." He leaned over and kissed Josh on the cheek. "There's your insight into the mind of a Keeper for the day."

"Well, I love your mind." Josh smiled before leaning in close to kiss Tyler. He opened his eyes back up again when he felt a hand press against his chest, stopping him from coming any closer. His heart sank a little until he saw the mischevious look on his Keeper's face. "What's wrong?"

"You know how I am about kissing before brushing teeth." Tyler grinned.

Josh rolled his eyes a little, a light laugh leaving his lips. "Not even for your absolutely adorable Protector on your very first morning after?"

"Mm, nope!" He took Josh's hands and squeezed them. "How about this -- if we get up and brush our teeth, I'll make out with you."

"I like the sound of that." Josh winked.

Blushing, Tyler let go of Josh before pulling the blanket away from their bodies. "Silly J. Oh, and by the way, I love your mind too. You always have such great ideas."

"No, that would have to be you." Both of them now up and out of the bed, Josh came over and wrapped an arm around the brunette's shoulder. "Come on, baby."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

When Tyler came out the bathroom, he realized he hadn't checked his phone since last night. Picking it up, he switched it from Silence to Vibrate before turning it on.

Annaliese: 4 Missed Calls

Heart dropping to his stomach, he began to panic as he unlocked his phone. It didn't take long for him to dial Annaliese's number, mind automatically going to the fear that something had happened to her and/or the babies.

The line only rang two times before it connected. "Tyler!"

"Oh, my gosh, Annaliese, I'm so sorry, my phone was on Mute and I didn't see that you called."

"Jeez, I'm just glad you finally called me back!"

"Is everything okay?"

"Yes and no... I'm in the hospital."

Tyler's heart dropped even lower. "Why? What's going on?"

"Labor, that's what's going on. Pure, unmedicated labor."

He went straight from terrified to absolutely elated. "Annaliese! I'm so excited!"

"That makes one of us." Annaliese laughed. "No, I'm excited too. They're going to give me an epidural soon… it's supposed to be a precaution just in case one of the babies goes into distress and they have to perform an emergency C-section. But in all honesty, I'll be glad to have some pain relief."

"Oh, gosh, it's really happening." Tyler had a grin from ear to ear. "We'll be over to the hospital as soon as we can get ready, okay?"

"No hurry, my love. I'm only about 4 cm dilated so no one is coming out just yet." She laughed. "I do want to see you though."

"Alright, we won't rush but we won't take a long time either." He laughed a little. "We'll see you soon, Annaliese."

"I'll be here!"

When Tyler hung up the phone, he could hardly contain his excitement. His niece and nephew were finally about to make their grand appearance and he couldn't be happier.

"Hey, what's going on?"

Tyler looked up to see Josh coming back into the room. "Annaliese called me. She went into labor!"

"Aw, that's sick!"

"So sick." Tyler grinned. "We're gonna be uncles soon, J."

"Honorary uncles." Josh smiled back at him. "So is she gonna give birth soon or…?"

"She said she's only 4 cm so I guess that means not really? Anyway, I told her we'd be there in a while."

"I guess we'll have to take our showers then, huh?"

"Well… there may be time for a quick make-out session before we do all that." Tyler gave him a coy look.

"Ooh la la," Josh said, giving him a wink. "My breath is minty fresh now so I'm all ready for you, baby boy."

"Silly Jish." Tyler blushed as he grabbed his hand and tugged him towards the bed.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"We're here to see Annaliese Satterfield."

Tyler stood off to the side as Josh talked to the unit secretary. Even after all he'd been through, going to new places and talking to new people was still so terrifying for him. But he was thankful to have such an outgoing Protector who never pressured or pushed him past his social limits.

He was brought out of his thoughts when Josh touched his arm. "Ready to go? She's gonna open the doors for us."

"I'm ready." He walked side-by-side with Josh down one of many long hallways. So this is what a labor and delivery floor is like. Just as he thought that, he heard screaming come from behind one of the doors. "Oh, jeez."

A few moments later, they finally got to her room. Josh knocked lightly before they heard a faint voice say to come in.

When the door opened all the way, Annaliese's face lit up into a big smile. "You made it! Come in, come in."

Tyler leaned down to give his dear friend a hug. "How are you feeling?"

"I got my epidural not too long ago, so I'm great. Can't feel anything from my waist down, but I'm great!"

"Where's Noah?" Josh asked.

"Oh, he went to go find a vending machine. Neither of us had breakfast this morning because my water broke. Of course, I can't eat anything but at least he can."

Tyler nodded before reaching down to squeeze her hands. "You're gonna do so great, Annaliese."

"I sure hope so." Noticing Tyler's hoodie sleeve had rode up a little from moving around, her eyes widened when she caught sight of a familiar red mark. "Tyler?"

"Yes?"

"Show me your Time Keeper symbol," she said in a sing-songy voice. "And don't try to lie or hide it from me because we know each other far too well for that."

Biting his lip, Tyler slid his sleeve all the way up, wincing a little as he waited for her reaction.

"Oh, Tyler!"

And there was the squeal.

"It happened," Tyler said, smiling.

"Ty, I'm so happy for you! It still looks really fresh so…" Her voice trailed off before a mischievous smile appeared on her face. "Oh, no wonder you had your phone on Mute this morning!"

He blushed. "Sorry. I was going to tell you later on today, promise!"

"I know you would, I'm just teasing." Annaliese reached out and touched him, a bit fascinated by the warmth it gave off. "Oh gosh, I still remember mine like it was yesterday. It took Noah almost an entire day to notice it was red." She rolled her eyes.

Tyler giggled a little. "They tell you about it in Keeper Training School but it's still so surreal to actually have it."

"Did your Time Keeper stop ticking for a while too?"

"Yes! It was so strange."

"Isn't it? It amazes me how sensitive it is." Remembering that Josh was still in the room, she looked up at him, a sheepish smile on her face. "Sorry Josh, hope you don't mind us talking about the sex life of a Keeper."

"No, I love it." He shuffled back and forth on his feet, laughing a little. "Definitely not a boring conversation."

The talking stopped when the door opened and in came Noah with a candy bar and a drink. "What's up everyone?"

"How's it going?" Tyler asked.

"Oh, you know, just preparing myself to be a new dad." He laughed a little. "Twins mean two times the craziness."

"It also means two times the cuteness." Annaliese smiled before pointing over to Josh. "Noah, I don't think you've met Josh before. This is Tyler's Protector."

Noah stepped forward and shook the older man's hand. "Hey, nice to meet you, I'm Noah Satterfield. And as you know, Annaliese is my lovely Keeper."

"I don't feel or look lovely," Annaliese groaned. "I just want to meet my little sweethearts already. Well, I shouldn't say little because the doctor told us they may be on the bigger side because I made it so close to full-term."

Tyler smiled. "We're anxious to meet them too."

"Baby," Annaliese said, motioning for Noah to come closer. "They came and checked me again right before Ty and Josh got here. I'm almost to seven cm."

He laughed. "You're not messing around with this labor stuff, are you? That's my baby girl, though, always wanting to get things over and done with."

"You know it."

Smiling, he kissed her on the cheek. "Have you asked Tyler about what you and I talked about earlier?"

"Ask me about what?"

"Ty, come and sit down." She motioned to the small empty spot at the foot of her bed, which he wasted no time sitting down in. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about this earlier. But since you're my best friend... I want you to be in the OR with me and Noah while I'm delivering. I understand if it would gross you out or be too much to handle… it won't offend me if you say no. But it would really mean a lot to me if you could."

Fear struck Tyler like lightning as he remembered all the things he had read about childbirth. A lot of pain, groaning, pushing, amniotic fluid, mucus, blood, maybe even poop… he didn't know how Noah would get through all that, let alone him.

When he saw Annaliese's face start to deflate, he realized that he hadn't said a word to her in response. "Wow, I'm so honored you want me to be there with you."

"My gynecologist will be delivering the baby, of course, but the rest of the staff may act a little weird around me because I'm a Keeper. So that's another reason why I'd like you there with me. Keepers stick together, right?"

Tyler nodded. "Right." He reached over and took her hand. "It'll be a little... different for me but I would love to be a part of this with you, Annaliese."

Squealing a little, she clapped excitedly. "Oh, I'm so happy! Now you can help hold my legs during the delivery."

"Legs?"

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

"I know you can only feel pressure right now but I want you to bear down like you're having a bowel movement and push as hard as you can. Push -- one, two, three…"

As Tyler held Annaliese's right leg up, giving him a view of… well, everything… he feared she might spontaneously combust from how hard she was pushing. But the nurse holding her other leg didn't seem too concerned, so he figured he shouldn't be either.

He couldn't really complain, though, because this was nothing like what he'd seen in movies. There wasn't screaming, yelling, cussing or anything like that… just a lot of grunting on Annaliese's part.

Noah was up by her side, encouraging her and telling her she could do it during and after contractions. But Tyler was mostly silent, unsure of what to say that her Protector hadn't already told her.

"Tyler."

During the small break between contractions, Tyler turned around when he heard Annaliese say his name. "Hm?"

Annaliese, already sweaty from the exertion, gave him a tired, but sweet smile. "Tell me when the baby is crowning."

Eyes widening, Tyler figured that meant when the baby's head was coming out. Swallowing thickly, he tightened his grip around her thigh as she started another round of pushing.

Five seconds in, Tyler gasped a little as he saw the top of the baby's head start to come out. "I see hair!"

The baby's head retracted a little as she stopped bearing down. "Rest for a few moments and then we'll push again during your next contraction," the doctor said.

"I feel like I'm gonna split right in half," Annaliese groaned.

"We're allowing time for your perineum to adjust so you don't tear," she said. "Once that happens, I need you to give it your all during these next one or two pushes."

"Come on, Annaliese, you can do it," Tyler encouraged her, a bit envigorated from the mounting anticipation.

A few moments later, she started pushing again and the small bit of hair quickly turned into a whole scalp. Tyler's eyes widened even more as he watched everything stretch. There was no way the head was going to fit… right?

"One more big push, baby, one more big push!" Noah told her before kissing her forehead. "You're almost there."

Digging her chin all the way down into her chest, she beared down as hard as she could. "Burning, burning, burning!" she said through gritted teeth, twisting her upper body around in pain.

In the blink of an eye, there was an entire head and a scrunched up face.

"You can reach down and touch your baby's head if you want," the doctor said as she reached inside and slipped the cord off from around the baby's neck.

Annaliese reached down, brushing her fingers over the baby's head, before gasping a little. "Oh, my gosh!"

"Stop pushing for now and your body will naturally guide the rest of the baby out. Focus on slow, deep breathing."

Tyler watched as the doctor suctioned out the baby's mouth and nose. Within a moment or two, one shoulder appeared and with one big rush of blood and fluid… the baby made its official appearance in the world.

"It's a boy!"

Absolutely ecstatic, Tyler resisted the urge to jump up and down as he watched the nurses towel the baby off some before placing him up on Annaliese's chest.

It didn't take long for the doctor to clamp the cord and hand Noah the scissors to cut it. And with that, he was officially on his own, an independent, little new life.

"Oh, my baby boy." Annaliese rubbed her hand up and down his back, patting it a few times. And with that… a tiny noise before it turned into a full-on screech. "There you go! Breathing so good for mama."

Everything felt surreal as Tyler watched the baby wriggling around on Annaliese's chest, crying and crying away. After so many months… Baby Boy was finally here.

A few minutes went by as Annaliese and Noah talked and touched their new baby, who eventually quieted down some after a blanket was placed on him. The doctor, who had just delivered the placenta and was managing any residual bleeding, spoke up again. "It looks like Baby Girl doesn't want her brother staying in the limelight for long," she said. "She's ready to deliver. I know you want to keep cuddling with baby, but we've got to deliver her so she doesn't go into distress."

The nurse came over and took Baby Boy away, much to Annaliese's disappointment. "I'm gonna clean him up some more and get his Apgar score. After that, you can have him back."

It took only a few minutes of pushing for Baby Girl to start crowning. "You're almost there," Tyler reassured Annaliese, squeezing her leg a little.

"She's moving fast," the doctor said. "Come on, give me another push!"

Annaliese barely got through five seconds before all of Baby Girl came out at once, landing right on the sheets underneath her hips. "Jeez!" she exclaimed, her legs starting to shake. "What was that?!"

"I believe that's your baby," the doctor said, smiling as she suctioned her nose and mouth out as well.

Tyler opened his mouth to say something but was cut off by the sound of Baby Girl's first cry. In his opinion, she sounded like a little lamb… but it wasn't a bad thing.

"Tyler." He turned around to look at Annaliese. "I want you to cut her cord."

His hands shook as he gripped the scissors, cutting through the umbilical cord until she, too, was on her own. Tyler bit down on his bottom lip, eyes glossing over with tears at the fact he had just been a part of such a major, beautiful event.

When the doctor placed Baby Girl onto Annaliese's chest, still crying and whimpering, she immediately burst into tears as she moved her up to lay just above her breasts.

Noah was immediately concerned, afraid that she was in some sort of pain. "What's wrong, love?"

"I'm j-just so h-happy," she said in between hiccups. "This is real! They're finally here!"

Moving to stand by her side, Tyler reached down and threaded his fingers through Annaliese's hair, unsure of what to say. In this very moment, though, it seemed like quiet admiration was the best thing as everyone took in the two little miracles that had just came into the world.

A nurse came up next to Tyler, laying a hand on the side of his arm. "I don't mean to rush you out, but we still need to get everyone and everything cleaned up so we can move mom back to her room. The babies also need to go to the nursery for some injections and tests so they can come back to Mom and start feeding."

"Oh." Tyler felt awkward all of a sudden. "Yeah, I'll leave."

"I'll text you when you and Josh can come back," Noah said, giving him a small, yet reassuring smile.

Tyler's hands were still shaking a little as he left.

But as he walked down the hallway to try and find his way to the waiting room, he smiled a little as Brahm's Lullaby played over the hospital's intercom.

Two little miracles...

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

After a few hours spent in thick anticipation, everything faded away once Tyler turned the door handle and opened it to see what was in store.

"Hi, you guys." Annaliese now had her hair up in a bun and a new hospital gown on, looking a lot more relaxed, but tired. "Come in and meet our new loves."

Both of their faces lit up into a smile as they approached the hospital bassinet to see both of the babies snuggled next to each other as they slept.

"Oh, Annaliese, they're beautiful," Josh said, eyes beaming with pure joy. "Congratulations to the both of you."

Annaliese smiled. "Thank you. You can meet them officially once they wake up from their nap." She sat up some and reached over to place a loving hand over both of them. "Wanna hear the juicy details?" She giggled.

Tyler grinned. "Naturally."

She moved her hand to caress the right twin's cheek. "This baby boy is named Lakota Sora Satterfield. If you're wondering, 'Sora' means 'sky' in Japanese. He was 7 pounds, 10 ounces and 16 inches long."

"Hey, little guy," Josh said softly. "I like that name."

"Thank you." Annaliese smiled before reaching for Lakota's baby sister. "And this sweet girl is named Luna Nari Satterfield. 'Nari' also means 'gentle child' in Japanese. She was 7 pounds, 4 ounces and 21 inches long. She is a lot smaller than her brother, but she has him beat on length."

"Luna and Lakota," Tyler repeated before smiling, his eyes glued to both babies. "That's beautiful."

"It took a while to pick, believe me. But we wanted to keep it a secret," Noah piped up. "I may be biased saying this because I'm their dad, but they are absolutely perfect."

Josh laughed. "Yeah, totally biased. Nah, they look big and healthy. What's more important than that?"

Annaliese smiled. "I agree."

"How are you feeling?" Tyler asked.

"I'm doing ok. A little sore and tired but that's to be expected." She pulled her blanket down a little. "Look at how much smaller my tummy is now! I can finally breathe and see my feet again."

Tyler laughed. "Yeah, it's been so long since I've seen you like this."

"I love it." Annaliese turned back to the babies. "After they were dry, we saw their hair is a reddish-brown color." Just to prove her point, she pulled Lakota's hat up a little to show them his hair. "Both of them have full heads of hair and there's a chance it may turn fully red."

Tyler frowned a little in confusion. "I don't understand. You have black hair and Noah has brown hair. How could they--"

"Blame Noah." Taking her hand away from the bassinet, she crossed her arms as she turned around to look at her Protector. "Someone didn't tell me a recessive red hair gene runs in his family."

"Hey, I didn't think it was important until they came out!"

Josh and Tyler stifled a laugh as the couple began bickering, though none of it was actually any real arguing. Said Protector wrapped his arm around Tyler's waist and kissed his forehead, both of them still enamored by the babies.

Luna started squirming around, her face scrunching together. At first, it looked like she was about to cry but then a hand made its way out of the blanket and her face relaxed.

"Oh, I think she's waking up," Tyler said, excited to see her awake for the first time.

Annaliese turned her attention back to them. "Aw, is my pretty girl awake? You just wanted to see your Uncle Tyler and Uncle Josh, didn't you?"

Mama's voice roused her even more and before long, her eyes were open. Blinking slowly, she stirred around some more, bumping up against Lakota in the process, who woke right up. Once both of them were awake, they started staring at each other, seemingly fascinated by each others faces.

"Hey." Josh turned his head sideways. "They kind of look like me when I was a baby."

"You're mixed with Japanese, aren't you?" Tyler asked.

"It's in my blood," Josh said proudly. "Some days, I feel like I look more Asian. I guess it depends on what mood my genetics are in that day."

Annaliese laughed. "Oh, jeez. Well, look at that Ty, you have an Asian Protector, an Asian Keeper friend, and a half-Asian niece and nephew. How's that for diversity?"

Tyler laughed and patted his friend on the knee. "And I wouldn't trade any of you for the world."

Babies now cooing (or trying to), Annaliese motioned for them to come closer to the bassinet. "You can hold one of them. You could hold both in each hand but I wouldn't recommend it because even I'm having trouble with it."

Josh turned to look at Tyler, a smile on his face. "Do you want Lakota or Luna?"

"Luna." Tyler could hardly contain his excitement as he waited for Josh to pick up Lakota. He smiled at the sweet look his Protector had on his face as he cradled Lakota in his arms. "A baby is a nice look for you, Jish."

"We're practically best friends already." Josh grinned.

Hands still shaking a little, he slipped one hand under the blanket and another underneath her head. Despite the fact she was seven pounds and really long, she still felt so light and fragile in his arms. "Oh, I'm so nervous, I don't want to hurt her," he whispered out.

"You're both doing fine," Annaliese said, smiling. "Feel free to sit down on the couch, it'll be a lot more comfortable."

"That's nice you have such a big room," Josh said as both of them sat down on said couch. "Usually they are kinda small."

"It's cozy." Annaliese smiled as she sat up a little more. "So what do you think of the new additions?"

"Such cuties," Tyler said, gazing into Luna's eyes as she blinked back at him. He stroked his thumb over her face to which she opened her mouth and let out a huge yawn. "Oh, big yawn, baby girl."

Noah spoke up, a coy look on his face. "Hey, you can unwrap them and take their hats off. We swaddled them after skin-to-skin time because it was really cold when we first came into this room. But now it's warmed up nicely."

Josh laid Lakota across his lap, being sure to support his head. Tyler held Luna away from him slightly, placing one hand underneath her head in the process.

They unwrapped the babies, revealing Lakota's green striped onesie and Luna's pink striped onesie. Now that they weren't wrapped up, they started kicking around and making tiny noises.

Annaliese smiled. "Check them out, you may find something interesting... or you might not."

Realizing what she was hinting at, Tyler's eyes lit up as he used his spare hand to lift up Luna's tiny arm. His heart skipped a beat when he laid sight on the tiniest of a Time Keeper symbol. "Oh, Annaliese! She's a Keeper!"

"Hey, Lakota is too!" Josh exclaimed.

"I know!" Annaliese had the biggest smile on her face. "I thought they might be born with a recessive Keeper gene but I was wrong."

"Guess who's going to Keeper Training School in 18 years?" Tyler said in a baby voice, moving Luna closer to his face so he could kiss the top of her forehead. He smiled when he lowered her back down and she startled a little bit. "Sweet girl."

"Maybe everything you've done will have a positive effect on their futures." Josh smiled as he made deep eye contact with Tyler. "They are the next generation of Keepers, after all."

"Only time will tell," Tyler replied. "But for their sakes, I really hope so. They deserve to live in a world without discrimination and cruelty towards Keepers. All of us deserve that." With that being said, he leaned over and kissed Josh on the cheek.

Annaliese smiled. "You don't even know how adorable all four of you look right now." She opened her mouth to say something else but was cut off by her phone buzzing over on the bed tray. "Hang on." When she picked it up, a small smile appeared on her face at what she saw. "Oh, that was a text from Fynnley. Oliver and him are gonna come visit tomorrow."

"Don't forget my parents are going to come see the babies later on tonight," Noah said.

"I know." Annaliese rolled her eyes a little. "See, it's really frustrating because I know these are their grand-children and they claim to love to them death already... but they hate me and aren't exactly on the greatest terms with Noah either because he's with a Keeper. Gosh, I don't even want to think about what their reaction will be when they find out Lakota and Luna are Keepers."

Josh frowned at that. "You know what you can tell them? You can tell them to take their opinions, shove it up their butts and go fu--"

"Language, J. Not in front of the babies."

All three of them started laughing while Tyler just pouted a little and watched Luna as he she looked around at her surroundings.

"I know what you're trying to say, Josh," Annaliese said. "But at this point, I'm more concerned with how they treat them than myself. I guess my maternal instinct is already kicking in. Yay." She laughed.

"And I will always love you, no matter what anyone else says." Noah stood up from his chair and leaned down so he could kiss her. "I promise."

While Annaliese and Noah chatted back and forth about random things, Josh turned his attention back to Tyler, who now had Luna pressed up against his chest, the latter just as content as could be. "Looks like she really likes you."

Tyler smiled. "Yeah, I'm letting her listen to my heart and the ticking. Maybe it'll remind her of her own Time Keeper."

Josh smiled back. "Hey Tyler? You know, that's a good look for you too. You would make an amazing father."

"You really think so?" Tyler leaned his head down so his cheek could brush against her soft hair. "Mm, beautiful girl." He held his head back up and smiled at Josh. "But thank you, J. You would be too."

"Hey." They looked up to see Annaliese holding her phone sideways. "Smile!"

Josh scooted a little closer, being careful to keep Lakota still in the process, before holding a peace sign up with his free hand. Tyler laid his head against Josh's in response, a soft smile on his face.

And with that, any cares or worries faded away as they all enjoyed a beautiful, sweet moment in time.

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Later that night, while Josh and Tyler were laying in bed with Cheetah resting on the younger boy's chest, he spoke up.

"Hey Josh?"

"Mm?"

"Let's have a baby."

Chapter Text

Josh felt the uneasiness in the air before he even opened his eyes.

It had only been two days since him and Tyler had the privilege of welcoming the two new littlest Keepers into the world. To say his own Keeper had been riding on Cloud Nine after such a happy sucession of events would be an understatement.

So why was his precious baby boy trembling in his sleep?

Darkness shrouded most of the room but the little Josh could make out was the silhouette of Cheetah perched on Tyler's right hip, seemingly unaffected by his shaking, the subtlest trace of a frown written across the brunette's features.

There was no denying that Tyler was deep inside a dream right now. But what was going on inside his mind?

Sitting up, Josh rubbed his eyes before reaching over for the bedside lamp. A soft yellow washed over the walls, banishing the darkness to the farthest corners of the room. The change in lighting allowed the older man to see Tyler's face more clearly.

His heart pulled when Tyler started shaking even harder, face contorted into a heartbreakingly terrified expression. Tiny whimpers echoed throughout the otherwise quiet room, the sounds finally catching the attention of Cheetah, who now looked just as worried as his Protector.

Changing his mind on not yanking Tyler out of a deep sleep, he reached his hand out to touch him.

No sooner did his fingertips make contact with Tyler's shoulder, the brunette yelled out as he violently jumped awake. Flailing around in the covers, Cheetah was catapulted across the bed while Josh took an elbow to the face.

"Tyler, Tyler, Tyler, Tyler," Josh repeated as he grabbed a hold of the younger boy, firmly enough to calm his limbs down but not too hard that he would scare him even more. Ignoring the throbbing in the right side of his face, he waited a moment for Tyler to regain his senses before reaching out so he wouldn't be viewed as a threat.

Red, swollen brown eyes looked up, making contact with Josh, the latter having the most heartbroken expression on his face. One rush of movement and Tyler was in Josh's arms, sobbing away as he clung onto him for dear life.

"Baby," Josh said softly, heart pulling so hard he feared it might break after seeing his Keeper go through such an awful experience. "Shh, shh… it's okay, baby... I got you... Joshua's here..." He laid his head on top of Tyler's, rocking him back and forth as he tried to provide some form of comfort.

It took a few minutes of rocking and shushing for Tyler to calm down, cries eventually turning into soft sniffles and residual hiccups. Still, Josh kept quiet, giving the younger boy time to talk if and when he wanted to.

"Josh..." Tyler finally spoke up, his voice breaking.

Said man moved his head to press a breathless kiss against his left temple. "Yes, baby?"

"It... it was so real."

Tyler had lifted his head up again so Josh took the opportunity to lay them back against the pillows. Keeping his arm around him, he guided the younger boy until his body was flush against his, warm head resting on top of his racing heart.

"Was it Gabriel?"

He shook his head. "No… worse."

"Oh, baby boy…" Josh already knew without having to ask who or what he was referring to. "I'm so sorry. Do you want to talk about it?"

It took a minute before Tyler finally nodded, so Josh began stroking the side of his arm as he allowed his Keeper to express his thoughts and feelings.

"The Niners always took us to this big room, a room that reminded me of a place of worship... cracked pews, dust everywhere and if our torture happened to take place early in the day, the few slivers of light that came from outside.

"I was back in that room. Held down on a table, a hand around my mouth so my screams wouldn't echo off the walls and the X… God, there was so much X. It kept going on for what seemed like forever. But nothing was working. They couldn't break my Time Keeper. So in my eyes, I thought I had somehow regained control.

"But X turned into razor blades. They forced me to keep cutting my arm until it was nearly unrecognizable. But the weirdest thing was… I had all this blood on my hand but none of it ever dripped onto the floor… it stayed with me, even though more and more of it kept coming."

Josh felt Tyler tense up some as he kept talking, the movement concerning but somewhat unimportant for the time being.

"Then… then there was Nico. All I could focus on was him mocking me, telling me I'm worthless and that I didn't deserve anyone's love and affection.

"I saw his black hands again. Except this time… his hands were dripping with my blood. I… I lost all control and he finally had me. Things get a little fuzzy after that. All I can remember is being choked by someone. Fighting, struggling, trying to breathe… and then I woke up."

After the brunette finished talking, Josh held him even tighter. "Oh baby…" His voice came out softly, providing a subtle source of stability to an incredibly fragile situation. "You were fighting so hard. I've never seen you like that before and it scared me half to death."

Tyler sniffled a little. "M'sorry for scaring you, J..."

"No, no, sweetheart, don't apologize. I'm much more concerned about you." Josh kissed the top of his head. "Thank you for telling me all that. I'm proud of you, baby boy."

"What's there to be proud of?" Tyler muttered. "All I see is a boy still haunted by Dema… even after all this time."

"It's barely been a month, baby. Your physical wounds may be fading but the mental ones are still fresh... it'll heal up some and then open up again when you least expect it. But it doesn't mean all progress has been lost." He combed his fingers through soft, brown strands. "I know Dema has left scars on you that will probably never fade away completely. But some will fade in time. And the love I have for you as a person, a lover and as my Keeper… I want it to fill in the broken parts of your mind."

He stopped speaking when he felt warm tears on his chest. Before he could react, Tyler had his head up, eyes locked with Josh. Even with just a glance, the older man could tell the emotions behind all of the tears had changed.

"Broken, but not incomplete," Tyler rasped out, smiling a little as Josh thumbed the tears away from his cheeks. "Thank you for always being by my side… if not physically, then in heart and spirit. I love you, Joshua."

"And I love you, Tyler." Josh leaned down and kissed him on the lips. "Sorry, I know how you feel about morning breath but I just had to." He chuckled softly.

"I don't mind." When Tyler tasted blood on his tongue, he reached up for Josh's face, wincing a little at what he saw. "Oh… Josh, your lip…"

Josh held his fingers up to his bottom lip, eyebrows raising when he pulled them away and saw a little bit of blood. "Oh, jeez."

"W-What... what did I do to you?"

"You elbowed me pretty hard in the face," Josh said, laughing a little. "It's all good, though. I'm barely even bleeding."

"I… I'm so sorry. Nothing's broken, right?"

"Not that I know of. Otherwise, I don't think I would be talking to you right now." He smiled. "Don't apologize, sweet boy, I know you didn't mean to. I was more concerned about you hurting yourself than me."

Tyler gave him an apologetic smile before he realized something else was missing. "Wasn't Cheetah in the bed with us when I fell asleep?"

"He was…" Josh bit back a laugh at the bewildered look on Tyler's face. "Um, he was laying on your hip while you were asleep and… yeah."

"Oh, my gosh, is he okay?!"

Josh craned his neck a little to look for the cat on the floor. "Yeah, he's fine. He's just sitting by the door, looking quite annoyed with life."

The brunette frowned. "Aw, my pet Cheetah..."

"Don't worry, Ty-Guy, he'll get over it and be right back up here again." He gave Tyler's nose a playful tap and smiled. "I guarantee it."

He smiled back. "Thank you." Sighing a little, his eyes drifted over to the windows, noticing how the nightime sky was slowly turning lighter as the sun began its ascent. "Josh?"

"Yes, my love?"

"Remember that night when you asked me to be your Keeper?"

"Of course, hun."

"You told me if I ever woke up and wanted to watch the sunrise together, you'd be up and right by my side." Tyler sat up and took Josh's hand, tugging on it a little. "Come on. Let's go brush our teeth and go."

Josh gave him a confused look. "Where are we going?"

Another tug and an insistent smile. "Come on."

* * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *     * * * * * *

Somehow they wound up at the park, walking down the path towards their secret playground. Even as shoes hit against pavement, the softest of sounds began to emerge from the grass and trees as nature began to wake up with the rising of the sun.

"I really hope no one finds us and we get in trouble," Tyler said, even though the smile on his face hinted that he wasn't too concerned.

"The park is open from dawn to dusk," Josh stated. "It's right around that time, so even if someone finds us, we're gonna stay right here." He chuckled a little. "Even if I have to fight someone."

"Mm, protective Jish." Tyler giggled before grabbing Josh's hand again. "It's just up ahead, let's run!"

It took the boys no time at all to make it to the playground, laughs filling the cool morning air the entire time. Something about being so carefree in an unassuming spot like this was… comforting after such an emotional morning together.

"Usual spot?" Josh asked as they walked across the wood chips, loving the way they crunched underneath their shoes.

"Of course," Tyler said, a soft smile on his face.

The jungle gym landing was a little wet from the morning dew but not enough to deter two sleepy boys with hoodies, pajama pants and the messiest of bedhead. No sooner did they settle down together, Tyler had his head back, breath catching in his lungs as he took in the rich colors etched so carefully across the sky.

"Josh?"

"Hm?"

"Look." Tyler pointed up. "The sky is on fire."

"Wow. It sure is." Josh kept looking for a few more moments before returning his gaze to Tyler. His heart pulled at the mesmerized look gracing his Keeper's delicate features. The same features he had came to see in so many different forms (crying, worried, smiling, laughing, moaning) over what had been just under a year.

"Have you ever had moments that wound up catalyzing something beautiful in your life?"

The sound of Tyler's voice brought him out of his thoughts. "A few," he replied. "How about you?"

"Yes…" Tyler turned to look at Josh, the softest of looks embedded deep within his eyes. "You finding me."

Josh rolled his eyes up, trying to hold back the rush of emotions that overwhelmed him at once. "Oh, gosh," he mumbled. Despite all of that, though, a few tears still managed to make their way down his cheeks. "Now you've got me crying."

Tyler giggled softly before swiping said tears away from Josh's cheeks, mimicking what the older man had done for him just a bit earlier. "Guess we're just two emotional boys."

"I guess so." Josh smiled before leaning over and kissing him on the lips. "I'm so glad I found you, baby."

He responded by smiling back and resting his head on top of Josh's shoulder. "You know, our one-year anniversary is coming up in just a few days."

"I know." Josh took his hand and squeezed it. "I want to take you out somewhere nice for dinner."

"Can we have more of that fancy wine?" Tyler teased.

"Anything for my sweet boy." He smiled. "You deserve a whole vacation, honestly, but work is being a dick rigbt now and they won't let me take any days off on short notice."

"Language, J." Tyler giggled softly. "But I don't need a whole vacation for our anniversary. I just want to be with you, Joshua."

"I want to be with you too, baby." Josh gave his hand another squeeze. "Please let me take you somewhere soon, though? Just the two of us. No loud sex from that giant blonde allowed."

He giggled again. "I'd love that, Jish."

A minute or so of comfortable silence settled over them before Tyler broke it again. "You know, today should be Annaliese's last full day in the hospital. The doctors wanted to keep Lakota and Luna for at least three days of observation but they're doing great."

Josh smiled. "Aw, great, I'm so glad they're still doing well. Did you want to go up and visit again today?"

"Mm, how about this evening?" He yawned a little. "I might need a nap after all this."

The older man chuckled. "Such a cutie." He tilted Tyler's head back and kissed him again. "Know what I think?"

"What?"

"I think what you and Oliver did is going to have such a powerful impact on their futures. You may not be able to see a difference right now but… people were there. People were watching on TV. And you don't know what any of that might have sparked or changed inside of their minds."

Praise from his Protector was one thing but this… this was on an entirely different level. "Do you really mean that, Jishwa?"

"Of course I do. What you did was amazing. I know I keep telling you this but you really are a hero. You're my hero."

"Jeez, don't make me cry again." Eyelashes fluttering, Tyler smiled before throwing his arms around Josh. "Thank you, Joshua. I can't even begin to tell you how much that means to me."

"Of course." Josh let his fingers splay out across Tyler's back as he kept a light grip on him. "My little Bandito."

Tyler placed a hand inside fading yellow hair, stroking it gently. "Hey… what color are you gonna dye your hair next?"

"I'm not sure. The yellow signified hope, just like those flowers we threw to you." Josh closed his eyes as he pressed his nose into Tyler's own hair, inhaling his unique scent. "So I don't want you to lose that reminder."

"But Joshua… you are my hope."

Josh hugged him even tighter. "I love you so much, baby boy."

"I love you too, J." He loosened his grip on Josh, looking up at him and smiling. "Forever and always."

The older man smiled before pulling away. "Ty… I want to ask you something. When I first asked to be your Protector, I said I wanted to prove to you that you're beautiful, important and wanted. Have… have I done that for you?"

"Y-Yes…" Tyler whispered. "In so many ways."

Josh opened his mouth, hesitating for a second, before he spoke again. "Can I hear it from you?"

With a slow nod and a soft 'yes,' Josh took the opportunity to move so that he was facing Tyler directly, their hands intertwined with each other.

His voice came out softly, eyes in his lap, signifying more of a self-reflection than of any sort of avoidance. "I am beautiful."

Squeeze.

"I am important."

Squeeze.

"I am wanted."

Josh's hands moved to the back of Tyler's neck, pulling him a little closer as he pressed kiss after kiss to his forehead. "So proud of you," he breathed out. "So, so good for me, baby."

Mind reeling from all of the unexpected praise, the younger boy gave him a big, yet just as shy smile. "T-Thank you, J…"

"C'mere."

Tyler followed Josh back over to the landing wall, curling his body back up against Josh's. By this time, the sunrise was at its peak, decorating the sky with its bold colors and muted tones.

"So happy you dragged me out of the house to see this." Josh chuckled, eyes studying Tyler's profile. "I can't say I've ever watched a sunrise with a lover before."

"Now you can cross that off your bucket list." Tyler grinned. "We've had a lot of firsts, haven't we?" He tilted his head back to look up into Josh's eyes. "First kiss, first bath together, first pacifier, first trip, first of many "mischief" moments, first time abroad, first time meeting a not-so-dead Keeper, first time watching my best friend give birth…" He chuckled. "And our own first time… something that I'll never forget for the rest of my life."

"Jeez, I must have done a pretty good job then, huh?" Josh smiled when Tyler's cheeks turned red. "Seriously, though, this past year as your Protector has given me such a new… purpose in life. There's definitely been a lot of ups and downs but… we did it." He hugged Tyler close to him again, smushing the side of their faces together as he giggled just a little bit. "We did it, baby."

Tyler giggled at the contact before taking in all he had just said. "We did it," he echoed softly.

Josh stroked the side of Tyler's face. "I want to make so many more memories with you, Tyler. I hope you'll put up with me for another year." He stuck his tongue out at him.

"Well, you're my Protector, so I kinda have to," Tyler teased back before smiling. "Josh, I'll always keep your heart close to me until the day I die."

"And I'll always protect you." Josh picked up Tyler's hand and linked their pinkies together. "Pinky promise?"

He smiled, amazed that Josh had remembered such a seemingly small thing. "Pinky promise."

Josh ran his thumb across the younger boy's still-red Time Keeper symbol. Even through all the scars from razor blades and needles trying to make Tyler forget who he really was… it was still just as beautiful as the first time he had laid eyes on it. "Tyler?"

"Hm?" Tyler looked up at him with those same doe eyes, one thing Josh knew he could never forget.

"Are you with me?"

A smile, a soft sound and a tickticktick

"I'm with you."


- fin (fynn)