Actions

Work Header

The Silver Screen Dream

Chapter Text

Tyler went to the movie theater by himself. It was just his thing. 

It wasn't like he had no one else to go with. He had plenty of friends (okay, one or two friends) and lots of family members that he was close with. He definitely wasn't trying to avoid them or anything like that. Actually, he loved spending time with them. 

He just liked being by himself when he did certain things, and going to the movies on Saturday afternoons just happened to be one of those things. A lot of people thought he was weird for it, but he shrugged them off. He liked what he liked, and if anyone gave him trouble for it, he would just ignore them and google the movie times. 

He never had a specific one in mind when he went -- really, he couldn't care less what movie he ended up watching. He just liked the way it felt to be in the theater. He always had. There was something surreal about sitting in the dark, in a sea of neatly-lined chairs, listening to speakers that were way too loud and looking at a screen that was way too big. 

Plus, there was the bonus of actually getting some alone time. I mean, he loved his family, but there were definite consequences to dropping out of college and moving back home, and a lack of privacy was at the top of that list. 

In big, bold letters. 

It didn't take long for the staff at the theater to begin to recognize him. One time, he had simply asked for whatever movie had sold the least amount of tickets, and after that, the nice blonde girl who usually worked at the counter would let him know every week which movies were going to be the least crowded. She, of all people, seemed to understand.

It was just nice to be alone sometimes. 

So, as usual, on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon, Tyler found himself at the ticket counter, buying a solitary ticket for some cheesy sci-fi movie that had already been out for a few weeks. Tyler remembered seeing an ad for it one time -- it looked horribly unoriginal and it probably had way too much CGI, but whatever. Sometimes he had even more fun mentally complaining about bad movies than actually enjoying good ones. So it was kind of a win-win.

"You're in luck today," said the blonde girl with the bright blue eyes as she slid a small slip of paper across the counter (Tyler thought her name tag said "Jenna," but he wasn't sure and he didn't want to stare). "Looks like you're the only person to get a ticket for this one so far," she said with a smile. "You'll probably end up having the whole room to yourself."

Tyler smiled shyly in return and muttered a small "thanks," but inside, he was celebrating like it was midnight on New Year's Eve. Not New Year's Eve like he celebrated it, obviously -- he usually just stayed home alone and fell asleep on the couch watching old reruns of Friends (and yes, he understood the irony of that statement perfectly well, thank you). 

No, the party going on in Tyler's head when he heard that he would get to watch the whole movie completely alone was more like the obnoxious parties that he saw in teen movies, ones with drinking (which he didn't do) and dancing all night (which he didn't do) and hooking up with attractive strangers (which he definitely didn't do).

Basically, being in the theater alone was rare, and Tyler was beyond ready to enjoy every second of it. 

A few minutes later, he was sitting near the back of the theater, right in the middle of the row (his favorite spot), with a huge bucket of popcorn and a grin that was probably a little too wide for someone sitting in a movie theater completely alone. 

Tyler had just settled in for the room to darken and the ads to start playing when there was a harsh light towards the back of the room, and the door closed with a loud clang. 

Ugh. He had company. 

Oh well, he thought. He could deal with one person. It was still better than a crowd. One person? No problem. 

And then that one person walked in the room, turned down the aisle, and sat down right next to Tyler. 

Right next to him. 

Literally. 

Beside. Him. 

Tyler stared for a moment in disbelief. He looked around the room, making sure that the rest of the room was, in fact, completely and utterly empty, before staring at the stranger with his mouth hanging slightly open, wondering what on earth had just happened.

After a few moments, the stranger finally seemed to notice Tyler staring at him. "What?" he asked innocently. 

"Really?" Tyler asked, raising an eyebrow suspiciously. "The whole room's open, and you decided to sit right there?" 

"Well, yeah," the other man replied. It was dark, but Tyler could see the outline of messy hair (wait -- was it actually yellow?) and bright white teeth when he smiled. 

Wow. That was a smile. Even in the dark. 

Tyler ignored the sudden (and definitely, completely random) twist in his stomach. 

"Thought you might be lonely," the man continued, flashing another dizzying smile, one so big it made his eyes squint. 

Oh, man. 

Tyler decided that playing it cool was his best option. (Not that there was any reason that he wanted this guy to think he was cool, because there totally wasn't.) "Why," he smirked, "because I'm spending my Saturday afternoon alone at the movies?" 

"Pretty much," the stranger laughed. 

Tyler's stomach did a backflip at the sound.

"Well, how do you know I didn't want to be alone?" he countered coolly. "You did come up to me, after all." 

"Okay, maybe I'm lonely, then." The stranger grinned. Man, did this guy ever stop smiling? (Tyler hoped not.) He tilted his head a little, looking at Tyler with puppy dog eyes that probably could've convinced him to commit a murder. (And Tyler didn't even like dogs. He hated them, actually.)

Then, the man almost purred, "You gonna send me away?" 

Fireworks ran through Tyler's body, from head to toe and back again. 

Loud ones.

"Wouldn't dream of it," Tyler choked. "Popcorn?" 

The man smiled sweetly, his eyes doing the squinty thing again. (Yep. This was it. Tyler was gonna die.) "Sure," he said, grabbing a piece and tossing it in his mouth. 

The stranger's attention was snatched away as the movie started. He looked at the screen eagerly, still munching on the popcorn.

Tyler, on the other hand, was a little distracted. 

For the first ten minutes of the movie, all Tyler could think about was the man sitting next to him. The speakers were obnoxiously loud, but all he could hear were soft breaths next to him that made his heart race. The movie was one of the busiest he had ever watched, but all he could see was the knee slightly exposed by black ripped skinny jeans that was sitting mere inches from his own. 

Why was this guy so captivating? Tyler had come here to see a movie, dang it, so why was it so hard to even turn his face towards the screen? It's not like Tyler was interested in him or anything like that. In fact, he was most, most definitely straight, he was sure of it, he had never even slightly felt attracted to another ma--

"Hey," the stranger whispered, nudging Tyler's arm. 

"What?" Tyler responded, determinedly keeping his eyes glued to the screen. He wasn't sure why they were whispering -- they were the only ones in the room, after all -- but he found himself mimicking the other man's quiet tone.

"Do you wanna make out?" 

Tyler nearly choked on his popcorn. "W-what?!" he sputtered, any inclination to stay quiet completely and utterly destroyed. He turned in an attempt to gauge the stranger's expression, sure that it must be some kind of weird joke, but the face staring back at him with slightly raised eyebrows and an inquiring look seemed anything but deceptive. 

Tyler sat there with his mouth hanging slightly open, waiting for some kind of explanation until he realized that the other guy was waiting for a fricking answer. "Are y -- are you serious?!" Tyler managed to stutter.

"Sometimes," the man smirked, flashing a crooked smile that sent a definite jolt of something through Tyler's body. 

"Um, I'm not -- I mean, I'm, uh, flattered, I guess? But I mean, I'm -- I'm, uh, kind of -- straight." Gosh, Tyler thought. Why was that so hard to say? 

"Me too," the other guy shrugged. "At least, as far as I know."

Tyler stared at him. "Then, why --?"

"C'mon," he grinned. "People make out in movie theaters all the time. At least, they seem to do it all the time in movies." He chuckled. "Kind of ironic, I guess. But don't you want to know what it's like?" 

"What?" Tyler began cautiously. "Making out with someone in a movie theater, or -- or making out with -- with a guy?"

"Mmmm. . ." The other man scrunched up his face in concentration. Gosh, that was cute. (Wait -- did Tyler just think that?) "Both," he answered finally. "I mean, I haven't done either, so yeah. Both. So, do you want to?"

"You don't just -- ask random people if they want to make out," Tyler argued in shock. "I'm pretty sure that's not -- that's not how it works." 

"Well, like I said, I'm new at this. I don't know the protocol. You still haven't answered my question, though. Do you wanna make out?" 

No. Tyler was definitely going to say no. Any sane person would say no. 

"I. . . don't know." 

Dang it.

Tyler wasn't sure what he expected from that kind of answer, but the other man just nodded, understanding. "Well," he suggested, "what's the worst that could happen? We try it, it's weird, and we never do it again, or. . ." he trailed off suggestively.

"Or what?" Tyler asked quietly, his heart pounding. 

"Or we like it, and we don't have to pay attention to this awful movie." There was that smile again. The one with the squinty eyes.

It was around this time that Tyler realized how utterly impossible it would be to say no to this man.

Tyler paused. "It is a pretty horrible movie, isn't it?" 

The stranger laughed. "Yeah, it is. So," he began, tentatively looking Tyler in the eye, "should I take that as a yes?" 

Tyler couldn't took believe he was even considering this. He took a deep breath, raking his fingers quickly through his hair. "Y'know," he sighed, "if you tell anyone about this, I'll probably have to kill you." 

"Dude, I don't even know you," the guy snickered. "Who am I gonna tell?" 

There was a moment where they both sat there, staring at each other and wondering what exactly was going to happen next. And then that moment was over, and Tyler's fingers were twisted in curly hair and strong arms were wrapped around his shoulders and he was kissing this guy with everything he had. And the other man was kissing back, and his lips were so much softer than Tyler thought they would be, and as their faces were pressed together with as much urgency as they both could muster, he felt a small touch of metal and thought numbly, "He has a nose ring," and Tyler wondered why that thought echoed through his mind and sent chills through his body and made him completely ignore the fact that he was kissing a guy -- a guy that he didn't even know -- and that he was loving every second of it.

And he continued to love every second of it for approximately one hour and fifty-three minutes, which was apparently when the movie ended. 

Tyler had never been more disappointed in his life. 

Because when the movie ended, the lights in the theater came on, and they finally had to pull away, breathless and frazzled.

And then Tyler saw his companion's face with the lights on. 

Tyler almost cursed. (Which he never did.)

He was looking at the most attractive man he had ever seen. 

And he didn't even find men attractive. 

Well.

Not until now, apparently.

Because Tyler was looking at highlighter-yellow hair and dark brown eyes and a beautiful everything and he wondered how anyone could ever look at this guy without completely losing it ("it" being roughly equivalent to "heterosexuality"). 

And Tyler had just made out with this guy.

"Wow," Tyler breathed, unable to even think anything else, much less put together an intelligent sentence. 

"Wow," the other man agreed, and they both smiled somewhat shyly despite the fact that their tongues had been down each other's throats only moments before.

And before they could say anything else, the door made a loud clang, followed by the entrance of a skinny white dude with a broom. Both boys scrambled out of their seats as quickly as possible, looking like something in between high schoolers getting caught by their parents and a couple of deer staring down the headlights of a car. 

They stood there nervously for a few seconds before the employee (who looked remarkably like the cello kid from High School Musical) took one look at their disheveled appearances and said, "Whatever, man. I'm just here to sweep," in an utterly impassive tone. 

"Oh. R-right. We, uh, we should -- should go," Tyler stuttered as the other man nodded in assent. They both made to leave, but collided into each other as they attempted to go down the row in opposite ways. Both men chuckled nervously as they came face-to-face, and Tyler grew warm as the stranger's arms held him in place, stopping him from falling over (but for some reason, Tyler's insides felt like he was falling anyway).

"Sorry, I was just -- I didn't mean to --"

"No, it's -- me neither, I was --"

"Cause it was time -- to leave, y'know, and I --"

"Yeah, I guess we just -- went the wrong way, and --"

"Thanks for -- um --" Tyler gestured vaguely to the other man's arms. 

"Oh, I should -- I should probably let go, huh?" He grinned, letting Tyler go and bringing his hands awkwardly back down to his sides. 

Tyler missed the feeling. 

As they nervously stepped apart and walked towards the exit, he wondered if it would be weird to ask the other man to put his arms back around him. Probably, he decided. But then, they had just been making out at the other man's request, so maybe not. 

Too bad Tyler was a coward. 

In fact, the more Tyler thought about it, he had never done a brave thing in his life. He wrote music, but he never showed anyone. He liked people, but he never approached them. He wanted to do things -- to go places, to climb things, to inspire people -- but he never did. 

And then this guy showed up. And he had wanted to kiss Tyler. And Tyler had wanted to kiss him. 

And he fricking did it.

Just like that. 

Tyler smiled to himself proudly, running his hand through his hair as he tried to convince himself that oh my gosh that just happened. 

Of course, he hadn't really considered what would happen next, and now they were outside, awkwardly frozen in time as next stared them in the face, and it seemed that neither one of them really knew what to do with it. It was a few minutes before the other man spoke. (Tyler was a coward.)

"So, that, uh -- that was. . ." The man trailed off, either unsure of what he wanted to say or unsure of what Tyler wanted him to say. 

"Unexpected?" Tyler offered, and they both let out a nervous giggle. 

"I was, uh -- well, I was gonna say 'fun,' but that works, too." The man smiled, and now that Tyler could see him clearly, he wondered how he was still standing. Watching that man smile felt like realizing that the earth is moving at 67,000 mph and thinking about what would happen if gravity wasn't there to hold you down. 

But it was also starting to feel like maybe he was the gravity. And Tyler didn't know what to think about that. 

Then, the man's phone buzzed suddenly, and he looked at it with wide eyes and a muttered curse. "Oh, man, I -- I have to go. I'm so sorry, I totally forgot, I have to pick my sister up at the airport, and she's gonna kill me if I'm late." He looked at Tyler with apologetic eyes, and Tyler wondered vaguely how he had managed to get so far gone in the course of one day. "I'm so sorry, though, I really wish I didn't have to --"

"Oh, no, it's fine," Tyler assured him, and he meant it. He didn't know how to handle the situation from here, anyway, and even though his chest ached at the thought of the other man leaving, Tyler knew he probably needed some time alone to figure out his new feelings before he did something he'd really regret. I mean, really, if this guy managed to get him to first base in less than fifteen minutes, who knows how much farther Tyler would've gone if they spent any more time together? (Hint: Tyler knows. And it's more than enough to make him blush.) 

Tyler cleared his throat awkwardly and continued, smiling shyly and talking way too fast. "Really, though, I don't wanna get in the way of your plans. And," he added with a quiet chuckle, "I'd kind of prefer it if you didn't die."

"Why?" the man replied, biting his lip and offering a crooked smile. "You got plans?" His voice was a low growl now, and Tyler was melting in every way possible. The man smirked at Tyler's open mouth, proudly grinning as he realized that 1. Tyler had temporarily lost the ability to speak and 2. it was all thanks to him. 

"I'm Josh, by the way," he said, graciously giving Tyler a chance to recover. "I would've told you that earlier, but, uh, I guess we were a little busy." He was being cocky now, and Tyler should've hated it. (Spoiler alert: Tyler loved it.)

"Josh," Tyler whispered, blushing again when he realized he had just said his name out loud, or maybe when he realized how lovingly he had sighed it. Josh. He wanted to repeat it again, to keep saying it over and over, to roll it around in his mouth until he had memorized the taste. 

It took a few moments for Tyler to realize that Josh was looking at him expectantly, probably waiting for him to introduce himself in return. 

"Oh, right! My, uh -- I mean, I'm -- I'm Tyler." Ugh. Why was he acting like such an idiot? The one time he meets someone that he actually wants to impress, and suddenly he loses the ability to form an intelligent sentence. 

Josh didn't seem to mind, though. If anything, he seemed delighted by Tyler's obvious infatuation with him, and the more Tyler stumbled, the more Josh smiled. Which, of course, only made Tyler lose it even more. 

Maybe they were perfect for each other, Tyler thought. 

And maybe that thought made him shiver. 

But maybe it also made him feel a little braver. 

"Well, Tyler, I should get going, but maybe I'll see you around sometime." Josh smiled and backed up a few steps, lingering a little too long before turning to walk towards his car. 

And then Tyler was crashing down from his Josh-induced high, all the butterflies in his stomach falling cold to the ground in one horrible, chilling moment. 

And then he thought about never seeing Josh again; about never feeling all of the terrifying, inexplicable, wonderful feelings that had become Tyler's new normal in the last two hours;  about letting Josh walk away and regretting it for the rest of his life. 

And then he realized why Josh had lingered before walking away. 

Your move, he could almost hear him say.

"W-wait!" He ran across the parking lot, catching up to Josh just as he was about to open his car door. Right before he looked up, Tyler saw a trace of -- what? sadness? disappointment? – on Josh’s face before it was replaced by another glowing smile. Tyler wasn't sure why it had been there (because it couldn’t have possibly had anything to do with the fact that Tyler had almost let him walk away forever), but it was not smiling and he never wanted to see it again. It wasn't right for Josh to be anything but perfectly, incandescently happy (and yes, maybe Tyler was thinking about Pride and Prejudice a little bit when he thought that, because maybe it was his sister's favorite movie, and maybe he had actually watched it a few times, and maybe he had cried just a little bit at the end).

And then he heard a soft hum and realized that Josh was looking at him with those beautiful, expectant eyes again, and Tyler was standing there like an idiot again. 

Tyler didn't even know what he was saying until the words came pouring out of his mouth. "I was -- um -- I was thinking about -- about maybe going to see that new superhero movie tomorrow night." He took a deep breath, finally daring to look Josh in the eye. "Maybe -- maybe I'll see you there."

Josh grinned. "Maybe you will."

Tyler tried and utterly failed to hide his excitement. He smiled when he walked to his car, he smiled while he drove home, he smiled when he sang along to the radio (a little louder than usual), and he smiled when he walked through the door to his parents' house. 

And when his brother suspiciously asked him what he was so happy about, Tyler just smiled and said it had been a really good movie. 

Chapter Text

Tyler was nervous.

After the initial high of spending time with Josh had worn off (except that it didn't really wear off, per se; it just kind of went into remission), Tyler was left with a hollow feeling (that may or may not have been related to Josh's absence) and about a million questions. 

The first being, "WHAT THE HECK?"

Like, really. 

What. The. Actual. Heck. 

He, Tyler Robert Joseph, Good Christian Boy™ and notorious heterosexual, had kissed another man.

Passionately.

A complete stranger, no less. 

And he couldn't even bring himself to regret it. (Believe me: he tried for, like, an hour.)

In fact, it may have even been -- no. It was, by far, the best kiss he'd ever had. 

A man.

Who would've thought? 

Certainly not Tyler. 

Certainly not Tyler's family.

Tyler's family, who thought he was hanging out with a fictional friend right now because he wasn't sure how they would react to him kissing a boy, let alone enjoying it. Because even though he knew that his family loved him, that they wanted him to be happy, he couldn't bring himself to tell them what had actually happened. 

Or that he had planned to see Josh again. 

Which was another issue. 

Why the heck did he not just ask for Josh's number?

Any normal person would have just asked for his number. But Tyler wasn't exactly normal.

Normal people don't kiss strangers in movie theaters. 

And apparently they don't ask for said stranger's number afterwards, either. 

(Reminder: Tyler was a coward.)

Who knew if Josh was even gonna be able to come tonight? What if something else came up, and they never saw each other again? He didn't even know Josh's last name, after all. This was their only chance. And what if he did show up? Would they kiss again? Or would Josh change his mind? (For some reason, Tyler didn't wonder if he would change his own mind.)

And then the big one: 

Was this a date?

Tyler certainly didn't know what to do if the answer was yes. 

But he wasn't sure if he could handle the thought of it being no. 

So, yeah. Tyler was nervous. 

Actually, he was terrified.

But he was here. And that was something. 

Well. 

He was in the parking lot. 

So he was pretty close. 

It was normal to have an existential crisis before going inside to meet the guy you made out with the day before, right? 

He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed, muttering a quiet "Well, you've made it this far" to himself before finally stepping out of the car and approaching the ticket window. (He definitely hadn't gotten here nearly two hours early. Nope. And if he did, it definitely wasn't because he needed to see Josh again more than he needed to breathe. Because he totally didn't.)

When he made it to the counter, he saw that the blonde girl -- Jenna -- was working again tonight, which calmed him down a little. She was a constant. Constants were good. Constants were safe. 

He waited for the couple in front of him to buy their tickets (and he definitely wasn't thinking about what it would be like if he came here with Josh like that, if Josh held his hand like that, if he leaned in close and whispered things in his ear like that, if Josh gave him quick kisses on his cheek and made him blush and giggle like that) and then he heard a polite, "Sir?" and Jenna was looking right at him, and she must have said something, but Tyler didn't have a clue what it was. He looked up, startled, and saw that the couple was long gone and it was his turn and he was just standing there, daydreaming about a boy. He blushed furiously as if everyone could tell what he had been thinking about and quickly stepped up to the counter, muttering a quiet, "Sorry."

Jenna laughed softly. "I just said that I don't usually see you here at night." She paused for a second, taking in Tyler's floral button-up shirt and black skinny jeans (not that he had dressed up more than usual, because he most definitely had not) before adding, "Must be a special occasion" with a knowing smile.

It took Tyler a moment to realize what she meant, but when he did, he blushed even harder and sputtered, "N-no, I didn't -- I mean, I wasn't -- it's not --"

"Not a date?" Jenna offered, politely ignoring Tyler's sudden inability to function. 

"Yeah. Yes. I mean -- no. No, it's not. A-a date, I mean."

Tyler mentally slapped himself. He might as well have screamed, "OMG EVERYBODY, GUESS WHO'S GOING ON A DATE? NOT ME, BUT I'D SURE LIKE TO BE." 

And, well. It wouldn't have been a complete lie. 

Maybe he did dress up a little bit. 

But just a little bit.

Jenna looked a little surprised when he told her what movie he was here for (it definitely was not the least crowded), but she complied with another knowing smile, and if Tyler seemed like he was looking for someone while she printed the ticket (hint: he was), then she either didn't notice or simply decided not to comment. 

Tyler's eyes may or may not have continued to drift towards the door while he bought his popcorn and made his way through the theater. Once he found the right room, he immediately scanned the crowd for bright yellow hair. After lingering in the doorway for far too long, he sank down in the back row, disappointed. 

Maybe Josh was just late. 

Or maybe he wasn't coming. 

Tyler sighed and crammed a fistful of popcorn in his mouth. It shouldn't bother him this much. He shouldn't care if some random guy shows up for something that isn't even a proper date. He shouldn't care about a guy in the first place.

It was better this way, if Josh didn't show up. 

Why would he, anyway? 

Why would Josh -- confident, funny, beautiful Josh -- ever care a thing for someone like Tyler? 

Tyler, who could barely speak a word around Josh. Tyler, whose hobbies included making music in his parents' basement and going to the movie theater by himself. 

Tyler, who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. 

That must've been it. Josh had felt like -- like experimenting, or whatever you wanna call it, and Tyler just happened to be there. They happened to be in the theater alone, and Josh happened to get the idea, and that was it. It was over now. No -- it wasn't even over, because there had never really been anything to begin with. 

But. 

If it was nothing, then why did Tyler feel so alone right now?

If it was nothing, then why did he even come back here? 

If it was nothing, then why did Tyler look up suddenly to see a boy with bright yellow hair and a squinty-eyes smile walk up and take the seat next to him? 

"Is this seat taken?" Josh asked playfully and sat down anyway, grinning like a little kid at Disney world. But as soon as he saw Tyler's shocked expression, his face fell. "Hey, are -- are you okay?" he asked in a soft voice. 

It was another moment before Tyler managed to speak. "Y-yeah, sorry, I just -- I didn't --"

Dang it. Why did all of Tyler's feelings have to be so complicated?

"You didn't what?" Josh asked soothingly, and the concerned expression on his face made Tyler's stomach flip in a completely new way. 

"I didn't think you'd show up," Tyler finished in a quiet voice. 

"Are you kidding me?" Josh asked with a bright smile. "I've heard great things about this movie," he continued, his voice getting lower with each word, "and I would absolutely love to miss every second of it."

It would have been a textbook flirting moment if he hadn't hurriedly added, "But, I mean, only if you want to -- I didn't mean to pressure you or anything like that, I mean, it's not like we have to -- to do anything if you don't want to, I just thought that -- maybe -- you would, but it's okay, I mean, you probably don't want to --"

"NO!" Wow, that was louder than Tyler thought it would be. He mouthed a quiet "Sorry" to the couple in front of them (who had turned around and given him a withering look of disapproval), and turned back to Josh with renewed (but much quieter) enthusiasm. "I mean, no, I-I do. Want to, I mean."

Tyler took another look around the room, noticing the crowd with a sudden jolt that was something in between fear and disappointment. He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed, "But, I mean -- I didn't know it would be so crowded. . ."

Josh chuckled. "Well, what does that have to do with us?"

Tyler blinked. "Well, it -- I mean, we can't -- we'd get caught."

"Nah," Josh stretched his arms up, casually reaching around and settling one around Tyler's shoulder. 

If the room suddenly caught on fire, Tyler probably wouldn't notice. 

Josh continued as if nothing had changed, leaning in a little closer and whispering, "We'll just have to be extra quiet."

Tyler shivered. 

And it definitely wasn't cold in this room. 

Like, at all. 

When the lights went off in the theater and the ads started playing, their eyes locked together, and the wall of doubt that Tyler's anxiety had been building shattered like glass. As he sat there with Josh's arm around him, looking him straight in the eye, Tyler should have felt nervous. He should have felt guilty, or anxious, or terrified like he did earlier, but now that Josh was here, he felt safer than he had ever felt in his life. 

So, he kept looking. He memorized the shape of Josh's face, the way the light from the screen lit up his features in a soft glow that seemed to suit his smile perfectly. He admired the way his eyes always seemed to be smiling, even if his mouth wasn't, and how it looked like he hadn't shaved this morning, and Tyler imagined reaching a hand out and softly stroking Josh's cheek, just to see what it felt like. 

It took a few moments for Tyler to realize that he did not imagine doing that. 

He just did it. 

In real life. 

His hand was literally on Josh's face. 

Oops.

As soon as he realized what he'd done, Tyler blushed more than he thought was even possible and quickly drew his hand away, immediately looking down because he couldn't bear to see how weirded out Josh had to be right now. 

He was on the verge of stumbling out an awkward apology when he felt a hand under his chin, softly bringing his gaze up to see that Josh was smiling

It wasn't a mocking smile. Josh wasn't laughing at him, or trying to make him feel less embarrassed, or even just being polite. 

It was awe. 

It was happiness. 

It was pure affection. 

Tyler watched in wonder as Josh reached for his hand and placed it gently back on his own face. As Josh leaned forward, looking at Tyler like he was the most beautiful piece of art he'd ever seen, and paused, looking between Tyler's eyes and his lips. Asking permission, Tyler realized. 

The most beautiful person in the world was asking permission to kiss him.

He could've laughed, it was so unreal. 

Instead, he closed the gap between them, pressing his lips to Josh's like it was the only thing he had ever really wanted to do. 

And maybe it was. 

It was different this time, slower. And true, that was partially because they were trying to be quiet, but Tyler also got the feeling that this time, there was no hurry -- whatever this was between him and Josh, it clearly wasn't going anywhere, and they had all the time in the world to enjoy it. 

And oh, they enjoyed it. 

They enjoyed soft touches, hands grazing shoulders and fingertips gliding along knees, leaving a trail of fireworks behind with each new source of contact. They enjoyed quiet giggles and foreheads resting against each other when they needed to catch their breath or when they accidentally got too loud and elicited harsh whispers from the people across the row. They enjoyed the feeling of their lips working together, pure and electrifying and so in sync that they must have been made for each other, because how else could two people fit together so perfectly?

When the movie ended, the two boys pulled apart, but neither made any move to get up. The credits rolled and everyone else obediently filed out of the room, but Tyler couldn't bring himself to tear his gaze away from the messy-haired, blushing boy next to him, and it was clear that Josh felt the same. 

"I don't want this to be over," Tyler whispered, even though by this point they were the only ones in the room. 

"Then don't let it," Josh whispered back, reaching up to stroke Tyler's cheek. 

He smiled ruefully. "I think they're gonna want us to leave eventually."

"Who says we have to stay here?" Josh countered, grinning at Tyler's raised eyebrows. "Let's go somewhere -- anywhere, I don't care. I just want to be with you."

Tyler's heart started beating faster. This was it. He knew it. If he decided to do something else with Josh -- something that wasn't just masking out during a movie -- he would fall even harder than he had already. They would talk, and he would get to know the boy behind that beautiful face, and if he was being honest with himself, he knew that by the end of the day, he would be in love. 

And if he fell in love with this boy, he would have to admit that it wasn't just a fluke, that it wasn't just some casual make-out session. He would have to admit that it was real. And that meant that he would have to admit that he wasn't as straight as he thought he was -- as his family thought he was. 

Was he ready to do that? 

"Hey -- you okay?" 

Tyler may not have realized how fast his breathing had gotten, but it seemed that Josh most definitely had. Tyler looked up and saw that Josh was staring at him with such genuine concern that Tyler was pretty sure his heart actually started to melt. 

Tyler was already gone, and he knew it. 

He smiled and stood up, reaching for Josh's hand and pulling him up so that they were standing only inches apart. Tyler took a moment to admire the boy across from him before grabbing him by the shirt and pulling him in for a quick, messy kiss. Then, he pulled away, barely enough to whisper, "Lead the way."

It took Josh a moment to catch his breath (and, okay, maybe Tyler felt a little twinge of pride at being able to fluster him so easily), and then they were walking out of the theater together, hand in hand, and getting into Josh's car and driving, neither of them knew where. But Josh had been right about that -- Tyler didn't even think about where they were or where they were going. 

All he cared about was staring at a boy with bright yellow hair, his arms draped across the steering wheel like a high school kid trying to look cool in front of his girlfriend. A boy who had taken his jacket off to reveal a breathtaking tattoo enveloping his right arm, all swirls and tree branches and stars that Tyler could only describe as emotion made into color. A boy who apparently listened to Blink-182 in the car and quietly sang the words to himself like he didn't even know he was doing it, like he had listened to each song so many times that singing along had simply become a habit.

Every so often, Josh would look over at Tyler, just for a moment (because despite having every reason to be distracted, he was a very responsible driver). Every time he did, he had this look on his face -- something between awe and surprise, like he was living in a dream and he had to keep looking at the boy next to him to convince himself it was all real. 

And really, that was the only way to describe it, Tyler thought. None of this seemed like real life. It was too weird, too unexpected, too perfect to be anything but a dream. 

And yet here he was, sitting next to the most perfect person he'd ever met. 

And all it took was one look in Josh's eyes to know that he was thinking exactly the same thing about Tyler.

At this point, Tyler didn't even care if this was real or not. Dreams, hallucinations, elaborate drug-induced simulations like in The Matrix -- he would take any of it if it meant getting to be here with Josh.

They ended up going to Taco Bell.

Needless to say, if Tyler didn't already think that Josh was a perfect human being, he was pretty much convinced of it now. 

And all he could think about when they first walked in, sitting across from each other in a booth, was how weird he should have felt about this. He should have been nervous about talking to Josh beyond the comfort (and complete darkness) of the movie theater, but he felt more at ease than he had ever felt in his life. He should have felt guilty about not telling his family who he was really with, what he was really doing, but none of this felt wrong. He should have felt worried about whether or not this was a date, about what it meant for him and his sexuality, but all he felt was mildly curious (in more ways than one). 

And then they started talking. And every word that came out of Josh's mouth felt like falling in love. 

Tyler learned that Josh had grown up in a religious family, just like him, and that he had two sisters and a brother (the opposite of him). He learned that Josh's parents had been pretty strict when he was growing up, but that he had never really resented them for it, and they all got along pretty well despite his tendency during high school to sneak out of the house to go to rock concerts (he had been grounded for a month, he said, but it was still the best concert he'd ever been to, so it was totally worth it). 

He learned that Josh's favorite TV show was The X-Files, and Tyler got to watch his eyes light up with excitement as he went on a thirty minute rant about how the universe is so massive and we don't even understand half of it, and there could totally be so many aliens out there and we wouldn't even know it because they could be so different from us that we might not even recognize them as actual life forms

(It was nerdy and completely adorable.)

He also learned that Josh liked to play the drums, and that he hadn't even considered going to college because he already knew what he wanted to do with his life. He learned that music had helped Josh through his anxiety, and that he didn't think he would've survived high school without it. He learned that what Josh wanted more than anything was to do the same thing for others, to provide people with a source of comfort and hope and encouragement, to make music that would be there for people when they really needed it. 

In other words, Tyler learned that Josh was the bravest, kindest, funniest, and (let's be real here) hottest person he had ever met in his life. 

It wasn't often that Tyler was able to open up to people (I mean, he did everything alone for a reason), but with Josh, everything was different. He found himself practically pouring out his soul to this man. Tyler had been right earlier when he suspected that he'd never be able to say no to him -- anything Josh asked, Tyler answered eagerly, high on the idea that someone as beautiful and perfect as Josh genuinely wanted to get to know him. 

Tyler told Josh about how he had dropped out of college because none of it felt right, because he had only gone in the first place because that's what you're supposed to do after high school (and because that's what his parents expected him to do). How they were disappointed when he first told them about his decision, but they had relented the moment they realized how much he needed to not be there. 

Tyler told him about how terrifying it had been to drop out without any sort of backup plan, but how it was even more terrifying when he admitted to himself what he really wanted to be doing. How he had never felt more complete than when he was sitting in his basement writing music, and how there was a part of him that wanted to pursue it, a part of him that knew it was the only thing he'd ever really be happy doing. 

How he had never admitted that out loud before. And how, now that he had, he knew how true it was.

How he knew, deep down, that he wanted the same thing Josh wanted. To inspire people. To give them hope through music -- the kind of music that had helped Josh work through his anxiety, that had helped Tyler survive his depression. 

His depression. 

He never talked about that. Not to his friends. Not to his family. Not to anyone. 

But he talked to Josh about it. 

His hands were shaking and his voice trembled, but he talked about it. 

And Josh listened. 

He listened. He understood. And when Tyler's voice broke, Josh reached out and placed a comforting hand on his arm, rubbing his thumb in a calming circle over and over until Tyler could breathe normally again. 

They talked and talked and talked. They talked about everything -- their deepest fears, their best memories, their favorite cereal -- and Tyler never wanted it to stop. 

It wasn't until a tired-looking employee walked over and told them that they were closing in a few minutes that Tyler realized how late it was. 

Or rather, how early. 

Taco Bell closes at 3:00 am.

Oops. 

Tyler didn't exactly have a curfew, but he also hadn't exactly told his family he'd be out this late. 

Which meant that they were gonna ask questions. 

About who he was with. 

About what they were doing. 

In conclusion, this was not going to be a pleasant conversation. 

Tyler almost started worrying about it, but he realized that that would mean diverting some of his previous energy away from Josh, and he was most definitely not willing to do that. 

Josh was way too important. 

So, instead of having a meltdown in a deserted fast food restaurant at three in the morning, Tyler calmly walked to the car with Josh.

Instead of succumbing to his anxiety, Tyler noticed how the first thing that Josh did after they walked outside was look up at the stars, and he wondered how anything else could be so pure. 

He also looked down and realized that they must've started holding hands at some point, but he had no idea when. It felt so natural, so right for his hand to be wrapped around Josh's that their fingers just seemed to have become intertwined of their own accord. So, when Tyler finally did notice, he didn't pull away. He just smiled and held on a little tighter. 

They were forced to separate when they got to the car, but Tyler didn't have to be disappointed for too long. Instead of making his way to the driver's seat, Josh quickly jumped in front of Tyler and opened his door for him, blushing a little afterward as if he hadn't known what he was doing until after he had done it. Tyler realized after a moment that Josh was worried about embarrassing him -- he was probably used to opening doors for female dates, but, well. . . Like Josh had said the day before, they were both new to this. They didn't know the protocol. 

Heck, Tyler still didn't even know if this was a date. 

But he did know that Josh opening his door for him gave him more butterflies than every dang meadow and garden in the country combined. 

So, yeah. He decided that opening doors was definitely part of the protocol. 

And right after that, he decided that holding hands in the car was part of the protocol, too. 

Because they totally did that. 

And it totally rocked. 

Even though it was late and Josh desperately wanted to drop Tyler off at home, Tyler convinced him to just go back to the theater where he had left his car. Tyler had decided that he didn't need to provoke his family's suspicion by showing up in an attractive stranger's car at 3:00 am, so he politely declined Josh's offer to take him straight home --

Straight, he realized. 

That was an interesting word. 

Tyler was straight. Wasn't he? 

Except for Josh.

Who was also straight. 

Tyler had never really thought about labels before -- he'd never really needed to -- but now, it felt like they were all swimming around in his head, taunting him, scaring him. 

What would he even tell his parents, if it came to that? Was he actually gay? He'd never been attracted to men before Josh. Did that mean he was bisexual? Or was it more complicated than that?

He wished that he could talk through this with someone, someone who wouldn't judge him for not knowing his own sexual orientation, someone who knew what it was like to question things, who would be able to --

Oh. 

Tyler looked at the yellow-haired boy next to him. 

Josh knew. 

As they pulled into the movie theater parking lot, Tyler made his decision. 

"Josh?" he asked tentatively as the car came to a stop. 

"Hmm?" Josh turned to face him, and for a moment Tyler considered abandoning the conversation just so he could obsess over how pretty Josh's eyes were. Oh, man. They were so pretty. And his eyelashes were so dark and long and --

Focus, Tyler. Focus.  

"Is this -- are we --" he struggled to find the words. How could he make this sound right?  He knew that Josh would understand, that he would react kindly no matter what (I mean, he was literally the nicest person on the planet), but he still didn't want to make Josh feel weird about any of this. He needed to be polite, respectful. 

"Is this a gay thing?" he finally blurted out. 

Or he could just say that. 

Josh chuckled. "What do you mean?" He casually reached out a hand and started fidgeting with Tyler's hair. For sure, that was going to be protocol. "Like, is it possible for two guys to make out all the time and still be straight?"

Tyler nodded shyly. (He couldn't quite work up to actual speech with Josh's fingers still twisting through his hair. Gosh, that felt nice.)

"Well," Josh began slowly, "I mean, do you feel attracted to me?"

Tyler chuckled. "That would be the understatement of the year." 

Okay. So, he said that out loud. 

Josh blushed almost as much as Tyler did.

Tyler continued hesitantly, "Do you -- I mean, do you feel --?"

"I think you're the most beautiful person I've ever seen, Ty," Josh answered softly, bringing his hand down and gently rubbing his thumb across Tyler's cheek. 

Tyler wasn't sure if he would ever get used to the various jolts, chills, and twists that his body experienced every time Josh spoke (or laughed, or smiled, or mildly existed, etc.), and this was no exception.

In other words, every fricking cell of his body was hardcore partying right now. 

It took them both a few minutes to recover. 

AKA, they both spent a few minutes blushing and gazing adoringly into each other's eyes like a couple of lovestruck teenagers before Tyler finally regained the capacity of speech. 

"So. . . Where does that leave us?" Tyler asked quietly. "Like, we just happen to be two completely straight guys who also happen to be 100% gay for each other?"

Josh leaned over and kissed Tyler's jawline, whispering, "That sounds good to me," as he started pressing a few smiling kisses down his neck. 

They didn't talk much after that. 

AKA, they made out for a solid half an hour before Tyler dragged himself away and drove home with a huge smile on his face and Josh's number proudly entered into his phone. 

When he got home, he managed to sneak inside without waking anyone up, despite having absolutely no experience with teenage rebellion. Which, like pretty much everything, reminded him of Josh. Which might have made him spend a much longer time than he'd like to admit trying to picture a 17-year-old Josh sneaking out of his bedroom window to go to a Blink-182 concert. Which was incredibly hot. 

That night, Tyler spent a long time turning the day over in his head, going back through every detail of what had happened until he was absolutely sure that it was permanently etched into his memory. 

And when he finally fell asleep, Tyler dreamed of a boy with bright yellow hair and squinty-eyed smiles. 

Of course, in the dream, Josh was an alien who was trying to convince Tyler to go to the beach with him so he could help him repair his spaceship (which actually turned out to be a giant snow cone).

But Tyler thought it was romantic as all heck anyway. 

Chapter Text

Tyler almost got away with it. 

He woke up the next morning absolutely convinced that the past two days had been a dream, because how else could he explain something (or someone) so undeniably perfect?

And then he checked his phone. 

Seven new messages. 

All from Josh.

All from last night.

I miss you already

wow that sounded really needy I'm so sorry

I mean it's true but I didn't mean for it to sound so needy

please don't hate me

oh gosh that made it even worse

I promise I'm not a creepy person

good night ty

Tyler almost laughed out loud. 

Well. 

He kind of did laugh out loud. 

What he almost did was jump out of bed and dance around the room in every way he knew how (and yes, that did unfortunately include twerking).

Josh had missed him. 

Josh had missed him less than an hour after he left. 

And he called him "Ty."

He usually hated it when people called him that. 

But now he was thinking about legally changing his name, because wow he liked the idea of Josh calling him that. Really, Josh could call him whatever he wanted and Tyler would think it was absolutely perfe--

Oh, snap, he realized suddenly. 

He had to reply. 

What on earth was he supposed to say? 

Josh was perfect and funny and wonderful and Tyler was an idiot.

This was not going to be good. 

Okay. Deep breaths. Just say something. 

. . .

Nothing. He had nothing. 

Should he play it cool? Say something funny? Something flirty (if he was even capable of that)? Should he just say that he missed Josh too? (Because oh Lord, he did.)

What were you supposed to say when the most perfect person in the world texted you?

He took a deep breath (or two. Or twelve.) and decided to stop worrying and just do it. It was Josh, after all. Josh was safe. 

I miss you more.

And if that was you being needy, then you should do it more often because it was completely adorable. 

Also, you don't mind asking a random stranger to make out with you, but now you're worried about being creepy? Interesting

And then, after a moment of hesitation, he added one more. 

I really, really like you. 

Several minutes later, his phone vibrated with a reply.

even after all my creepy texts? 

Tyler smiled. 

Especially after all your creepy texts.

good to know ;)

He had to wait almost thirty minutes before even attempting to go downstairs because he couldn't stop himself from smiling like an idiot and he knew his family would get suspicious. Even then, he couldn't quite get it to go away, so he just had to go with it and hope that no one would ask why he looked like he had just won the lottery. (Or maybe that times a hundred. Or a hundred thousand. Something like that.)

And then he walked downstairs. 

"What are you so happy about?"

Okay, so maybe he didn't even come close to getting away with it. 

Why did that boy have to make him so darn happy? 

"It's nothing, Mom," he replied unconvincingly. It was kind of hard to make someone think everything was completely normal when you were still smiling brighter than every dang star in the universe. 

"Doesn't look like nothing," his mom persisted as she stood in the kitchen, washing dishes. "Looks like you're pretty excited about something."

"What, so I'm not allowed to be in a good mood?" He went over to the counter to grab a box of cereal. Reese's puffs. 

Josh's favorite. 

He smiled even bigger. 

"Of course you're allowed, it's just that --" she stopped abruptly, as if she had something to say, but had decided not to. 

His brother Zack, unfortunately, had not inherited their mother's tact.

"It's just that you're, like, never happy about anything," his brother stated bluntly, speaking through a mouthful of cereal. 

"Zack," his mom scolded. 

"What?" he mumbled with a shrug. "It's true."

"I'm happy about plenty," Tyler countered defensively. "Today, I just happen to be extra happy about -- you know -- stuff." Ugh. Why did he have to be so pathetically transparent? 

If he was going to have a secret boyfriend, he really needed to work on his lying skills. 

Wait. 

Did he just use the b-word?

That was interesting. 

Boyfriend. 

Wow. 

He'd never really thought about that word before.

He liked it. 

A lot.  

"Also, why are you staring at that box of cereal like you wanna marry it?" Zack's voice broke through Tyler's daydream, shattering it like a broken mirror. "I didn't even think you liked that kind."

"I --"

Oh, man. What was he supposed to say to that? 

"-- like it. I've always liked it."

Wow. That'll show him, Tyler. 

Zack looked at him suspiciously. "Why are you so happy? Does this have something to do with what you were doing last night?"

Bingo.

"Come to think of it," his mom added, "I don't think I even heard you come in last night. You must've been pretty late."

"I heard him come in," Zack said proudly. 

"Zack," Tyler warned. Please don't make this worse, please don't make this worse, please don't --

"It was like, four in the morning."

He made it worse. 

Tyler's mom turned around and looked at him with raised eyebrows. "And what exactly kept you out that late? I thought you were just going to a movie."

"I was -- I did, I was just --" Tyler sputtered, desperately trying to sound chill about the situation. (Hint: he was definitely not chill.) "I told you, I was hanging out with a friend."

"I thought you didn't have any friends," his brother piped in. 

"Zack," his mom repeated sternly. 

"Well, he doesn't," Zack mumbled under his breath. 

Tyler would've been mad at him, but. . . well, he wasn't wrong. 

"I have friends," he lied. Or not. 

He still wasn't sure what to call Josh. 

But now he knew what he wanted to call him. 

And he certainly was not going to use the b-word in front of his family. 

Not yet, anyway. 

"So, who were you with last night?" his mom asked, politely curious. 

Deep breaths, Tyler. 

"Um, it's -- he's, uh -- his name is Josh. I, uh, I met him at the -- the movie theater the other day."

"Oh, that's wonderful, honey," she exclaimed, a little too excited. (He really didn't have any friends.) "Why didn't you tell us you made a new friend?"

Because I was too busy making out with him. 

"Oh, it just. . . slipped my mind, I guess."

And then his phone vibrated. Twice. 

I really want to see you again

are you free tonight? 

He replied immediately. 

Too long to wait. How about this afternoon? Same place?

Tyler was so distracted by the butterflies in his stomach as he typed out his reply that he forgot to monitor his facial expression. 

"So, what's her name?"

Cold, dead butterflies. 

"W-what?" he yelped, snapping his gaze across the table toward his brother. 

"The girl you're texting. What's her name?"

Tyler swallowed. "I-I'm not -- it isn't --" He stopped. "How do you know it's not just a friend?"

Zack rolled his eyes. "C'mon, dude. As soon as your phone went off, your eyes lit up like the fourth of July. No one gets that excited about a friend."

He was about to tell Zack how wrong he was (even thought he was absolutely, 100% right) when his phone buzzed again. 

see you there, beautiful :)

Oh, man. 

This boy was trying to kill him. 

And it was working. 

Really, really well. 

As Tyler lost all of his mental capacity, he barely registered Zack muttering a disgruntled "Whatever" as he got up and left the table. 

In fact, he barely registered anything that day other than Josh, Josh, Josh. They texted back and forth constantly, a steady stream of cheesy jokes and flirty compliments that put Tyler's stomach in a perpetual state of motion and his mind in a perpetual state of wonder. 

He honestly couldn't even remember what else he did that day. His life was divided into two categories -- talking to Josh and waiting to see Josh. Everything else was irrelevant. 

So, he didn't notice his family watching him smile at his phone all day. 

He didn't notice them whispering about how he must've finally met a girl. 

And he definitely didn't notice Zack asking their mom if he could go to out with some friends that afternoon. 

Which is why he let his guard down later when he stood at the ticket counter talking to Jenna. When Josh walked over, smiling that beautiful squinty-eyed smile, and started to lean in for a kiss. 

When he heard his brother yelling at him from across the parking lot. 

"HEY, TYLER."

He and Josh split apart like an atomic bomb as Zack came running over, grinning like the crafty little twerp he knew he was. 

Oh, no.

Nononono.

This couldn't be happening. 

Did he -- did he see --?

No. No. He couldn't have. If he did --

What? What would happen if he did? Would Tyler have to come out to his family (when he still didn't know what exactly to come out as)?

Or would Zack force him out, whether he wanted it or not? 

Tyler stood there in shock, his mind racing through a thousand possible scenarios, each one worse than the last. What if they hated him. What if they kicked him out. What if they disowned him. 

And then Zack spoke, and all of Tyler's heightened insecurities were replaced by compete and utter confusion. 

"Who's this?"

He wasn't looking at Josh. 

He was looking at Jenna.

Why was he looking at Jenna?

"Um, my name's Jenna," she replied, looking at Tyler like she was just as confused as he was. "I, uh, I work here?"

"Cool," Zack nodded, giving Tyler a strange look that he couldn't quite identify. 

And then it hit him. 

What had Zack actually seen? 

Tyler, standing at the ticket counter with a friend, talking to a pretty girl. 

Zack thought that Tyler was straight. 

Zack thought that Tyler liked Jenna.

It all made sense now. 

Except. . .

"What the heck are you doing here?" Tyler said finally, looking at his brother with narrowed eyes. 

"What, I'm not allowed to spend some quality time with my big brother?" Zack said, smiling and tilting his head a little too innocently. 

That little twerp. 

He didn't want to spend time with Tyler. 

He wanted to snoop.

And for once, he had a good reason to. 

It almost would've been funny if Tyler hadn't realized that Zack intended on staying glued to his side the whole time. 

Which meant no kissing for him and Josh. 

Which meant that it was the end of the world. 

Which also meant that Tyler might have been considering all the ways he could kill Zack and make it look like an accident. 

Don't worry, he was joking about that last part. 

Mostly. 

When Tyler emerged from his thought process, he realized that they had all been awkwardly standing there for a solid minute. 

"Um," said Josh. 

"Oh! Right. Zack, this is my -- my friend, Josh," Tyler mumbled, trying his best to mask the fact that he had nearly called Josh his boyfriend. (Oh man, he wanted to call Josh his boyfriend.) "Josh, this is my brother, Zack."

"Oh. Hi," Josh grinned, looking at Zack with renewed interest and reaching out to shake his hand. 

Zack, on the other hand, seemed to have just noticed Josh. He looked up, hesitantly shaking his hand, and settled his eyes on Josh's bright yellow hair. Then on his nose ring. Then on his tattoo. 

He glanced at Tyler, giving him an odd look that pretty clearly said, "Wow, really? You're friends with this guy?"

Tyler flared with anger. 

He wasn't sure if he was more offended by the fact that Zack didn't seem to think that Tyler should be friends with a guy like Josh or by the fact that Zack's presence was preventing him from making out with said guy. 

But he sure as heck was offended. 

They walked in the theater (after having to endure some more of Zack's uncomfortably polite conversation with Jenna) and found some seats, Tyler plopping down grumpily in between his annoying brother and his would-be boyfriend. 

This was gonna be a long movie. 

After fifteen minutes of not touching Josh, of not kissing Josh, of barely even looking at Josh, Tyler couldn't take it any more. 

"Hey," he whispered. "You want to, uh, help me get some popcorn?"

"Absolutely," Josh smiled. 

Wow. What a smile. Even in the dark. 

As soon as they were out of the room, Tyler grabbed Josh by his shirt, pushed him against the wall, and kissed him for the first time in twelve hours, forty-three minutes (not that he'd been counting).

"Well, hello there," Josh said breathlessly as they pulled away. 

"Hi," Tyler whispered back, finally allowing himself a long, adoring look into Josh's eyes. 

Josh reached over and started twirling his fingers through Tyler's hair. "So, I didn't know I'd be meeting your family today," he said with a crooked grin. 

"Ugh. Me neither. I am so sorry about that -- he must've gotten a friend to drop him off or something, I had no idea he was even --"

"Hey, it's fine," Josh said soothingly. 

"But now we can't --" Tyler sighed, frustrated. "We can't do anything."

"Not in front of him, maybe," he smirked. 

He had a look in his eye. 

Tyler knew that look. 

That was his "I have an idea" look. 

And it usually ended with them making out. 

Maybe this day wouldn't be so bad, after all. 

"What do you have in mind?" Tyler asked, slowly taking Josh's hand and lacing their fingers together. 

Josh shrugged. "We could just. . . take a slight intermission."

Tyler narrowed his eyes. "What does that mean?"

Josh grinned, biting his lip in a way that made Tyler's insides squirm.

He wasn't gonna tell him, Tyler realized. 

Instead, he started dragging Tyler away, saying, "C'mon. Let's get some popcorn -- we don't want that brother of yours to get suspicious, do we?"

"Josh," Tyler whined, dragging his feet toward the counter. 

But something told him that if he wanted to be with Josh (and oh Lord, he did), he would have to get used to surprises. 

And he was pretty okay with that. 

It turned out that Zack's presence was less of a hindrance for the two boys and more of an incentive to see how much contact they could get away with. 

It also turned out that kissing wasn't the only thing they could do in movie theaters. 

Their hands softly traced patterns on each other's legs, leaving a trail of sparks behind. 

Their legs slowly inched closer until they touched, until their feet were dancing together under the seats.

Josh even pulled the classic "I'm-gonna-pretend-to-yawn-so-I-can-casually-put-my-arm-around-you-and-hope-that-no-one-notices" trick.

Tyler frickin' loved it. 

But their little games weren't all physical. In fact, the moments that made Tyler's heart race the most were the unexpected ones. 

The ones where Josh loudly suspected every new character in the movie of being an alien. 

The ones where they tried to toss a piece of popcorn in each other's mouths, stifling laughter when they missed and grinning a little too excitedly when they didn't. 

The ones where they exchanged sarcastic comments about the movie, both of them giggling whenever Tyler pointed out the most obvious breaches of logic. 

The ones where Josh would lean over and whisper random puns that made Tyler nearly choke on his popcorn. 

Tyler was having so much fun that he had completely forgotten about Josh's secret plan by the time the yellow-haired boy leaned over and whispered, "I'm gonna go to the bathroom real quick" before winking suggestively at Tyler and leaving the room. 

This boy was completely insane. 

And not even that subtle. 

Of course, Tyler got up a few minutes later to follow him. 

But still. 

Making out in the privacy of a bathroom stall wasn't as weird as Tyler thought it would be. 

To be fair, though, Tyler could probably be in the most unusual, unpleasant place in the world, and as long as Josh was there -- as long as Josh's lips were working against his, as long as Josh's hands were gliding across his back and occasionally finding their way under his shirt, sending chills up his spine and making him dizzy with more want than he'd ever thought possible -- he didn't particularly care about anything else. 

As long as Josh was here, he couldn't even fathom anything else. 

So, it took him a little too long to realize that someone else had walked in the bathroom. 

And it took him even longer to realize that it was Zack. 

"Ty? You in here?"

They froze. 

Of course, they couldn't be bothered to actually pull their faces apart, and they certainly didn't make any effort to pry their hands off of each other. 

But they definitely stopped moving. 

"Tyler?"

Tyler pulled away a fraction of an inch, sighing in frustration as he called out, "What is it, Zack?"

"You guys have been gone for, like, forever. What's going on?" And then, as an afterthought, "Wait -- are you two in the same stall?"

"Uhm, ye-eah," Tyler almost whimpered as Josh began planting kisses along his jawline. "Josh is, um -- he's sick --"

"So sick," Josh agreed. 

"And, um, I'm just -- uh -- helping out," Tyler muttered awkwardly before hastily adding, "But we're fine in here, you just go -- go back to the movie." He stifled a gasp as Josh's lips trailed down his neck, as his teeth softly nibbled at the skin right above his collarbone. 

"The movie's over."

"It's -- what?"

Tyler was a little distracted. 

"IT'S OVER," Zack repeated loudly. "It ended a few minutes ago."

"Okay, just," -- Josh's hand was gliding under his shirt now, his fingertips dancing along his lower back, skimming the line of his pants -- "just go out to the car, okay? I'll -- I'll meet you there in a minute."

"Fine," Zack groaned. 

Tyler waited to hear the door close before pushing Josh's hair back and kissing him messily on the lips. "You're gonna get us caught -- you know that, right?" He tried to sound stern, but with those beautiful brown eyes looking at him like that, it was impossible. 

"I can't help it," Josh whined, leaning his forehead against Tyler's and looking him straight in the eye. "You're too pretty," he whispered. 

Tyler absolutely melted. 

He had never been called pretty before. 

He had never wanted to be called pretty before. 

But now Josh had said it, and that word was all Tyler could think about. He wanted Josh to call him pretty over and over and over again until it echoed through his mind every hour of every day, until it was the only word he knew, until he maybe actually started to believe it was true. 

He wanted Josh to call him pretty for the rest of his life. 

Wow, he realized. He was in way deeper than he thought. 

And that didn't scare him anymore. 

Not even a little bit. 

Which is why he suddenly blurted, "We should go on a date. A real one." He grinned at Josh's wide eyes. Oh, those eyes were gorgeous. "I mean," he hesitated, starting to mistake Josh's silent awe for a rejection, "only if you want to."

"Are you --? Yes! I'd -- I'd love to, Tyler, I didn't think -- I mean, I would've asked sooner, but I wasn't sure if -- if you --" Josh trailed off, looking thrilled and, oddly, a little embarrassed. 

A little anxious, Tyler realized. 

"Hey, what were you not sure about?" Tyler asked softly, gently stroking the other boy's hair. 

Josh took a deep breath. Whatever it was, he had been really worried about it. And making Josh feel better was suddenly Tyler's biggest priority -- he wanted Josh to be happy more than he had ever wanted anything, and right then and there, he made it his personal mission to do whatever it took to make this boy happy, always. Always.

"I wasn't sure if you'd -- if you'd want to, and I didn't -- I couldn't stand the thought of -- of scaring you away. Of ruining this," he admitted shyly. 

Let's be clear about something: Tyler was 100% sure that flirty, confident, a-little-too-sure-of-himself Josh was basically the hottest thing he'd ever seen. 

But then he saw shy Josh. 

And Shy Josh was giving Confident Josh some serious competition. 

Because Tyler was looking at a sweet, nervous smile and softly blushing cheeks and it took everything he had not to just grab this boy's face and kiss him with everything he had, kiss him until they were both breathless, completely lost in their pure adoration for each other, until Josh could taste how much Tyler wanted him. (Which was a whole frickin' lot.)

Oh, wait.

He could actually do that now. 

He didn't have to hold himself back, to pretend that he didn't want to kiss this boy. 

He could just kiss him. 

So that's exactly what he did. 

He pressed his lips to Josh's and let the world stop turning. 

And instead of telling Josh that going on a date with him was the greatest possible thing he could imagine, that he never needed to worry about whether or not Tyler wanted to spend time with him because the answer would always be yes, he let his lips do the talking. 

And based on the soft noises coming from the yellow-haired boy, the message was coming across remarkably well.

That is, until Josh suddenly pulled away and said, "Wait -- isn't your brother still waiting in the car?"

Well, snap. 

Why? 

Why couldn't Tyler have been an orphan? Or a hermit? Or literally anything that meant not having to leave this perfect, perfect boy so he could drive his snotty little brother home? 

So, reluctantly, against every impulse of every single fiber of his being, Tyler left. He held Josh's hand all the way to the door (AKA, until there was a chance that Zack would see them), where he left Josh with a long kiss, a hastily texted address, and the promise of a date. (A real one. They had decided that Josh would pick him up tomorrow night, and Tyler was so excited he could hardly breathe.)

On his way to the car, Tyler passed Jenna, who was apparently just getting off of her shift. She gave him a little wave, and before he even knew what was happening, he was walking over and talking to her. 

"Hey," she said with a friendly smile. "Good movie?"

"What?" Tyler asked, momentarily confused. Wow, that boy was really something, he realized -- it actually took him a few seconds to remember that there had even been a movie. At the movie theater. "Oh, right -- um, yeah, I-I guess so. I mean, I wasn't really -- I didn't --"

"Didn't pay much attention?" she guessed, making Tyler blush before nodding shyly. "I don't blame you," she added with a soft giggle. "With a boy that pretty, I'm sure it's easy to get distracted."

Tyler was about to go straight into denial, but then he realized: she already knew. He didn't have to pretend that he and Josh were just friends, because she had seen them together closely enough to know that they weren't. 

"You have no idea," Tyler chuckled, grinning like a high school kid with a crush. 

He shivered. 

Someone had just called Josh pretty, and he had agreed. 

Out loud. 

This might be kind of fun, this -- this friend thing, or whatever. He could be friends with Jenna. 

"Hey, um, I wanted to --" he began awkwardly. "I, uh, I'm sorry if that, um -- earlier, if that was weird. For you. My brother, he can be a little --"

"Inquisitive?" Jenna suggested. 

"I was gonna say obnoxious, but sure. That works too."

They both laughed for a moment before Tyler quietly continued, "He, um. Well, he doesn't exactly know about -- about me and --" he talked off, looking up at her helplessly. 

"Don't worry," she said, smiling softly and placing a reassuring hand on his arm. "Your secret's safe with me."

He smiled thankfully, letting out a breath that he hadn't known he'd been holding. 

Yeah. He could definitely be friends with Jenna.

After promising to say hi the next time he saw her, Tyler finally made it to the car, expecting to find his brother bitter over the long wait. However, Zack -- who had seen (but not heard, thankfully) the exchange between him and Jenna -- was nothing but smug, and he wordlessly smirked at Tyler all the way out of the parking lot. They were halfway through town when Zack finally spoke.

"So," he said. 

"So," Tyler repeated, rolling his eyes in anticipation of whatever idiotic event was about to take place. 

"So, that's why you've been going out so much lately," Zack grinned. 

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Tyler replied blandly.

"You like her," Zack claimed triumphantly. 

"I do not," he said honestly. 

"She's the girl you've been texting, isn't she?" Zack persisted. "The one you've been all gooey-eyed about?"

Tyler sighed. 

"I knew it," Zack continued proudly. "I knew you liked someone."

Tyler was pretty sure that Zack could prattle on about this indefinitely, so after a few minutes of hearing his little brother brag about his incredible observation skills, Tyler pretty much started to tune it out. Instead, he opted to make a mental list of all the things he liked about Josh, which kept him pretty well occupied since he liked literally everything about Josh. 

"See? This is what I was talking about," Zack broke in suddenly, gesturing to Tyler's face. "That look right there. What were you just thinking about?" he demanded. 

Hint: Tyler had been thinking about how good it felt to have Josh's tongue in his mouth, how it swirled around inside him until everything tasted like Josh, until he felt nothing but an intense desire to be closer, closer, until they no longer felt like two separate beings --

"Nothing," he said. 

"Yeah, right," Zack mumbled, rolling his eyes. 

As they continued to drive, Tyler's mind went back to the weird look that Zack had given him after he introduced Josh. The "Him? Really?" look. Then, Tyler hadn't had a lot of time to think about what it might have meant (mainly because he was too busy flirting with Josh), but he started thinking about it now. 

And Tyler thinking was a very dangerous thing. 

But he couldn't help it. He had spent so much time worrying about whether or not his family would accept Josh that he never really considered whether or not they'd like him. 

And suddenly, it seemed like the most important thing in the world. 

Sure, Zack could be a little brat sometimes, but the fact remained that he'd been the closest thing to a best friend that Tyler had ever had. And, once they got past the whole "dating a guy" thing, Tyler really, really wanted to make sure that Zack and the rest of his family liked Josh the same way he did (okay, maybe not the exact same way that he did, but you get the point).

So now that the thought had entered his mind, all he could do was wonder: would his family like Josh? 

And now he was in the car, alone with the most honest person in his family. 

Who also happened to be the only one to actually meet Josh so far. 

This was a really bad idea. 

He went for it anyway. 

"So, uh," Tyler said slowly, his voice taking on a painfully casual tone. "What -- just, y'know, out of curiosity -- um, what did you, uh, what did you think of Josh? Y'know, just like, in general."

Smooth. 

Zack shrugged. "I don't know. He seemed nice, I guess." 

Nice. Okay. Nice was good. Generic, but good. 

"But --"

"But what?" Tyler demanded, spurned on by the sudden protective instincts that he didn't know he had. What? Did Zack think that Josh was just some punk, that -- that he somehow wasn't good enough to be friends with Tyler? NOPE. There was no frickin' way that Tyler was just gonna sit here and listen to this. Josh was perfect, okay? He was absolutely frickin' perfect, and anyone who disagreed could just --

"He seems way too cool for you."

Oh.

"He -- what?"

Zack shrugged again. "I don't know, I just don't get why a guy like that would ever want to hang out with you."

Tyler's mind scrambled to keep up. "He -- so, you don't -- you're saying that -- other than the fact that Josh is like -- out of my league, or something -- you don't have any problems with him?"

"Of course not. He has yellow hair," Zack said matter-of-factly, as if that settled it. 

Tyler was just about to marvel at the fact that he had just successfully had a conversation with his little brother without being put under a microscope when Zack added, "Why do you even care, though? I mean, he's your friend, why does it matter what I think of him?"

What Tyler wanted to do was shout, "WELL ONE DAY HE MIGHT BE YOUR BROTHER-IN-LAW, SO YOU'D BETTER LIKE HIM, YOU LITTLE TWERP."

But then he realized that 1. Josh wasn't even officially his boyfriend yet and 2. Tyler was still sitting comfortably in the closet.

So, instead, he shrugged and said, "No reason."

But then he smiled. 

His little brother thought that Josh was "nice, I guess" and "too cool for you."

Tyler could work with that. 

That night, as he was lying in bed thinking (big surprise) about Josh, Tyler wondered when he wanted to actually tell his family. What he wanted to tell them. 

Because he knew now that Josh was not just some guy he enjoyed kissing. He was more than that. He was real

He was permanent. 

At least, Tyler hoped he was. And he couldn't very well hide him forever. 

He didn't want to, he was beginning to realize. 

That one conversation with Jenna -- the one where he could talk about Josh, where he could smile about Josh and be happy about Josh and say that Josh was pretty -- had felt so freeing that he hadn't realized how guarded he had been with his family over the last few days. Normally, they talked about everything. He had never hesitated to talk to his mom about his high school girlfriend or tell Zack about whatever girl he liked during his short time in college. 

And then there was Josh. 

Maybe the best thing that had ever happened to him, and he was scared to death to tell his family. 

Not because he was ashamed. He thought that might be it, at first. But now, when he thought about that boy, with his bright yellow hair and his squinty-eyed smiles, he knew that what they had was incompatible with shame. 

It wasn't wrong. He knew that. 

But what if his family didn't? 

What if he told them and they didn't understand? If they didn't approve? 

Or what if they did understand, if they said it was okay, but they treated him differently? 

He wasn't sure if he could handle that. 

But he knew he couldn't handle living without Josh. 

So he would have to risk it one day. Not yet, maybe. But eventually. 

And then he got a text from Josh. 

Tyler smiled. Yeah. He could sneak around a little longer. 

which window is yours?

Wait. What? 

Why on earth did Josh need to know that? 

Unless he was --

Tyler gasped. 

No. 

He wouldn't --

Would he? 

Joshua

Are you at my house right now? 

A minute later, his phone vibrated. 

well you didn't have to ruin the surprise

Tyler shot up out of bed and opened his window. He quickly peered out to see a yellow-haired boy by the side of the street, leaning casually against the hood of his car as if it were the most normal thing in the world. 

Tyler shook his head in disbelief as Josh smiled at him and gave a little wave. He tried (and very, incredibly failed) to stop himself from smiling as he replied.

What? The surprise of you being a stalker? 

if I was a stalker I would already know which window is yours now wouldn't I 

And then a few seconds later:

I mean I can just leave if you want

Tyler had never typed so fast in his life. 

Don't you dare. 

so...

So?

are you coming or what?

Tyler hesitated. Everyone had already gone to bed, but surely they would hear him open the front door. And then he would have to explain why he was sneaking out in the middle of the night to see a boy. 

But he really, really wanted to sneak out to see this boy. 

Someone will hear me.  

not if you use the window

But 
I'm on the second floor. 

you're so innocent, it's adorable

(Tyler, this is not the time for butterflies, he scolded himself.)

you literally have a tree right outside your window

it's perfect for sneaking out

Tyler glanced at the tree, looking to see if there was a route down. He could climb trees. It would be fine. 

Right? 

If I die, I'm blaming you. 

fair enough

Tyler took a deep breath and climbed out the window. 

He never thought that would happen. 

But then, he never thought he'd meet someone like Josh. 

And he would happily climb out a window every day if it meant getting to spend even a moment with this boy. 

He took things slowly, carefully making sure that each branch was stable before putting his weight on it. Josh would occasionally whisper out loud instructions, saying little things like, "No, not that one. Try a little to the left," and "Yeah, you're almost there, just a little further." It might have seemed trivial, but hearing Josh's voice was the only thing keeping Tyler calm. He used to be afraid of heights, but he knew that Josh wouldn't let anything happen to him, and each little bit of encouragement convinced him that he was perfectly and utterly safe. 

That is, until his foot slipped. 

And he fell out of the frickin' tree.

Right as he was about to hit the ground, Josh rushed forward to catch him. It was a noble effort, but unfortunately, gravity had the upper hand. They both ended up sprawled on the ground, a tangle of branches (of the tree variety) and limbs (very much of the human variety).

They probably should've been unhappy about this. 

But when Tyler was finally able to assess the situation, he found himself directly on top of a smiling Josh, both of them very close and very, very horizontal. 

So instead, they blushed. They blushed because their faces were inches away from each other (and because everything else was considerably closer than that), because they were laying in what many would consider a compromising position and because they were right smack in front of Tyler's parents' house but neither of them wanted to move, so they didn't. 

Instead, they laughed. They laughed the kind of laughter that you can only get when you're a 22-year-old boy sneaking out of the house for the first time. When you realize that it wasn't even a big fall but the boy you were sneaking out for tried to catch you anyway, because you mattered that much. 

The kind of laughter that you can only get when you're falling in love. 

After reveling in the moment for a little too long, they both started to scramble up and head to Josh's car, continuing their quickly-established habit of holding hands whenever humanly possible. 

"So, where -- where are we going?" Tyler asked, still feeling a little exhilarated (whether from the fall or from landing on top of Josh, he wasn't sure -- except that it was definitely the latter).

Josh smiled at him with the purest look of adoration that Tyler had ever seen. 

"Baby, we can go wherever you want."

Tyler froze. Or he caught on fire -- he wasn't sure. He felt such a rush of everything that his mind couldn't even begin to process it all. He was falling, he was flying, the world slowed down and sped up all at the same time. It felt like everything he knew had shattered, and the picture he saw in the glass made everything so much more beautiful and so much more real, like his life was starting for the first time and everything was suddenly brand new.

Baby.

Josh had just called him baby.

And nothing had ever felt so incredibly right. 

Baby

Oh, that was gonna be number frickin' one on the protocol. 

And just like that, Tyler was grabbing a fistful of Josh's shirt and whirling him around, pushing him against the car and slamming their lips together with as much urgency as he was capable of. Josh grunted a little in surprise before eagerly responding, raking his fingers desperately through Tyler's hair, eagerly opening his mouth against Tyler's and moaning in approval as Tyler slipped his tongue inside, as their mouths danced together in perfect rhythm. 

When they finally started to pull away, a breathless Josh began, "So, where do you --"

"Backseat," Tyler ordered.

He needed Josh. Period. 

And based on how quickly Josh managed to get the door open, it was pretty clear that he felt exactly the same. 

Tyler was barely inside when Josh crawled in after him, and they did not waste an ounce of time. The door closed, and suddenly bodies were colliding in a tangled heap of limbs; soft moans were escaping unbidden from busy mouths; hands were eagerly exploring places that they'd never been allowed to before; lips were desperately connecting with every bit of skin they could find. 

Tyler learned several things that night. 

1. Making out horizontally opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Very good possibilities. 

2. Kissing Josh's face and feeling the stubble against his lips was one of the greatest experiences in the world. 

3. Nibbling the spot behind Josh's ear created a whole new vocabulary of sounds that Tyler was determined to memorize. 

And most importantly: 

4. Tyler was very, incredibly in love with Joshua William Dun.

Chapter Text

Tyler was an idiot. 

Three days. 

What was he thinking, going and falling in love with someone so quickly? 

Normal people didn't do that. 

But normal people didn't make out with someone after only knowing them for fifteen minutes, either. 

Apparently, nothing about this was normal. 

Because now, whenever Tyler was with Josh, all he could think was I love you I love you I love you

He couldn't say it out loud, of course. 

What would he even say? "Hey Josh, happy four day anniversary. Oh, and by the way, I'm in love with you." 

Talk about sounding needy. 

Tyler probably wasn't really in love anyway. It wasn't even possible. I mean, people can't fall in love that quickly. 

They just can't. 

He was probably just getting caught up in everything. It was easy to get swept away in those kinds of feelings, especially when you were sitting in the backseat of a car with a beautiful yellow-haired boy, when you were cuddled up against him because you'd been kissing all night, because you'd dozed off in each other's arms, but now you were awake, and now you knew that he was literally the most adorable sleeper in the world, and that it really shouldn't be possible for someone to sleep that cute, with his adorable messy hair and his adorable mouth and his adorable breathing and oh my gosh, Tyler was in love with this boy. 

And Tyler knew that he needed to leave. That his family would wake up eventually and wonder why he wasn't there. 

And Tyler should've been worried about that. He really should've. 

But he wasn't. 

Because Josh was still asleep, and Tyler would literally rather do anything than wake him up. 

So, he stayed. He stayed in the backseat of Josh's car, curled up in Josh's arms, and watched him sleep. 

Oh gosh, that sounded creepy. 

It probably was creepy. 

But he kept doing it anyway. 

It was still dark when Josh began to stir, slowly opening his eyes and looking up at Tyler with a level of affection that made him absolutely melt. 

"Hey," Josh mumbled with a sleepy smile. 

Tyler decided to put sleepy smiles at the top of the list of Things He Liked About Josh. 

But then, pretty much everything that Josh did was at the top of that list. 

"Hey," Tyler whispered back, smiling and pretending that he hadn't just been staring at the other boy for a lot longer than he'd like to admit (hint: it was at least forty-five minutes). 

"You should sneak out more often," Josh grinned mischievously. "You're really good at it."

"And you're a bad influence," Tyler giggled back, unable to contain his happiness at waking up next to (and slightly on top of) this perfect, perfect boy. 

"You know, I think --" Josh began, scrunching up his face in fake concentration (and holy heck, that was adorable), "-- I'm okay with that." He smiled and kissed Tyler on the forehead, sending him a whole new crowd of butterflies. 

Tyler thought he would be used to those feelings by now. 

He wasn't. 

In fact, they seemed to be multiplying. 

"I'm okay with that too," Tyler whispered, drawing his lips closer to Josh's and bringing him in for a long kiss. 

They cuddled happily in the backseat for a few more minutes, until Tyler reluctantly whined, "I have to go."

Josh reached over and brushed a hand through Tyler's hair, silently admiring its complete messiness. "Or we could just stay here forever," he suggested. 

"Mmm," Tyler sighed and placed his head back on Josh's chest. "Okay."

"Wow, I thought I was really gonna have to work for that one," the other boy giggled. 

"I mean, I could just leave," Tyler smirked, echoing Josh's words from last night. 

"Don't you dare," Josh growled playfully, and Tyler would be the first to admit that it sounded a lot sexier when Josh said it. 

Oh.

Sexy.

That was new. 

And so was the sudden rush of feeling in Tyler's lower stomach. 

Okay. 

He would definitely have to figure that out later. 

Because right now, he needed to kiss this boy. 

Well, he always needed to kiss this boy. 

But he didn't always wake up next to him, so this was special. 

They lazily made out for several minutes longer than Tyler intended to, until they looked up and saw the first flickers of dawn in the sky. And since neither one of them wanted Tyler's first time sneaking out to be his first time getting busted for sneaking out, they made the difficult decision of prying themselves away from each other so that Tyler could sneak back in before anyone else was awake. 

"At least I'll have more time to get pretty for tonight," Josh joked, trying to make them both feel better about the sudden separation. 

"I can't imagine you getting any prettier than you are right now," Tyler giggled. 

He froze. 

Okay, so he definitely said that out loud. 

In front of Josh. 

He totally just called Josh pretty. 

To his face. 

His pretty, pretty face. 

But as soon as he looked up at Josh, he completely forgot about being embarrassed. 

Because Josh was blushing. 

And smiling. 

A really, really cute smile. 

Oh, yeah. Shy Josh was amazing to look at. 

He was gonna have to start calling Josh pretty way more often if he was gonna be so cute about it. 

Tyler was still high on spending time with Josh as he made his way back up to his room, making the climb up the tree significantly better than the climb down had been. 

He almost got away with it. 

Until he was halfway through the window.

And then his bedroom door opened. 

He froze, returning Zack's confused expression with an equally frightened one. 

"Uh," said Zack. 

"Um," replied Tyler. 

After a long, awkward moment of staring, Tyler climbed the rest of the way inside, trying (but utterly failing) to make the transition as smooth as possible. 

AKA, he fell on the floor. 

But he got up pretty quickly. 

Tyler coughed. "I was just -- um -- going for a walk."

Zack stared at him. 

"You were going for a walk," he repeated blandly. 

"Uh-huh."

"At five thirty in the morning," his brother clarified. 

"Yep," Tyler said, popping the "p." (He was known to do some really awkward things when he was nervous, and this definitely qualified.)

Zack looked at him skeptically. "And you decided to go. . . out the window?"

Tyler nervously ran his fingers through his hair, using his other hand to fidget with the edge of his shirt. "Y-yeah, I was -- I didn't wanna wake anyone up, and I -- I just -- thought I should -- y'know -- get some exercise, see some nature. You know. That kind of thing."

There was a long pause. 

"Did nature give you that hickey?"

Tyler quickly slapped his hand over the side of his neck. "I don't -- what? It's not -- I don't -- I have no idea what you're talking about, I don't have a -- I mean, I haven't seen any -- I'm not --"

"You're covering the wrong side," Zack casually pointed out. 

"Oh." Tyler shifted his hand, switching it to the other side before muttering, "I really could've sworn it was on that side --"

"SO YOU ADMIT IT."

Dang it. 

Tyler was an idiot. 

Or maybe his mind was still a little floaty from spending the night with Josh. 

Wow. 

That phrase made him shiver. 

But somehow, he didn't think that spending the night meant the same thing in his head as what they actually did last night (although it was pretty close).

"I'm not an idiot, Tyler," Zack said quietly, his demeanor considerably different than it had been a minute ago. Now, it almost seemed. . . sad.

Why would Zack be sad? 

And then it hit him. 

Because of you, you moron.

Tyler had never lied to his brother like this. And Zack knew it. 

"Zack, I --" Tyler began softly. 

"I know you're seeing someone! It's so obvious, Ty!" Zack seemed almost on the verge of tears now, and Tyler's heart had never shattered so completely before. "Why won't you just tell me? Why?"

Because I'm terrified. Because you might hate me. 

Because I'm dating a boy. 

"It's -- it's complicated," Tyler said weakly, his voice breaking a little. 

"So, explain it to me," Zack begged, looking at his brother with pleading eyes.

And Tyler just stood there, his hands shaking, unable to even work up the courage to say no. 

Tyler was a coward. 

After a moment, Zack mumbled a quiet "Whatever" and left, but he didn't manage to sound quite as apathetic as he'd meant to. 

So Tyler did the only thing he actually felt capable of doing in that moment. 

He went to the basement. 

And for the first time in a long time, he went to the piano, to the notebooks full of half-finished songs, and he started writing. He wrote all the things that he couldn't say, all the feelings that he couldn't describe. 

He wrote what he needed to hear. 

And for the first time in a long time, he sang. He sang and he screamed until he didn't hurt so much anymore. Until he was crying, but at least he had something to show for it. 

Until he heard a knock at the door. 

He quickly wiped the tears off his face and tried not to let his voice break as he shakily replied, "Come in."

He didn't even question why Josh walked through the door. 

He just got up and ran across the room to hug him. 

"Hey, what's wrong?" Josh asked soothingly as he wrapped his arms around the shaking boy and started to gently rub his back. "Hey, it's okay, it's okay," he repeated over and over as Tyler started crying, burying his face in Josh's chest as he held him. 

They stood there like that for a few minutes before Tyler managed to speak. 

"I just -- I keep lying, and I'm hurting people, I'm -- I'm hurting him, and I can't stand it. But I can't -- I can't tell him, I can't, I can't --"

"Hey." Josh gently tilted Tyler's face up until he was looking him in the eye. "It's okay to wait until you're ready. You don't have to tell people until you want them to hear it, okay? This -- you and me -- this belongs to us. And we get to decide who to share it with, and when."

He slowly brought his hand towards Tyler's face, softly wiping the tears away with his thumb before adding, "But Ty, you don't have to be scared to tell your family. They love you. They really do. And that's not gonna change because -- because of who you love."

Tyler stared at him. 

Did he --?

"I -- I love you, Tyler," Josh admitted, smiling shyly. "And I -- you don't have to say anything, I know it's really soon, but I just --"

Tyler kissed him. 

He couldn't help it. 

This boy was in love in him. 

The most perfect person in the world was in love with him.

So heck yeah, Tyler kissed him. 

Then he broke off for a moment, just long enough to gasp out, "I love you," and went right back to it. 

It was a little messy because they were both smiling so big and their teeth kept getting knocked together, because they kept stopping to say "I love you" in between breaths, because now they were both crying but it was for a completely different reason. Because they kept giggling and they were trying so hard to be quiet because Tyler's family was home but they were in love and nothing, absolutely nothing could stop them from being insanely happy about it. 

It was the most perfect moment in the world. 

A few minutes later, Tyler stood there with Josh's hands on his hips and their foreheads pressed together as they just smiled and looked into each other's eyes, reveling in the echo of those three words. 

Suddenly, Josh spoke. 

"Oh, I almost forgot," he said, grinning sheepishly and digging something out of his pocket. "You left this in my car," he continued, placing Tyler's phone in his hand. 

Oh. 

Tyler had completely forgotten to wonder why Josh was here in the first place. 

Wait. So if Josh was here --

"Who let you in?" 

"Zack. He, uh," Josh nervously scratched at the back of his neck, "he looked at me kind of funny when I told him why I was here, I'm not sure if I did something wrong, or --"

"No, no, you didn't," Tyler reassured him quickly. "So, you -- you told Zack that I left my phone in your car?"

Josh nodded. "Was -- was I not supposed to?"

"No, it's -- fine. Don't worry about it." Tyler smiled at him. "I just need to -- um, I need to go talk to him -- about some stuff," he added vaguely. "I'll see you tonight?"

Josh nodded. "See you tonight," he agreed, giving Tyler a quick kiss on the nose. "I'll wear something extra pretty," he added in a low voice that made Tyler's stomach flutter before smiling and heading for the door. 

"Hey, Josh?" Tyler called out as he was about to grab the door handle. 

The yellow-haired boy spun around, looking at Tyler with wide, pretty eyes. "Yeah?"

Tyler blushed and bit his lip. "I love you."

Josh smiled brighter than Tyler had ever seen him (and let's be honest here, this boy was practically a living embodiment of the frickin' sun). And in a moment, Josh was walking across the room, grabbing Tyler's face with both hands, and kissing him with so much passion that Tyler was pretty sure it literally transcended time and space. 

"I love you more," Josh grinned as Tyler stood there, speechless.

After the room stopped spinning, Tyler managed to squeak out a soft, "Not possible."

Josh gave him a long, adoring look and quietly added, "Agree to disagree."

This boy was everything. 

So Tyler didn't tell him that Zack had caught him sneaking back in. That he had seen the mark on his neck, that he knew what Tyler had been doing even if he didn't know who he'd been doing it with.

That Tyler's phone being in Josh's car was probably the only thing Zack needed to figure it out. 

Zack wasn't an idiot. 

And Tyler's secret might not be much of a secret anymore. 

So, after Josh left, Tyler made up his mind.

He needed to talk to his brother.

Now. 

He sighed and made his way upstairs, his stomach churning at the thought of Zack's reaction. Maybe he still didn't know, he thought a little too optimistically. Maybe he hadn't figured it out. 

Maybe. 

But Tyler didn't get his hopes up.

Instead, he made his way up to his room and found Zack, sitting on Tyler's bed. Waiting for him. 

Deep breaths.

"So you were with him last night," Zack stated simply. 

"Yeah," Tyler replied quietly, closing the door and taking a seat next to his brother. Zack watched him carefully, but Tyler looked down, too afraid to look his brother in the eye. 

Tyler was a coward. 

"You're dating him, aren't you?" Zack continued, his tone, his expression unreadable. "Josh."

It wasn't really a question. 

Tyler looked at his brother for a moment, hesitating, then nodded anyway. 

Zack nodded, like it was the answer he'd been expecting. He looked at Tyler carefully for a few seconds before adding, "Have you always --?"

"What? Been gay?" Tyler chuckled nervously. "No, it's -- it's just Josh." He paused before adding a quiet, "I think."

They were silent for a while. 

Tyler didn't know how long. 

But it was a while. 

Then, finally: "He must be pretty special, then."

Tyler stared at him, surprised. "Yeah," he said quietly. "He is."

Zack nodded again. "Okay."

Tyler blinked. "Okay? What -- what is that supposed to mean? Like, okay, that's a nice boyfriend you got there, or okay, have fun in hell?"

Zack almost laughed, but one glance at Tyler's face told him that he was being completely serious. "Tyler, I -- I haven't seen you this happy in a long time. Maybe ever. And. . . I'm guessing Josh has something to do with that."

Tyler didn't even have to answer that one. 

"So," he continued slowly, "I guess I mean, okay, if you're happy, I'm happy."

Tyler wasn't sure if he trusted his voice to work right at that moment, so he just nodded again, his throat getting tighter as the tears from earlier threatened to make a reappearance. 

"Have you told Mom and Dad?" Zack asked hesitantly. 

"Um," Tyler cleared his throat, "Not -- not really, I -- you're kind of -- the first person to find out."

Zack looked a little too proud at that. "What's the plan, then?" he asked casually. 

Tyler shifted uncomfortably. "Well, I mean, I haven't really --"

"WHAT?" Zack looked indignant. "You mean, you don't even have a plan?!"

"I wasn't aware that I needed a plan," he mumbled. 

Zack informed him that he most definitely did.

"You -- you can't just spring this on them out of nowhere," Zack argued insistently. "With this kind of thing, you need planning, you need to -- to have a strategy, to lay the groundwork --"

"And what exactly is the groundwork?" Tyler asked, amused. 

Zack sighed. "I don't know, Ty, that's why we need a plan," he explained as if it was obvious. "I mean, they'll probably be fine with it, but it'd be much safer to convince them to be okay with it before they actually find out." He raked a hand through his hair and sighed, "Look, I just -- I think I should probably take care of this, because it really just doesn't seem like you know what you're doing. No offense," he added as an afterthought. 

"None taken," Tyler assured him, still trying not to laugh. 

Zack got up off the bed. "So, I'll come up with a few ideas and get back to you with a plan -- hmm -- probably some time tomorrow."

"Okay," Tyler grinned as Zack turned to leave. "Hey, Zack?"

"Hmm?" he asked, preoccupied. 

Tyler got up and walked over to his brother, wrapping him in an awkward hug (they weren't a very touchy-feely sort of family). "I, um -- thanks. For. . . you know."

Zack rolled his eyes. "Whatever," he grinned, and left. 

Tyler was so relieved at Zack's reaction that he almost forgot to have a meltdown about what to wear on his first real date with Josh. 

Almost. 

Which is how he ended up laying face down on his bed, with every article of clothing he had ever owned scattered around every surface of his room. 

It was all wrong. 

It was all wrong, and Tyler was a complete failure, and he wasn't even an attractive failure because he had nothing to wear. 

Hence, the meltdown. 

He thought about getting someone else's opinion, but his mom would ask too many questions, and Zack was the last person he would ever go to for fashion advice. 

So, Tyler did the only thing he could think of. 

He texted Josh. 

I can't go.
I have nothing to wear.

it's okay I mean I won't be upset if you aren't wearing anything

Joshua, are you trying to get me naked? 

I am appalled that you would even think that

I mean I wouldn't be upset if you decided to show up naked

I just want you to be happy and if being naked makes you happy then who am I to argue

You're ridiculous. 

But I guess it's good to know that you'll support me if I ever decide to drop everything and join a nudist colony. 

true

and I will always support your right to be as naked as you wanna be

(Tyler definitely wasn't turned on by this conversation. Nope. Not at all.)

really though I'm sure you look great in anything

just wear whatever makes you happy babe

You make me happy. 

we can try that but I think wearing clothes would be a little easier

Fine. 

But you're not allowed to hate me if I look hideous on our first date.

deal

I love you

I love you more.

not possible

It wasn't so hard to choose something after that. 

He ended up wearing black skinny jeans and a black button-up shirt with a thin red stripe down the middle. And bright red socks. 

It made him happy. 

Josh made him happy. 

Tyler knew it had only been a few days, but he still couldn't believe how much he loved this boy. He still smiled every time he realized that Josh loved him too, that Tyler wasn't just some idiot with too many feelings. 

He was a boy completely and hopelessly in love. 

And now they were going on a date. 

A real one. 

He used to get nervous every time he went on a date, but this time was different. Josh was safe. Josh loved him.

And more and more lately, Josh was making him feel like he didn't need to be so afraid anymore. 

Of anything. 

But he still wasn't quite ready to share Josh with his parents yet. 

Which is why when Tyler heard a knock at the door, he shouted, "I'LL GET IT," and flew downstairs before his mom even had time to get off the couch. 

"You look nice," she commented, sounding a little confused. "Are you going out?"

"Yeah. Don't wait up," he said breathlessly, slipping out the front door before she could ask any more questions. 

Okay. So maybe the whole "coward" thing was still a work in progress. 

But to be fair, Tyler had made a lot of progress. 

For instance, Tyler didn't worry about his parents when he saw Josh standing on the front porch. 

Because Josh looked adorably nervous, wearing a gray patterned button-up and a black-and-white bowtie and the same black ripped skinny jeans he'd been wearing the day they met. Because he was holding a bouquet of pink roses in his hand. 

Because even though Tyler's parents were inside only a few feet away, even though they could come out here at any moment if they wanted to, he let himself throw his arms around Josh's neck and kiss him with so much force that they both nearly fell over. 

They stood there for a moment, their lips hungrily opening against each other as their tongues licked into each other's mouths. Tyler could've stayed like that forever, if only to memorize the taste of this boy, the feeling of Josh's hands on his hips, still holding the flowers. 

Yeah. He could've stayed forever. 

But he had a date with the most perfect boy in the world, and he wasn't gonna miss it. 

They pulled away, smiling and breathless, and looked adoringly into each other's eyes as they both tried to find the words to express how much love they felt in that moment. 

And then, Tyler decided that words couldn't express it. So instead, he grabbed Josh's hand and pressed a few gentle kisses to his knuckles, feeling the rough skin under his lips and smiling. Josh smiled back and gently combed a hand through Tyler's hair, leaning forward to press a soft kiss to his forehead. 

As they stood there, grinning at each other and pressing their foreheads together and staring into each other's eyes, Josh softly whispered, "You look so beautiful, Ty," and Tyler felt so completely elated that he was barely able to squeak out a quiet, "Y-you too" in response. 

"I, um," Josh began shyly, "I got these for you" -- he hesitantly held up the pale pink roses -- "I, uh, I wasn't sure if -- if it was normal for guys to -- you know -- buy each other flowers and stuff. But then I saw these, and -- and I don't know, they reminded me of you, and I just -- I really liked them, so I --" he trailed off nervously. 

"I love them," Tyler grinned. 

No one had ever bought him flowers before. 

It might have literally been the purest feeling in the world. 

Which made sense. 

Because Josh was literally the purest person in the world. 

Wow. 

The purest person in the world was in love with him. 

Tyler still couldn't get over it. 

Actually. 

He didn't want to get over it. 

And something about the way he felt every time he looked at Josh told him that he never would. 

Because dang, this boy was everything. 

He couldn't help leaning in for one more kiss, both of them smiling as Tyler wrapped his arms around Josh's neck and slowly connected their lips, their eyes open until the last second because neither one of them could bear to stop looking at the other. 

Which, of course, was the moment Zack came barging out the front door. 

"SO," Zack began, looking directly at Josh, who had stepped away from Tyler with alarming speed. "Josh. What exactly are your intentions with my brother?"

"Oh geez," Tyler groaned, rolling his eyes. 

Josh looked confused and slightly terrified. Gosh, even that was adorable. "I, uh -- what?"

Zack narrowed his eyes at him. "Because if you're just using him for sex, then you should know that you and I are gonna have a major problem."

"Okay, we're leaving," Tyler grabbed Josh's hand and led him off the porch (since the other boy may have been slightly in shock). 

"You'd better get him home by 9:30, you hear me?" Zack called out sternly.

"Good night, Zack," Tyler replied, exasperated. 

Once the two boys made it to the car, a very lost-looking Josh opened Tyler's door, looking hesitantly back towards the porch (where Zack was still giving him the stink eye) as Tyler got in, hugging the flowers close to his chest. Josh came around to the other side and sat down, running a hand through his hair and biting his lip nervously. 

Gosh, that was hot. 

I mean, it obviously wasn't a great time to be thinking things like that, but. . .

Wow. 

It was so hot. 

They sat there awkwardly for a moment, while Tyler pondered Josh's hotness and Josh wondered what the heck had just happened.

"So, Zack knows," Tyler supplied helpfully. 

"Ah," said Josh. 

"And I guess he can be a little. . . intense."

Josh chuckled nervously. "Yeah. I, uh -- I kind of caught on to that."

"Don't worry about it, though," Tyler assured him. "Once he realizes that you're not just -- using me for sex, or whatever -- he'll back off."

They both laughed for a second before the full gravity of the s-word hit them. They looked away instantly, blushing and fidgeting, and Tyler wondered how he could be such an idiot. 

Because only an idiot would make a sex joke on a first date. 

And now that he said it, he was thinking about it, and his face (among other things) grew warm, and it was so quiet that he could only assume that Josh was either completely weirded out or he was thinking the exact same thing. 

Tyler knew which one he was hoping for. 

And it scared him a little. 

Not what he was hoping for. 

But how bad he was hoping it. 

"So, uh," Josh coughed nervously, "we should, uh, probably get going."

"Uh-huh," Tyler agreed, his voice just a little higher than usual. 

They were quiet for the first few minutes. 

"You, uh, you can turn on the radio if you want to," Josh offered helpfully. 

Okay. Maybe he was thinking it too. 

"Yeah, let's do that," Tyler said, grateful for the distraction. 

Music always helped. 

He turned the radio on. 

It did not help. 

It did not help at all.

"Love me like you do, love love love me like you do. Touch me like you do, touch touch touch me --" 

Tyler quickly switched the station. 

"I'll make love to you, like you want me to. And I'll hold you tight, baby all through the night --"

He switched it again. 

"You shook me all night long. Yeah, yeah you shook me --"

Oh, geez.

"I'm in love with the shape of you, we push and pull like a magnet do. Although my heart is falling too, I'm in love with your body --"

He turned it off. 

"Y'know, maybe we should just talk," Tyler suggested. 

"Yeah, may-maybe we should," Josh quickly agreed. 

Oh, yeah. He was thinking it too. 

They sat there quietly with their faces burning for a couple minutes before Josh softly said, "Hey, Ty?"

Tyler hummed in response, his stomach still a little fluttery (but then, that was a pretty constant feeling when he was with Josh).

"I, um -- I'm really proud of you."

Tyler blinked in surprise. "W-what for?"

Josh looked at him, blushing a little. "Y'know, for talking to Zack about -- about us."

"Oh," Tyler blushed even more before stuttering, "Well, I didn't -- I wasn't really -- um -- I mean, he kind of -- found out. I didn't really -- do anything."

Josh reached over and placed a gentle hand on Tyler's leg, making his heart race. "Ty, it doesn't matter how he found out," he smiled softly. "You talked about it, even though you were scared. And that was a really brave thing to do."

"How are you so perfect?" Tyler blurted out. 

Oh, geez.

Maybe next he should ask Josh if he had a shovel so Tyler could go bury himself.

Because that's all he wanted to do right about now. 

Josh laughed. 

And wow. That was a beautiful sound. 

Tyler almost didn't mind making a fool of himself every now and then if it meant getting to hear that. 

But when he looked over at the yellow-haired boy, it was clear that Josh wasn't laughing at him. If anything, he just seemed genuinely delighted that Tyler thought he was perfect. 

"Maybe I'm not," Josh grinned. "Maybe you just bring out the best in me."

"See? This is what I'm talking about," Tyler giggled. "It's like, no matter what idiotic thing I end up saying, you always seem to have a perfect response. It's unnatural how smooth you are."

"Okay, well what about you being so cute all the time?" Josh countered. "I mean really, your voice is cute, and everything you say is cute, and then you have to go and -- and do that thing where you run your hands through your hair and make it stick up like that, and it's just so --"

"Cute?" Tyler guessed, blushing. Good grief, he'd been blushing ever since they left. 

"Well, actually it's pretty hot," Josh admitted. "Like, I don't know how you manage to be adorable and downright hot at the same time, but man. You're amazing at it."

He glanced over at Tyler, and their eyes locked. 

And that's when the spark hit. 

That's when Tyler ordered him to pull over, and Josh wordlessly obeyed. When they launched themselves at each other with such desperation that the car had barely stopped before their lips were connected, before they were breathing each other in like it was the only source of oxygen they would ever get. When Josh's tongue urgently licked at Tyler's lips, and Tyler instantly opened his mouth in response, sighing with relief the moment that Josh's tongue slipped inside as if Josh was his drug and he'd gone too long without a hit, because how else could he describe how addicting this boy was, how much Tyler needed the taste of him? 

When the steering wheel was the only thing stopping Tyler from climbing into Josh's lap just to get closer. When he had to settle for burying his face in Josh's neck and kissing him senseless instead (which, in his opinion, didn't really count as settling because feeling Josh's soft skin under his lips and between his teeth and hearing the breathy moans that marked all of Josh's happy spots™ and knowing that Tyler did that was legit one of the best experiences of his life).

Which is why, when they finally made it to the restaurant, Josh had a little purple mark on his neck to match Tyler's. 

They probably should've been embarrassed about going to such a public place when they were so obviously on a date and they had so obviously been sucking on each other's necks, but Tyler almost felt a weird sense of pride instead. 

It made them feel like they belonged to each other.

But for some reason, Tyler thought that maybe they always had, that the marks were just a symbol of the truth that had always existed between them: that Tyler belonged to Josh, and Josh belonged to Tyler. 

Because as they sat there in the restaurant, holding hands across the table and laughing about the weirdest items on the menu, as they talked and joked and gazed lovingly into each other's eyes with as much ease as they had when they'd spent half the night at Taco Bell, Tyler was struck with the sudden realization that this was the textbook definition of meant to be. 

Because nothing in this world had ever felt more comfortable, more safe, more perfect than being on a date with Josh. 

Except for maybe making out with Josh. 

That felt pretty good, too. 

But the most important thing was that this was literally the best date that Tyler could've possibly imagined. 

And he never wanted it to end. 

Seriously. 

He wanted the rest of his life to be one long date with Josh. 

After a considerable amount of time sharing their deepest thoughts and talking about all their favorite music and feeding each other little bites of food (and then laughing at how sickeningly adorable they were), they decided to head home, but for some reason, they both knew that it wasn't going to be the end of the date. 

AKA, they both decided to do whatever they could to make the date last as long as possible (despite Tyler's long-forgotten curfew at 9:30). 

For Josh, that meant exercising all of his charm in an attempt to get Tyler to stay in the car. 

For Tyler, that meant inviting Josh inside. 

To be honest, they were both a little surprised when Tyler asked. 

Josh blinked and said, "A-are you sure? I mean, I don't want to bother your family."

AKA, I don't want your family to walk in on us making out.

"No, it should be fine," Tyler decided. "They're probably all in bed by now, anyway."

And then, when he realized that "Hey, do you want to come inside?" usually meant "Hey, do you want to come inside and have sex with me?" he quickly added, "I just -- I mean, I thought that maybe we could -- um -- go down to the basement or something, and I could -- maybe -- play something for you. That I wrote."

Tyler felt his stomach drop at the sound of his own words. 

He never showed his music to anyone. 

Ever.

Heck, it almost would've been less surprising if he had actually said, "Hey, do you wanna come inside and have sex with me?"

Because Tyler was always so afraid that someone would hear his music and judge him for it. That they wouldn't understand the lyrics and what they meant for Tyler. 

Or worse, that they would. 

That they would know exactly how dark his thoughts had been. 

And he didn't talk about that. 

Except.

He had talked to Josh about it. 

And Josh hadn't judged him at all. 

Josh was safe. 

Josh looked right at him, his eyes widened a little, and quietly said, "I would love that, Ty."

One look in his eyes and Tyler knew that Josh understood, that this wasn't just show and tell. That this was real.

That this was Tyler offering Josh his soul. 

But for once, Tyler wasn't afraid. 

He knew that Josh would take good care of it. 

When they pulled in the driveway and got out of the car, Tyler carefully took Josh by the hand and led him inside. He led him through the living room, past Zack (who had fallen asleep on the sofa, apparently trying to wait up for them), and down the stairs. He led him to the small sofa in the basement, the one where he wrote most of his lyrics, and had him sit down while he walked over a few steps to the piano. 

Deep breaths. 

Quietly, hesitantly, Tyler started singing. His fingers softly pressed the keys, shaking a little at first. 

"I don't know why I feed on emotion
There's a stomach inside my brain
I don't wanna be heard, I wanna be listened to
Does it bother anyone else that someone else has your name?"

As the words found their way into the open, into the ears of another person for the first time, Tyler's voice almost broke. 

Almost. 

But at that moment, he looked at Josh.

And that was all it took. 

One look at that beautiful boy and Tyler felt like he could do anything. 

Even sing. 

"I scream, you scream, we all scream
Cause we're terrified of what's around the corner
We stay in place cause we don't want to lose our lives
So let's think of something better"

His voice steadily grew more powerful, his hands more sure of themselves as they danced across the keys for the millionth time. Slowly, it became more like what he was used to.

"Down in the forest, we'll sing a chorus
One that everybody knows
Hands held higher, we'll be on fire
Singing songs that nobody wrote"

Except that this wasn't anything like what he was used to, because he was used to being alone and he was used to being terrified and right now, he was neither one of those things. 

"Quickly moving towards a storm
Moving forward, torn
Into pieces over reasons
Of what these storms are for
I don't understand why everything I adore
Takes a different form when I squint my eyes
Have you ever done that? 
When you squint your eyes
And your eyelashes make it look a little not right
And then when just enough light comes from just the right side and you find
You're not who you're supposed to be?"

Tyler was definitely not who he was supposed to be. Or at least, that's what he had thought when he wrote it. What he still thought sometimes. 

But he wasn't so sure anymore. 

"This is not what you're supposed to see
Please, remember me
I am supposed to be king of a kingdom
Or swinging on a swing
Something 
Happened to my imagination
The situation's becoming dire 
My treehouse is on fire
And for some reason I smell gas on my hands
This is not what I had planned
This is not what I had planned"

This was definitely not what he had planned, Tyler thought as he finished the song and glanced over at the yellow-haired boy on the sofa. As Josh got up and took a seat next to him, as this beautiful, perfect person gently stroked Tyler's face and looked at him like he was the most beautiful thing in the world, even when Tyler knew that that was impossible, because Josh was the most beautiful thing in the world, no contest. 

As Josh leaned over and kissed him, soft and slow and deep, looking at Tyler afterwards like he still couldn't believe what he was seeing. Like Tyler was the most perfect person in the world. 

Like he had just realized that Tyler was the love of his life. 

"That was. . . Ty, that was so. . ." Josh shook his head slightly, trying to find the words. "You're so amazing." He took Tyler's hand in his and placed a few soft kisses along his knuckles. "You know, you could do this," he said quietly.

"Do what?" Tyler whispered, confused. 

"This," Josh repeated, gesturing to the piano. "Music." He looked Tyler in the eye, and he had that look, and Tyler knew that he meant every word he was saying. "You could make it."

"You think so?" Tyler looked at him shyly. 

"No," Josh grinned. "I know so." 

"C'mon," Tyler grinned, shoving him playfully in the arm. "You're being ridiculous."

"Hey," Josh giggled back, "I may be ridiculous about a lot of things, but I know music. And that right there was one of the best frickin' songs I've ever heard." He paused. "Maybe the best."

"Okay, now you're just being crazy," Tyler insisted (but he still couldn't stop smiling). 

"Crazy about you," Josh replied smoothly, flashing one of his classic squinty-eyed smiles. Oh, man. Tyler was never gonna get over that feeling. 

It was around this time that the kissing started again.

And it was a few minutes later that they moved to the sofa, fumbling to keep their lips connected the whole time. 

And all Tyler could think was that they needed to be closer. Their mouths worked together and their tongues fluttered across each other's lips and their hands roamed all over, but it still wasn't enough. 

And then Josh's hand grazed Tyler's thigh. 

And holy heck that was a good feeling. 

And then, before he even knew what he was doing, Tyler was straddling Josh's lap, and instantly Josh's hands were gripping his thighs, holding him in place and sending sparks through his entire body. And then Tyler rolled his hips forward. 

And then the world stopped turning. 

And then Tyler did it again, pushing his hips into Josh's until they were both moaning with the contact. Until Josh arched his hips up in response, until the friction had them melting in each other's arms, until nothing existed but the taste of each other's tongues and the grinding of their hips and the overwhelming feeling of oh my gosh, I'm so in love with this boy

So, no. This definitely wasn't what Tyler had planned. 

This was better in every way imaginable. 

Chapter Text

Tyler was confused. 

The moment he woke up, he remembered every glorious detail of the day before. 

He remembered his beautiful date with Josh.

He remembered coming back home and going downstairs, playing a song for him. 

He remembered making out with Josh in the basement, climbing into his lap and grinding their hips together (Tyler had no idea what had possessed him to do that, but he decided that whatever it was, it would probably be possessing him on a fairly regular basis in the future, because dang it felt good).

He even remembered curling up against Josh on the couch afterwards, still halfway in his lap when he fell asleep to the feeling of Josh running his hand softly through Tyler's hair. 

But he most definitely did not remember getting into his bed. 

Which is exactly where he was. 

In his bed. 

Upstairs. 

Still wearing the exact same outfit, except for his shoes, which were sitting neatly on the floor. 

So, uh.

WHAT THE HECK. 

Tyler hastily got out of bed and began to change clothes, but as soon as he opened his closet, he froze. 

The flowers. 

The beautiful pink roses that Josh had given him last night, sitting perfectly in his closet. 

Maybe Josh had been right to say the flowers reminded him of Tyler after all.

Okay.

Not a great time for closet jokes, Tyler. 

But still. 

It was kind of hilarious. 

It didn't explain anything, though, and Tyler walked downstairs just as confused as he had been when he woke up. 

He grabbed a bowl of cereal as usual and plopped down at the table across from Zack, completely and utterly perplexed. 

Which is why it took him so long to realize that his mom had been talking to him. 

"Tyler?" 

He finally snapped his gaze up to see his mom standing in the kitchen, looking at him expectantly. "What?" he mumbled through a mouthful of cereal. 

"I said, did you have a good time last night?" she repeated. "Boy, you've really got your head in the clouds lately, haven't you?"

Tyler blushed, as if she might know who he'd been thinking about. "Um, yeah, it was -- it was fun," he replied vaguely, ignoring her last comment. 

"And did your friend have fun, too?"

"Yeah," he said slowly, starting to realize what was happening. 

His mom was a lot craftier than she looked, and when she wanted to know something, not much could stop her from finding out. 

And she wanted to know who he'd been hanging out with. 

She was baiting him. 

"What's her name, again?" she continued casually. 

Tyler rolled his eyes. "Never said I was with a girl, Mom," he said flatly. 

Well, he wasn't. 

"Hey, Mom," Zack broke in suddenly. "Did you know that a lot of churches are accepting gay marriage now?"

Tyler almost choked on his cereal. 

Well. 

He kind of did.

Just a little bit. 

Once his lungs had recovered, Tyler shot a warning glance at Zack and mouthed, "What the heck are you doing?" 

"The plan," he mouthed back before their mom turned to look at them. 

"Is that so?" his mom said with raised eyebrows, looking a little confused and not at all fooled by Zack's expression of innocent curiosity. 

"Yep," Zack continued casually. "I was reading this article about it, and a lot of people are talking about how the Bible doesn't even really condemn homosexuality. How it only even mentions it like six times, and most of those passages are about rape."

"Uh-huh," she replied slowly, setting down the dishes she'd been putting away to give him her full attention. 

It wasn't every day that Zack suddenly decided to debate theology during breakfast. 

"And even the verse from Leviticus -- the one that talks about it being an abomination, and all that -- doesn't really count, because the same law forbids people to mix different fabrics and work on Saturdays and get tattoos, but people still do that stuff all the time."

"Well, that's a very good point, Zack," she said, confused. "Why the sudden interest in all this?"

Zack shrugged. "No reason. Just thought it was interesting." He paused, then looked at her carefully. "Wondered what you thought about it." 

Tyler tensed.

He certainly didn't approve of Zack's whole "facing the issue head on" method, but he couldn't help listening a little closer. 

"Well," she said carefully, and Tyler was dying inside. "It's definitely a big issue right now. . . If it's really something you want to talk about, I'd be happy to look into it, and we can have a discussion about it some other time."

Zack smiled. "Thanks, Mom. That sounds great."

She looked at him skeptically. "Are you sure there's not anything in particular that brought this up?"

"No," he shook his head casually. "I'm just really passionate about equality."

"Well, that's -- nice, honey." She looked at him oddly, and Tyler could tell that she knew there was more to it than that. 

She wasn't an idiot. 

"Just -- let me know if there's -- if there's some other reason, okay?" she continued, heading into the laundry room. 

"Sure, Mom. Thanks!" Zack smiled innocently. 

As soon as she was gone, Tyler smacked him. 

"What are you doing?" he hissed. "Are you trying to get me caught?"

"Hey, I'm trying to help you," Zack countered bitterly. "While you were busy -- I don't know -- fornicating with your boyfriend or whatever, I was actually doing some research and trying to come up with a plan."

Tyler scoffed indignantly. "I was not fornicating."

"Oh, really?" Zack said with raised eyebrows. "What were you doing in the basement for so long, then?" 

Tyler narrowed his eyes. "How did you know we were in the basement? You were asleep in the living room."

Zack crossed his arms. "You first."

"We weren't -- we didn't do anything," Tyler stuttered, "I just -- I showed him a song I'd been working on and then we -- sat on the couch for a while."

He wasn't sure if it counted as fornication, but he decided to leave the grinding part out. 

Zack's eyes widened. "You showed him your music?"

Tyler nodded, hesitating. 

"Wow. You must really love him."

"I do," he said quietly.

After a moment, he cleared his throat and asked, "So what about you? How did you know I took him to the basement?"

"Oh. I saw him carry you upstairs," Zack said casually. 

"WHAT?" Tyler almost shrieked.

That wasn't --

Did --?

How could --

What? 

Zack shrugged. "Yeah, I guess you fell asleep and he had to go to work or something, so he carried you up to your room. Said he didn't wanna wake you up, or whatever."

Tyler was shocked. 

Josh had carried him -- frickin carried him -- to bed, and Tyler had missed it. 

He had never been more disappointed in his life. 

Or more turned on, to be honest. 

Then, Tyler's eyes widened as he realized everything that Zack had just said. "Wait, you -- you talked to him? What did he say?" And then: "Oh my gosh, what did you say?"

"Woah, calm down," Zack said, rolling his eyes. "I asked him what he was doing, he told me. End of story."

Well, dang it. 

Josh had carried him to bed. 

"Was it --?" Tyler blushed. "Nevermind," he muttered quickly. 

"Yes, it was bridal style," Zack said grudgingly.

Tyler bit his lip a little to stop himself from smiling. "Really?"

"You're so weird," Zack muttered, shaking his head as he got up to leave. 

Tyler was too far gone to hear him. 

After a generous amount of time trying to picture Josh carrying him to bed (and oh my gosh, why was the idea of it being bridal style so incredibly intoxicating?), Tyler couldn't take it any longer. 

He needed the real thing. 

So, he sent Josh a text. 

I can't believe you carried me to bed and I missed it. 

good morning to you too sweetheart

Why didn't you tell me you had to work today? I wouldn't have kept you up so late. 

you literally just answered your own question

Ha ha. Are you gonna be there all day? 

pretty much

Oh. I guess we'll have to do something tomorrow then. 

I guess so

They made it for about fifteen minutes before Tyler caved. 

Do you think maybe I could stop by? 

oh gosh please

So here he was, not even an hour later, trying to find the Guitar Center. 

And when he did, it took everything he had not to throw himself at Josh the moment he walked in the door. 

And "everything he had" came in the form of Josh's manager, Debby.

Who was right frickin there. 

As soon as Josh saw him, his eyes lit up and he walked over, smiling. "Hi, is there" -- he glanced at Debby -- "um, is there anything I can help you find?"

Tyler got the message. 

Keep it cool in front of the manager. 

Got it. 

"Yes, actually," Tyler replied politely. "I was, uh, thinking about getting a -- a banjo."

Josh seemed to be using all of his willpower to stop himself from laughing. "A banjo?"

"Yep," Tyler confirmed, looking him right in the eye. "I've been, uh, struggling a little bit with my music -- y'know, trying to really discover my sound -- and I am confident that a solid country twang is the only thing that will work."

"A solid country twang, huh?" Josh smirked. "I think I can help with that."

"You know, I sensed that you could," Tyler said genuinely. 

Josh led him to a collection of instruments and, one by one, talked him through the details of each one. With anyone else, it might have been monotonous, but this was Josh. And Josh reading from a phone book would've been sexy as all heck. 

Whoa. 

There was that word again. 

But, try as he may, Tyler was starting to think it was impossible to disconnect Josh from that word. 

He was just so sexy. 

All the frickin time. 

So, Tyler hung on Josh's every word like it was the most beautiful thing he'd ever heard, and they made a game of seeing how ridiculous they could be without Debby noticing. ("What do you think of this one?" "I don't know, it just -- it feels a little pretentious." "Right -- I see exactly what you mean. How about this?" "It's better, but. . . I don't know, I still feel like the strings are judging me.")

And then, Josh handed him a ukulele.

And Tyler wanted to make a joke about it. He really did. 

But he kind of loved it. 

It was small and light and it sounded so. . . pure. Like it would perfectly match a song about --

"You like that one?" Josh smiled. 

Tyler blushed. Goodness knows why, but he blushed. "Um, y-yeah, I kinda do," he said quietly. 

"You look good with it," Josh grinned, and Tyler blushed even harder. "They're pretty easy to play, too, so if you're not used to strings, it's a great place to start."

Tyler couldn't stop smiling at it. And he knew he was being a total dweeb, but it was so frickin adorable.

And it probably wasn't completely normal for a grown man to be gawking over how adorable a ukulele was, but if Josh didn't care, then Tyler didn't either. 

In fact, Josh seemed to think it was pretty cute. 

Not the ukulele. 

But Tyler holding the ukulele. 

And smiling at it. 

And smiling at Josh.

The whole situation was pretty frickin adorable, to be honest. 

Until Debby walked over and politely asked Josh when he was gonna stop flirting with the customers. 

And then it got a little uncomfortable. 

They both blushed as Josh quickly tried to explain, "Um, so this is -- well, he's not exactly, uh --"

"I'm Josh's boyfriend," Tyler blurted. 

They all froze. 

Okay.

What the snap just happened?

Because he and Josh had done a lot of things, but they certainly hadn't had the talk -- the one where they decided what kind of relationship it was and all that -- and they had most definitely not decided to officially label themselves as boyfriends.

Oh, heck, Tyler wanted to. 

But he probably should've discussed it before blurting it out to Josh's manager, of all people. 

Josh, meanwhile, looked like he had just won the lottery.

In fact, Tyler wasn't sure if he had ever seen Josh so happy. 

Huh.

How about that? 

Debby smiled and gasped, "Josh, I didn't know you had a boyfriend."

"Me neither," Josh grinned with his beautiful, squinty eyes. 

Tyler blushed and smiled shyly at Josh as Debby looked at them, a little confused.

"This is Tyler," Josh beamed. "My boyfriend," he added proudly. 

Oh gosh. That might have been the sexist thing Josh had ever said. 

My boyfriend

"It's nice to meet you, Tyler," Debby smiled at him, looking absolutely delighted. "I didn't even know you played for that team," she joked, glancing at Josh with a playful smile. 

Oh. 

She thought that Josh was straight, Tyler realized. 

She probably worked with Josh all the time, he realized. 

She was really pretty, he realized. 

Josh was really pretty too, he realized. 

He wasn't sure why, but suddenly there was something about Debby that made him uneasy. 

Uneasy in a "stay away from my man" sort of way. 

Instinctively, he inched closer to Josh. 

It made him feel a little better. 

But not much. 

"Me neither," Josh repeated with a faint blush. "I guess we kind of surprised each other," he added, beaming at Tyler. 

Tyler beamed right back. 

"Ugh. You guys are too cute," Debby said, rolling her eyes playfully. She looked at them both. "Y'know, there's no reason for you two to lurk around like this," she continued. "Josh, why don't you go ahead and take your break? It's been pretty slow today, anyways -- I think I can manage by myself for a little bit."

"Aww, thanks, Deb. You're the best," Josh grinned. 

"I know," she smirked. "Now, go on -- go be in love, or whatever," she added as she made her way back to the front counter. 

"She seems. . . nice," Tyler commented stiffly after Debby was out of earshot.

"Yeah, she's great," Josh agreed. 

Tyler paused. "She's pretty, too," he added casually.

Josh laughed. 

"What?" Tyler asked defensively. 

"You're really cute when you're jealous, you know that?" Josh giggled. 

"I wasn't -- I am not jealous," Tyler scoffed. "I merely commented that she's someone who might generally be considered a nice-looking person."

"Yeah," Josh smirked, "her girlfriend thinks so, too."

"Oh."

Josh kissed him on the cheek. "You're adorable."

Tyler blushed. "Yeah, being super possessive is just the cutest thing ever," he mumbled sarcastically. 

"It is when you do it," Josh grinned. 

This boy was everything. 

And Tyler was an idiot.

Josh took him softly by the hand and smiled, biting his lip a little. "C'mon, there's something I wanna show you."

He led Tyler to a practice room in the back. 

And in the middle of the room, there was a bright, shiny drum set.

Oh.

Tyler knew what was coming. 

And it made him shiver. 

"I figured, y'know, you showed me your music, and I know that -- that it was really important to you, so I, uh," Josh stumbled nervously, "I wanted to show you mine, too."

"Wow, I --" Tyler struggled to find the words. 

This was special. Josh was special. 

And now Josh wanted to show Tyler something that had helped him through so much, something that meant the absolute world to him. 

And Josh was nervous about it. Just like Tyler had been. 

And Tyler knew what that meant. 

That he was about to hear Josh's soul. 

"I would love that, Josh," he whispered solemnly, even though the words didn't even come close to what he knew this meant. 

Josh smiled shyly in response and grabbed a pair of drumsticks, carefully taking a seat in front of the set. It was like he'd done it a million times, like he knew this set better than he knew himself, but he was just now seeing it for the first time. 

Tyler knew the feeling. 

But he didn't know the feeling of watching the boy you love decide to play music for you, of watching him sit down and start to play, slowly at first. Of watching his confidence build, as you became as safe to him as he was to himself, and he was finally able to unleash all the feeling and energy that drove him to that music in the first place. Of knowing how important that music was, what it had helped him through, and knowing that, by sharing it with you, he was making you a part of that. 

Because you helped him too, now.

Because you helped each other. 

And as he watched this beautiful yellow-haired boy hit the drums with everything he had, Tyler fell a little bit more in love. 

Okay. 

A lot more. 

Because Josh playing the drums was absolutely breathtaking. 

The way his hands danced across the drums, moving with a speed and grace that Tyler had never associated with that instrument before. The way his head tilted back sometimes, how his eyes closed as he lost himself in the rhythm, as he allowed himself to be swept away in the music because he didn't need to look to know what his hands were doing. The way his legs pounded into the ground, partially to keep the rhythm and partially because he was having the time of his life and his body just couldn't contain that amount of joy without moving even more than it needed to. 

Tyler's first reaction was "oh my gosh he is the most talented drummer I've ever seen in my life." 

His second reaction was "oh my gosh this is the hottest thing I've ever seen in my life." 

Tyler completely respected the emotional value of Josh's talent, and he never forgot how much it meant to him as an outlet for his anxiety, but dang

It was so hot.

And he tried to come up with a verbal response that reflected this complete and utter respect when Josh finished his song. He really did. 

And he managed a whole, "That was --" before he slammed his lips into Josh's and braced him against the wall, channeling all the feelings that this boy had just given him into one long, powerful kiss. 

Josh initially let out a breathless chuckle (which, granted, was a little muffled due to the close proximity of Tyler's face), but it didn't take long for him to return the kiss with just as much passion. As Tyler's hands traced their way eagerly from Josh's jawline to the back of his neck, tangling themselves into his bright yellow locks as if he needed to hold onto him or they'd both disappear, as if Josh was the only thing tying him to reality, Josh instantly mirrored every feeling, every ounce of want that Tyler couldn't help experiencing whenever he was with this boy. 

And oh, Josh gave him what he wanted. 

Tyler deepened the kiss as Josh's hands gripped his waist, as they slid down his back and under his shirt, lower and lower until Tyler was gasping into the other boy's mouth. 

Until Josh knew how much he was making Tyler lose it. 

Until Josh arched his hips up, just a little bit. Just enough. 

Until Tyler was full-on moaning into Josh's mouth, until his hips eagerly pushed forward for more contact, until they were both completely breathless and completely turned on and completely in love. 

Until Josh had to go back to work and Tyler went home with a floaty feeling in his head and a brand new ukulele. 

So, Tyler found that visiting Josh at work was an overall positive experience. 

Actually, doing literally anything with Josh was an overall positive experience.  

Which is why, over the next couple of weeks, they started going grocery shopping together. 

It all started when they both had to work two days in a row. 

Two. Whole. Fricking. Days.

Tyler was pretty sure he could have died. 

Josh was pretty sure that he almost did die. 

So, they agreed that, in the future, no matter what, they would never go more than a day without seeing each other. 

And then Tyler's mom asked him to run some errands. 

And then he almost died again. 

But while Tyler was whining to Josh that he couldn't spend the whole day at the grocery store after not seeing him for so long, Josh calmly suggested that he could come shopping with him. 

Tyler had no idea that a grocery store could possibly be fun or exciting in any way. 

But with Josh, it was. 

In fact, they had so much fun it probably should've been illegal. 

So, they matched up their shopping schedules and Tyler offered to permanently take over the grocery shopping for his mom (who was incredibly surprised, but more than willing to let him) and they found a guaranteed way to spend time together at least twice a week.

And somehow, it was always an adventure. 

One day, Tyler found a box of lemon-flavored cake mix, and he got so excited about it matching Josh's hair that he spent the rest of the day in Josh's apartment, baking a cake and playfully putting frosting on Josh's nose and calling Josh "his little lemon." 

Josh secretly loved it. 

The "little lemon" thing. 

Not the cake. 

Because they both agreed that the cake was frickin awesome. 

And they both agreed that Tyler should bake more often, because it turned out that he totally rocked at it. 

Another day, they were wandering around the store, looking for the tissue aisle, when Josh suddenly gasped. Tyler stopped in his tracks, thinking something was wrong, but Josh kept going. He grabbed Tyler's hand and almost ran towards whatever he had seen, dragging Tyler to what turned out to be the nail polish. 

"No," said Tyler. 

"Please?" Josh looked at him with those beautiful brown eyes, and Tyler was gone. "It'll be so much fun," Josh begged. 

Tyler sighed. "Just -- get me a color that won't clash with my eyes, okay?"

Josh squealed with excitement -- fricking squealed, and it really shouldn't have been as attractive to Tyler as it was -- and ended up with a dark, sparkling red for Tyler and a bright bubblegum pink for himself. 

Tyler was actually kind of excited. 

He would never admit it, but whenever he saw his little sister painting her nails, he always wondered just a little bit what it would be like. 

And now he would know. 

Josh really had a way of making him brave enough to do the things he'd always wanted to do. 

Sing. 

Paint his fingernails. 

Make out with a guy in a movie theater. 

Well, maybe that last one hadn't explicitly been on his list, but Josh definitely made him want to try it. 

And now, here they were. Sitting on the floor in Tyler's room, painting their fingernails and giggling like a couple of little girls. 

It was so much fun.

"That color looks really good on you," Tyler grinned as Josh finished applying the bright pink paint to his nails. "With your hair, it's like -- I don't know, grapefruit-y or something."

Josh chuckled. "First I'm a lemon, now I'm a grapefruit?" He carefully screwed the lid back on the polish, trying not to mess up his nails. "Make up your mind, Joseph," he teased. 

Tyler considered it for a moment. "Hmm, definitely a lemon," he decided. "It's -- it's more like pink lemonade now." He beamed as Josh held his hands up to his hair and smiled. 

"It makes me feel so pretty," Josh giggled happily. 

"You are pretty," Tyler said with a bright smile. 

Josh smiled back at him fondly. "Not as pretty as you," he insisted, carefully grabbing Tyler's hand and admiring how the dark red complimented his tan skin. 

"Nah," Tyler blushed. "I didn't even do a very good job, next time I need to be more careful around the edges --"

Unfortunately, Tyler was so caught up in the excitement that he didn't even notice that his mom had gotten home until she walked in his room. 

"Tyler?"

"MOM," he shot up off the ground and tried to cover his hands, but the whole room smelled like nail polish and everyone knew it. "You're -- you're home early," he added weakly. 

"Yeah, I -- um, what exactly is going on here?" she asked, confused. 

"I, uh -- we were -- we were just -- um --" he stuttered. 

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Joseph," Josh broke in politely. "It's my fault. We were just goofing around, and I thought it would be fun to try painting our nails. I guess it got a little out of hand," he joked, flashing one of his classic squinty-eyed smiles. 

Oh, man. A pun and that beautiful face? 

This boy was good. 

And Tyler was trying really, really hard not to ignore everything and kiss him right now.

Thankfully -- as if anyone could resist Josh's incredible charm (and we all know that Tyler certainly couldn't) -- his mom softened considerably after that. She smiled a little and looked at Tyler. "So, who's this?"

"Oh. Right." Tyler blinked. "Uh, Mom, this is Josh. My, uh -- my friend that I told you about."

"It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Joseph," Josh grinned sheepishly. "I would offer to shake your hand, but I think my nails are still a little wet."

How the heck did he make everything sound so charming? 

I mean, really. Josh had only said a few words, and Tyler was enchanted with him all over again. 

And it looked like it was starting to work on Tyler's mom, too. 

"Well, I wouldn't want you to mess them up on my account," she laughed kindly. 

Then, Tyler heard steps in the hallway. 

"Hey, Mom? Where's the --" Zack stopped abruptly upon entering the room. "Are you --" he looked at them with narrowed eyes. "Are you seriously painting your fingernails right now?"

"I don't know," Josh began in a thoughtful voice. "I mean, at first I was just kind of doing it for fun, but I'm actually feeling pretty serious about it now." 

Tyler laughed. 

He couldn't help it. 

He was in love, and this boy was hilarious, and Tyler just laughed. His mom and Zack both looked at him oddly, a little surprised. 

Because Zack had been right: Tyler wasn't usually happy about much. 

And now, here he was, standing in his room next to his secret boyfriend, wearing red fingernail polish right in front of his mom, just absolutely laughing his head off.

So, instead of being embarrassed of her grown son painting his fingernails, instead of being concerned about him or condemning Josh for getting him to do it, instead of doing any of the things that Tyler had been so worried about, Tyler's mom smiled. 

Because her son was happy for the first time in a long time, and if that meant painting his fingernails with his yellow-haired punk of a best friend, then that was okay with her. 

And it was more than okay with Zack. 

"Hey, Mom," Zack said suddenly, glancing at Tyler with a wink. 

Uh-oh.

That was his "I have a plan" voice. 

And unlike Josh's "I have a plan voice" (which usually ended with them making out), Zack's "I have a plan" voice seemed to end with an awkward and painfully suspicious conversation about theology and gay acceptance in the church. 

In other words, Tyler might as well have been wearing a t-shirt that said, "Hi, Mom! I'm super gay and this is my boyfriend."

Wait. 

Did he just refer to himself as gay? 

Huh.

That was new. 

He'd have to think about that for a bit. 

Meanwhile, back to the "uh-oh."

"Wouldn't it be great if Josh stayed for dinner?" Zack continued innocently. "I'm sure everyone would like a chance to get to know Tyler's new friend."

Oh, no he didn't. 

"Well, that's a wonderful idea, honey," Tyler's mom responded with a little too much enthusiasm. "We would love it if you'd stay with us for dinner, Josh."

"Oh," Josh seemed just as surprised as Tyler felt. When they snuck back here to paint their nails, neither one of then expected a full-on "meet the family" situation. "I'm, uh -- I mean, I don't want to impose," he said awkwardly. 

"Oh, nonsense," his mom dismissed any thought of rejecting the invitation with a wave of her hand. "It's no trouble at all." Then, she started to leave, saying, "I'll just set an extra place at the table and let you boys know when dinner's ready."

And that was that. 

"So, I guess I'm staying for dinner?" Josh said, confused. 

Tyler smacked Zack's arm. 

"Ow."

"What do you think you're doing?" Tyler hissed. "First, all the gay talk at breakfast --"

"All the what now?" Josh asked. 

"-- and now, dinner? She's gonna find out!"

"Well, that's kind of the point, isn't it?" Zack replied. "She's gonna find out one day, so wouldn't it be better if she's already on board with everything when she does?" He scoffed. "I mean, really, you saw what just happened. She spent like, three minutes with him and she already approves. Just imagine how much she'll like him after tonight. And if she already likes him, then maybe she'll start to think, 'Oh, man, wouldn't it be great if Tyler was dating someone like that?' And then you can be like, 'Congratulations, Mom -- I am!'"

Tyler stared at him. "You're insane."

"I'm a genius, and you know it."

"A genius would've at least given me some notice first," Tyler muttered. 

Zack shook his head. "That would've ruined everything. You're much better at improvising."

"That's true," Josh chimed in. 

Tyler looked at him in exaggerated shock, scoffing and opening his mouth. "You little traitor," he gasped dramatically. 

Josh shrugged innocently. "Well, he's got a point. You're great at doing things on the spot, and I've got to meet everyone at some point. It might as well be tonight." He moved a little closer, softly reaching for Tyler's hand. "If you want me to go, I'll go. But I think we can do this. And who knows? Maybe if we work together, we can actually convince your parents to like me," he grinned. 

Tyler smiled. "I don't think you need my help with that."

"Okay, I'm gonna leave before you two start sucking each other's faces off," Zack broke in. "Just try not to be so flirty at dinner."

Tyler blushed, but Josh just grinned even wider and called out, "I can't make any promises!" as Zack left. 

"Do you really think we can do this?" Tyler whispered, just realizing how nervous he was. 

"Yeah, I do," Josh assured him quietly. "I mean, if it makes you feel better, you can suck my face off for a few minutes first," he said in a serious voice, "you know, just to get it out of your system."

Tyler laughed. "You're not even subtle, you know that?"

But Tyler made out with him anyway. 

At least, until his dad got home. 

And then, he very seriously considered having a panic attack. 

Okay. It was okay. Josh was just going to meet his dad. That was it. 

Just his boyfriend. Meeting his dad. 

Who didn't know he had a boyfriend. 

Okay. 

"So, is there anything I should know, any -- I don't know, any tips?" Josh asked nervously as they headed down the stairs. 

Tyler shrugged. "If you like basketball, he'll like you." Then, as an afterthought: "But if you like the wrong team, you'll probably be dead to him."

Josh's eyes widened a little. "What's the wrong team?"

He didn't get an answer. 

"Well, you're not one of my kids," Tyler's dad said as soon as they were in sight.

"Um -- no, I'm -- uh --" Josh stuttered, a little shaken by the basketball thing. 

"Must be a hard name if it takes you that long to remember it," his dad chuckled good-naturedly. 

Tyler coughed. "Um, Dad, this is -- this is Josh. My friend," he added quickly, as if it needed to be clarified. 

"You have a friend?" his dad's eyes widened in surprise. "Kelly," he called, "why didn't you tell me Tyler got himself a friend? We could've had a party or something."

"Ha ha. I don't have any friends. Very funny."

"Chris, be nice to him," Tyler's mom called back sternly.

"I'm being nice," his dad replied. "Don't wanna scare away the one friend he has," he added jokingly before turning to Josh. After a moment, he said, "Do you like basketball, son?"

"Yes," Josh answered a little too quickly. 

Chris nodded approvingly. "You boys wanna shoot some hoops before dinner? You two, me, and Zack, maybe play a little two-on-two?"

"That sounds great, Dad," Zack's voice came out of nowhere. 

That little twerp. 

As much as Tyler didn't want his dad to play basketball with his secret boyfriend, he didn't really have a choice. Zack glanced at Tyler, winked, and mouthed "the plan" before giving him a subtle thumbs up and heading outside. 

And that was that. 

So now, here he was playing against Josh and Zack (his dad had said, "I'm old, I deserve the best player").

And Tyler was trying not to flirt with Josh in front of his family. He really was. 

But they were playing basketball, for goodness' sake. 

It was, like, the flirtiest game ever invented. 

Not that Tyler had ever thought about it that way before, but now, watching Josh's muscles flex every time he got the ball, coming face to face with him when Tyler tried to block his shots, thinking about the phrase, "blocking his shots" -- now, it all had a conspicuously sexual element, and it took everything Tyler had not to turn the game into one massive flirting session. 

Actually, it took Zack. 

He became their unofficial flirting barrier. Every time Tyler started to giggle a little too much, Zack "accidentally" rammed into him, looking at him with a sharp expression that pretty clearly said, "You idiot, Dad's right there." And when Josh occasionally (constantly) started checking Tyler out (because let's be honest here -- basketball was Tyler's game, and he looked dang good playing it), Zack managed to place himself between them, rolling his eyes and giving them both a subtle glance of disapproval.

Still, Tyler did not go easy on Josh. 

This was his game, after all. 

And that was the day that Josh learned how competitive Tyler could be. 

Hint: it was pretty extreme. 

When they finished up (Tyler didn't even want to mention what the score was out of respect for Josh, but he totally creamed them), Tyler's dad went inside with Zack to help their mom with dinner while the two boys sat on the porch cooling off (his mom said that they got a free pass before dinner because Josh was the "guest of honor," but she made it clear that they were not exempt from cleaning up afterwards).

"Man," Josh chuckled breathlessly, "I was gonna try to go easy on you, but I guess I didn't need to."

Tyler smiled shyly. "Yeah, I guess I -- I can get a little competitive."

"A little?" Josh laughed. "At one point, I thought you were gonna knock Zack's head off and start using it as the ball."

"Okay, I'm not that bad."

Josh raised his eyebrows. 

Tyler sighed. "Okay, I am that bad. I might possibly need to work on it a little bit."

"I don't know. I mean, it was pretty hot."

"Oh, don't you start with that," Tyler warned him through a bright smile. "It's hard enough keeping my hands off of you without you saying stuff like that."

"Well, you shouldn't have been so hot playing basketball," Josh countered. 

Tyler glanced towards the window, making sure that no one was watching, and pressed a quick kiss to Josh's lips, barely pulling away before kissing him again, a little deeper. 

"Sorry," Tyler whispered, smirking. "Just had to get it out of my system."

"Boys -- dinner's ready!" his mom called from inside. 

Tyler sighed. "Let's get this thing over with."

"That's the spirit," Josh grinned. 

The questions weren't as bad as Tyler thought they'd be. 

In fact, for a little while, Tyler even managed to hold out hope that his family wouldn't turn dinner into an interrogation. 

But then they did. 

"Do you have any siblings?"
"Are you close with your parents?"
"Did you grow up here?"
"What church do you go to?"
"Where do you work?"
"Do you go to school?"
"Oh, you play the drums? How long have you been doing that?"

Josh handled it remarkably well. 

Honestly, it seemed to be Tyler who was more anxious about it. 

Josh noticed him nervously tapping his legs, so he softly reached across and held Tyler's hand under the table. That helped, and they stayed that way until dinner was over. 

But then came the Question. 

"Do you have a girlfriend?"

They both froze for a moment. 

"I, um -- I wouldn't say that exactly," Josh began sheepishly. "But I, uh -- I did start seeing someone recently, and it's -- I'd say it's going pretty well." He glanced at Tyler out of the corner of his eye, and Tyler couldn't help blushing a little. 

"Well, that sounds wonderful," Tyler's mom smiled. "What's she like?"

"Mom," Tyler broke in nervously, "you really don't have to ask him so many questions, I'm sure he's --"

"No, it's okay," Josh assured him with a smile. "I really don't mind." He paused for a moment. "They're, uh, incredibly kind. But not, like, in a fake way, you know what I mean? You can always tell it's genuine. Insanely talented musician" -- he chuckled -- "like, it should be illegal for one person to have so much talent, but they'd never admit it. A little shy, which is weird, because I've never met anyone who has more reason to be confident. I'm pretty sure they've got to have at least one flaw, but I'm still looking for it," he grinned. Then, he looked right at Tyler before adding softly, "And they just might be the bravest person I've ever met."

Tyler was speechless. 

His mom looked at Josh with a kind smile. "It sounds like you're pretty serious about her," she said softly. 

Josh squeezed Tyler's hand a little tighter under the table. "I am," he replied quietly, still looking at Tyler. 

Tyler cleared his throat. "I, um -- I'll be right back," he muttered, getting up from the table and making his way to the kitchen. He leaned against the counter (he definitely wasn't trying not to cry, okay?) and waited. 

Josh came in a couple minutes later. 

"Hey, is everything okay?" Josh asked soothingly, trying to be quiet enough that no one else could hear. 

Tyler kissed him in response. 

"I love you," he said simply. "I just -- I really needed to tell you that."

Josh gave him a long look of adoration. "Love you more," he whispered, drawing their foreheads closer together. 

Tyler smiled. "Not possible."

They stood there like that for a few more moments before they both realized that anyone could walk in at any time and that Tyler's family would probably start to wonder what they were doing. 

And when they went back to the table, Tyler managed to hide the fact that he and Josh had just been kissing. He could hide the fact that they were holding hands under the table, the fact that their legs were touching where no one else could see. 

But he couldn't stop smiling. 

And no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't hide how absolutely thrilled he was to be in the same room as Josh. 

But if anyone noticed (or happened to wonder if Tyler was a little bit in love with Josh), they didn't say anything. 

After dinner, they all sat in the living room to watch a movie. The two boys sat next to each other on the couch, and even though they couldn't exactly hold hands or kiss or cuddle without anyone noticing, Josh did manage to put his arm around Tyler casually enough that it seemed like he was just stretching it across the sofa. 

It was awesome.

Zack saw them and playfully rolled his eyes. 

Then, he looked out the window and tried not to smile. "Gee, it seems to have started raining pretty hard out there." Zack innocently glanced at their mom and added, "I sure wouldn't want to drive home in that."

"Oh, wow," Tyler's mom agreed, looking outside, "it really does look bad out there. Josh, honey, you should stay here tonight."

Tyler was completely unprepared for that. 

"W-what?" Tyler sputtered. 

"Oh, no, Mrs. Joseph, it's okay, I really don't mind driving home --" Josh insisted. 

"Yeah, Mom, we shouldn't make him stay over if he doesn't want to --" Tyler began nervously. 

"Oh, so you want your best friend to end up in an accident because you made him drive home in the rain?" his mom said, raising an eyebrow. 

Oh. 

That hadn't occurred to him. 

Suddenly, Tyler was filled with what he could only describe as a protective instinct, and he decided that Josh was staying the night, dang it, whether he wanted to or not. 

Josh continued, "I'll be careful, Mrs. Joseph, I've driven in the rain plenty of times before --" 

"Stay," Tyler interrupted. 

Josh looked at him, surprised. "What?"

"Stay," Tyler repeated insistently. "I want you to stay here," he said in a quieter voice, one that was only for Josh. 

Josh paused. "Yeah, okay. I guess -- I guess it wouldn't hurt to crash on the couch just for tonight."

"Oh, no," Tyler's mom chimed in. "Honey, that couch isn't gonna be comfortable enough for you to sleep on." She thought for a moment. "You know, Tyler's bed is probably big enough for both of you. Why don't you just share his room tonight?" she said casually. 

"WHAT?" said Tyler, Josh, and Zack in unison. 

Their mom laughed. "Oh, come on. There's no reason to be uncomfortable with it. You've shared a bed with Zack before. And you're both adults -- I think you can handle one night in the same bed."

"Yeah, Tyler. We can handle one night in the same bed," Josh smirked, winking at him. 

Tyler shivered. 

This was gonna be an interesting night. 

So now, here he was, getting ready for bed. 

In his room. 

With Josh. 

Okay. 

He could do this. 

It was just spending the night with his boyfriend. 

No big deal. 

They brushed their teeth in silence, both a little nervous even though they had already spent the night in Josh's car together. 

This was different. 

Josh started to fidget with his hands a little. "Um, Ty?"

"Yeah?" He looked up, realizing that Josh was blushing for some reason. "What's the matter?" Tyler asked, concerned. 

"Nothing," he replied quickly. "It's just -- is it -- um -- I don't usually sleep with a shirt on. Do you mind --?"

"Oh." Tyler's eyes widened a little. "No, you can -- no, that's -- that's fine, go ahead," he squeaked. 

Josh smiled nervously and started to take off his shirt. 

Don't look, Tyler. Don't look don't look don't --

He looked. 

And in completely unrelated news, he died and went to heaven. 

Apparently, being a drummer for all those years had done good things for this boy. 

Really, really good things. 

"You okay?" Josh asked, raising an eyebrow and suppressing a smile, and Tyler didn't realize how obviously he'd been gawking at him. 

"What? No, I'm -- yeah, it's all -- I'm good," he responded in a high voice. 

Josh chuckled. "Y'know, it's okay if you wanna --" he gestured to Tyler's shirt "-- I mean, I don't mind."

Tyler broke away from the spectacle that was Shirtless Josh for a moment, just long enough to glance at his own shirt and blush. 

He usually slept without a shirt on, too. 

Okay. 

It's only weird if you make it weird, Tyler. 

Deep breaths. 

He took his shirt off and climbed into bed after Josh. (He decided not to mention how perfect it was that they already slept on opposite sides. But he was basically living the dream.)

They settled in, facing each other, and Tyler couldn't help blushing. 

Was it really warm in here? It felt like it was really warm in here. 

Maybe it was just the sexual tension. 

Because Tyler was feeling a lot of that right now. 

Josh, however, seemed perfectly comfortable. 

Which honestly only made him even hotter. 

And Tyler was trying not to stare. But good grief, Josh was pretty. 

And, by the look of it, Josh was thinking the same thing about him. He slowly reached a hand across and started to gently trace Tyler's tattoos with his finger. "I didn't know you had these," he whispered. "They're beautiful."

"You're trying to seduce me, aren't you?" Tyler accused him as chills ran through his entire body. 

Josh giggled. "That's the plan, love."

Time stopped, and Tyler was struck with the vague inclination that this -- laying here in bed with Josh, no shirts on, listening to this beautiful, perfect boy call him "love" -- this must be what heaven is like.

He swallowed. "Can you call me that again?" 

Josh smiled softly and ran a hand through Tyler's hair. "I can call you that forever if you want me to."

"Please do," he whispered, trying not to sound desperate, but oh, Lord, he was desperate. 

Desperate to hear Josh call him "love" again. 

Desperate to go to bed with this boy every night for the rest of his life. 

Desperate for forever

"Good night, love," Josh whispered with so much adoration that Tyler couldn't help leaning a little closer. 

"Good night, little lemon," he whispered back with a grin, their faces only inches apart. 

And Josh's smile was the last thing Tyler saw before he fell asleep. 

Chapter Text

Tyler had never had sex before. 

Okay? There. He said it. 

I mean, sure, he'd dated people before. And sure, he'd had girlfriends before. But none of those people had ever felt permanent. And Tyler just didn't feel right giving himself to someone that he was gonna forget about in a couple of years. 

So he didn't. 

But here's the thing. 

He had no such problem with Josh. 

And now he, Tyler Robert Joseph, Good Christian Boy™ and notorious heterosexual, found himself wanting to have sex with a boy. 

And that wasn't even the only problem. 

The other problem was that he, Tyler Robert Joseph, Good Christian Boy™ and notorious heterosexual, found himself wanting to have sex with a boy that he wasn't actually married to. 

As bad as it sounds, it really wasn't an issue of "the Bible said not to." I mean, the Bible did say not to, but that wasn't why Tyler had been waiting for marriage. It was just that he had always been taught that there was a reason for rules like that, and for him, the reason was that he couldn't feel comfortable being that intimate with anyone less than his soulmate.

Of course, the other issue was that he had never really believed in soulmates, so somewhere along the way, he had just decided to settle for the person he ended up marrying. 

But then he met Josh. 

And then he started to think that maybe there was something to that whole soulmate thing after all. 

Which was why the moment he woke up with his face plastered to Josh's bare chest, close enough that he could lick it if he wanted to (and wow, that thought came out of nowhere), with their legs tangled together and Tyler's hip pressed up against Josh's side, Tyler was forced to disentangle himself from the other boy as quickly as possible so he could sneak out and take a really, really cold shower (even though he was pretty sure that not even Antarctica could cure all the feelings he had for this boy). 

Well, at least there was one advantage to his situation. 

He was now 100% sure that he was, in fact, pretty frickin gay.

Because he had dated girls before and he had had girlfriends before but he had never felt like that before. 

And now that he thought about it, the fact that he had never really wanted to have sex with a girl probably should've raised some red flags a long time ago.

Tyler was an idiot. 

And now he was a gay idiot.

A gay idiot who wanted to have sex with his boyfriend. 

Great. 

After taking way too long in the shower, Tyler came back to his room to find the bed empty. He rushed downstairs, worried that Josh had already left, but let out a sigh of relief when he saw a shock of yellow hair at the table. 

"-- and the thing is, so many people are missing the point," Zack was saying through a mouthful of pancakes. (And Tyler's stomach might have given a little flutter as he realized that his mom had considered Josh's visit to be a special enough occasion for pancakes.) "I mean, the Bible mentions homosexuality like, six times. You know how many times it mentions love? Hundreds."

Josh seemed to be listening to Zack with polite curiosity, but Tyler's mom had her eyes narrowed. 

She knew something was up. 

Tyler sat down, trying desperately not to look as transparent as he felt. He wasn't sure what kind of behavior was expected from two allegedly straight boys who had just spent the night in bed together, but all Tyler wanted to do was wrap his arms around Josh's neck and kiss him. 

He figured that might give it away, though, so he settled for a quick glance at Josh and a subtle smile. 

"I'm just saying," Zack continued, completely oblivious to his mom's suspicious expression, "if that isn't enough to figure out what God's priorities are, then I don't know what is."

Everyone was silent for a minute. 

"That makes sense," Josh supplied finally. 

They were quiet again for a while, until Tyler's mom left the room. Tyler immediately leaned over and kissed Josh on the cheek, eliciting a bright smile. 

"Good morning," Tyler grinned. "Did you sleep okay last night?"

"I slept great last night," Josh smirked suggestively. "Your bed is pretty comfortable."

"Well, I guess you'll have to sleep over more often, then," Tyler replied with a light blush. 

"I'm still here," said Zack. 

"I know," Tyler responded, still gawking at Josh. 

Zack rolled his eyes and got up to leave, muttering something about "perverts" and "violating his innocence."

Tyler ignored him. 

Instead, he looked towards the kitchen one more time, making sure that no one was coming, and pressed his lips to Josh's, opening his mouth just enough for Josh to slide his tongue inside. Tyler moved closer, getting out of his own chair and leaning into Josh's lap as Josh gripped his waist with one hand and the back of his neck with another. 

This is what Tyler wanted every day to be like. 

Go to sleep with Josh. 

Wake up with Josh. 

Eat breakfast with Josh. 

Make out with Josh at the kitchen table. 

Of course, they had to stop when they heard Tyler's mom coming down the hall, but it was pretty great while it lasted. 

They spent the morning hanging out around the house, playing video games and talking and kissing in Tyler's room when no one was around. They had nowhere to be but here and nothing to do but absolutely adore each other. 

So far, Josh seemed to be doing pretty well with Tyler's family. Zack, of course, liked him because he was cool enough to dye his hair. Tyler's mom liked him because he was polite, and Tyler's dad seemed to be impressed with his basketball performance and his sense of humor.

But it wasn't until later that day that they found out who in Tyler's family liked Josh the most. 

They had been downstairs watching a movie (and, let's be real, cuddling on the couch while no one else was in the room), and Tyler had gotten up to go to the bathroom. 

When he came back, Josh was gone. 

Confused, Tyler went upstairs to check his room.

No Josh. 

He continued to search the house, checking the kitchen and the dining room, the other bedrooms, even the laundry room. 

Still no Josh. 

After double checking each room, he called out, "Hey, Mom? Have you seen Josh? I can't find him anywhere."

"I think he went outside a minute ago," she replied, smiling a little at Tyler's urgency. 

"Thanks," he muttered quickly and headed for the door. 

When he got outside, his heart melted. 

Literally melted.

Because there, right in his backyard, was Josh. Sitting criss-cross on the ground next to Tyler's little sister, Maddy.

Making flower crowns. 

"So, I -- I thread it through like this?" Josh was asking, showing a small chain of daisies to Maddy for approval.

She nodded solemnly. "Uh-huh. And you have to make sure you keep them close together so there isn't a gap in between the flowers."

"Oh, yeah, I see what you're saying," he replied, intently grabbing another flower from the small pile in front of them and adding it to his chain. 

Tyler watched with complete adoration as the two continued to connect the little white flowers, until they both had enough to make a crown. He stood on the porch silently, smiling at how pure this was and staying completely still because he didn't want to ruin anything.  

It was too perfect. 

Josh was too perfect. 

Finally, Josh noticed him standing there. He grinned, placing the crown gently on his head and pursing his lips a little. "How does it look?" he asked proudly, the daisies sitting crookedly on his head. 

He looked absolutely breathtaking. 

Tyler grinned. "It looks pretty sick." He walked over, unable to take his eyes off of Josh, and took a seat on the ground next to them. 

"What do you think?" Josh turned to Maddy. "Did I do a good job?"

Maddy took a minute to assess the quality of his flower crown before finally declaring, "You did okay."

"Wow. That's -- that's some pretty high praise coming from the master," Tyler said in an impressed voice. "I mean, when I tried it, I was told that I needed to pursue another hobby."

"You put your flowers too far apart," she accused him matter-of-factly. 

"That's okay, Ty," Josh grinned at him. "Not everyone can be 'okay' at making flower crowns. It takes a lot of skill and natural talent. Doesn't it, Maddy?"

Maddy giggled. 

"Well," Tyler sighed, "I guess you'll just have to help me."

"I might if you ask nicely," Josh smirked. 

Tyler rolled his eyes as Maddy laughed again, delighted to see someone messing with her older brother like that. "Josh," he asked in a painfully sweet voice, "would you pretty please help me make a flower crown, since I am apparently too incompetent to make one by myself?"

Josh smiled. "I would love to, Tyler." He stood up. "I'll go get some more flowers," he said, heading to the edge of the yard to collect more daisies. 

Tyler watched him, smiling. 

Everything about this boy was wonderful. 

So, of course he was good with kids. 

But, somehow, "good with kids" didn't quite cover it. 

Because watching the way that Josh talked to Maddy, seeing how he made her laugh, how he listened to her and let her show him exactly what to do, how he had dropped everything to go outside and make flower crowns with her just because she had asked --

It was absolutely enchanting. 

"Okay, I may be getting in a little over my head here," Josh said as he walked over and sat back down, "but I found these little yellow flowers, and I was thinking maybe I could try to add them to my crown -- really get this thing decked out, y'know?"

Tyler grinned. "Sounds awesome."

Josh walked him through each step, consulting Maddy the whole time to make sure they were doing it right, until Tyler had made a beautiful flower crown to match Josh's. 

Well. 

It sort of matched Josh's. 

Tyler's was a lot more pathetic. 

And then it fell apart.

But he wasn't too upset, because Josh made him a better one. 

The three of them spent hours adding to their crowns, finding every kind of flower in the yard to make each one as pretty as possible. They laughed and smiled the whole time, and before Tyler knew it, they were playing make believe, dancing around the yard because Maddy decided that it had become a ballroom. Tyler took turns spinning her and Josh around, laughing as they all held hands and twirled around each other, all the while attempting to keep their flower crowns in one piece. 

It was one of the most beautiful moments of Tyler's life. 

They spent the rest of the day with Maddy, dancing and laughing and playing games until they were all exhausted. They ended up in the living room, watching a movie, when Josh fell asleep. His head was resting on Tyler's shoulder, and his breaths were so soft, and Tyler didn't think he'd ever seen something so perfect (except maybe last night when Josh had taken his shirt off, because dang this boy had a hecking good body).

And, maybe, Tyler was so caught up in watching this boy sleep that he forgot to stop himself from smiling at him like he was everything good in the world (but let's be real, here -- he totally was).

Which is why he didn't notice Maddy staring at them. 

"I like him better than the girls you dated," she declared suddenly. 

Tyler froze. 

"W-what?" he stuttered, trying not to panic. "What do you -- what do you mean?"

"He's funny. And he's nice to me." She twirled a flower around in her hand. "None of the girls ever played with me like that."

"No, I --" Tyler took a deep breath. "I meant, why did you compare him to -- to the people I used to date?"

Maddy shrugged. "You look at him like he's a girl," she said simply. 

Tyler was speechless. 

Was he really that obvious? 

Did everyone notice his feeling for Josh? 

Oh, man.

Did his parents --?

"Don't worry," she assured him calmly, practically reading his mind. "I don't think Mommy or Daddy noticed."

Tyler stared at her, shocked. 

"Do you like him a lot?" Maddy continued casually, tilting her head a little. 

Tyler's heart was racing. "Um, yeah, I -- I do," he said in a quiet voice. "I love him," he added softly. 

She smiled bashfully, then gave him a curious look. "If you love him, then why are you scared to tell Mommy and Daddy?"

Tyler sighed. "It's -- I don't know, Maddy. It's complicated."

"Why?"

"Because -- because some people don't think it's okay for boys to like each other."

"Why?"

Tyler rubbed his forehead. "Because. . . because -- I don't know, Maddy, they just do."

"Do Mommy and Daddy think that?" 

Tyler looked at her for a moment. "I'm not sure," he said sadly. "That's why I'm scared to tell them."

"Oh." She paused. "Can Josh still come over and play, though?"

He chuckled. "Yeah, he can still come over and play."

She smiled, satisfied. "Good."

Yeah, Tyler silently agreed. It was good. 

So, overall, Tyler would say that their impromptu "meet the family" session went pretty smoothly. 

Unfortunately, their impromptu "meet Josh's roommate" session the following week did not go quite as smoothly. 

It had been a busy few days, and the two boys hadn't really had a lot of time to themselves. So, when they finally both had a day off, they fully intended to take advantage of it. 

Which is why, when Josh suggested that they hang out at his place since his roommate would be gone most of the day (AKA, they could make out), Tyler agreed a little too eagerly. 

They really had been too busy. 

And he needed Josh. 

Which is how he ended up on the sofa in Josh's apartment with Josh's hands in his hair and Josh's tongue down his throat and an incredibly warm feeling in his stomach. 

A warm feeling that he was slowly starting to associate with want.

And oh, he wanted this boy. 

He wanted this boy's chest on his, he wanted their hips so close together that they were both moaning with the contact. He wanted Josh on top of him, he wanted less clothes, less distance --

And just like that, Tyler was laying down on the couch, Josh climbing on top of him, feeling him all over, their lips never breaking apart. 

And just like that, Tyler was grabbing the edge of Josh's shirt, pulling it up and trying to get it off because all he knew was that he needed to be closer to Josh, he needed to feel Josh's bare chest against his. And just like that, Tyler was tilting himself up to help Josh get his own shirt off, and the feeling of their chests together -- of their skin touching, of Josh hovering over him as Tyler arched his hips up, as the friction elicited the most beautiful breathy moans from the boy on top of him -- was absolutely everything, and just like that, they were gasping into each other's lips, desperate to renew the contact, desperate for each other. 

And just like that, the front door opened. 

"OH COME ON, WE HAVE BEDROOMS FOR A REASON," Josh's roommate yelled, quickly looking away. 

"MARK," Josh gasped as he hastily disentangled himself from Tyler. "You're -- you're home," he said breathlessly, awkwardly covering his chest with his shirt (which had somehow ended up draped across the lamp).

"Obviously. I --" Mark stopped abruptly, his eyes widening. "Oh."

He had just noticed Tyler. 

Or, in his mind, the dude that his straight roommate had just been hardcore making out with. 

So, that was a fun moment. 

"He's a dude," Mark said numbly to Josh. 

"Yep," said Josh. 

"And you're a dude."

"Yep," said Josh. 

"And you were -- you were just kissing him."

"Yep," said Josh. 

"But you -- you're straight."

"Eh," said Josh. "Maybe not so much."

"Since when?" 

"Since I met Tyler."

Mark paused. "And this -- I'm guessing this is Tyler?"

"Yep," said Josh. 

"Hi," said Tyler. 

There was a long pause. 

"Can I, um -- can I put my shirt on now?" Tyler asked awkwardly. 

And now, here they were, sitting on the sofa across from Mark. 

Fully clothed. 

Sufficiently embarrassed. 

And completely silent. 

Finally, after a long period of consideration, Mark slowly started to speak. "Okay. So, you're -- you're gay now, and this is your -- boyfriend?"

"Well," Josh hesitated. "Sort of. Yes, Tyler is my boyfriend."

"So, you are gay?"

"I don't -- I'm not totally sure," he said uncertainly. "I mean, I've been thinking about it a lot, and I'm -- I think I might be bi, actually."

"Really?" Tyler looked at him. "I didn't know that."

"Yeah," Josh looked at him shyly. "I didn't -- I didn't wanna say anything until I was sure. But I've been thinking about, y'know, the girls I used to date, and I just -- I don't think I ever felt like I was faking it, or anything. And then, there's -- there's you, so. . ."

Tyler smiled. "That's great, Josh. I'm -- I'm really proud of you." He reached for Josh's hand and paused for a moment. "I, um, I've been thinking about it, too," he added quietly. 

"Yeah?" Josh said softly, rubbing little circles into Tyler's hand with his thumb. 

"Yeah," Tyler echoed. "I think -- um -- I think I'm gay."

He shivered. 

Wow. That was the first time he had ever said it out loud. 

It felt. . . okay. 

It felt safe. 

Josh was here, after all. 

And Tyler wasn't sure if he would have been able to admit it to anyone else. At least, not the first time. 

Josh brought Tyler's hand up to his mouth and pressed a gentle kiss to his knuckles. "That's amazing, Ty," he smiled. "I'm proud of you, too." Then, he flashed a huge grin, his eyes squinting a little in that way that made Tyler's heart flutter. "We should celebrate," he declared. 

Tyler laughed. "Yeah, maybe I'll make another cake, and it'll say, 'Happy Sexual Orientation Day,' or something like that."

"That sounds perfect," Josh laughed. "It'll be lemon, right?"

"Obviously," Tyler giggled. 

"Oh, how wonderful," Mark said flatly, "you two have an inside joke. I'm so happy for you."

Oh. Tyler had kind of forgotten that Mark was there. 

Oops.

"Sorry, Mark," Josh grinned sheepishly. 

It seems like Josh had forgotten, too. 

They were quiet for a few more minutes. 

Mark looked at them each carefully. "So, like. . ." he began suddenly. "Y'know what? Nevermind."

"Mark, if you -- if you have any questions or anything, it's okay to talk about it," Josh assured him. "I mean, I know this is kind of new, and -- and you didn't exactly find out the best way, so. . ." he trailed off. "I just -- you're my best friend. I want you to be okay with this, and if there's anything that I can explain that'll make it easier for you to understand, then I'm more than willing to discuss it. If you have a question, just ask."

"Thanks, man," Mark said softly. "That means a lot." He nodded slowly before looking at them. "So, like, which one of you tops?"

"Mark," Josh scoffed indignantly, blushing as much as Tyler felt like he was. 

Mark laughed. "Dude, I'm kidding." He paused. "But I mean, it is kind of a valid question --"

"Mark," Josh growled.

Oh my gosh, that was sexy. 

Which wasn't helping Tyler's blushing situation. 

"Fine, don't tell me," Mark sighed dramatically before adding in a more normal voice, "But really, dude, if you're -- if you're happy, it's all good with me. You don't have to worry about that."

Josh let out a little sigh, and Tyler hadn't realized how nervous he had been about hearing Mark's reaction. "Thanks, man," he said shakily. 

Mark grinned. "No problem. So, how did -- if you don't mind me asking -- how did you two --?"

"We, uh, we met at the movie theater," Tyler supplied, giving Josh a moment to calm himself down. Tyler gripped his hand a little tighter and saw the yellow-haired boy give a little smile in thanks. 

Mark nodded. "Right. But, like. . ." he paused, trying to figure out the right way to ask. "How did you, like, go from -- from being totally straight to -- to this? I mean, how did you -- how did you know that you -- liked each other, I guess?"

"Um," Tyler hesitated, not sure how much of the story Josh would want his roommate to know. "I mean, I don't -- I don't know about you," he gestured vaguely to Josh, "but, um, I kind of -- I knew that I liked you pretty much, um -- as soon as I saw you," he blushed. "But I don't think I would've been brave enough to do anything about it if you hadn't started talking to me."

"Whoa, wait a minute," Mark's eyes widened. "He talked to you first?"

Tyler looked at Josh, confused. "Um, yeah."

Josh was blushing. 

Why was he blushing? 

"Wow," Mark shook his head in disbelief. 

"Is -- is that weird? Did I miss something?" Tyler looked from Josh to Mark and back, trying to figure out why Mark was so surprised. 

"No, it's just --" Mark was still shaking his head. "I just can't believe -- I mean, considering. . ." He looked at Josh helplessly. "I don't -- I don't know how much he knows, I don't wanna --"

"No, that's okay," Josh said quietly. He turned to Tyler. "I, um. I haven't always been the best with -- with talking to people, and -- I mean, you know about -- about the anxiety, but. . . I don't know, I guess I didn't --" he ran a nervous hand through his hair.

"You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," Tyler said softly. 

Whatever this was, it didn't make Josh feel good to think about it. 

And Josh deserved to feel good about everything

Josh smiled shyly. "It's okay. I want you to know, I just -- I don't know how to say it." He looked at Mark with questioning eyes.

Mark nodded understandingly, as if they did this all the time. As if he was used to speaking for Josh. "I think what Josh is trying to say is that his anxiety -- well, it was maybe a little worse than you thought it was," he said quietly. "Talking to people has always been a struggle for him, and it's -- it's only been the in the last couple years that he's been able to really -- to go out by himself, to -- to order things at restaurants, stuff like that." He looked Tyler in the eye. "So, if Josh came up to you and started talking, then you must've been really special."

Tyler looked at Josh with tears in his eyes. Wordlessly, he wrapped his arms around him, hugging him tightly and tangling his fingers in bright yellow hair. "You were special, too," he whispered, and he felt Josh smile into his shoulder. 

"You just --" Josh began as they pulled away. "You make me feel safe."

Tyler grinned. 

He couldn't help it. 

Because this boy was beautiful and perfect and Tyler made him feel safe.

"You make me feel like that, too," Tyler said, still smiling like an idiot in love. "You're the safest person I've ever met," he added softly. 

Josh blushed and smiled in response, starting to lean forward a little. 

Then, suddenly, he looked at Mark. "I'm gonna kiss him again," Josh warned him. 

"Go for it," said Mark. 

Tyler beat him to it. He crashed his lips into Josh's, and instantly, they were smiling and wrapping their arms around each other and moving their mouths together messily. 

It was perfect. 

Okay. So, maybe the whole "meet Josh's roommate" thing wasn't so bad after all. 

But it did make Tyler think about some stuff. 

Blush-worthy stuff.

Because, as much as he didn't want to admit it, when Mark had asked which one of them topped. . .

Well. 

Tyler's mind had answered. 

Josh

The thought had entered his mind before he even had time to register the question, and Tyler wasn't sure how to feel about that. 

Well. 

He knew how he felt about the idea of Josh topping. 

Spoiler alert: it was really, really good. 

Like, extremely fricking good. 

Insanely good. 

Like, it was almost alarming how good it felt. 

Which led him back to the issue of wanting to have sex. 

Which he had never done before. 

Sex with a boy. 

Which he had *definitely* never done before. 

Which is why, later that night when Josh was driving him home, when they pulled in across the street and just sat there, too happy and too in love to even think about getting out, when they kissed and talked and ended up cuddling in the backseat, Tyler started to feel a little nervous. 

He didn't need to be. He knew that. 

Josh was safe. 

And Tyler knew that Josh wouldn't care. 

But he wanted to say it anyway. 

"Josh, I um," he murmured awkwardly. "I need to tell you something."

Josh hummed in response, glancing over at Tyler with a soft smile and my goodness those eyes were pretty. 

"I, um, I've never really --" he fumbled through his words, not exactly sure what to say. "I mean, I don't have a lot of -- of experience with, um, certain things."

Josh nodded, understanding. "By certain things, do you mean sex?"

Tyler shivered and looked down, blushing. "Um, yeah. Kind of." 

"Hey," Josh said gently, reaching a hand under Tyler's chin and slowly lifting his head up until he was looking him in the eye. "There's nothing wrong with being a virgin, Ty," he continued quietly. "And we don't have to do anything like that until we're both ready. Okay?"

Tyler nodded and buried his head in Josh's chest, cuddling up closer to him as the other boy wrapped his arms around him. 

A few minutes later, when Tyler had almost fallen asleep, he heard Josh quietly whisper, "Ty?"

"Hmm?" he asked sleepily, his eyes still closed. 

"I've never done it either," he admitted. 

Tyler looked up at him, surprised. "Really?"

"No, I'm just saying that to make you feel better," he replied sarcastically, grinning when Tyler playfully hit at his arm. "Yes, really," he whispered, running a hand through Tyler's hair. "So it'll be new for both of us."

Tyler shivered in a good way. 

This boy was everything.

"Josh," he whispered, "do you -- um -- will you come sleep with me tonight?" 

He blushed when he realized how it sounded. 

"Not like -- like that," he added quickly. "Just -- I mean -- sleeping, you know, in my bed. With me."

Josh smiled and gave him a long look of adoration before softly kissing him on the forehead. "Yeah, baby. Of course."

Tyler looked at him, biting his lip a little. 

"What?" Josh grinned. 

"Nothing, I'm just -- I'm trying to figure out what to call you."

"What to call me?" Josh giggled. "What do you mean?"

"Well," Tyler replied, blushing a little, "you call me all these nice things, like 'baby' and 'love,' and I just -- I want to call you nice things, too. I've just -- I've never been very good at it."

Josh smiled and reached out a hand to softly caress Tyler's face. "You don't really have to be good at it," he said. "You just kind of -- I don't know, say whatever you feel."

"So," Tyler said slowly, suppressing a grin, "if I felt like calling you -- I don't know -- a bean or something like that, would you consider that an appropriate term of endearment?"

Josh laughed. "I don't know, man. I think you're way more of a bean than I am."

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Tyler chuckled. 

Josh pressed a soft kiss to his lips and barely pulled away, resting their foreheads together. "Definitely a good thing," he smiled. "You're the sweetest bean I've ever met."

"How does everything sound amazing when you say it?" Tyler muttered in amazement. 

"That's love, baby," Josh answered with a quiet smile. 

And it was love when they pressed their lips together again, when their mouths moved together in a rhythm so perfect it could only be theirs. 

It was love when they got out of the car, holding hands, and climbed up to Tyler's room together. When they took their shirts off and crawled into Tyler's bed, falling into each other's arms as easily as if they were two halves of the same picture, only complete when they were together. 

And it was love when Tyler laid his head on Josh's chest, when Josh softly ran his hands through Tyler's hair as their legs tangled together under the sheets. When Tyler felt Josh's skin pressed against his and realized that nothing else could ever be this perfect.

When Tyler whispered, "Good night, angel," and felt a little hitch in Josh's breath that told him he'd done a good job with the name thing. 

When Josh whispered back, "Good night, love," and Tyler wondered how he could ever actually fall asleep with this boy next to him, how he could ever manage to tear himself out of consciousness for even a second, because he didn't want to miss a single movement, a single word, a single breath from this beautiful yellow-haired boy. 

But Tyler was quickly learning that sleeping in the same bed as Josh was just as heavenly as being awake in the same bed as Josh. 

So, he slept. And even though that used to be a hard thing to do, with Josh here, it came as easily as breathing. 

And he slept better than he ever had in his life.

After that, Josh started sleeping over a lot more often. 

Basically, every night. 

Tyler couldn't help it. 

Once he knew what it was like to sleep with Josh, he just couldn't go back to sleeping alone. 

Tyler had spent so many years awake in the dark -- the dark that always seemed to bring out the worst of all his fears and insecurities -- but now, Josh's arms around him kept his mind from wandering too far, and the sounds of Josh's breathing next to him pushed all the bad thoughts away. 

They also got to make out a lot more often. 

So, that was pretty alright. 

Of course, it did come with some added risks. 

AKA, that one time that the lamp next to Tyler's bed crashed to the ground, completely out of nowhere. 

Except that maybe it wasn't completely out of nowhere -- maybe they had been making out and maybe Tyler had ripped Josh's shirt off a little too enthusiastically and maybe he had thrown it across the room and maybe it had knocked the lamp down. 

It happens. 

And they did sort of get caught, but it was only Zack, so all they got was a disapproving look and an awkward lecture that seemed to be some kind of sex talk. (Tyler wasn't really listening, though -- Josh's shirt was still off at that point, and it was impossible for Tyler to focus on anything else when all he could think about was what it would be like to plant little kisses all over Josh's chest. And maybe lick it a few times.)

And by this point, Tyler wasn't even sure how much he actually cared about getting caught. 

Of course, he could think of much better ways to tell his parents that he was dating a boy than having them walk in on him licking said boy's bare chest.

But Josh being in his bed every night was far more important to Tyler than the possibility of someone finding out. 

Which led him to the realization that he really, really needed to tell his parents about Josh. 

Because as much as he wished that they could keep sneaking around, Tyler knew he couldn't manage to keep Josh a secret forever. 

Because he knew now how incredibly permanent Josh was, how Josh was and always would be one of the most important people in his life, and Tyler needed to be able to share him with the other important people in his life. 

Because Tyler used to think that it was impossible to love someone this much for this long, but every day he spent with Josh proved him wrong. 

Because every day, he fell in love with Josh a little bit more. 

One day, for instance, he fell in love because of the way Josh said the word "pineapple." 

There wasn't anything particularly odd about the way he said it. 

Tyler just liked to hear his voice. 

Then, he fell in love with the way that Josh ate ice cream, how he mixed flavors together that didn't make sense, how he scrunched his face up and shivered when it touched his teeth. 

And Tyler was definitely not turned on by the way that Josh smacked his lips around the spoon, the way that his tongue became coated with the sweetness of it.

And Tyler definitely didn't want to reach across the table and kiss the ice cream off of his lips, to kiss himself into Josh's mouth until the flavor of the ice cream and the flavor of Josh were one and the same.

Except that he was completely, achingly turned on by it.

So that's exactly what he did. 

A few days later, Tyler fell in love when Josh called him for the first time. 

When his phone started ringing, the first thing Tyler registered was shock. Josh had never called him before -- they always texted -- and Tyler had just assumed that it was because of Josh's anxiety. He answered quickly, not sure what to expect. 

"Hello? Josh?"

A shaky voice replied. "Tyler! I -- I need you to -- um, can you come over?"

A pit of worry settled in Tyler's stomach as he headed for the door. "Yeah, I'm -- of course, I'm on my way," he stuttered. "Josh, can you tell me what's wrong?"

"It's -- you'll think it's stupid."

"I promise I won't," Tyler assured him gently. "I just -- you're scaring me, I need you to tell me what's wrong, if you can."

There was a long pause before Josh replied in a slightly panicked voice, "There's -- there's a spider in the shower, and -- and Mark isn't home, and he -- he always takes care of them, and I don't know what to do, and I just -- I need you to come help."

"Okay," Tyler sighed in relief. "It's okay, I'm coming."

They talked on the phone until Tyler got there, Tyler trying to distract Josh with funny stories and Josh keeping him updated every time the spider moved even a fraction of an inch. 

When Tyler finally got there, Josh opened the door, grabbed his hand, and immediately dragged him to the bathroom. 

"It's right there," he declared, pointing urgently to a small black spider in the middle of the shower. 

"Okay, I see it," Tyler confirmed. "Do you have a shoe or something that I can --"

"YOU CAN'T KILL IT," Josh gasped, his eyes widening at the thought of such a horror.

"Why not?"

"It's -- I mean, it's not his fault he wandered inside, he doesn't deserve to die just because I don't like spi-- OH MY GOSH IT'S LOOKING AT ME," he shrieked, hiding behind the door. 

Tyler chuckled. "Well, what do you want me to do, take it outside?" he joked. 

Josh immediately nodded.

"Oh." Tyler thought for a minute. "Um, okay, I've never -- I've never done this before. So, I just -- get him in a cup, or something?"

"That's what Mark usually does," Josh said in a small voice. 

"Well, alright then. I guess this little dude's getting in a cup."

Twenty minutes later, the spider was gone and the two boys were cuddling on the couch.

That was when Tyler learned that spiders made Josh incredibly clingy.

Which, in the context of cuddling, is extremely not a bad thing.

Another day, Tyler fell in love when they went shopping together. 

Tyler had been trying to get Josh to get a new pair of jeans for at least a week now. 

"The ones you have are falling apart!" he kept saying. "I don't even know how they stay on at this point."

"But these are my favorite jeans!" Josh would argue back. "I can't just get rid of them."

"It's the circle of life, Josh. I'm sure the pants will understand."

Josh mumbled something incoherent.

"What'd you say?" Tyler asked. 

Josh smiled shyly. "I just -- I was wearing these the day we met."

Tyler's heart melted. 

For probably the fifteenth time that week.

"Well, I guess you'll just have to keep them forever, then," he grinned. "But can we at least buy you another pair, just in case?"

Josh kissed him. "Deal."

So now, here he was, wandering around the store while Josh was in the dressing room. 

That was when he saw it. 

A black kimono with a floral pattern on it. 

Not just flowers, though. 

Pink roses. 

Just like the ones Josh had given him on their first date. 

Tyler walked straight over to it, as if a magnet was pulling him there, and he almost gasped, it was so beautiful. He just stood there, rubbing the fabric through his fingers, feeling how light and flowy it was --

"That's pretty," Josh commented with a smile as he walked up behind Tyler. 

Tyler quickly dropped it, like he'd been doing something wrong. "Yeah, it's -- it's for girls, though," he mumbled bashfully. 

"Well, do you like it?"

Tyler nodded hesitantly. 

"Then, who cares?" Josh grinned. "I bet it'd look great on you."

Tyler blushed. 

"C'mon," Josh grabbed one off the rack, "you're getting it."

So he did. 

He hid it in his closet next to Josh's flowers. 

But he got it. 

And he fell in love with Josh for making him get it. 

And the more Tyler fell in love, the more he found himself wanting to do something about it. 

Which is why he snuck to the basement one night while everyone else was asleep. 

He thought about waiting until the morning, but ever since he had seen the kimono, ever since he had thought about the flowers again, there had been a song in his head, and his mind couldn't focus on anything else. 

So, he crawled out of bed and quietly took the ukulele from his closet, careful not to wake Josh up. He grabbed the kimono, too, and slipped it on before going downstairs and quietly shutting the basement door behind him. 

He sat there all night, going over chords and watching video tutorials, practicing until his fingers hurt, but he didn't mind at all. 

He just looked at the flowers on his kimono, thinking about all the ways that his life had gotten better since Josh had come into it, and smiled. 

And then he kept playing. 

He kept thinking about Josh, every word, every note reminding him of Josh's smile, of his voice, his laugh. Of his beautiful, perfect soul, of the amazing impossibility that such an angel could have ever fallen in love with an idiot like Tyler. 

He kept thinking about the way that Josh made him feel, how he made all the good things better and all the bad things suddenly not so bad anymore. How being with Josh felt like a miracle, whether they were talking or laughing or kissing or sleeping or cuddling or doing absolutely nothing at all. 

How Tyler could think of absolutely nothing more wonderful than devoting the rest of his life to this boy, doing everything in his power to make Josh happy. 

So right there, in the basement in the middle of the night, with his family and the love of his life asleep upstairs, Tyler channeled every feeling that he had ever had for this boy as he softly sang to himself. 

"Wise men say only fools rush in,
But I can't help falling in love with you. . ."

Chapter Text

Tyler was asleep. 

And he was having a dream. 

A really good dream.

Which is why it was so tragic when he felt someone gently shaking his arm. 

"Baby, it's time to get up," a pretty voice said above him. 

"Mmmd'wanna," he mumbled incoherently. 

"Everyone's gonna be up soon, Ty," came the voice again. "We need to get you upstairs."

Oh. 

Tyler knew that pretty voice. 

That was Josh's pretty voice. 

Josh

He had been dreaming about Josh. 

Oh. 

And it was that kind of dream.

That thought definitely woke him up a little. 

"Josh?" he muttered sleepily. 

"Hey, baby," Josh smiled. (Tyler hadn't managed to open his eyes yet, but he could always tell when Josh was smiling. It made his voice sound different. Lighter, maybe.)

Tyler groaned in response.

Josh giggled. "How late were you up last night?" Tyler felt him run a hand through his hair, and ooh, that felt good. Yes, Josh. Keep doing that.

Tyler wanted to tell him, "Too late," but his voice wasn't quite working yet, so he had to settle for a cranky groan. 

Josh got the message. "Do you want me to carry you back to bed, sweetheart?" he asked softly.

Tyler nodded sleepily and tried to wrap his arms around Josh's neck. Josh chuckled lightly and slipped one hand around Tyler's back, another under his legs. 

And then Josh was carrying him to bed. 

Again. 

And Tyler was almost awake this time. 

At least, he was awake enough to know that Josh carrying him upstairs bridal style was literally one of the greatest things to ever happen in the history of humankind. 

And that wasn't even an exaggeration. 

Because Josh's hands were so strong and he was so gentle and Tyler's face was snuggled into his neck and his hair smelled so good all the frickin time and Tyler couldn't help but realize that this beautiful boy was the love of his life. 

And then they were in Tyler's room, and Josh was laying him gently on the bed, and then Josh was sitting next to him, and he was smiling so sweet and so pretty and biting his lip a little, and then he was softly stroking Tyler's face and looking at him with all the love in the world and Tyler couldn't help but realize that he was the love of Josh's life. 

And then the love of his life kissed him softly on the forehead and started to get up. 

Tyler quickly reached for Josh's hand, managing to croak out a quiet, "Stay."

Josh smiled at him, a little sadly. "Baby, if I stay, someone's gonna see me. They'll know I spent the night."

Tyler didn't care.

"Stay," he repeated urgently, looking Josh right in the eye. 

Josh couldn't say no to that. 

And Tyler knew it. 

Smiling, Josh whispered a soft, "Okay," and crawled into bed. Tyler turned onto his side, settling into Josh's arms as easily as if he'd done it every day of his life (and lately, he pretty much had). Tyler hummed happily as he felt Josh's chest against his back, as Josh pressed a few kisses to the back of his neck and wrapped his arms around Tyler's waist, gently rubbing his thumb across the soft skin on Tyler's stomach. 

Tyler felt a chill run through his body, every single cell reverberating with the feeling of how much he loved this boy. 

Which is why, after spending a long time just living in Josh's arms, after memorizing every beautiful curve of this boy's body, every perfect way that they fit together, Tyler made a decision.

"I'm gonna tell them," he said suddenly. 

"What?" Josh mumbled, a little drowsily. 

"I'm gonna tell my parents," Tyler decided, "about us."

Josh shifted a little as Tyler turned his head to look at him. "Yeah?" he asked quietly, flashing a crooked grin. 

"Yeah," Tyler echoed, smiling back at him. "I just -- I'm gonna find the right time, and I'm gonna tell them. No more waiting, no more hiding."

Josh threaded a hand through Tyler's hair. "That's amazing, Ty," he smiled. "I'm so proud of you."

Tyler giggled. "I haven't even done anything yet."

"Yeah," Josh grinned, "but you're going to, and I think that's really brave." He gave Tyler a look of complete adoration, pressing a soft kiss to his lips before adding quietly, "I know you've been really worried about -- about how they're gonna react."

Tyler shivered a little. "Yeah, I -- I know. I just -- I love you. I love you so much, and I -- I want them to know that." He smiled, turning over and resting his head on Josh's shoulder. "I want everyone to know that."

"Well, if we're telling everyone, then we should probably start now, cause that might take a while," Josh grinned. 

"It might," Tyler agreed with a smile, "but it'll be worth it." He reached a hand across Josh's chest, gently tracing the muscles with his finger before adding softly, "I just want every single person on this planet to know that I am completely and hopelessly in love with you, Joshua William Dun."

"What about the aliens?" Josh smirked. "They don't live on this planet."

"Then, I'll broadcast it into space," Tyler grinned. "The point is that everyone is gonna know, and that starts with my parents."

"I absolutely adore you," Josh grinned, his nose scrunching up a little as his eyes did that beautiful squinty thing that Tyler loved so much. 

"Can I include that in the broadcast?" Tyler whispered. 

Josh kissed him on the nose. Gosh, Tyler loved it when Josh kissed him on the nose. "Please do," he whispered back lovingly. 

A few minutes passed with no sound but their quiet breathing, their chests rising and falling in perfect sync. 

Then, Josh spoke, his voice tinged with a subtle hint of nervousness. "Hey, Ty?"

Tyler hummed in response. 

"Well, um, now that you mention it -- the whole parent thing, I mean -- there's, uh -- there's something I've been meaning to --" he dropped abruptly, taking a deep breath. "My parents want to meet you."

Tyler blinked. "Oh." That was not what he'd been expecting. I mean, he hadn't really known what to expect, but it most definitely was not that. "Do they -- um -- do they know about --?"

"No," Josh answered quickly. "No, they -- they just know that we're friends and that -- y'know, we spend a lot of time together." He glanced at Tyler hesitantly before adding. "I was, um -- I was kind of planning to tell them after they -- after they met you. If that's okay."

"Yeah, it's -- of course it's okay," Tyler assured him gently. "They're your parents, you know. You can tell them whenever you want."

"I know," Josh smiled softly. "I just -- I felt kind of weird telling them I'm dating a guy they've never even met." He blushed. "And -- well, I guess I've been talking about you a lot, and they're wanting to meet you kind of soon. I've been trying to hold them off, but. . ."

"You don't have to do that, baby," Tyler said, shivering a little at the name. He was still getting used to this, to being able to call Josh nice things whenever he wanted to. But he kind of loved it. "I can -- yeah, I can meet your parents," he declared, trying to convince himself more than anything else. 

Meeting Josh's parents. 

Okay. 

No big deal. 

Right? 

Except that he was dating Josh. 

So it was a big deal. 

And they didn't know that their son was dating a boy. 

And what if they didn't like him? 

Oh, gosh. 

What if they didn't approve of him and Josh being together? 

What if Josh's whole family turned against him and it was all Tyler's fault? 

What if --

"So, my family's having a thing this weekend, and I was -- I was wondering if you'd maybe want to come?" Josh asked hopefully. 

Oh, gosh. 

Those beautiful brown eyes were pretty enough already, but when you added frickin hope to them? 

Tyler was completely gone. 

He smiled. "Of course I want to come." He snuggled back against Josh's chest, closing his eyes and humming happily. "So, is there anything I should know? Any tips to convince your parents to like me?"

Josh laughed. "Nah, you don't need to do any convincing. Just be your usual, wonderful self and they'll love you."

Tyler chuckled nervously. "How do you know?"

Josh pressed a long kiss to Tyler's forehead, his lips brushing against Tyler's hair. "Because I love you," he whispered. 

Tyler smiled and pressed his lips to Josh's chest in response. (Not because he'd been fantasizing about it ever since he'd first seen Josh shirtless, okay? It was just because it was the closest thing and Tyler needed to kiss him. That was all. There were no other reasons, okay? Gosh.) "I love you mo--"

And that was when Tyler's door started to open. 

"Tyler, honey? Are you still in bed?" Tyler's mom asked as she opened the door. 

Both boys shot up as fast as possible, just barely managing to disentangle themselves before Tyler mom saw them together.

But they definitely did not manage to hide Josh. 

And Tyler's mom definitely saw him. 

In her son's bed. 

"Oh." She looked at him, surprised. "I didn't know you were here, Josh."

"Hi, Mrs. Joseph," Josh grinned sheepishly.

"We, um," Tyler swallowed, trying to think of an explanation. (He was definitely going to look for the right time to tell his parents about him and Josh, but he was pretty sure that his mom seeing them shirtless in bed when they had very obviously spent the night together was not the right time.) "We were out kind of late last night, and -- um -- we figured it would be easier for -- for Josh to stay the night."

"Oh, that's fine, honey," she smiled, glancing at Tyler thoughtfully. "You're more than welcome to stay here any time you want to, Josh."

"Thanks, Mrs. Joseph," Josh smiled charmingly, slipping his shirt back on. "I'll try not to be a bother."

"Now, I don't want to hear any of that," she scolded him gently. "Just be careful if Maddy sees you in here," she chuckled. "You're all she's talked about lately."

And, as if she'd been summoned, Maddy came charging in the room, shouting, "JOSH!" She barreled into him, giving him a hug that nearly knocked him over.

"Hey, Mads," Josh chuckled. 

"Are you here to play?" she asked, her eyes widened in excitement. 

"Of course," Josh scoffed lightly, as if it was obvious. "What's on the agenda for today?"

She thought for a moment, then gasped. "We should paint our fingernails!"

"Madison, honey," her mom began gently, "Josh may not want to --"

"Do you have pink?" Josh asked excitedly. 

She nodded. "And lots of glitter, too!"

"Well, I can't say no to glitter," Josh grinned. "And I definitely need an expert to help me with my technique." He leaned down closer, squinting his eyes suspiciously. "You are an expert, aren't you?"

She giggled, then nodded energetically.

"Then what are we waiting for?"

Josh gave Tyler one last glance, flashing him a subtle, adoring smile before Maddy grabbed his hand and they both ran out of the room, giggling excitedly.

Tyler smiled and shook his head, grabbing his shirt from the floor where it had ended up last night (you can guess how).

Luckily, he had left the kimono downstairs. So, no awkward questions about that. 

"He's good with her," Tyler's mom commented. 

"Yeah," Tyler agreed, too busy gawking after Josh to notice anything odd about her tone. "He's good with everyone."

His mom looked at him carefully. "You two have really gotten close, haven't you?" she asked. 

Oh. 

That sounded suspicious, didn't it? 

"I, um. Yeah, I -- I guess so," Tyler stuttered awkwardly. 

Thankfully, the yellow-haired boy came back before Tyler's mom could question him any more about his closeness with Josh. 

"Hey, Ty," he asked breathlessly. "This is important." He held up two different colors of nail polish. "Should I go with 'Lollipop Twist' or 'Pink Paradise?'"

Tyler giggled. "'Pink Paradise,' for sure. It's way more sparkly."

"Very true," Josh grinned. He looked at Tyler mischievously, adding, "Maddy also has this really bright blue, and I don't wanna get your hopes up too much, but it might be exactly your color."

Tyler sighed dramatically. "Well, I guess I'll have to try it, then." 

"I guess you will," Josh smirked, and it occurred to Tyler that they really needed to try to tone down the flirting while his mom was in the room. 

If they weren't careful, his parents would figure it out before he even worked up the courage to tell them. 

And that would just be great. 

But for now, all he had to worry about was getting too much nail polish on the edge of his fingernails. 

To be fair, though, it was a pretty big concern. 

Over the next few days, Tyler tried not to worry about meeting Josh's family. 

"Tried" being the key word. 

Because he was frickin terrified. 

Josh, however, seemed utterly unconcerned. 

That morning, as Tyler was getting ready, he texted Josh, hoping for some encouragement. 

What if they don't like me?

they will babe

But what if they don't? 

what's not to like?

I'm too skinny. 

my mom will love that. she'll just feed you more. 

And I'm way too sarcastic. 

you'll get along great with jordan then

And I'm awkward. So awkward. 

you're absolutely endearing. they're gonna love you. just try to relax. deep breaths, and all that. 

Tyler tried. 

It didn't work. 

How are you so calm about this? 

well I'm not about to meet my boyfriend's parents am I 

I hate you. 

no you don't 

No, I don't. 

and?

And what? 

you don't hate me and. . .

I love you, Josh. 

why thank you baby that is so kind of you to say

What kind of "family thing" is this anyway? 

it is a thing that my family will be at

Ha ha. But like, what do I wear? 

whatever you wanna wear 

Well, what are you wearing?

jeans and a t shirt

It's the NASA shirt, isn't it? 

how the heck did you know that

You are literally always wearing that shirt. I wouldn't be surprised if you wear it to your own wedding. 

I might if you let me

It took Tyler a minute to realize the gravity of what Josh had said. 

If you let me. 

Meaning, you'll be there. 

And we'll still be together. 

And you'll be the one marrying me. 

Oh frickin snap. 

Josh thought about them getting married.

He actually, legitimately thought about them getting married. 

I mean, Tyler thought about them getting married all the frickin time. 

But he didn't know Josh felt that way, too. 

And he was so busy daydreaming about the idea of marrying Josh that he might have taken a little too long to respond. 

And Josh could send an alarming number of texts in the span of three minutes. 

tyler?

did I freak you out

oh gosh I freaked you out didn't I 

I'm so sorry

I didn't mean to

well

I totally meant it

not the thing about wearing the nasa shirt at our wedding

but the thing about the wedding being ours 

I mean I wasn't thinking it would be tomorrow or anything like that

but like

I love you

and maybe I think about us being married sometimes 

but I didn't mean to freak you out 

please don't hate me 

You can wear the NASA shirt at our wedding if you want to. You look really good in it. 

did I mention that I love you

Maybe. But I wouldn't be upset if you mentioned it again. 

I love you ty

I love you too, Jishwa. 

who's jishwa and why do you love him

You're Jishwa. And I love you for lots of reasons. 

oh good I thought I was gonna have to get jealous there for a minute

when did you start calling me jishwa

Dude, it was like two seconds ago. You were there. 

okay but why

Because it's frickin adorable and you know it. 

it does sound kinda nice

See? It's nice, you're nice. . . It's perfect for you. 

you're perfect for me

Well, I won't argue with you there. 

thank goodness

Okay, how's this for a "Hi, I'm the dude who's dating your son" outfit?

Tyler sent him a picture of himself, wearing simple black skinny jeans and a white button up t-shirt, buttoned all the way to the top. 

you look very pure

Good. That's what I was going for. 

what you didn't think "hi I'm the dude who's been grinding on your son" would be a good look

It would, just not for your parents. 

wait you actually have a look for that

I might. 

can I see it

Maybe. 

please tyler

Another day, okay? 

promise?

I promise. 

yay 

I mean, assuming I survive meeting your parents. 

you got this ty I believe in you

Okay. I'm on my way there. See you in a few? 

I love you baby. drive safe. 

I will. Love you too, Jishwa. 

And then he was getting in the car. 

And then he was driving. 

Driving to meet Josh's parents. 

Okay. 

He could do this. 

If Josh could do this, he could do this. 

Josh. 

Yeah. Josh is safe. Think about Josh. He'll still love you no matter what his parents think. 

Oh, gosh.

But it if they don't like you, it'll cause an argument and it'll be entirely your fault. 

Which means that they have to like you. 

You have to be perfect. 

For Josh.

Josh is perfect for you every dang day, surely you can be perfect for a little while for his parents. 

Tyler was still going through a list in his head of all the ways he could try to be perfect for Josh's parents when he made it to their house. 

The house. Josh's parents' house. The house where Josh's parents lived. Where Tyler was going to meet them. 

Deep breaths. 

Slowly, he got out of the car, straightening his shirt (and silently laughing at the irony) before making his way to the door. 

The door of Josh's parents' house. 

Deep breaths. 

A little shaken and completely terrified, Tyler knocked on the door. 

It was answered by a short woman with brown hair and a kind smile. 

Josh's smile. 

"Hi, you must be Josh's friend," she said cheerfully, leading him inside. 

"Hi," Tyler responded shyly. "It's -- it's nice to meet you, Mrs. Dun."

"Oh honey, you can just call me Momma Dun," she brushed off any sense of stiffness or civility with a wave of her hand. "Everyone else does."

Tyler liked her immediately. 

She led him to the living room, where he saw an older man with lightly graying hair (presumably Josh's dad), a boy with dark hair and a serious expression who looked about Zack's age, and two girls with bright red hair, one only a little younger than Josh, the other probably a few years older then Maddy. They all looked at him with polite but definitely curious smiles, and Tyler gave them a shy little wave. 

Oh, gosh. 

Here he was, meeting Josh's family for the first time, and all he could do was wave like an idiot. 

Great. 

There was a bit of an awkward pause until Josh came barreling down the stairs, looking like he'd just won the lottery. 

"You're here," he grinned, looking at Tyler. 

Tyler felt a wave of calm at Josh's presence. 

That is, until Josh walked over and started to lean in for a kiss. 

"Josh," Tyler warned quietly, stepping back and glancing at the rest of Josh's family, who were all very much in the room (and very much watching them).

"Oh, right," Josh smiled sheepishly. "Tyler, these are my parents, and this is Jordan, Ashley, and Abigail," he said, pointing to each person as he named them. "Everyone, this is Tyler. My boyfriend."

Wait. 

What? 

That wasn't --

Did he --?

Oh, gosh. 

Did Josh just come out?

He did, didn't he? 

Oh, snap.

Snapsnapsnap.

Tyler wasn't sure who was more surprised -- him, or Josh's family. 

But there was a whole heck of a lot of surprise happening in that room. 

"Your what?" Jordan asked incredulously, since everyone else seemed a little too shocked to speak. 

"My boyfriend," Josh repeated, completely unfazed by the shock wave that he'd just sent through the room. 

There was a long silence. 

"Well, it's -- it's lovely to meet you, Tyler," Josh's mom said finally. 

Josh's sisters giggled. 

"But --" Jordan began incredulously. 

"Jordan," his mom said sternly. 

She gave him a piercing look until he sighed and grudgingly muttered, "It's nice to meet you, Tyler."

And that was that. 

And now, here he was, sitting around the table, eating lunch with Josh's family. 

It was pretty quiet for a while. 

And Tyler wasn't quite sure where things stood. 

Jordan seemed the most. . . not quite hostile, but definitely off. He kept glancing at Tyler with an odd expression, quickly looking away whenever Tyler noticed him. 

Ashley and Abigail, on the other hand, seemed delighted, but Tyler wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. They kept sneaking glances at him, then whispering to each other and giggling. 

Josh's dad mostly seemed confused. He kept glancing at Tyler with a slightly bewildered expression, like he thought maybe he'd missed something. 

But Josh's mom didn't seem surprised, upset, or even amused. She just seemed interested and a little protective, like she knew it was a delicate situation and she was determined to make the most of it. 

"So, how did -- how did you two meet?" she asked Tyler politely. 

"It was, um -- we went to the same movie, ended up sitting together," Tyler said simply, not wanting to explain in any more detail. 

Josh, however, had no such problem. 

"Yeah, he looked so cute sitting there all by himself, I couldn't stay away from him," Josh added, flashing a squinty-eyed smile. 

Tyler's stomach gave a little lurch. 

Whether it was because of the smile or because of the fact that Josh was blatantly flirting with him right in front of his parents, Tyler couldn't tell. 

In fact, Josh almost seemed flirtier than usual. 

Which was saying something. 

Because this boy could flirt.

And now, here he was, giving Tyler's arm soft little touches whenever he got the chance, laughing at all his jokes like he was absolutely enchanted with him, looking at him with those eyes™ -- the ones that usually meant that Tyler was about to get pushed against the wall, that he was about to get Josh's hands in his hair and Josh's tongue in his mouth and that warm feeling that was starting to show up more and more often.

Except now, it wasn't just showing up whenever they made out. 

Oh, it was definitely there every time they kissed -- in Tyler's bed, in Josh's apartment, in the backseat of Josh's car -- every time their lips worked together so perfectly that it made Tyler wonder how perfectly other parts of them would work together. 

But now he started feeling it in reaction to every dang thing Josh did. 

Josh spoke? 

Warm.

Josh laughed? 

Warm.

Josh smiled? 

Warm. 

Josh played the drums? Breathed? Fricking existed

Warmwarmwarm.

And normally, Tyler would be thrilled.

But he was trying to make a good impression here, and he couldn't do that if he couldn't stop blushing. 

"So, what, you just -- you just sat next to each other at a movie, and all of a sudden, you're dating?" Jordan asked skeptically. 

"Jordan, be nice," his mom commanded. 

"I am being nice, I just want to know the story," he insisted. "I mean, it's not like they just hooked up right there on the spot."

Tyler picked a really bad time to take a sip of water. 

Pro: he managed to keep it all in his mouth. 

Con: he totally choked on it in the most suspicious way possible. 

"Oh, my gosh, you totally did!" Ashley giggled. 

"You've got to be kidding me," Jordan muttered. 

Josh at least had the decency to blush. "Well, it -- it depends on your definition of 'hooking up,'" he argued weakly. 

"You totally made out, didn't you?" Ashley persisted, looking absolutely delighted.

"Yeah, we totally did," Josh grinned proudly. 

"Okay, that's quite enough of that," Josh's mom interjected. "There are far more appropriate things to talk about at the table, and -- Tyler, are you all right, honey?" she asked kindly, since he was still mildly choking on his own water. 

He nodded, giving her a small thumbs-up since he wasn't entirely capable of speech at the moment. 

A few minutes later, she started to nudge Josh's dad, giving him a fierce look that pretty obviously said, "You'd better be nice and start making some conversation."

"So, uh --" he coughed awkwardly, "do you, uh, do you like sports, son?"

Apparently, dads doesn't know what else to do with their sons' boyfriends except talk about sports.

"Um, yea-- yes sir," Tyler answered. "I've, uh, I've been paying basketball since pretty much before I could walk," he chuckled. "Even thought about going professional for a while."

"Oh, really?" Josh's dad raised an eyebrow, impressed. "What stopped you?"

"Dad, he probably doesn't want to talk about it," Josh cut in protectively. 

"Oh, of course -- I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be insensitive," his dad quickly added. 

"No, it's -- it's fine," Tyler assured him. "I don't mind at all. I just -- I don't know, I guess I got to college and I had all these scholarships, but I just. . . my heart was in other things, I guess." He hesitated for a moment before adding, "I mean, I always loved playing basketball, but it took up so much of my time, and it took me away from -- from music, and that's -- that's all I've ever really wanted to do."

"Oh, that sounds wonderful, honey," Josh's mom smiled. "What kind of music do you play?"

Well, that was a challenging question. 

"Um," Tyler thought for a moment. "Well, it's -- I mean, I play the piano, and -- well, it's difficult to -- um -- I don't exactly have a genre, I just kind of -- I don't know, I kind of just write poetry and put it to music, if that makes sense."

"Hey, you should totally come to the coffee shop I work at," Ashley said excitedly. "We're having this open mic thing next week for local artists -- I bet you'd be perfect for it."

Oh. 

That could be it. 

Tyler had been looking for the right time to play the song™, the one for Josh, but he hadn't found it. 

And now, a tiny little voice in his head was screaming, "That's it, you idiot."

"Ash, I really don't think --" Josh began. 

"That sounds awesome," Tyler blurted. 

Josh looked at him, surprised. For a second, Tyler was almost worried about his reaction. 

But then he looked at him. 

And Josh was absolutely beaming with pride. 

Tyler might have blushed a little. 

And he also might have reached for Josh's hand under the table. 

"Great!" Ashley grinned. "You can invite some friends too, if you want."

"That's okay," he chuckled. "I've been reliably informed that I don't have any friends."

She laughed. "Okay, your family then. They could totally come."

"Yeah, they -- they could," Tyler muttered quietly, squeezing Josh's hand a little tighter under the table. 

They could totally come watch him sing one of the world's most beautiful love songs to his male "best friend." 

That is, if Tyler still hadn't told them by then. 

We'll see. 

They continued making polite conversation until everyone was finished eating, when Josh's mom stood up and cheerfully asked, "Alright, who's ready for birthday cake?"

Wait. What? 

Birthday? 

Huh. That must've been the "family thing" Josh had been talking about, it must be one of his sisters, or --

Wait. 

No. 

He wouldn't --

Would he? 

Tyler glanced suspiciously at Josh, who happened to be blushing and determinedly avoiding Tyler's eyes. 

Oh, he totally would. 

"Joshua," Tyler demanded, "is it your birthday?"

"It might be," Josh mumbled, still avoiding eye contact. 

"Why would you not tell me that?" Tyler asked incredulously. "I would've gotten you a present or something!"

Josh smiled at Tyler shyly and shrugged. "You're here," he said simply. "That's all I wanted."

A chorus of "Awws" immediately went up from Josh's sisters, accompanied by an adoring smile from his mom. 

Tyler had a similar reaction. 

After taking a moment to recover from how ridiculously adorable this boy was, Tyler leaned over and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, family members be darned. 

This boy was everything. 

And while most of Josh's family seemed to warm up to Tyler even more after seeing the pure look of joy on Josh's face after he'd kissed him, Tyler couldn't help but notice that Jordan blushed and looked away. 

So, Tyler decided that it would still probably be best to keep the flirting to a minimum until everyone was used to the idea of them being together. 

That is, if he could keep his hands off of Josh for that long. 

And if he could keep Josh's hands off of him for that long. 

That last one actually proved to be a little harder. 

Okay. 

A lot harder. 

Because Josh was a pretty touchy feely person when he wanted to be. 

And when it came to Tyler, he always wanted to be. 

So, no matter what he was doing, Tyler always seemed to find Josh's head on his shoulder or Josh's hand wrapped around his or Josh's arms around his waist or Josh's lips on his cheek.

And it was getting frickin difficult not to blush. 

So, when they finally had a moment to themselves, Tyler decided something had to be done. 

They had all been sitting in the living room watching a movie when Josh started kissing Tyler full on the lips, right in front of everyone. 

And, well.

It was a really great kiss.

So maybe Tyler had a hard time pulling away. 

AKA, he kind of didn't. 

But he totally managed to say something about it when Josh's siblings decided to go swimming in the pool outside and his parents went outside to watch them. 

"So, uh, Josh?" Tyler began sweetly. 

Josh hummed in response, flashing an adorable smile that almost made Tyler start making out with him then and there. 

"You, uh, you ever think you might wanna tone down the PDA a little in front of your parents?" he continued casually. 

Josh shrugged, smiling a little. "It's my birthday. I can do whatever I want and they won't get mad at me."

Tyler realized something at that moment. 

Josh was a complete child. 

"So, let me get this straight --" he began, trying not to laugh.

"Good luck with that," Josh interjected with a smirk. 

"Shut up," Tyler laughed. "So, you -- you basically waited for this exact day to come out to your family because" -- he tried to stifle his laughter -- "because you figured that it's your birthday and no one could get mad at you?"

Josh considered it for a moment. "Pretty much, yeah."

Tyler lost it. 

"Why? What's so funny?"

"Nothing," Tyler grinned with tears in his eyes. "You're just ridiculously adorable." 

"Oh," Josh said. "Well, I can live with that," he added, grinning. 

"So can I," Tyler muttered lovingly before softly pressing his lips to Josh's. 

And softly pressing his lips to Josh's quickly turned into desparately pressing his lips to Josh's, and tangling his hands in Josh's hair, and feeling Josh's hands on his hips and Josh's tongue in his mouth, and --

Of course, that's when Josh's mom walked in. 

"Joshua, honey, could you -- oh," she stopped, surprised, as the two boys shot away from each other as quickly as possible. 

Well.

If Tyler wasn't blushing before, he sure as all heck was now. 

"W-what is it, Mom?" Josh asked breathlessly. 

"Your -- um -- your dad's outside. He wanted to talk to you for a minute," she said awkwardly. 

"Oh. Um, okay," Josh replied, looking at Tyler. "You okay if I --?"

"Yeah -- yeah, go ahead," he said reassuringly. 

And Tyler was too busy watching Josh walk away to worry about being alone with Josh's mom, too busy admiring the way that his hips moved when he walked, thinking about how he had never been particularly attracted to someone's bottom before, but dang Josh had a good one, and he wondered how it would feel to --

"You two are really crazy about each other, aren't you?" Josh's mom smiled at him knowingly. 

Tyler blushed. 

Okay. 

So he had totally just checked Josh out. 

Right in front of his mom. 

Oops.

"Oh, I'm sorry, honey, I didn't mean to embarrass you," she chuckled lightly. "I'm just so happy that he found someone like you. I don't think I've ever seen him this happy," she commented, sitting down next to Tyler on the couch. 

"So, you're not --" Tyler hesitated, "upset that I'm -- that I'm --"

"A boy?" she guessed, her voice soft. "No, honey. I don't see the point in getting upset about something like that. He's gonna love who he's gonna love, and it's my job to support him no matter what." 

"Just like that?" he asked, amazed at her calmness. 

"Well, you make it pretty easy," she grinned. "I'd much rather him be with a nice boy than a horrible girl."

Tyler chuckled. "Well, yeah, I guess. But you're just -- you're being so cool about it. Like, you don't even seem that surprised."

He looked at her. 

She was trying not to smile. 

Oh.

"You're not, are you?" he remarked as the realization hit him. "You're not surprised at all."

"Well, I wouldn't say that exactly," she replied slowly. "I didn't know for sure that he would end up dating another boy, but. . ." She paused, smiling a little to herself. "He's always had so much love," she said simply. "I think a part of me knew, even when he was little, that he wouldn't ever put any limits on that -- that when he really fell in love with someone, he wouldn't care who it was. So, somewhere along the way, I just decided that I wouldn't care, either."

Tyler couldn't stop smiling. 

"What?" Momma Dun asked lightly, noticing his expression. 

"Oh -- nothing, I just --" Tyler smiled even bigger, "I'm just trying to picture Josh as a little kid."

She smiled. "I have some pictures, if you'd like to see them."

Tyler gasped, "Oh my gosh, please."

And now, here he was, looking through Mrs. Dun's infinite number of photo albums, gawking over pictures of Josh's childhood.

And this boy was frickin adorable.

Momma Dun showed him pictures of Josh as a baby, pictures where he was adorable and tiny and still had the same beautiful eyes that Tyler fell in love with. 

She showed him pictures of Josh as a little kid, pictures where he never seemed to stop smiling, which made sense because the Josh he knew never stopped smiling. 

She showed him pictures of Josh growing up, pictures where he had his natural hair color and oh my great frickin gosh this boy was a babe in high school, and Tyler fell in love with his dark brown hair just as thoroughly as he had fallen for the yellow. 

She showed him more recent pictures from the last few years, pictures where Josh's hair became a rainbow of color, from green to purple to blue to red to pink to yellow, and Tyler loved every single one of them. 

A few minutes later, Josh walked in to see them both giggling over a particularly cute picture of a tiny little Josh wearing tiny little overalls. "Hey, what are you guys --" he stopped abruptly, noticing the picture album. "Oh, you didn't," he pleaded, looking at his mom helplessly.

"I did," she confirmed cheerfully. 

"I was gone for like ten minutes," Josh said, shaking his head in disbelief. 

"Josh, why didn't you tell me you used to have a lip ring?" Tyler giggled, looking up at him with such intense joy that Josh actually blushed a little. 

"Because some things should be forgotten," he muttered, taking a seat next to Tyler on the sofa. "And some of those photo albums need to spend a lot more time in the closet."

"Oh, come on," Tyler insisted cheerfully. "You're frickin adorable in every single one of these pictures. This is, like, the best day of my life."

Josh bit his lip a little and smiled back grudgingly. "Well, if it makes you happy," he groaned playfully. 

"It does, it makes me so happy," Tyler promised, kissing him on the cheek. "I especially like the high school ones."

"Ugh. Why those? I was so awkward in high school."

"You were not!" Tyler gasped. "You were a complete babe," he continued, temporarily forgetting that Josh's mom was sitting right next to him. 

"I have to say, I agree with Tyler on this one," she chimed in, to Tyler's surprise. "He's always had the cutest smile," she said to Tyler. 

"I know, right?" Tyler grinned. "When we first met, I actually thought I was gonna die, he was so cute." After a moment, he glanced at Josh shyly and added, "I still might die, he's so cute."

They might have spent the next twenty minutes going back and forth, talking about all the ways that Josh was adorable and seeing how much they could make him blush. 

And Tyler might have decided that Josh's mom was his new best friend. 

After that, they made their way outside to go swimming with Josh's siblings. Tyler hadn't exactly brought swim shorts, but Josh had an extra pair that fit him perfectly, just like everything else about this boy. 

That was the day that Tyler learned how sexy Josh looked in the water. 

I mean, come on. He was frickin gorgeous already, but when you added wet hair and no shirt, when the water trailed down his chest in little droplets that drove Tyler completely insane, when Josh started to playfully splash water at him until he started splashing back, until it was a full-on war and they were both laughing so hard they could barely breathe. 

When Tyler ended up on Josh's shoulders, laughing and looking down at this beautiful yellow-haired boy and feeling painfully aware of Josh's hands on his legs, holding him in place. 

When they were both exhausted at the end of the day and Tyler just sat on the edge of the pool, letting his legs trail through the water and watching this amazing person exist and realizing that this amazing person was his boyfriend. 

When Josh noticed him staring, when he smiled and blushed and swam over to him, when Tyler leaned over and Josh grabbed the edge of the pool, bracing himself just high enough that their lips could connect. 

When Tyler didn't care that Josh's family was there, when all he knew was this boy and his lips and the pure love that held them together. 

Josh was a frickin masterpiece. 

And Tyler was so frickin in love with him. 

And he fell even more frickin in love with him after watching him with his family, after seeing how close he was with Ashley and Jordan and Abigail, after seeing him laugh and play and talk with them, after seeing that he was not only an amazing boyfriend, but an amazing brother and an amazing son and it was getting really hard to believe that Josh was even human at this point, he was so frickin perfect. 

Which is why, when Josh's mom suggested that they both stay the night, Tyler agreed a little too enthusiastically. 

Because it was late and Josh's mom didn't want them driving home in the dark and any excuse to spend more time with Josh and his family was a good one. 

When they were all ready to go to bed, Josh grabbed Tyler's hand and casually began, "C'mon, Ty. I'll show you my room upsta--"

"No, sir," Josh's mom cut in sternly. "You know the rules, no sharing beds until you're married."

"But Mom," Josh whined. "We already --"

She held a hand up. "I don't want to hear about it. Whatever you do at your own house is up to you, but we have rules here. And that means that you'll be sleeping in your bed and Tyler can take the extra bed in Jordan's room."

They all groaned a little (Jordan included), but Momma Dun's word was law. 

It was just one night, anyway. 

Tyler could handle one night without Josh in his bed.

Couldn't he? 

So now, here he was, wearing a pair of Josh's pajamas and arranging pillows in Jordan's room. 

Jordan came in, took one look at him, and quickly averted his eyes. 

Just like he'd been doing all day. 

Tyler couldn't help but feel a lurch in his stomach. He wasn't sure if he had done something wrong or if Jordan just didn't like the idea of his brother dating a guy, but something was definitely off. 

Tyler sat down on his bed and looked at Jordan carefully. "You don't like me, do you?" he heard himself saying. 

Jordan blinked, surprised. "No, I -- why would you think that?"

"I just -- maybe I'm just overanalyzing everything. I have been known to do that," he added with a nervous chuckle. "But it just -- it seems like you feel uncomfortable with -- with me and Josh, and if that's the case, I'd rather know now so I can try to make things better."

Jordan looked at him oddly. "Why does it matter? You're happy, he's happy. Who cares what I think?"

"Josh cares what you think," he replied softly. "And if Josh cares, then it matters."

"Wow." Jordan paused, looking him over with a quick glance. "You really do love him, don't you?"

"Yeah, I do," Tyler answered, a little surprised. "But you still haven't answered my question. Why do you have a problem with me?"

Jordan ran a hand through his hair, sitting down on the edge of his bed. "That's not -- I don't have a problem with you. Really, I don't," he insisted as Tyler looked at him skeptically. "It's just -- different, that's all."

Tyler nodded, understanding. "Yeah, I -- I know it's probably weird for you. I mean, you're used to him being a certain way, to him -- y'know, seeing certain people, and now I'm here, and I just -- I get it," he said carefully. "But I want you to know that -- that I'm here. I'm here for him, and I'm not going anywhere. So if there's -- if there's anything that you need, anything that could make this easier, then I'm here for you, too."

Jordan looked at him for a long time (and if Tyler noticed the tears in his eyes, he didn't day anything about it). He didn't say anything, he just nodded and reached over to turn the light off. 

Tyler was almost asleep when he heard a quiet voice say, "Hey, um. Tyler?"

He opened his eyes to see Jordan still sitting up, looking at him nervously. 

"Hmm?" Tyler mumbled sleepily. 

"Earlier, you said that -- that you'd never dated another guy before. Right?"

That was definitely not what Tyler was expecting.

"Um, no, I -- I hadn't," he replied awkwardly, wondering where this was going. 

"So, how --" Jordan hesitated. "How did you know that -- that you felt -- that way about him? How did you know that -- you wanted to be more than friends?"

"Oh. Um, well," Tyler struggled to find the words. "I think probably the most obvious thing was -- well, I wasn't usually attracted to other guys, and I -- I was definitely attracted to him. So that was a pretty big clue," he chuckled. 

Jordan still looked confused. "But like -- what did that feel like? How did you know that -- that you were attracted to him in the first place?"

Man. This kid asked the real questions. 

Tyler sat up a little, propping himself up on an elbow as he remembered that first day. As he remembered seeing Josh for the first time, sitting next to him and wondering why his stomach felt like it was on a roller coaster. As he remembered looking into those beautiful brown eyes and feeling like the world had dropped out from under him, as he remembered wondering for the first time what it would be like to taste a boy's lips. 

"The fireworks," he decided. "Every time I looked at him -- heck, every time I thought about him -- it felt like fireworks. I don't think I've ever been around him without feeling a chill or a spark or a flutter." He smiled crookedly. "I guess all that stuff is cliché for a reason."

Jordan nodded and smiled a little, averting his eyes again. 

Wait. 

Tyler knew that look. 

"Jordan," he began slowly, "do you -- do you feel that way about someone?"

Jordan's eyes widened and he quickly stuttered, "No, I -- I was just -- I don't --"

"Hey," Tyler said softly, "I won't tell anyone."

Jordan looked at him cautiously, and Tyler noticed that his hands were shaking. "Not even Josh?" he whispered finally. 

"Not even Josh," Tyler promised. 

There was a long pause. 

"His name is Aaron," Jordan whispered shakily. "He's -- he's my best friend, but. . . sometimes I feel like -- like maybe it's different than that. Like, I notice things about him. Things that best friends don't notice."

"I felt like that with Josh, too," Tyler said softly. "I'd notice things like -- like the shape of his lips, or the way his muscles shifted every time he moved."

Jordan nodded. "Yeah, or the way his hair falls in his face when he laughs. He has curly hair," he added quietly. Then, after a long moment, he whispered almost inaudibly, "I think I might love him."

He sounded scared. He sounded insecure and nervous and completely frightened, and he sounded like he was saying this out loud for the first time because he probably was. 

He sounded terrified. 

He sounded like Tyler. 

"Jordan, how -- how long have you felt this way?"

He shrugged. "A few years, I guess."

Tyler's eyes widened. "A few years? And you've never told anyone?"

"No," he said softly. "At first, I wasn't sure if -- if I really felt that way. But then I was just too scared, I guess."

"Have you thought about telling him?" 

Jordan shook his head quickly. "No, I -- I can't, he's my best friend, it would ruin everything."

"It might not," Tyler responded calmly. "He might feel the same way."

"I don't -- I don't know if I'm ready to find out."

"That's okay," Tyler assured him. "Y'know, when Josh and I started dating, I felt pretty scared too. I didn't want to tell anyone, either. But you know what he told me? He said that those feelings -- that they belonged to me, to us, and that I didn't have to tell anyone until I was ready to." He paused. "But he also told me that I didn't need to be afraid. And you don't, either. You have this amazing family, and I know that they'd support you no matter what. If you're not ready to tell them, though, I understand. And you can always talk to me about it, if you want to."

Jordan smiled shyly. "Thanks, Tyler."

Tyler smiled back. "No problem." He paused, smirking a little. "So, is he cute?"

Jordan blushed and bit his lip in a completely failed attempt to stop himself from smiling. "Shut up," he grinned. 

"Oh, man. He's adorable, isn't he?" Tyler prodded playfully. 

"Yeah, he's pretty adorable," Jordan admitted, and Tyler recognized the same shiver that he felt the first time he said stuff like that about Josh out loud. 

"Who's adorable?" came Josh's whispered voice from the doorway, and Jordan immediately looked down, blushing. 

"You are, you little pervert," Tyler giggled. "Thinking about breaking the whole 'no sharing a bed' rule?"

"Shh, I'm not here," Josh whispered as he snuck in the room and laid down next to Tyler, snuggling up close to his chest. 

Jordan rolled his eyes and laid down in his own bed, turning over to face the wall. "Have fun breaking the rules, you heathens. Just don't do anything gross."

"I'm gonna lick his face. Is that gross?" Josh said, playfully teasing his tongue closer and closer to Tyler's face.

And even though Tyler laughed and pretended to push him away, he might have realized how much he wanted Josh to actually do it. 

To be real, though, Tyler wanted to do all kinds of things with Josh's tongue.

So, while Josh was sitting there pretending, Tyler just reached out and licked him on the cheek, grinning when the surprise registered on the other boy's face. Then, full-on laughing when Josh started blushing, and Tyler knew that he wasn't the only one turned on by the whole tongue thing. 

While Josh was still a little speechless, Tyler took the opportunity to reach over and kiss him on the lips, letting himself hold onto his face and gently sneak his tongue inside Josh's mouth in a way that he wouldn't have dared to in front of everyone. 

"Good night, Jishwa," Tyler whispered softly as he pulled away, leaving Josh breathless and just a little flustered. 

Okay. Maybe a lot flustered. 

"G'night, Ty," Josh grinned. "I love you."

"I love you more," Tyler whispered, lovingly stroking a hand through Josh's hair. 

"Not possible" was the last wonderful thing that Tyler heard before he fell asleep. 

But before he closed his eyes, Tyler gently reached for his phone, wincing a little at the bright light. 

He listened to Josh's soft breathing next to him, felt the rise and fall of his chest as this beautiful boy fell asleep, still snuggled up against Tyler. He thought about Josh's mom, what she'd said about loving him and supporting him no matter what. And he thought about Jordan, hiding himself for years because he was too afraid to be in love with a boy. 

And then, taking a deep breath, Tyler sent a text to his mom. 

Hey, Mom. There's something important I need to tell you. Can we talk tomorrow?

Chapter Text

Tyler was stalling. 

"So, do you think they really liked me?" he asked Josh as they sat on the swing on his parents' front porch the next morning. 

"Absolutely," Josh grinned. "And -- I mean, I didn't want to tell you this before you met her, but -- to be honest, my mom usually doesn't like the people I date. Like, at all." He quickly added, "But she totally loved you, so that's pretty cool."

"Well, that's -- yeah, thanks for not telling me that before," Tyler chuckled. "What about your dad? Was he -- okay with everything?"

"Yep." He paused for a moment. "That was -- that was actually what he wanted to talk about yesterday. I mean, it was pretty basic stuff -- 'we'll always support you,' 'he seems like a nice boy,' and all that -- he just wanted me to know that -- that it was all good, y'know."

"Aww, he thought I was a nice boy?" Tyler grinned. 

"The nicest," Josh confirmed, kissing him on the cheek.

"What about your sisters?" Tyler continued casually. 

"You're totally stalling, aren't you?" Josh smiled at him knowingly. 

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Tyler insisted calmly, averting his eyes. 

"Yes, you do," Josh scolded him playfully. "You planned to tell your mom today, and now it's today, and you just want to keep asking questions so you can put it off a little longer."

"That is not even remotely true," Tyler claimed, scoffing in mock offense. "I would simply like to make sure that everyone in your family approved of me. And it's a totally valid question, because your sisters were whispering and laughing about me all day."

Josh laughed. "Yeah, that's because they thought you were cute."

"Oh." Tyler blinked. "Really? Cause I thought there was a definite --"

"You're still avoiding the point," Josh said sweetly. "And putting it off a little longer won't make it any easier."

Tyler groaned, burying his face in Josh's shoulder. "I know."

"It's gonna be fine, baby," Josh said quietly, wrapping his arms around Tyler. "I know you're nervous, but your mom loves you. Nothing's gonna change that."

Tyler was quiet for a moment, breathing in the scent of Josh through his shirt. It calmed him down. Josh always calmed him down. 

"Will you come with me?" he said suddenly. 

"What?" Josh looked down at him, surprised. 

"Will you come with me?" Tyler repeated softly. "When I tell her."

Josh gently stroked a hand through his hair. "Of course I will, baby, if you really want me to." He paused. "Are you sure you want --"

"I want you there," Tyler interrupted insistently. He wrapped his arms around the other boy a little tighter, as if he could make him stay just by holding on to him. "I want you there," he repeated quietly, unsure of what else to say. 

He could have said that Josh made everything better, that Tyler only felt truly safe when Josh's arms were around him, when Josh was beside him, telling him it would all be okay. That he could do anything if he was holding Josh's hand, or that Josh gave him a strength and a peace that Tyler never knew he was capable of. 

And Tyler could come out on his own. He really could. 

But now he had Josh. And he didn't have to do anything on his own ever again. 

"Then, I'll be there," Josh grinned. "We could even have a little party, if you want. Get some balloons, make a cake -- the whole deal."

Tyler giggled. "You will literally do anything for more cake, won't you?"

"Absolutely," Josh grinned, reaching down to kiss him on the side of his neck. "I can't help that you make it so good," he growled playfully, his lips barely an inch away from Tyler's ear. 

Tyler shivered. 

And, there was the warmth. 

Right on frickin time. 

Tyler and that dang warmth were starting to become best friends. 

"We'll go whenever you're ready, okay?" Josh said quietly after a moment, wrapping an arm around Tyler and softly rubbing his arm. 

This boy was too perfect. 

Tyler smiled at him adoringly for a moment before slowly pressing their lips together. 

And, oh.

Tyler was never gonna get tired of those lips. 

Ever

It wasn't a desperate kiss. It wasn't urgent. It wasn't racing to open their mouths into each other, to let their tongues dance together, or tangling their hands in each other's hair because they needed to be closer, needed to be holding on tighter. 

No.

It was gentle. It was soft and slow and deliberate. It was memorizing the softness of each other's lips as Tyler's hand lightly reached up to cradle the other boy's jaw, feeling the stubble there and knowing that he'd forgotten to shave that morning (and oh gosh, Tyler loved it when Josh forgot to shave). It was breathing each other in, licking into each other's lips just enough to get a taste. 

It was love. 

It was pure affection. 

And it was everything that Tyler needed to remind him why he needed to tell his parents about Josh. 

Because this boy was everything, and Tyler never wanted to have to hide him ever again. He never wanted to lie to explain why Josh was in his bed, to pretend that he didn't want to kiss him all the time (because he most definitely frickin did).

Because Tyler wanted to be able to say, "I love you," any time, any place, no matter who else was there. Because Tyler wanted to be able to kiss Josh without worrying about someone else walking in. Because Tyler wanted to cuddle with him, to look at him like he was the absolute world (because he totally was), to be completely and hopelessly in love with him in every way possible -- no limitations, no fears. 

And that was going to start today. 

"I'm ready," Tyler decided firmly as he pulled away, his lips barely an inch away from Josh's, his hand still caressing his jaw. 

Josh smiled and rested their foreheads together. "Lead the way," he whispered. 

Tyler took a deep breath, inhaling Josh's scent one more time before standing up and taking the other boy's hand. They slowly walked to the car together, their fingers intertwined and their hearts beating in unison, just a little faster than usual. 

They held hands the whole way there. 

They held hands as they got in the car, their fingers reaching across the console as if they were magnets, as if they didn't have a choice but to be laced together. They held hands at every stoplight, through every turn, the rough texture of Josh's calloused hands grounding Tyler just as much as the soft texture of his own comforted Josh. 

They held hands as they drove through Tyler's neighborhood, as his mind went through flashes of childhood memories, summer days spent riding bikes with Zack up and down the street, playing with Pokémon cards and jumping on trampolines and wow, everything was so much simpler then. And now, here he was, on his way to tell his mom that he had met someone, that he had met the love of his life, that he was finally happy.

That it was everything she had ever wanted for him except that the love of his life was a boy. 

They kept holding hands as they sat in the driveway, waiting for Tyler to find the courage to go inside. 

"Hey," Josh whispered softly, inviting Tyler to look over at him. "I love you. No matter what happens. Okay?"

Tyler nodded, smiling nervously as he whispered, "I love you, too."

Josh softly reached out to caress his face, rubbing his thumb across his cheek for a moment before gently connecting their lips. "You can do this, Ty," he said quietly. "It's all gonna be okay. I'll be there the whole time, but if you ever want me to leave --"

"No, no, I want you there," Tyler interrupted, his voice a little panicky. 

"I know, baby. I know. I'll be there." Josh brought Tyler's hand up to his mouth and softly kissed his knuckles. "I just want you to know that if at any point you decide that you need a minute alone, I can step out, okay? I'll be there as long as you want me to."

"I'll always want you there," Tyler whispered, almost inaudibly. 

"Good," Josh grinned, and kissed him again. 

This one lasted a little longer. 

Tyler couldn't help it. 

Because when he felt Josh's lips moving against his own, when he breathed this boy in until they were sharing the same air, when he thought about how much he loved this boy and the taste of his lips and the way he smiled and his obsession with aliens and how cute he was when he slept and the way his voice sounded when he sang along to Blink-182 and every beautiful frickin thing about his beautiful frickin soul, Tyler couldn't help licking his tongue across Josh's lips, couldn't help reaching out to taste him, and Josh couldn't help opening his mouth and letting him, and neither one of them could help the little gasp that they let out as Tyler's tongue filled the other boy's mouth, or the quiet moans that escaped when Josh's hand found its way to Tyler's hip. 

And if they ended up having a twenty minute make-out session in Josh's car right before going inside to have "the talk" with Tyler's mom, then that was their business. 

But they totally did. 

And maybe having the taste of Josh inside him and the lingering feeling of Josh's hands in his hair and under his shirt gave Tyler just enough courage to finally walk up to the front door.

He took a deep breath and gave Josh's hand one final squeeze before letting it go and walking inside. 

And oh gosh, all he wanted to do was hold Josh's hand again. 

"Mom?" he called shakily. Josh gave him a reassuring nod. Tyler took another step. 

"In here, honey," she called back from the kitchen. 

He glanced nervously at Josh, who mouthed "It's okay" with a light smile. 

Okay. 

He could do this. 

He took another breath and walked towards the kitchen, staying close to Josh. 

Josh was safe. 

His mom's voice continued from the kitchen, "So, did you have fun yesterday? I know you seemed excited about -- oh. Hello, Josh. I didn't know you were here," she added with a smile when the two boys came around the corner. 

"Hi, Mrs. Joseph," Josh smiled politely. 

She chuckled. "If you boys start spending any more time together, we may never see Tyler again," she joked lightly. Then, she noticed Tyler's nervous expression and her smile disappeared. "Tyler, honey, what's wrong? Did something happen?"

"No, it's --" Tyler croaked, not realizing how dry his throat was. He coughed. "Um, Mom, I need to -- we need to talk."

She looked at him, concerned, and walked him to the living room. He sat down, carefully watching his mom as she sat down in the chair beside the sofa. Josh took a spot beside him, gently brushing a hand across his leg. 

It was brief. It was subtle. But it was there. 

And Tyler didn't realize how much he needed it. 

"What is it, honey?" his mom asked softly.

When Tyler didn't answer, she looked questioningly at Josh. "I'm just -- I'm here for moral support," Josh said with a nervous smile. 

Tyler looked down. 

Deep breaths. 

"I'm -- um --" he gulped, trying to blink back the tears that were threatening to form. Just say it, Tyler. It's okay. Josh is here. You can tell her. Just say it. "Mom, I'm -- I'm gay."

Oh, gosh. 

He said it. 

And then he burst into tears. 

He couldn't help it. 

"Oh, Tyler," his mom whispered, wrapping him up in her arms. "It's okay, baby, it's okay," she repeated softly a few times, rubbing his back as he cried softly into her shoulder. 

"You're not -- you're not -- m-mad?" he said in between shuttering breaths.  

"Oh, honey. I'm not mad," she promised. "I'm not mad at all."

He kept crying anyway. 

"And Josh -- Josh is my -- my -- boyfriend, and I just -- I didn't want you to get mad, but I -- I love him so much, Mom, and he's so good to me, and I was so scared to tell you," he managed to gasp out in shuttering breaths. 

"Oh, it's okay, baby," she said softly, "It's okay." She kept rubbing a hand gently across his back, calming him down. "Tyler, I need you to listen to me for a minute, okay, baby?"

He nodded, sniffling a little. 

She waited until he was looking her in the eye. "I don't want you to ever think that you can't love someone, okay? It doesn't matter if you're straight or gay or anything in between so long as you're happy. Do you understand me?"

He nodded again, smiling. 

"And if anyone tells you that you that it's wrong for you to love this boy, I will personally track them down and smack them with the Bible until they start to actually understand it."

Tyler laughed. "Th-Thanks, Mom."

They stayed like that for a few more minutes, Tyler softly crying into his mother's shoulder as she rubbed his back and whispered to him reassuringly.

"Josh, honey," she said suddenly, "you can come over here, too."

Tyler glanced over and realized with shock that Josh was crying, too. 

"Thank you," he said shakily, wrapping his arms around them both. 

"Josh," Tyler giggled, "why are you crying?"

"Well, you started it," he countered sensitively. "Being so -- and the crying, and then -- you being so cute, and -- the hugging, and I just --"

"You cried because I cried?" Tyler laughed. 

"Maybe," Josh sniffled.

Tyler's mom looked at them both, smiling. 

"What?" Tyler asked, trying to stop smiling. (Spoiler alert: he couldn't.)

"Nothing," she grinned. "It's just -- that happens sometimes. When you're in love."

Tyler blushed. 

"See?" Josh said, grinning playfully. "I said you started it."

"Well, if we're throwing blame around, then technically you started it," he smirked. "Cause you talked to me first, and if you hadn't, we wouldn't have fallen in love, and you wouldn't care if I was crying."

"Nah," Josh said simply. 

"Nah? What is that supposed to mean?" Tyler giggled. 

"You said we wouldn't have fallen in love if I hadn't talked to you," he replied softly. "But I started falling in love with you way before we started talking."

Tyler almost died. 

But then again, maybe he actually did.

Because everything about this boy sent him straight to heaven. 

And he didn't even care how cheesy that sounded. 

Because it was totally, 100% accurate. 

And thankfully, as the two boys sat there gawking lovingly at each other, Tyler's mom had the grace to give them some time alone, going back to the kitchen supposedly to make some chocolate chip cookies (which is what she had always done for Tyler whenever he cried as a little kid).

As soon as she left the room, Tyler curled himself up in Josh's arms. He knew he didn't need to wait for then to be alone, not now that she knew, but it still felt. . . private, somehow. 

"You did it," Josh said softly, smiling at him adoringly. 

"Well, I did half of it," Tyler muttered. "I still have to tell my dad."

"Yeah, but that'll be a breeze," Josh encouraged him. "I mean, you've told Zack, you've told your mom, and the other day, Maddy asked me if she could paint my fingernails for our wedding, so I'm pretty sure she knows. By this point, you're pretty much an expert on coming out."

Tyler laughed. "Yeah, I guess that's one way to look at it." He looked up at Josh and smiled for a moment before softly kissing him. "Thank you," he whispered against Josh's lips. 

"For what?" Josh asked, tilting his head a little and seeming genuinely perplexed. 

Tyler fidgeted with Josh's shirt. "For being here with me. For making me brave enough to do this."

Josh laughed. 

"What?" Tyler asked defensively (even though he still couldn't get himself to stop smiling).

"Nothing, it's just --" Josh smiled. "You've got it all wrong."

"Oh, and I suppose you're going to correct me?" Tyler teased. 

"I might," Josh grinned, biting his lip a little. 

Oh, gosh. 

Not the lip bite. 

Tyler was completely helpless against those lips.

And Josh frickin knew it. 

Tyler pressed their foreheads together, if only to get closer. "So, what is it, then? What am I so wrong about?"

Josh smiled, and oh my gosh the feeling of Josh's breath on Tyler's face, on his lips, was going to be the absolute death of him. "You think I make you brave," Josh said quietly, "but you don't seem to realize that I would be an absolute coward without you."

Tyler blinked. 

He didn't expect that. 

"It's like, you see me as this -- this brave and confident person, and I -- I love that you see me that way," Josh continued in a quiet voice. "But it's all from you. You made me brave the day we met. You made me brave when I met your parents, when you met mine. When I came out. I don't think I would've been able to do any of that if you weren't there." He smiled at Tyler softly, brushing a hand through his hair. "You think it's me, but it's you. It's always been you."

Tyler wanted to express how much he loved Josh in that moment. He wanted to find a way to tell him that it wasn't just him, that they made each other brave. That they made each other better in every way because they were two halves of the same whole, because they completed each other in the cheesiest, most beautiful way possible. That they were the textbook definition of soulmates. 

Instead, he blushed, cramming his face into Josh's chest and fondly muttering, "Shut up, you're gonna make me cry again."

But the absolute joy in Josh's laughter told Tyler that he already knew all the rest. 

He sat there for a while, cradled in Josh's arms, before the yellow-haired boy noticed him yawning for about the fifteenth time. 

"Tyler, do you wanna go to sleep for a little while?" he asked, smiling at him adoringly. 

"No, m'okay," Tyler mumbled sleepily as he curled up even more, laying down on the sofa and snuggling his head into Josh's lap. 

Tyler couldn't help it if crying made him tired. 

He also couldn't help it if Josh running his hand through Tyler's hair felt like heaven, or if laying down with his head in Josh's lap was literally the most comfortable position he had ever found himself in.

He couldn't help it if they fit together in so many ways that he desperately wanted them to fit together in other ways. 

Closer ways. 

But most of all, he couldn't help it that falling asleep next to Josh, just like everything else, made him fall a little bit more in love. 

He thought he would have reached the limit by now, that there would eventually be some level of love that was so intense that it had to be the peak, because no human being could possibly handle any more love than that. 

But he never seemed to get there. 

In fact, he was starting to think that maybe Josh was the exception to that rule, because if Tyler knew one thing in life, it was that this boy deserved more love than the whole universe could offer, and Tyler was determined to do everything he was capable of to give it to him. 

But first, he really needed a nap. 

Crying was exhausting. 

Of course, he didn't realize that falling asleep in Josh's lap was literally one of the best things he could have done towards making this boy feel loved, or that the whole time Tyler dozed off in his arms, Josh was having the time of his life watching him sleep. He didn't realize that Josh was falling even more in love with him every second, wondering how he could be so lucky, or that every feeling Josh had ever experienced for this sleepy boy was just as powerful as all the ones that Tyler had ever felt for him. 

And he definitely didn't realize that his mom had come back in the room until he heard the two of them speaking in soft voices. 

He tensed for a moment before realizing that she knew. He didn't have to get out of Josh's lap, to pretend that they were just friends, because his mom knew that they weren't. 

Tyler shivered a little. 

He could get used to this. 

Whether he was talking about his mom knowing that he had a boyfriend or being asleep in Josh's lap, Tyler wasn't sure. 

Probably both. 

And he wanted to open his eyes, to let them know that he was awake, but. . .

Well.

Josh was still running his hand through Tyler's hair. 

And it felt really good.

So incredibly good. 

Like, Tyler was practically incapacitated, it felt so good. 

And he totally didn't mean to eavesdrop.

But by the time he realized that they were talking about him, he was committed to being "asleep."

So he just kind of went with it. 

"So, how long have you two been together?" he heard his mom ask softly. 

"Um," Josh hesitated, "kind of since -- since the day we met. I mean, we didn't officially go on a date until a few days later, but we -- we knew it was different pretty much right from the start."

"You know, I think I remember that day," his mom responded thoughtfully. "He came home one day and he just couldn't stop smiling. I was almost worried about him, he seemed so happy," she chuckled.

"Yeah, that -- that sounds about right," Josh laughed softly. 

"I guess I have a lot to thank you for," she said quietly after a moment. "He's been more happy these last few weeks than -- than I've ever seen him. And I'm guessing that's because of you."

"Nah," Josh said dismissively. "I'm definitely the lucky one," he added softly, running a hand through Tyler's hair again. "And I -- um -- I just wanna say, I'm really glad that you -- that you're okay with all this. I mean, you guys -- he loves you guys so much, and I know that -- that your opinion means the world to him. I don't know what we would've done if --" he trailed off. 

"Oh, honey. I don't see how anyone could be against this after seeing you two together," she said genuinely. "I mean, with the way he looks at you -- I could never take that away from him. Not for anything."

There was a long pause. 

"So, how long have you known?" Josh asked quietly. 

Wait. 

What? 

That wasn't --

Why would he -- ?

No. She didn't -- 

She didn't know already. 

Did she? 

"Honey, I don't --" she began, ending abruptly. Josh must've looked at her. She sighed. "I didn't -- I didn't know. Not for sure."

"But you guessed," Josh finished. 

There was a pause. Maybe she nodded. She probably nodded. "I thought it was Zack, at first," she explained. "The way he kept going on about -- about everything. I thought maybe he liked a boy, but he was too afraid to say it." She paused, taking a deep breath. "And then you came along. I saw how he looked at you, how happy he was when you were around. I started to wonder, but I didn't -- I didn't actually think there was anything going on until -- well, until you kept staying over," she smirked. "That kind of put all the pieces together."

"You, uh -- you knew about that, huh?" Josh asked nervously. 

"Well, you weren't terribly subtle," she chuckled lightly. "But don't worry -- I won't tell if you won't."

"Wow. You're, like, a cool mom," Josh grinned (Tyler could tell, okay? He was using his smiling voice). "My mom won't even let us stay in the same room until we're married, much less the same bed."

"'Until you're married,' huh?" she smirked.

Tyler couldn't see him, but he was pretty sure Josh was blushing (Tyler was for sure). "I don't know -- I mean, I know we haven't been -- we haven't going out for that long, but. . ."

"But this is different?" Tyler's mom guessed softly. 

"This is different," Josh confirmed. He paused for a moment, twirling a strand of Tyler's hair through his fingers. "I know it's soon," he added quietly, "and I want to -- I want to enjoy this for a while before we -- before we take it that far, but. . . this is it for me. I didn't know it was possible to love someone this much, and I just -- I honestly can't imagine anyone I'd rather marry one day."

Tyler figured he might need to get used to being in Josh's lap, because he was frickin melting by this point, and it might be kind of difficult to pry himself off of Josh by the time he existed purely in liquid form. 

This boy was everything. 

And one day, Tyler was gonna marry the heck out of him. 

The absolute heck. 

Josh and Tyler's mom talked for a few more minutes about some other stuff, but Tyler was honestly too floaty to comprehend any of it. 

Josh wanted to marry him. 

Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not next week or next month or even next year. 

But one day. 

And if that thought wasn't enough to make him floaty as all heck, then nothing was. 

Because now, Tyler was thinking about what it would be like to marry Josh, to promise himself to the love of his life in front of everyone, in front of their friends and families and siblings and parents --

-- and oh holy snap, Tyler's dad still didn't know. 

Tyler had never identified with the sound a balloon makes when you let all the air out of it so much in all his life. 

Because yes, things had gone great with his mom. Yes, she seemed incredibly supportive, and yes, she didn't even seem freaked out about the idea of them getting married one day (if only because Tyler had been informed on more than one occasion that she wanted grandbabies). Because Tyler had always been close with his mom -- they had always talked about the people he dated, and he had always gone to her when he was upset or confused or hurt. Because she always understood.

But Tyler's dad was not his mom. 

Tyler's dad was a pillar of their local church. Tyler's dad was a basketball coach. Tyler's dad was strong and independent and stubborn and funny (or at least he thought he was).

Tyler could describe his father in a lot of ways. 

He wasn't sure that "open-minded" was one of them. 

To be fair, he didn't know for sure that it wasn't. 

But he had also never strayed far enough outside the lines to find out. 

Until now. 

And Tyler honestly didn't know if "Dad, I'm gay" would be followed by "Okay, pass the salt" or "Okay, have fun in hell." 

Great. 

Now he was shaking. 

He couldn't help it. 

So, after Tyler heard his mom leave the room, he decided that he needed Josh. 

He "woke up" as naturally as possible and found himself staring into beautiful brown eyes and a crooked smile. 

"Hey, beautiful," Josh crooned softly. "Feeling any better?"

"Um," Tyler mumbled, finding Josh's arm and wrapping both of his own around it. "A little better." He hesitated. "And then -- then, a little worse."

Josh looked at him sympathetically. "Worried about telling your dad?"

Tyler nodded and sat up a little, hugging himself against Josh's chest. Josh immediately wrapped an arm around him and began softly stroking his back, sending chills down Tyler's spine in the best way possible. 

But then Josh placed a hand on Tyler's chest and looked down at him, concerned. "Baby, your heart's racing," he said quietly. 

Tyler shivered. "Been thinking too much," he mumbled. 

Josh softly kissed the top of his head, briefly admiring the way it stuck up in funny ways, especially since he'd been napping. Then, he stood up abruptly, saying, "Okay. Come on," like he'd made a decision. 

"Come on where?" Tyler muttered, dramatically going limp as Josh grabbed both of his hands and tugged in a vain attempt to get him to stand. 

"We're going outside," Josh said simply. "Trust me, it'll make you feel better."

Tyler groaned. "But I wanna stay inside and wallow," he whined. 

"Please, Ty?" Josh begged, whipping out those beautiful puppy dog eyes. "For me?" he added, asking a little pouty lip. 

Good grief. 

The word "no" ceased to exist in Tyler's vocabulary. 

"You're lucky you're so pretty," Tyler grumbled as he stood up. 

"I know," Josh grinned, kissing him on the cheek. 

Maybe going outside wouldn't be so bad. 

Josh led him straight to the backyard, grabbing the basketball from the porch on the way. "Whenever I'm feeling especially anxious about something, I've found that physical activity usually helps," he started to explain. 

"You're gonna make me exercise?" Tyler whined. 

"No," Josh smirked. "I'm gonna beat you at basketball."

Oh.

It was the right thing to say, and Josh knew it. 

Dang that boy's cockiness. 

Dang how turned on Tyler was by that boy's cockiness. 

Because oh my gosh, it was hot. 

"Josh," Tyler began sweetly, shaking his head a little and playing it cool as he took a step closer, "honey, that's really cute and all, but I think we both know that it's not gonna happen."

"Oh, yeah?" Josh taunted, starting to slowly dribble the ball. Oh gosh, that was sexy. "Prove it."

Okay.

That might have been the sexiest thing Josh had ever said. 

And Josh was basically the living embodiment of the word "sexy," so that was really saying something. 

They stared at each other for a long moment before either of them made a move, and it was so intense that Tyler was starting to wonder if they were about to play a game of basketball or if Josh was about to lay him down and take him right then and there. 

And he honestly wasn't sure which one he was hoping for. 

I mean, he wouldn't have been upset if Josh decided to lay him down and take him right then and there. 

It might not have been the most appropriate moment considering the fact that they were outside in broad daylight only a few feet away from Tyler's house and every window in the frickin neighborhood.

But oh well.  

Timing isn't everything. 

Tyler was only slightly disappointed when they started playing a moment later.

Very slightly.

Because Josh was pretty good at basketball. 

Not as good as Tyler, obviously. 

But good enough that he looked extremely attractive while he was playing it. 

And Tyler was used to distractions, okay? He was used to fake-outs, used to being taunted, used to other guys trying to get in his head because they knew it was the only way they could beat him. 

But he was not used to playing against Josh. 

Or, more accurately, he was not used to playing against Josh's muscles, the way they shifted every time he had the ball. He was not used to playing against Josh's shoulders, and really, it just wasn't fair that Josh had decided to wear a tank top today, because he had the most beautiful shoulders in the entire frickin world, and now they were just there, tempting him. He wasn't used to playing against the way that Josh bit his lip a little when he was concentrating (although Tyler half expected that Josh was doing it on purpose just to drive him crazy, and oh snap it was working), or the way that little beads of sweat started to gather on his forehead and down his neck, or the way that Tyler kind of wanted to stop the game just to kiss it away, or the way that Josh's shirt rode up sometimes and gave him a glimpse of Josh's abs and Josh's beautiful pale skin and oh my good freaking gosh was that Josh's v-line?

Basically, Josh was a complete sex god. 

So, *excuse me* if Tyler got a little distracted. 

And *excuse me* if they had been playing for nearly an hour and Josh was only three points behind. 

Against anyone else, Tyler would have considered such a feeble lead a complete and utter disgrace. 

But against Josh, it was a miracle that he was even able to hold the ball without pinning this boy to the ground and really giving the neighbors something to talk about. 

If you know what I mean. 

Tyler was still thinking about Josh's v-line when all of a sudden, the other boy started breaking rules. 

Like, a lot of rules. 

Which was really weird, because Josh knew the game, and he'd been playing fine so far. But now Josh kept grabbing the ball illegally and taking steps without dribbling and wait a second this boy was grinning like he'd knew exactly what he was doing. 

What the heck, Josh?

Tyler tried to cut him a little slack, but when Josh suddenly took off with the ball and took Lord knows how many steps without dribbling, his rule-trained mind snapped just a little bit. 

"Dude, you can't just run away with the ball like that," Tyler scoffed. "I mean, the rules aren't just there for decoration. You're kind of supposed to follow them."

"Oh, yeah?" Josh grinned. "Make me."

And that was the moment that Tyler realized the extent to which Josh had been messing with him. 

Because every time Josh broke a rule, Tyler got a little more frustrated.

And Josh frickin knew it. 

Josh was baiting him

That little twerp.

That sexy little twerp.

Tyler shook his head for a moment in disbelief. "Josh, give me the ball."

The yellow-haired boy hugged it closer to his chest. "No."

"C'mon, Josh, just -- just give it to me."

"No."

"Will you just --" Tyler broke off abruptly, noticing that the other boy was still trying not to smile. "What are you even trying to accomplish with this?"

Josh giggled. Frickin giggled. "You just -- you look really sexy when you're mad," he replied, blushing and biting his lip a little. 

Okay. 

Did he just --

Did he just say that? 

Tyler didn't just make that up, right? 

Josh just -- he just called Tyler sexy. 

In other news, Tyler was pretty sure that world peace had been achieved and that every cell in his body had somehow split apart, floated out into space, and come back together in the span of about a half a second. 

And all of a sudden, he didn't care about the game. He couldn't remember the score (heck, for a minute there, he couldn't even remember his own name). All of a sudden, Tyler couldn't care less about basketball (which was definitive proof that Josh must be a literal angel, because no natural force on earth could possibly separate Tyler from the competitiveness of basketball), because now, all he could think about was this beautiful boy in front of him who thought he was sexy. 

Without even thinking about it, Tyler lunged forward and crashed their lips together, sneaking a hand around to cradle the back of Josh's neck and licking his tongue across Josh's lips in a way that he knew drove Josh crazy in the best way possible. 

And then Tyler stole the ball from him.

Two can play at that game.

And before he knew it, he was running away laughing and Josh was chasing him and grabbing for the ball and playfully calling him out for being a tease and Tyler was having the time of his life. 

Before he knew it, Tyler had his arms wrapped tightly around the ball, trying to keep it away from Josh (because why not?), and before he knew it, Josh was grabbing him from behind and lifting him in the air, and Josh was spinning him around and Tyler was half-heartedly telling him to put him down even though they both knew that he didn't really want him to and they were both giggling uncontrollably and falling hopelessly in love. 

And before he knew it, Tyler's dad was home. 

"Wow, the rules have sure changed since I last played," his dad chuckled as he stepped outside and saw Tyler scrambling out of Josh's arms. 

"We were -- um -- it wasn't -- we were just -- just messing around," Tyler stuttered nervously. 

"That's fine, I didn't mean to interrupt you," his dad said, oblivious to the sheer magnitude of flirting that he had just witnessed. "I just -- well, Tyler, I was hoping we could talk for a minute." He glanced at Josh, silently but pretty clearly adding, "Alone."

Tyler's heart started racing, and he was pretty sure it wasn't from the game. "Yeah, um, okay. Sure."

Josh looked at him nervously, clearly not wanting to leave him alone. "I'll just -- um, I'll go see if your mom needs any help with the cookies," he said, trying to sound cheerful (spoiler alert: he didn't).

Before turning to head for the door, Josh leaned over a little, as if he'd wanted to kiss Tyler before leaving, but suddenly realized that his dad was still there. Instead, he settled for a brief touch on Tyler's arm, giving him a look that said, "I'm here if you need me."

Tyler nodded and smiled a little, mouthing, "It's okay."

And then Josh was gone. 

And Tyler was alone with his dad. 

Deep breaths. 

"So, um, what did you -- what did you want to talk about?" he asked nervously. 

"Well, I don't -- I don't really know how to say this," his dad began slowly. "Has -- has your brother talked to you about -- about anything lately?"

Tyler thought for a moment. "Um. I, uh, I'm not sure. Could you be a little more --"

"I think Zack might be gay," his dad said suddenly. 

Tyler almost choked. "You -- what?"

"It's the only thing that makes sense," his dad continued. "I mean, he's been going on and on about the whole gay marriage issue, and homosexuality in the Bible and all that. Now, he told me that he's decided to start a gay-straight alliance at school." He sighed before quickly adding, "Don't get me wrong -- I'm glad that he's interested in these kinds of issues, but. . . Well, the whole thing just seems a -- a little too personal for it to be just an interest, and I'm starting to -- well, I'm starting to wonder which part of the gay-straight alliance he actually is, you know? I mean, he's either got a friend or something that he's worried about, or he's. . . you know."

"Okay. Um, what -- what makes you think it's him?" Tyler asked cautiously. "I mean, like you said, it -- it could be about someone else."

"Well, I just --" he hesitated. "Son, this may be a little -- a little odd for you to hear. But I think that Zack might have -- well, I think he might have a crush on your friend Josh."

Tyler almost died laughing. 

He couldn't help it. 

It was such a ridiculous thought. 

And the serious look on his dad's face only made it funnier. 

And he knew he wasn't supposed to be laughing in a situation like this.

But it was so dang funny.

Zack having a crush on Josh. 

Ha.

"What -- um -- why?" Tyler managed to choke out, coughing a little to mask the giggles that threatened to escape. 

"Well, he just -- he won't stop talking about him. He keeps going on about how nice Josh is, how he goes to church and has a wonderful family, how he's always respectful to everyone. Zack just seems a little too -- interested in him, y'know?"

"Well, can you blame him?" Tyler said before he could stop himself. 

His dad chuckled, assuming it was a joke. "I guess not," he joked back. "It's always the drummers, isn't it?"

Tyler laughed weakly. "Yeah, it's -- it's always the drummers," he repeated quietly. 

He had to tell him. 

Of course, it did occur to him how hilarious it would be to see how much longer he could convince his dad that Zack was gay, or to wait and see how Zack would continue to implicate himself. 

But no. 

That wasn't the plan. 

The plan was to tell him. 

Just tell him, Tyler. 

. . .

C'mon, buddy, you can do it. 

Just come right out and say it. 

Preferably without using a gay pun. 

Well, I mean, a pun wouldn't be the worst way to say it, considering who he was --

No. No, just say it. Be serious. Josh is counting on you. 

Josh

Deep breaths. 

"Dad, it's -- it's not Zack," Tyler said quietly. 

"What do you mean?" his dad asked casually, not understanding. 

"It's -- Zack isn't gay," he replied, taking a deep breath. "I am."

"Oh."

"And, um. Josh and I -- we've been, um -- we've been seeing each other for -- for a while now."

"Seeing each other," his dad repeated, looking a little confused. "And by that, you mean -- seeing each other, like -- ?"

"Dating," Tyler finished. "He's, um. He's my -- my boyfriend."

"Oh."

There was a long pause. 

"So, you're -- you're really --?"

"Gay," Tyler confirmed. "I wasn't, um -- I wasn't sure, at first. But yeah, I'm -- I'm gay."

"And have you always -- you've always felt that way, or --?"

"Um, well," he hesitated. "I mean, I didn't always know. But, um, I think I always knew that -- that there was something. . . missing, I guess. Before I met Josh."

His dad nodded, his expression unreadable. 

He didn't seem upset. 

He didn't exactly seem thrilled, but he wasn't yelling or anything, so that was something. 

Finally, he spoke. "Well," he sighed, "he seems like a nice boy. You could do a lot worse."

Tyler blinked. "Wait. That's -- that's it? You're not -- disappointed? Or -- or upset, or -- anything?"

"Disappointed?" His father looked at him, genuinely concerned. "Son, I'm not -- I mean, I'm not gonna lie, I'm definitely a little surprised. But not disappointed. Never that." He sighed, running a hand through his hair. That must be where Tyler got it from, he realized. "Look, Tyler, I know that people make a big deal about this stuff, but it's not --" he trailed off, unsure of what to say. "You're a good person, Tyler," he said simply. "Over the years, I've -- I've had the privilege of watching you become this -- this kind, smart, independent young man, and -- and with some of the things you've been through. . ." He shook his head slightly. "Tyler, you're one of the strongest people I've ever met," he said, looking him in the eye. "I care a lot more about that."

Tyler nodded, unable to speak.

He definitely wasn't trying not to cry, okay? 

He just -- there was something in his eye, or something. 

They stayed outside for a long time as his dad cautiously asked questions and Tyler patiently answered. No, Tyler wasn't a girl -- gay and transgender were two different things. Yes, he loved Josh. No, Josh didn't "make him gay." He just made him realize that he was. No, Josh wasn't gay, he was bi. That meant he liked girls and boys. Yes, Josh's parents knew. Yes, they were supportive. 

Yes. No. Only on Thursdays. 

It went on for a while. 

And Tyler knew that his dad didn't understand. Not really. 

But he was trying to. 

And that meant everything. 

They had been quiet for a while when Tyler's dad spoke again. 

"Son, I just -- I need you to promise me one thing, okay?"

Tyler nodded. "Y-yeah, of course."

His dad took a deep breath, placing a hand on Tyler's shoulder. "Just -- just make sure that you always use protection, okay? I know that you boys don't have to worry about getting pregnant or anything like that, but it's still important to use a condom --"

"DAD," Tyler quickly interrupted. "Oh my gosh, you can't just -- I don't -- we haven't even --"

His dad held a hand up, silencing him. "I don't need to hear about it. I just want you to be safe. Okay?"

Tyler blushed and averted his eyes. "Okay," he mumbled grudgingly. 

So, other than having his dad give him a safe sex talk, Tyler would say that his official coming out day went pretty well. 

When he went inside, he saw Josh sitting on one of the kitchen chairs, nervously tapping his leg. He shot up as soon as Tyler was inside, looking at him eagerly. "Did you -- is everything -- ?"

Tyler nodded, grinning. 

And in a second, Josh's arms were around him and they were both smiling and holding on to each other and Josh was whispering, "You did it, Ty," in his ear and Tyler just nodded into Josh's chest and held him a little tighter because he couldn't think of anything to say. 

Then, he felt Josh's arms around him, felt the way that he hugged him so close, like he wanted to make sure that Tyler didn't drift away. Then, he laid his head against Josh's chest and felt his heartbeat, felt how it was a little faster than usual, how he had been scared because Tyler was scared. Then, he breathed this boy in, feeling every ounce of Josh's love for him in each point of contact between them. 

And then, he thought of something to say. 

"We did it," he finally whispered back. 

And they stood there, holding each other, until Tyler's mom insisted that it was time for dinner.

They held hands all the way through dinner, though. 

And they didn't even have to hold them under the table. 

And now that everyone knew, Tyler could smile at Josh as much as he wanted to. They could talk about their first date and laugh about all the times they'd nearly gotten caught and listen to his mom talk about how cute they were together. 

Yeah. Tyler could get used to this. 

And before he knew it, Tyler was telling his family about the open mic thing. 

And then he was inviting them. 

To hear him sing. 

About Josh. 

Okay. 

So, that happened. 

But somehow, with Josh smiling at him and holding his hand (above the table, mind you) Tyler couldn't bring himself to be afraid.

Not when he told them about it. 

Not when they said they'd love to come. 

Not when he kept practicing over the next few days, when he worked until the song was perfect and wondered if anyone in the shop would have a problem with him singing a love song to a boy. 

Not when the day finally came, and he stood on the tiny little stage in the coffee shop, wearing the floral kimono in public for the first time.

It all happened so fast. He was there, and then they were calling him on stage, and Josh was smiling at him, completely proud and completely in love and completely unaware of what was about to happen. 

Tyler stood there for a moment, holding his ukulele firmly in his hand and fidgeting with the microphone to get it to the right height. 

He took a deep breath.

He found his family in the small crowd, looking excited, but a little unsure of what to expect. 

He found Ashley, stopping her work behind the counter to watch him. 

He found Jordan, standing nervously in the crowd next to a boy with bronze, curly hair.

And then he found Josh, looking at Tyler on stage like he'd never been so happy to see anyone do anything in his entire life. 

Finally, Tyler spoke. 

"This, um -- this song is -- is really important to me," he began softly, flinching a little as he heard his voice echo into the microphone. "So, um, this is for the love of my life," he said, looking Josh in the eye. 

He started playing about the same time that the surprise registered on Josh's face. 

"Wise men say only fools rush in
But I can't help falling in love with you"

He began softly, partially because he was a little nervous to be singing in front of people and partially because that's how he wanted it to start. Because it felt like the day they met, like all the little feelings that didn't quite know what they were yet. 

"Shall I stay? Would it be a sin
If I can't help falling in love with you?"

His voice grew a little more powerful, sounding less like shy smiles and nervous kisses and more like sneaking out to Josh's car in the middle of the night, like memorizing the taste of Josh's tongue and kissing his neck for the first time, like hearing the quiet little gasps and moans that came as a result and deciding that he wanted to keep kissing Josh's neck for the rest of his life. 

"Like a river flows
Surely to the sea
Darling so we go
Some things were meant to be"

Everyone in the room was captivated, enamored by the sound of Tyler's voice, but he didn't even notice. All he could think about was the way Josh's eyes lit up when he said "darling," and how he should call Josh that a lot more often. Darling. It was perfect. 

"Take my hand, take my whole life too
'Cause I can't help falling in love with you"

Slowly, the rest of the room melted away, and all Tyler could see was Josh, all he could feel was every spark, twist, and flutter that he had ever gotten from this boy as every little piece of him fell in love. 

"Like a river flows
Surely to the sea
Darling, so we go
Some things were meant to be

Take my hand, take my whole life too
'Cause I can't help falling in love with you
'Cause I can't help falling in love with you"

Tyler's eyes never left Josh's. It was like there was an invisible force connecting them, holding them together, and Tyler didn't even care how strange or cliché that sounded because it was the only way to describe how close he felt with this boy.

"But I can't help falling in love with you."

His voice was quiet by the end, almost a whisper. And in that moment, they both knew that it wasn't just a song, it wasn't just words. "This is it," Tyler sang underneath the lyrics, "You and me, always," and Josh drank it in like it was everything, like Tyler himself had written the song because he might as well have, because it was about them and they both knew it. It was about a boy who had become brave enough to wear pink flowers and another boy who had bright yellow hair and a heart full of stars, about all the perfect ways they fit together and all the perfect ways they fell in love.

When he finished, Josh was the first person to clap. And in that moment, it was just the two of them, Tyler singing and Josh looking at him like he meant everything in the world. 

And in the next moment, Tyler was running into Josh's arms, he was connecting their lips as Josh lifted him up and spun him around, in front of his family, in front of everyone, and all Tyler could think was that this was the most perfect love in the world. 

He barely remembered talking to his family afterwards, hearing them say how proud they were (and he had a feeling that it wasn't just about the singing).

He barely remembered hugging them and talking to Ashley, seeing Jordan blush as he introduced him to Aaron (and maybe it was just Tyler's imagination, but it seemed like Aaron was blushing a little bit too).

He barely remembered telling his parents that he was going to stay out with Josh for a while and that they shouldn't wait up. 

All he remembered was Josh. 

He remembered the way that they got lost in each other's eyes, the way that it felt like they had found themselves at the same time. He remembered feeling every ounce of contact between them, every brush of the hand, every look, every moment in a rush of fireworks even more powerful than the ones that had filled him the day they met. 

He remembered realizing that this night was special. 

He remembered holding Josh's hand all the way to the car, and he remembered studying his eyelashes as Josh brushed a hand across his cheek and smiled, softly asking, "Where do you wanna go, love?"

He remembered not even hesitating as he shivered and replied, "I wanna go to your place."

"Okay," Josh said, looking a little confused. "I mean, Mark's gone for the night, but there's not much to do other than --"

"Josh," Tyler said a little slower, a little more insistent. "I want to go to your place."

It took a moment of looking him in the eye for Josh to actually understand what he meant. 

"You -- oh," he said finally, his eyes widening a little. "Are you -- are you sure? We don't have to --"

Tyler kissed him, long and slow. "I've never been more sure of anything in my entire life," he said softly. 

Josh kissed his hand, smiling, and whispered, "Me neither."

Then, he started driving. 

Tyler knew that Josh was it. They weren't married, but they would be. He knew it. Josh knew it. 

He'd been saving himself for the person he was gonna marry, and there was not a doubt in his mind that that person was Josh. 

So was this really so wrong? 

Tyler didn't think so. 

Which is how Tyler Robert Joseph, Good Christian Boy™ and notorious heterosexual, ended up spreading his legs for a boy. 

And he didn't even feel guilty about it. 

Because they barely made it inside Josh's apartment before their lips were desperately connecting and their hands were fumbling to get each other's shirts off, before Josh was lifting him up and Tyler was wrapping his legs around him as Josh carried him to the bedroom, their lips never separating. 

Because they were both new at this, because they were both clumsy and a little bit awkward, laughing at little moments like when Josh couldn't get Tyler's pants off and when Tyler accidentally kissed Josh's ear. 

Because when Josh finally laid Tyler across the bed and let his eyes roam over his naked body, he whispered, "Oh, Ty. You're so pretty," in the most loving voice he'd ever heard.

Tyler moaned.

Josh smiled and said in a low voice, "You like that, sweetheart? You like it when I call you pretty?"

Tyler frantically nodded, unable to speak. 

"You're so pretty, baby," Josh repeated, over and over, as he pressed his lips to Tyler's stomach, as he continued to trail soft kisses there until Tyler was losing it, until he was practically whining, he wanted this boy so badly.

Because when Tyler felt Josh's hands touching him, it was like fire and light and everything all at once. 

Because when Josh finally pushed himself inside, suddenly everything that he'd ever been missing fell into place. 

Because finally, finally, they were as close as they were always meant to be, and the feeling was so overwhelming and so indescribably perfect that Tyler couldn't imagine giving himself to a better person at a better time. 

Because every time Josh thrusted deeper into him, Tyler felt more complete than he had ever felt in his life. Because the steady rhythm that they established felt more beautiful than any song he'd ever heard. 

Because Josh was so, so safe, and he was so gentle (until Tyler begged him not to be, and then oh my gosh).

Because every sound they made (and there were more than a few), every time Tyler moaned Josh's name and every time Josh moaned his, it sounded like "I love you."

It was "I love you."

Because Tyler had never felt more loved or more wanted or more perfect or more beautiful than he did in Josh's bed. 

Because the whole time, Josh never stopped telling Tyler how pretty he was. 

And Tyler knew that he meant it. 

But it was more than that. 

Because as he lay sprawled out in Josh's bed, with the love of his life inside him, turning him into a complete mess, Tyler finally believed it.

Chapter Text

Tyler was happy.

No.

That was an understatement.

Tyler was happier than he had ever been in his entire fricking life.

And not just because he had sex with Josh.

Don't get me wrong -- that definitely contributed.

Like, a lot.

But right now, he was happy because he had been dating this boy for nearly two months now, and yet here they were, laying in bed together after the most amazing night of their lives, blushing and giggling like a couple of high schoolers with a crush.

I mean, honestly.

All it took was one night -- one night of exploring each other's bodies and kissing every beautiful inch of skin and loving each other in the most literal sense of the word -- and they were both reduced to giddy, love-struck idiots, capable of nothing more than staring at each other and smiling.

And giggling.

There was a lot of that, too.

Tyler was also happy because he was currently learning that post-sex cuddles were basically the most amazing cuddles ever.

And any kind of cuddles with Josh were already A+.

But these cuddles were downright astronomical.

And that wasn't a word that Tyler ever thought he'd use to describe cuddles.

But it totally applied.

Because now, he was laying here with Josh's arms around him, with their legs tangled together under the sheets and Tyler's head at kind of a funny angle on Josh's chest because neither one of them could bear to look at anything but each other. Now, he was in bed with the love of his life, and he wasn't even embarrassed that neither one of them had bothered to put any clothes back on, because all he could think about was this beautiful boy next to him, and how cute he was when he smiled and how he was even cuter when he was smiling at Tyler. How Josh's body always seemed to radiate warmth and how comfortable it was to snuggle up against him, even in the middle of summer. How Josh had the prettiest eyelashes in the entire world.

I mean, seriously. Have you ever looked at this boy's eyelashes? They're breathtaking.

And, under normal circumstances, it was difficult enough to be around Josh without kissing him constantly.

But now, it was frickin impossible.

They tried to control themselves. They really did. 

But it was no use. 

Every few seconds, one of them would break, reaching across to connect their lips, sometimes only for a second, sometimes for ages

It was around this time that they learned the glory of kissing each other with their eyes open.

Tyler always used to think that that would be weird, and they only started doing it now because they literally couldn't stand to not be looking at each other, even when they kissed.

But then they realized that it was actually pretty great.

Because now, they could kiss each other over and over and over without losing even a moment of eye contact.

Which, right now, was extremely important.

Plus, Josh's eyes were even prettier up close.

So, that was awesome. 

"What?" Tyler giggled when Josh bit his lip thoughtfully for about the fourteenth time.

"Nothing," he blushed, biting his lip again. Gosh, that was so hot. "I just -- I'm so in love with you," he murmured adoringly, pressing a soft kiss to Tyler's forehead.

This boy was frickin everything.

Tyler smiled and traced a finger across Josh's chest. "Is this the part where I say that I love you more and you say that that's impossible and we argue back and forth about it for twenty minutes?"

"It could be," Josh grinned. "I mean, I have heard some pretty great things about make-up sex, but we never really argue about anything, so this might be our only chance," he added with a chuckle.

Tyler laughed. "I might need a little bit of recovery time first, but that sounds good to me."

Josh's eyes widened immediately. "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry, did I hurt you? Oh, man, I hurt you, didn't I? I was trying so hard not to --"

"Josh, I'm fine," Tyler giggled. "Really, it's no big deal. It's just a little sore --"

"Ohmygoshohmygosh I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to, I'm such a horrible boyfriend, I'm so sorry --"

Tyler quickly kissed him, pressing their lips together until he felt the other boy relax. "It's not your fault, baby," he said softly, brushing a hand through his bright yellow hair. "You were nothing but sweet" -- he kissed the corner of Josh's mouth -- "and gentle" -- he kissed his jawline -- "and amazing" -- he kissed his neck -- "and there is absolutely no one in the world that I would rather be with."

Josh still wasn't convinced. "But are you sure you're okay?"

Tyler smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "Never been better."

"But you'll -- you'll tell me if I ever hurt you, right?"

"You won't hurt me," Tyler said with complete certainty.

"How do you know?" Josh whispered, and the small quiver in his voice made Tyler realize how genuinely afraid he was to hurt him.

Which honestly just made Tyler fall even more in love.

"Because I trust you," he whispered back gently. "And because you're unbelievably good at sex."

Josh couldn't help laughing. "C'mon, man, I was being serious!"

"So was I," Tyler grinned. "I mean, wow. Are you sure you've never done this before? You're, like, completely amazing at it."

"Shut up," Josh muttered, blushing and averting his eyes in the cutest way possible.

"I can't -- that's kind of the point," Tyler smirked with a suggestive grin.

Josh gasped dramatically. "Tyler Joseph, did you just wiggle your eyebrows at me?"

"You know, I think I might have," Tyler giggled proudly.

"Well, look at you being all sexy and confident," Josh grinned. "I should get you in bed more often."

"Well, I'm not gonna argue with that," Tyler smiled back, affectionately nuzzling his face into Josh's neck.

And you know what?

Tyler did feel oddly confident.

He thought that, after being so scared about everything else, sex would almost definitely make him feel nervous or embarrassed or self-conscious.

But it seemed to have quite the opposite effect.

Because now, all he could think about was all the different things he could try and do to get Josh to make some more of those pretty little sounds from last night.

And you'd better believe he was making a list.

"You know what I think?" Josh asked suddenly.

"That I have the most perfect boyfriend in the world?" Tyler guessed adoringly.

Josh giggled and kissed him, long and slow. "I think we should take a shower," he murmured against Tyler's lips.

"Yeah, I guess we probably -- wait," Tyler stopped abruptly, realizing what he'd just said. "We? Like, 'you and me,' we?"

"I don't see anyone else around," Josh laughed.

Tyler blinked. "Yeah, but like -- you mean -- at the same time? Together?"

Josh looked at him, amused. "Ty, we literally just had sex. We're still naked. I'm pretty sure we don't need to be embarrassed about showering together."

"Oh. Right." Tyler giggled.

And then he giggled some more.

And then he kept giggling until he was full-on laughing, until his eyes were watering and he was burying his face in Josh's chest.

"What?" Josh asked, amused.

"Nothing, it's just --" Tyler managed to wheeze out in between another giggle fit. "You're naked," he snickered finally.

Josh laughed. "Well, so are you!"

"I know," he grinned. "It's just -- you said it, and it made me think about it, and like -- we're completely frickin naked right now!" he burst out laughing again.

And then they were both breaking down into a fit of giggles, and then they were laughing until they were practically crying, until they could hardly breathe, all because Tyler suddenly thought it was funny that they were naked.

Love does weird things sometimes.

And, yeah.

It definitely took a while for the giddiness to wear off.

Well.

Except that it still hadn't actually worn off yet.

And Tyler was starting to wonder if it ever would.

Hint: he kind of hoped it wouldn't.

Hint #2: it never did.

They were giddy when they recovered enough breath for Josh to climb back on top of Tyler for one more make-out session. They were giddy when they finally worked up to disentangling themselves from the sheets (which was not an easy process, let me tell you), and when they blushed, giggled, and kissed their way to the shower, acting more like a couple of teenagers exhilarated by the chance of getting caught than the actual adults that they seemed to keep forgetting they were.

And oh my frickin snap, showering with Josh was a miracle.

Tyler always thought that showering with someone would just be, like, wet hot sexiness time.

But it wasn't.

It wasn't provocative or forced or overbearing, like every weird sexy shower scene in every weird sexy movie.

It was just hecka fun.

It was all wet, smiley kisses and happy giggles. It was soap and bubbles and constantly gawking at each other with complete adoration.

It was loving each other, pure and simple, with nothing else in between.

And it was absolutely delightful.

Until the front door opened.  

They had just been giggling and shampooing each other's hair (and okay, maybe they were making out just a little bit) when they heard it, quickly followed by a loud, "Hey, Josh -- you home?"

Mark's voice.

They both stifled their giggles as Josh called back, "Um, yeah, I -- I'm in the shower."

He said it like, "Yo, dude. I'm in the shower. Don't come in."

Mark heard it as, "Hey, man, I'm in here. Come on in!"

So, that's exactly what he frickin did.

"I'm glad you're up," Mark said casually as he opened the bathroom door. "There's something I've been meaning to talk to you about."

"Oh. Um. That's -- that's cool," Josh said tensely. "I just -- I mean, I'm kind of in the shower, if you don't mind. . ." Leaving, he implied.

"Oh, it's cool, man. I don't mind at all." Mark closed the toilet lid and sat down. "It'll just take a minute."

It took everything Tyler had not to burst out laughing.

That dang giddiness just would not let go.

Josh put a finger to his lips and silently shushed him, almost breaking out into giggles himself.

This shouldn't be fun. It really shouldn't.

But it totally was.

Like I said: love does weird things sometimes.

Mark went on hesitantly, "So, I know things have been -- I mean, we've both been -- we've both been a little busy lately, and. . . well, I guess we haven't really had a chance to talk. . ."

And okay, maybe it was because Tyler was still feeling a little too confident. Maybe the scent of the bubbles was going to his head, or he'd just gone too long without tasting this beautiful boy in front of him. Maybe it was the giddiness again, or the way Josh was blushing at him, or maybe it was just being in love.  

He couldn't help it.

He could have behaved. He could have been good, he could have just stood there silently until Mark left, until Tyler could sneak out and no one would ever know the difference.

But then he happened to recall a certain yellow-haired boy in a certain movie theater bathroom kissing him in a certain place while he tried to talk to a certain little brother.

So, yeah. He could have behaved.

But he totally decided to make out with Josh's neck instead.

He started slow, gently pressing his lips to Josh's cheek and trailing soft kisses across his jawline. Josh's eyes widened and flicked over to the curtain, to the only thing separating them from Mark, before looking at Tyler questioningly. He's right there, his eyes said. What are you doing?

Tyler just smiled and kept kissing.

"Well, it's just -- you know, I haven't always been great at dating," Mark continued obliviously, "and -- well, it's not often that I really -- that I really get attached to someone, y'know?"

"Y-yeah," Josh said in a slightly higher voice than usual as Tyler's lips found his neck, as he began to press open-mouthed kisses to the soft skin below his ear.

It was a good spot, and Tyler knew it.

Mark was still talking, but at this point, Tyler was too far gone to hear him.

This whole thing had been meant for Josh, meant to make him feel good, to make him lose himself in the attention of Tyler's lips until he gasped and whimpered with want. (And if it made up for the movie theater bathroom incident, well then, that was just an added bonus.)

But now, Tyler was losing himself, too.

Because now, every kiss brought a rush of love to his stomach, every taste of this beautiful boy sent him reeling with adoration.

Because kissing Josh, he was quickly learning, was just as intoxicating as being kissed by Josh.

Because making this boy feel good was like a drug that Tyler couldn't seem to come down from.

And Josh was definitely feeling good right now.

And the moment that Josh's breathing began to quicken, the moment that he threw his head back a little and closed his eyes, biting his lip to stifle the sounds that they both knew would eventually come anyway, Tyler forgot about Mark completely.

He didn't want to embarrass Josh.

Honestly, he didn't. 

He just wanted to hear the pretty noises. 

So, his lips continued to wander across Josh's neck, attentively covering every inch of soft skin in search of --

Josh quickly stifled a whimper.

There it was.

The spot™.

Josh coughed out a quiet, "Uh-huh," trying to let Mark know that he was listening without letting him know that his boyfriend was currently giving him a hickey.

To be fair, though, it was a really nice hickey.

Josh was almost gasping now, and Tyler took the opportunity to relocate, letting his lips explore Josh's collarbone and chest and stomach, trying to find a spot that would drive this boy absolutely crazy.

Mark was saying something about his girlfriend, maybe? I don't know. Tyler wasn't really paying attention.

"Uh-huh -- yeah," Josh squeaked, still trying to listen as Tyler nibbled at his stomach.

But Tyler could tell he was struggling.

Which meant that he was getting closer to hearing the pretty noises.

Apparently, Josh liked tummy kisses.

Like, a lot.

Which, honestly, was pretty frickin adorable.

As if this boy could get any cuter.

But Tyler also happened to really enjoy giving him tummy kisses. 

Because now, he could do everything he had thought about doing the first time he'd ever seen Josh shirtless -- he could let his hands roam over Josh's hips as he kissed all over Josh's chest and across his stomach, as his mouth opened desperately against the smooth skin, leaving little bites and nibbles and kitten licks in a shock wave across everything, from his stomach to his v-line to his abs to his pecs to his nipples --

And then, it happened.

Tyler found the pretty noises.

"Oh," Josh moaned.

His eyes widened around the same time that Mark went silent.

". . ."

". . ."

". . ."

"Tyler's in there with you, isn't he?" Mark said impassively.

"Um," said Josh.

Tyler couldn't see him, but he was pretty sure that Mark rolled his eyes. I don't know, it just seemed like that kind of moment. Tyler probably would've rolled his eyes, and he and Mark seemed pretty similar -- 

"Tyler, are you in there?"

There was a long pause.

"No?" Tyler guessed.

"Oh, come on," Mark groaned, getting up. "How hard would it be to give me a little warning? I don't wanna be sitting here rambling on like an idiot while you guys are doing it in the shower. It's creepy. You've officially turned me into a creep."

"We weren't -- we're not doing that," Josh said awkwardly. "I mean, not anymore --"

"NOPE," Mark interrupted him. "I don't want to know. Just -- come talk to me when you're a little less preoccupied, okay?"

"I love you," Josh called out innocently as Mark closed the door, and Tyler thought he heard a grudging "Yeah, yeah" in response.

Tyler grinned sheepishly. "I guess I got a little carried away, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to --"

Josh kissed him on the cheek, smiling. "Don't be. You should get carried away more often."

Tyler looked at him thoughtfully for a long time.

"What?" Josh giggled.

"Nothing, I just --" Tyler blushed. "We should do it in the shower some time. It sounds fun."

Josh smiled, biting his lip, and slowly wrapped his arms around Tyler, pulling him closer until their foreheads were resting together. "Did I mention that I love you?" he asked, grinning.

"I love you more," Tyler murmured against Josh's lips.

"Is this a good time for one of those arguments I was talking about earlier?" Josh smirked suggestively.

Tyler hummed contentedly. "I wish, but you should probably see what Mark wants to talk about."

"Wow," Josh chuckled, "you really weren't paying attention, were you?"

"Well, I was a little busy," Tyler muttered playfully as Josh turned the water off and opened the curtain, grabbing the towels he'd set out earlier and handing them each one.

Suddenly, Josh seemed a little nervous, briefly patting the towel over his body and wrapping it around his waist. "Yeah, um. He said -- well, he, um -- he wants me to meet his girlfriend."

Tyler looked at him carefully, stepping out of the shower and wrapping a towel around his own waist. "And -- how are you feeling about that?"

Josh let out a shaky breath. "Um. Not -- not great. We kind of have -- an agreement, I guess. I don't really like, um, meeting people, so he kind of -- he kind of makes a point to keep everyone separate. From me. So I don't have to go through -- all that -- every time he goes on a date."

Tyler nodded understandingly.

"All that" = anxiety.

Got it.

"So, then, why now. . . ?" Tyler asked gently.

"He, um. He's been dating this girl for a while now, and I guess -- I guess it's gotten pretty serious. He wouldn't -- he wouldn't ask if it wasn't important." His eyes lit up suddenly. "Ty, will you -- do you wanna come with me?"

Tyler blinked. "To -- to meet Mark's girlfriend?"

Josh nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah, it'll be great! You can spend some more time getting to know Mark, and I'll -- I'll feel better about meeting her. It'll be, like, a double date or something."

Tyler laughed.

"What?" Josh smiled.

"Nothing, it's just -- a double date? That's, like, such a lame couple-y thing to do," he giggled. "I love doing lame couple-y things with you," he added adoringly, wrapping his arms around Josh's neck and slowly bringing their lips together. Then, he winced, drawing his arms back to wipe them on his towel. "Josh, honey, you know that -- that towels exist for a reason, right? You can actually use them. You know, to dry off."

"I did use one," Josh defended.

Tyler looked at him skeptically. "No, I'm -- I'm pretty sure you didn't."

"I did!"

"Josh, you're soaking wet."

"Well, so what? I'm just gonna throw some clothes on in a minute, anyway. It doesn't matter."

Tyler was shocked. "Yes, it does. Your clothes will get all wet. It'll feel weird. C'mon, why don't you just dry off a little more? Here, just let me --" he grabbed another towel from the rack and held it out towards the yellow-haired boy, attempting to dry him off.

Josh, however, had no intention of being dried off.

This created a problem.

AKA, Tyler ended up chasing Josh around the entire apartment (both of them wearing nothing but a towel around their waists, mind you), waving a towel at him and shouting, "LET ME DRY YOU, JISHWA" as Josh ran away from him, giggling and keeping himself just barely out of Tyler's reach, until they ended up collapsing in the kitchen, until Tyler managed to pin Josh to the kitchen floor (and okay, maybe it occurred to him that Josh had some pretty crazy muscles and maybe there was absolutely no way that Tyler could ever overpower him like that unless Josh had let him and maybe Josh was just being a flirty little twerp right now and maybe Tyler was a complete sucker for that and maybe Josh knew it), until they were laughing their heads off and Tyler's chest was pressed so close to Josh's that now they were both soaked, and he didn't even care.

"Remind me to mop that floor later," came Mark's voice from the living room.

Oops.

Mark was still here.

Tyler liked Mark. He really did.

But dang, he was easy to forget about.

Josh blushed. "Guess we should probably get dressed, huh?"

"Do we have to?" Tyler whined, still sprawled out across Josh's chest, straddling his hips almost dangerously.

Josh raised a questioning eyebrow and chuckled lightly. "What? Still thinking about joining that nudist colony?"

"If you came with me, I just might," Tyler growled playfully, pinning Josh's hands to the ground above his head. "Just wanna keep looking at you," he added in a low voice before pressing their lips together, gently biting at Josh's lower lip and realizing with a shiver how long he'd been wanting to do that.

And then Josh shivered, too.

And Tyler wasn't sure what to think about that.

Because now, he was suddenly hyper-aware of the fact that he was completely on top of Josh, that he had the most beautiful boy in the world pinned underneath him, looking up at him like he wanted Tyler to do all kinds of things to him.

And, to his surprise, Tyler kind of wanted to do all kinds of things to him.

Huh. That was new.

"I can still hear you guys, y'know," Mark called again from the living room, breaking the heat that had apparently been building between the two boys.

"Oh." Josh grinned sheepishly, and Tyler rushed to climb off his boyfriend as they both scrambled to get up, blushing and averting their eyes.

Everything that had happened in the last 24 hours, and now they were embarrassed.

And for some reason, Tyler didn't think that it had anything to do with Mark being there.

So, that was interesting.

Because now, all Tyler could think about was what would've happened if Mark hadn't been there.

And he had a feeling that it would have involved some more pretty noises.

They blushed their way past Mark as Josh led Tyler back to his room. As soon as they got there, Josh quickly slipped on some new clothes, his eyes scanning the room in an attempt to find the ones they'd taken off last night. Which, honestly, was a little more difficult than Tyler thought it would be -- they found a shirt in the doorway, some boxers halfway under the bed, and a pair of pants caught on the nightstand (they still only managed to find one of Tyler's socks, but Josh assured him he'd be on the lookout for the other).

Okay, so maybe Tyler had been a little more eager then he thought.

And he had thought he was pretty frickin eager.

After a few minutes, Josh glanced at the pile of clothes and blushed. "Um, do you -- I, uh, I can wash these real quick, if you want. I mean, they're kind of. . ." he trailed off awkwardly.

"Oh. Right. Um, yeah, that's -- that's probably a good idea," Tyler chuckled sheepishly in return.

Josh gathered all the clothes into a bundle and started to leave before gesturing to the closet. "Oh, you can -- you can just go ahead and grab something to wear for now. I think we're about the same size. I mean," his eyes glinted mischievously, "unless you'd rather go naked."

"You wish," Tyler grinned, rolling his eyes and heading to the closet.

"Can't blame me for trying," Josh said smoothly, flashing a bright smile before taking the clothes to the laundry room.

Tyler couldn't stop smiling as he looked through Josh's closet, grabbing a pair of soft black sweatpants and slipping them on first (for reasons, okay? They were comfy). Then, he flipped through each shirt, not sure which one to put on.  

Suddenly, he started to realize that he recognized each one, that this closet was basically one big memento of his entire relationship with Josh. He found the old band tee Josh had been wearing the day they met. The gray button-up he'd worn on their first date. The tank top he wore the other day when they were playing basketball (the one that showed off his beautiful, beautiful shoulders). The other old band tee that he'd accidentally gotten nail polish on, the one that would always have a little smear of pink at the bottom right edge. The NASA shirt.

Tyler grinned.

That one was his favorite.

It was just so Josh.

So, without hesitating, he pulled it off the hanger and put it on.

The shirt was a little loose on him since Josh was broader than him and a little more muscle-y (okay, a lot more muscle-y), but it was soft and it smelled nice and it was Josh.

So heck yeah, Tyler wore the NASA shirt.

Like he said, it was his favorite.

And if it was his favorite because it was the one that Josh was always wearing in Tyler's head, because it reminded him of the time they'd joked about him getting married in that shirt, because it inevitably made him think about how much he wanted to be the one to marry Josh, then that was his business.

But it totally was.

He walked into the living room hesitantly, blushing a little. Because, okay, Mark had caught them in the shower together, because he must have already had a pretty good idea of what they were doing last night (in fact, Tyler was pretty sure he remembered Josh actually admitting it at some point).

But now he was wearing Josh Dun's frickin clothes.

And if that didn't scream, "Hey, everybody, we had sex last night!" then he didn't know what did.

So, when he came into the living room, he expected to feel embarrassed. He expected Mark to say something snarky, or at the very least, he expected to feel like Mark was thinking something snarky.

He did not expect Josh to rush across the room and kiss him senseless the moment he walked in.

"I missed you," Josh grinned, resting their foreheads together after pulling away.

"I was only gone for, like, two minutes," Tyler giggled breathlessly.

"I know. It was way too long." Josh reached down and laced their fingers together, holding both of Tyler's hands in his. "You look really pretty in that," he added in a whisper so that Mark couldn't hear.

Tyler shivered.

He was never gonna get tired of this boy calling him pretty.

Like, ever.

Which is why he slammed their lips together again, opening his mouth against Josh's with as much love as he was capable of conveying. He reached a hand up to cradle Josh's cheek, kissing him a few more times even after they pulled away just for good measure.

"Hey," Tyler said, biting his lip a little.

Josh hummed happily in response, leaning into Tyler's hand and looking at him with those beautiful brown eyes.

"I missed you too."

They still couldn't stop smiling. And they still couldn't stop staring at each other.

And all Tyler could think was that nothing was more perfect than this.

Absolutely nothing.

"So, when's the wedding?" Mark asked casually.

Tyler blushed, but Josh playfully retorted, "What makes you think you're gonna be invited, jerk?"

"Ouch. I'm genuinely hurt by that." (Hint: he was not.) Then, he paused. "I am kind of a jerk, though. That part's accurate."

"It's cool, man. We might still let you bring ice or something," Tyler supplied.

"I'm honored," Mark said sarcastically.

Josh giggled and dragged Tyler over to the sofa, crashing them both down on the couch next to Mark. "Oh, come on," Josh grinned. "You're just cranky because you have to share me now." He wrapped his arms around both of them, cramming them into a big hug on either side of his chest.

So, yeah.

Josh could definitely be touchy-feely when he wanted to be.

Which, Tyler was finding, was a lot more often than he'd originally thought.

Not that he was complaining.

"Yes, that's -- that's definitely it," Mark mumbled with his face half-smushed into Josh's chest.

"But don't worry," Josh continued, "just because I love Tyler now, it doesn't mean I love you any less."

"It does," Tyler mouthed to Mark, wincing in mock sympathy.

"Whatever," Mark chuckled, disentangling himself from the massive cuddle monster™ that was his best friend. "I've gotta go. Just don't do anything gross on the couch while I'm at work, okay? I don't need one more thing to clean up."

"Don't worry about it, man," Josh grinned. "I'm feeling like it's gonna be a cuddle day."

"Yeah," Tyler agreed with a smirk, "we'll just be, like, cuddling naked and eating things off each other all day, probably."

"Wow. I think you might be even sassier than Josh," Mark chuckled, amused. "You guys really are perfect for each other."

"I think we should start with syrup," Josh added thoughtfully. "I can make some pancakes or something and we can just --"

"Fine, I'm going, I'm going," Mark cut in quickly, grabbing a camera bag from the kitchen table and heading for the door. "Just let me know when you need that ice," he called out before closing the door behind him.

"Now I kind of want pancakes," Tyler said after a moment.

Josh giggled. "Me too. I think we might have a mix in the kitchen, if you want me to make some real quick." He shrugged. "I mean, I usually burn them a little, but if you just add extra syrup, you can hardly tell."

"You just happen to have some pancake mix, huh?" Tyler asked, sneaking his arms around the yellow-haired boy and resting his chin on Josh's shoulder from behind. "Do you always keep some of that around for your overnight guests, or were you planning for a special occasion?" he joked suggestively.

"Tyler, you made me get that mix," Josh chuckled.

Tyler blinked. "I did what?"

"Don't you remember? We were at the store together last week. You said -- and I quote -- 'only an idiot doesn't keep at least one pancake mix for emergencies.' And then you threw one in the cart."

"Oh." Tyler thought for a moment. "Yeah, now that you mention it, I think I vaguely remember doing that."

Josh laughed. "Yeah, like you weren't planning this the whole time."

"Planning what?" Tyler giggled.

"Oh, don't act like you don't know," Josh teased him. "You totally made me get the pancake mix because you were planning to seduce me, and you wanted to make sure you had a good breakfast option after you had your way with me."

Tyler scoffed playfully. "I did not seduce you. I am pure and innocent, I cannot believe that you would even --"

"Who made the first move?"

"Who -- what?"

"Who serenaded who with one of the most beautiful love songs in the world?"

"Well, I did, but--"

"And who suggested -- however tactfully -- that we should have sex afterwards?"

"Well, I guess I --"

"And who got the pancakes?"

"Well, I mean, that's --"

Josh kissed him and grinned. "Sorry, princess. I believe that's what we call a textbook seduction."

Tyler muttered something under his breath.

"What was that, sweetie?" Josh smiled.

"I said I wouldn't call it 'textbook,' exactly. . ." Tyler mumbled grudgingly.

"Course not, baby. It was a very beautiful and uniquely executed seduction." Josh kissed his forehead. "Better?"

"Thank you," Tyler said sweetly before leaning in and pressing their lips together. Josh sighed happily into the contact, reaching up to lace his fingers through Tyler's hair.

It was such a simple thing.

But Tyler almost whined, it felt so good.

And he knew that it was not the ideal moment for a make-out session, that they hadn't even been up that long, and they hadn't even eaten breakfast, but oh my gosh, all Tyler wanted was to feel Josh's tongue in his mouth, to be closer, he had to get closer --

And before he knew it, he was in Josh's lap, straddling his hips and opening his mouth against Josh's, begging him to slip his tongue inside.

Josh got the message.

And he certainly wasn't in the habit of denying Tyler anything in the world that he wanted.

Especially not when it meant being filled with the taste of each other, when it meant Tyler's hips grinding on his, when it meant Josh's hands on his thighs, Josh's hands underneath his shirt, and oh gosh Tyler wished that he would just rip it off and --

Gurgle gurgle.

They paused.

Was that --?

Gurgle gurgle.

"Um, was -- was that your stomach growling?" Tyler asked tentatively.

Josh blushed. "Um. Yeah, I -- I think so. I guess I usually eat breakfast pretty early."

Tyler giggled. "You're adorable," he grinned, kissing Josh briefly on the lips one more time.

"What? Being hungry is cute now?" Josh chuckled.

"Everything you do is cute," Tyler countered, running his hand through Josh's hair just because he felt like it. 

Gurgle gurgle gurgle. 

"I think it's getting angrier," Josh commented.

Tyler giggled again. "C'mon, let's get you something to eat," he climbed off of Josh and started to get up before the other boy held him back.

"No -- no, I can handle it, baby," Josh insisted quickly, gently guiding Tyler back to the sofa. "I'll just make those pancakes real quick, and you can just -- stay here, and -- y'know -- rest."

Josh looked so genuinely kind and protective in that moment that Tyler literally could've melted.

This boy was everything.

"Josh, sweetie, I'm fine," Tyler reminded him quietly. "You didn't hurt me."

Josh smiled shyly. "I know, I just --" he glanced over at Tyler and blushed a little. "I like treating you nice," he said simply. "It makes me happy."

Tyler could not possibly adore this boy any more.

Except that he adored him a little bit more literally every time he saw him. Or thought about him. Or existed in the same universe as him.

So, pretty much always.

And, since Tyler wasn't in the habit of denying Josh anything in the world that he wanted, he let this beautiful boy wrap him up in a blanket, softly kissing the top of his head before heading towards the kitchen.

"Hey, Josh?" Tyler called out quietly before he got too far.

Josh hummed in response, turning back around to look at him with pretty, wide eyes.

Tyler blushed. "If you -- um -- I mean, if you wanted to -- um -- to call me 'princess' more often, then I would -- I would be okay with that."

AKA, "I know you weren't being completely serious when you called me that earlier, but for some reason, it sent sparks through my entire body and it made me shiver in a really good way and I would really, really like it if you would continue to call me that at least once a day."

Josh got the message.

The yellow-haired boy smiled at him adoringly before walking back across the room, grabbing Tyler's face in both his hands, and giving him one of the single best kisses of his entire life (which was really saying something since literally every kiss he'd ever had with Josh was frickin life-altering, it was so good).

"Whatever you want, princess," Josh whispered softly against his lips.

Tyler shivered.

This boy was everything.

And, okay, maybe Tyler checked him out a little bit when Josh finally walked into the kitchen.

And maybe he still couldn't stop smiling like an idiot.

And maybe he was completely, hopelessly, relentlessly in love with this boy.

Because two months ago, Tyler never would've dreamed of letting someone call him "princess."

He never would've dreamed of admitting that he wanted someone to call him "princess."

But so what if he did? So what if he wanted to be called pretty, if he wanted to love a boy because that boy made him feel more than anything else ever had, than anything else ever could? So what if he wanted to paint his fingernails with that boy, to be carried to bed by that boy, to sing for that boy and dedicate his entire life to loving that boy? If he wanted that boy to treat him nice, to call him the most wonderful things and take care of him and make him feel pretty while he worked his way inside him, while he made him feel loved and beautiful, like he was the single most important person in the world?

So what if Joshua William Dun was everything that Tyler had ever wanted, everything he never knew he needed?

Because it wasn't just that Josh loved him. It wasn't just that he treated him like he deserved the world even though Tyler knew that he didn't. It wasn't just that being with Josh made him happier than he ever thought anything could.

It was that Josh made him more himself.

Somehow, there was something about this beautiful yellow-haired boy that brought out every tiny little thought in Tyler's head, every piece of himself that he had pushed away, that he had rejected because it was too weird or because it was too girly or because it was just wrong wrong wrong, every piece of happiness that he had to swear he would never let himself have because it wasn't what the world told him he was supposed to be happy about.

He couldn't count the hours he'd spent over the years making sure that no one knew about those thoughts. Sometimes not even Tyler himself.

Heck, he didn't even realize he was gay for the first twenty-two years of his life.

And then Josh came along.

And he smiled.

And every wall, every piece of brick and stone that Tyler had piled around those thoughts, came crashing down.

And it was like he could breathe for the first time in his life.

But it wasn't just that.

It was like he could feel for the first time in his life.

Because with Josh, everything was special. Every smile, every touch, every sound made Tyler finally understand the concept of being in love, of making love, and every moment of pleasure and pain was a shock wave -- a thunderstorm -- a frickin wildfire of pure emotion that felt like being awake for the first time, that sent him reeling with the sensation of being alive --

Oh.

I'm alive.

And suddenly, a string of thoughts was pouring into Tyler like a river, filling his mind with words, words that he knew, words that were beautiful and different and meaningful, words that were somehow achingly familiar, even though he'd never really thought to put them together like that before --

No.

Not words. 

Lyrics.

He scrambled to find his phone, knocking a box of tissues off of the end table in his hurry to open up a notepad and write down the song idea he'd just had before he forgot it (as if he ever could when every sight of yellow hair and squinty smiles, every touch of warm skin and soft lips practically burned the words into his mind again, as if he'd been branded with them).

And then, as he typed the last word, his phone buzzed.

Huh. Weird.

No one usually texted him except for Josh, and Josh was --

Oh my gosh.

He forgot to tell them.

He forgot to tell his family that he was gonna be out all night.

Oh my gosh, he didn't tell them and they were probably panicking because he'd been out all night and he still wasn't home and they were gonna know --

Oh.

Nevermind.

It wasn't his mom. Or Zack. Or anyone in his family.

It was Jordan.

tyler? are you busy? 

Tyler had almost forgotten that he gave Jordan his number that night, just in case he ever wanted to talk to someone about Aaron. 

No, just hanging out. Need to talk?

It was a few minutes before Jordan responded. 

no

yes

I don't wanna bother you

It doesn't bother me at all, man. I wouldn't have given you my number if I didn't want you to use it. 

A few more minutes went by with no response. 

Is it about Aaron?

I think I definitely love him

Tyler couldn't help smiling. 

Yeah? Is it because he's so gorgeous? 

shut up lol

I mean, you said he was cute, but WOW. I was not expecting that. Is he a model or something? 

you're ridiculous

True. But you didn't disagree with me, did you? ;)

ugh I guess not

he is pretty gorgeous isn't he

For sure. Not as pretty as Josh, but I'd say he's up there lol.

But seriously. Did something happen? Or do you just feel more sure about it now? 

idk 

I just feel like it's getting harder to pretend that I don't love him

does that make any sense? 

Totally.  Like, it used to be easy to convince yourself that maybe it was just a mistake, but now you keep thinking about him in ways that definitely aren't straight and it's been like that long enough that you don't even really care anymore because you can't think about anything but him anyways? 

wow yeah how did you know that? 

That was somewhere around Day 2 of Josh for me. 

oh

you guys moved pretty fast huh?

Lol yeah. Kinda hard to dance around the issue when you start making out before the popcorn's even gone. 

eww ok I did not need to know that

Sorry. I keep forgetting he's your brother lol.

it's ok 

I wish I was that brave though

Same. That was all Josh. 

Look. I'm not trying to pressure you at all, okay? But I really think it would be good for you to talk to Josh about this. He might be able to help you sort through everything. 

no

I'm sorry I just can't

Hey, don't be sorry. You don't ever need to feel sorry about this, okay? 

I mean, I'm glad that you were able to talk to me about it because I know how hard it is to be in something like that alone. But you don't ever have to tell someone if it makes you uncomfortable. 

I wish I could tell him

Tyler had a feeling he wasn't talking about Josh anymore. 

You could. I know it's scary, but you could. 

what if he hates me? 

Think about him for a minute. Do you really think that Aaron is the kind of person who would hate you if you told him something like that? 

I don't know. I guess not. 

but it would still change everything. 

Well, that might not be a bad thing.

what do you mean? 

What if he feels the same way?

he doesn't

How do you know? 

he just doesn't ok

I wouldn't be so sure. I mean, I've only met him the one time, but he seemed pretty into you. You guys were both blushing the whole time. It was actually pretty frickin adorable. 

omg are you serious

I'm not an expert on a lot of things, but "Wow, this boy makes me feel so much and I guess I'm not as straight as I thought I was" happens to be one of them. 

And let me tell you, some things were definitely being felt last night. 

(On a side note, Tyler almost blushed when he realized how that might've sounded, but then he remembered that Jordan had no idea that he and Josh had been doing *certain things* last night and that Jordan would therefore not be working with the same definition of "feeling things" that Tyler was.)

what on earth am I supposed to do with that information? 

I don't know. Something brave, probably.

I can't just bring it up out of nowhere though.

Where else are you gonna bring it up out of lol?

ugh I don't know I just feel like I would need a plan or something. 

Tyler almost threw his frickin phone across the room.

Because he wanted to tell Jordan to just go for it.

He wanted to tell him that the best way to do it was to just come right out (no pun intended) and say it.

He wanted to tell him that there was no reason to get all worked up about it, that things would go how they would go no matter how much he prepared for it.

He wanted to tell him that he wished that he hadn't worried so much. That he didn't really need a plan, that it was just a way of delaying the inevitable.

He wanted to.

But he didn't.

Because at that moment, Tyler remembered every moment of his relationship with Josh. He remembered sneaking around and worrying about what his parents would say. He remembered Josh climbing in his window every night, he remembered having to be quiet as they whispered as many I love you's as their hearts could handle and kissed each other to sleep.

He remembered the frickin plan.

He remembered sitting at the kitchen table with his family, listening to Zack go on and on about theology and gay rights and he remembered practically dying thinking his parents were gonna figure it out at any moment.

And he remembered absolutely loving it.

Oh, he'd been terrified. For sure. And there were probably about a thousand better, more practical ways that he could've done things.

But love wasn't practical.

Love was kissing a random boy in a movie theater just because he was pretty. It was realizing that wow, you'd never thought about a boy like that before, but it didn't matter because all you wanted to do was feel his lips against yours, to know what was happening inside that beautiful boy's head, to be hopelessly in love with him because nothing had ever seemed so right before. It was falling for that boy before you even knew his name. It was singing for him in front of everyone, it was not even caring that you were singing for him in front of everyone because all you could see, all you could think about was him. It was having a plan and knowing that it was completely ridiculous but following it anyway because at least it was a plan, and everybody's supposed to have a plan, right?

It was messy and unconventional and terrifying and hilarious and perfect.

And Tyler realized that he wouldn't have changed a single moment.

Not for the whole world.

So, instead, Tyler sighed. He shook his head, smiling a little.

And then he typed out a response. 

I think I might know someone who can help you out with that plan.  

Chapter Text

Tyler was impressed.

Like, wow.

He knew that his boyfriend was good at a lot of things.

But these were some seriously frickin good pancakes.

I mean, sure he just used a mix, so the level of actual culinary skill that went into the production of the pancakes was debatable.

But they completely rocked, and Tyler liked giving Josh credit for things every time he got the chance. 

Maybe not as much as he liked the shy little smile Josh gave him when Tyler complemented him, or the brightness in Josh's eyes when that sweet boy insisted that they have "breakfast on sofa" (which he had decided was the logical equivalent of "breakfast in bed") because Josh wouldn't let Tyler get up and ruin the perfectly good nest of blankets that he'd piled around him earlier in order to "enhance his resting time" (which, honestly, Tyler thought was a little unnecessary, but if it made Josh happy, then you'd better believe Tyler was going to have the most enhanced frickin resting time in the entire frickin world).

Maybe not as much as the way that they smushed themselves together on the sofa because they couldn't exactly hold hands or have their arms around each other while they were holding their plates, but they still couldn't stand to be in each other's presence without having some kind of contact, so they just kind of leaned into each other as much as possible and basked in each other's closeness. 

Maybe not as much as the fact that Josh was apparently a complete sugar addict, casually drenching his pancakes in enough syrup to kill a small army. 

But Tyler was definitely prepared to insist from that point on that Josh made the best pancakes in the entire world.

Don't tell his mom he said that.

Seriously.

Don't.

As soon as they were both finished eating, Tyler managed to cuddle himself up against Josh at lightning speed -- the plates were barely touching the surface of the end table by the time Tyler had wrapped his arms around the other boy, nudging his head under Josh's arm so that it naturally fell across his shoulders (the way it was always supposed to).

Josh looked at him with raised eyebrows, smiling at his blatant urgency for cuddles.

"Shut up," Tyler muttered sheepishly before Josh even said anything.

"Hey, I'm not complaining," Josh chuckled. "You're very. . . efficient."

"Well, I've gotta be when I'm dating the most beautiful boy in the world," Tyler replied lovingly. "Don't wanna lose any time," he mumbled into Josh's chest.

Josh kissed him on top of his head and started running his other hand through Tyler's hair.

Tyler hummed happily.

Every day should be like this.

1. Sex
2. Cuddles
3. Shower
4. Breakfast
5. More cuddles
6. Repeat

It was absolutely perfect.

Tyler had almost dozed off in Josh's arms when his phone buzzed again.

Oh.

Jordan.

They'd decided to meet for lunch the next day to talk about the Aaron situation, and ever since then, they'd been texting back and forth. Mostly Jordan talking about how cute and funny and amazing Aaron was, and Tyler just letting him.

Apparently, Jordan had really needed someone to talk to, because now that he'd started, he couldn't seem to stop.

But Tyler hadn't quite figured out what to tell Josh yet.

Somehow, he didn't think that "Hey, I can't hang out tomorrow because I've gotta go meet your closeted brother so we can talk about all the possible ways to get him a date with the boy he likes who oh yeah also happens to be the boy he's been best friends with and you've both known for like forever and if you could just not tell him that I told you about that because he doesn't want you to know, then that'd be great thanks" would go over too well.

So, hopefully, he could just casually grab his phone and casually respond without raising any suspi--

"Who are you texting?"

"What?" Tyler tried to say, but it came out more like "Wllaffebbn" because he was trying not to be suspicious, which of course made him about as smooth as crunchy peanut butter.

And if Josh didn't have a reason to be suspicious before, he definitely did now.

The yellow-haired boy chuckled lightly. "What, is Zack trying to find out where I am so he can beat me up for -- for 'robbing you of your purity' or something?" Suddenly, his eyes widened. "Oh gosh, he's not, is he?"

Tyler laughed. "No, he's not. He's actually been -- surprisingly silent lately," he realized. (Huh. He should really talk to him about that later.)

"Oh. Is it your mom, then?"

Geez.

Josh knew him a little too well.

Tyler hesitated, not sure how much he should share. "No, um -- I'm actually, uh -- talking to Jordan," he added, trying his best to sound as casual as possible (which, of course, meant that he sounded weirdly tense).

"Oh." Josh blinked, surprised. "Like, my brother, Jordan?" Tyler nodded cautiously. "Huh. I didn't know you guys were that close."

Tyler looked at him carefully. "Is that -- um, is that okay?"

Josh grinned. "Yeah, of -- of course it's okay. Are you kidding me? It's awesome." He paused. "I just -- I thought he would need a little more time to -- to -- y'know. . ."

"Not hate me? Tyler guessed.

"He didn't hate you," Josh insisted with a smirk. "I just -- I thought it might take him a little while to -- to warm up to the whole idea of us -- y'know, being together." He nervously scratched at the back of his neck. "I was, um -- I was gonna talk to him about it, but I guess you beat me to it," he added with a chuckle.

"I guess I did," Tyler smiled proudly, glad that Josh wasn't upset. And that he wasn't prying any deeper into his conversation with Jordan.  

"So, what are you guys talking about?"

Dang it.

"Oh, you know. Stuff," Tyler mumbled vaguely, averting his eyes.  

Josh nodded, amused. "Stuff, huh?"

"Yep," Tyler replied, popping the "p."

"Wow, that is -- that's wildly specific." Josh grinned. "What kind of stuff?"

"Just, like, normal stuff. You know." Gay stuff. 

"I don't know, actually." Josh looked at him carefully, tilting his head a little. "Is it -- you're not talking about me, are you?" His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Wait. Is he telling you a bunch of unflattering stories about me?" he demanded. "Cause if he tries to bring up the dog treat incident, I swear I thought it was a real cookie when I ate it."

"No, we're just --" Tyler stopped abruptly. "Wait. You ate a dog treat?"

"No," Josh lied quickly.

They looked at each other for a long moment.

"Um, okay -- so we'll -- we'll come back to that later," Tyler said slowly.

Josh coughed awkwardly. "So," he began after a moment, "um, you're -- you're not gonna tell me what you two are talking about, are you?"

"I love you," Tyler responded cheerfully, reaching across and kissing him on the lips, opening his mouth just enough to taste the lingering flavor of syrup. "You taste good," he murmured into the other boy's lips.

"You're avoiding the question," Josh accused him in a sweet voice.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Tyler said, casually pressing his lips to Josh's neck and beginning to cover the soft skin with open-mouthed kisses.

"Are you trying to distract me now?" Josh laughed lightly, but the slight shudder in his voice revealed how flustered he already was.

"No," said Tyler. "Is it working?"

"No," Josh lied. Then, as Tyler let his tongue graze across Josh's neck just a little, just enough to drive him absolutely insane, he squeaked out a quiet, "Y-yes."

"Hey, Josh?" Tyler almost whispered.

"Yeah?" Josh shivered.

"Do you -- um -- do you think that we've had enough rest time?"

"Well, I don't know. It kind of depends on how you're --" he looked at Tyler suddenly, realizing what he meant "-- feeling."

"I'm feeling pretty good," Tyler began, slowly wrapping his arms around Josh's neck and straddling his hips. "Could be feeling better," he added in a low voice, biting his lip.

Josh let out a shaky breath. "Wow, you really don't want me to know what you and Jordan were talking about, huh?"

Tyler laughed before playfully growling, "No, I just want you, beautiful."

And Josh wasn't in the habit of denying Tyler anything in the world that he wanted.

So, needless to say, they violated Mark's "don't do anything gross on the couch" rule.

It was probably more of a suggestion, really.

Either way, Tyler didn't care.

Because somehow, the second time was even better than the first.

For one thing, they were a lot better at it now.

Like, a whole frickin lot.

Because now, they had at least some idea of what they were doing. Now, Tyler was wearing sweatpants, so Josh didn't have to struggle so much with the unbuttoning part. Now, Josh's lips tasted distinctly like syrup, and Tyler couldn't figure out why it was so frickin adorable that Josh liked sweet things, or so frickin intoxicating to taste that sweetness in his kisses. Now, they knew each other's bodies well enough for each movement to be deliberate, for every touch to induce the prettiest noises and the most beautiful sensations. Now, everything was familiar, but it was still new enough for all kinds of exploring.

And now, Tyler got to hear a whole new range of pretty noises that he hadn't even known existed last night.

Granted, more than half of them were coming from him.

But every sound he made only seemed to make Josh fall apart even more, and the more Josh fell apart, the more pretty noises he made.

So, Tyler was more than happy to be vocal.

And once again, he was struck with the force of how incredibly safe he felt with Josh, how there was no way that he would ever feel this comfortable, this beautiful, this loved with anyone else in the world. How the experience of being under Josh, of feeling nothing but safe as this boy entered him, as his gentle thrusts erased everything but the soft fabric of the sofa underneath his back and the pure fire of Josh inside him and around him and everywhere else all at once, how being surrounded by his smooth skin and his breathy moans and his absolute warmth was the literal definition of heaven.

It was the literal definition of being loved.

Which was interesting.

Because just a couple of months ago, Tyler would have told you that he abhorred the phrase "making love." It sounded like a creepily pointless euphemism to him, and he'd always just absolutely hated it. Like, really, how hard was it to just say "having sex" or "sleeping together" or literally anything except "making love?"

But that was before Josh.

And now, there was not a single doubt in his mind that he was making love with his boyfriend.

And it wasn't even remotely creepy anymore.

He didn't feel weird or shuddery when it occurred to him that they were making love, because it suddenly felt like the only way to accurately describe what they were doing.

It wasn't just sex.

It wasn't just sleeping together.

It was an act of love.

And that was when he realized that this was it.

All those years when he could've slept with someone else, when he could've given himself up to someone that he didn't really care about, someone that he was too blind to actually admit that he wasn't even remotely attracted to, this was what he was waiting for.

Not just someone he thought he loved.

Not just the person that everyone hoped he would marry.

Certainly not the wife that he probably would've ended up having if a boy with bright yellow hair hadn't sat next to him at a movie theater and asked if he wanted to make out.

He was waiting for the love of his life. 

He was waiting for Josh. 

And he'd never felt so right about anything.

Which is why afterwards, when they dozed off on the sofa, wrapped up in each other's arms, Tyler couldn't help watching this beautiful boy sleep. He couldn't help tracing a soft hand across his chest, memorizing every curve, every freckle, as if he hadn't already done it a thousand times, as if he didn't already know and love every ounce of this boy. He couldn't help watching the slow rise and fall of his chest as he fell asleep in Tyler's arms, couldn't help the flutter in his stomach every time Josh let out a breath, because how on earth could anyone be so frickin perfect? It just wasn't possible.

Yet here he was.

And he was perfect.

And Tyler couldn't help reaching across to softly kiss his boyfriend's cheek and whisper, "I love you," even though he knew that Josh wouldn't hear it.

Well.

He thought that Josh wouldn't hear it.

But a few seconds later, Tyler heard a soft, "I love you more" in return. He blinked, surprised, and looked over at the other boy, whose eyes had barely fluttered open enough to look at Tyler with a sleepy smile on his beautiful, beautiful face.

Tyler grinned. "Y'know," he began quietly, reaching an arm across to comb his fingers through Josh's hair, "I think you're technically supposed to do the arguing part before the make-up sex."

"Well, I guess we'll just have to keep trying," Josh sighed dramatically before breaking out into a smile and looking at Tyler like he was everything good in the world (Tyler would know -- he'd given Josh that exact same look about a million times).

"I guess we will," Tyler agreed with a smirk.

Then, his phone buzzed.

And Jordan had left a while ago.

Which meant that it was probably a member of his family.

Tyler groaned.

Dang it.

Dangitdangitdangit.

"What's wrong, baby?" Josh asked softly, shifting a little so he could see Tyler better.

"Nothing, it's just --" Tyler averted his eyes, "I may not have -- *exactly* -- told anyone that I was gonna -- um -- that I was gonna stay over. You know. With you. So I'm kind of -- still waiting on the repercussions of that."

Josh laughed. "Wow. Sneaking out, spending the night with your boyfriend, not telling anyone -- I really have been a bad influence on you, huh?"

"The worst," Tyler mumbled in agreement, giving Josh a brief, smiley kiss.

The phone buzzed again.

"Ugh. Fine." Tyler reached across and grabbed his phone from the end table.

It wasn't his mom.

It was Zack. 

So, are you ever coming home, or are you too busy with your weird sexual awakening?

Mom needs to know if you're gonna be back for dinner, but she told me to ask you because she doesn't want to sound clingy. 

Tyler rolled his eyes. 

Really? Mom seriously wanted to know if my sexual awakening was gonna be over before dinner? She said those words exactly? 

I may have paraphrased it a little bit. 

Uh huh. That's what I figured.

You know that she knows what you've been doing though, right?

What do you mean? How do you even know

Wait. 

Zack, what did you tell her???

Relax. I didn't tell her anything. 

Tyler let out a breath in relief. Even though his mom knew about him and Josh, he didn't exactly want her to know that they'd been having a bunch of premarital sex. It's not like she'd hate him for it or anything, he just definitely wouldn't feel comfortable if she knew --

His phone vibrated. 

I mean, she probably just assumed that, after you sang a romantic love song to your boyfriend and couldn't even keep your hands off him for a second, you guys probably just went back to his apartment to play some board games all night.

I hate you. 

Is that a no on dinner, then? 

Ugh I just

I'll be home soon, okay?

When?

When I get there. 

Will that be before or after dinner? 

Whatever. Before.

Cool. I'll tell Mom. 

Not about the sex thing. 

About dinner. 

Gee, thanks for clarifying. 

No problem. 

Tyler sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

Josh smiled at him and pressed a few soft kisses to his jawline. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I just -- I'm gonna have to go home eventually," he mumbled disdainfully.

"Aww, are you sure?" Josh whined.

His phone buzzed again.

Now she wants to know if Josh is coming over for dinner. 

Is he invited to come over for dinner?

I guess so. 

Cool. I'll ask.

"Hey, do you wanna come over for dinner tonight?" Tyler asked hopefully.

Josh's eyes lit up. "I'd love to! I mean," he added hesitantly, "only if -- if you want me to."

Tyler laughed. "Josh, why on earth would I invite you to dinner if I didn't want you there?"

"Well, I don't know! Maybe you were just -- being polite, or something."

"Being polite?" Tyler giggled. "Like how I politely make out with you all the time, or how I politely showered with you this morning, or how I politely had sex with you? Twice?"

"Well, what can I say?" Josh smirked. "You have excellent manners."

Tyler started to protest, insisting that he was actually super hardcore (he wasn't) and that he wasn't all that polite (he was), but before he could articulate his beautifully crafted argument (that he was literally about to make up on the spot), Josh started tickling him. 

Frickin tickling him. 

His 23-year-old boyfriend literally started a tickle fight.

Which was probably a mistake.

Because, as we've already established, Tyler had a bit of a (major) competitive streak.

And because, right in this moment, Tyler was learning that Josh was about a million times more ticklish than him. 

Oh, how the tables turned.

In minutes, Tyler had the yellow-haired boy pinned underneath him, laughing to the point of tears and curling himself into Tyler's relentlessly tickling hands as he begged Tyler to go easy on him.

Spoiler alert: Tyler did not go easy on him.

Because tickling inevitably led to laughing.  

And Josh laughing > a chorus of angels and sunshine and happiness and rainbows and literally every frickin thing that was good in the entire frickin world.

Finally, the overwhelming experience of Josh's happiness became too much for Tyler to handle, and he relented.

This created a situation.

Because now, here he was, smiling and laughing and completely on top of a breathless and beautiful (and shirtless) Josh. 

Oh.

It only took a moment for Josh to catch his stare, for a definite spark to pass between them, just like the one in the kitchen earlier. The one that always seemed to be paired with an overwhelming desire to do things to this boy that he'd never particularly thought about doing before. 

Blush-worthy things.

And the corresponding blush on Josh's gorgeous face (which they both somehow knew wasn't from the tickling episode) seemed to suggest that Josh was having the same thoughts.

"Um," Tyler breathed quietly.

He didn't know what he was planning to say.

But it didn't matter.

Because at that moment, Tyler's phone buzzed again, shocking them both back into the reality that Tyler hadn't even realized they'd left.

And just like that, the heat and energy that had been building up between them transformed into shy smiles and a suspicious amount of nervous giggles, as Tyler carefully removed himself from Josh and grabbed his phone. 

Look, it's a simple question. Is he coming for dinner or not? 

Tyler rolled his eyes again. 

Yes, he's coming. 

Thank you. 

Dang it.

Dangitdangitdangit.

He'd lost his moment.

For that.

Of course, he still didn't know what exactly "his moment" was going to be.

But oh, he wanted to find out.

While Tyler replied to Zack and tried to get used to disappointment, Josh got up to check on the laundry, taking a much longer time than Tyler thought was fair.

I mean, really.

Anything longer than three minutes was way too long to be apart from him.

Sure, he could do it.

But why on earth would he want to?

Which is why he ended up shuffling to the laundry room, wearing nothing but Josh's sweatpants and a pile of blankets around his shoulders.

"Joooosh, I wanna cuddle you," he whined.

It was around this moment that Tyler realized that Josh was already speaking.

On the phone.

To a person.

And Tyler had just whined that he wanted to cuddle him. 

Loudly.

"Yeah," Josh chuckled lightly. "No, it's -- it's fine. . . Yeah, no problem. . . Okay, I'll see you then. 'Kay, bye."

There was a long pause.

"So. . ." Tyler said.

"That was Debby," Josh answered before Tyler could even ask. "She wants me to come in later this afternoon to help out with some stuff."

Tyler nodded, understanding. "And, uh, did she -- um -- I mean, is there any chance that she didn't --"

"She wished us the best of cuddles," Josh said with a smile.

And before Tyler could mumble out an embarrassed apology, Josh was wrapping him up in his arms and smiling all his problems away.

I mean, seriously.

This boy could smile away your problems like nothing else.

"Let's get you cuddled, then," he mumbled lovingly into Tyler's neck before sweeping him up in his arms and carrying him back to the sofa, giggling the whole way.

So, Josh had been right.

It was definitely a cuddle day.

And it totally rocked.

They cuddled and cuddled and cuddled until it was time for lunch. Then, they made a couple of sandwiches (actually, Josh made a couple of sandwiches because, despite Tyler's protests that he felt absolutely fine, Josh still insisted that he take a mandatory rest period every time they did anything remotely sexual) and then they cuddled some more.

And they kept cuddling until Josh had to drive Tyler back home, dropping him off and promising to come back for dinner as soon as he finished helping Debby out at work.

They even managed to cuddle in the car.

Well.

Not by normal cuddle standards, exactly.

But they held hands.

And they decided that that was definitely a form of cuddling.

Like, hand cuddles.

Yeah.

Definitely.

And Tyler was so high on Josh-cuddles that he almost forgot the hypothetical trouble that he may or may not have been in with his mother for staying over with his boyfriend (presumably for sexual reasons) without telling her.

Almost.

Because as soon as he walked in the house, there was a vibe.

Not an extreme vibe.

But a distinct vibe, nonetheless.

"Hey, Mom?" Tyler called out hesitantly. "I'm home."

"In here," she called from the laundry room.

No "honey."

Oh, yeah.

There was definitely a vibe.

Tyler took a deep breath and made his way to the laundry room, taking a moment to picture Josh, to feel his heartbeat and hear his reassuring whispers in his mind.

It helped.

Because Tyler had been hoping that they could avoid the whole issue, that they could all forget any memories that Tyler had ever stayed out all night (and all morning) with Josh in the first place, that everyone (and especially, especially his mom) could just pretend it had never happened.

That was what families were supposed to do, right? Repress things and be fake with each other?

It was either that or openly admit to his mom that he and Josh had slept together last night.

And Tyler honestly couldn't figure out which one was worse.

But he knew that there was a vibe.

And a vibe meant that she probably did know already, just like Zack had said, and that she wasn't gonna be repressing a dang thing.

So, I guess it didn't really matter which was worse.

But when he saw his mom, distinctly avoiding his gaze as she stood there folding a load of towels, the monumental increase in his heart rate gave him an idea of why most families probably choose Option #1: Repression.

Because this was extremely awkward.

After a moment, he wordlessly walked over and started folding washcloths.

They were quiet for a long time.

And she still wasn't looking at him.

She knew.

And she was upset.

And that thought broke Tyler's heart.

"Mom," he said quietly.

She stopped folding.

But she still didn't look at him.

Tyler swallowed hard before continuing in a shaky voice. "Mom, I'm -- I'm sorry. I know that -- that you're disappointed, and I'm so --"

"Disappointed?" His mom cut him off with a sharp look. "Tyler Robert Joseph, why on earth would I ever be disappointed in you?"

Tyler blinked. "Because -- because Josh and I -- we -- um --" He averted his eyes. "And you -- you wanted me to -- to wait."

"Oh, honey," she said softly, motioning for him to follow her to the living room and sit next to her on the couch (the living room sofa had become their official destination for "talks"). "I could never --" she trailed off and paused for a moment before starting again. "You're an adult now. Who you decide to love and -- and how you choose to express that love is entirely up to you."

Tyler looked at her tentatively. "You're -- you're not mad?"

"No, baby. I'm not mad," she answered quietly, briefly pushing a strand of hair off his forehead. She paused. "Well. I'm not mad about that," she added with a smirk. "As much as I love waiting up well past midnight only to realize that you might not be coming home, I would prefer to have just a little bit of notice if you're going to be staying with Josh. Then, at least I don't have to stay up all night worrying that you're dead in a ditch somewhere."

"Oh." Tyler blushed. "Sorry, I guess I just -- I got kind of -- distracted, and I -- I forgot to -- tell you I'd be -- staying out."

"And?" She looked at him sternly.

"And it won't happen again," he mumbled sheepishly.

"Good." She nodded, apparently satisfied.

Tyler looked at her in amazement. "Wait. You mean -- you don't even care if I -- if I stay over with Josh?"

She chuckled. "Well, I can't exactly stop you, can I? I would much rather know that you're safe than resort to locking you up in your room and forcing you to be some kind of hermit. I may be old, but I'm not a complete dictator," she joked.

They laughed together for a while as she told him how his dad had fallen asleep on the couch the night before (after adamantly insisting that he would stay up if she wanted to go bed), and then she promptly made him recount everything he'd eaten that day to make sure Josh wasn't starving him.

They had been quiet for a while when Tyler hesitantly began, "Mom?"

She hummed in response.

"I just -- I really love him," he said quietly. "He's the one. I know he is." Tyler softly fidgeted with the hem of his shirt. "If he wasn't, you know I wouldn't have. . ."

"I know, baby," she said, smiling at him with a hint of sadness in her eyes (or was it pride? Tyler couldn't tell). "I know."

They sat together for a little while longer before Tyler went up to Zack's room to get Jordan a plan.

"Hey." Tyler walked in and flopped down on the bed, an action he'd done so many times that he didn't really bother to ask for permission anymore.

Zack didn't even look up from his desk, where he was scribbling furiously into a notepad.

"What'cha doing?" Tyler prodded casually.

Zack sighed and set his pen down. "Making plans for GSA. I mean, I can't officially start the club until school starts back, but I've already talked to a bunch of people about ideas and stuff."

"That's cool." There was a long pause. "So, um -- how've you been?"

Zack turned around in his chair and looked at him suspiciously. "What is up with you?"

Tyler blinked. "What -- I don't know what you mean."

"I mean that I basically haven't seen you in a week and now you're all, 'What'cha doing?' and 'How've you been?' It's a little weird."

Tyler just sat there in shock. He had no idea that he'd been so absent lately, or that Zack seemed to be taking it so personally. I mean, sure, Tyler had been pretty busy with Josh, and the last week especially --

Oh.

The last week.

Which was about as long as his parents had known about him and Josh.

Which meant that it was about as long as Zack's plan had been essentially out of commission.

Which meant that they'd spent a lot less time together.

Then, he realized that Zack was still looking at him.

"I just --" Tyler sighed, feeling completely guilty. "I'm sorry. I know I've been really busy lately, with Josh and all, and I -- I guess I never really got a chance to -- y'know, to thank you."

Zack's eyes narrowed. "Thank me? For what?"

Tyler chuckled. "What do you mean, 'for what?' For the plan. For getting Mom and Dad on board with everything. I mean, did you see how smoothly that went? That was all you, man."

Possibly for the first time in his life, Zack blushed, turning back around to his notebook and muttering, "Whatever."

But Tyler knew this kid's "whatever"s pretty well by now.

And that was not an apathetic "whatever."

That right there was a wow-I'm-kind-of-embarrassed-and-really-pleased-right-now-but-I-have-to-be-cool-so-I'm-gonna-try-really-hard-to-sound-like-I'm-not-super-happy "whatever."

And that was the moment that Tyler realized how much the plan meant to Zack.

Because Zack wasn't exactly what you would call an emotionally expressive teenager.

Hence, the "whatever"s.

So, whenever Zack really cared about something, whenever he wanted to show someone how much he loved them and supported them, he didn't really say those kinds of things out loud.

He did things instead.

For example, he did research on homosexuality in the church to discuss at the breakfast table.

He talked up your boyfriend enough that your parents started to think that he had a crush on the guy.

He started gay-straight alliances at school.

In short, he made plans.

And when Tyler took away the need for a plan, he took all that away from Zack.

Pair that with the fact that Tyler had spent pretty much every waking (and sleeping) moment with Josh lately, and Tyler was pretty far from winning any "brother of the year" awards.

But you'd better believe he was gonna fix it.

Of course, with it being Zack, "fixing it" was going to require being as subtle as possible and giving absolutely no indication that he was apologizing for anything or being sentimental in any way.

But Tyler could totally do that.

"So," he began in his ultra casual voice (which was about as far from casual as anyone could get), "I, uh, I was hoping you could help me out with something. Y'know. As a favor." And not because I'm a jerk brother trying to make up for my jerkish behavior.

Zack kept writing and mumbled an impassive, "What?"

Tyler went on, unhindered by Zack's attitude. "Well, I have this -- this friend --"

"You have a friend?" Zack gasped in exaggerated shock.

"-- shut up. So, I have this friend, and he's in kind of a situation, and. . . well, he kind of needs a plan."

Zack spun around immediately, looking at him with renewed interest. "What kind of situation?" he asked nonchalantly, trying not to sound as excited as he was.

"He can tell you all about it tomorrow, if you're interested. I'm going to meet him for lunch, and -- and I could really use your help, man. I mean, you're so much better at this stuff than I am."

Tyler had him hooked, and they both knew it.

". . . fine," Zack said finally. "I'll see what I can do."

Tyler nodded, not really expecting a different answer. "There is one other thing, though. You can't tell anyone. Like, seriously. No one can know about this."

"Not even Josh?" Zack chuckled jokingly.

"Not even Josh," Tyler confirmed, looking him straight in the eye.

Zack's eye's widened. "Oh."

"Is that -- is that something you'd be okay with?" Tyler asked carefully.

"That's -- yeah, I mean, that's fine. I just -- I didn't think you guys kept secrets from each other. Like, ever."

Tyler sighed. "We don't. But this one -- well, it's not exactly my secret to tell. And, I mean, if all goes well, I won't even have to hide it for that much longer."

Zack smirked. "We'd better make sure it all goes well, then, huh?"

Tyler grinned.

He may not be the best brother in the world.

But Zack totally was.

And if anything could inspire Tyler to work on being a better brother, it was a healthy amount of competition.

And, y'know. The fact that he loved his brother.

But also competition.

After that, they played video games for a while as Zack pestered Tyler with questions about the whole GSA thing, hoping to improve his plans with a little help from "the gay perspective."

Tyler, of course, was a little new to "the gay perspective," but he did his best to contribute.

Luckily, he was saved from having to respond to Zack's insistence that he should be a "guest speaker" sometime when they heard Josh pull up in the driveway. Their mom was about to call them down for dinner, anyways, so they both made their way downstairs, Zack heading to the dining room to set the table and Tyler going through the living room to open the door for Josh.

All he saw was a flash of yellow before a smiling pair of lips were slamming into his, before Josh's hand was reaching around to cradle the back of his neck, lightly tangling his fingers in Tyler's hair. It only took one moment of surprise, and then Tyler was relaxing into Josh's arms, smiling and absolutely melting into the kiss.

"Nice to see you too," Tyler mumbled playfully against Josh's lips, kissing him again before Josh even had a chance to do anything but giggle and kiss him right back.

"Boys, dinner's just about rea -- oh," his mom called, coming around the corner just in time to see them break apart, blushing a little.

And, okay.

It may have just been Tyler's imagination.

But he thought he saw a hint of -- what? Anger? Protectiveness? He wasn't sure, but there was a distinct something in her glance at Josh (or dare he call it a glare?) that definitely hadn't been there before.

So, okay, maybe she wasn't completely okay with everything.

And Josh seemed to notice it, too, because he immediately inched away from Tyler, looking a little uncertain, like someone who knows they've done something wrong, but they can't for the life of them figure out what it might've been.

They both stood carefully in place until she walked away, and Josh hesitantly asked, "Um. Did I do something --?"

Tyler dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "Nah, it's fine. Don't worry about it." He hesitated before reaching across and kissing him lightly on the cheek. "Maybe just go a little light on the PDA for a few days, 'kay? Just, you know, around my parents."

Then, he spun around and headed for the kitchen, dragging a very confused (but still completely adorable) Josh towards the dinner table behind him.

Dinner went smoothly.

Well.

It went. . . okay.

But it might have been just a little bit more awkward than usual.

His mom continued to be a little reserved with Josh, no matter how much that sweetheart tried to get back in her good graces.

She wasn't being mean, at least. Not even a little bit.

Really, she was just acting like a mother dealing with the knowledge that her recently gay son had lost his virginity to his punk of a boyfriend, and she was now forced to politely ask that punk of a boyfriend to pass the butter, please, all the while remembering how sweet Tyler was as a child and how soft and innocent he'd always been and how oh my goodness he was growing up so quickly and before she knew it, he would be getting married and having kids and she'd be arguing with Josh's mom over who got to be called "Nana" and who got stuck being "Grandma."

So, Tyler figured he'd cut her a little slack.

And he knew it would wear off after a couple of days, anyway. She just needed some time to adjust to the fact that he was an adult now, making adult decisions and doing adult things in an adult relationship.

Which was a little harder to prove later that night when they ended up trying to sneak Josh upstairs while no one was looking, acting like a couple of high schoolers trying to get away with stuff for the first time.

Spoiler alert: they did not get away with stuff.

"Tyler," his mom called sharply as they made it halfway up the stairs, holding hands and wincing as the wooden boards creaked under them.

"Um. Yeah, Mom?" he responded in yet another horrible attempt at being casual.

"Can I talk to you for a second?" she asked, looking at him pointedly.

He swallowed and made his way back down, leaving Josh standing nervously in the middle of the stairway.

"Honey, if Josh wants to stay over, that's fine," she said in a confidential voice. "But -- well, there are other people in the house to consider, and -- and Maddy's right across the hall, and I just have to ask that you don't do anything inappropriate, you know, I don't want her walking in on anything. . ." she trailed off.

The realization of what she meant hit Tyler about the same time as a massive tidal wave of embarrassment.

"Oh my -- ugh, gosh, Mom," Tyler shivered, sharply averting his eyes. "We're just -- he just sleeps here, gosh -- what kind of pervert do you think I am?"

"Oh, don't say things like that," she scolded uncomfortably. "You know that's not what I meant."

Tyler raised his eyebrows. "Well, if you trust me so much, then what did you mean?"

"I just -- it's not --" she struggled to find the words. "Josh isn't -- pressuring you, is he?  Because you're not obligated to do anything --"

"Mom," Tyler groaned. "He's not -- he didn't pressure me," he sighed, not sure how much to say. After a moment, he softly added, "He's -- he's been nothing but kind and sweet and -- and patient. He's never asked me to do anything that I didn't want to do, and he. . . he takes care of me." He looked at her for a long moment. "You have nothing to worry about, Mom."

She smiled at him shakily, wrapping him up in a hug and sniffling a little bit as she whispered, "That's all I want for you, baby. That's all I want," and Tyler didn't know what else to say, so he just nodded, his throat growing a little tighter as he hugged her back.

And then he remembered that Josh was still standing in the stairs.

He pulled away, blushing, and started to step away, only to reach forward and kiss her swiftly on the cheek, pulling her back into one more hug.

Gosh, he wasn't supposed to be the one getting all emotional here.

But if he kept talking about how nice and safe and wonderful Josh was, if he kept assuring his mom that she'd never be able to find someone who treated him better if she searched the whole world, that Josh was perfect and sweet and everything, he'd be getting emotional as all heck.

And he didn't particularly want to get emotional as all heck this close to bedtime.

So, he smiled at her one more time, muttering a quiet, "I love you," and told her goodnight.

"You sleep good, okay?" she commanded playfully, caressing his cheek for a moment before he nodded, grinning, and made his way back to Josh.

"Everything okay?" Josh asked with a slightly worried expression as soon as he made it back up the stairs.

Tyler glanced back down at his mom pointedly, just to make sure that she was impressed with Josh's concern for him (hint: she was) before kissing him on the cheek. "More than okay," he grinned, taking Josh's hand and leading him to his room.

"I thought you said no PDA," Josh smirked as Tyler closed the door and started getting ready for bed.

"I said we should go light on the PDA," Tyler clarified smugly. "Not that we weren't allowed to do any."

"What was that all about, anyway?" Josh asked thoughtfully, taking his shirt off and slipping on the pajama shorts that he'd started leaving over here for nights like this (i.e. almost every night, since they couldn't stand to not sleep in the same bed anymore and it was easier for Tyler to not have to sneak out).

Tyler just stood there dumbly, still in awe after seeing Josh take his shirt off. How could he do it so casually, like it was just nothing, when Tyler knew that it was one of the most beautiful, important actions in the entire world? When, really, Tyler decided that it should be illegal for Josh to wear a shirt in the first place, because the smoothness of his pale skin and the way that his muscles moved and the faint ridges that highlighted his ribs and the few little freckles that dotted his chest were too frickin beautiful to cover up --

"Tyler?"

"Hm?" he mumbled, vaguely aware of the fact that he'd just been caught blatantly checking Josh out.

Of course, he didn't stop checking Josh out.

Tyler was enjoying the view way too much to do a silly thing like that just because Josh was now smirking at him, blushing a little when Tyler continued to stare at him.

"My eyes are up here, dude," Josh chuckled, biting his lip a little and oh gosh, that only made it worse.

And by worse, he meant about a million times better.

Of course, Josh probably could've just sneezed or something and Tyler would've practically fainted from arousal. 

He was just that pretty.

"Should -- should I put the shirt back on, or. . . ?"

Well, that snapped Tyler the heck out of it.

"NO," Tyler quickly blurted. "No, it's -- it's fine, I'm cool. I'll behave." He coughed, tearing his eyes away from Josh's beautiful, beautiful abdomen long enough to casually add, "So, um, you were -- you were saying -- something?"

Josh laughed. "Yeah, I was just -- I was wondering what all that was about, y'know. With your mom. She seemed kind of -- I don't know, it felt like she was mad at me or something."

"Oh, don't worry about that, babe," Tyler insisted, walking over and kissing him lightly on the lips. "She wasn't really mad. She just -- she wanted to make sure that -- you know -- you're being nice to me, and all that. I talked to her, though, so I think we're good now."

"Oh, well that's --" he paused. "But -- but why does she suddenly need to make sure that I'm --" Josh broke off abruptly, his eyes lighting up with suspicion. "Wait. Tyler, you didn't. . . you didn't happen to tell your mom that we -- that we slept together, did you?"

"What? No! Of course not! Why would I -- why would I do something like that? That would be crazy. I'm not crazy," Tyler rambled in a weirdly high voice, determinedly looking anywhere at Josh (which, at this point, was a pretty big clue that something was up). He quickly turned away to the dresser, slipping his own shirt off and fidgeting with some clothes in his drawer that he didn't need.

"Tyler."

Tyler sighed and turned around, still not quite looking Josh in the eye. "Well, I mean, I didn't tell her exactly," he argued feebly. "She just sort of -- knew."

Josh groaned and flopped down on the bed. "Oh man, it's no wonder she hates me," he whined. "I used to be your nice boyfriend, and now I'm just -- I'm just -- I don't know, I'm like, the pervert who corrupted her sweet little child. She's never gonna love me ever again."

"Oh, come on, baby, it's not that bad," Tyler crooned, sitting down on the bed and gently stroking Josh's hair. "It's better now, I think. Like I said, we talked, and I think she just wanted to make sure that you weren't, like, pressuring me or anything like that. I told her that you were sweet and that you took care of me, and she seemed to feel much better about it after that," he finished hopefully.

"Wait." Josh un-smooshed his face from the mattress and turned his head to look at Tyler. "So, when you -- when you were talking to her before bed just now. . . that was what you were talking about? With all the -- the smiling and the hugging and everything?"

"Um. Yes?" Tyler answered, a little confused.

Josh blinked. "Wow."

Tyler looked at him carefully. "Is that -- did I do something wrong? I'm sorry, I guess I should've talked to you first --"

"Ty, are you kidding me?" Josh laughed. "She's your mom. You don't have to -- to ask my permission to talk to her about stuff like that. I was just --" he shook his head a little in amazement. "I mean, I can't believe she was that calm about it. My mom would literally kill me if I told her something like that."

Tyler giggled. "Come on, it wouldn't be that bad."

"Oh, yes it would," Josh insisted, shuffling around to slide himself under the covers. "Actually, she would probably yell at me for a few weeks, then kill me, then continue to berate my lifeless corpse for corrupting an innocent sweetheart such as yourself."

"No, she wouldn't," Tyler grinned, going around to the other side of the bed and snuggling himself next to Josh. "Your mom loves you. She would totally understand."

"Oh, really?" Josh raised an eyebrow. "She literally told me the other day that if we ever broke up, she would get rid of me and keep you."

Tyler laughed. "Well, I am pretty great, so I don't think you can really blame her for that," he smirked. "And, I mean, 'Tyler Dun' does have a nice ring to it."

They both froze.

Oh gosh.

Did he --?

Did he really just say that?

Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.

Tyler Dun.

He just called himself Tyler Fricking Dun.

In other news, there was a legitimate chance that he was going into cardiac arrest.

What were the signs of having a heart attack, again? Did it have anything to do with feeling like you were walking on the moon, like you were floating in space with nothing but a billion stars surrounding you, and everything was moving at hyperspeed, except that everything didn't actually exist anywhere except bright yellow hair and squinty smiles and freckles and the idea of sharing a last name with the literal human embodiment of perfection?

Because that was about how Tyler was feeling right now.

Josh was just laying across from him, his mouth open slightly in a mixture of shock and complete, unadulterated awe.

It took a couple of minutes for Tyler to regain his capacity for speech, and he sheepishly muttered, "Um. Sorry, was that --? I didn't mean for that to be weird -- it just sort of --"

"No, it was -- it's fine," Josh replied breathlessly. "It was -- I mean, it was pretty frickin adorable, actually," he added, blushing furiously.

And oh heck, Tyler blushed right back, burying his face in the covers a little bit to hide the embarrassed smile that couldn't help showing itself.

Josh saw it anyway.

And he smiled even bigger, leaning across and kissing Tyler on the lips, starting with a few little kisses and then pulling him closer for a dizzying finale, opening his mouth against Tyler's so expertly that Tyler couldn't help the little moan that escaped, or the way that his hips involuntarily arched forward, desperately seeking the connection they'd so recently become accustomed to.

They made out for a while, until they were completely breathless and tangled together under the covers and so painfully turned on that they both knew they couldn't go any farther without going a lot farther.

But they could still cuddle.

And dang if cuddling with this boy wasn't just as intoxicating as kissing this boy, or making love to this boy, or generally being head over heels in love with this boy.

So, Tyler snuggled a little closer as Josh wrapped his arms around him, resting his head on Josh's shoulder contentedly and realizing like this was their default position -- that being wrapped up in each other was the only thing that really seemed natural for them, that nothing else could ever be as safe or as perfect or as right as these simple moments, these snuggly moments where nothing else existed but soft skin and tangled limbs and the rising and falling of their chests together, quiet breaths that sounded like the most beautiful music in the world.

Oh. 

Music.

And just like that, as he layed in bed next to the love of his life, listening to his soft breaths and feeling more infatuated than it was probably normal to feel for someone who was sleeping, Tyler heard a melody in his head. 

It wasn't just music, though.

It was a song.

It was Josh's song. 

It was Josh's song, and it was wonderful.

It was power and energy and passion.

It was blood and pain and healing.

It was beauty and pure emotion.

It was love.

It was Josh.

And it was alive.

Tyler immediately shuffled himself out of Josh's arms, carefully bundling the covers around him so he wouldn't wake up.

It would be an absolute crime to wake this boy up, he decided.

He was too perfect.

Which is why, after quietly opening the door and involuntarily glancing back at the sleeping boy in his bed, Tyler couldn't help sneaking back over and planting a soft kiss on Josh's forehead before turning back and softly padding downstairs to the basement.

He could've waited until the morning.

But he needed to do this now.

Which was bizarre.

Because it wasn't unusual for him to come play music in the middle of the night. In fact, it was something that he'd been doing ever since high school, ever since he'd been playing music in the first place, and he (along with the rest of his family, who had woken up on more than one occasion thinking there was some kind of intruder in the house, only to find an empty bed and a bright light under the basement door) had quickly gotten used to it.

But this was different.

Because usually, when Tyler needed to go downstairs in the middle of the night, it was because music was the only thing stopping him from having a complete breakdown. It was because he needed something to stop the shaking hands and too-busy thoughts, something at least to redirect them, to make them into something beautiful and meaningful and safe.

That wasn't how he felt right now.

That was the frickin opposite of how he felt right now.

Because right now, he was about to take something beautiful -- the most beautiful thing in the world, to be exact -- and he was going to try to capture it, to commemorate it. To say, "This is love, and this is mine, and it is absolutely everything."

He didn't feel like he was trying to stop himself from falling apart.  

He didn't feel like he was falling, like if he didn't write something, then the world would crumble around him, and he would fall and fall and fall, until he made it to the ground and found out what it felt like to stop.

He didn't feel like he was broken.

He felt completely, beautifully whole.

He felt like all the pieces were finally coming together, and he was achingly curious to hear what that sounded like.

He felt like he was flying, like he was soaring too close to the sun, like everything was fire and warmth and light all at once and he couldn't figure out if he was being brought to life or being burned alive, and he wasn't even sure if there was a difference anymore.

He felt like he was higher than he'd ever been before, and he would never have to come down ever again.

He felt alive.

And after a while, the music did, too.

True, it was confused and unfinished and a little bit (a lot) odd.

But it was alive, and it was beautiful.

And that was all that Tyler needed.

Well.

All Tyler needed was Josh.

So, somewhere around three in the morning, Tyler packed up his notes and took one last smiling look at his piano before getting up and heading back to bed.

He ended up finding Josh a lot sooner than he expected to.

Because as soon as he opened the basement door, he was surprised to find a beautiful, yellow-haired boy sitting on the last stair, sleeping peacefully with his head against the wall.

He looked adorable and exhausted and terribly uncomfortable, and Tyler could not for the life of him figure out why on earth Josh would come down here and fall asleep on the stairway.

Tyler walked over and crouched down in front of him, gently stroking a hand through his hair and silently admiring how messy it got when he slept. Gosh, this boy couldn't get any cuter. And yet he always managed to find new ways to be cute. Always.

As if sensing Tyler's presence, Josh suddenly took a deep breath and his eyes fluttered open, just barely. Just enough to see Tyler smiling back at him.

"MmTy'lr," Josh mumbled sleepily, attempting a crooked smile that just made Tyler's heart gush with more love and complete adoration than he ever thought human beings were capable of.

Seriously.

If Tyler died from how cute this boy was, he would not be the least bit surprised.

"Hey, sweetie," Tyler smiled softly. "What're you doing down here? You should be in bed."

Josh rubbed his eyes, clearly still half-asleep, and mumbled, "Heard you get up. Figured you came down here."

Tyler chuckled lightly. "What, so you figured it'd be way more comfortable to sleep sitting up with your neck against the wall?"

Josh blushed a little and slurred, "Well, I just -- I mean, I didn't wanna interrupt you or anything, but --" he paused to yawn, looking adorably sleepy and a little embarrassed. "I just -- I didn't want you to be alone," he finished simply.

Tyler was basically reduced to a puddle on the floor.

Like, are you frickin kidding me?

Was this even real right now?

It couldn't be.

Because in real life, Tyler wasn't even close to deserving this boy.

In real life, it wasn't possible for someone to be that frickin perfect.

But there Josh was, with his messy yellow hair and (bless him) no shirt on and a sleepy little blush on his cheeks and he was just that frickin perfect.

Tyler smiled at him adoringly. "C'mon, Joshie, let's get you back to bed," he muttered gently, grabbing the sleepy boy by both hands and gently pulling him up.

"You never called me that b'fore," Josh mumbled with a sleepy smile. "I kinda like it."

"Well, we'll just have to get your name legally changed, then," Tyler joked, grinning even though he was exercising an extreme amount of effort right now trying to get this boy back upstairs.

I mean, really.

Tyler had no idea how long Josh had been asleep there, but it must've been a while, because Tyler was basically the only thing keeping him upright.

And yes, Josh could carry Tyler upstairs without even having to catch his breath.

But Tyler was not Josh.

And Josh was considerably more muscle-y than Tyler.

Which made him a little stronger.

And a lot heavier.

"Joshie Dun," Josh giggled gleefully.

(Apparently, sleepy Josh was basically the equivalent of a really happy drunk. Which was frickin adorable.)

After a few minutes of half-carrying, half-falling over Josh, Tyler managed to get them both back in bed and (mostly) under the covers.

And, laying there across from Josh, breathless and exhausted and completely infatuated with this man, Tyler decided that he had never been happier than he was in this moment.

Of course, he decided that literally every time he was with Josh.

But that didn't mean it wasn't true.

And that didn't mean that it was any less perfect when Josh leaned across (not that far, mind you, since they were already smushed so close together that they were practically one being) and gave him a sleepy, messy kiss, softly whispering, "Good night, princess" against Tyler's lips.

And that didn't mean that Tyler felt any less magical, any less dizzyingly in love when he stroked a soft hand through bright yellow hair and murmured, "Good night, love of my life," kissing him again and again and then a couple more times, thoroughly enough that he still had the taste of Josh in his mouth by the time he fell asleep.

And, whether they knew it or not (hint: they did), whether they would ever admit it to each other (hint: they would, but not for a long time), they both fell asleep to the same two words.

They both had the same two words swirling around in their heads as they faded out of consciousness and dreamed of each other, vaguely and blissfully aware of the warmth of their bodies against each other, close enough to keep the cold thoughts away.

They both found themselves intoxicated by the same two words, by the simple beauty and absolute perfection of those three syllables and everything they represented.

They both repeated those two words in their minds over and over and over again, and they both had those two words lurking in the back of their thoughts for every waking and sleeping moment afterwards.

They both loved those words and protected those words, whispering them in their minds with all the hope and reverence and sanctity in the whole world.

Those two words that they never thought they'd hear, that they never thought would feel so beautiful and perfect and safe and right. Those two words that neither one of them knew would be so utterly captivating until Tyler had said them out loud. 

Tyler Dun. 

Tyler Dun. 

Tyler Dun. 

Chapter Text

Tyler felt guilty. 

And not just that "man, I feel kind of bad about that one time when I was a kid and I told my mom that I didn't break that lamp, but I totally did" kind of guilt. 

We're talking about the gut wrenching, stomach twisting, kept-me-awake-all-night-worrying-about-it kind of guilt.

Tyler knew he didn't need to feel that way. He really did.

He knew that Jordan's secret wasn't his to tell. That it wasn't even the kind of secret that you needed to feel guilty about.

And he knew that Josh wouldn't blame him for keeping it from him if that was what Jordan really wanted.

Actually, Josh was such a dang sweetheart that he would probably be proud of Tyler for helping Jordan out, for being there for him when he wasn't quite comfortable enough to tell his family about his feelings for Aaron yet.

And Tyler spent all night trying to convince himself that it was okay, that it wasn't really a lie. At least, not a bad one.

But that was before the next morning, before Tyler woke up face to face with the love of his life and prepared himself to lie to Josh's face.

"Hey," Josh grinned with that beautiful morning smile of his.

Oh, gosh.

This was going to be impossible.

"Hey," Tyler mumbled back feebly. "Did you -- did you sleep okay?"

"I slept great," Josh smiled at him sweetly, reaching across to gently twist his fingers through Tyler's hair. "I always sleep great when I'm with you."

Oh, geez.

Tyler was scum.

Absolute scum.

Josh was pure and good and beautiful in every frickin way, and Tyler was just the absolute scum of the earth.

Because only the absolute scum of the earth could lie to this boy.

Tyler had been hoping he wouldn't have to. He really had.

It was supposed to be so simple.

"I'm having lunch with Zack today."

That was it.

That was all he had to say.

It was simple.

It wasn't at all suspicious.

And it was most definitely not a lie. 

I mean, sure, it conveniently omitted the fact that Jordan was gonna be there too. And that the whole point of the meeting was to come up with a scheme to get Jordan a boyfriend.

But hey, you can't have everything.

And Tyler figured that "I'm having lunch with Zack today" was about as close to not lying to Josh as he was gonna get.

He spent the whole morning worried out of his mind about it, unable to even look at Josh for more than a few seconds. 

Which became increasingly difficult when Josh started talking about this new pizza place that had opened up near his work, enthusiastically suggesting that they should try it for lunch later. When Tyler had to find a way to explain that he already had plans, when Josh knew better than anyone else that he didn't really have anyone else that he generally made plans with. 

He was doing a pretty good job so far, all things considered. 

That is, until Zack came barging in his room before Tyler had a chance to finish, loudly saying, "Hey, so what time are we supposed to meet your --" Zack suddenly noticed Josh on the other side of the room, wide-eyed and curious "-- uh, my friend for lunch?"

Tyler smeared a hand across his face, enough to just slightly (not at all) relieve the tension that he was now feeling, but (hopefully) not enough to raise any red flags about how incredibly stressed he was right at this moment.

Unfortunately, Josh knew him too well.

"What friend?" he asked, casually looking between Zack and Tyler.

But Tyler knew him too well, too.

And Josh wasn't asking because he was curious.

He was asking because he could tell that Tyler was stressed about it. Because Josh cared about him, and he wanted to see if he could help.

Bless this boy and his loving little heart.

But also dang it.

Because now Josh was looking at him expectantly with those pretty, pretty brown eyes, and Tyler had nothing even resembling an explanation.

He opened his mouth in vain, hoping that some words would form of their own accord.

Spoiler alert: they didn't.

Come on, Tyler.

Just say something.

You're going to lunch with one of Zack's friends.

Something like that.

Just say it.

. . .

It doesn't even have to be that.

Just something.

Anything, man.

This silence has gone on way too frickin long.

Oh, gosh.

It's weird now.

You made it weird.

Just frickin say somethi-- 

"I have a date," Zack blurted suddenly.

Tyler and Josh hung their mouths open in unison.

What the --

What the frick? 

Did he just --?

"Oh," said Josh after a long pause.

"And, uh, Tyler is -- Tyler is, um. . ." Zack floundered for a moment, trying desperately to come up with a sane reason why frickin Tyler was supposedly coming with him on his fictional frickin date. Suddenly, his eyes lit up and he confidently finished, "Tyler is my chaperone."

His frickin chaperone.

Okay.

It was weird, but it would work.

"Oh," Josh said again, apparently (and unsurprisingly) incapable of saying much else at the moment. He tried, anyway. "That's, uh -- that's -- um, great, I guess?" He looked at Tyler with pleading eyes, having absolutely no clue what else to say.

"Um, yes, it is great," Tyler confirmed awkwardly. "Yes, because -- um -- because he wanted to date this -- uh -- this --?" he broke off for a moment, looking at Zack questioningly.

"Girl," Zack supplied.

"Um, yeah, this -- this girl. That he likes. But, uh -- but he's -- Mom and Dad thought he was too young to -- to go unsupervised, so I'm --" he sighed, hating himself for his inability to do anything casually. "I'm his chaperone, apparently."

Josh looked amused. "So, you're -- you're going on a date? With Zack? And that's --" he tried not to snicker "-- that's why you can't meet me for lunch later?"

"Yes, that is accurate," Tyler confirmed grudgingly.

At least he wasn't upset.

I mean, sure, he subtly poked fun at Tyler for having to go on a date with his little brother all the way up until the moment that he kissed him goodbye and headed off to spend some time with Mark.

But at least he wasn't frickin upset.

That made Tyler feel a little better.

Not a lot.

But a little.

Jordan ended up being early. Really early. As soon as they walked in, Tyler saw him sitting in a booth in the corner by himself, fidgeting with his sleeve and looking a little bit (a lot) nervous.

Tyler knew the feeling.

Instantly, he was reminded of his second meeting with Josh -- he remembered sitting in his car for ages, terrified that he might be doing the wrong thing, but somehow knowing that if he didn't do it, he would regret it for the rest of his life.

Of course, things had been a little different for him. He hadn't needed to wonder if Josh felt the same way about him.

Heck, he hadn't even needed to wonder what the inside of Josh's frickin mouth tasted like.

So, maybe it was a lot different.

Because Tyler hadn't been dealing with his best friend. He'd been dealing with a stranger, a completely random dude who happened to become his crush, his best friend, and his lover in a matter of days. Hours, even.

And Tyler couldn't imagine what would have happened if things had been different.

What if he and Josh had already known each other for a long time, if they'd had time to become best friends before either one of them worked up the courage to turn it into something else? Would Tyler have been brave enough to make a move?

He wanted to think that he would. That being in love with Josh would have mattered more than the fear of losing him. That Tyler would be able to work up the courage to kiss him or ask him out or just tell him that he loved him, that he would be brave like Josh had been on the day they met.

But he wouldn't. And he knew it.

Because it was scary enough kissing a dude when you were still shaken by the realization that you might not be 100% straight, when the most beautiful boy in the world politely asked you if you wanted to kiss him and all you had to do was say, "Yes, please" and shove your tongue in his mouth.

Okay, maybe it hadn't been quite that simple, but it was a frickin walk in the park compared to what Jordan was facing.

Because when Tyler thought about how different things would be if he and Josh were nothing more than friends, if Tyler was in love with him the way that Jordan was in love with Aaron, Tyler couldn't imagine having the courage to risk everything like that.

So, Tyler didn't blame Jordan for looking nervous when he saw him and Zack approach the little corner booth he'd hidden himself in, for seeming like a cornered animal who was trying with every ounce of energy to stifle the fight or flight instinct that was desperately telling him to run, that he'd made a mistake, that secrets were secret for a reason.

But he stayed.

And Tyler couldn't help realizing that this kid might be the bravest person he'd ever met.

"Hey, Jordan," Tyler said softly as the boy looked at Zack apprehensively.

"Um. Hey," was his quiet response.

They stood there for a moment awkwardly before Tyler slid in the seat across from Jordan, Zack sliding in after him a moment later.

Tyler cleared his throat. "So, uh, Jordan, this is my brother, Zack. He, uh -- you might have seen him at the coffee shop." He paused, noticing that Jordan was nervously tapping his foot, his eyes flickering over to look at Zack every few seconds. "You can trust him," Tyler assured him in a gentle voice.

Jordan relaxed a little. Not much, but a little. "Hi," he said shyly to Zack.

Zack looked at him, his eyes narrowing a bit. "You're Josh's brother, aren't you?" he asked bluntly.

Jordan almost flinched, then hesitantly nodded.

Zack nodded back, like he already knew the answer. "I remember seeing you that night. You look like him." He briefly looked between Jordan and Tyler. "So, what's the problem?"

Well, that was Zack. Always right to the point.

After a moment, it was clear that Jordan wasn't going to answer. Tyler looked at him with questioning eyes, waiting until he gave a little nod in return.

So, with Jordan's permission, Tyler took a deep breath and started talking. "So. Uh, Jordan has a, uh -- a friend. Someone that he doesn't exactly want to be just friends with anymore, y'know? And he's, um -- he's not quite sure what do to about it."

Zack looked at them both, confused. "Well, if you don't want to be friends anymore, why don't you just tell them to leave you alone?"

Tyler rolled his eyes. "No, I mean he -- he likes them. Like, he wants to date them."

"Oh." He paused again. "Well, why don't you just ask her out?"

Jordan blushed, looking away, and Tyler quickly explained, "It's -- it's a little more complicated than that."

"Why?" Zack shrugged. "I mean, what's the worst that could happen? You're already friends. If she likes you, cool. If she doesn't, at least she'll let you down easy."

Tyler sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He probably should've explained the situation before they got here. He had just thought it might be better to explain it in front of Jordan, just to make sure that he was okay with everything.

Of course, he hadn't counted on Zack's complete obliviousness to relationships and feelings in general. I mean, for someone who understood things so well sometimes, he really didn't get it.

"Zack, it's not really -- I mean, it's --" he struggled to find the right words.

"It's not a girl," Jordan supplied quietly.

Tyler looked at him, shocked. He really hadn't expected Jordan to talk much about it when he realized how nervous he was, but it seemed like Jordan was actually okay for the first time since they'd been here. No shaking hands, no tapping feet, no averted eyes.

Zack didn't even blink. "Oh, you mean that dude you were with at the coffee place? The one with the curly hair? What's his name -- Aaron, or something?"

They both just sat there, mouths wide open at Zack's casual acceptance of the news. Clearly, he'd either expected it from the beginning or he simply didn't think it was that big of a deal. (And, given Zack's tendency to ignore other people's feelings from time to time, Tyler was betting on the latter.)

Numbly, Jordan nodded.

"Cool," Zack commented before nodding a little, impressed. "Good choice."

"Excuse me?" Tyler looked at him questioningly, eyebrows raised.

"What?" Zack scoffed. "I might not be gay, but I have eyes."

Tyler just kept staring at him, his mouth opening and closing in an attempt to find some sort of response.

"Um," said Jordan.

"Right," Tyler muttered, snapping himself out of it. He cleared his throat and continued. "So, yeah. We're just, uh, trying to figure out the best way to break this to him without risking -- anything," he finished awkwardly, not wanting to make Jordan more nervous than he already was. Gosh, he should be better at this by now.

"Well, how gay is he?" Zack asked casually.

"W-what?" Jordan sputtered.

"Your friend. How gay is he?" Zack repeated matter-of-factly.

"Um, he's -- I'm pretty sure he's straight," Jordan said uncertainly.

Zack rolled his eyes. "Well, obviously. If you thought for sure that he was gay, we wouldn't be here." He took a deep breath, as if he was preparing himself to explain something to a child. "What we need to find out is how likely he is to be -- well, to be Tyler's version of straight."

Tyler rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Zack. Do you really think it's necessary to --"

"How do we find that out?" Jordan broke in eagerly, looking like he'd just been told Christmas was coming early.

Apparently, he was just thrilled to have found someone with a plan.

And goodness knows, Zack was certainly that.

He laid it out methodically, going through each step as thoroughly as a legitimate battle strategy. "Okay. First, we need to know how open he is to people being gay in general, and then we need to figure out how open he is to being gay for you specifically."

Tyler blinked. "Do -- do you, like, plan these things out in advance, or. . . ?"

Zack shrugged. "Sometimes." He continued, not even missing a beat. "So, I think we should start out by observing him in the presence of someone gay to see how he reacts." He looked at Tyler pointedly.

"I -- what?" Tyler said, confused.

"You're gonna have to act a lot more gay if this is gonna work," Zack stated simply.

Tyler resisted the urge to slap his own forehead.

Barely.

"How is me acting super gay gonna help us figure out whether Aaron likes Jordan or not?" he asked slowly. "Also, how am I supposed to 'act more gay?' Like, is that even a thing?"

Zack sighed exasperatedly. "Have you even been listening, Ty? Figuring out if he likes Jordan isn't until step two," he explained as if it was painfully obvious. "First, we need to know if he's even okay with the whole gay thing to begin with. Now, chances are, he will be. But we still need to collect more data if we're going to determine how much of a chance Jordan has with him."

"And. . . we're gonna do that by showing him how gay Tyler is?" Jordan asked tentatively.

"Yes," Zack said firmly at the same time that Tyler scoffed a definite "No."

They looked at each other apprehensively.

"Come on, Ty," Zack pleaded. "Be a team player.  We just need you to be gay for a little while."

"I am gay!" Tyler defended a little too loudly, slouching down in his seat when he noticed the odd looks from the older couple across the room.

"Well, we need you to be more gay," Zack insisted. "Just enough to see if Aaron feels uncomfortable around you."

"How do I even -- ?" Tyler shook his head numbly. "I can't just -- amplify the gay whenever I want to. Like, this" -- he gestured vaguely to himself -- "is pretty much as gay as it gets."

"Come on, don't sell yourself short like that," Zack encouraged him lightly. "I've seen you act plenty more gay than that when we're around the house."

Tyler stared at him, narrowing his eyes. "What are you even taking about?"

"You know. When you get all giggly and flirty and stuff. I mean, it's not perfect, but it's a lot closer to the stereotypes, and that's kind of what we're going for here."

"Well, that's -- that's different," Tyler mumbled awkwardly, blushing a little. "That's when Josh is around."

Zack's eyes lit up. "Is that okay?" he asked suddenly, turning to Jordan.

Jordan blinked. "Is it -- what? You mean, if -- if Josh is there?" he said nervously.

"Well, yeah. I think it's gonna be the only way to get him gay enough," Zack replied, briefly nodding to Tyler.

"I don't --" Jordan averted his eyes, fidgeting with a strand of his curly hair. Curly like Josh's, Tyler realized with a suppressed smile. "I don't know if I'm ready to tell him yet," he said quietly.

"You don't have to tell him," Zack pointed out calmly. "As long as he's there, Tyler's gonna be all over him. And that's all we need."

Tyler opened and closed his mouth. "I mean, he's not wrong," he agreed after a moment.

He wanted to argue that he had some self-control, thank you very much. That he was easily mature enough to keep his hands to himself, especially in a public place, and that just because he and Josh tended to be a little. . . affectionate, that didn't mean that they were incapable of keeping a healthy distance between them.

But this is Josh we're talking about here.

Josh, the Actual Sex God.

Josh, the Literal Cutest Boy To Ever Exist.

Josh, the Love Of Tyler's Life and Actual Sunshine Of His Existence.

And Tyler had absolutely no control over that kind of thing.

Heck, if Josh were here right now, Tyler would probably be in his frickin lap.

He kind of wished he actually was in Josh's frickin lap.

It was one of his favorite places to be.

What are you gonna do, sue him?

There was just something about being wrapped up in that boy's arms, straddling his hips like that was the only place that he was ever meant to be, something about stroking his fingers through bright yellow hair and getting himself lost in those pretty brown eyes, about feeling Josh's hands gently rub across his back and his hips and --

"So, it's settled, then," Zack decided. "Jordan, you'll need to set up lunch or something with Aaron, where you'll 'accidentally' run into Tyler and Josh. They'll do their thing, and I'll be watching from an inconspicuous distance to see how Aaron reacts. Meeting adjourned."

He started to slide out of the seat before Tyler grabbed his arm and slid him back. "Woah, we haven't even eaten yet, genius."

"Oh." Zack looked across at Jordan with a subtle look of -- what? Fear? Apprehension? -- before quickly averting his eyes and fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. "Okay."

It was around this time that Tyler remembered how awkward Zack could be in social situations that didn't involve some kind of plan.

Apparently, social ineptitude ran in the family.

And maybe it occurred to Tyler that Zack needed a friend just as much as Jordan needed a plan.

"So, uh, Zack," Tyler began carefully, managing to sound like something that almost sort of resembled being semi-casual. "Have you, uh -- have you told Jordan about that club you're starting for school?"

Zack's eyes lit up immediately. "The GSA?"

"What's that?" Jordan asked curiously.

Oh, yeah.

Tyler hit the jackpot.

Because if there was anything that Zack could talk about, it was that dang club.  

So, Tyler ended up sitting there for about an hour while Zack explained all of his plans to an enthusiastic Jordan.

Well.

It was at least an hour.

But really, that was just when Tyler stopped counting.

Not that he was complaining.

Because the boys seemed to be getting along splendidly, and Jordan actually had a lot of great ideas to contribute to the whole GSA thing. In fact, it wasn't long before Zack asked him to be a co-founder -- and, as much as it shocked Tyler that his brother would be willing to split responsibility with anyone, much less some kid he'd only met an hour ago, he really had no doubt that they would work well together. Zack had all the structure and drive, while Jordan seemed to have all of the emotional considerations that Zack tended to ignore.

But still.

It was only so much fun to be a third wheel.

Which is why he got so excited when his phone buzzed.

And then when he realized that it was a text from Josh.

And then it felt like the greatest moment of his entire frickin life.

having fun on your date? ;)

Tyler rolled his eyes. 

At least I have a date.

ouch

you know how sensitive I am about the fact that I don't have any teenagers to chaperone 

Don't worry, babe. You'll get there one day. :)

I don't know 

I think ashley would kill me if I tried to chaperone her and andrew

True. And I would prefer it if you didn't get killed. 

why 

do you have plans? ;)

Always. 

good to know 

maybe jordan will find someone

I bet he would let me go on dates with him

Or you could just go on dates with me. :)

hmm

I'll consider it

Take your time. 

okay I've considered it 

Wow, that was fast. 

I have decided that we should most definitely go on lots of dates

like as many as possible

I think I'd be okay with that. 

good cause I'm gonna date the heck out of you

Well, good, cause I've been needing someone to do that. 

well good cause dating the heck out of really cute boys named tyler happens to be one of my specialities

Oh, really? And exactly how many really cute boys named Tyler have you been dating? 

just the one but I'm sure he would give me an excellent reference

Being a little confident, aren't we? 

come on you love it

I do not. 

Okay, yeah, I do. 

knew it

oh yeah I almost forgot

are you free for dinner tomorrow night?

I don't know. I might have a date with a really cute boy. 

where is this dude I need to beat him up

Look in a mirror, cutie. 

And try not to go at yourself too hard, you know you have sensitive skin. 

aww my sweet baby always looking out for me

Anytime, love. 

So, we have a date? 

we have a date

with mark and his girlfriend

Oh. How are you feeling about that? 

excuse me while I go beat myself up

It won't be that bad, I promise. 

I'll be there the whole time. 

you better be

I love you, Joshie.

love you more

Not possible. 

actually I think it's very possible

plausible even

You're so cute. 

Wrong, but cute. 

nah

Nah? 

Like, nah you're not cute or nah you're not wrong? 

oh come on we both know I'm adorable

Well, you're also wrong. 

am not

I love you so frickin much it's ridiculous

Well, how about we just agree that it's a tie? 

a tie?

Like, we love each other equally insane amounts. 

oh

I could deal with that

Me too. 

okay then I love you equally just as much as you love me

except maybe a little bit more

Right back at you, darling. :)

did that one count as an argument?

I hope so. ;)

yay we finally did it

well I mean not yet

winks suggestively 

Very smooth. 

Wait. 

Is there a time limit on make up sex? Cause we might not be able to do it until later tonight. 

I mean, I'm not sure how much longer this Zack situation is gonna last, and then there'll be dinner, and we'd probably want to wait a while after that, so I'm not sure if it'll strictly count by that point.

this is going to be some very organized make up sex

Shut up. You love me and my organization. 

oh yeah there's nothing sexier than schedules

You know it. 

darling is a good one by the way

we should do darling more often

Agreed. 

Love you, darling. 

love you equally darling

"What are you smiling about?" Zack's voice broke through Tyler's Josh-induced euphoria, bringing him to the sudden realization that he was smiling like an absolute idiot in love.

Which was kind of his default expression these days.

"The same thing I'm always smiling about," he grinned happily in response.

Zack just rolled his eyes.

But Tyler could've sworn he saw a hint of a smile.

After finishing up lunch and giving Jordan a ride home, Tyler found himself home much earlier than expected.

Normally, this would be a pleasant surprise.

Now, after his conversation with Josh -- and specifically after their "argument" -- it was an absolute frickin blessing.

A little too quickly, Tyler sent his boyfriend a text, asking him if he could meet him for dinner.

Did he say asking?

He meant begging.

He was totally frickin begging.

After fifteen minutes went by with no answer (and after sending an additional fourteen texts), Tyler sighed and got back in the car.

There was only one thing that could distract Josh from his phone that long.

Well.

One thing other than Tyler.

And he wasn't being smug, okay? It was a fact. Facts were indisputable.

And the fact was that Josh's list of priorities went something like:

1. Tyler

2. Drums

3. Phone

And, well. His family was probably in there too, somewhere.

But you get the point.

Which is why Tyler wasn't at all surprised to see Josh's car in the parking lot when he pulled up to the Guitar Center.

He got out of the car and walked in, smiling a little to himself because oh my gosh, he had the cutest boyfriend ever.

I mean, ignoring your boyfriend's texts because you couldn't hear your phone over the crashing of your drum set may not exactly follow the normal standards of what qualified as "cute."

But to Tyler, it was completely frickin adorable.

Of course, to be fair, basically everything that this boy did was completely frickin adorable to Tyler.

But so what?

He couldn't help it.

He couldn't help it if he loved the way that Josh creased his eyebrows when he was thinking, or the way he bit his tongue a little when he laughed. He couldn't help it if he loved the way that Josh's emotions were always right there on his face, the way that Tyler could always tell if he was in a good mood based on the brightness of his eyes, or if he was anxious about something based on the way he blinked, or even if he had just read a really funny post on twitter based on the way he bit the inside of his mouth trying not to laugh. Or the way that he always laughed anyway, or the way that Tyler wanted to hear that sound on repeat for the rest of his life, until the last beautiful thing that he heard before leaving the world was the laugh of Joshua William Dun.

And Tyler couldn't help it if the idea of the love of his life drumming his heart away, too absorbed in his own passion to notice his phone (even though he had probably turned it up extra loud or put it on vibrate in his pocket to account for this very possibility) was the cutest dang thing thing he'd ever imagined.

And sure, by tomorrow, there would be a new Cutest Thing That Josh Has Ever Done. There always was. Every time Tyler spent even a second with that boy, he managed to find a million new reasons to fall in love, each one even better than the last.

But for now, it was the drumming.

When Tyler made his way inside, he wasn't greeted by a shock of yellow hair as usual.

But that was okay. He'd expected that.

Instead, he saw Debby sitting at the counter with her usual smile, talking to a pretty girl with freckles and short blue hair (and who was leaning in a little too closely to be some random customer).

He waved awkwardly when Debby's eyes locked on him and lit up in recognition, because despite it all, Tyler was still That Guy™ who didn't know what else to do with himself sometimes.

"Hey, Tyler!" Debby said cheerfully, her voice holding onto the echo of a giggle that Tyler suspected had nothing to do with him. "I didn't know you were planning to stop by today. Looking for your other half, I assume?" she added with a cheeky grin.

Tyler blushed. "Yeah, I -- he wasn't answering his phone, so I figured he'd be here."

"I swear you guys are, like, psychically linked or something." She nodded her head towards the practice room in the back. "He's been back there banging those drums since before I got here."

Guess I have some competition after all, Tyler thought but didn't say. Instead, he smiled shyly and muttered a quiet, "Thanks" before heading to the back room and leaving Debby alone with who he assumed was her girlfriend.

This was one of his favorite moments.

Sure, Tyler got to hear and watch Josh play the drums all the time. And sure, he would never in a million years get tired of seeing that boy do what he loved. If anything, it got even better every time, watching his boyfriend develop new techniques and learn new songs and repeatedly hearing "Watch this, Tyler! I saw someone do this on youtube and it was sick, and I think I finally got it."

But there was always a moment.

A moment before Josh realized that Tyler was there. A moment before everything switched from just playing to performing, before Josh started playing for someone else and stopped playing just for himself. A moment where it was nothing but Josh and his drums and that special part of his brain that drove him to do this in the first place, and to do it so frickin well.

When Tyler was there, Josh played flawlessly. There was no doubt about that.

But when Josh was alone, his art became a beautiful mess. He took chances that he would never dream of taking with another person in the room, he allowed himself to be lost in the music in a way that would embarrass him in front of anyone else but himself. When he was alone, he messed up, invented, reinvented, attempted, succeeded, failed, improved, and created all at once.

It was genuinely one of the most beautiful things that Tyler ever had the privilege of experiencing. Even if it was only for a moment, only until Josh realized he was there.

And this moment was no exception.

Except --

Except that it was.

Because the moment Tyler walked in the room, he expected something new, something different. Something he'd never heard before.

He didn't expect to hear his own song.

But there it was.

It wasn't perfect. It was messy, and it was new, and it was vastly different from the piano tune that Tyler had composed in his basement at three in the morning, but it was there.

And it was undeniably his.

And he was so incredibly startled to hear Josh playing a beat for the song that Tyler had written for him (and that he had most definitely, positively not shown him yet), the song that Tyler himself hadn't even quite finished, that he just stood there with his mouth hanging open, unable to speak for a moment even when Josh looked up and saw him, flashing that classic sunshine smile of his.

"Hey," Josh grinned, oblivious to Tyler's complete and utter confusion. "I didn't know you were already --" his eyes widened suddenly. "Oh, crap. Did you --?" He scrambled through his pocket, discovering the fifteen unanswered (and increasingly snarky) texts from Tyler with a sheepish grin. "Oops."

He started to ramble an apology, explaining that he'd come in for some practice after their last conversation, and that he was definitely sure that he had turned his phone on vibrate so he would feel it if he got a message, but he must've gotten more absorbed in it than he thought he would, and --

"What song was that?" Tyler blurted out suddenly, the moment he became capable of speech.

Josh blushed. 

Why did he blush? 

"It's, uh. I don't really know, actually," Josh admitted with a sheepish grin.

"You don't know," Tyler repeated.

"Yeah," Josh confirmed.

"But where -- where did you hear it?" Tyler asked, confused.

"Why do you assume that I heard it somewhere?" Josh replied evasively, avoiding eye contact and fidgeting with his shirt like a nervous little kid. "I mean, I am capable of writing my own music, and --"

Tyler glared at him knowingly.

"-- ack, fine. I heard it somewhere. There. Are you happy?" Josh crumbled the moment Tyler looked him in the eye.

"Why don't you want to tell me?" Tyler prodded gently. "I mean, it's fine, I just -- I just wanna know."

Josh sighed, running a hands through his hair. "I just -- I heard you humming it in the shower this morning, okay?" he admitted.

Tyler blinked. "You -- what?"

"I heard you humming it when you were in the shower this morning, and I haven't -- I haven't been able to get it out of my head since then," he repeated, looking incredibly embarrassed (AKA, incredibly cute). "And then I just kind of -- I don't know, I was just messing around and that tune came back to me, so I started making a beat for it. Honestly, I didn't even realize I was doing it until you said something," he added with a crooked smile.

"You -- you just -- and you --" Tyler stuttered, not sure what to say. Then, before he even had time to think, he blurted, "Did you like it?"

"Did I --" Josh looked a little confused. "Did I like the song, you mean?"

Tyler nodded shyly.

Josh chuckled lightly. "No, I -- I heard it and I was just like, 'Wow, this is such a garbage song, I've gotta make a beat for it.'" He rolled his eyes playfully. "Of course I liked it. It felt. . . different. But almost familiar at the same time, y'know? Like, there was something about it that seemed really special, almost like. . ." His voice faded away for a moment before his eyebrows did the cute thinking thing, and his eyes suddenly lit up with realization as his entire face broke out into a huge smile. "It's one of yours, isn't it?"

Tyler froze. "It's -- what?"

"The song. You wrote it, didn't you?"

"I --" he tried feebly to come up with an excuse, to find some explanation that wouldn't draw attention to the most-definitely-not-ready-for-Josh-to-hear-it song.

But he had forgotten about Josh's pretty eyes. The ones that made you want to drop to your knees and tell this beautiful boy all your secrets, that made you absolutely sure that you could trust this boy with anything, because as far as Tyler was concerned, you could.

And those eyes made every ounce of Tyler's resolve crumble in an instant.

He nodded hesitantly, blushing and staring intently at his shoes like he'd just admitted his feelings to his high school crush for the first time.

And if Tyler had been brave enough to look up at Josh in that moment, he would have seen that the other boy was just smiling at him in pure awe.

Luckily, Tyler was dating the most perfect boy in the world.

So he didn't have to look up.

Because instead, Josh stood up and walked over to him, gently lifting his chin up so he could see the love that was filling those pretty brown eyes (the ones that were impossible to lie to) with absolute stars. Instead, Josh used his other hand to caress Tyler's jaw, softly swiping his thumb across the smooth skin as carefully as if he was handling the most delicate, most precious glass in the world. And instead, Josh pulled him in for a slow kiss, his lips coming to meet Tyler's in the sweetest, most deliberate way possible as Tyler inevitably slid a hand into Josh's hair, into the bright yellow curls that had so quickly become Tyler's lifeline.

And then Josh whispered, "I knew it was special, love."

Tyler just stood there.

He felt --

Well.

Tyler wasn't totally sure what he felt.

Stunned?

Flattered?

Completely, undeniably infatuated?

Maybe all of the above.

Maybe something that was beyond description, because every day, Tyler became more and more convinced that there was no combination of words in the entire English language that could accurately describe the way he felt about this boy.

But regardless of anything else, now it was Tyler's turn to blush.

I mean, really. What else were you supposed to do when your boyfriend heard you humming a song that you wrote for him -- a song that you hadn't shown anyone, that you hadn't even finished yet -- and, without even knowing what it was, decided to play a beat for it? When all he had heard was a simple tune, and that simple tune was enough to make him feel like it was special, for him to recognize the immensity of what it meant even if he didn't know that it was about him, that it was about this love. When Tyler knew exactly how he must've felt, because ever since he had walked into the room and heard that drum beat, it was all he could think about. When he felt it vibrating through his entire body like a shock wave, making his stomach twist and turn the same way that it did every time Josh looked at him. When he didn't even know that a song could be that powerful, that his song could be that powerful, because when he wrote things on his own, they weren't.

When hearing Josh add his own music to Tyler's was one of the most perfect things he'd ever experienced.

And he had experienced some pretty perfect things with this boy.

Things of the *insert suggestive comment here* variety.  

And Tyler wasn't gonna lie.

This feeling was pretty frickin similar.

I mean, really.

This situation should not be making him feel any particular warmth in any particular area, nor should it be putting any particular thoughts into any particular area of his brain.

But it totally frickin was.

And Tyler totally frickin wanted to kiss the heck out of this boy until those drums weren't the only thing getting banged in this room.

"Tyler? You okay?"

Josh's concerned voice broke through Tyler's thoughts (which may or may not have involved an obscenely hypothetical situation involving Tyler laying across the drum kit while Josh did some *very* particular things to him), and he realized with a blush that 1. he may or may not have been spaced out for way too long, 2. his expression may or may not have been way too wistful for his thoughts to be mistaken as anything even resembling innocent, and 3. Josh may or may not have been smirking at him for a solid few minutes while he daydreamed about getting some action across his drums.

And you know what?

The old Tyler probably would have just coughed awkwardly and pretended that he wasn't thinking about what he was pretty obviously thinking about. He would have shrugged the whole thing off and Josh would have laughed and let him, and they would have gone off to some cute little local restaurant for dinner and spent way too long staring lovingly into each other's eyes before very innocently falling asleep in Tyler's bed.

And that would have been great. It really would've.

But that was not what Tyler wanted right now.

What Tyler wanted was to kiss this boy all over, to feel him and be felt by him, to get close enough with this beautiful, perfect boy that the lines between them gradually faded away and all that was left was the fire inside them and the absolute love that couldn't be expressed with mere words.

So, instead of coughing awkwardly and feigning innocence, instead of shrugging it off, Tyler smirked. He looked this beautiful lemon-haired boy in the eyes, and then the lips, and then he let his eyes roam over Josh's entire body, shamelessly checking him out.

"I'm good," he said smoothly, his eyes lingering on the place where Josh's shorts fell, a little too low on his hips.

Honestly, the blush and shy smile that he got in return was beyond worth it.

Then, Tyler slowly leaned in closer, biting his lip and boldly staring into those pretty brown eyes. He lingered for a moment, his lips placing a ghost of a kiss onto the other boy's neck, then another, and another, until they both shivered.

"Wanna go to your place for dinner?" he murmured softly, his lips almost brushing against Josh's ear as he began placing more kisses along the smooth skin, each one becoming more intense, more deliberate, until his teeth were getting involved and Josh was struggling not to make a whole world of sounds.

"I, um," Josh began shakily as one of Tyler's hands snaked its way under his shirt, "I don't think, um -- I don't think there's much to eat there, I've been, uh, meaning to go to the store, but --" he was cut off by his own whimper, his head automatically tilting back and his eyes closing as Tyler moaned softly into his neck.

"Well, we'll just have to improvise," Tyler replied in a low voice, marveling to hear himself flirt so easily.

I mean, really.

He was not exactly an expert in the art of seduction.

He knew that.

Josh knew that.

Probably half the citizens on Ohio knew that. Even the ones that he hadn't personally tried to flirt with before. It was, like, an instinct. People probably saw him and instantly thought, "Oh, that poor boy can't flirt."

And they were right.

But with Josh, it wasn't like that.

With Josh, all Tyler wanted was to see him smile, to make him blush, make him fall apart in the best way possible, and if that meant turning himself into a big hecking mess of a flirt, then gosh dangit, that was what he was gonna do.

It seemed to be working, at least.

Because Josh was wonderfully, gloriously flustered as he breathily chuckled, "Man, if I'd known you were gonna be so into sex, I would've made a move a lot sooner."

"You didn't make a move," Tyler reminded him, giggling. "I did. And besides," he added, draping his arms around Josh's neck (and around the pretty little bruise that was already starting to form there) as he rested their foreheads together, "it's not about sex."

"Oh, it's not, is it?" Josh smirked. "Could've had me fooled."

Tyler shook his head slightly, never breaking contact. "It's you," he muttered in a low voice, licking his lips almost indecently. "I just can't get enough of you, darling."

The "darling" is what pretty much did it.

One look after that, and they were scrambling to get to Josh's apartment, scrambling to get each other's clothes off, scrambling to get closer in every way possible.

(After, of course, sending the promised "I'm gonna stay with Josh tonight and no, he's not going to let me starve" text to Tyler's mom.)

But still.

Tyler was never gonna get tired of this.

Like, ever.

Because every time they were together, every time he and Josh were intimate, Tyler was astounded by how safe it felt, how incredibly right it was to have this boy inside him.

Because as they both became more experienced, Tyler couldn't help but marvel at how perfectly they suited each other, how easily their bodies moved together as they became more confident with every action, and he was starting to think that maybe there was something to Debby's "psychically linked" theory after all.

Because now, just as much as the first time they'd been together, Tyler knew that there was no place on earth that he would ever feel as safe or beautiful or loved than he did in Josh's bed.

And then on the sofa.

And then up against the wall.

And then in the shower.

He really could not get enough of this boy.

But really -- can you blame him?

Because Tyler hadn't been lying earlier. It wasn't just about sex for him.

It really wasn't.

As much as he enjoyed that particular activity (and he enjoyed it a whole frickin lot), it was just Josh that he couldn't get enough of.

Tyler couldn't get enough of the way it felt to be laying in bed with him, breathless and sweating and completely in love. He couldn't get enough of Josh's continued insistence that he be treated like a piece of glass whenever they made love, or the way that Josh always looked at him like he was everything good in the world. He couldn't get enough of the way that they ended up eating blueberry pop tarts and microwave popcorn for dinner because wow, Josh really hadn't been joking when he said that he needed to go to the store. He couldn't get enough of the way that Josh enthusiastically suggested that they stay up late watching Disney movies, or the way that that led Tyler to discover Josh's intense adoration for Tangled (because really, it was completely endearing to watch this boy's eyes light up when he saw the lantern scene, or the way that he sang along to every song, using different voices for different characters in a way that Tyler knew he never would've dreamed of doing in front of anyone else, and maybe -- just maybe -- Tyler ended up getting a little emotional when they got to "I See the Light," and maybe it had something to do with the way that Josh looked at him the whole time, softly singing the words and combing his hand through Tyler's hair as he layed across his lap, and maybe Tangled was officially one of Tyler's new favorite movies).

But mostly, Tyler couldn't get enough of the way that this boy loved him. The way that he took care of him, the way that he always made sure that Tyler was undeniably, unbelievably happy, no matter what.

Which is why, the next day, it was so easy for Tyler to realize that it was time to return the favor.

As soon as he woke up the next morning, he knew something was different.

For one thing, Josh wasn't in bed.

Or in the bathroom.

Or in the kitchen.

Or anywhere in the apartment.

Tyler almost started freaking out, but then he noticed a small slip of paper on the dresser by the bed.

He picked it up, immediately recognizing Josh's messy handwriting. 

gone for a run. don't know how long I'll be. -- xoxo

Tyler knew that Josh enjoyed running. That wasn't the weird part.

The weird part was that it wasn't even five o'clock in the morning yet.

I mean, Josh tended to be any early riser, but still. This was just inhuman.

So, when a very sweaty Josh came back from his run, he found a very sleepy Tyler slouched over at the kitchen table, barely awake, wearing nothing but his boxers, and chugging a red bull that he knew he would probably regret later.

"Mornin'," Tyler mumbled almost incoherently after Josh tried to sneak in the front door.

Josh jumped a little at the sudden greeting, but didn't exactly relax when he saw Tyler.

In other words, sign #2 that something was wrong.

"Hey," Josh replied, attempting a smile. "I'm so sorry, did I wake you? I was -- I tried so hard not to, I just -- I figured I might be a little busy later, so I thought I would just -- just go ahead and --"

"Josh," Tyler interrupted him in a soft voice. "C'mere," he ordered quietly, grabbing Josh by the hand and leading him to the couch.

If his mama had taught him anything, it was the healing power of a sofa discussion.

He sat down, gesturing for Josh to sit next to him.

"I'm sweaty," Josh warned him, still standing.

"I don't mind," Tyler assured him gently.

Hesitantly, Josh took a seat next to him, shuffling around uncomfortably.

There was a long moment of silence.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Tyler finally said in a quiet voice.

"Talk about what?" Josh looked down, fidgeting with his shirt. "There's nothing -- I'm not -- I mean, it's --" he looked away, frustrated. "It's not --"

Tyler looked at him softly, reaching an arm around him and rubbing gentle circles across his back. That's when he realized that Josh was shaking. "It's okay, love," he promised.

Instantly, the other boy curled up in Tyler's lap, making himself as small as possible as he quietly began to cry.

"Hey, hey, it's okay, Joshie, it's gonna be okay," Tyler repeated over and over, wrapping his arms around him and desperately trying to hold himself together even though the sight of Josh battling his anxiety like this broke his heart more than anything else ever had.

But he needed to be the strong one right now. Josh needed him to be the strong one.

So, he held this boy for as long as Josh needed him to, gently rubbing his back and constantly murmuring soft encouragements, quiet "It'll be okay"s and gentle "I love you"s.

After a while, the crying stopped and Josh's breathing settled drown to a point where Tyler wondered if he was still awake until he felt hesitant fingers fidgeting with the hem of his boxers.

"Do you feel like talking about it, sweetie?" Tyler gently repeated, stroking his hand through Josh's messy morning hair.

After a long time, just when Tyler was sure that he wasn't going to get an answer, Josh murmured almost too softly to hear, "I think he's gonna leave."

"Who? Mark? You think he's gonna move out?"

Josh nodded hesitantly. "Why else would he want me to meet her so suddenly?" he added in a shaky voice. "He's never done that before."

Tyler nodded sympathetically. "Maybe. Or maybe he just wants to give you guys some time to get to know each other."

Josh shook his head firmly. "No, he -- he knows how nervous I get, he would've -- he would've waited as long as possible. Until he had a -- a good reason, until he absolutely had to. Like if he wanted to -- to move in with her," he finished, his voice cracking a little at the end.  

He started shaking again, and Tyler quickly whispered, "Shh, shh. It's okay, baby. It's okay," pulling him a little closer. 

If he hadn't been in Tyler's lap before, he definitely was now. 

Which honestly made them both feel a little better.

Josh let out a mirthless chuckle. "Gosh, I'm -- I'm such a baby, right?" He sniffled a little. "I'm a grown man, and I can't even think about my roommate moving out without having a -- a complete meltdown."

"Hey, that does not make you a baby, you hear me?" Tyler said firmly. "That just -- it makes you human," he added, a little softer. "I mean, you and Mark have been living together, what? Since high school?" Josh nodded a little. "It's completely normal to be upset about the thought of that changing. You are not wrong for feeling this way. Not even a little bit. Okay?"

"Yeah, I guess," Josh muttered grudgingly.

"And we don't even know for sure that that's the case. It might be, and if it is, we'll figure out how to deal with it," Tyler continued soothingly. "But for now, I think we should focus on you, on getting you better. We'll get through this, love. We will. And if that means spending the whole day finding a way to get rid of this anxiety, then that's what we're gonna do."

Josh paused, like he was going to say something, but then he just nodded. After a moment, he whispered, "Thank you, Ty."

Tyler smiled, leaning over to press a soft kiss to Josh's forehead. "It's my pleasure, darling."

That got Josh to smile a little before suddenly hiding his face in his hands. "Oh, man, I'm such a mess," he giggled.

"Yeah, kind of," Tyler agreed playfully, eliciting a laugh and a bright smile from the other boy. "But you're my mess. And I still think you're the most beautiful mess I've ever seen."

Josh smiled at him adoringly, shifting his position so that he could wrap the other boy in a hug, settling his head contentedly on Tyler's shoulder.

They stayed like that for several minutes, just breathing and holding each other and enjoying the closeness of it all.

Suddenly, Tyler added, "Of course, I do think that step one of Operation: Make You Feel Better is going to be a shower, because my goodness. How far did you even have to run to get yourself that sweaty?"

Josh laughed, and all it took was that sound to make Tyler absolutely sure that everything was going to be okay.

Then, Tyler decided, a little softer, "Or maybe a bath. Does a bath sound good?"

Josh smiled a smile that went all the way to his eyes, and nodded.

That was the day that Tyler decided that he wanted to spend the rest of his life taking care of this boy.

True, having Josh take care of him was one of the most fantastic experiences Tyler had ever been aware of, but dedicating all of his time to finding different ways to help this boy get through his anxiety was absolutely indescribable.

They started with the bath.

Josh insisted that he would be okay by himself, but Tyler could tell that he was still a little shaky from the anxiety and pretty exhausted from the crying. It hadn't quite been a full panic attack that had woken him up in the first place, he said, but it was still close enough to hit him pretty hard.

So, Tyler took care of him.

Tyler undressed him, and Tyler filled up the water, getting the temperature warm enough to be soothing without scalding him. Tyler added a bright pink bath bomb that he'd found in the cabinet, one that Josh bashfully insisted had been a gag gift from Mark (but that he'd almost certainly gotten for himself). Tyler helped him get in, Tyler got his hair wet, gently washing it with shampoo that smelled like vanilla and honeysuckles, and Tyler bathed him, gently washing his whole body in a gesture that was anything but sexual. And when he was finished, Tyler dried him off (far more than he would've dried himself, mind you) and settled him into a cozy nest of blankets on the sofa so that he could make breakfast.

Tyler proceeded to spend all day making Josh feel better.

Josh was still pretty nervous about meeting Mark's girlfriend later that night, and the thought of him moving out still made him a little shaky, but Tyler was determined.

He was going to make this boy feel better, dang it, if it was the last thing he ever did.

And he did a pretty good job, all things considered.

They went through everything that Tyler could think of that could possibly distract Josh from his anxiety, from playing a few rounds of Mario Kart (Tyler even let him come in second place a few times) to jokingly challenging Josh to a game of strip poker (and okay, Tyler honestly had no idea that the other boy would agree, so you really couldn't blame him if Josh ended up in nothing but his underwear and one sock, because wow, it turned out that Tyler was freakishly good at poker) to having a Friends marathon while Tyler painted the other boy's nails cotton candy pink.

It actually ended up being a Good Day™.

By the time they headed out (a solid hour early to make Josh feel better), they had managed to reduce a full anxiety episode to a slight case of the jitters.

"And remember," Tyler reminded him when they got in the car (Tyler had planned to drive so Josh wouldn't have to worry about it, but Josh said that the control would actually help, so Tyler happily slid into the passenger seat), "if you ever feel overwhelmed by anything, or if you just decide you're ready to go home, all you have to do is --"

"-- start talking about Pokemon, and you'll make an excuse to leave," Josh recited, referring to the backup plan Tyler had decided to make just in case Josh was worried about leaving early. "Are you sure that's the best topic, though?" he added hesitantly. "I mean, it might seem kind of weird if I just suddenly --"

"Hey -- Pokemon is always a valid topic of conversion," Tyler insisted firmly. "It can naturally be integrated into any discussion, so it's the perfect choice. Period." He paused, looking out the window for a moment. "Besides, I don't really think you'll need it. I mean, it's Mark. He'll understand. I just want you to feel completely comfortable tonight, okay? Anything we can do to make this easier for you, we're doing it."

Josh glanced over at him adoringly, smirking a little before putting his eyes back on the road.

"What?" Tyler giggled, noticing the weird look he'd just gotten.

"Nothing," Josh grinned. "It's just -- what did I do to deserve you?" he asked lovingly.

Tyler blushed. "Nah, I'm the lucky one for sure," he declared, lacing their hands together and pressing a few soft kisses to Josh's knuckles.

"You sure you wanna start up another argument?" Josh smirked.

"If the 'making up' part is gonna be the same as last time, then heck yes," Tyler grinned suggestively.

Before Josh could respond with an equally flirty comment, Tyler suddenly gasped, excitedly reaching forward to crank the volume up on the radio.

Josh chuckled. "Really, man? Enrique Iglesias?"

"Shut up, this is my jam," Tyler snapped playfully, bobbing his head to the music.  

Josh was about to say something else, but as soon as the chorus started, Tyler immediately cut him off, singing at the top of his lungs.

"DO Y'KNOW WHAT IT FEEELS LIKE, LO-OVING SOMEONE THAT'S IN A RUSH TO THROW YOU AWA-AY? do you know, do you know, do you kn-- DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT FEEELS LIKE, TO BE THE LAST ONE TO KNOOOW THE LOCK ON THE DOOR HAS CHA-ANGED?"

Tyler wasn't usually in the habit of jamming so enthusiastically to 2000s pop songs, but it made Josh laugh, so it was beyond worth it.

Plus, you could do a lot worse than Enrique.

But if the constant tapping on the steering wheel was any indication, Josh's anxiety was still putting up a fight.

"We could try some physical activity," Tyler suggested.

Josh sighed. "I know, but I just -- I mean, I don't think it's exactly the best time to go for another run."

"That's not really the kind of physical activity I was talking about," Tyler muttered, glancing at Josh suggestively.

Josh playfully smacked him in the arm, laughing, "You're shameless, you know that?"

But then they did it anyway.

And it helped a lot, oddly.

Of course, it also made them fifteen minutes late for dinner.

But hey, whatever works, right?

"Sorry we're late," Josh said breathlessly when they finally made it to the restaurant, a little (okay, a lot) disheveled. "We, uh -- I mean, it was -- we --" he stuttered, trying to find an excuse that wasn't "we just had sex in the backseat of my car" before realizing that Mark was alone at the table. Josh blinked. "Wait. You, uh -- you do actually have a girlfriend, don't you?"

Mark rolled his eyes. "No, this whole thing was an elaborate ruse to get you guys to dinner under false pretenses so I could have you both all to myself," he droned sarcastically. Then, he nodded to the back of the restaurant. "Jen's in the bathroom. She'll be back any minute."

"Oh." Josh looked around and swallowed hard, relaxing only a little when Tyler placed a comforting hand on the small of his back, smiling at him encouragingly.

Mark looked between the two of them, but didn't say anything.

After a moment, they both sat down, an awkward silence settling across the table.

"So," Mark began suddenly, "how's --"

"If that sentence is going to end with 'your sex life,' I swear I will hit you," Josh warned.

Mark gasped in mock offense. "I cannot believe that you would be so hostile when I am merely being polite."

Josh rolled his eyes. "Trying to figure out which one of us tops isn't being polite. It's just being nosy."

Mark shrugged. "Hey, I'm not the one who came in here with such major sex hair."

"What are you even -- I didn't --" Josh sputtered awkwardly. "I'm wearing a hat, Mark."

"Wasn't talking about you," Mark smirked.

Josh's mouth hung open, and Tyler immediately blushed, desperately smoothing a hand through his hair.

It didn't help.

Like, not even a little bit.

While Mark laughed, Josh leaned over and whispered, "Don't worry, I think your hair looks great like that," adding a quick peck on the cheek that only made Tyler blush even more.

And then all of a sudden, before Josh even had a chance to vehemently defend Tyler's honor (which they both knew was exactly what he was about to do), Tyler was staring straight into familiar bright blue eyes and the friendliest smile he'd already seen before.

"Jenna?" Tyler blurted incredulously.

"Oh my gosh! It's you!" Jenna giggled excitedly, immediately pulling him into a hug. She pulled back momentarily, looking at him with questioning eyes. "Wait -- so you're -- you're not Mark's roommate, are you?"

Tyler giggled. "No, that's Josh," he answered, briefly nodding to the very confused yellow-haired boy next to him. "I'm just the boyfriend." After a second, his eyes widened a little. "Not Mark's boyfriend," he quickly clarified. "I mean,  I'm -- me and Josh -- I mean -- you've seen us before, I guess you already know that, but --"

She laughed sweetly. "You've got yourself a real cutie here," she giggled to Josh. "I don't think we've officially met, though. I'm Jenna." She didn't make a move to hug him, instead just reciprocating his smile and slight nod in a way that made Tyler wonder if she'd been prepped on Josh's anxiety.

Either way, the relieved look on Josh's face made Tyler glad that she was respecting his space for now.

She got some points for that.

Not that she needed them.

But still.

"Well, I was going to introduce everybody, but it seems like you guys already know each other?" Mark said, bewildered, as Jenna slid into the seat next to him.

Josh still looked like he recognized her, but he couldn't quite figure out from where.

"I work at the movie theater," she explained with a knowing smile. "The one where you guys -- ah, met."

"Oh." Josh blushed a little. "Oh. Right. I'm, uh. I'm sorry I didn't quite recognize you, I guess I was always a little -- distracted," he added sheepishly, flashing a shy smile to Tyler.

"I don't blame you," she smirked, winking at Tyler playfully.

She got a few more points for that.  

"Wait," Josh said, confused. "So, you're Mark's girlfriend? Like, in real life?"

She laughed. "The one and only."

"So, what, is he, like, blackmailing you or something?" Josh smirked playfully.

Tyler smiled at him proudly, glad that the small familiarity with Jenna seemed to have reduced Josh's anxiety considerably. Enough for him to be his sarcastic, charming self, at least.

"Wow," Mark chuckled, feigning offence. "Are you insinuating that a guy like me couldn't possibly --" he stopped abruptly. "Actually, you know what? I don't even care. I mean, this girl's so far out of my league, we're not even in the same stadium," he grinned, looking at her with an affection and a softness that Tyler had never particularly associated with Mark before.

She returned his comment by playfully rolling her eyes, and all it took was one look at the two of them to see that they were absolutely smitten with each other.

It wasn't an obvious pairing, really. They didn't seem like the kind of couple that Tyler would've expected to fall in love, that he would've pictured together. They seemed more like the kind of couple who have been best friends for years, only to suddenly realize that they were absolutely meant for each other.

It was kind of frickin adorable.

"So, how did you two meet?" Tyler asked politely, fulfilling his promise to Josh that he would try to initiate as much of the conversation as possible.

"Oh, gosh, it's so embarrassing," Jenna giggled, blushing, but Tyler couldn't imagine her doing anything even remotely worthy of embarrassment. "Well, it was -- it was at my sister's wedding, actually. He was the photographer, and I was -- well, I was just a mess," she chuckled. "I had just gone through a really horrible breakup, so of course after seeing my sister marry the love of her life, I decided to have a bit of an emotional breakdown."

"I, uh, I found her crying in a supply closet," Mark explained. "It was a pretty great first impression."

Jenna playfully hit his arm before finishing, "I was so embarrassed, but he was great. Instead of making me feel like a complete wreck, he stayed with me and told me a bunch of funny stories and by the end of the day, I couldn't even remember why I'd been upset. We talked every day for a few weeks after that, and by the time we were ready to start dating, we kind of realized that we already were." She smiled at Mark again, and Tyler easily recognized the kind of adoration that he had always felt for Josh.

"Aww, look at you being all sensitive and caring," Josh grinned at Mark, who instantly rolled his eyes. "You're in so deep, man," he added with a look of absolute joy in his eyes.

"Hey, you're one to talk, Mr. 'Tyler-is-the-best-thing-that's-ever-happened-to-me,'" Mark retorted.

Tyler grinned. "Aww, I'm the best thing that's ever happened to you?"

"By far," Josh grinned lovingly in response, reaching over to give him a quick kiss on the cheek.

Tyler made a mental note to follow Josh if he ever went to the bathroom so they could make out for a while.

Because let's be real here -- his boyfriend was easily the sweetest, most perfect person in the world, and if you thought Tyler would even consider going a whole evening without making out with him just a little bit, you'd be sorely mistaken.

Plus, this boy was incredibly hot.

So there was that, too.

Over the next few hours, they talked about literally everything.

AKA, Tyler and Jenna talked about literally everything while Josh and Mark just smiled and watched, too in awe of their platonic chemistry to even care that they were being left out.

I mean, really.

Tyler had never experienced this kind of connection with anyone but Josh before, and goodness knows that was a completely different type of connection. There was nothing even remotely romantic about how he felt towards Jenna (which, considering how insanely gorgeous she was, was the final nail in the coffin of Tyler's heterosexuality), and Tyler suddenly felt very sure for the first time in his life that this was what people were talking about when they described friendship.

Because wow. Tyler knew he didn't exactly have a flourishing social life, but this was starting to make him feel like he'd never actually had a friend before who wasn't a family member or Josh.

Because he and Jenna were ridiculously in sync.

They had the same taste in movies and they watched all the same TV shows. They had similar childhood memories, and they bonded over their families' churches (which, it turned out, were only a few blocks away) and all their horrible experiences in youth groups when they were younger. They had the same sense of humor, the same interests, the same everything.

So, of course the conversation eventually turned to music.

Apparently, Jenna had been playing the piano since she was a kid, so they bonded over that for a while before Tyler shyly mentioned that he also played the ukulele.

"Oh my gosh! That's so cool!" Jenna squealed excitedly.

Tyler giggled, blushing a little at her enthusiasm. "I'm, uh, I'm not sure if 'cool' is exactly the right word, but -- thanks."

"Well, I think it's cool," she insisted sweetly. "I always wanted to play something like that, but I could never quite figure out how to do it left-handed. You'll have to show me some time," she added with a chuckle.

Tyler blinked, confused. "I'm, uh -- I'm not left-handed."

She tilted her head a little, scrunching her eyebrows. "Then why have you been eating with your left hand the whole time we've been here?"

Oh.

He'd forgotten about that.

Wordlessly, he held up his right hand, showing that he and Josh had been holding hands under the table ever since they'd sat down.

"We, uh," Tyler explained, blushing a little, "we figured one of us was gonna have to compromise if we were gonna keep this up during meals."

Josh just smiled at Tyler like he'd been given the most prestigious award in the country.

"Okay, that's it. You guys are officially the cutest couple in the entire world. Congratulations," Jenna teased playfully, pretending to be bitter. "I mean, really. Why do the rest of us even try?" she chuckled, looking at Mark.

"Probably because human beings are designed to seek out their own destruction," Mark deadpanned.

"No, Mark, that's just you," Josh grinned. "The rest of us are perfectly happy being happy," he added, flashing Tyler a blissful smile.

Tyler couldn't help but agree.

With Josh and with Jenna.

Because really, Josh alone was so frickin cute that you probably could've put him next to a frickin cardboard cutout of a person and they would've been the world's cutest couple, hands down.

And more than anything else in the world, Tyler knew that nothing could ever make him happier than having the honor of being that cardboard cutout.

He really didn't know how he'd gotten so lucky.

I mean, wow.

He was literally the luckiest person in the world.

It was completely unbelievable.

I mean, Tyler wasn't one to question good things, but still.

It was hecking unreal how lucky he was.

Seven billion, three hundred and forty seven million frickin people on the planet, and Tyler was the one who got to make out with Joshua William Dun in the bathroom of some local restaurant.

And really, you shouldn't be surprised at this point that they ended up making out in the bathroom.

Tyler certainly wasn't.

Because while that kind of spontaneous affection, that completely out-of-nowhere "I need to have you now" feeling might be rare or even mythical to most people, Tyler was slowly coming to realize that this was their normal. That these sudden, incredibly public make out sessions and spur-of-the-moment rounds of sex before dinner, desperately crammed in the backseat of Josh's car were their equivalent of quick kisses on the cheek and soft touches under the table for most people. That this love was inherently more than any other love that Tyler had ever seen, than any other love that even existed as far as he was concerned.

And if making out with this boy at every given opportunity was the best way to express that, then Tyler definitely wasn't going to complain (even if it meant sheepishly returning to their double date with conspicuously red lips and messy hair and having to deal with Mark's playful teasing about them being "the most sexually charged little dweebs he'd ever seen." Which, you know. Tyler couldn't exactly disagree with).

And if it also meant missing at least half of the general conversation because he was so distracted by how insanely cute his boyfriend was, how much Tyler wanted to kiss him all over his adorable face until he smiled that beautiful smile of his and laughed, and oh, that laugh. Tyler could listen to that sound on repeat for the rest of his life.

And, given the way things were going, it seemed like he would. 

Wow.

Absolutely frickin unreal.

Tyler was going to listen to this boy laugh for the rest of his life. To see him smile, to kiss him and take care of him and love him for the rest of his life.

And Tyler knew that it wouldn't always be easy. That there would be times where it would be less kissing and smiling and laughing and more comforting and protecting. That, based on the way that Mark kept glancing nervously at Josh, based on the subtle hint of sadness that Tyler couldn't help but detect behind his smiles, Josh had probably been right about Mark moving out, and the time for comforting and protecting would likely come sooner rather than later.

But that was okay.

Tyler could handle it.

No.

He wanted to handle it.

For the rest of his life, he wanted to be the one to make everything okay, to be there when Josh was hurting and to make the hurt go away.

He wanted Josh. The beauty, the love, the pain. He wanted all of it.

And if loving Josh meant helping him through a roommate crisis, then Tyler would consider it an absolute honor.

But that was tomorrow's problem.

Today, Tyler just wanted to love the heck out of this boy.

I mean, he always wanted to love the heck out of this boy.

But today was special.

Tyler didn't know why.

It just was.

Which is why, when Jenna was trying to convince Mark to share a slice of chocolate cake with her after dinner (while he insisted that she would end up wanting her own piece and leaving him with nothing -- an argument that appeared to be fairly routine for them, though neither one had any real venom in their voices, and Mark even seemed genuinely delighted by her stubbornness), Tyler just sat there, listening to the soft music playing in the restaurant and staring at the love of his life in complete awe.

Then, he got an idea.

"Dance with me," he said suddenly, looking at Josh like it was the first time he'd ever laid eyes on him.

"What?" Josh asked, confused, but with the hint of a smile in his eyes.

"Dance with me," Tyler repeated, his resolve unwavering.

Josh chuckled lightly, but he continued smiling at the other boy adoringly. "Ty, I don't -- I don't think you're really supposed to dance in places like this."

"Well, this is a good song," Tyler said simply. "And you look beautiful tonight, and I think you should dance with me."

Josh couldn't argue with that.

Which is why, in the middle of a crowded restaurant, in front of Mark and Jenna, in front of everyone, Tyler stood up. Smiling, he took his boyfriend by the hand and led him to the middle of the room, watching him smile and blush like he was an actual angel come down to earth (a theory that Tyler would spend the rest of his life insisting was an absolute truth, because as far as he was concerned, it was) as the music softly erased everything in the room but them. 

"What would I do without your smart mouth?
Drawing me in and you kicking me out
You got my head spinning, no kidding, I can't pin you down
What's going on in that beautiful mind?
I'm on your magical mystery ride
And I'm so dizzy, don't know what hit me, but I'll be all right"

Slowly, gently, he wrapped his arms around Josh's neck while the other boy's hands fell naturally around his waist, and they began to sway. 

"My head's under water but I’m breathing fine
You're crazy and I'm out of my mind"

All eyes in the room were on them, but their eyes were only on each other, and Tyler would swear that he'd never been more in love than he was in that moment, dancing with the most beautiful boy in the world, leaning in close and softly singing the words in Josh's ear as the other boy smiled like he was in a dream. 

"Cause all of me loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose, I’m winning
Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you"

And maybe they were in a dream, he thought. Maybe this whole thing was actually too good to be true, too overwhelmingly perfect to even be possible. Maybe they were both sleeping, and one day they would wake up with nothing but the quiet echo of this love in their minds, the remnant of feelings still present, but all the details forgotten.

Maybe.

But like he said, Tyler wasn't one to question good things.

"How many times do I have to tell you?
Even when you're crying, you're beautiful too
The world is beating you down, I’m around
Through every mood
You're my downfall, you're my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues
I can't stop singing, it's ringing in my head for you"

Tyler had only ever danced once before. It was his prom night. He was with his high school girlfriend, Brooke, and he was scared out of his mind. He'd spent weeks practicing, worrying that he would step on her feet or freeze up, absolutely terrified that he would do something wrong and embarrass himself in front of everyone. 

I guess that was how he knew that he really loved Josh.

Because he wasn't worried about a single frickin thing right now.

Because all he could think about was the pretty brown eyes staring into his and the freckles on Josh's back and the softness of his smile. He was wholeheartedly, unreservedly consumed with the boy holding him, with the gentle rhythm of their movements and the way he blushed when Tyler sang to him, so softly and so intimately that there was no doubt in either of their minds that it was only for them.

Because Tyler knew that this moment belonged to the two of them, that it didn't matter that there was a whole room of people watching them, smiling at them, or that he was vaguely aware of Jenna filming them with her phone, a soft look of awe on her face that seemed to be mirrored by everyone else. It didn't matter that some people were whispering about how cute they were or how they could remember being that deep in love when they were younger, when they were in the "early stages of love" that Tyler and Josh had apparently never left. It didn't matter that a handful of others were shifting uncomfortably in their seats, mumbling that this was a public place, that boys shouldn't be together like that, it wasn't right. Or that Tyler was making a mental note to beat those people up later, to make sure that no one ever associated Josh with words like "wrong" or "confused" or "sinful" ever again. But he didn't care if people said those things about himself, he only cared about Josh, which was why he knew that he wouldn't actually confront anyone, because Josh would ask him not to. Because Josh was the kindest boy with the purest heart that anyone had ever been blessed with, and because Tyler would literally find a way to travel to outer space and steal a star from the sky if Josh said that he wanted one.

Because this was love. Their love.

And it was everything.

"Cause all of me loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose, I’m winning
Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you"

And oh, Tyler wanted to give himself to this boy. All of himself. He wanted to give and give and give until every piece of himself, every smile, every laugh, every word, every thought belonged to Josh. He wanted to give himself to this boy in every way possible, every day, every minute for the rest of his life, because he knew with everything he had that there was no one else on this planet so worth surrendering himself to.

He wanted to be Josh's, pure and simple.

But he had a feeling that he already was.

And Tyler knew that things wouldn't always be perfect. That there would be anxieties, doubts, hurts that he couldn't heal. There always were. 

He knew that Josh would need more than smiles and kisses, that he would need a partner. Someone to share the pain and the anxiety and the problems as well as the laughter and the love. He knew that the issues earlier that morning -- the tears and the anxiety and the doubts -- wouldn't be the last. That giving himself to this boy included giving himself to the darker moments, sharing this boy's burdens and being strong when Josh needed him to be. He knew that loving him would require a level of commitment that he had never given to another person before, and that there was a good chance that Josh would need him more than ever in the coming weeks, especially if they were right about Mark moving out.

But Tyler wasn't scared.

Not even a little bit.

Because that was tomorrow's problem, and he knew that whatever came next, whatever problems they had to face, they would face together. As long as he was with Josh, he knew with complete and utter certainty that everything would be alright.

But for now, Tyler had a beautiful boy to dance with. 

The most beautiful boy in the world, to be exact. 

And Tyler didn't step on his feet. Not even once. 

Chapter Text

Tyler was right.

Well.

Technically, Josh was right.

Well.

Technically, they were both right.

Whatever.

Either way, the fact was that Tyler had only been home for about an hour when he got a text.

Earlier that night, after their date, he'd wanted more than anything to stay with Josh for the night. But he knew after an unspoken glance from Mark that he probably needed some time alone with his roommate.

And, well. He also figured that, based on the state of his clothes after getting a little (a lot) sweaty during a certain physical activity in the backseat of a certain boyfriend's car before dinner, he probably (really) needed to go home and change.

Like, really.

A lot.

So, he figured he'd go home for the night, shower, and change clothes, giving Josh some much needed time to figure things out with Mark. And he also figured that he, a twenty-two year old adult person, could handle spending one night away from his boyfriend.

That, however, was apparently not the case.

Because he'd barely had a chance to dry off from the shower (all the way, like you're supposed to) when his phone buzzed, and Lord help him if he wasn't praying with everything he had that it would be Josh, begging him to come over.

And, well. He might have also knocked a few (AKA, four and a half) things off of his desk in his hurry to get to the phone.

So basically, if he hadn't already suspected that he was clingy as all heck, he definitely knew it now.

But when he unlocked his phone, his heart fluttered when he saw that it was a text from Josh, then plummeted when he read the message.

Hey, Tyler. This is Mark. I think you should come over.

Immediately, Tyler called him, unable to stop his hands from shaking long enough to type a response.

Those few seconds when the phone was ringing were the longest of Tyler's life.

Then, finally, "Hel-"

"Is Josh okay?" Tyler demanded instantly, cutting him off.

"Yeah, he's -- he's alright," Mark responded hesitantly. "He just -- I'm worried about him, man." He sounded genuinely concerned, almost guilty. "When we got home, I -- I wanted to talk to him about -- about some stuff, and I'm not really -- I'm not sure how he's taking it."

"You're moving out?" Tyler asked, just to be sure. He needed to know for sure.

"I -- yeah. Yeah." Mark sounded like he had just confessed to murder. Like moving out was the worst crime he could've ever committed against his friend. "And I tried to -- to make it easy for him, but I just --"

"Wait," Tyler interrupted him again. "You said you weren't sure how he was taking it. Where is he? What is he doing? And why do you have his phone?" he demanded, trying not to sound accusatory.

But apparently, his protective instincts made his clinginess seem like a walk in the park.

So he wasn't extremely concerned with sounding polite.

It didn't matter, though. He'd apologize later.

Josh mattered right now.

Nothing else.

Just Josh.

Mark took a deep breath. "He, uh -- okay, he seemed fine when we were talking. Like, he was almost weirdly calm about it. And then he just stood up and went to his room, closed the door like nothing had even happened. Left his phone and everything. I tried -- I tried to talk to him, but he's just -- I don't know if he's ignoring me, or of he needs space, or what." he paused, hesitating. "Look, he just -- he gets like this sometimes when he's upset. You know. Closes himself off." Another pause. "I know he won't talk to me. He never does, like this. But I thought he might talk to you."

Tyler waited for a moment, like there would be more. He wasn't sure why he thought there would. Then, "Okay. I'm -- okay. I'm coming. I'll be there as soon as I can." He moved the phone away for a moment, ready to hang up, then hesitantly moved it back. "You'll -- you'll make sure that he -- that it doesn't get worse?" he added quietly. Sternly.

"I -- yeah. Of course, man."

Tyler hung up, shoved the phone in his pocket, and flew down the stairs in one motion. He was moving so fast, he was bound to fall, but like he said: only Josh mattered. Only Josh. 

And Tyler would gladly suffer a few broken bones for Josh.

Except, you know. That he didn't really have time to deal with broken bones right now.

Plus, Josh would probably be upset if Tyler broke any bones.

Okay.

So maybe he could afford to slow down a little bit.

For Josh.

Anything for Josh.

But still.

He got to Josh's apartment hecka fast.

And while "hecka" doesn't exactly convey the genuine concern that he was experiencing right now, let's be fair: Tyler was pretty frazzled at the moment. He couldn't exactly come up with a better word.

So for now, we're going with "hecka."

The moment he walked in the door, though, everything went calm.

Wordlessly, Mark let him in, and Tyler went straight for Josh's room with more purpose in his step than he'd ever had before, vaguely wondering if this is what parents feel like all the time. He suddenly felt so protective, so instinctively comforting. And somehow, he was absolutely confident that when he walked into that room, he would know with 100% certainty how to help the boy he loved.

Which was bizarre.

Because Tyler was not exactly a confident person.

Except -- except when it came to Josh.

He could be confident for Josh.

Heck, it was downright easy to be confident around Josh. Lately, that had been helping him out in the flirting arena, but there wasn't a doubt in Tyler's mind as he softly knocked on his boyfriend's door that it would help him now too.

Not that he intended to flirt away Josh's problems.

I mean, sure, Tyler was apparently a horny little twerp, but he had a line, for goodness' sake. And no matter how pretty Josh was, no matter how intoxicating it was to hold this boy in his arms, to stroke his back and run his fingers through bright yellow hair and whisper soft encouragements to him, no matter how warm Tyler found himself feeling at the thought of taking care of this boy, at the thought of Josh needing him, of Josh wanting him to take the reins, of Josh submitting to him --

"Tyler?" a small voice called from inside, breaking Tyler out of his increasingly alarming thought process (because oh my gosh that came out of nowhere, and Tyler had never even thought about the word "submissive" on its own, much less in association with strong, beautiful, confident Josh).

Tyler cleared his throat, silently hoping that the blush would disappear from his cheeks before Josh opened the door. If Josh opened the door.

"Yeah, baby," Tyler answered softly. "I'm here. Do you think it'd be okay if I came inside?" he added gently, not wanting to force his way in if Josh wasn't up to company right now. Even if that company was Tyler.

He would do anything for Josh.

Even leave him alone, if that was what he wanted.

And you'd better believe that Tyler was prepared to sleep right here on the frickin floor if he was answered with a "no."

I mean, it wasn't Plan A, but Josh was calling the shots here, and if Tyler understood anything, it was the need to be alone sometimes.

But it wasn't a "no."

I mean, it wasn't technically a "yes" either.

The only word that came from the other side of the door was a quiet, "Okay."

Not exactly a grand invitation, but Tyler was cool with that.

Slowly, he opened the door and walked in, carefully closing it behind him in a gesture that couldn't have been more clear: it's just me. No one else. You and me, like always.

It was a small gesture. A normal one.

But judging by the soft release of breath from the boy huddled on the bed, by the pretty brown eyes that fell closed in a moment of relief, it didn't go unnoticed.

Tyler didn't say anything, at first. 

He wanted to take a moment to study the room, to take in all the details before reacting. It was like Josh was a half-assembled puzzle piece and Tyler was an expert, turning each fragment over, looking at it from every angle so that he could place each one carefully, painlessly. Taking in the whole picture so that he could do his best to put it all back together.

First, it was dark. No lights on, except for the small lamp by the bed.

So, light was okay, stimulation was okay, but not too much. Keep it easy.

Second, Josh was on the bed. Not laying down. He was sitting against the headboard, his knees pulled up to his chest.

He was small, so small.

And for Josh, that usually meant that it wasn't a physical anxiety. It was emotional.

Finally, he was not crying.

Which either meant that the tears would be coming any minute now, or that there was still hope.

Tyler chose to believe the latter.

"Can I come closer?" Tyler asked gently.

A brief nod, then shuffling. Making room.

Tyler walked over and slid his shoes off, climbing onto the bed and settling himself next to his love, mirroring his position.

They sat like that for a while.

"Is it okay for me to touch you?" Tyler asked, his voice even quieter now that they were this close.

Instead of answering verbally, Josh moved closer, snuggling himself into Tyler's lap, gently grabbing his hand and placing it in his own hair -- a silent request that Tyler happily granted. Softly, as if it was the most natural thing in the world (maybe because it was), Tyler began to stroke his fingers through the bright yellow locks, twisting a strand through his fingertips and then smoothing it down, repeating the gentle actions over and over and over and immediately feeling the other boy relax in response.

They sat like that even longer.

Then, "Mark is moving out." Josh's voice was a little hoarse, and Tyler wondered if the crying had happened before he got there, or if it was just the effort of not crying that made him sound that way. 

From experience, he decided the latter. 

"It's gonna be alright," Tyler responded softly. "We're gonna get through this, love."

Somehow, they both knew that "this" wasn't Mark moving out. That "this" was all of the negative feelings, all the anxiety that created itself as a result. "This" was all of the "what if I'm not good enough"s, every single "what if there's another reason why he's leaving" and "what if that reason is me" that had nothing to do with Mark's living situation and everything to do with Anxiety's personal grudge against people who had done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

Numbly, after a moment, Josh nodded.

Then, answering a question that Josh hadn't asked yet, Tyler gently said, "You know Mark is crazy about you. I think he hates the idea of him leaving as much as you do."

"Did he tell you that?" Josh asked, his voice coming out a little more bitter than he intended.

It was okay. Tyler understood.

"He didn't have to tell me, love," he responded soothingly. "It's all over his face. And since I'm an expert at reading people's emotions, you have to believe me."

That got a half chuckle, but Tyler could do better.

After a moment, as quietly as if he was talking to himself, Josh murmured, "He really seems to love her, doesn't he?"

The way he said it, it wasn't really a question, but Tyler answered anyway. "Yeah, I think he does." He paused. "I bet they're gonna be really happy together."

Josh just nodded, thinking.

Tyler paused. "You know, I'm kinda glad he's moving out."

"What?" Josh turned his head to face Tyler, looking confused. "I thought you liked Mark."

"I do! No, I totally do," Tyler assured him. "But -- see, the thing is, if Mark refused to move out, then I would have to assume that he was in love with you. You know," he reasoned lightly, "as any freakishly overprotective boyfriend would. And if he was in love with you, then I'd have to fight him, and it would get super messy and it'd just turn into a whole big thing, y'know?" He sighed dramatically. "Yeah, I think it's probably better for everyone if Mark just keeps himself at a distance."

Josh chuckled a little. "I don't think you need to worry about that, man. Mark is by far the straightest person I've ever met."

"Yeah, but I mean, he is living with you," Tyler countered, "and you're totally the cutest person on the planet. So, like. It's only a matter of time before he falls for you."

Josh blushed at the compliment. Gosh, he was cute when he blushed. "So what, you think if he stays here any longer, he'll catch gay feelings for me?" he smirked.

Hint: neither one of them thought this.

"That's exactly what I think," Tyler deadpanned. "I mean, heck. It only took me, what? Ten minutes? It's a miracle he's lasted this long." He smiled, a mischievous glimmer in his eye. "Hey, don't look away from me like that. You're a babe, and everyone knows it. So, when you think about it, Mark moving out before the feelings become too strong for him to handle is really a blessing in disguise. You know. Keeping the peace, and all that."

Josh flashed him a little half smile and brought Tyler's arm closer (the one that wasn't still stroking Josh's hair -- I mean, the boy did have priorities) and gently laced their fingers together with one hand, simply wrapping the other around Tyler's arm, keeping him close. "You're trying to make me feel better," he observed in a whisper.

"Always, love," Tyler whispered back, reaching down to kiss him on the forehead and allowing his lips to linger a little bit longer than usual. "Always."

Josh accepted the information by cuddling a little bit closer, settling himself even deeper into Tyler's lap and closing his eyes with absolutely no intention to sleep. "Thank you, Ty," he murmured. "For. . . y'know. For being here."

"Nowhere else I'd rather be, angel," he answered easily, and he meant it.

They cuddled for infinity.

At least, that's what it felt like. It was so easy to lose track of time with this boy, to get completely and utterly and blessedly lost in bright yellow hair and pretty brown eyes, open or closed or anything in between. And those eyelashes. It should honestly be either illegal or impossible to have such beautiful eyelashes, but there they were. Gosh. Tyler could write a song about those eyelashes. (And let me tell you, he doesn't think that about just anybody.)

And more than anything, Tyler couldn't get enough of the fact that he of all people got to be this boy's comfort.

Really, it was unbelievable that such an honor somehow managed to fall into Tyler's lap (along with Josh himself), but here he was, stroking and holding and loving the most perfect boy on the planet.

It was absolutely extraordinary.

And even though it still broke Tyler's heart to know that Josh was hurting, and even though he would do literally anything to take that pain away, Tyler knew somehow that even if he did it, even if he magically managed to give this boy all the love and happiness he deserved with none of the hurt, they would still end up here. Tyler would still give anything in the world to be the one cradling Joshua William Dun in his lap, stroking his hair and counting his freckles for the millionth time.

It was inevitable. 

It was always going to be this, this moment of hurting and comforting and loving and loving and loving, because that's how love works, Tyler decided. It heals. It makes up for the hurt and the pain even as it lessens the burden of them, and Tyler knew that as long as they both lived, they would always embrace these moments, these indescribable moments that proved to them time and time again that their love was every bit as real as it felt like it was. 

Not that they needed proof, mind you. 

But they didn't mind reveling in it every now and again. 

And it seemed like now was definitely going to be one of those moments.

So, Tyler kept on holding the world in his arms, cradling this boy in his lap until his legs fell asleep and then even longer, until they were absolutely numb, but he couldn't even bring himself to care about anything but the angel in his arms. Wholeheartedly content, he continued to stroke Josh's hair relentlessly, occasionally reaching down to kiss his forehead as blessedly as if it was a religious experience.

Indeed, he was so caught up in loving this boy that he nearly missed the quiet words that were whispered into his shirt by the prettiest mouth anyone had ever seen.

"Sing for me?" Josh asked quietly, as hopefully and innocently as a child.

Tyler smiled. "'Course, baby. Any requests?"

Josh shook his head slightly. "Anything, I just -- your voice. It helps."

Tyler smiled, kissing his forehead twice for good measure. He took a deep breath, and started to sing. "SomeBODY once told me the world is gonna roll me --"

"OH MY GOSH," Josh broke out laughing, curling in on himself and playfully smacking Tyler on every part of him that his hands could find. "I hate you," he giggled, but he said it like the opposite.

"I love you too, darling," Tyler grinned.

"We were having such a beautiful moment, and you ruined it," Josh whined, but he was still smiling enough to make the corners of his eyes crinkle up.

"Are you kidding me? Your beautiful laugh was the only thing that could've possibly made the moment better," Tyler insisted with a cheeky grin. "So, like, mission accomplished."

Josh blushed, and Tyler decided that okay, maybe the laugh wasn't the only thing that could've made the moment better.

Because oh my frickin gosh, this boy was adorable when he blushed.

And now, Tyler was definitely prepared to declare this moment the Literal Most Perfect Moment That Anyone Has Ever Experienced.

Especially when Tyler started singing "Soul Meets Body" instead, when he got to see a smile light up across Josh's face, making his eyes brighter and happier and so much softer, and Tyler decided that he would be more than willing to sing non-stop for the rest of his life if it meant that Josh was gonna smile like that.

I mean, really. Risking a little damage to his vocal chords seemed like a small price to pay to see this boy happy.

And Tyler was more than willing to do it, to do anything to make Josh smile, to make him feel as happy and as loved as he always deserved to be.

It turned out, though, that he didn't have to.

Because within minutes, Josh's breaths became steadier, softer, and Tyler was 89% sure that he had fallen asleep.

Ugh.

This boy was literally too precious.

I mean, what the actual heck.

It shouldn't be possible for someone to be such a cute sleeper.

And, okay.

Maybe it was a little creepy to keep staring like this.

And maybe it was even creepier to reach for his phone and take a few pictures.

And then to set one of those pictures as his background.

But Tyler can honestly say that he didn't regret it.

Like, not even a little bit.

Not even when his phone suddenly made an obnoxious click, causing Josh to open his eyes with a sharp intake of breath, looking around confusedly for a moment before settling his gaze on Tyler's phone.

"What --?" he mumbled sleepily. "Did you just -- ?"

"Don't worry, babe. You look great in the pictures," Tyler assured him quickly, grinning at the other boy's blush. 

"You're such a creep," Josh responded playfully, cramming his face in Tyler's shirt in a weak attempt to hide his smile. 

"Yeah, well, I'm in love. I'm allowed to be creepy sometimes," Tyler countered happily. He kissed Josh's forehead for the millionth time that night, smiling when his lips were tickled by bright yellow curls. "D'you want me to get you some pajamas, try to get you a little comfier so you can go to sleep?" he added softly.

"No," Josh mumbled in childlike defiance as he unbuttoned his jeans, trying to shuffle out of them without getting up. "Just want these off."

"I think I can help with that," Tyler chuckled. "Goodness knows I've done it plenty of times before," he added with a suggestive wink that elicited yet another blush from the yellow-haired boy.

Tyler was continuously amazed to discover how shy Josh seemed to be about all the sex stuff. I mean, it certainly didn't seem to faze him whenever they were actually being intimate, but every time Tyler brought it up in conversation, every time he made a flirty comment or pointed out some random innuendo or threw out a "that's what he said" joke, Josh inevitably responded by averting his eyes and turning bright red.

In other news, Tyler was also continuously amazed by how -- let's say enthusiastic he himself seemed to be about all the sex stuff.

Because if you hadn't already noticed, he was freakishly enthusiastic.

Like, freakishly.

And really, the fact that Josh was so frickin adorable when he blushed only spurred him on.

Or maybe they just really were perfect for each other, Tyler decided. Two halves of the same coin, and all that. One boy who couldn't help blushing every time the conversation became even remotely sexual, and another boy who was a massive flirt and who was honestly kind of turned on by the other boy's blushing.

But whatever it was, Tyler wasn't complaining.

And neither was Josh.

After a few minutes, they managed to get their pants and shirts on the floor, settling under the covers side by side.

Tyler was about to reach across to turn the lamp off, but then he caught himself. "Lights on?" he asked Josh in a gentle voice.

Sheepishly, the other boy nodded. "M'sorry," he mumbled.

"Don't be, love," Tyler insisted. "Just means I'll get to watch you sleep some more," he added with an adoring smile.

Josh blushed some more, and Tyler couldn't help thinking that he was the absolute cutest creature to ever exist.

So, he settled back into bed next to the love of his life (AKA, the absolute cutest creature to ever exist), his heart fluttering when Josh slowly leaned across and pressed their lips together.

It was intended to be a simple goodnight kiss. A small, brief touch of the lips, just enough to hold them off for the rest of the night.

Because Tyler wasn't sure what unspoken agreement had settled between them that during these moments, during the times when Josh was feeling shaky from his anxiety or Tyler was feeling overwhelmed by his insecurities, kissing just wasn't a priority. Sure, there were plenty of cuddles and occasional (or, in Tyler's case, frequent) kisses on the forehead or cheek, but it didn't usually go past that. They tended to focus on comforting and being comforted, not wanting to put any unnecessary pressure on each other when they had more important things to think about. Plus, Tyler knew for absolute certain that he never ever wanted Josh to feel anything other than perfect and loved and completely safe, and no matter how beautiful and kissable that boy's lips were, Tyler never wanted to make him feel like he was being pressured to do anything when he was already feeling vulnerable.

So, when Tyler felt Josh's lips linger against his for a moment and a half longer than a "simple goodnight kiss," he had a pretty strong suspicion that Josh was starting to feel better.

But when he felt Josh's tongue swipe gently, almost shyly across his lower lip a moment later, he was pretty frickin sure of it. 

And Tyler wasn't sure how a night of comfort and cuddles and soft encouragements turned into Josh's tongue in his mouth, into Tyler absolutely gasping into the other boy's kisses when he felt strong, calloused hands expertly roaming across his sides, then his back, then a little bit lower than that, into soft moans and shared breaths and the type of making out simply for the sake of making out that they hadn't quite experienced since the beginning of their relationship. The type of making out that wasn't a prelude to sex or anything like that, the kind that was just love and closeness and the intense desire to memorize the shape and taste of each others tongues. 

Josh had the prettiest tongue, Tyler decided.

I mean, he couldn't exactly see it right now, given that it was currently being crammed into his mouth.

But still. He was absolutely sure that this boy had a frickin gorgeous tongue.

Which isn't something that Tyler had ever thought about someone before.

But it was an indisputable fact, along with the realization that being here, laying in Josh's bed and feeling that new, intoxicatingly unfamiliar twist in his stomach when Josh feverishly rolled Tyler on top of him, leaving the comforting weight of his boyfriend across his chest as they kissed themselves to sleep, still wrapped up in each other's arms, was the absolute definition of happiness.

Yeah. They were gonna be okay.

Josh was gonna be okay.

I mean, to be fair, they did both wake up with some pretty intense discomfort from their bare chests being plastered together all night.

And Tyler may or may not have woken up with a particular problem that may or may not have been related to the experience of waking up directly on top of Josh.

But other than that, their situation was considerably improved from the anxiety of the night before, and Tyler had a feeling that it could've been a lot worse.

He didn't exactly put together the fact that it was him making it better, that it was his soft encouragements and his so-not-funny-that-they-were-actually-kind-of-funny jokes and his light body weight pressing comfortably into the other boy, grounding him and making him feel safer than anything else could.

But he would figure it out one day.

For now, and for the next couple of weeks, he just continued to spend the majority of his time trying with everything he had to help Josh through the transition of not having Mark as a roommate anymore. They still had some time before he moved out -- he and Jenna had found an apartment near the city that was ideal for both of their jobs, but everything wouldn't be finalized for at least another few weeks, maybe longer -- and Tyler fully intended to take advantage of it. Every day, he came up with new ways to either distract Josh from his anxiety or to try and eradicate it, and anything Josh needed or wanted, Tyler gave him.

AKA, they ended up eating a lot of late-night ice cream and having more than a few marathons of The X-Files.

And don't get me wrong -- Tyler was having a blast. Josh was happy, and his anxiety seemed to be pretty well under control, especially considering the circumstances.

But when Tyler told him that he would do anything Josh wanted, anything that would make him happy or distract him from his anxiety, Tyler couldn't help feeling like Josh's requests were a little. . . tame.

"So, there's really nothing else you want to do? Nothing at all?" Tyler asked him one day when they were -- surprise -- out getting ice cream (plain chocolate for Tyler, strawberry with a boat load of sprinkles for Josh).

Josh thought for a moment. "Well, we could go to the movie theater again. We haven't been in a while, and it might be kinda fun now that we know Jenna."

Tyler nodded slowly. "Yeah. But there's nothing, like, at home that you wanna do?"

Josh shrugged.

"Anything, like --" Tyler hesitated for a moment "-- I don't know, maybe in the bedroom --?"

Josh almost choked on his ice cream. "W-what?"

Tyler rolled his eyes playfully. "Come on, Josh. There's gotta be something that you've thought about trying. Something a little -- I don't know, a little different, a little weird." He shrugged calmly as Josh gaped at him in horror. "I'm just saying, if you have any kinks or anything, now would be the perfect time to ask. And, like, whatever it is, I'd probably be up for it, I mean, if you wanted to --"

"Tyler," the other boy scoffed indignantly, blushing bright red. "I'm not -- I don't -- I mean, it's not --"

"Aww, look at you, getting all embarrassed," Tyler giggled.

"Yeah, it's not like my boyfriend just up and asked me, 'Hey, got any kinks you wanna try the next time we do it?'" Josh mumbled sarcastically.

"Oh, come on. It's not like I'm gonna make you do anything like that if you don't want to." Tyler sighed. "I don't know, I just --" he broke off, looking at the other boy with a soft smile. "I want you to feel comfortable talking to me about stuff like that, if there is something you wanna try. Because you know I would never judge you for anything like that. I love you, even if you decide that you're suddenly super into -- I don't know, leather and handcuffs, or something like that," he added with a chuckle.

Josh was honestly being too adorable right now.

He was still blushing intensely, and if that wasn't cute enough, he was trying to hide his face in his hands, and gosh, that was even cuter. "Tyler, I --" he mumbled, "I appreciate, um -- I mean, I'm glad that you -- if I ever --" he sighed, frustrated. "I just -- I'm happy. With how things are. I don't see any reason for that to change."

Tyler nodded understandingly, flashing him an adoring smile. "And if being super vanilla all the time is what makes you happy, then I'm more than willing to oblige," he replied with a suggestive smirk. "But still, if there's ever anything you wanna try --"

"Yeah, yeah, I got it," Josh muttered, embarrassed. "You'd be okay with kinky stuff. Noted."

Tyler almost commented on the fact that Josh hadn't outright denied having any kinks. 

Almost like there was something but he was just too shy to admit it. 

But he decided to let it go.

For now.

Besides, he had plenty of other ways to make this boy happy.

And the biggest one, he decided, was music.

He wasn't sure why he hadn't thought of it sooner.

I mean, really. Ever since he'd heard Josh play that drum beat for his song, ever since that boy's music had blended with his own, echoing in his mind like it was the most perfect melody in the world, it was all he could hear. He had become entranced, completely consumed by the sound of it, by the image of the boy he loved sitting there, playing his music, and ever since then, he had come to a sudden realization.

It wasn't his song anymore.

It was theirs.

Ever since he wrote it, Tyler had been trying to find the missing piece, that one unknown something that was holding him back, telling him that it wasn't ready for Josh to hear, not yet.

Of course, it hadn't occurred to him until now that Josh might be the thing that was missing.

But now that it had, it was undeniable.

Because Tyler knew that the song was missing something, that it needed to be perfect for Josh, because Josh was perfect. Josh was fire and passion and life, and the only way to show that accurately was to include Josh in the frickin song.

Which is how they ended up here, with Tyler leading a very confused, very blindfolded Josh to the basement (because Tyler would be the first person to admit that he had a massive flair for the dramatic, and that he would literally take any excuse to touch Josh's biceps, even if it meant covering up those pretty brown eyes for a couple of minutes).

"This isn't gonna be some weird kinky thing, is it?" Josh asked hesitantly as they made it into the basement. 

"Not unless you want it to be," Tyler smirked, earning himself a playful smack on the arm. "No, it's nothing like that," he amended, carefully placing Josh in a primary spot next to the piano. "I just -- I wanna show you something, if that's okay."

He took the blindfold off, grinning when Josh's eyes fell on the piano and instantly lit up with excitement the way they always did when he realized that Tyler was about to play a song for him.

And there it was. Right there. Those pretty brown eyes and all that excitement, that pure enthusiasm for life, for everything -- that was the part of Josh that the song needed, the part that came through every time that boy played the drums. 

Tyler took a deep breath, and started playing his heart for Josh.

"Sometimes you gotta bleed to know
That you’re alive and have a soul
But it takes someone to come around
To show you how"

Tyler threw a nervous smile at Josh, who was slowly recognizing what he had lovingly called "The Shower Song" all the times he'd playfully tried to convince Tyler to show it to him (and all the times he'd secretly been continuing to play a drum beat for it whenever he was alone).

"He’s the tear in my heart
I’m alive
He’s the tear in my heart
I’m on fire
He’s the tear in my heart
Take me higher
Than I’ve ever been"

Tyler wished he had a picture of Josh's face the moment that the other boy realized the song was about him, but he quickly realized that he wouldn't need one. The adoration and the absolute love that filled Josh's smile was perhaps the most beautiful spectacle that Tyler had ever had the honor of seeing, and he knew without a doubt that that image, that smile would be firmly imprinted in his brain for the rest of his life.

"The songs on the radio are okay
But my taste in music is your face
And it takes a song to come around
To show you how

He’s the tear in my heart
I’m alive
He’s the tear in my heart
I’m on fire
He’s the tear in my heart
Take me higher
Than I’ve ever been
Than I’ve ever been
Than I’ve ever been"

Tyler almost lost his focus when he saw Josh's reaction to "my taste in music is your face." The other boy's hand flew straight up to cover his mouth, unable to contain his excitement as he remembered their first date, when Tyler had asked him what his favorite song was and Josh had jokingly replied, "Your face." It had made Tyler laugh, but they both sensed the underlying message behind it, the implication that Tyler was all he could think about, the only song in his head at the time and ever since.

Needless to say, Tyler always felt exactly the same way, and he'd jumped at the chance to say it.

"You fell asleep in my car
I drove the whole time
But that’s okay, I’ll just avoid the holes so you sleep fine
I’m driving here I sit
Cursing my government
For not using my taxes to fill holes with more cement"

Tears filled Josh's eyes as he remembered exactly the night Tyler was singing about. Josh had been working double shifts for days, covering for another employee who'd been sick, and he was completely exhausted. Tyler offered to cancel their date that night so he could catch up on some rest, but Josh insisted he'd be fine.

"Fine," of course, translated to Josh falling asleep on the way to the restaurant and Tyler not having the heart to wake him up. Instead, he'd driven around the city for hours, choosing all the smoothest roads and mumbling curses under his breath whenever he nearly hit a pothole, just so Josh could get some sleep. The other boy woke up close to midnight, barely even registering what had happened, and Tyler simply drove him home, half-carrying him into the house and curling up next to him on the couch so he wouldn't even have to use the stairs.

It was the best night of sleep either one of them had ever had.

"My heart is my armor
He’s the tear in my heart
He’s a carver
He’s a butcher with a smile
Cut me farther
Than I’ve ever been"

The last chord echoed through the room for a few moments before Tyler slowly stood up, barely managing to tear his gaze away from the floor and into those pretty brown eyes he'd always been so obsessed with. 

This was his heart, after all, and this was by far the most vulnerable thing he had ever done with it. It was absolutely terrifying on a level that Tyler hadn't quite expected, especially because he knew he wasn't done yet.

But this was Josh.

And if Tyler could trust his heart with anyone, it was this absolutely, breathlessly perfect boy with the sunshine smile and the warmest heart and the strongest love that Tyler had ever seen, or experienced, or imagined.

There was a long moment where Josh couldn't speak. He just stood there, his mouth hanging wide open and his eyes full of stars, trying to comprehend how much he loved this boy. This beautiful, brown-haired boy who had just managed to turn their love into a song.

Then, there was a small, slight shake of his head, and Tyler understood everything that Josh was struggling to say. All of the love, the amazement, the pure agreement that Josh felt upon hearing the song was right there on his face, and they both knew that no words could express it.

So, Josh just smiled. He smiled the softest smile that Tyler had ever seen, and he managed to croak out, "I accidentally cut you on my cymbal one time" before crashing into Tyler's arms and absolutely sobbing with happiness. 

Josh had been a little more emotional than usual as of late.

Tyler didn't mind one bit.

In fact, if you asked Tyler, he would say that the only unfair thing about the situation was how beautiful Josh was when he cried.

I mean, really.

Crying was supposed to be hideous and snotty and exhausting, but Josh was just gorgeous. He looked like an angel, the tear tracks delicately tracing their way across his face and reminding Tyler of the way that you can see a galaxy among the stars on a clear night.

And now, Tyler could watch and admire this beautiful boy without feeling guilty like he usually did. Because now, Josh wasn't sad. Now, Josh was the furthest from sad that he'd ever been. Now, he was just too full of love to even be able to contain it, and Tyler knew exactly how he felt.

Because somewhere along the way, Tyler had started sobbing too.

He couldn't help it, okay?

Josh was just too beautiful and too perfect and oh my gosh, what did he ever do to deserve this boy?

Reincarnation must be real, he decided.

He must have had a past life, and someone in that past life must have been a saint, because there was no way in heck that Tyler frickin Joseph had ever done anything worthy enough to be the one to sing to this boy, to hold him and love him and cry with him. It was too perfect. He didn't deserve this much happiness. He didn't.

But the thing was, Josh was the first person to ever make him feel like maybe he did. Like maybe he had earned it just by living, just by being here and loving this boy every ounce in return. Because oh, he did. He loved him, he loved him, he loved him.

After a while, Josh pulled away, just enough to look at the other boy in absolute adoration. "Tyler, that was -- it's perfect," he finally managed to gasp, still smiling at him in awe.

"Well, not yet," Tyler contested, taking a deep breath. "It still needs a drum beat."

It took a moment for that to sink in.

Then, Josh's eyes widened in absolute wonder. "Ty, you don't mean -- ?" Tyler nodded, grinning. "Oh my gosh, are you serious?"

"Dead serious," Tyler giggled. "In fact," he added, walking over to a small desk in the corner and handing him a small notebook, crammed with lyrics and notes scribbled onto absolutely everything, from scrap pieces of paper to random receipts and napkins, "they all do."

Josh held the notebook as gently as a piece of glass, as gently as if he was holding Tyler's heart (hint: he was). He looked at it reverently, like it was the most sacred thing he'd ever seen. 

So, in other words, he looked at it the same way he looked at Tyler.

"Tyler, I can't -- this is your music, I can't -- I'll mess it up," he stuttered, completely shocked at the proposition.

"That's impossible," Tyler insisted without hesitation. "Josh, it's -- it's the complete opposite. This music needs you, I -- I need you." Josh opened his mouth to object, but Tyler stopped him with a glance. "No, Josh, you were the first person I ever played for. You were -- gosh, without you, I never would've dreamed of even performing in front of anyone else. And I just --" he sighed. "I know that there's been something holding me back from -- from really doing this, you know? From pursuing music, from showing people what I've written, and now I know why. It's you." His eyes widened as Josh broke out into a grin and started laughing. "OH MY GOSH, NO I DIDN'T MEAN IT LIKE THAT. I SWEAR. I mean -- you're. . ." He sighed, and his voice went softer as he clarified, "You're what's missing."

Josh was still giggling, because they both knew by now that he was too happy of a person to go a whole conversation without laughing. "You sure I'm not just holding you back?" he joked, still enjoying Tyler's little mishap.

"Shut up," Tyler smirked, rolling his eyes. He paused for a moment, moving a little closer and reaching out to stroke the other boy's cheek. "I mean, you said it yourself: music is all you ever wanted to do," he continued quietly. "Well, I think this is it. If we're gonna do this thing, we should be in it together. Like always."

Josh smiled at him, biting his lip in that way that drove Tyler absolutely crazy. "Wow, you really are Troy Bolton."

Tyler laughed. "Yeah, I guess I am." He paused, looking at the other boy carefully. "So. . . we're in a band?"

Josh smiled. "Heck yeah, we're in a band," he confirmed, Tyler throwing his arms around his neck and kissing him before the words were even all the way out of his mouth.

They spent a long time in the basement that day.

And honestly, Tyler wasn't sure if they spent more time going over ideas or shamelessly making out.

One moment, Tyler was discussing the lyrics of a song in depth, explaining how he'd felt when he wrote it and why he wanted it to sound the way it did, and the next, Josh was straddling him on the sofa, shoving his tongue in Tyler's mouth and moaning into each breath. Another moment, Josh would be enthusiastically describing all the ideas for beats that he'd secretly had every time Tyler had ever showed him a new song, and barely a second later, Tyler was kissing him up against the wall, reveling in the feeling of Josh's hands in his hair and around his waist and under his shirt, both of them absolutely high on the idea that they were doing this, that their two biggest passions (music and each other) were finally coming together.

Plus, these boys were pretty frickin deep in love.

So excuse me if they couldn't quite get enough of each other.

Thankfully, though, both of them were way too giddy (i.e. uncoordinated) to do anything past making out, so when Zack suddenly appeared downstairs, all he had to endure was a single moment of seeing his older brother laying across the couch with his legs wrapped around his boyfriend as they practically ate each other's faces off before Zack shrieked in disgust and slapped a hand over his eyes, shouting, "OH COME ON, THERE ARE CHILDREN IN THIS HOUSE, THE LEAST YOU COULD DO IS TRY TO BE DECENT, GOSH."

"Well, the least you could do is not go barging in everywhere all the time while some people are trying to have some privacy," Tyler grumbled in response, scrambling out from under Josh and running a hand through his hair in a vain attempt to tame it. "Plus, I really don't see what the problem is. I mean, we're both completely dressed, we're both consenting adults, I don't see why we can't --"

"Ugh, please don't finish that sentence" Zack gagged, still vehemently averting his eyes from the disheveled boys on the couch, even though they were sitting up now, the perfect picture of innocence (besides the fact that they were both a little flushed, their faces warm from the intensity of their physical affection).

"So, are you just here for the show, or. . . ?" Tyler asked boredly.

Zack rolled his eyes. "I just wanted to know if you were free for lunch tomorrow." He stared at Tyler with a weird level of intensity, trying to make sure that he got the message. "You know. For chaperoning."

Spoiler alert: Tyler got the message.

Loud and clear.

Because if Zack was trying to get Tyler to lunch under weirdly suspicious circumstances, that could only mean one thing.

It was gay time.

Tyler sighed. "Can Josh come?" he asked, as if it wasn't exactly what Zack had instructed him to say when the time came for his stupid plan.

"Sure, I guess," Zack shrugged, as if it wasn't exactly what he needed for Tyler to be "at his peak level of gayness" in front of Aaron.

"Really?" Josh gasped excitedly, his not-totally-a-joke-even-though-he-acted-like-he-was-joking jealousy of Tyler's status as a chaperone not even remotely forgotten.

"Yeah, babe, I'd love having you there," Tyler replied with a genuine smile, kissing him on the cheek if only to make Zack look away again.

Josh was a little too excited about this invitation.

Which, honestly, was a significant part of why Tyler loved him so frickin much.

I mean, really. This boy managed to become genuinely thrilled about the smallest things, like being invited to chaperone his boyfriend's younger brother's fictional date or noticing a cluster of bright yellow flowers growing in between the cracks in the sidewalk or realizing that whatever restaurant they were at happened to have a gumball machine. It didn't matter what it was -- anything that was even vaguely nice became an event for Josh, something worthy of a beautiful, squinty-eyed smile and an excited text to whoever he thought would enjoy whatever small wonder of the world he'd just discovered.

Tyler would know. He'd been on the receiving end of those texts more times than he could count.

And he wasn't sure if anything -- or, frankly, anyone -- had ever been so pure.

So, when his little lemon boy went upstairs to call Debby and make sure he could get off of work, Tyler found himself getting a little too excited about the prospect of Zack's plan, especially since 1. it meant getting to hang all over the prettiest boy in the world in public for an hour or two and 2. Josh's enthusiasm for life was infectious, and Tyler wasn't sure that he'd ever been around Josh without feeling like it must be the absolute greatest day in the world, because it pretty much was. I mean, really, what else could explain the way that Josh made him feel butterflies in every frickin part of his body, the chills and flutters running through him like a shock wave every time he saw or kissed or even thought about Josh (because apparently, this love was too powerful to be limited to stomach butterflies)? Or the way that Tyler was smitten for this boy in every way possible, and he had practically started a daily regimen of pinching himself, because how else could he be convinced that this wasn't all a dream, that he, Tyler Robert Joseph, known only for having terrible dance moves and being a massive dweeb, had actually managed to date the most perfect person in the entire universe? 

And now, thanks to Zack's plan, Tyler was being given the chance to prove to the world (AKA, mostly Aaron) how much he absolutely adored Josh. 

But when he started to contemplate all the ways that he would get to love on his boyfriend tomorrow at lunch, a thought occurred to him.

"Hey, Zack," Tyler said suddenly, staring at his little brother intently.

"Hmm?" Zack mumbled disinterestedly, too busy doing something on his phone to even lift his head.

"You do realize that Josh thinks you're dating someone, right?"

"Um. . . yeah?" Zack said slowly, finally setting his phone down.

"So, like," Tyler continued carefully, "he's probably gonna expect to -- you know, see an actual girl there?"

Zack's eyes widened as he realized what Tyler was implying.

"Dude, you're gonna have to get a girlfriend," Tyler grinned, absolutely delighted with his brother's discomfort.

"No," Zack insisted, horrified. "No, I'll -- I'll figure something out, there has to be another way to --"

"Okay, I'm definitely coming," Josh called excitedly as he came back downstairs. "So, what's this girl's name? I feel like, as your chaperone's boyfriend, I should probably know that," he added with a bright smile.

Zack glared momentarily at Tyler (who was barely suppressing a laugh) before grumbling a bitter, "I guess you'll find out tomorrow" and bolting back upstairs.

Tyler resisted the urge to respond, "I guess we all will."

But just barely.

Josh blinked innocently. "Did I say something wrong?"

"Nah, he's just shy about that stuff," Tyler grinned.

Which, I mean, wasn't a total lie.

It was pretty clear to everyone that Zack wasn't one to sit around watching rom coms and gushing about how cute that girl from history class is, so Tyler figured Josh would buy it.

Spoiler alert: he did.

And while Josh walked into the restaurant the next day fully expecting to meet Zack's girlfriend, Tyler was honestly just hoping that he wouldn't have to pretend to be sad for his little brother who definitely wasn't being stood up by the girlfriend that he didn't actually have.

Because really, how else could Zack handle the situation other than pretending that she (i.e. the fictional girlfriend) had suddenly called to cancel, or that she'd simply decided not to show up?

That's what Tyler expected.  

Until they walked in, that is.

And then Zack scanned the room, and his eyes lit up.

And then Tyler watched in complete shock as his brother walked over to a table in the corner whose only occupant was a girl that Tyler had never seen before, a pretty girl with hair the color of chocolate and freckles like a sky full of stars.

Needless to say, his primary thought was what the actual heck.

Because if his brother wasn't known for being particularly open with his feelings, then he definitely wasn't known to walk up to complete strangers in random restaurants and start talking to them, especially not when said stranger happened to be an extremely pretty girl who was definitely his age and definitely, definitely way out of his league.

I mean, no offense to Zack.

But this girl was extremely frickin pretty.

And Tyler, as you all know, was extremely gay, so that was really saying something coming from him.

Zack spoke to her for several moments, but they were too far away for Tyler to make out any of their conversation. The girl looked a little confused at first, but after briefly stealing a glance towards Tyler and Josh when Zack gestured in their direction, she blushed a little and nodded, smiling sweetly.

A moment later, she was walking back over with Zack.

"So, this is Tatum," Zack explained matter-of-factly, as if he hadn't just summoned a girlfriend out of nowhere.

"Hi, it's nice to meet you," she said shyly to Josh, who grinned and shook her hand in response.

Tyler almost said, "Nice to meet you too," but a sharp glance from Zack reminded him that Tyler and this girl -- Tatum, apparently -- were supposed to have already met. 

So instead, he just smiled awkwardly and nudged his brother in the side. 

"Zack. Can I, uh -- can we talk for a minute?" he asked stiffly. "Like, now?"

"Sure," Zack shrugged.

"Here, uh, Tatum and I will just go find some tables, 'kay?" Josh smiled, politely giving them some space.

Tyler loved that boy.

But that didn't mean that he wasn't confused as all heck.

"So?" he demanded the moment he and his brother were alone.

"What?" Zack asked calmly.

"What?" Tyler repeated, incredulous. "What do you mean, 'what?' Who even is that girl?!"

"I told you, her name is Tatum."

Tyler rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but like -- do you even know her? How is she suddenly your girlfriend?"

"She's not actually my girlfriend," Zack reminded him (and Tyler would almost swear that he saw the hint of a blush). "I've seen her at school before, so I just went over and asked if she would mind pretending to be my girlfriend for a couple hours." He shrugged. "She said sure."

Tyler stared at him. "So, you -- you basically just asked some girl that you don't even know if she would pretend to date you and she was just -- cool with it?"

"Well, I obviously explained the situation first," he scoffed. "I just told her that I needed Josh to think that I had a girlfriend so I could hang out and keep an eye on things while Jordan talks to his crush so we can figure out if Aaron's actually gay without letting any of his family know that he's in love with his best friend," he explained as if it was the simplest thing in the world. "She totally understood."

Tyler shook his head in disbelief. "If she was able to understand all that, she might be a keeper after all," he muttered to himself.

"What?" Zack squinted at him suspiciously.

"Nothing."

Zack rolled his eyes. "Whatever. We should probably get back over there," he decided. "Oh, and make sure you actually save a little flirting for when Jordan gets here," he added as an afterthought. "Remember, we need you to be --"

"As gay as possible," Tyler recited. "Yeah, yeah. I got it."

They walked back over to Tatum and Josh, who were happily chatting about nail polish colors (Tatum had hers painted a pretty light blue color, and she was kindly explaining to Josh how she'd made little white polka dots on them without smearing it too much. Josh was thrilled and promised to try it later).

Tatum turned out to be as sweet and charming as she looked, and anyone seeing them from the outside would've guessed that yeah, she and Zack were together and she was being introduced to his family (or, you know, his brother's boyfriend. Whatever).

Still, Tyler found himself feeling a little nervous about talking to her. Even though Tatum wasn't his brother's actual girlfriend, Tyler had never been in this kind of situation before. Zack had never really expressed a romantic interest in anyone, and now that he had (whether it was fictional or not), Tyler didn't quite know what to do with himself.

Luckily, Tyler had the most amazing boyfriend in the entire world, and Josh managed to make enough small talk for the both of them.

And okay, maybe Tyler was also a little distracted by this beautiful yellow-haired boy, because wow, Josh was really at the top of his social game right now.

I mean, considering their collective social awkwardness-slash-anxiety, it was a miracle that either one of them was ever able to function at all in public.

But somehow, they managed.

And Tyler had a sneaking suspicion (AKA, he was almost completely positive) that this had something (every frickin thing) to do with each other. 

Because somehow, whenever Tyler was feeling particularly down, when his mind was preoccupied with itself or he just wasn't in the mood to talk to other people (with "other people" invariably excluding his boyfriend, because he was literally always in the mood to talk to Josh), the other boy was always able to pick up the slack. And whenever Josh's anxiety spiked, whenever he couldn't get through a conversation without worrying about a million different things, Tyler was able to bail him out. Beautifully, inexplicably, they had managed to balance each other so perfectly that they never had to worry about social situations the way they used to as long as they were together. 

So, as usual, Tyler managed to get himself into a trance thinking about how perfect his boyfriend was, and before he knew it, he was sitting in a little booth in the corner of the restaurant (a couple of tables away from Zack and Tatum, "for privacy"), staring at Josh with so much affection that it almost could've been considered creepy.

He couldn't help it.

Josh was perfect, and if you thought that Tyler was capable of being in his presence for even a second without absolutely gawking at him, you'd be sorely mistaken.

"What?" Josh smiled, finally catching on to Tyler's shameless staring.

"Nothing," Tyler grinned, even though it was far from nothing. "You're just perfect and absolutely gorgeous, and I like looking at you."

"Stop it," Josh giggled, blushing at the compliment. Gosh, Tyler loved that face.

"What, so I'm not allowed to compliment my boyfriend anymore?" Tyler teased. "Well, tough. You shouldn't have decided to be so perfect if you didn't want me to call you out on it."

Josh scoffed. "Oh, as if you aren't flawless, Mr. I-look-good-in-literally-every-situation-even-though-I'm-wearing-an-actual-Mickey-Mouse-shirt-right-now," he retorted playfully.

Tyler gasped. "Well, what about you with your -- your stupid adorable muscle shirts and your stupid -- shoulders," he fumbled, still caught off guard by Josh's retaliation compliment.

Because okay, he definitely hadn't expected that.

And they both knew that even though Tyler could dish it out with the best of them, he most definitely couldn't take it.

"My stupid shoulders?" Josh chuckled.

"Yeah," Tyler mumbled. "I mean, your shoulders are just -- they're, like, stupid pretty."

"You're stupid pretty," Josh murmured in response, smiling at him adoringly.

And just like that, they were kissing across the table (which was extremely difficult, but definitely worth it).

Which is why, when Jordan finally made his scheduled appearance with Aaron, they found the two boys sitting happily on the same side of the booth, shamelessly making out.

"Josh?" Jordan ventured hesitantly.

"Mmfff -- Jordan," Josh sputtered, his eyes wide with surprise as he quickly (and quite messily) removed his face from Tyler's. "What are you --" he cleared his throat "-- um, what are you doing here?"

"Well, we were gonna have lunch. . ." he answered uncertainly, a little shaken from seeing his brother so disheveled.

Because okay, he had expected to see him and Tyler being a little flirtier than usual, but he had not expected to see that.

I mean, sure, "the plan" involved Tyler being as visibly gay as possible, but even he hadn't expected to be latched onto his boyfriend's mouth when the other boys showed up.

"We --? Oh, hi, Aaron," Josh began confusedly (a little dazed, no doubt) before smiling at the other boy sheepishly.

"Uh -- hey, Josh," Aaron responded awkwardly. "I would say, 'What's up?' but. . . I mean, I feel like that's a little unnecessary," he added with a chuckle. 

"Yeah, sorry for the, uh -- the demonstration," Josh chuckled apologetically. "I guess we get a little carried away sometimes."

"Just sometimes?" Tyler chimed in with a suggestive smirk.

He figured he'd gotten a pretty good head start with the flirting so far, so why stop now?

"Okay, lots of times," Josh amended sheepishly, leaning in to kiss Tyler's lips once again, for several seconds longer than either one of them had planned.

Jordan looked away awkwardly, but Aaron didn't seem to mind.

Not that Tyler was actually able to tear his gaze away from Josh for long enough to notice that.

Because he totally wasn't.

"Oh, um -- I think we met at the coffee shop," Aaron remarked, politely reaching out to shake Tyler's hand. "It's Tyler, right?"

Huh. That was a good sign.

I mean, Tyler luckily hadn't needed to deal with a lot of homophobic people during his brief experience as an openly gay man, but he had a feeling that someone who was hardcore against homosexuality wouldn't be so willing to shake his hand after watching him practically suck another guy's face off.

So, progress.

"Hey, uh, if you want, you guys could sit with us," Tyler suggested, as if it wasn't exactly what Zack had told him to do.

Josh gasped excitedly. "Dude! That would be awesome! And hey, if you guys were dating too, it'd be, like, a triple date," he added with a light chuckle.

Jordan immediately blushed a bright red, suddenly becoming very interested in the floor.

Aaron coughed a little, looking confused. "Wait, a -- a triple date? Who else are you talking about?"

"Oh, right. We're here with Tyler's brother and his girlfriend," Josh explained easily, nodding briefly towards Zack's table.

"Um. I don't want to make this weird, but --" Aaron subtly glanced back at the other table after sliding into the booth after Jordan. "Is, uh -- is your brother taking notes?" he asked Tyler casually.

They all looked over at the other table.

Zack was indeed taking notes.

Tatum smiled and gave a little wave, noticing their attention.

She seemed sweet, Tyler thought.

Not that he was getting attached to Zack's fake girlfriend.

In any way.

Like, he definitely wasn't thinking that they actually made a really cute couple, or that Zack seemed really comfortable being around her, or that she seemed genuinely happy to be sitting there, watching him take notes on some other guy's behavior towards another guy.

Definitely not.

Fake girlfriend, Tyler. Emphasis on fake.

Tyler cleared his throat, realizing that he should probably come up with some explanation. "Oh, he, uh -- he's probably talking to her about -- uh -- oh, about that gay-straight alliance he wants to start at school," he declared awkwardly. "Yeah, that's, uh -- that's probably what the notes are for."

"Oh." Aaron nodded briefly. "That's pretty cool, actually."

So, definitely not a homophobe.

"Yeah, he, uh -- I guess since it took me so long to figure out I was gay, he thought it would be a nice idea to make kind of a, uh -- I guess, like, a safe space for kids to go to learn about that kind of thing," Tyler continued, placing his hand on Josh's leg at some point and hoping that he was coming across as gay enough.

Just in case, he laid his head on Josh's shoulder after a moment.

Yeah. That felt nice.

Especially when Josh happily wrapped his arm around Tyler in response and began slowly rubbing his back.

Oh, gosh.

Tyler could start purring right now, he was so happy.

I mean, he didn't. He wouldn't. Not in front of the kids, and all that.

But on the inside, he was totally frickin purring.

"Do you think that would've helped? If you'd had a place like that when you were in high school?" Josh asked thoughtfully.

It took Tyler a moment to realize that Josh was talking to him. 

"Oh. I don't know. Maybe." He snuggled closer to Josh, shifting so he could smile at him and twist his fingers through his bright yellow hair. "If you'd been there, definitely," he added with a smirk. "I mean, I've never been able to think a straight thought about you, and I don't think that would've been any different back then."

"Well, except that back then, I would've had a lip ring, which would've made you a complete nerd for liking me," Josh grinned.

"I'm already a complete nerd for liking you," Tyler insisted affectionately, pressing a few soft kisses to the other boy's lips when he realized that they had somehow gotten to be only a few inches away.

And Tyler didn't do this very often, but he had to admit that his brother had been right.

Because even though Tyler still talked to Jordan and Aaron, even though they all had conversations and made jokes and laughed together, the only thing running through Tyler's mind was JoshJoshJosh.

Because really, he didn't even need to remind himself to sit closer to Josh or to kiss him more often or to flirt with him incessantly the whole time.

It just sort of happened.

And after feeding each other french fries back and forth, getting into a literal, "You're cuter/No, you're cuter" argument, and sharing a strawberry milkshake (one glass, two straws, obviously), Tyler didn't think he could possibly do a better job of being extra affectionate with his boyfriend. 

Or, you know. 

Being basically as affectionate as they always were. 

But still. 

He thought the milkshake was a nice touch. 

After a while, Jordan and Aaron left to go play some new video game at Aaron's house, leaving Tyler alone with Josh again. (Zack sent Tyler a subtle text suggesting that they stay a little longer, claiming that it would be suspicious if they left as soon as the other boys did, but if you thought that Tyler missed the way that Zack was blushing and averting his eyes every time Tatum smiled, you'd be sorely mistaken.)

Tyler didn't mind the extra time, though, and it's not like he wouldn't have been cuddling with Josh either way. So, he happily settled his head back on Josh's shoulder, quietly slurping the last of the whipped cream from the bottom of their milkshake and humming contentedly when Josh stroked a hand through his hair.

Suddenly, Josh sighed and muttered, "Man, do you think that kid's ever gonna make a move?"

Tyler almost choked on his whipped cream.

"W-what? I mean, what -- what kid?" he stuttered nervously. "I don't -- I don't know what you're talking about, I mean, like, it's not -- it's not --"

"Oh, I was just talking about Aaron," Josh explained casually. "Jordan's obviously head over heels for him, always has been. I just wish Aaron would step up and make a move already. I mean, this whole thing is starting to get a little ridiculous."

"This is -- what --" Tyler fumbled for words. "Wait. So you -- how long -- you know about this?" he sputtered.

"Oh, yeah. They've been doing this dance for a couple of years now," he chuckled. "I mean, they've always had that close connection, y'know, but I think it was Jordan who had the first crush, that was maybe when he was thirteen or fourteen? I don't really remember, but Aaron caught up pretty soon after that. Ever since then, they've been dodging the issue, trying to pretend that they're not totally into each other, but. . ." he shrugged. "I mean, you know how it is at that age."

Tyler was stunned. "So, you mean -- you've known this whole time?" he asked incredulously. "Why didn't you say something?"

Josh shrugged again. "If Jordan wanted to talk to me about it, he would. I would never force him to admit something like that if he wasn't ready," he replied calmly. "I'm glad he decided to talk to you, though. I think he really needed that."

Tyler couldn't help smiling in disbelief. "Is there anything you don't know?"

Josh chuckled. "I don't know why Zack wouldn't stop looking at Aaron like he was gonna sprout wings at any moment instead of paying attention to his own date."

"Oh, that," Tyler giggled. "He's convinced that he can figure out whether or not Aaron's gay by flaunting me in front of him."

Josh considered this for a moment. "Okay. That's -- definitely not what I expected," he said with a light smirk, "but okay."

Tyler shrugged. "He means well." He paused, looking at Josh carefully. "So, you think it'll be Aaron who makes the first move?"

Josh smiled a little. "Maybe," he replied thoughtfully. Then, after a moment, "Did you know they met all the way back in kindergarten?" Tyler shook his head. "Yeah. Jordan had drawn this --" he chuckled. "Man, I don't know what the heck it was. Something, that's for sure. But it was big and purple and some little jerk in his class told him it looked like poop."

"Classy," Tyler remarked. 

"Yeah, he had a real way with words," Josh laughed. "Anyway, Jordan burst into tears, and Aaron immediately came over, declared his absolute adoration for Jordan's art, and told the other kid that he would pinch him if he was ever mean to Jordan again. They've been inseparable ever since." Josh smiled fondly at the memory. "Aaron's always been the more confident one, y'know? The one who says exactly what he thinks and doesn't take any crap from anybody. But I don't know. With this, I mean -- this may be different." He sighed. "Honestly, at this point, I think they're both just waiting for each other to make a move. Nobody wants to be the one who risks ruining everything."

"Well, can you blame them?" Tyler asked softly. "I mean, even with us, it was hard at first and we didn't even know each other." He chuckled lightly. "Heck, if you hadn't made a move, we wouldn't even be here."

Josh shook his head. "Nah, I don't believe that."

Tyler stared at him. "What is that supposed to mean?" he demanded playfully, a smile starting to pull at his lips.

"You always loved me, even from the beginning," Josh explained simply. "You wouldn't have let me go."

"Well, you sound awfully sure about that," Tyler grinned, blushing at Josh's confidence in him.

"Hey, how do you think I knew you'd say yes when I asked if I could kiss you?" Josh giggled in return.

"Oh, come on. You did not know I'd say yes," Tyler smirked. "I mean, you might've suspected, but you didn't know. You couldn't have known."

"Yes, I did," Josh insisted defensively. "You had the look."

Tyler raised his eyebrows. "The look?"

"The look," Josh confirmed. "The same one that Jordan always has when he looks at Aaron, the one that I've always had whenever I look at you. You know, the look. It's universal."

Tyler rolled his eyes. "I don't know, that sounds kinda made up," he deadpanned.

"You also stared at my thigh for, like, ten minutes straight."

"I --" Tyler paused. "Yeah, okay. I'll give you that one." He grinned, biting his lip a little while Josh laughed and kissed him on the cheek. "But really, can you blame me? I mean, you have some seriously great thighs."

"Well, they certainly seem to have gotten me a good boyfriend, so I guess I can't complain," Josh laughed, blushing a little.

Tyler just grinned at him in response, fondly remembering the day they met as clearly as if it was yesterday. He remembered the way his heart raced when Josh sat next to him, the way that gravity seemed to work differently whenever Josh smiled. He remembered how embarrassed he'd felt when Josh asked to kiss him, how his whole body had shivered, screaming how much he wanted to say yes and filling his mind with the kind of clarity that he'd never experienced before. He remembered how everything about that day, about that moment, was safe and sure and so, so real. How that day had been a dream that he still hadn't woken up from, a dream that he knew he never wanted to leave.

"Hey, Josh?" Tyler asked suddenly, almost hesitantly.

"Hmm?" the other boy hummed happily, twirling a finger through Tyler's hair.

"Why me?" he murmured quietly.

Josh sat up a little straighter, looking at him intently. "What do you mean?"

Tyler fidgeted with the hem of his shirt. "It's like -- I mean, look at you. You could have had anyone. Any guy or -- or girl you wanted to be with, you could have --" he broke off suddenly, the mere thought of Josh being with someone else making his stomach hurt. "So, why me? What was it about me of all people that made you. . . I don't know, question things, or -- or whatever?"

Josh smiled. "You really wanna know?" he asked softly.

Tyler nodded, blushing a little.

"You were smiling," he answered simply.

Tyler blinked. "I was -- what?"

Josh laughed. "When I walked into the theater, you were just sitting there, all alone, and you were smiling like it was the best day of your life. And I was just -- I remember thinking, 'Wow. I could fall in love with a smile like that.'" He looked at Tyler affectionately, almost reverently, like it was the first day all over again. "I knew right then that you were the most beautiful person I'd ever seen, and I wanted more than anything to see you smile again. And maybe, just a little bit, I hoped that I could be the one to make you smile like that. By the time I heard your voice, I was already in love."

Tyler looked into Josh's eyes for a moment, just to appreciate the pure sincerity and love that always resided there, and then pulled him closer for a long, deep kiss. "You're such a sap," he teased him lovingly, but they could both hear the absolute adoration in his voice (although to be fair, it would've been hard to miss).

"Only for you," Josh promised him with a bright smile before kissing the heck out of him again.

Of course, it was a little challenging because Tyler couldn't stop smiling.

And of course, since Tyler couldn't stop smiling, then Josh couldn't stop smiling either, so it was really more of an enthusiastic smooshing together of their teeth than an actual legitimate kiss, but that didn't stop them.

In fact, it might have only made them happier.

Because really, how could Tyler ever stop smiling now? Now that his stupid smile was the reason that Josh had noticed him in the first place, the reason that he fell in love at first sight and decided to take a chance. The reason that Tyler went home that day with butterflies in his stomach and a song in his heart rather than simply trudging back to his old life, forgetting how to smile and writing songs that no one else would ever hear.

Because Tyler had always hated his smile. Always. His teeth were too crooked, his mouth was the wrong shape, and in high school he'd even developed the habit of ducking his head down whenever he smiled so he wouldn't have to feel so self-conscious about it.

And now that smile -- that stupid, stupid smile -- had given him the love of his life.

So how, how could he ever stop smiling?

Because now, thanks to this beautiful boy whose face was currently crammed against his, Tyler didn't feel so self-conscious about his smile anymore.

And he had a feeling that he would never have to again.

"Oh my gosh, are you two ever not kissing?" Zack grumbled, suddenly sliding in to the other side of the booth.

"Not really," Josh grinned sheepishly as they pulled apart.

"So, how did your date go?" Tyler smirked, eliciting another blush from Zack.

"It, um -- it was -- it was good, I mean -- I, uh, I was able to, um, to figure out a lot of -- uh -- a lot of helpful things regarding that, um, that thing I was telling you about earlier. You know. About that friend of mine."

"You don't have to be so weird about it, Zack," Tyler told him. "Apparently, Josh already knows."

"Knows what?" Zack asked, feigning confusion.

"You know. The whole 'trying to get his closeted brother a boyfriend' scheme. Or did you forget about that already?"

"Just maybe don't let Jordan know that I know?" Josh added hopefully. "I mean, I don't wanna make him uncomfortable or anything."

Zack sighed, relenting. "Sure. Whatever. Makes my job a little easier if you already know, I guess."

"Yeah," Tyler piped in, "especially since we could've saved a lot of time today if we'd already had a reliable source to tell us that Aaron's almost definitely gay, instead of just trying to shove me and Josh in his face to see how he reacts."

"Hey, it was a solid plan," Zack defended.

"What exactly were you gonna do with the information, though?" Josh questioned thoughtfully. "Like, how can you tell that Aaron likes my brother just by watching him interact with us?"

Zack shrugged. "It's simple. When it comes to stuff like this, people exhibit certain kinds of body language. Blushing, averting their eyes, looking down and away. That kind of thing. The plan was to observe Aaron's behavior in response to your insane levels of flirting, and then in response to Jordan." He opened up the notebook he'd been writing in, flipping to a list of behaviors followed by tally marks, and slid it over to them. "See? He blushed and looked away practically every time you two touched," he said proudly.

"Our flirting isn't that insane," Tyler muttered. 

"Wait -- couldn't that mean that he felt weird about me and Ty, if he was looking away from us the whole time?" Josh questioned, ignoring his boyfriend's sulking. "I mean, how does that prove that he likes Jordan?"

Zack smiled. "Because he wasn't looking away from you guys," he said simply. "He was looking away from Jordan. Meaning that he probably felt embarrassed, not because you guys were all over each other, but because a part of him wanted to be that way with Jordan."

"Aww, that's so cute," Tyler whined.

"I thought you said it was a stupid plan," Zack mumbled in response.

"Yeah, well. I guess it's not so stupid if it'll help Jordan," Tyler decided. "I mean, it's not like we can just say, 'Hey, man! It's all good, Josh is pretty sure that Aaron totally likes you back.' At least this way, he has a reason to feel a little more confident about the whole thing. Even if it is kind of a stupid reason," he muttered as an afterthought.

"Wait," Josh said suddenly. "What are these numbers for?" he asked, pointing to a small scribble at the corner of the page in Zack's notebook. "Is this some kind of code or something?"

Zack blushed redder than ever before. "That's, um -- it's Tatum's phone number." Tyler gasped delightedly, causing Zack to add in a harsh whisper, "She just wanted me to text her if I ever need another cover, okay? It's not -- she's not --"

"Uh-huh. Sure," Tyler grinned smugly.

He decided not to mention the fact that Zack wouldn't really need a cover now that Josh knew everything (or, I guess, now that they knew that Josh knew everything, but. . . you know. That sounds a lot more complicated).

But he kept smiling anyway.

He smiled while they left the restaurant, when Josh enthusiastically got a small kitten sticker from the quarter machine.

He smiled when they got in the car and Josh started debating the possibility of extraterrestrial life with Zack, sparking a thoughtful discussion on whether or not aliens would have things like pets or french fries or memes (all of which Josh supported).

He smiled when they got home and he saw the basement door, when he remembered the prospect of playing music with Josh and felt an overwhelming sense of deja vu for a million things that hadn't even happened yet -- for the late nights they would spend trying to work on their sound, for all the little texts they would send from work whenever they thought of a possible band name, for all the awful ideas they would go through before they found the right one. For all the firsts -- first shows, first songs, first records. For every moment fallen asleep after practice, every stolen kiss in between songs, every racing heartbeat when they played a song in sync for the first time and realized how perfect they were for this, for each other.

And later that night, he smiled when he caught Josh staring at him across the bed.

"What?" he giggled, blushing a little at the pure adoration in the other boy's eyes. 

"Nothing," Josh murmured, reaching across the bed to caress Tyler's cheek. "It's just -- ever since earlier, y'know, I've been thinking about the day we met," he explained softly. 

"Me too," Tyler agreed. "It was a good day."

Josh bit his lip, a little hesitant. "Well, it's just -- I keep wondering. Why were you smiling?" he asked affectionately. "You know, when I walked in. Because whatever it was, you seemed really happy about it."

Tyler blushed. "Oh, it wasn't -- it was nothing, I just --" he sighed, pulling the covers over his face before sheepishly continuing, "I might have just been really excited that I was the only person in the theater that day? You know, so I could sit wherever I wanted and not have to worry about being loud and all that, and you know, there's just something creepy about being in a dark room with a bunch of strangers when all you're trying to do is watch a movie, and --"

"Tyler?"

"Hmm?" he shyly poked his face out from under the covers. 

"Have I ever mentioned how much I love you and your extreme introversion?" Josh grinned.

"Shut up," Tyler muttered.

But he was still smiling.

And he had a feeling that he wouldn't stop for a very, very long time. 

Chapter Text

Tyler had never been drunk before. 

Apparently, neither had Josh. 

Of course, they'd both tried some kind of alcohol at some point in their lives (and Josh was so impressed by the fact that Tyler had tried it as early as 15 that he decided not to mention the fact that it was in fact a small glass of wine from one of the bottles his mom not-so-secretly kept in a cabinet in the garage), but it had never gone further than a couple of sips, just enough to realize that they didn't like the taste. 

But still, he hadn't exactly seen it coming when, out of nowhere, Josh suddenly declared, "We should get drunk."

"We should do what now?" Tyler responded, confused.

"We should buy some alcohol and get drunk," Josh repeated simply. 

"Why on earth would we want to do that?" Tyler asked with a light chuckle. 

Josh shrugged. "I don't know. I just kind of want to know what it's like. Don't you?"

Tyler thought about it for a minute. "I guess."

And that was that. 

They both agreed that they'd feel safer just staying at Josh's apartment rather than going out to a bar, and even though Josh made it very clear that Tyler was under no obligation to join in if he didn't want to, Tyler couldn't help thinking that it might be fun, just the two of them drinking together for the first time. 

So now, here they were at the store. 

Trying to pick out some alcohol. 

Which neither one of them knew anything about. 

"What about whiskey? I recognize that one," Josh supplied. 

Tyler shook his head. "No, I think I've heard that one's bad for hangovers."

"Oh, so you're suddenly an expert on alcohol?" Josh teased. 

"Hey, I'm just saying, we're pretty new at this," he reasoned. "I don't know, I just feel like we should probably go with something a little more tame for our first try."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Josh agreed, sighing. "What types of alcohol are more tame?" he wondered.

"I'm not sure. Lemme google it real quick," Tyler decided, pulling out his phone. 

"Ooh, this one's pretty," Josh gasped excitedly, picking up a bottle of bright pink liquid. 

"What kind is it?" Tyler asked, glancing up from his phone. 

"Tyler, it's pink," he stated insistently, as if that was the only thing that mattered. 

"I don't think you're exactly supposed to choose alcohol based on what's prettiest, especially not -- ooh, is it strawberry flavored?!" Tyler gasped, taking the bottle from Josh.

"How much do you think we should we get?" 

"Here, I found a little chart." He leaned closer, showing Josh a page he'd pulled up on his phone. "It shows a different amount of alcohol based on your body weight, so you know how much to drink without, like, going into a coma."

"That's exactly what we want to do!" Josh gasped. 

"Heck yeah it is," Tyler confirmed excitedly. 

It occurred to Tyler somewhere around the checkout counter how odd it would have been to run into someone they knew when literally all they had in their shopping basket was a bunch of girly drinks, a couple of shot glasses (because Josh wanted them to get "the full experience" regardless of whether or not you were actually supposed to use shot glasses for this kind of drink), and some toothpaste, because -- well, because Josh was almost out of toothpaste. 

But somehow, he couldn't bring himself to care. 

Because it just seemed pointless to care about what other people thought when he was in the presence of the most beautiful boy on the planet, when all he had and all he needed was a basket full of intoxicating pink liquid in one hand and Josh's hand in the other. Because he couldn't bring himself to feel anything but wonderful with this boy's fingers laced around his, laughing as he listened to his boyfriend attempting to use modern lingo to describe how sloshed/wrecked/loose/hammered they were going to get tonight (even though Tyler was pretty sure that Josh had looked up the terms on the way to the store while Tyler drove, all the while trying not to get distracted by the fact that Josh hadn't shaved that morning and all he wanted to do was kiss him all over his beautiful face until his lips were numb and he'd completely memorized the feeling of Josh's skin under his lips and wow this was probably why Josh usually drove).

And a few months ago, Tyler probably would've felt nervous about this. About walking around in public, holding a boy's hand and undeniably flirting with him every few minutes just to see him blush. About leaning across every couple minutes to kiss that irresistible stubble on his cheeks, removing any doubt about whether or not they were dating. 

But not anymore. 

Now, it felt completely normal. It felt like it would've been a crime to be in this boy's presence at any moment of any day without hanging all over him and using every ounce of his energy to show Josh how loved he was. 

So, no. Tyler wasn't worried about seeing someone he knew. He wasn't worried about someone from church or his old school passing by and wondering why he was looking at that yellow-haired boy like that. 

Because if Tyler had learned anything through the course of his relationship with Josh, it was that he cared infinitely more about holding Josh's hand than he did about anything that some random bigot had to say about their relationship. Because if anyone could be stupid or hateful enough to think that there was something wrong with this, then they simply weren't worth it. 

"It," of course, being any ounce of Tyler's time or attention. 

So, when they stood there waiting in line, out in the open for all the world (AKA, the people of Wal-Mart) to see, Tyler simply couldn't help it. I mean, really. Josh was just standing there, looking completely frickin beautiful, and it honestly would've been impossible for Tyler not to kiss him. 

The second and third kisses, though, were completely voluntary. 

And Josh started giggling somewhere around the fifth one. 

"Whatcha thinking about?" he murmured, smiling, in between the sixth and seventh kisses. 

"You," Tyler answered honestly and kissed him again. "But I'm kinda always thinking about you, so. . ."

Josh smiled, sneaking in a ninth kiss before Tyler could. "Not as much as I think about you."

Ten. "Debatable." Eleven.

Josh smirked. "I thought we agreed to stop arguing about who loves who more." Twelve

"And I thought we agreed" -- thirteen -- "that arguing" -- fourteen -- "has a few distinct benefits." 

Fifteen. "True." Sixteen. "So I guess it's good to know that we have a backup plan in case the whole 'getting drunk' thing gets boring." Seventeen.

Tyler gasped playfully. "It will not get boring!" Eighteen. "I'm gonna be one of those people who gets all fun and exciting when they're drunk. I'm gonna be a cool drunk. There's no way you'll get bored of me." Nineteen.

Josh laughed. "Ty, you're probably gonna be a clingy drunk." Twenty.  

"Ha! Joke's on you. I'm already clingy." Twenty-one.

It was around that time that the cashier glared at them for holding up the line, so they put their flirting on hold to place their items on the counter (and Tyler may or may not have taken the opportunity to subtly grab at Josh's butt while the other boy was pulling out his wallet -- not that anyone other than a slightly blushing Josh noticed).

And it was around that time that they ended up back in the parking lot, heatedly making out in Josh's car, when Tyler decided to stop counting.

I mean, he had more important things to do. Obviously. 

Like kiss this boy into oblivion.

And count the freckles on this boy's arm while Josh drove them home -- a task that absorbed so much of Tyler's attention that he just managed to miss the fact that he had mentally called Josh's apartment "home" for the first time.

But slowly, or perhaps suddenly, that was becoming what it was. Because when they walked through the doors of Josh's apartment, Tyler couldn't help but go through the list of memories associated with this place, just like he did every time he came here. The kitchen, where Tyler could frequently be found baking a lemon cake, where Josh constantly told him how pretty he looked in an apron as Tyler (sometimes unsuccessfully) resisted the urge to respond by saying how pretty Josh would look with only an apron on. The couch, where so many movie nights had turned into make-out sessions, and so many make-out sessions had turned into tickle fights (because even though Josh would never admit it, he was extremely ticklish, and Tyler was a dirty little traitor who would resort to any means to hear that boy laugh). The bed, where they'd made love for the first time. Where Tyler had continued to sleep most nights, because he liked the way it smelled like Josh's shampoo, and the way that he would sometimes find a bright yellow hair on the pillow. The way that it was impossible for anything here not to remind him of Josh, because this was Josh's home, and Josh was Tyler's home. 

And the more he thought about it, the more he was starting to understand this whole "getting drunk in Josh's apartment" plan. 

Because besides the fact that the alcohol might help Josh ignore the few moving boxes that were beginning to accumulate in the living room and in the hall, Tyler realized when they finally ended up on the sofa, legs crossed as they faced each other with their respective shot glasses, that this was just an incredibly safe place. That it made sense, that this was just another one of those things that Josh had always wanted to experience, but had never really been brave enough until he was here, with Tyler by his side. That, in a weird way, getting drunk together was just another bonding experience for the two of them, a way of proving how much they trusted each other by being together at their most vulnerable. 

Or maybe it was just stupid. 

"Is this stupid?" Tyler asked out loud. 

Josh shrugged. "I don't know. Probably." 

"Okay. That's what I figured."

"I mean, I told Mark to check in on us later, to make sure we're okay and everything."

"Oh. That's good." Tyler leaned his head down a little, taking a moment to smell the bright pink liquid filling his shot glass (which had "Welcome to Ohio!" obnoxiously printed on the side, "for patriotism," Josh had said). It smelled sweet, like strawberry candy. 

No wonder Josh had wanted this one. It was perfect for him. 

"Should we make, like, a toast or something?" Tyler wondered aloud. 

"I think so. Yeah, probably." Josh paused. "Got any ideas?"

Tyler thought for a moment, smiled, and raised his shot glass. "To being stupid together."

Josh laughed and clinked their glasses together. "I'll drink to that."

And they did. 

Tyler coughed as it went down, whether because it was a strong drink or just because he was expecting it to be. It was sweet, definitely sweet. But it still made him shiver. 

Meanwhile, Josh was scrunching his face pleasantly, like he'd just eaten a sour candy. 

It was frickin adorable. 

"You're adorable," Tyler said. 

Josh blushed. 

And then they waited. 

"How long do you think it takes to get drunk?" Tyler asked fifteen minutes later.

"I don't know," Josh replied, looking down at his glass. "We should probably try to space it out a little, though. Like, drink some every half an hour or something, make sure we eat something every now and then so we don't go too far too fast."

"That would be the responsible thing to do," Tyler agreed. He paused. "Or we could watch Game of Thrones and take a shot every time someone ends up naked."

"I thought you didn't even like Game of Thrones," Josh commented with a light chuckle. 

"Well, maybe I would like it if I was drunk," Tyler reasoned playfully. 

They ended up settling for a compromise. 

AKA, they ended up cuddling on the sofa, Game of Thrones playing quietly in the background as they tossed pieces of popcorn into each other's mouths, only drinking another shot when they'd emptied the bowl. 

"Shouldn't we be playing games or something?" Josh asked a little while later, a subtle slur in his voice the only indication that he'd been drinking. Even then, it was only apparent to Tyler because he had such a strong baseline, because he knew Josh's strong, clear tone like he knew the back of his own hand. 

"What, you wanna set up, like, a -- a beer pong table or something?" Tyler giggled in response. 

He, on the other hand, was starting to feel a little floaty. 

Okay. 

A lot floaty. 

In other words, they were both learning very quickly that Tyler was a complete and utter lightweight. 

Or, you know. They would've been learning that if Tyler wasn't already too drunk to remember the word "lightweight."

Josh shook his head, chuckling. "No, no, like -- you know when people drink and they play all those games that, like -- y'know, get you to tell a bunch of secrets or -- or just do stupid stuff because you're drunk and it's funny?"

"Like" -- Tyler started snickering uncontrollably -- "like spin the bottle?"

Josh laughed. "Yeah, like that, but. . . I mean, that might be kind of hard" -- here, Tyler interrupted with a barely contained giggle and a slurred, "that's what he said," prompting Josh to playfully roll his eyes before revising, "That might be a little difficult with only two people."

Tyler let out another burst of giggles before Josh's words fully registered in his brain, and he suddenly opened his mouth, gasping, "Waitwaitwait -- are you saying -- are you saying that you don't wanna kiss me?"

"No, I just --"

"Because I am a great person to kiss."

"I know that, Tyler, I'm just saying --"

"I'm so great."

"Yes, sweetie, I know --"

Tyler gasped suddenly, cutting him off. "We should play truth or dare!"

Josh chuckled lightly. "Yeah, okay --"

"Josh, I dare you to kiss me."

Now, Josh full-on laughed. "Ty, it doesn't work that way. I haven't even picked truth or dare yet."

"Well, pick one," Tyler pouted. 

"Dare."

"I dare you to kiss me, then."

Josh smiled at him adoringly, reaching a gentle hand across to cradle his boyfriend's face. Tyler sighed happily into the contact, his breath fluttering in perfect tune with his heart. "Any requests about the, uh -- the location of the kiss?" Josh murmured, pretending that the endless possibilities -- and his knowledge of Tyler's creativity -- didn't make his heart race out of his chest. 

Tyler mulled it over for a brief moment before grinning and tapping his lips. 

But he may or may not have ended up getting a few neck kisses too. 

You know. As a bonus.

"Your turn," Josh grinned, a little breathless. "Truth or dare?"

"Uhmm," Tyler thought for a long moment. "What's the dare gonna be if I choose that one?"

"You don't get to ask that," Josh laughed. "You just have to pick one."

"But Joooooosh," Tyler whined, dramatically falling across Josh's lap, "I wanna knoooow."

"Well, too bad."

"Just tell me, Josh. I promise I'll pick one. Just tell me the dare first."

"You get kinda bossy when you're drunk," Josh giggled. 

"Shut up, you love it when I'm bossy," Tyler insisted playfully.

"Yeah, I do," Josh admitted with a suggestive smirk. 

Tyler's mouth fell open in surprise, his teasing taking an unexpected turn. It was supposed to happen the way it usually did: Tyler made a flirty comment, Josh blushed, it was adorable. End of story. 

But sometimes.

Sometimes, Josh played along. 

Sometimes, Josh flirted back, knowing full well that it would make every cell in Tyler's brain completely short-circuit. 

And although Tyler wasn't totally sure what to make of these moments, one thing was absolutely certain: they made his heart pound like nothing else. 

And okay, maybe it was a little pathetic that it took so little to fluster him, but this was Josh, for goodness' sake. Tyler literally watched him breathe one time and it turned him on more than an entire lifetime of trying to muster up a feeling for girls ever had. 

But now, Josh was looking at him with those eyes, the ones that Tyler was quickly associating with one particular room in the apartment (*hint hint* it's the bedroom), and Tyler felt a shiver go down his spine when he noticed the blush on Josh's cheeks that usually served as his only indication that certain thoughts were going through Josh's head. 

AKA, the kinds of thoughts that were practically always going through Tyler's head. 

And the kind that, more often than not, he ended up vocalizing, just so he could live with the knowledge that he of all people had the ability to fluster someone as beautiful and perfect as Joshua William Dun. 

Of course, the feeling was mutual. But the main difference was that Josh was usually either too nice or too shy to intentionally get Tyler all worked up like that. 

Bless his heart.

So, despite the fact that Tyler was currently feeling like every single one of his thoughts was being filtered through a pinball machine, he managed to scramble together enough clarity of mind to silently thank that stupid strawberry-flavored alcohol for making Josh brave enough to flirt the crap out of him. 

Because oh snap, there was a lot of flirting that night. 

I mean, to be fair, Tyler couldn't remember much of it, but still. 

It definitely happened. 

He's pretty sure. 

Like, 70% sure. 

At least. 

Because even though he's not totally sure what led to it, he's definitely positive that after a few more drinks and a lot more suggestive comments, he can definitely, distinctly remember the slight quiver in his boyfriend's voice (which could either be attributed to nerves or to simple shock from the intensity of Tyler's last innuendo, but he was betting on a mixture of both) when Josh suddenly asked, "Hey, Ty?" in that quiet voice that he always used when he wasn't quite sure if he wanted to be heard or not. 

Tyler hummed airily in response, his eyes glued to the ceiling fan as he attempted to make it move with his mind. 

He was pretty far gone at this point, you guys. 

Josh went silent for a while, but Tyler just kept humming, the tune quickly morphing into something in between the Game of Thrones theme song and some Justin Beiber song that was playing on the radio earlier. 

At some point, they had gotten off the couch (or fallen off, Tyler couldn't really remember), so they were both laying on the floor now, Josh next to the sofa and Tyler perpendicular to him, using his stomach as a pillow (and let me tell you, Joshua frickin Dun makes a ridiculously comfy stomach pillow). 

After a moment, he realized that Josh still hadn't said anything, so he mumbled, "What's up, Jishwa?"

Josh blushed and averted his eyes. "Nothing," he insisted half-heartedly.

"If you don't tell me, I'll have to guess," Tyler warned him. 

Josh shook his head. "Nah, just -- forget it. It's nothing."

"Is it about me? Did I do something wrong?" Tyler guessed, pouting his lips. 

"No, it's -- I told you, it's nothing."

"Is it about the whipped cream?"

"No, I --" Josh blinked in confusion as Tyler's words finally registered. "Wait. What do you mean, the whipped cream?"

"Oh. Nothing." Josh only had to glare at him for about three seconds before Tyler caved and admitted, "You had some whipped cream in the fridge and I wanted to do something fun and sexy with it, but I kind of ended up eating it all while you were in the bathroom."

"Oh." He shook his head again. "No, it's not -- it's not that."

"Then what is it, Jishwa?" He paused, tilting his head over to look at his boyfriend's beautiful, blushing face. "You know I always love you, right?"

Josh smiled and murmured a quiet, "I know."

"Like, it doesn't even matter," Tyler slurred. "I mean, I would keep loving you no matter what. Like, even if you were a cat or something." He thought about this for a moment. "You would be a great cat," he decided, smiling dreamily. 

"It's stupid," Josh mumbled, blushing even more.

"I love stupid things," Tyler countered honestly. 

"Well, I just --" Josh sighed, finally giving in. "I was just wondering, okay?" he began softly, as if he was already apologizing. 

"No harm in that," Tyler supplied, encouraging him to continue. 

"I just -- when we, like --" he fumbled for the right words, and Tyler could not get over how freakishly cute this boy was when he was nervous. I mean, gosh. It was unreal. "When we. . . you know. What does -- what is it like? I mean, like. . ." He averted his eyes. "You know. For you."

Tyler was quiet for a long time. Then, "You're talking about sex, right?"

Josh blushed furiously, but nodded a moment later. 

"Well, it's. . ."

Huh.

Tyler had never really tried to describe it before, and while being drunk might've given Josh an advantage when it came to his willingness to ask about it, it was most definitely hindering Tyler's ability to form words.

He knew it was good. And that it was intense. But somehow, those words didn't quite feel adequate to convey the full experience of having Josh inside him.

Finally, he slurred, "Okay, so it's like, you know when you're on a roller coaster, right?" Josh nodded. "So it's like, when you're on a really big roller coaster and you're, like, at the top of a really big hill and there's just everything, y'know? And then it just like drops and everything is going crazy and it's super overwhelming, but like, in a good way, and your whole body just kind of feels floaty and weird and awesome?" Josh nodded again, his eyes a little wider. "It's like that," Tyler decided, "except if there was also a dude fricking you while you did that."

Josh blinked, his mouth opening and closing a few times before he was actually able to speak. "Oh," he finally replied, and Tyler (as drunk as he was) definitely didn't miss how distinctly wrecked Josh's voice was in that moment.

He sounded utterly beautiful.

"You should try it sometime," Tyler mused aloud before he even knew what he was saying.

And if Tyler hadn't promptly fallen asleep on his boyfriend's stomach, he would've heard Josh mutter an almost indistinguishable "Yeah, I should," spoken in the softest, sweetest whisper.

He did dream about it, though.

So there was that.

I mean, not about Josh agreeing that he should try it sometime.

But about him. . . you know.

Actually trying it.

With Tyler.

You know.

In the other place.

And believe me, this was not the first time he'd ever had a sexy dream about Josh. Like, not even close.

But this was most definitely the first time he had dreamed about it like that.

And let me tell you, it was a gosh dang heck of an experience.

Because Tyler already knew how unironically intoxicating it was to open yourself up to someone like that, to put every single ounce of your trust into someone and have yourself proven right. He knew how much he needed sometimes to put himself completely into someone else's hands, to give himself up to Josh for a little while and to know that, by the end of it, he would feel more love, more trust, more life than he ever did before.

But the thought of making Josh feel the same way? The thought of Josh laying under him, looking up at him with those beautiful brown eyes that Tyler had fallen in love with the literal instant he saw them. The thought of Josh letting himself be taken care of, and Tyler getting to make him feel as beautiful and loved as he always deserved to feel. The thought of Josh's legs falling open for him, of Josh making a whole chorus of new sounds as Tyler pushed his way inside him --

"Oh my gosh," Josh moaned.

Tyler had never woken up so quickly in his life.

His eyes immediately flew open to find the source of his boyfriend's voice, only to discover the precise reason for Josh's complaint when a massive stream of daylight pummeled into him, sending a shock wave through his head that felt like someone skipping a rock across the water.

You know. If that particular body of water happened to be made up entirely of alcohol and regret.

"Oh my gosh," Tyler agreed pathetically as soon as he was sure that his voice still actually existed.

And he knew that alcohol created hangovers. He really did.

It was the only logical sequence of events. You got drunk, you had a hangover. That was just how life went.

But oh my frickin gosh.

"Dude," Josh groaned after a long moment.

Tyler grunted in response, feeling sure that if another word came out of his mouth, something else would probably come up with it (and he would much rather avoid that kind of hangover, thank you very much).

"Dude," Josh repeated, wincing. "My head hurts so bad."

Tyler grunted again.

Of course, what he meant was, "Oh my goodness, yes, my head is killing me and it feels like my insides were put through a meat grinder and boiled in alcohol and incinerated all at once and oh my gosh, please remind me to never get drunk ever ever ever again, okay?" 

Just, y'know. Without using the actual words.

Luckily, Josh understood him perfectly.

And when Tyler managed to reach his arm up to rest a warm hand on the other boy's chest, right over his heart, Josh knew what that meant, too.

"I love you too, angel," Josh whispered.

The sound was still enough to send a little throb of pain through Tyler's skull, but he didn't mind one bit.

It was, by far, the best headache he'd ever had. 

Chapter Text

Tyler was a little surprised, honestly. 

I mean, we've already established that it was pretty uncommon for him to get a text in the first place (especially considering his general lack of friends). 

Well, you know. Unless it was his mom asking if he'd be home for dinner. Or Zack trying to figure out some weird, random detail about "the gay experience," either for the GSA or to work out some particular detail of Jordan's plan (which was still under full construction -- the last time Tyler heard about it, it involved something along the lines of "researching" a bunch of romantic comedies to find out which pattern best friends typically follow when they're falling in love). Or Josh, telling him that he looked beautiful today, even though they were almost always sitting right next to each other.

(Admittedly, those last ones were his favorite.)

So, he had to admit that his heart gave a weird little flutter (of anxiety? Excitement? It was too soon to tell) when he saw his phone light up with a text from an unknown number. 

Hey! Wanna grab lunch some time this week? I need a serious break from packing. :P

It buzzed again a second later. 

This is Jenna by the way lol 

Oh. 

Right. 

Because he and Jenna were friends now. 

And friends hung out together. 

That was a normal thing. That normal friends did. 

Together. 

Okay. 

He could handle that. 

In fact, he might could do a little better than "handling it."

Because as time went on, he started feeling less and less of that queasy feeling in his stomach that typically only showed up whenever someone who wasn't Josh or a member of his family looked him in the eye, and he started feeling a lot more of that vaguely fluttery feeling, the kind you get when you're about to ride a roller coaster and you kind of know that there's a chance you could die, but you're still pretty psyched about it anyway. 

It was a decided improvement from his last attempt at friendship, truth be told -- his old roommate from that one semester of college probably still told stories about "that weird guy who stayed in his dorm all the time eating goldfish crackers and who nearly fainted the one time we actually invited him to a party."

So, yeah. College was not exactly his best moment. 

But Jenna was different. He and Jenna actually had things in common. Jenna was sweet and funny and didn't make his legs feel numb with terror. 

All good qualities to look for in a friend. 

So, with only a minor flutter of anxiety in his chest, he agreed to meet Jenna for pizza and frozen yogurt later that week, and it wasn't long before he started to feel (dare he say it?) excited about the prospect of having an actual, legitimate friend. 

And it quickly got to the point where, okay, maybe he was a little bit -- let's say pointedly enthusiastic about it.

Bragging. He was bragging. 

"Hey, Josh. You wanna do something on Thursday?" he asked casually as they sat on the couch one night, watching reruns of The Office.

Josh smiled patiently. He knew what was coming, but politely replied, "Sure, if you want."

"Oh, right. I can't." Tyler grinned. "Because I'm hanging out with a friend that day."

"I'm so proud of you, honey," Josh mumbled sweetly, leaning across to kiss him on the cheek. "Just as proud as I was the first twelve times you told me."

"Proud of what exactly?" Tyler asked facetiously. "Oh, you mean my friend, Jenna?"

Josh laughed, his smile sending a little jolt through Tyler's stomach as if to remind him that no one (not even Jenna) could ever affect him the same way Josh could.

As if he could ever forget. 

"You're really cute when you get all excited about stuff. You know that, right?" Josh added, taking the opportunity to snuggle closer and lay his head on Tyler's shoulder. 

Which was another thing. 

"Oh crap," Tyler realized, immediately tensing up. "I'm gonna have to look cute."

Josh did not seem to understand the gravity of the situation. 

"You always look cute," Josh answered simply, as if that was that. 

Which, you know, was great and all, but not at all helpful. 

"Josh, that is not at all helpful," Tyler informed him with a huff, because honestly, this was his first big chance at having a friend -- an actual, non-related, non-boyfriend friend -- and he was absolutely not going to risk that just because he'd gotten too complacent to know how friends were supposed to dress for each other. 

I mean, not that he'd ever really known that in the first place, but still. 

It was a big deal, and you'd better believe he was gonna get this right, even if it meant throwing a fit to convince Josh how important this was. 

Because Josh was a lot of things, and cute somehow managed to be every single one of them. So, logically, if Tyler wanted to look cute for his friend date, he just needed to channel as much Josh as humanly possible. 

Which, he convinced himself, was absolutely necessary and not deceitful at all. 

Josh was just -- it was impossible not to like Josh, okay? And Tyler really needed to borrow those approval ratings for a while, just long enough to become so close with Jenna that they could spend all day on the couch wearing sweatpants and watching whatever came on TV and eating pizza without plates and generally doing everything with as little effort as possible.

But to get there, of course, he had to get through a basic lunch date with her. 

And to do that, he needed to look cute. 

"Joooosh," he whined, not really sure what he wanted to accomplish, but figuring that Josh could fix just about anything for him. 

"Honey, I swear you have nothing to worry about," Josh promised in his most reassuring voice, reaching down to kiss Tyler's forehead for good measure. "You two get along so well, it's almost scary. She's gonna love hanging out with you, even if you look like you just crawled out of a dumpster." Tyler opened his mouth to protest, but before he could, Josh quickly added, "And no, you're not going to look like you just crawled out of a dumpster. You look good in everything, Ty. Just wear whatever feels right, and you'll be fine."

Tyler nodded absently, turning his attention back to the TV for a moment. He tried to let it go, but that didn't work, so after a couple of minutes, he murmured (in his distinctly not-casual-even-though-you-can-tell-it's-supposed-to-be-super-casual voice), "I just -- I really want this to work out. With Jenna."

Josh didn't say anything right away, but he must've been able to tell how genuinely terrified Tyler was that he would somehow manage to scare away his only chance at having a friend, because he started gently sweeping a hand across Tyler's arm in that way that he knew made Tyler feel safe. After a moment, he suggested softly, "How about that navy blue shirt, the one with all the little flowers on it? And you could paint your nails yellow to match. That'd be sick."

Tyler smiled, mumbling into Josh's shirt, "You mean I could paint my nails yellow to match your hair."

"I mean, that's -- that would be fine too, I guess," he admitted wryly. Tyler poked his arm in response (because how else was he supposed to react to that kind of insolence?), prompting an all-out poke war that had them both tangled up on the ground within minutes, only ending when they were laughing too hard to breathe. 

It was moments like these when Tyler knew that he fell in love with the right person. 

I mean, not that he ever really doubted it, but still. Even when he had flashes of the same anxieties he used to have every day before this literal embodiment of sunshine walked into his life -- the same moments of doubt that could easily have him retreating so far into his own head that he could barely recognize himself anymore -- Josh always knew exactly how to draw him back in. He didn't even have to ask. It was just pure instinct, like it was the simplest thing in the world to say exactly what Tyler needed to hear whenever he needed to hear it. 

It was amazing, is what it was. Josh was amazing. 

And all that Tyler could ever imagine wanting was for the rest of his life to go just like this, face to face with this beautiful sunshine boy who knew him better than he knew himself and still, miraculously, managed to love him anyway. 

"Hey, Josh?" he asked softly after their laughter had died down a little. 

The other boy hummed in response, and Tyler couldn't help feeling a shiver run through his veins at the sight of this boy, smiling and red-faced and perfect. Tyler didn't even know what he wanted to ask, he just -- wanted to hear Josh's voice. He always wanted to hear Josh's voice, every moment of every day. 

"Josh, will you --" he swallowed, taking a moment to adjust -- looking at this boy was like looking at the sun, and it was overwhelming sometimes in the best way. "Um, will you -- will you do it? My nails? You're just -- you're a lot better at it than I am," he found himself saying. 

He was about 90% sure that a very different question nearly came out of his mouth, but he barely had a second to think about it before Josh was grinning that trademark smile of his and dragging him towards the cabinet to pick out a color (Josh's collection of nail polish had grown at an alarming rate, due in no small part to Tyler's tendency to gift him with random colors at random times, just because he knew how much it made him smile).

Unsurprisingly, having Josh in close proximity for the amount of time it took to paint a pretty sunflower yellow color on Tyler's nails (and then for the amount of time that it took for Tyler to return the favor, painting Josh's nails the exact same yellow because yes, they really were that sappy) had Tyler feeling significantly less freaked out about his upcoming friend date. 

Unfortunately, though, that calmness had the audacity to turn its tail and run as soon as Thursday actually arrived.

One moment, Tyler was completely fine, and the next, he found himself sitting in his car a safe distance away from what he was pretty sure was Jenna's place (though not totally sure, based on her somewhat vague instructions to "look for the building that seems like it could possibly be some kind of crack den, and then go one further and you're there"), completely freaking out. 

I mean, really. What was he thinking? He couldn't just go in there, expecting everything to go smoothly, like -- like some kind of arrogant jerk, thinking everything would be fine just because he wanted it to be. This was Tyler, for goodness' sake, literally everyone on the fricking planet knew that he was nowhere near capable of maintaining an actual friendship, much less starting one. 

This was just too much. He couldn't do it. He should just turn around and go back home and whine to Josh about how much of a failure he was, and maybe Josh would bring out those little caramel candies with the frosting inside that he liked so much, and it would just be fine, he would be fine, he didn't need anyone else in his life, he could just -- just be with Josh, and hang out with Zack, and just not have any friends at all, ever, and --

His phone buzzed. 

stop freaking out and just go in there

Oh. How did Josh even know --?

Actually, you know what? He should probably just stop questioning it at this point. 

His phone buzzed again. 

you'll be fine babe

I bet you'll even have fun

you just gotta go inside first

Tyler sighed, shivering a little and pretending not to notice. 

You make it sound so easy, though.

just take it one step at a time 

maybe just work on getting out of the car first

Tyler sighed. 

If I end up being a complete failure at friendship, will you at least cuddle me until I feel better? 

absolutely

I mean I'll probably cuddle you pretty hard either way tbh 

He closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath. 

And you'll still love me no matter what? 

Tyler was pretty sure he knew the answer to that one, but at times like this, he still really, really needed to hear it. 

Or read it. Whatever. 

always and forever xx

Josh's response came immediately -- faster than immediately -- and Tyler breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't anything he wasn't expecting, but Josh still knew exactly how to say the one thing that Tyler needed to hear to calm himself down, to push back that voice in his head that became a little too loud sometimes and made him believe all the worst things about himself that weren't really true. 

Because the thing is, Josh had a pretty powerful voice too, and more and more often Tyler had started to notice that the other voice in his head -- the one that seemed to be getting better and better at saying no thanks, not today to the bad voice -- was starting to sound a lot like Tyler's favorite drummer boy. 

So, as he finally stepped out of the car and started walking up to Jenna's door -- always and forever on constant repeat in his head -- Tyler felt surprisingly calm. 

Well.

Maybe not quite calm. 

There was still just a little too much churning in his stomach to really qualify for calm.

But now, Tyler did feel something that seemed remarkably similar to excitement, so he figured he was doing alright, all things considered. 

I mean, he still lurked outside for a few minutes, pulling out his phone and double-checking the address at least fourteen times to make sure he was at the right place, but by the time he worked himself up to knocking on Jenna's door, he actually felt okay. Even though he'd had a bit of a rough start, now he felt like no matter what happened when she opened that door, he would be prepared for it. 

He was wrong. 

Because despite the extreme creativity that his anxiety had been known to use over the years, absolutely no part of him had been expecting a very frazzled, extremely flour-covered (?) Jenna to open the door, screech, "I'M SORRY, MY SAUCE IS BURNING," and then rush back into the apartment, disappearing to what he assumed was the kitchen and calling out a moment later that he should feel free to come on in, as if she hadn't just left him gaping in the doorway in a literal cloud of flour.

Okay. 

So, not what he expected. At all. 

Alright then. 

Hesitantly, he eased himself into the apartment, softly closing the door behind him before following Jenna's hurried trajectory into the kitchen. 

He turned the corner and there she was, frantically stirring a big pot of what seemed, unsurprisingly, to be some kind of sauce. Her hair was piled messily into a bun on her head, and the rest of the room seemed just as frazzled as she had been when she answered the door. 

In other words, flour

There was flour absolutely everywhere. 

"Um. I'm sorry, but what's happening?" Tyler asked slowly, taking in the boxes piled around the room (many of which seemed to have already been taped up for moving, but it looked like Jenna had pried them back open more than a few times) and the oddly-shaped lump of dough that sat on the opposite counter. 

"Pizza," Jenna answered simply, looking up from her sauce (that seemed to be out of immediate danger now that she had gotten back to stirring it) to give him a dazzling smile. 

How she managed to look like some kind of model even in the midst of what he could only describe as pure, flour-y chaos, Tyler would never know.

That didn't exactly answer his question, though. "Um. . . what?" he repeated, confused. "I thought -- um, I thought we were. Going out?"

"Well, we were," Jenna admitted sheepishly. She took a deep breath before continuing, "We were going to go out to that nice little pizza place down the street, and it was gonna be perfect because technically, I'm still in the process of moving, so everything is in boxes and I constantly forget where I put everything so I have to bust into at least five different ones every time I need something, and then whenever I bake I have to clean everything up, and that's a whole other set of boxes, and Mark made me promise that I would try to go easy on myself and just go out to eat so I wouldn't have to deal with all the stress of cooking, because packing is already driving me crazy, so." She sighed, reaching up to push away an unruly strand of hair from her face (though it somehow ended up staying disheveled in a way that just made her look even prettier, which Tyler felt was a little unfair). "But then I just thought to heck with this and started looking for recipes."

Tyler still wasn't 100% sure what was happening -- he wasn't even sure that he'd ever really thought about the possibility of making pizza at home when there were so many places in the world that offered pizza that was already made -- but somehow, when he finally opened his mouth, he heard his own voice saying, "How can I help?" 

Within minutes, he was grating three different types of cheese and listening to Jenna explain the difference between making a pizza dough and making a bread dough (pizza dough only rises once, but bread typically rises twice, apparently) and hearing her talk about how she started baking with her grandmother when she was little and quickly discovered that it was her favorite thing to do, and somehow, when she described the feeling of working on a recipe, of pouring a little piece of her soul into something and finally getting it right, the feeling of sharing the final product with someone and seeing their face light up when they tried it -- it was like hearing his own experience with music put into words. 

I mean, the fulfillment of creating a song didn't exactly end with watching someone eat it, but still. 

It was freakishly similar. 

Jenna taught him how to stretch the dough out, and laughed when Tyler decided to try and see if tossing a pizza dough was at all similar to spinning a basketball (spoiler: it was definitely, extremely not). Then, Jenna wanted to learn how to actually spin a basketball, so they started looking for one while the pizzas were in the oven, but ended up just watching High School Musical on netflix instead when the closest thing they could find was a couple of stray tennis balls (which, unfairly, didn't work that great as a basketball substitute). Of course, then they both had to take a buzzfeed quiz to find out which HSM characters they were, so they spent the next fifteen minutes answering questions and debating the relative quality of several obscure songs from the sequels and finally laughing until they had tears in their eyes when Tyler got Sharpay.

It was all so. . . easy.

Tyler expected this day to be a lot of things, but easy was never one of them. 

And yet here they were, laughing and talking and bonding as if they'd been best friends for years instead of just knowing each other for a few weeks, sort of. 

I mean, it did become pretty clear pretty quickly that Jenna was way out of his league as a friend. 

And after eating a few slices of pizza that were so delicious that they could only be described as frickin art, Tyler was pretty sure that Jenna was out of everybody's league. 

Just, like, as a person. 

But before he could even start to panic about how he could ever possibly manage to become friends with someone so effortlessly sweet and smart and funny and cool, she was offering to help him make a lemon cake from scratch because he'd mentioned how much Josh liked them, and he realized with a little shock that wow, they already were friends. 

How in the everliving heck did that happen?

I mean, seriously, he -- Tyler "What's Your Favorite Type Of Goldfish Cracker" Joseph -- was really, honestly hanging out with another human being, and he was not Ruining It™.

And, okay, maybe it shouldn't be that big of a deal, but come on.

This wasn't just unexpected, it was -- this was unprecedented. Never in his life had Tyler thought that a friendship could be this easy. Never. 

And maybe -- just maybe -- he had spent a little too much time blaming that on himself. 

Because he knew it, okay? He knew that he could be awkward, that normal conversations that had no business going so wrong so quickly had a tendency to come to a screeching stop as soon as he was involved, and he knew that that wasn't exactly normal

He also knew that people weren't exactly looking for that particular quality in a friend. 

So, somewhere along the way, he had stopped being surprised when people didn't want to hang out with him. It wasn't cool, exactly, but that's how it was. 

That's how he was. 

But, well -- maybe it wasn't. 

Maybe he wasn't so unworthy of friendship after all. 

Maybe he just hadn't found the right friend yet. 

Because with Jenna, he didn't make the conversations come to a screeching halt. He didn't show off his years of experience creating unavoidable awkward silences, he didn't make weird jokes and then constantly backtrack to explain himself because no one else understood his references. He didn't feel like every word out of his mouth just perpetuated his own anxiety and regret and shame at even having to struggle this much in the first place. 

Heck, he was actually making her laugh.

Not that sticking two straws in your mouth so you looked like a walrus was anything to be particularly proud of, but like. 

You know. Whatever. 

The point was, he was starting to realize that maybe all those years he'd spent convincing himself that he didn't really need any friends, that he was fine just keeping himself isolated, keeping himself safe and away from everyone else -- well, maybe it wasn't all that different from all the years he'd spent convincing himself that he didn't like boys, that nope, he was not at all affected by seeing Keanu Reeves as a surfer-slash-hot-FBI-agent in Point Break, and he definitely did not want to kiss that beautiful boy in that dark movie theater. 

Except he did. He really, really did. 

And maybe, just maybe, he'd spent all that energy shoving himself into a little box because he thought it was safer there. 

And maybe it was. No one could exactly reject you, if you lived in a box.

But they couldn't exactly see you, either. 

And that's how Tyler felt right now. He felt seen.

And you know what? 

It wasn't a bad feeling. 

In fact, by the time he made it back home (considerably later than planned, because completing the entire High School Musical trilogy takes longer than you'd think), Tyler was pretty sure that his face would legitimately be sore for at least a few days from smiling so much. Maybe a whole week, even. 

It was worth it, though. 

Especially when he found himself in his usual place on the couch, settled into Josh's arms, and got to tell him every detail of his day, excitedly recounting all his new inside jokes with Jenna and telling him that they'd already made plans to get together early next week because she wanted to show Tyler how to make macarons (which she insisted wasn't that difficult if you knew how to do it, but given his level of experience, Tyler was still absolutely preparing for it to be a disaster, and he honestly couldn't wait). 

He decided that it was nice, getting to relive it all, but it was even nicer that this was another thing he could share with Josh, now. That it somehow felt like he'd added another piece to his puzzle, and he could show people a much better picture of himself now than he used to. 

Which maybe meant that he was getting ahead of himself, just a little, but Tyler never really claimed to be capable of doing anything else, so. 

He really didn't mind. 

It wasn't until a few days later, though, that Tyler realized that he maybe wasn't the only one who'd been doing some serious character development lately. 

Even bringing it up in the first place was an accident, honestly. 

He had been telling Josh about something funny Jenna had said (it was his first friend, okay, he was allowed to be a little overexcited about it) when he mentioned something about her getting ready for the move and he immediately froze. 

He had kind of forgotten that it still wasn't a great idea to talk about that, just yet. 

It wasn't exactly a rule or anything. It was just that -- well, Josh was still a little sensitive about the whole Mark Moving Out situation, so Tyler had kind of been. . . pointedly avoiding the subject as much as possible. 

Basically, he didn't like Josh being unhappy. 

At all.

Ever

And talking about Josh's best friend in the world leaving him for his girlfriend -- no matter how lovely of a person that girlfriend happened to be -- made Josh unhappy. 

So, when Tyler accidentally broke his own unspoken rule of don't bring it up, he pretty much immediately started calculating how many stupid jokes and Disney marathons would be needed to repair the damage, but then he looked down at where Josh's head was resting in Tyler's lap to see the other boy smiling as bright as ever. 

No damage. 

Huh.

How about that. 

Tyler didn't notice that he was still staring until Josh let out a little giggle, saying, "What is it?"

Before he could even think to say something sweet and harmless like "oh, nothing" or "you're just extra pretty today, that's all" (which wouldn't have even been a lie, because dang if this boy didn't get at least seven degrees prettier every time the earth turned around), Tyler found himself blurting out, "You seem happy."

Which, okay, isn't exactly the worst thing he could've said, but it still probably wasn't the best way to start a conversation that Tyler wasn't even sure Josh was ready to have. 

The world didn't implode or anything, though. Josh just smiled even brighter and agreed, "I am happy."

But with Tyler being Tyler, of course, he couldn't just leave it at that. 

"Yeah, but you seem. . . okay. You know. With the whole moving thing." Tyler watched the other boy's expression carefully, waiting a moment to see if his smile would fade at all now that they were really Talking About It. 

It didn't. 

Instead, Josh just got this comfortable look in his eyes, like maybe he'd been waiting for Tyler to bring it up. After a moment of consideration, he said thoughtfully, "I think I am. Okay with it. I mean, I definitely wasn't, at first. But it's like -- I don't know. I think maybe it's just hard to stay upset about it when I see how happy he is, y'know? Like -- meeting Jenna and seeing the two of them together, it just -- it makes it a little more real, but it also, like. I guess I feel a little less like I'm being replaced, if that makes sense?" he asked, looking at Tyler. 

Tyler nodded, smiling softly. "Yeah, I think I understand that. Like, it feels less like he's leaving you and more like he's just -- like he's just bringing someone else into the picture?"

"Yeah," Josh confirmed, nodding a little. "I mean, it'll still be a huge adjustment and everything, but I just -- I'm not, like, worried that it's gonna be the end of our friendship anymore, I guess. It's just gonna be the start of something a little different."

Tyler softly started running a hand through Josh's hair, twirling it through his fingers in a silent gesture of I'm so proud of you that somehow felt more tangible than if he'd said the words aloud. 

After a moment, though, he decided to say it anyway, murmuring a soft, "I'm so proud of you, darling," into the air around them because he figures it's always a good idea to say things like that out loud. Even if they don't really need to be said. 

It made Josh blush a little, though, which was totally worth it. 

Because gosh flipping darn it, this boy is so cute when he blushes. 

Tyler still can't get over it. 

Even a few minutes later, he still found himself distracted by how cute Josh is, which was probably why he didn't notice anything unusual when the other boy cleared his throat and said, a little nervously, "So, I guess now that Mark is moving out, there's gonna be a lot more room around here."

Tyler considered this for a moment. "Yeah, I guess so," he agreed. "I hadn't really thought about that."

Josh sat up a little, adjusting himself so that he was sitting next to Tyler instead of laying across his lap. "So, um. What do you think I should do with it?" he asked, looking at Tyler carefully. 

"I don't know," Tyler responded thoughtfully. "I mean, if you wanted, you could probably start setting up your drum kit in the extra room," he suggested. 

"True," Josh agreed, pausing for a moment. "But, you know -- the drums, they might get kind of lonely in there," he prompted slowly. 

Tyler giggled. "Well, I assume you'll be spending some time with them," he teased. 

Gosh, it was always so cute when Josh treated his drums like a person. 

So freaking cute. 

"Yeah, but then I might get kind of lonely," Josh continued. He paused again, seeming to consider something. "You know, it's -- it's a pretty big apartment for just one person. Too big, really," he pointed out. 

Tyler hummed absently, still thinking about how cute Josh is (because if you hadn't noticed, once he gets started on that kind of thought process, it's pretty dang hard to stop). "You could get another roommate, if you wanted?" he suggested, fidgeting with the edge of Josh's shirt. Josh looked really good in grey, he decided. 

I mean, Josh looked really good in everything, so that wasn't exactly news. 

Tyler just liked thinking about it. 

"I could," Josh chuckled a little, though Tyler wasn't quite sure what was so funny. He didn't mind, though. Any excuse to hear Josh laugh was a good one. "Know anyone who might be interested?" Josh asked patiently. 

Tyler shrugged. "I'm not sure. I don't really know any of your friends other than Mark," he said, thinking about it for a moment. It was sweet of Josh to ask him about this, he decided, but considering the fact that the only person he knew just so happened to be the girl that Mark was moving in with, he didn't think he'd be a lot of help in the whole Finding A New Roommate area. Josh just wanted him to be involved, which Tyler decided was very sweet and very Josh. 

"You know, it'd be great if I knew another musician, someone who played an instrument or something. You know, so my drums wouldn't get so lonely," Josh tried, looking at Tyler pointedly. 

"Maybe Ashley would know someone," Tyler offered. 

Josh laughed again. "Tyler, I'm really not sure how much more obvious I can be."

Tyler looked at him, confused. "What do you mean?"

"Really?" Josh giggled. "You want me to spell it out for you?"

"Josh, what are you talking about?"

Josh rolled his eyes playfully. "Tyler," he began fondly, reaching out to hold Tyler's hands in his, "will you move in with me?"

Tyler's brain stopped working. 

It just -- stopped. 

Completely. 

All at once. 

Like, absolutely nothing was going on up there. 

It was just crickets. 

The lights are on.

No one's home. 

Like, at all.

Luckily, Josh knew Tyler pretty well by now, so he just sat there, smiling, and calmly waited for him to process the question. 

It took a while. 

"Will I -- what?" he finally managed in a somewhat choked voice. 

"Move in with me," Josh supplied happily. 

"Move in with you," Tyler repeated. 

"Yes," Josh confirmed. 

"You want me," Tyler said slowly, making sure, "to move in. With you. Here."

"Yep," Josh confirmed again. 

"You want me," Tyler continued, "to live here. With you."

"Pretty much," Josh confirmed. 

"You want to live with me," Tyler repeated. "Here. All the time."

"That's the idea, yeah," Josh confirmed. 

"You want to see me every day."

"I already see you every day," Josh chuckled, "but yeah."

"You want to see me every day, and you want me to be living here," Tyler insisted. 

"Yep."

"Even when I'm cranky in the mornings."

"Even then."

"And when I wake you up at night because I can't sleep and I toss around too much."

"Yeah."

"And when I eat all the cereal because I hate making breakfast but I like to have it as a snack later, too."

"I always thought that was really cute, actually. So yeah."

"You want me here," Tyler repeated (but it wasn't really a question anymore so much as an exclamation of wonder), "all the time."

"All the time," Josh confirmed, smiling. "Only if you want to, though," he added. 

Something about the phrase if you want to snapped him back into focus, because oh my gosh, how could he not want to? 

And then he thought about it, about all the nights he's spent here and how it feels to wake up next to Josh's beautiful face every morning and how much fun it is to cook with him even though neither one of them has a clue what they're doing (especially because Josh always pretends to know anyway, making up ridiculous stories about that time he taught Bobby Flay how to make a good marinade or about how Julia Child once told him he was like a son to her, and Tyler still doesn't understand how he manages to say it all with a completely straight face) and how Tyler always tucks his sheets in at night but Josh doesn't and how Tyler always teases him about it when his blankets end up cocooned around him in the morning and how he'd kind of maybe started referring to Josh's place as home in his head a long time ago and how he maybe wants to keep on doing that forever and -- 

"Yes," he answered suddenly, feeling his heart flutter when Josh's face immediately brightened up, looking a little bit like all his dreams just came true.

"Really?" Josh grinned, his smile brighter than Tyler's ever seen it, and Tyler knew instantly that this was the right decision, feeling it the same way he had felt it with their first kiss, their first date, everything. He knew it, the same way he'd always known that Josh was more right for him than anyone else ever could be.

"Yeah," Tyler breathed, barely managing to grin back at him before he was cramming their faces together, nearly knocking Josh over with the force of it, but they were both far too happy to care. 

They stayed that way for a long time, kissing and laughing and getting used to being home in more ways than one. 

It only dimmed a little bit when Josh broke away for a moment, joking, "You do realize we're gonna have to tell our parents, though, right?"

And you know what? 

Tyler did not realize that. 

. . . 

"Well, crap."