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The World Around Us Is Burning But We're So Cold

Chapter Text

Josh didn’t even notice the boy sitting in the corner of the classroom until the rumors started.

"Did you hear that he’s gay?"

"He doesn’t even have any friends."

"No wonder, who’d want to be friends with him?"

The remarks weren’t so much whispered as they were shouted across the room. The boy glanced up every now and then, only to pull the hood of his sweatshirt further down over his face and turn his attention back to the notebook he was writing in.

“Josh. Hey, Josh.”

Josh managed to tear his gaze away from the boy and look back at Brendon. “Yeah?”

“What’s going on? You spaced out for a second there.”

“Sorry,” Josh said. “Do you know why everyone’s talking about that kid?”

Brendon shrugged. “Who knows why anyone does anything? Why do you stare at him? Why does our teacher always show up late? Why did I ask out Ryan Ross?”

Josh’s jaw dropped. “You did what?”

Brendon’s shoulders slumped, and he let his head fall on his desk. “Seriously, why did I ask out Ryan Ross?”

It wasn’t as if Ryan was homophobic, or even straight, but he hadn’t shown any interest in anyone since the start of the year.

“Dude, that was a terrible idea,” Josh said. “What did he say?”

“Oh, he confessed his love for me and freaking proposed, we’re getting married next weekend,” Brendon replied, sarcasm dripping from each word. “What do you think, Josh?”

“Sorry, sorry,” Josh apologized. “That must suck.”

“Yeah, it does,” Brendon said harshly, raising his head at last as the teacher walked into the classroom. “But we need to at least pretend to be paying attention now. Just forget about it, okay?”

Josh almost protested, but calmed down when Brendon said they could talk about it at lunch. He stared at the board and barely listened to a word their teacher said about some mathematic equation Josh couldn’t care less about.

He stole a glance at the boy in the back of the room about halfway through the class, only to find the he had brought his knees up to rest his chin on them and wrapped his arms around his legs. There were tears on his face.

Brendon elbowed Josh in the side, and he turned back around to face the teacher.

But his mind didn’t stray from silent tears and empty brown eyes for the rest of the lesson.

 

Brendon and Josh had to part ways for their next few classes, and when Josh showed up at their regular table, Brendon was staring across the cafeteria intently. Josh turned to follow his gaze and spotted Ryan.

“Stop staring, he’ll think you’re a creep,” Josh chided him gently.

“What? Yeah, sorry.”

“You said you’d tell me what happened when you asked him out.”

“It was an accident, actually,” Brendon commented.

“How do you accidentally ask someone out?” Josh asked incredulously.

“When that someone is in the vicinity and people are joking about how you’re probably madly in love with him.”

“No way, dude.”

“It was just some of the idiots from my English class,” Brendon said dismissively. “You know what they’re like. Anyway, they were just saying stuff like, 'Oh, you're both gay, so you must be in love' and generally just being stupid. And, I don't know, I'm a bad liar. So...”

Brendon chattered on for a while, but Josh’s gaze drifted to the almost empty table in the corner of the cafeteria. The only person sitting there was the boy from math.

He didn’t look sad, or lonely. He just kept his head down and ate his lunch.

Josh wondered if he was okay.

“...and he just walked away! Like, who does that? Who rejects someone in front of a bunch of jerks like them and then just walks away? Josh? Are you even listening to a word I’m saying?”

“Sorry,” Josh said quickly. “I was just…”

“Oh,” Brendon replied, glancing at the boy in the corner of the room. “Yeah. You were staring at him during math, too.” He raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Has somebody got a crush?”

“What? No!” Josh protested. “I just…”

“Feel the same way about him that I feel about Ryan?”

“Oh, my God,” Josh muttered, rolling his eyes. “Can you shut up for two seconds, please?”

“What, like, be quiet and respectful?” Brendon asked. “I don’t even know if I can actually do that.”

“Look, I’m just worried about him,” Josh tried to say, only to be interrupted by Brendon again.

“You’ve never talked to him and you don’t even know his name.”

“So?”

“So why are you so obsessed with him all of a sudden? I can guarantee that you didn’t even know he existed until those rumors started today.”

Josh hesitated. “Okay, maybe that’s true. But the fact that I noticed him because of the rumors is pretty concerning, right? People are going to finally start noticing him, but for something that everyone seems to view as being ‘wrong,’ or something.”

“Freaking homophobes,” Brendon muttered. “You’re right, I gue - wait, no, stop, what the heck?”

“What is it?” Josh asked quickly.

“Ryan Ross is coming over to our table.”

Josh glanced at the table Ryan had been sitting at not much earlier, but now he was definitely walking over to their seats.

“Bren, can I just...just say that I’m sorry about what I did this morning?” He asked. “Like, that was pretty rude of me, I guess, to just say no and then walk away. Um, you’re really nice and all, but my parents aren’t, you know?”

“It’s okay, Ryan,” Brendon assured him, flashing a grin at Josh. “I completely get it. But who are they to determine what you do with your life?”

“Yeah, I know, but I just don’t really want to...risk it. Trust me, though, I would totally go out with you if I wasn’t such a coward.”

Josh’s gaze flicked between the two, amused. He’d never seen Brendon blush this much in his life.

“Okay, um, I’m here if you want to talk, or just hang out or anything,” Brendon said.

Ryan nodded and smiled before walking away, looking infinitely more relaxed than he had before.

Brendon slowly turned back to Josh. “What on earth was that?”

“Dude, I’d say he’s got a crush on you.”

“That’s gay,” Brendon pointed out.

“You’re gay, I’m gay, he’s gay,” Josh countered. “Are we just stating facts now?”

Brendon sighed. “But seriously. Ryan freaking Ross would ‘go out with me if he wasn’t such a coward.’”

“High praise indeed,” Josh said with a grin.

The boy sitting alone in the corner was forgotten, at least for the moment.

 

But Josh saw him.

Josh saw him sitting alone in the corner of almost every class. Josh saw him every day for the rest of the week. There he was in English. In Science, too. Not in History, but he was there in most of Josh’s other classes.

He felt hypocritical for telling Brendon not to stare at Ryan when, every day at lunch, his own gaze was drawn to the boy sitting in the corner.

He seemed to have made his home in the corner of every room of the school - and maybe he’d begun to make one in the corner of Josh’s mind, as well.

Chapter Text

Tyler didn’t bother eating the sandwich he’d packed for lunch. He didn’t see the point.

But the way those two boys across the room - one with dark hair, one with blue - were staring at him prompted him to at least eat his granola bar. At least try to seem as if he was okay.

He most decidedly was not okay.

Tyler hadn’t wanted to come out so soon. Technically he hadn’t come out yet, but apparently he didn’t have to. For the apparent lack of other gay students at this school, everyone seemed to find it surprisingly easy to identify one.

So that was why he sat at the back of the classroom, trying to get all the words in his head down onto the paper before they fluttered away, out of his reach. That was why he retreated into his own mind and didn’t even notice he was crying until his vision was so blurry that he could only see colors and vague outlines of objects. That was why he tried to hide, even though he still felt like he was on display like an animal in a zoo, something to be pointed at and laughed at, something to do tricks for the people around him, the people that weren’t in cages, the people that were free.

Tyler felt bad for the animals in zoos.

He stood rather abruptly, tossing the wrapper from his granola bar in the trash can, and left the cafeteria. He didn’t really know where he was going, and he didn’t know why, but he wanted somewhere quiet. Somewhere he didn’t feel trapped. He must’ve been walking, head down and hands in pockets, for at least ten minutes before he ran into someone.

Literally.

Embarrassed and frightened, Tyler took a step back, wanting to apologize. He seemed to have lost his voice, however, and only a soft noise that sounded embarrassingly like a squeak escaped his throat.

When he finally gathered the courage to look up at the boy, Tyler recognized him as one of the two boys in the cafeteria that he always caught staring at him, the one with the regular hair instead of the bright blue.

“It’s cool, dude,” the boy said. “Relax.”

Tyler nodded slightly, but the boy’s words hardly soothed him.

At least the boy had been nice.

He checked his watch and realized that if he walked any further, he’d be late to class. With a sigh that barely made a sound, Tyler turned and slowly made his way to his classroom.

 

He’d always disliked school, but those rumors were the nail in the coffin.

They followed him like ghosts - and not the fun ghosts, the kind you’d dress up as on Halloween. No, these weren’t really ghosts at all. They were demons. They were demons that weren’t always there, but he’d hear them say things. See them out of the corner of his eye. Or sometimes he might see them up close, when the students sitting in front of him would glare at him for no apparent reason before turning to whisper something to their friends.

He tried to ignore it, but he couldn’t.

The rumors followed him, class after class, and he couldn’t do a thing.

At least he had English for his last class. His English teacher, Mr. Way, had always seemed to like him. He always complimented Tyler’s use of words, and while the unusual attention made him a bit nervous, it was better than any of his other classes, where his teachers turned a blind eye to the incessant bullying Tyler was forced to endure.

The word poem pulled him from his thoughts. Mr. Way was announcing their assignment for the day.

“You’ll all be writing a poem.”

Tyler smiled for a moment, until he realized that they typically shared the poems.

Sharing his work had proven to be a mistake the first - and only - time he’d ever done so.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
He was proud of his poem, so he raised his hand when the teacher asked if anyone wanted to share.

He’d stood and read what he’d written, something far too personal about how he couldn’t sleep the night before until ten after four in the morning. He’d decided to title it ‘Taken By Sleep.’

But his pride had melted away, just like the smiling snowman that slowly, slowly fell apart as the sun beat down on it. The smile slipped from his lips when he saw the confused and even disgusted looks on his classmates’ faces.

He sat back down, and as soon as class let out, he ripped the pages from his notebook, crumpled them into a ball, and tossed them in the trash can.

But the poem found its way back to Tyler after school, when everyone else had gone home and he went to his locker to grab his jacket before leaving as well.

The paper, wrinkled and torn, was taped to his locker, surrounded by things written in what looked to be permanent marker. Things Tyler never wanted to think about again. Things that told him what he really was, the truth. And the truth was many things.

He was gay. He was a monster. He was too weak. He couldn’t do anything right.

The list went on and on and on and on and on, and Tyler read every single word - twice - before he had to run to the bathroom to hide his tears.

Hide them from who? Everyone else had gone home. Tyler was alone.

Not just alone in the way that no one was around physically, but in the way that he couldn’t find anyone that was close enough to him mentally, and somehow that made all the difference in the world to Tyler.

But when he went back to his locker, about half an hour later, the poem was gone and the permanent marker was faint enough that he could pretend it wasn’t there. In place of the harsh words was a note, written on a Post-It instead of the locker itself.

'Sorry.'
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
To this day, Tyler had no clue who had left the note, but he hadn’t dared to share his poems with anyone since. No one knew about the incident - with the exception, Tyler assumed, of the students who had planned it and whoever had cleaned his locker.

So the teacher asked him every class if he wanted to share his poems, and every class Tyler would shake his head no and try to ignore the snickers surrounding him.

He looked down at his notebook to see what he had written as his mind was wandering. He found that was when the truest words came to him.

Tyler saw what was written and he was horrified.

 

All we are is an isle of flightless birds
We find our worth in giving birth and stuff
We're lining our homes against winding roads
And we think the going is tough
We pick songs to sing, remind us of things that nobody cares about
And honestly we're probably more suicidal than ever now

 

Where did thoughts like these come from? Why did he write these down for a school assignment, something his teacher would probably read, something anyone could find if he wasn’t careful enough to hide it?

But there was something mesmerizing about the poem. It had a rhythm to it, something that Tyler knew would stay in his head until he forced himself to forget it somehow.

So instead of tearing out the page, he simply flipped to a new one, one that didn’t have notes squished into the margins, words crossed out and rewritten.

He found something else to write, something new, something less personal, hidden in the back of his mind.

Or, at the very least, something that sounded less personal.

And if it happened to be shorter than normal as a result, Tyler didn’t mind.

He didn’t want to get hurt again.

 

Everyone gather around for a show
Watch as this man disappears as we know
Do me a favor and try to ignore
As you watch him fall through a blatant trapdoor

 

And then Mr. Way was leaning over Tyler’s desk, reading the poem upside-down with a thoughtful expression. “Interesting word choice, there, Tyler. Would you like to share it with the class?”
Tyler started to shake his head, but Mr. Way continued.

“I’ll be collecting everyone’s poems and reading them out anonymously. No one would know it was you unless you wanted to tell them.”

Tyler almost shook his head again. Almost.

But a part of him wanted to share. A part of him wanted to bare his soul to the entire class, and yet be able to hide behind anonymity.

So Tyler nodded.

Mr. Way smiled. “That’s wonderful. I’ll take this, then.”

Tyler looked around to make sure no one was watching him - they were all too busy with their own work, thank God - before he pulled the paper out of his notebook and handed it to his teacher.
He listened as the poems were read out, trying to shrink further into his chair and feeling almost sick with the anxious anticipation of hearing his own words from the teacher’s mouth.

When at last the class was over and no one seemed to have connected the poem to Tyler, he let himself relax.

School was over. English was a wonderful way to end the day.

Tyler felt okay enough to walk home with the rest of the after-school crowd.

Other than the spread of the rumor that he was gay, he didn’t feel too upset.

But working on his poem - which was now something of a song, which he was proud of despite the fact that he would probably never show it to anyone - had been a huge mistake.

It only hit him the next day that he had forgotten to do his homework.

Again.

It was silly. Ridiculous, even. Tyler knew that. But if his teacher called Tyler’s parents about a missed assignment again…

Suffice to say Tyler did not want that to happen.

He had no time.

He really didn’t like it when he ran out of time.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Wish we could turn back time
To the good old days
When our mommas sang us to sleep
But now we’re stressed out

Chapter Text

When Josh entered the bathroom, he definitely didn’t expect to hear quiet sobs coming from the last stall.

“Are you okay?” He asked, stopping outside the door.

“I’m f-fine,” a boy’s shaky voice replied.  Josh almost missed it, the words were so quiet.

“You don’t sound fine,” Josh said hesitantly, hoping this stranger would accept his best attempts at helping them.  “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to say,” the boy insisted.  “You’re just going to m-make fun of me like everyone else does.”

“I won’t,” Josh said as gently as he could.

“P-promise?”

“I promise.”

The lock on the stall door clicked and the door swung open, bringing Josh face-to-face with the boy who sat at the back of his Math class.  And his History class. And his English class. And almost every other class he had.

“I didn’t have time to do the homework for math,” the boy muttered, sniffling.  “And my parents are probably going to kill me if I miss another assignment. But we have math in five minutes and I can’t think and I had a panic attack and - “

“You can take a look at my work, if you want,” Josh offered.

“What?  Like, really?”

Josh nodded.  “If you’re really freaking out this much over it, then I can tell it’s important.  Just try not to make it look too obvious, okay?”

The boy nodded.  “Thank you. Thank you so much, you’re honestly a lifesaver, um, what’s your name?”

“I’m Josh.  What’s yours?”

“Tyler,” the boy said, smiling shyly.  It was the first time Josh had ever seen him smile, and he could feel his expression mirroring Tyler’s.

“Nice to meet you, Tyler.  Although the situation isn’t ideal.”

Tyler nodded.  “We should...we should go to the classroom.”

Josh agreed, trying not to seem too concerned.  He’d just met Tyler, and excess concern could easily be taken as creepy or annoying, but Josh had seen Tyler crying in class more than once and the rumors hadn’t quieted down.

When they reached their math classroom, Josh quickly pulled his worksheet out of his bag and handed it to Tyler, who sat down and started copying the work onto his own paper.

“Thank you again,” Tyler said when he finally handed Josh’s work back to him.

The class was starting, so the students slowly filed inside.

“Do you want to come sit with me?” Josh offered hopefully.

Tyler’s eyes widened.  “N-no, I’m okay. I’m fine.”

“If you say so,” Josh said.  “It was nice meeting you, though.”

“You too,” Tyler muttered, walking away quickly and stiffly, settling in his usual place at the back of the classroom.

Not like Josh was staring at him again, or anything.

 

At lunch, Josh decided to try and talk to Tyler.

The boy looked sad as he drifted over to his table as though he was in a daze.  His eyes were focused on the ground in front of him, his hands in his pockets and his shoulders hunched almost defensively.  Josh couldn’t help but notice that the notebook that was always in Tyler’s hands was missing.

Josh stopped at his usual table, where Brendon was already sitting.  “So I let that kid that sits in the back of our Math class copy my homework today.”

“What?  Why?”

“He forgot to do his and had a panic attack about it.”

“Oh,” Brendon grimaced.  “That must’ve been tough.”

“Anyway, I’m going to go see if he’d be okay with me sitting with him.”

“Okay, cool.  I’ll see you in Science?”

“Yeah.”  Josh grabbed his lunchbox and started walking over to Tyler’s table.

Tyler seemed so lost in thought that he barely noticed Josh until he was standing right in front of the table.  Tyler practically jumped out of his seat, pulling his bag closer to him and looking ready to run away, before he realized it was just Josh.  “Oh. It’s you.”

“Yeah.  We’re in Math together, I let you copy my homework earlier.”

“I remember,” Tyler said with a nod.

“Would you mind if I sit here?” Josh asked politely.

Tyler cautiously slid back into his chair, reassuming his earlier position, staring at his hands as they rested in his lap.  “If you want to.”

“Are you okay?” Josh asked, setting down his bag and sitting down across from Tyler.

Tyler shrugged, still not meeting Josh’s gaze.

“Did something happen?”

“A lot of things have happened,” Tyler murmured.  “You’ll have to be more specific.”

“You...I’ve never seen you without a notebook or something to write with,” Josh pointed out.  “Did something happen to it?”

“Some guys stole it,” Tyler said quietly.

“They stole it?” Josh asked incredulously.

Tyler nodded.  “They said they were going to.  I didn’t listen. I should’ve listened.”

“But they have no right to do that!” Josh protested, his voice rising.  Tyler flinched. “I mean, that’s yours. They can’t just take it.”

“Please don’t make a fuss,” Tyler said quietly, his voice more of a panicked squeak than anything else.  “Please.”

Josh relaxed, realizing that Tyler looked almost...frightened.  Shrinking into his oversized hoodie, his shoulders hunched even further than they’d been before - everything about his body language said he was trying to disappear, to remain unseen, just like he’d been in the back of class before the rumors had started.  “I’m sorry,” Josh said. “It’s just...that’s really, really unfair. Who were the kids?”

“It was no one,” Tyler said.  “Just...just some kids that were teasing me.”

“You mean they were bullying you,” Josh pointed out.

Tyler looked as though he was going to argue, but sighed.  “Yeah. They were. About, you know, being gay and whatever.”

“By the way, I’m really sorry about that,” Josh said sincerely.

“It’s not your fault,” Tyler muttered.  “There’s nothing you could’ve done.”

“I’m gay, too,” Josh said with a shrug.  “I would offer advice, but I’m really only out to Brendon.”

“Brendon Urie?”

“How many other Brendons do you know that go to this school?” Josh countered.

“Fair point,” Tyler said.  “I heard Brendon asked out Ryan Ross.”

“He did,” Josh said with a slight chuckle.  “Accidentally.”

“How do you accidentally ask someone out?” Tyler asked.

“My question exactly,” Josh laughed.

Tyler smiled.  It was the second time Josh had seen Tyler smile, and it was just as perfect as the first.

But then they heard someone shouting over the din of the lunchroom.  A boy was standing on one of the tables and holding a notebook in his hands.

Tyler turned his head to look at the boy and he froze.

“Is that one of the boys?” Josh whispered as the students around them stopped talking to listen to what was being said.

Tyler only nodded.

“Is that your notebook?”

Tyler didn’t even nod this time.  He just pulled his knees up to his chin and pulled his hood up over his head as though he was trying to vanish into another world.

The boy standing on the table began to read.

Chapter Text

“Words of mine, words of yours,” the boy began.

Tyler clamped his hands, buried deep in their long sleeves, over his ears, but he couldn’t fully muffle the sound of his own words - personal words - coming from that boy’s mouth in that horrible mocking tone, the one that made Tyler truly want to curl up and die.

“Confusing rhymes and confusing wars,” the boy said, pausing with a snicker.  “Can’t believe that kid would write this stuff.  It’s garbage.”

“No,” Tyler whimpered, more to himself than to anyone else.  “No, no, no.”

“Between words of love, and words of hate - “

Josh glanced between Tyler and the boy on the table.  He looked concerned. Why would he be concerned? Tyler was already broken enough.  Was it the poem, or Tyler’s reaction to it being read aloud?

“Wars of dreams, and wars of fate.”

Josh stood.  Why did Josh stand?  Tyler wanted to tell him to sit down, but he was too scared that if he moved, he would draw attention to himself.  That was the opposite of what he wanted.

“Once again I step inside my shoes, a battle now for every single thing I do.”

Tyler risked a glance at Josh.  He was walking across the room.

“This poem’s by Tyler Joseph, everyone!” The boy shouted.   “Complete garbage, am I right?”

Those poems were all Tyler had.  Tyler didn’t care if they were garbage - they helped him when his family refused to.

But his head snapped up when he heard Josh’s voice.

“Give that to me.”

“Why should I?” The boy said tauntingly.

“Because you’re being a jerk,” Josh snapped.  “That’s not yours, you stole it.”

“And why should you care, Dun?”

“That’s someone’s private property and you’re just reading it to the entire school.”

“Finders keepers, losers weepers,” the boy sang.

“Sorry, no,” Josh said, finally seeming to lose his temper.  He clambered up onto the table, snatched the notebook from the boy’s hands, and walked back to Tyler’s table as the students turned back to their lunches.

Josh didn’t seem to hear the boy’s threats from behind him.  He just set the notebook on the table in front of Tyler, who stared at it in disbelief for a few moments before looking back up at Josh.  “Dude.”

“Like I said, he was being a jerk,” Josh reasoned.  “I’m really, really sorry that happened. Are you okay?”

Tyler shrugged, flicking through the pages of his notebook to make sure nothing was missing.  He breathed a quiet sigh of relief when he found everything in its proper place. “That poem was just kind of personal.”

“I’m sorry,” Josh repeated.

“This is the second time you’ve said that but you have nothing to be sorry for,” Tyler pointed out.  “If anyone should be apologizing, it should be that kid.”

“I guess you’re right,” Josh agreed.  “But still. You shouldn’t have had to deal with that.”

Tyler just shrugged.

“For what it’s worth, I thought the poem sounded great,” Josh added quietly.  

Tyler almost didn’t hear what was said, but once he’d registered it, his head shot up.  “Really?”

“The first one, too,” Josh continued, as if Tyler hadn’t said a word.  “That was you, right? In English last year, ‘Taken By Sleep.’ That was you.”

“Y-yeah,” Tyler said shakily.  “I wrote that.”

“I liked it,” Josh said with an impossibly bright smile that made Tyler’s heart flutter.

“Th-thanks.”

“Do you write a lot?” Josh asked, tilting his head to the side.

“Yeah.”  Tyler picked up his notebook and riffled through the pages, allowing Josh to catch glimpses of messy writing on almost all of the pages before slowing down when he reached the few blank sheets at the very back.  He frowned. “I’m going to need to get a new one soon.”

“I’m not surprised,” Josh commented.  “I mean, you’re really good. I can only assume you do a lot of it.”

“Thanks,” Tyler repeated, blushing slightly.  He pulled his gaze away from Josh and stared at the ground.

“You’re sure you’re okay?” Josh asked suddenly.

“I’m fine,” Tyler insisted, with a bit more hostility than he intended.

“You can’t blame me for being worried,” Josh pointed out.  “I mean, you’ve been getting bullied, and we first met because I heard you having a panic attack in the bathroom.”

Tyler sighed, pulling his notebook into his lap and flipping it open so he looked busy and didn’t have to answer.

“You’re right,” Josh said.  “I’m sorry for prying.”

Tyler didn’t say anything.  He was already feeling uncomfortable just talking to someone, even if that someone had saved him twice in the two hours that they’d known each other - once from his parents, even if he didn’t know it, and once from complete embarrassment and mockery.

Josh seemed to get the message.  He sat quietly as Tyler just stared at his notebook, searching his mind for an idea.  But nothing came. His mind was like a desert, dark and dry and far too overwhelming. The songs, or the poems, were like water in the palm of his hand - enough for him to survive, but not quite enough to keep him alive.

His eyes lit up as his thoughts caught on the metaphor.

Mind...a desert...water...life…

It was all there.  He just had to connect it.

So he wrote.  He wrote as much as he could and didn’t notice Josh was leaving until he was gone.

Tyler was alone in the lunchroom.

He was going to be late to class...but were his classes really as important as his writing?

Yes, he decided.  And even if they weren’t, his parents wouldn’t see things the same way.

They never did.  Tyler knew that by now.

So Tyler gathered his things and kept writing as he rushed through the halls.  He knew the words would be barely legible and he might not even remember what he’d been trying to say by the time he got home, but he needed to at least try to get his ideas down onto paper.

And if he was late to History as a consequence and the teacher didn’t notice because two students had decided a fistfight was a good idea - well, no one ever had to know.

Chapter Text

“You talked to that kid during lunch!” Brendon whisper-shouted in Josh’s ear as soon as Josh sat down next to him in science.

Josh winced.  “Dude, chill. And his name is Tyler.”

“Okay, sorry.  But you’ve been staring at him during class for about a week, so it’s a good thing you’ve stopped trying to be his creepy stalker and started trying to be his friend.”

“I’m not his creepy stalker, Brendon, geez.”

“Keep telling yourself that,” Brendon muttered.  “So what was going on with that notebook of his?”

“Some kid stole it and started reading it to everyone,” Josh whispered back.

“Was Tyler okay?”

Josh frowned.  “He seemed okay, I guess.  But he didn’t really want to talk about it.  He just said the poems in the notebook were really personal, and then he started writing in it, and that was that.  He didn’t even say goodbye when I told him I was leaving.”

“Someone sounds upset,” Brendon teased.  “Have you got a crush on him?”

“I just met him today,” Josh protested.  “How could I have a crush on him already?”

“I don’t know,” Brendon admitted reluctantly.  “But for someone who doesn’t like Tyler, you’re quite insistent that you have no feelings for him.”

“Shut up,” Josh muttered, turning his attention to their teacher.  “We’ll talk more about it later.”

Thankfully, Brendon didn’t argue, even though it was clear to both of them that they wouldn’t really be talking about anything later.

 

Josh was surprised to see Tyler waiting just outside the school almost an hour after everyone else had left, sitting cross-legged next to the doors.

“Hey,” Josh said.

Tyler’s head shot up and he flinched, only to realize that it was just Josh.  “Oh. H-hi.”

It was the second time Tyler’s reaction to Josh’s approach had been one of panic, and Josh made a mental note to ask why that was when Tyler was a bit less tense.  “What are you doing here?”

“I just wanted to say that I’m sorry if I seemed kind of rude earlier but I had an idea and I forget things really quickly so I just had to write it down,” Tyler said quickly, barely even pausing to take a breath.

“Woah, slow down,” Josh advised.  “I get it.”

Tyler relaxed visibly.  “Okay. And...thank you.”

Something in the way he said it made Josh think that maybe Tyler was thanking him for more than just being understanding.

“So, why are you still hanging around?” Josh asked.

“I don’t really like going home at the same time as everyone else,” Tyler admitted.  “Especially not with...well, everything that’s going on.”

“Yeah,” Josh agreed.

“What about you?  Do you normally stay here late?”

“Sometimes,” Josh said with a shrug.  “I was studying.”

“Oh.”  Tyler nodded.  “School kind of sucks.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” Josh laughed.  “The people in particular.”

“I just stay here so I don’t have to go home,” Tyler said quietly.  “But they’ve got to kick me out eventually, huh?”

Josh frowned.  Was Tyler talking about the school, or his parents?

“You could come over to my house if you want,” Josh blurted out.

“We just met today,” Tyler pointed out, a faint teasing twinkle in his eyes.  “This is moving a little fast, isn’t it?”

Josh grinned.  “Really, if you don’t want to go home, I’m sure my mom wouldn’t mind if we had you over.  If it’s okay with your parents.”

“I guess I could text my mom,” Tyler said, wrinkling his nose doubtfully.  “I don’t know what she’ll say, though. And my dad definitely wouldn’t let me go.”

“Mind if I sit?” Josh asked, gesturing to the ground beside Tyler.

Tyler shook his head and pulled his phone out of his pocket.  “Not at all.”

Josh sat down next to his...friend, or acquaintance, or whatever Tyler was after knowing each other for less than six hours, as Tyler typed something out on his phone and stared at the screen anxiously.

After a few moments, his phone buzzed and Tyler grinned triumphantly.  “She said yes.”

“Great,” Josh replied.  “I typically walk to school, I don’t live that far.  Is that an issue?”

Tyler shook his head.  “I like walking.”

“Okay.  Just...follow me, I guess?” Josh instructed as they started walking, although he knew he sounded unsure.  

“You say that like it’s a question,” Tyler said.  “You do know where your house is, don’t you?”

Josh actually laughed at that.  For someone who seemed so quiet all the time, who kept to himself and was bullied almost constantly and seemed to hate attention in almost any form, Tyler was surprisingly entertaining when he was put in the spotlight.

A spotlight.  An eloquent metaphor, Josh thought, for the way he’d been treating Tyler so far - as though he was the star of a show that Josh didn’t know the plot to, but was far too invested in anyway.

“Josh?” Tyler asked hesitantly, snapping him back to reality.

“Sorry,” Josh said quickly.  “I was just thinking a bit. If you don’t mind me asking, why didn’t you want to go home?”

Tyler stiffened, tugging on the sleeves of his hoodie.  A nervous habit, Josh presumed, since Tyler had done so or fiddled with his fingers every time he’d felt uncomfortable since Josh had met him.  “I just...I don’t really like my family. They think I’m someone I’m not and they don’t like any part of who I really am, I guess.”

“They sound stupid,” Josh snorted.

Tyler glanced up, looking surprised and almost scandalized.

Josh backtracked quickly.  “Like, they should just let you be who you are, right?  I mean, you seem really cool. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t like that.”

“My parents don’t think I focus on school enough.”

“What do you focus on?”

“Music.”  Tyler’s voice was quiet, so quiet that Josh barely caught what he’d said.  “And writing. Sometimes both.”

“If you ask me, creativity is just as important as school,” Josh said.  “I mean, school will teach you all about how to solve math problems for your job or something and present in front of people, but what use is all that if you have no reason to be here?”

Tyler just nodded.  He still looked vaguely uncomfortable, and Josh wished he would just relax.  He always seemed worried about one thing or another.

“You alright?” Josh asked.

“Sure,” Tyler said.  “I’m fine.”

Josh didn’t push the subject.  This...this undefinable almost-friendship felt fragile and too rare to risk losing.  Tyler didn’t make friends with just anyone, Josh could tell.

“I’m fine,” Tyler repeated when Josh didn’t reply.

“Sure,” Josh said, echoing Tyler’s words.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m dying and I’m trying

But believe me, I’m fine

But I’m lying

I’m so very far from fine

Chapter Text

The first thing Tyler noticed when Josh unlocked his front door was that the atmosphere in Josh’s house was warmer and more welcoming than Tyler’s by far.  It felt almost unnatural.

A woman - who Tyler could only assume was Josh’s mother - appeared at the top of the stairs.  “Josh! Why didn’t you tell me you were having a friend over?”

Josh opened his mouth to reply, but his mother rushed over to Tyler.  “I don’t believe we’ve met,” she said, extending a hand. “What’s your name?”

Tyler hesitantly shook her hand, pulling back as soon as he could.  This woman was kind to him and Tyler was glad for that, but given that there were only two other people - Josh and Mr. Way - that had ever given him any sort of positive attention, it left Tyler feeling confused and a bit disoriented.  “I’m - I’m Tyler.”

“Wonderful to meet you, Tyler!” Mrs. Dun gushed.

“So, if it’s alright, Tyler’s just going to hang out for a little while?” Josh said, more of a question than a statement.

“Of course,” Mrs. Dun replied.  “You could stay for dinner, too, if you’d like.”

“No, thank you, ma’am,” Tyler replied, trying his best to be polite and not too awkward.  She was so welcoming, Tyler really didn’t know what to say. “I really should be home before then.”

“That’s fine, too, dear,” Mrs. Dun assured him.  “You two tell me if you need anything, okay?”

Josh nodded.  “Thanks, mom,” he said quickly, grabbing Tyler’s hand and pulling him upstairs quickly.  Tyler stumbled a bit on one of the steps, surprised - Josh was actually holding his hand - but Josh caught him and helped him back up.

A thousand thoughts rushed through Tyler’s head when their gazes met, the two most prevalent being, ‘Do I like Josh?’ and, connecting to that one, ‘If I do, I’m so screwed.’

But Josh pulled away and the moment was broken.

Tyler took a deep breath.   A problem for another day, he told himself firmly before following Josh into his room.

 

“Are you okay?” Josh asked as soon as Tyler closed the door behind him.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Tyler said, the lie slipping out as effortlessly as it always did.

“You just seemed kind of...uncomfortable.”

“I was,” Tyler admitted, “but I’m okay.  I just don’t do so well around new people.”

“Me neither,” Josh said.  “That’s why I mostly just hang out with Brendon.”

“He’s probably the wrong person to go to if you want to be antisocial,” Tyler pointed out.

Josh laughed.  “Yeah, he’s pretty friendly.  I don’t know. Maybe that’s why?  He’s pretty approachable.”

“Approachable,” Tyler repeated disbelievingly.  He’d never had any interactions with Brendon Urie - heck, he’d never even known what he looked like - until he realized that was who Josh spent his lunch with.

Well, he’d had one interaction with him in which he’d accidentally run into him in an empty hallway, but that could hardly be counted, and besides, he hadn’t realized it was Brendon until after the fact.

As much as he’d tried to be approachable, he just seemed...loud.

“Do your parents know?” Josh asked suddenly, shaking Tyler from his thoughts.

“Know what?”

“About - about you being gay.”

Tyler shook his head.  “I didn’t want anyone to find out.  I mean, word travels fast. If the wrong person hears that, and then tells my parents…” He trailed off, taking a deep, shaky breath and feeling anxiety well up inside him.

“I’m sorry,” Josh said.  “To not be able to choose when you come out...that must suck.”

Tyler just nodded.

“Do you know how...how people found out?”

“No,” Tyler said.  “They just started talking.”

Josh sighed.  “I know I’m probably not much help, but if you ever feel like...I don’t know, if you ever don’t want to be alone, you can always talk to me.”

“Really?” Tyler asked.  He’d learned quickly after starting school that you can’t always trust someone who says they’ll be there for you.

“Yeah, really,” Josh said.  “I promise.”

I promise.

Two simple words that meant everything.

For once, Tyler felt calm.  Safe, even.

“Hey, I’m just going to run to the bathroom, okay?” Josh said.  “You could sit down, or something.”

“Thanks,” Tyler said, sitting down in a chair next to a desk that was shoved in the corner of the room.  Josh left.

Tyler didn’t mean to look at the papers that were scattered on the desk, but his gaze fell on one that was lying on top, wrinkled and torn.  It had a title in messy handwriting at the top of the page.

Taken By Sleep

Tyler Joseph

Tyler stared at it incredulously, reading it over three times to make sure it really was the same poem.

The door swung open and Tyler finally tore his gaze away from the paper - his handwriting, his words, from his mind, yet here it was, on Josh’s desk - to look at Josh.  “Why do you have this? Where did you find it?”

Josh seemed confused, his brow furrowing as he crossed the room to see what Tyler had found.  “Oh,” he said suddenly, his face flushing bright red. “That. Yeah, I said I liked it.”

“Where did you find it?” Tyler repeated.

“It was on someone’s locker.  I’m guessing it was yours.”

Tyler nodded almost robotically, trying not to think too hard about what had happened that day.

“There were all of these horrible things written around it.  I just...I’d seen you throw out the poem when you left class, so I figured you didn’t want it and some of the stuff written up there was really hurtful.  So I tried to clean everything off the best I could and I took the poem.” Josh paused, studying Tyler’s face as if to gauge his reaction. “It seemed really thoughtful.  Deep. I guess I wanted to keep it.”

Tyler looked at the poem again, frowning.

“Is that...is that okay?” Josh asked nervously.  “Keeping the poem, I mean. Like, are you...okay with that?  Because I could throw it away.”

Tyler caught Josh’s almost wistful glance at the poem.  He was clearly telling the truth when he said he liked the poem, judging by the sincerity in his voice and eyes, and his reluctance to get rid of it.  Tyler cleared his throat, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had settled between them. “Uh, yeah, that’s okay. If you want to keep it, that’s alright.”

“You’re really talented,” Josh said.

“Thanks,” Tyler managed to say, his voice small and quiet.

Josh moved to sit on his bed, and neither spoke for a few moments.  Tyler wanted to talk about what had happened. It had been Josh that cleaned those harsh words off of Tyler’s locker.  Josh had been watching out for Tyler without even knowing it.

“I remember that,” Tyler said eventually.  “That - when they all wrote that stuff on my locker.  I didn’t realize it was you that had cleaned it. And...I’m guessing you left that note, too?”

Josh nodded.  “There was, um, a poem shared in English today.  It was all anonymous, but did you share anything?  One of them mentioned a trapdoor, and it kind of sounded like…”

“Like I’d written it?” Tyler guessed.

“Yeah, exactly,” Josh said, nodding absently.  “You have a pretty distinctive writing style. Everyone else writes poems about love and nature and whatever, but you kind of write about yourself, I think.”

“Oh.  I didn’t realize it was so easy to tell.”

“I don’t think anyone else noticed,” Josh assured him.

“I hope not,” Tyler murmured, his gaze drifting to the darkening sky outside of the window.

“Tyler, I know you act kind of nonchalant about the bullying and stuff, but I can tell that it gets to you,” Josh said.  “If you ever want to hang out with me, in class or outside of it, feel free. I’ll make sure Brendon isn’t too crazy.”

Tyler shook his head.  “Just so you know, if you become associated with me in any way, you’re probably going to become a victim as well.”

“Then we’ll deal with it together rather than alone,” Josh decided.

Tyler held his gaze for a few moments longer, doubt sparking in his eyes, before slowly relaxing.  “Okay.”

“We’ve got a deal?” Josh asked.

“Deal,” Tyler replied, shaking Josh’s hand.  “But I should really be leaving. I’m supposed to get home before my dad does and he’ll be there in, like, twenty minutes.”

“Do you live very far?”

Tyler shook his head.  “Actually, I’m just down the street.”

“Dude, no way!”

Tyler flinched away as Josh’s voice rose excitedly.  “Please don’t yell. I don’t - I don’t like it when people yell at me.”  He was aware he sounded childish, but Josh must have noticed by now that Tyler was a twitching, jumpy mess.

Josh relaxed, his gaze softening.  “Sorry. Do you want me to walk with you?”

Tyler shrugged.  “I mean, if you want to.  That’s...that’s really nice of you.”

Josh smiled.  “The pleasure’s all mine.”

Chapter Text

Josh closed his bedroom door with a sigh, pulling his phone out of his pocket and seeing three messages from Brendon.

I saw u walking with tyler

What r u guys doing

Josh answer me

Josh rolled his eyes, exasperated.  Brendon was, as always, being nosy, slightly clingy, and stalker-ish.

Josh called him anyway.

Brendon picked up almost immediately.  “Finally!”

“It’s been, like, half an hour.”

“I know!  You took forever!”

Josh sighed.  “Anyway, what’s up?”

“I saw you walking home with Tyler!” Brendon said excitedly.  “You sure you don’t have a crush on him?”

“Just - just stop it, you’re being ridiculous.  He didn’t want to go home, so I invited him over.”

“Why didn’t he want to go home?” Brendon asked.

“I’m not sure.”  Josh frowned. “Anyway, turns out he lives just down the street!”

Brendon sighed happily.  “Look at you, making friends.  They just grow up so fast.”

“Shut up,” Josh said with a grin.  “Anyway, I told him he can talk to me if he’s feeling lonely or whatever, and - ”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Brendon interrupted.  “Did you walk him home?”

“Yeah…”

“That sounds like a date to me.”

“It wasn’t a date!” Josh protested.  “I literally just met Tyler today. And anyway, he probably doesn’t like me.”

“Aha!” Brendon shouted.

Josh pulled the phone away from his ear and winced.  “What?”

“Those are the only two things stopping you!”  He was still shouting. Perhaps Tyler was right to be skeptical when Josh had called Brendon approachable.

“What do you mean?” Josh asked.

“You totally like him!” Brendon said.

Josh sighed, frustrated.  “It’s like I can’t even be friends with someone without this.   Every time.”

“Yeah, but you love me.”

“Debatable.”

Brendon laughed.  “So come on, tell me about your crush!  And I want to hear everything.”

“He’s not - “ Josh stopped and shook his head.  It was really no use trying to convince Brendon that he didn’t have a crush on Tyler.  “Okay, fine. He was just waiting outside because he wanted to apologize for something, and then we started talking a bit and he mentioned how he didn’t really want to go home, so I invited him over.  That’s all there is to it.”

“Yes,” Brendon said, a mischievous edge in his voice.  “And what exactly did you two do once you got to your house?”

“We talked some more,” Josh replied, not even bothering to argue with Brendon.  “He found out about me cleaning his locker when everyone started mocking him for that poem.”

“Ooh, how did he react?”

“He seemed kind of happy about it.  I mean, it was nothing. The poem was really good, and he totally didn’t deserve what everyone was saying about it.”

“If everyone was saying it, then why weren’t you saying anything?”

“You know I’m no one,” Josh scoffed.

“No, you’ve been conditioned by the idiots at our school to think you’re no one,” Brendon corrected.  “Anyway, tell me more.”

“He said he should probably be home before his dad got there, so I offered to walk him home.  And that was it, Brendon.  Nothing else happened.”

“Do you know anything about this kid?”

Josh hesitated.  “His name is Tyler, he’s gay and his parents don’t know, and he likes writing.”

“That’s hardly anything at all!” Brendon protested.  “You should call him or something. You did get his number, didn’t you?”

“No…”

Brendon practically growled with frustration.  “You’re honestly giving me nothing here, Josh.”

“I can talk to him in school tomorrow,” Josh pointed out.  “And anyway, so what if I like him? It’s none of your business.”

“Rather the opposite, my friend,” Brendon replied.  “Seeing as we’ve been each other’s best - and really only - friends for many years now, I would argue that I have a reason to be interested in your sudden crush on the boy you’ve been staring at in almost every class for the past week or so.”

“If I’ve been staring at him, is it really so sudden?”

Brendon paused.  “I now know exactly how to get information from you.  I just have to make a statement with only one lie and you’ll correct that instead of the other stuff.”

Josh groaned.  “You realize you don’t have to manipulate me?  I would’ve admitted it eventually.”

He could practically hear the devious grin in Brendon’s voice as he replied.  “Yeah, but this is more fun.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next day, Josh didn’t see Tyler at all until third period, when they had music.

Josh hated music.  Not in general, but he hated music class, where they were forced to choose from four different instruments - none of which Josh was actually interested in - and then learn how to play them to the best of their ability over the course of the year.

It seemed to him that no one in their class actually cared about the violin or cello, and yet well over half of them were stuck with that because someone kept breaking the other instruments and the school hardly ever bothered to get new ones.

When Josh walked into the music room, Tyler was there already, having claimed a seat nearer to the back corner.  Josh grabbed the violin case that had been assigned to him at the start of the year and hovered around the seat next to Tyler, uncertain whether or not he would be welcome to sit there.

Eventually Tyler looked up from trying to tune his violin.  He seemed surprised to see Josh there, even though he must’ve been standing around for at least five minutes by then.  “Oh. Hey.”

“Hi,” Josh greeted him, trying to seem casual.  “Mind if I sit here?”

Tyler shrugged.  “If...if you want, I guess.”

He then went back to tuning his violin.

Josh was learning quickly that Tyler wasn’t very talkative - not when they were at school, at least.

Brendon arrived a few minutes later, practically collapsing in the chair next to Josh, who didn’t miss when Tyler shuffled his chair away a few inches.

“I am exhausted,” Brendon complained.

“Why?” Josh asked, glancing at Tyler.

“I tried to stay up all night studying for a test I have tomorrow in history.”

“Really?   You actually tried to study for a test?”

Brendon glared at him, but Josh could tell there was no real anger behind it.  “Oh, shut up. It’s not like you study that much either.”

“Yeah, okay - “

“And you hardly ever pay attention - “

“Maybe that’s true - “

“Seriously, Josh, how have you passed any tests this year?”

“How are either of us passing this grade?” Josh joked.  “Oh, Brendon - this is Tyler.”

Brendon leaned forward to smile at Tyler around Josh.  “Hey, Tyler. It’s nice to meet you, I’m Brendon.”

“I-I gathered,” Tyler said quietly.

Brendon laughed.  “So did you choose violin, or did you get stuck with it like Josh and I?”

“Chose,” Tyler replied.  “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Brendon told him.  “Just because we hate playing violin and you’re one of the people that actually wanted to doesn’t mean we hate you or something.”

“I didn’t really want to,” Tyler admitted.  “I mean, if I could’ve chosen any instrument, I would’ve wanted to try piano.  I’ve never really got much time to stay after school, so I can’t use the one here, and I’m probably not going to get one at home, at least not for a while.”

“Piano, huh?” Brendon nodded approvingly.  “That’s cool.”

“Thanks,” Tyler said, raising his violin and dragging the bow over the strings.  Josh could tell the conversation was over.

“So this is Tyler, then?” Brendon said quietly to Josh, still staring at him.

“Yes, it’s Tyler.  Stop staring.” He sighed.  “Why do I always have to tell you that?”

“He seems okay,” Brendon decided.  “Quiet, but okay.”

“He...doesn’t really like talking to people, I guess.”

“I get the feeling that you’re hinting at something, but I haven’t the slightest idea what it is,” Brendon said with a grin.

“Look, just - “ Josh couldn’t believe he was actually going to admit it.  “I really like him, okay? Just try not to be too...outgoing.”

“I get it,” Brendon said.  “I won’t scare off your boyfriend.”

“He isn’t my boyfriend!” Josh insisted.

“Yet,” Brendon countered with a sly smile.

Chapter Text

Tyler couldn’t concentrate with the abysmal sounds Brendon’s violin was making.  He half wondered if he was making any effort to actually play - or maybe he was making an effort to sound terrible.

Josh had glanced over at him with an apologetic, slightly amused smile and a little kind of half-shrug before stage-whispering, “He has no idea what he’s doing.”

“I do, too!” Brendon protested, sounding affronted.

Josh grinned, almost to himself, before lifting his own violin to his shoulder and playing a simple warm-up they’d learned.

Tyler found himself staring and quickly pulled his gaze away, hoping Josh hadn’t noticed.  As usual, he ended up staring off into space, his mind wandering to some dark corner of the universe that existed only God knows where.

He didn’t notice that the teacher had started talking until he felt Josh nudge him in the side gently, and he winced.  There was a bruise there.

“You okay?” Josh whispered.

Tyler offered him a polite, thin smile and nodded.

Judging by the way Josh’s gaze lingered on him for a few moments, he wasn’t satisfied with that answer, but he must’ve noticed Tyler’s discomfort and decided not to press things.

In the day that Tyler had known Josh, he already felt more comfortable around him than anyone else he knew, including his family and former friends.  Maybe it was the fact that Josh seemed to pick up on the subtler things - the clipped, polite tone in Tyler’s words that indicated he was feeling uncomfortable, the way he instinctively shifted back defensively when he was nervous - whatever it was, Josh seemed to see everything.

To Tyler, that was both terrifying and comforting at the same time.  He didn’t want Josh to know what was going on in his head. He didn’t want Josh to figure everything out.  He didn’t want to see the judgement, or the disgust, or whatever that look that he saw all the time from people he’d trusted was supposed to convey.

But at the same time, a part of him argued, wouldn’t it be nice to let someone in?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Both Josh and Brendon walked over to Tyler’s table that day at lunch.

Josh must have said something to Brendon, because rather than sitting down immediately - which Tyler assumed he would’ve had no problem doing otherwise, despite the fact that he and Tyler hardly knew each other - he actually waited about half a step behind Josh.

“Hey,” Josh said with a smile.  “Would it be okay if we sat with you?”

Tyler nodded, pulling his granola bar out of his lunchbox.

Brendon sat down and smiled, a little too innocently, his gaze flicking between Tyler and Josh for a few moments before he turned his attention to his own lunch.

Josh just shook his head.  “You can ignore Brendon, if you want,” he said to Tyler.  “He followed me over here.”

“Why?” Tyler asked bluntly.  “Not - not to sound rude, or anything, but…”

“No, it’s okay,” Josh assured him.  “I’m kind of wondering why he’s here, too.”

“You know why,” Brendon scoffed.

Josh rolled his eyes.  “At this point, Tyler, I’m actually encouraging you to just ignore him.”

“Am I embarrassing you?” Brendon asked, smirking.

Josh closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  “Yeah, little bit.”

Tyler tilted his head to the side.  “How is he embarrassing you?”

“It’s nothing,” Josh muttered, pulling his phone out of his backpack and unlocking it.  “Just - seriously, you should just ignore him.”

Tyler nodded slightly, though neither Josh nor Brendon were looking at him.  He was used to being on his own, but Josh seemed to be pulling back, closing himself off.  Maybe it was just because Brendon was around, maybe he was in a bad mood. Tyler wasn’t sure if they were close enough as friends - or even if they were friends - for him to ask about it.

“Hey, does anyone know what classes are after lunch?” Brendon asked suddenly, breaking the silence that felt almost like ice, settling over them, cold and thin.

“I think you have History,” Josh replied, stowing his phone in his pocket.  “But I’ve got P.E. or something.”

“Look at him, he memorized my schedule and his own,” Brendon said with a grin.  

“Yeah, because you kept asking me what class you had next,” Josh pointed out, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

Brendon ignored him.  “Tyler, I think we’ve got the same History class.”

Tyler glanced at Josh, slightly nervous about being around Brendon without him.  He could probably just hide in the back of the classroom like he always did. No one ever took any notice of him, anyway.

Things were changing, though, and that scared him.  Were Josh and Brendon going to start trying to talk to him not only during lunch, but also during class as well?  Tyler wasn’t sure what he thought about that. On the one hand, it would be nice to know there was someone that was actually looking out for him, trying to include him - but on the other, he was used to being alone.  He almost wanted to be alone at this point, because when he was alone he could be himself. He wasn’t sure if he could be himself around Josh and Brendon yet, and he didn’t want to risk it.  Every time he’d been brave enough to show his ‘friends’ who he really was in the past, it had ended up being a mistake. What would make Josh and Brendon any different?

“Wow, you zone out a lot.”

Brendon’s voice dragged Tyler back to the present.  “Huh? Oh, yeah. Um, s-sorry.”

“No need to apologize,” Brendon said.

No need to apologize?  For once, someone wasn’t acting like Tyler should be sorry for existing.

What would make Josh and Brendon any different?

Perhaps the fact that they were the exception to almost everything else Tyler had learned about the people around him so far.  Perhaps the fact that Josh made him feel comfortable and Brendon was making an effort to do the same.

He was going to be on his guard, though - just to be safe.  Although who was he kidding? He was never safe. He wasn’t safe at home, he wasn’t safe at school, he wasn’t even safe when he was alone.

His own head, Tyler had decided, was more dangerous than any person he’d ever met.

He flipped open his notebook to the last few pages that actually had any space on them.  At this rate, he’d have to scribble his ramblings into the margins soon if he wanted to write them down.

 

He thinks that faith might be dead

Nothing kills a man faster than his own head

 

It was messy, but lunch was almost over, so it would have to do.

“Where’s History?” Brendon asked as Tyler closed his notebook and slid the pen into the plastic rings on the side.

“Follow me,” Tyler said, slipping his backpack onto his shoulder and hugging his notebook to his chest before hurrying out of the cafeteria.  He didn’t want to be late.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tyler didn’t get any work done in History.  He just wrote.

He thought he might have a friend - two friends, even - but he felt just as bad as he had before.

Apparently, not all of Tyler’s problems were caused by his loneliness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And I’ll try to delay

What you make of my life

But I don’t want your way

I want mine

Chapter Text

“You’re totally in love with him.”

“I am not!” Josh protested.  “It’s literally just a crush.  If I’m in love with Tyler, then what about you and Ryan?”

“What about me and Ryan?” Brendon asked defensively.

“The fact that thinking about him is making you look like that,” Josh pointed out with a smirk.  “Your face is all red.”

“No, it’s not!” Brendon argued.  “And shut up, he might be walking home too!”

“You know what path he takes to get home?” Josh asked.  “And you called me a stalker.”

“Shut up!” Brendon snapped.  “I am not a stalker! Anyway, I can tell that your thing with Tyler is way different than me and Ryan.”

“How so?”

“You’re, like...protective.”

“...Protective?”

“Yeah.  Tyler’s getting attached, I can tell, and you see him as this little...this little bean that needs to be protected.”

“A bean?” Josh interrupted incredulously.  “Did you just refer to Tyler as a bean?”

“Yeah, because he’s small and basically every person at this school could be a threat to him.”

“Are you calling him weak?”

“See, this is what I mean,” Brendon pointed out.  “I said something about him and you got all defensive.”

“Okay, am I a little protective of him?” Josh sighed.

“Very protective of him,” Brendon corrected.

“Maybe,” Josh conceded.  “Maybe a little protective of him.”

“No one’s ever that protective of someone they just met yesterday,” Brendon pointed out.  “It’s a little weird, honestly.”

“You have a point,” Josh admitted reluctantly.  “But he’s just really nice, and the stuff everyone is saying about him is really unfair, so of course I want to stop it.  Anyway, I just think he and I could be really good friends, you know?”

“And you’re in love with him,” Brendon added.  “Exactly.”

“No!  I’m not - “ Josh groaned.  “I already told you that I kind of have a crush on him.  I don’t understand why we’re still talking about this.”

“It’s interesting!” Brendon said.  “It literally sounds like a book in a high school setting with a really dramatic main character that has a crush on someone but doesn’t know if it’s requited and ends up overcomplicating everything.  A more common trope than you’d think, really.”

Josh sighed, shaking his head.  “Why are you like this?”

Brendon smiled.  “You love me. And also Tyler, but in a different way.”

“Don’t you have your own love life to think about?” Josh asked, trying desperately to change the subject.

Brendon didn’t meet his gaze, clearing his throat awkwardly.  “So did you do the homework for Science?”

Josh narrowed his eyes.  “If you don’t want me to ask about your love life, then don’t ask me about mine.  Deal?”

“Deal,” Brendon agreed, shoving his hands in his pockets.  “Anyway, my house is here. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, I guess.”

After saying goodbye to Brendon, Josh kept walking - his house was a bit farther from the school.  He was only a few doors down when a soft voice beside him made him jump.

“Hi.”

“Tyler!  You snuck up on me!” Josh grinned.  “Good to see you, though.”

“You, too,” Tyler replied.  He seemed...different. Sad.  Reserved - well, more so than usual.

“Is something wrong?” Josh asked, tilting his head to the side slightly.

He didn’t miss the way Tyler tensed, or the way his grip on his backpack straps tightened anxiously.  “I’m okay. Nothing’s wrong.”

“Are you - are you sure?” Josh pressed gently, hoping his words didn’t sound too forceful.

“It’s...nothing.  I’ll be fine.”

“But something did happen.”

Tyler was silent for a while after that.  Josh was beginning to think he wasn’t going to say anything, and then, so quietly that he almost missed it -

“Yeah.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Tyler shook his head.  “I can’t.”

Josh took that ‘can’t’ to mean ‘it would make me too uncomfortable,’ so he didn’t push it.  “I’m here, though, if you change your mind.”

He could swear he heard Tyler mumble an, “I won’t” before quickening his pace and pulling ahead.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And so the week went.  Josh and Tyler talked in a lot of their classes and both hung out with Brendon during lunch.  Then, after school, Josh would walk home with Brendon as he always did - and sometimes, if he was lucky, Tyler might tag along.

Those were definitely his favorite days.

His least favorite days, however, had to be the days when Brendon teased him about his crush on Tyler.

“Just ask him for his phone number or something!” Brendon insisted.

“As if that’s the answer to everything,” Josh scoffed.  “Why don’t you ask Ryan for his phone number?”

Brendon raised an eyebrow.  “Because I already have it, Josh.  Keep up.”

Josh shook his head.  “You just aren’t going to give up, are you?”

Brendon grinned.  “Nope.”

On Friday, while Tyler was studying for a test in the library and Josh was there just so Tyler wouldn’t have to be alone, he gave in, if only so Brendon would stop bothering him.

“Tyler?”

Tyler hummed in acknowledgement, not looking up from his textbook.

“I know you’ve got that test on Monday, but I was wondering if we could maybe exchange phone numbers or whatever?” Josh asked, feeling nervous.  He chalked it up to fear of rejection.

But why did his fear of rejection have to make him feel like his heart was trying to beat its way out of his chest?

“Just to, like, stay in touch over the weekend or when we can’t hang out,” he added after a moment.  “If you want.”

Tyler looked up at that, eyes wide.  “Really?”

“Yeah,” Josh said.  Tyler still looked almost frightened, and he backtracked quickly.  “No pressure or anything. I was just wondering.”

“I-I mean, sure,” Tyler stammered after a moment.  “Here,” he tore a paper from his notebook and scribbled something on it, “um, that’s my number.  Just text me whenever.”

Text me whenever.  Josh almost laughed.  With him, at least, nothing could ever be that simple.

“I will,” he promised.

Tyler went back to studying.  They obviously weren’t going to do much talking, and almost everyone had left by now.  Josh’s parents were probably expecting him home anyway.

And it definitely didn’t disappoint him when Tyler barely reacted to Josh leaving.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next day, Tyler wasn’t at school.

All of their teachers marked him as absent, not sick.  That was the first reason Josh was worried.

When Josh texted Tyler during lunch, he didn’t reply.  That was the second reason.

And finally, when Josh called Tyler at the end of the day, Tyler ignored the call and finally texted him.

I’m sorry for not replying.

I had some stuff going on.

I might not be in school for a little while.

And…

Radio silence.

Chapter Text

Tyler woke up to two more texts from Josh.

 

Seriously, Tyler, what’s going on?

I’m worried.

 

Worried?  About him?  Why?

If Josh knew what had happened, then maybe his concern would’ve made sense.  But all Tyler had told him was that he wouldn’t be in school for a while.

How much did Josh know?

It was one bad grade.  That was all it took. He’d been so careful for years, careful to always get at least a B, or maybe an A if he was lucky, on all of his tests.

Then he got a D on that stupid English presentation and ended up with what he suspected was a broken arm and no way to fix it.

It was a presentation.  A presentation in front of people that hated him and made it very, very clear.  His parents couldn’t expect him to do perfectly. Naturally Tyler was going to be nervous - at this point, he was nervous talking to almost anyone, except maybe Josh.

Josh.  Who was actually worried about him.

Tyler considered telling Josh that he was fine, but he didn’t want to lie.  He didn’t want Josh to know the truth, but he didn’t want to lie.

He wasn’t fine.  His arm was broken.   He was broken.

Why was Josh so concerned anyway?  Tyler was a deadweight for anyone that dared to get close to him.  He expected his friends to be there for him, but he had nothing to give them in return.  He wasn’t strong enough to deal with his own problems, much less anyone else’s. So what was he?

A burden.  He was a burden in everyone’s lives, and they made sure he knew it.

If this was the consequence of a bad grade in English, Tyler didn’t even want to know how his parents would react when they found out he was gay.  They’d made their opinion on homosexuality very clear in the past.

His siblings were at school and his parents were out.  Tyler was seriously considering leaving the house, just to get out of there.  It felt almost like the walls were closing in on him. The curtains were drawn over the only window in his room, and the door was closed.

No escape, he thought, feeling faintly panicked, as if he couldn’t really be bothered to feel much at all anyway, but if he could, he would be scared.

Shaking his head, he stood up and opened the door.

He could leave if he really wanted to - he’d just have to be home before his siblings, who would be home at around ten past four, so they didn’t see him come back.

So Tyler just left, setting an alarm on his phone for four o’clock so he could be back in plenty of time.

He walked for a while, up and down the street, just trying to waste time until he had to go home.  He was not going back any earlier than he had to.

“Tyler?”

Tyler’s head shot up, eyes widening.   Oh, no.   “Josh!”

“What are you doing?  Why haven’t you been at school?”

“I’m...going for a walk,” Tyler said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, feeling almost guilty.  He wasn’t lying, though. He was going for a walk, just like he said. “I already told you, I’ve had some stuff going on.”

“I’ve missed you,” Josh admitted with a shy smile.

“Me?” Tyler scoffed.  “Why would you miss me?  I barely even talk. Brendon’s probably better company than I am.”

Josh just shrugged.  “I mean, yeah, he’s more...social, I guess, but you’re - you’re just you.”

“I’m me?” Tyler asked.  “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Hey, I’m not good with words, okay?  That’s your thing, not mine.”

Tyler tried to smile, but he couldn’t stop thinking.  About his broken arm, about how Josh seemed to want to be around him, about how if he wasn’t home in about fifteen minutes he would be in so much trouble, and yet Josh wanted to talk to him.

Against his better judgement, Tyler chose to stay.

“So how are you?” Josh asked.

Tyler shrugged.  “I’m okay. What about you?”

“I’m pretty good,” Josh said with a smile.  “Do you want to come over or something?”

Tyler quickly shook his head.  “No. Um, I can’t. I should probably - “  He turned and pointed vaguely in the direction of his house - but he made the mistake of trying to point with his right hand, the one attached to his broken arm.  “Ow!”

“What is it?” Josh asked, his expression immediately morphing into one of concern.  He grabbed Tyler’s arm, and Tyler winced and pulled it away.

“What happened?” Josh asked quietly, eyes narrowed.  “Is this why you haven’t been at school?”

“I’m fine,” Tyler muttered quietly, taking a step back, away from Josh, and cradling his injured arm with his opposite hand.

“Dude, you don’t look fine,” Josh said.  “You’re so pale, you’re shaking, you obviously hurt your arm, and you look so tired...Tyler, what’s going on?  I’m really worried about you.”

Tyler shrank back.  Josh was looking at him with such concern, and almost as though he trusted Tyler, although Tyler was sure that there wasn’t a worse person to trust.  “There’s nothing going on,” he said quickly. Too quickly. “Don’t worry.”

There wasn’t a worse person in the world to trust.

Every word out of his mouth was lies, lies, lies.

Lies, lies, lies, lies.

What was he doing?  He was just going to hurt Josh if he went on like this, the first person that offered him any sort of kindness without an ulterior motive in years.  Josh was someone that Tyler actually wanted to get to know, maybe even befriend one day - as if Tyler even understood what having a friend was supposed to mean anymore - and Tyler was just going to hurt him because every word out of his mouth was a lie.

And now he was late.

“Tyler?”

“I’m fine, Josh,” Tyler repeated, desperate to just escape, to get back to the house that wasn’t really his, the so-called home that was never really his home.  “I have to go.”

And then he turned and practically ran back to his house.  If he was lucky, maybe he could still get home before his parents -

But if there was ever a word to describe his life, lucky would certainly not be it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The young boy wants to move ahead

And the old man sings rewind

I wonder when in this time line

We’ll break to the other side

Chapter Text

“Bren, I’m freaking out.”

“Josh?” Brendon muttered, his voice distorted over the phone.

“Yeah, who else?” Josh asked sharply.

“Why are you calling me at eleven thirty PM on a school night?”

“I can’t sleep,” Josh said.  “Remember how Tyler said he wasn’t going to be at school?”

“Yeah, of course.  What happened?” Brendon asked.

“I ran into him earlier.”

“No way, really?”

“Yeah.  He seemed okay at first, but I think he hurt his arm somehow.  It was really bad - like, I’m pretty sure it was broken.”

“But he didn’t have a cast or a bandage or anything?”

“Nope.  Nothing at all.  And he wouldn’t tell me what happened.  He just checked the time and then ran away.”

“That’s...really weird,” Brendon said slowly.

“Yeah,” Josh agreed.  “And he was, like...he didn’t look sick, but he kind of looked really, really scared.  I’m just so worried about him. And he’s still not answering my texts.”

“Well, what are we supposed to do?”

“I don’t know!” Josh sighed, frustrated, and fell back on his bed.  “That’s the worst thing, you know?” He continued, chewing on his lip anxiously every time he paused to take a breath.  “Something’s obviously wrong, but I can’t help him.”

“Dude, I hate to say this, but you might just have to wait until he comes back to school.”

“But if his arm is broken and he isn’t getting a cast or something, it could be weeks!”

Josh could hear Brendon sigh even through his phone.  “I doubt it’s broken. He’s probably fine.”

Someone on Brendon’s side of the call said something that Josh couldn’t quite make out.

“It’s just Josh,” Brendon replied.  “He’s worried about something.”

“Who are you talking to?” Josh asked.

“Ryan,” Brendon said, clearly making an effort to sound casual.  “But more on that later. What do you think you could do?”

Hit with a sudden idea and a burst of motivation, Josh jumped out of his bed.  “I’m going to go to Tyler’s house.”

“Josh…” Brendon began hesitantly.  “Is that really a good idea?”

“What do you mean?  I’ve got to find out what’s happening.”

“The way you’re talking about Tyler, any sane person would think you’re a stalker.”

“Then it’s a good thing you aren’t a sane person,” Josh said with a smile.  “Plus, anyway, it’s only creepy if I break in. If I wasn’t going to school and I didn’t tell you why, you would definitely come over to see what was going on.  You’ve done that before, you know.”

“I know I can’t convince you,” Brendon said.  “Plus, I’m pretty curious as to how he broke his arm.  It’s pretty odd, that’s for sure.”

“I’ll go after school tomorrow,” Josh decided.  “I hope he’s okay.”

“He will be,” Brendon assured him.

“And I will be waiting to hear why you’re hanging out with Ryan at eleven thirty PM on a school night.”

Brendon groaned.  “I was hoping we could just skip over that.  It’s not something we want everyone to find out about.”

“I swear I won’t tell anyone,” Josh promised, grinning.  “Good night, Brendon. And say hi to Ryan for me.”

He could practically hear Brendon rolling his eyes as he hung up before his friend could reply.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Admittedly, in the light of day, Josh felt a little more unsure about his idea to go to Tyler’s house.  Maybe Brendon was right. Maybe Tyler would see it less as an act of concern and more as something creepy and weird.  Maybe Tyler would react the way he’d reacted the day before, dancing around Josh’s questions and being suspiciously quiet.

He pondered the problem as he walked to school, so deep in thought that he very narrowly avoiding running into some of his classmates.

He pondered the problem through his first two periods as well - it’s not like anyone in the class was even pretending to care about the lessons, anyway.

But in third period, his phone buzzed - not with a text, but a call instead.

From Tyler.

The teacher at the front of the room sighed heavily and turned to face Josh, arms crossed and one foot tapping impatiently against the floor.  “Mr. Dun.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Pincer.  Um, it’s my mom,” he lied quickly.  “Can I answer it?”

Another sigh.  “I suppose, but make it quick.”

Josh grabbed his backpack - it was almost the end of the period anyway - and hurried out of the room.

“Hi, Josh,” Tyler said once Josh picked up, his voice almost a whisper.

“Tyler!  It’s literally been a week and you haven’t said a word to me.  What’s up?”

“Well - “ Tyler’s voice sounded strained, as though he’d been crying.  “Remember when we were walking to your house and you said that if I ever didn’t want to be alone, I could talk to you?”

“Yeah,” Josh said.  “Yeah, of course.”

“I don’t want to be alone,” Tyler admitted, voice muffled and quiet as though he was ashamed to say it.  “I know you’ve got school, but - “

“Who cares about school?” Josh interrupted.  “One missed class won’t kill me, will it? I’ll be right over, Tyler.  I promise.”

“Can you - “  Tyler broke off, and Josh could just imagine him shaking his head as though clearing away a sudden thought.  “Never mind.”

“No, what is it?” Josh prompted.

“Can you stay on the phone?”

“Of course,” Josh said.

Brendon had taught him the previous year that the secret to ‘escaping’ school was to act as though you knew what you were doing.  Once Josh had managed to get out safely and he was far out of sight of the school or anyone working there, he turned his attention back to Tyler on the phone.

“So what’s up?”

“I just...I don’t want to be alone.”

“Bad day?” Josh asked sympathetically.

“Bad week,” Tyler corrected.

Josh hesitated before speaking again, unsure of how Tyler would react.  “Does this have anything to do with your arm?”

“I think it’s broken,” Tyler said.

“How’d you break it?”

“I fell off a trampoline,” Tyler muttered.  “It was nothing. It’s not too bad, so I didn’t see a doctor or something.”

“Tyler, if your arm is broken, that’s bad enough to see a doctor.”

“I know,” Tyler said almost immediately.  “I know. I’m sorry, Josh.” His voice was suddenly muffled, as though he’d buried his face in his hands - or hand, if one of his arms was broken.

“Don’t be sorry,” Josh said softly as he stopped outside of Tyler’s house, reaching up a hand to ring the doorbell.  He heard the echo coming from Tyler’s end of the line.

“Be right there,” Tyler said quickly.  He still didn’t hang up, so Josh didn’t either.

The door was flung open, revealing Tyler on the other side.  He looked even worse than when Josh had seen him the day before, with dark circles under his eyes practically outlined by the thinness and paleness of his face.  At least he’d fashioned a makeshift sling for his arm out of a shirt.

“You okay?” Josh asked.

Tyler shook his head, shuffling to the side so Josh could come in before walking up the stairs.  Josh followed Tyler into his room.

“I share this with my brother, Zack,” Tyler said.  “That’s his bed. You can sit, if you want.”

Josh sat down on the neatly-made bed as Tyler laid down on his own messy one.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Josh asked.

Tyler just shook his head again.  “I just wanted someone to be here.  We don’t need to talk.”

Josh nodded.  “Okay, I get it.”

“I missed you,” Tyler added quietly after a few moments, his voice slightly less subdued than it had been.  Josh took that as a good sign, moving over to sit on Tyler’s bed and placing a comforting hand on his uninjured shoulder.

“I missed you, too.”

Chapter Text

When Josh’s hand touched Tyler’s shoulder, Tyler froze, shrinking away from Josh defensively.  His mind was flooded with memories of the last time someone had placed their hand on him like that...

Josh quickly pulled away, and the sudden loss of contact pulled Tyler back to the present.  “Sorry. Was that crossing a line?”

He didn’t understand.  He thought they just weren’t close enough for that sort of thing.

For once, Tyler found himself wishing he could say something about it, about the real reason he was so scared.  But he didn’t.

“It’s okay,” Tyler said softly.  “I don’t mind. It just surprised me, that’s all.”

“Oh.  Good,” Josh said, but he didn’t replace his hand on Tyler’s shoulder.

Neither of them seemed to know what to say after that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tyler must have fallen asleep at some point.

That made sense - he hadn’t been able to sleep more than an hour or so at a time for the past week.  The longer he stayed stuck in that house, the darker it seemed to become, and the harder it was to calm his mind enough to go to sleep.

When he woke, there was a blanket covering him that definitely hadn’t been there before.  He had a feeling that he knew who had put it there.

Josh was standing quietly by Tyler’s dresser, not looking at Tyler.  At first, Tyler considered just going back to sleep - he really was exhausted - but then he remembered.

He’d left his notebook open on top of the dresser.

And Josh was looking right at it.

Tyler quickly threw the blanket to the side and rushed across the room, grabbing his notebook clumsily with his left hand and closing it.

“Oh.  You’re awake,” Josh said, fiddling with his fingers anxiously.

“How much did you read?” Tyler demanded, his voice trembling slightly but still strong nonetheless.

“I didn’t - it was just a few lines.”

“Which ones?”

“It’s the end of today, end of my ways as a walking denial, my trial was filed as a crazy suicidal headcase,” Josh murmured.

It was almost as bad as when that boy had stolen his notebook and read it out to the entire cafeteria.  None of the words in that notebook were ever meant to be heard, or read, or spoken.

That was never supposed to happen.

Tears filling his eyes for no reason at all, Tyler stumbled backwards and curled up in his bed, pressing himself into the corner furthest from Josh.  He didn’t want to see the judgement in his eyes, or hear the disgust in his voice - things that he’d grown so used to since he’d shared Taken By Sleep with his class.

“Tyler?”

His voice didn’t sound disgusted.  It sounded concerned. Worried.

“Tyler, no.  Don’t cry.”

Tyler just stayed silent, eyes squeezed shut and tears streaming down his face.  He felt the bed dip beside him as Josh sat down.

“I’m sorry.  It was an accident.”

Tyler tried his best to control his sobs long enough to speak.  “I don’t want you to-to judge me.”

“I won’t,” Josh promised.  “Tyler, I thought you were an amazing writer before, with Taken By Sleep and the anonymous poem in English and even the stuff that kid read out in the cafeteria.  But...every new thing you write is just more and more impressive. You face difficult stuff head-on when you’re writing, and that’s really, really hard to do. But if something’s wrong, you can tell me, you know that?”

Tyler sniffled, feeling more and more pathetic by the second.  He nodded.

“Good,” Josh said softly.  “How’s your arm?”

“It hurts,” Tyler admitted.

“You really should go to a doctor,” Josh insisted.  “You said you fell off a trampoline, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Didn’t your parents say anything?”

Tyler tensed, his hands clenched into fists.  Of course they hadn’t said anything - it was his father’s fault, anyway.  But Josh didn’t know that.

“I didn’t think it was that bad, so I didn't say anything,” Tyler lied with a halfhearted shrug.

Josh remained silent, and for a horrible moment Tyler thought he might’ve figured out what was going on.  But then Josh stood.

“Come on.  I’m going to go ask my mom if she can drive you to the doctor.”

“No!” Tyler blurted out, his chest suddenly feeling tighter as panic washed over him.  “No, don’t. I don’t want to go to the doctor. I’m fine.”

“Your arm is broken,” Josh reminded him.  “I doubt you’ve been sleeping or eating, either.  Something is clearly going on, but I get it if you don’t want to talk about it.  The only thing I’m going to make you do is get someone to take a look at your arm.”

Slowly, hesitantly, Tyler nodded.

“Okay, then let’s go,” Josh said, standing from the bed and offering a hand to pull Tyler up as well.

To his own surprise, Tyler accepted Josh’s help.  His grip was warm, and he was almost sad when Josh let go.

Almost.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“How did this happen?” Mrs. Dun asked, inspecting Tyler’s arm carefully.

“Fell off a trampoline,” Tyler mumbled.

“What was that, dear?  You’ll have to speak up.”

Tyler opened his mouth to try and speak, but he just stumbled over the lie he’d prepared so carefully.

“He fell off a trampoline, Mom.”  And it was Josh to the rescue yet again, for the second time that day.

“Why didn’t you go to the hospital sooner?” Mrs. Dun asked.

Tyler just shrugged silently.

“Well, we're going now.  Josh, help your friend into the car.”

With a comforting smile, Josh stood from his spot next to Tyler.  “Follow me.”

By the time they were both sitting in the backseat of the car, Tyler was starting to panic.  What would his parents think if they got home and he wasn't there, or if he had a cast? How could he explain the bruises, or the scars on his wrists and thighs?

He couldn't breathe, which was illogical because there was plenty of air around him, and Josh seemed just fine.  It was as though he was drowning, his heart beating too hard and his lungs aching for air.

“Tyler?”

Oh.  Wonderful.  Josh had noticed.

“Breathe, okay?” Josh instructed, his voice calm and even.  “Just take a deep breath.”

Slowly, shakily, Tyler tried to do as he was told, but it was far easier said than done.

“Try again,” Josh urged gently.  “I know you can do it.”

With Josh's encouragement, Tyler eventually managed to control his breathing.

“You okay?” Josh asked after a moment.

Tyler nodded.  “Better.”

Josh smiled.  “You know, your poems really are amazing.”

“They're songs, actually,” Tyler corrected quietly, hesitantly.  But he trusted Josh more than anyone, and for once he wasn't scared of being a little more like himself.

“No way!” Josh said.  “That's awesome, Tyler.  You're amazing.”

Tyler could feel himself blushing, a small smile spreading over his face.  “Thanks.”

“Alright, boys,” Mrs. Dun said, sliding into the driver’s seat and buckling her seat belt.  “Let's go. Oh, Tyler, before we leave, should I call your parents? Josh told me you were home alone.”

“O-okay,” Tyler stammered, tearing his gaze away from Josh.  “Um, my, uh...my mother, I guess. Or-or I could call her.”

“No, no, I can talk to her.  If you could just put her number into my phone, that would be wonderful.”

Tyler took Mrs. Dun’s phone from her outstretched hand and quickly typed in his mother’s number from memory, handing it back to Mrs. Dun as it started ringing.

“Hello, is this Mrs. Joseph, Tyler’s mother?  No, he hasn't done anything wrong. I'm Laura Dun, the mother of one of Tyler's friends.  Tyler has a broken arm - he says he fell off a trampoline, but he didn't realize how bad it was.  I'm driving him to the hospital now, and I thought it would be best if you met us there. Oh, maybe...ten minutes or so?  Wonderful, I'll see you then. Bye.”

She pulled out of the driveway.  “Your mother will meet us at the hospital, Tyler.”

“Okay,” Tyler said.  “Thank you.”

“Anytime, dear.”

Chapter Text

Josh was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital, his mother next to him and Tyler’s mother pacing anxiously, when his phone buzzed with a text from Brendon.

Where are u?

Call me

With a faint smile tugging at the corner of his mouth - at least one thing in his life was still the same as always - Josh called Brendon.

“Hey,” Brendon greeted him.  “Where are you? You weren’t in Science, and it’s lunch now.”

“Really?”  Josh had no idea that much time had passed since he’d left the school.  Everything had kind of blurred together after he’d showed up at Tyler’s house - the only constant was the concern.

“Yeah.  What’s up, dude?”

“Um...Tyler actually called me during third period, so I kind of...left?”

“Oh,” Brendon said slowly.  “Oh, wow. Is everything okay?”

“He said he didn’t want to be alone,” Josh explained.

“So you left school,” Brendon finished.  “Right. You totally don’t have a crush on him.   Totally platonic.”

“I swear, Brendon, if you say ‘totally’ like that one more time...but that’s beside the point.  Basically, I convinced him to go to the hospital for his arm, so I’m there now.”

“So he’ll be back at school soon?” Brendon asked.

“Probably,” Josh said with a shrug, despite the fact that Brendon couldn’t see him.  “I’d have to ask him. But listen - “ He glanced at the door to make sure Tyler wasn’t nearby and kept his voice low.  “I saw something in Tyler’s room, like, a poem he wrote, and I’m kind of worried about what it said.”

“What?  What did it say?”

“Um, it’s the end of today, end of my ways as a walking denial, my trial was filed as a crazy suicidal headcase,” Josh recited.

“Woah,” Brendon said quietly after a moment.

“I know,” Josh agreed.  “But when he heard what I’d read, I think he had a panic attack or something.  So I just told him it was okay, that he’s an amazing writer, and that he doesn’t have to talk about it if he doesn’t want to.”

“Josh, it sounds like he’s suicidal.”

“Yeah, I know,” Josh said with a sigh.  “But as long as he knows that I’m here for him and that I’ll never judge him for anything…”

The door opened and Tyler walked into the waiting room, a cast on his arm.  His mother immediately wrapped him up in a tight hug.

“Tyler’s here,” Josh informed Brendon quickly.

“Go talk to him, then,” Brendon said.  “See you tomorrow.”

“Bye.”  Josh ended the call and stood as Tyler walked over.

“Thanks,” Tyler practically whispered, holding his bandage-wrapped arm close to his body and keeping his gaze fixed on the ground, his feet fidgeting nervously.

Josh smiled.  “I really am here for you, Ty.  I promise.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Oddly enough, it was the little things about Tyler that caught Josh’s attention the most.  Things that didn’t really matter, like the way his hair would always end up fluffed-up and sticking out in all directions no matter how hard he tried to control it, or how he pressed his lips together tightly and a dimple appeared on his right cheek whenever he tried not to smile.

It was little things like those that made Josh feel the most protective, the most affectionate.

The real nail in the coffin came, strangely enough, in a graveyard.

Josh had told Tyler about how his grandfather had died seven years ago, when Josh was only nine years old.  On the anniversary of his death, when Josh usually visited the cemetery alone, he invited Tyler to come with him.

“I mean, it’s okay if you don’t want to,” he’d said quickly.  “But, I mean...you’re one of my best friends, and if you don’t mind, I’d like it if you’re there.”

Tyler had agreed, so they went to the cemetery.

Josh placed a bouquet of flowers by the headstone, and they stood silently for a few minutes.

“Okay,” Josh murmured after a while.  “Let’s go.”

As they walked back to the car, Josh noticed how Tyler seemed to be choosing his path very carefully, skirting around things as though on a road that only he could see.

“What are you doing?” Josh asked the third time Tyler had swerved completely off of the path to the car.

“Oh,” Tyler said, looking up at him.  “Um, I don’t want to walk over the graves?”  He said it more as though it was a question than an answer.

“Why?”

“Well, I mean - “  He blushed slightly, glancing back down at the ground.  “These people died. We should respect them, even if we don’t know who they are or what they’ve done.   Especially if we don’t know who they are or what they’ve done.  So many of them were probably good people, but there’s only going to be a handful of people that remember them.  So I try not to step on their graves. You know, just in case.” If it was possible, his cheeks flushed even redder.  “They deserve at least that much.”

You’re amazing, Josh thought absently, staring at Tyler.  “That’s - that makes a lot of sense, actually.”

And from that day on, whenever he happened to be in a cemetery or near a grave, he always made a point of not stepping on them.

You know, just in case.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Josh, sweetie?  Where are you?”

“In my room, Mom,” Josh called back, locking his phone and dropping it on his desk.  He’d been talking to Tyler. “Be right down.”

He walked downstairs and into the kitchen.  Both his mother and his father were sitting at the kitchen table, along with his siblings, Ashley, Abby, and Jordan.

“What’s up?” Josh asked, sliding into the empty seat at the end of the table.

“Well, your father got an offer for a wonderful job,” his mother began, “but it’s in Chicago.”

“Oh,” Josh said.  “Well - we’re staying here, right?  Like - we’re not...leaving?”

Josh’s mother bit her lip, and his father answered instead.  “Actually, that’s what we wanted to talk to you all about. Yes, over the summer we’ll be moving to Chicago.”

Josh’s eyes widened and he jerked back as though someone had slapped him.  “But - but we’re fine here. Dad has a job, and we have friends - how am I going to tell Brendon?”

Another thought hit him.  There was someone else, someone that probably needed him more than Brendon.  

“How am I going to tell Tyler?”

“Josh, we’re doing what’s best for the family as a whole,” his mother insisted, her eyes pleading.

“So we don’t have any say in this?” Josh demanded, gesturing to his sisters and his brother.  “We’re just - we’re just going to leave? That’s it?”

“Josh - “

Without another word, Josh ran to his room, slamming the door behind him.

They were fine in Columbus.

Maybe they could be fine in Chicago, too, but it wasn’t going to be the same.  Not without Tyler.

Chapter Text

“You’re what?”

“I’m moving,” Josh said quietly.

Brendon shook his head disbelievingly.  “You’ve got to be joking.”

Josh sighed.  “I wish I was.  We’re leaving over the summer.”

“Where are you moving to?”

“Chicago.”

Brendon’s jaw dropped.  “Dude, that’s, like, forever away.”

“It’s only a five and a half hour drive,” Josh corrected.  “It’s not that far. And anyway, we can still call and text and stuff.  I mean, I’m upset too, but it’s not the end of the world.”

“It’s not myself that I’m worried about.  It’s not you, either. It’s Tyler.”

“What about him?” Josh asked, brow furrowing.  “Like I said, it’s not that hard to keep in touch.  I mean, I was worried at first too, but I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

“Oh,” Brendon said, drawing out the word, realization slowly dawning on his face.  “You haven’t seen the way he looks at you, have you?”

“No…” Josh said, raising an eyebrow.

“How to say this without sounding cliché?” Brendon asked.  “Well, you remember how you would always have to remind me to stop staring at Ryan during lunch?”

Josh nodded.

“Yeah, it’s like that,” Brendon said sharply.  “I can’t believe you would do this to him. What happened to all the, the - ‘oh, Tyler called me and asked me to come over, so I just decided to skip school because he didn’t want to be alone,’ or the asking him to come with you when you went to the cemetery?  So, what - none of that matters anymore?”

“Brendon, I didn’t have any sort of say in this,” Josh protested.  “My parents kept saying it was for the best. If I could stay, trust me, I would.”

Brendon sighed and shook his head.  “How are you going to tell him, Josh?”

“I guess I’ve just got to say it,” Josh said, running his fingers through his hair.  “Maybe make sure he knows that he can always call me if he needs anything.”

“That would probably be best,” Brendon agreed.  “Anyway, class is going to start soon, and Ryan is in my group for an English project we’re working on, so I’m going to go.”

“Bren, wait!”

Brendon glanced over his shoulder at Josh, stopping in his tracks.  “Yeah?”

“Look, um,” Josh bit his lip.  “When I leave, can you just - like - make sure Tyler’s okay?  Not all the time, just every now and then. Be there for him in case I can’t, you know?”

“Yeah, I get it,” Brendon said.  “I’ll do my best.”

Josh smiled, relieved.  “Thanks.”

 

At lunch, Josh sat with Tyler, just like he had for most of the previous school year.

As if everything was normal.

They talked for a little while, about projects they had due, or about the latest hint of proof that there might be life on other planets.

As if everything was normal.

But Josh knew he had to say something.  So, during a lull in the conversation, Josh took the chance, despite the fact that he didn’t want to.

“So, uh,” he began, not entirely sure what to say, “my dad got an offer for a job.  But it’s in Chicago.”

Tyler’s gaze, which had been focused on his meal, darted up, his eyes wide and almost panicked.  “What?”

“I’m kind of...moving.”

Tyler’s gaze drifted back down to the table.  “O-oh.”

“You okay?” Josh asked quickly, biting his lip as he tried to judge Tyler’s reaction.

“Yeah, I’m - “ Tyler cleared his throat.  “I’m fine.”

“We can still keep in touch and stuff,” Josh continued almost desperately, hoping he could convince Tyler that it wasn’t like they couldn’t be friends anymore, because what Josh wanted more than anything - aside from staying in Columbus, but that wasn’t going to happen - was for them to stay friends.

“I know,” Tyler said softly.  “It’s, um, it’s not going to be the same.”

Josh sighed.  “Yeah. But, I mean, there’s nothing I can do.”

Tyler just nodded silently, still not looking at Josh.

“I wish I could stay,” Josh admitted.

“I wish you could stay, too.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Hey, we should play Twenty Questions.”

Tyler looked up from his notebook, setting it on Josh’s desk.  They’d been going to Josh’s house after school for the past two months.  Sometimes they wouldn’t talk at all, instead each doing their homework or writing something down.  They really didn’t mind - they just enjoyed each other’s presence.

Was that strange?  Maybe. Josh didn’t care.

“You go first,” Tyler said.

“Okay.”  Josh thought for a moment.  “What’s your spirit animal?”

“A hermit crab,” Tyler announced after a few seconds.  “What about you?”

“Probably those, uh, those cats with the short legs,” Josh said, laughing.  “They’re really funny. You want to go next?”

Tyler nodded.  “Uh, do you prefer going to bed early and then getting up early or staying up late and then sleeping in?”

Josh frowned.  “Probably staying up late.  I mean, there’s just something about sleeping in, you know?”

“Yeah, definitely,” Tyler agreed.  “For me, I’m usually up late anyway, but then I get up pretty early too.  I love sleep, but I’m really bad at it.”

“Kind of like me with everything,” Josh joked.

“No, you’re good at a lot of things,” Tyler argued.  “Like...you’re really friendly, and you’re good at singing, and…”  He trailed off. “Um, and you make me feel safe.”

The smile slipped from Josh’s face, replaced by a look of affection that he hoped wasn’t too obvious.

After a moment Tyler glanced away, and the moment was broken.  “Your turn,” he muttered hurriedly.

“What’s your favorite color?” Josh asked.

“I’d have to say...red,” Tyler decided.  “It’s just all sorts of different things, you know?  There’s anger, there’s love, there’s passion and there’s blood...but then there’s also the sunset, where everything’s just peaceful, right?  Red is everything.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As soon as Josh got home on the day before his last day of school in Columbus, he called Brendon.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Bren.  Can you come over?  I’m going to dye my hair again, and I might want some help.”

“Yeah, sure,” Brendon said.  “What color were you thinking this time?”

Josh smiled, looking at the box of dye in his hand.  

“I’m going to try red.”

Chapter Text

Standing in front of Tyler, Josh smiled.  Tyler didn’t understand how he was smiling.

He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and held it out.  Tyler took it from his hand and saw that it was the poem he’d written a few years ago, the one Josh had kept ever since.

Taken By Sleep

Tyler Joseph

But now, one line in particular near the end of the poem seemed to hit him so much harder.

Forcing me out, making me think about you and how you're gone.

Tyler had to remind himself many times not to cry before he felt as if he could look up at Josh again.

“I thought you might want that,” Josh said with a shrug, running a hand through his bright red hair.  

When he’d showed up with the vibrant color change on the last day of school, Tyler thought he might’ve finally understood exactly what someone meant when they talked about love.  Josh hadn’t confirmed that he’d dyed it red because of Tyler, but the excited, energetic look that had been in his eyes and the way that he’d asked for Tyler’s opinion immediately…

It was fairly obvious.

But it couldn’t happen.  Tyler couldn’t love Josh - he was leaving.  His bags were packed, his parents were waiting by their car, and yeah, maybe Josh had taken a few extra moments to say goodbye to Tyler, but they were friends.  It would never mean anything more than that.

And anyway, Tyler was probably mistaken.  Josh wasn't a friend - he was Tyler's only friend.  Of course he would misread his emotions.  He knew practically nothing about friendship.

Maybe the feelings were just platonic.

But that was unlikely.  No one felt this way about someone if they were just ‘a friend.’

“I would’ve loved to keep it,” Josh continued, “but it probably wouldn’t have stayed together for the move.  I mean, it’s already falling apart.”

“Y-yeah,” Tyler agreed, folding up the paper and stowing it safely in between the pages of his newest notebook - one that Josh had given him for his birthday.  The memories hurt.

“I’m really going to miss you, Ty,” Josh said with another smile.  It was too bright for the circumstances and it made Tyler want to cry instead of comforting him like it had so many times when everything else was just too much.  “And, hey, we’ll still be able to text and call and stuff.”

Tyler nodded.  He didn’t trust his voice, not when he was so close to crying.

“And you can always talk to Brendon,” Josh pointed out, even though they both knew that Tyler and Brendon were probably not the best mix.

Tyler chuckled a bit and glanced away.  He didn’t want to look at Josh again. He was afraid that if he did, he might never want to look away.

“Josh!  We’re leaving!”

Josh barely turned to shout a reply to his parents.  “Just give me a second!”

“Bye,” Tyler mumbled, starting to retreat back to his house.

“Ty, wait,” Josh said, grabbing his shoulder.  “Are sure you’re okay?”

Tyler shrugged, shuffling just out of Josh’s reach.  He’d been checking with Tyler almost daily, making sure he was okay every time they talked.  “I’ll be fine. Bye, Josh.”

Josh nodded slowly.  “I’m going to miss you, Tyjo.”

“Same to you, Jishwa,” Tyler replied.

“Jishwa,” Josh repeated slowly.  “I like that.”

“Almost as good as Tyjo.”

“Nah,” Josh said, grinning.  “It’s better.”

And with that, he turned and walked away.  Only then could Tyler bear to look at him, and he regretted not looking sooner.

The poem - no, the song - wasn’t finished.

So Tyler did what he knew best.  He wrote.

He wrote until he had no words left to say, until everything was out in the open and there were tears staining the torn and wrinkled paper that the first verse of his song had been written on.  

 

And I just can't believe it has to be this way

You know we say it seems to me that it was just the other day

I saw your face, I saw your light, you ran the race, you fought the fight

But now it's all being torn down for me tonight

 

He wrote and wrote and wrote until he felt like Josh was flooding his brain and everything was blocked out by the roaring water in his ears and his mind.

 

And I know it might be a little selfish for me to say

But I need to know if you've thought of me at all today

Cause every day walk past the place you lived 5 days of the week

And now it's ten after four and I am taken by sleep

 

He wrote until he wasn’t sure what else to write, and then he wrote a little bit more.

 

Spending hours on end, deciding what I'd say to a friend if I ever saw him again

Cause I don't know if I know, don't want to come across the wrong way

And I don't know if I know, but I know I want to see your face today

 

He wrote until he was sure of one thing, more sure than he’d ever been of anything else in his life.

He was in love.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Later that night, Tyler was still in his room when he got a call from Brendon.

“Hey, Tyler,” Brendon greeted him when he picked up.

“Hi,” Tyler said, not really bothering to make the effort to start a conversation.

“How are you?” Brendon asked.

“I’m okay,” Tyler replied with a shrug.

“Josh called me,” Brendon continued.  “He said he’s at his new house in Chicago.  He wanted me to tell you that he misses you.”

Why couldn’t he tell me himself?  Tyler wanted to ask, but he couldn’t bring himself to form the words.

When Tyler remained silent, Brendon quietly added one more thing.

“Uh, he was crying.”

That certainly got Tyler’s attention.  “What?”

“Yeah.  He said it was nothing, but...I don’t know.  Maybe you should talk to him.”

“I will,” Tyler promised.  “You’re sure he was crying?”

“He literally said the words, ‘sorry, I’m kind of crying right now,’” Brendon said.  “I’d say you can’t get much clearer than that.”

The thought of Josh, who had always been so calm, so dependable, in tears...it tore at Tyler’s heart.  So he hung up on Brendon, fully intending to call Josh immediately, but the tune from earlier popped back into his head.

He scrambled for his notebook to write down the new lyrics.

 

And somebody told me they saw you cry and break down

Do you know how hard that is to get around and think about?

It's not like you to let emotions get the best of things

Especially when everything is hanging in the air we breathe

 

And then he took a deep breath and dialed Josh’s number.

Chapter Text

Josh was still trying to wipe the tears from his cheeks, sitting alone in his brand-new, far too empty room after a complete breakdown, when his phone started ringing with a call from Tyler.

He answered the call on the first ring.  “Tyler! It’s great to hear from you!” He said, hoping he sounded more upbeat than he felt.

“Hey,” Tyler murmured, his voice slightly raspy in a way that implied that he’d either been singing or crying.

Josh desperately hoped it was the former.  He’d seen Tyler cry many times before, but it still hurt to think about.  He didn’t want Tyler to be upset - as cheesy as it might sound, he genuinely believed Tyler deserved happiness.  “So, uh, how are you?”

“I’m okay, I guess,” Tyler said.  “I miss you.”

Josh almost laughed.  Tyler had been so distant during Josh’s last few days in Columbus that he might as well have been gone already.

But instead, he just said, “I miss you, too.”

For the most part, they sat in uncomfortable silence.  There wasn’t much that could happen over five hours, so they didn’t have much to talk about, but they both seemed reluctant to actually hang up so they could go about their days.  Josh just didn’t want to give up and admit that they had no reason to talk to each other.

 

The call hadn’t been the same as seeing each other face-to-face.  It lacked... something, but Josh couldn’t tell what it was.  It was almost as though both of them lacked the motivation to even talk.

It just...wasn’t the same.

There was a knock on Josh’s door.  “Yeah?” he called, dropping his phone in his backpack.

The door opened, revealing his mother standing there.  “Josh, honey? Are you feeling any better?”

Josh just shrugged.  “I don’t know.”

“Brendon and Tyler are only a few hours’ drive away,” his mother reminded him.  “You can even visit them on weekends sometimes, if you want to.”

“But, I mean, once school starts, I’m going to be busy with homework and stuff, and Brendon and Tyler are going to have their own stuff to deal with, and I just...I don’t know, Mom.”

Josh’s mother sighed and sat down next to him.  “What - or who - do you miss the most back in Columbus?”

Chewing his lip anxiously, Josh considered his reply.  He could tell the truth - that he had feelings for Tyler that had slowly been developing into something more - or he could just hide it.  While he didn’t want to hide anything from his mother, he felt as though admitting his feelings out loud would only make them seem more real, and that was the opposite of what he wanted right now.  

“I don’t know,” he said after a long pause.

“Surely you’ve got to know something,” his mother replied teasingly.  “Come on, Josh. Do you at least have an idea?”

Josh hesitated, and his mother frowned.  She could tell something was off.

“Josh?”

“Mom, um, I’m - “ He took a deep breath, unsure how to get through the next sentence.  After a moment he steeled himself and just decided to say it.

“I think I’m in love with someone,” he confessed quietly, his eyes stinging with repressed tears.  “Someone who still lives back in Columbus.”

“Oh, Josh, honey,” his mother said, sympathy practically dripping from her voice as she wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him into her side in a hug.  “What’s her name? Do you have her phone number?”

“Yeah, I have his phone number,” Josh mumbled, not meeting her gaze.

“What?”

“It’s Tyler,” Josh blurted out.  “I’m in love with Tyler.”

He pulled his legs up to his chest and rested his forehead on his knees as he began crying again, his shoulders shaking with silent sobs.  It hit him that this was the same way he’d always seen Tyler sitting in his seat at the back of class - curled up as tightly as possible, head down, tears streaming down his face.

It only served to remind him, and that only served to make him cry harder.

“It’s okay, honey,” his mother said quickly, pulling him closer again.  “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay. Does Tyler know?”

Josh shook his head.  “I didn’t tell anyone.  Brendon knew, though. I guess I was kind of obvious,” he added with a chuckle, raising his head at last and wiping his nose.

Both Josh and his mother stayed silent for a minute or two.

“Mom?”

“Yes, honey?”

“You’re, like - you’re okay with this, right?  Me being gay?”

“What?  Of course I am!”  She sounded almost offended.  “Joshua William Dun, you listen to me.  You are my son, and I love you for who you are.  I don’t care whether you’re straight, gay, or anything in between.  I just want you to be happy, and if you’re happy with who you are, then I am too.”

Josh smiled.  “Thanks.”

“Of course.  Is there any way I can help you with this...Tyler thing?”

“No,” Josh said with a sigh.  “I was just talking to him, but he said he had to go.  I just miss actually being able to see him, you know?”

She nodded.  “How did you two meet?”

“He, uh - don’t get mad,” Josh began.  “He forgot to do his math homework, and he had a panic attack about it, so I offered to let him look at my work.”

His mother pursed her lips.  “You know I don’t approve of cheating, Joshua, but I’m sure Tyler appreciated it.”

“He was really, really glad about it,” Josh confirmed.  “And I was glad to help him.”

“So you two became friends?”

“Well...not exactly then.  Um, a couple of kids stole a notebook that he’d been writing poetry in and they started reading it to the entire cafeteria, and he just seemed so...so scared, so I stopped them.  And then after school, he waited by the door to thank me for that, and he said he didn’t want to go home just yet, so I invited him over.”

“Oh, is that when I met him?” His mother asked, her voice rising excitedly.

“Yeah,” Josh said.  “And a few years before I met him, some kids had made fun of him for this other poem that he’d written and shared in English.  He threw it out but they dug it out of the trash and taped it to his locker, and they just wrote all these horrible things around it…”  He trailed off, shaking his head, eyes narrowed in anger. “And I’d loved the poem, so I cleaned the writing off of his locker and then kept the paper.  While he was over here - that was actually the very first day we met - he found it on my desk. I’d just been reading it that morning.”

“Do you still have it?”

Josh shook his head again.  “When we left, I gave it back to him.  It was kind of falling apart, and I knew that if I’d packed it for the move it probably would’ve just...died, I guess,” he finished, laughing a little bit.  “I didn’t want that, so I gave it back to him.”

“That’s sweet,” his mother said with a smile.  “So, how’s he doing now?”

Josh sighed.  “I can’t really be sure.  He just said he was okay, and that he misses me.  I miss him too.”

“I’ll make sure you can visit him as soon as possible, honey.  I promise.”

Josh looked up at her with a hopeful smile.  “Really?”

“Of course.  I want you to be happy,” she said, repeating her words from earlier and pulling him into her arms once more.

Josh let himself be hugged, but he couldn’t find the energy to hug back.

“Crying really takes a lot out of you, huh?” Josh’s mother asked, noticing the way he barely moved when she hugged him.

Josh nodded.

“Get some sleep, honey.  I hope you feel better in the morning.”

“I hope so, too,” Josh murmured.

His mother smiled and left.  Josh changed into his pajamas and quickly sent a text to Tyler.

Good night, Ty.

Sleep well.

As he fell asleep, his phone buzzed with a reply.

You, too.

Josh managed to fall asleep with a smile.  He could only hope Tyler was smiling, too.

Chapter Text

Tyler was not smiling.

Summer vacation had drained him almost completely, left him bruised and broken - both physically and emotionally.  It had passed by in a blur of flying fists, broken glass, and razor blades, of calls to Josh, of laughing and joking that didn’t quite feel sincere, and of fading memories of bright smiles, brown eyes, and dyed red hair.

Wasn’t summer vacation meant to let students relax, to recharge and prepare for the school year ahead of them?  It seemed to have an adverse effect on Tyler, trapping him in a house where he was never safe and forcing him to retreat to his own mind for even the slightest hint of that so-called “safety.”

But overthinking was a dangerous game, and not one to be taken lightly.

Despite the warm weather, as Tyler got closer to the school he only shrunk further and further into his hoodie, letting it overtake him just like the anxious thoughts whirling through his mind.  It had been less than a full school year that he’d been friends with Josh, and already he was terrified of facing the school without him.

“Tyler!”

Tyler barely looked up, just turning his head slightly to check who it was.  “Oh. Hey, Brendon,” he said quietly as Brendon caught up with him and then slowed his pace to match Tyler’s.

“What’s wrong?”

Tyler shrugged.  “I - I don’t know.  My summer kind of sucked, and I still miss Josh.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Brendon said, slinging an arm over Tyler’s shoulders.  

Tyler winced when Brendon accidentally bumped his hip.  He couldn’t remember if it was a fresh bruise or a recent cut, but it hurt either way.

“But come on!  This is our second-to-last year in this place - you’ve got to be glad we’re almost done,” Brendon insisted.

“Yeah, but…” Tyler trailed off with a sigh.  “I don’t know. I’m just not looking forward to it.  And - and please don’t try to talk me into feeling better about it.  I’m really not in the mood for that.”

“You know what?” Brendon said, pulling out his phone.  “I’m calling Josh. You’ve got to talk to him before we get to school.”

Well, Tyler wasn’t going to deny that.

“Hey, Josh.  Tyler and I are walking to school - yeah, he’s okay, he just seems a little down.  So he’s going to talk to you. That always seems to cheer him up for a while, right?  Okay.”

Brendon held his phone out to Tyler.  “Here you go.”

“Tyler?” Josh’s hopeful voice was slightly distorted through the phone, but it was Josh’s voice nonetheless, and Tyler was glad to hear it.

“Hey, Josh.”

“Brendon said you seemed kind of upset,” he mentioned, concern clear in his tone.  “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Tyler said quickly.  “I just miss you, that’s all. I’m not looking forward to school without you, I guess.”

“I miss you, too, but it’s going to be okay,” Josh assured him.  “I promise, Tyler. You can do this.”

“I just…” Tyler trailed off with a sigh.  “I don’t know, Josh.”

“If you need anything at all, I made Brendon swear that he’d be there for you if I couldn’t be,” Josh told him.  “We’re both here for you. Can you at least try? For me?”

After a moment and another heavy sigh, Tyler agreed.  

He’d always been one to listen to his heart, and his heart always told him to listen to Josh.

So that’s exactly what he did.

He felt almost guilty about what he’d done, those countless nights when he locked himself in the bathroom - as if he parents would care if they found him - and drew the razor across his wrists, his hips, his thighs.  Talking to Josh seemed to clear his head, enough that he wanted to say something.

But he could stop, right?  If he felt so guilty about it, then he could just stop doing it.

“Oh, Ty, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.  I need to get ready for school, too.”

“Okay,” Tyler said quietly.  “Bye, Josh. I miss you.”

He could hear the slightly forced smile in Josh’s voice, though the sad undertone in his voice betrayed his true emotions.  “I miss you, too, Tyler. Bye.”

And it was like the moment he had hung up the phone, the moment Tyler heard a beep and the line clicked dead, the fog settled back over his mind.

He wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop, even if he really wanted to.

 

Tyler took in his appearance in the mirror for a moment before pressing the ice he’d stolen from the freezer to his black eye and turning away from his reflection.  But the memory of how he’d slowly been looking worse and worse was burned into his mind.

A few months ago, it was almost nothing.  A few bruises here and there. He could handle it.

But then...more bruises began showing up.  Broken bones from when his father was really angry, jagged, uneven cuts made by furious hands and pieces of broken glass from any time Tyler broke something.  He’d begun feeling like things were spiraling out of his control, and he longed to control something, anything, anything at all.

So he took the broken glasses and he took the razor blades and he took his injuries into his own hands.

And it seemed to make everything more bearable.  Along with the blood, each cut seemed to release the stress, the sadness, everything he’d been holding in for so long.

Now, after at least two months of doing this - he hadn’t managed to hold on for very long after Josh left, and he knew that was so telling, but he couldn’t bring himself to care - not only was his skin littered with bruises both old and new, and jagged scars, but also cuts he’d made on his own, sitting in nice, neat rows up and down practically every inch of his skin that he could reach and easily hide with jeans and long sleeves.  The skin that was showing was pale to the point of being almost pure white, making the dark bags under his eyes look even darker.  He was thinner than stick-thin, all papery skin wrapped around a bony frame, sunken cheeks and prominent cheekbones, but not because he cared about something like that - just because he could barely find the motivation to get out of bed in the morning, much less eat anything.

He practically jumped out of his skin when he heard the doorbell ring.  It was probably just his brother. He dropped the ice in the bathroom sink before making his way downstairs and opening the door, but it definitely wasn’t Zack.

Brendon stood outside his house, along with someone else by his side - someone that Tyler recognized and was so familiar with that it almost hurt.

Josh was standing beside him, and judging by the way his smile faded into concern and something that almost seemed like fear, Tyler probably looked a lot worse than he’d thought.

“Ty, are you okay?”

Oh, it felt amazing to hear that beautiful, clear voice, unaffected by poor connection and a phone’s distorted audio.  

But it was such a difficult question to answer.

So he reverted back to what he’d always done, what his heart told him to do.

He plastered his best fake smile on his face and he swore to them both that he was completely fine - despite the fact that it felt like his heart was being ripped out of his chest to do so.

But if Josh could see behind that fake smile, he would see the two words Tyler really wanted to say.

I’m sorry.

Chapter Text

Josh had been so excited to see Tyler, but as soon as the door was opened, the bright grin that had been glued to his face all day had fallen completely.

Between the bruises scattered around his far-too-pale face, the way he looked so thin that Josh was worried he might snap if he so much as moved, and the way that the dark circles under his eyes were more pronounced than Josh had ever seen them, Tyler essentially looked like a walking corpse.

And the tremble in his voice betrayed him when he said he was fine.

“What happened to your eye?” Josh asked, still standing awkwardly on the front porch.

“I, um...I got into a fight with some kids after school yesterday,” Tyler said, shifting his gaze from side to side and staring at the ground.

“You couldn’t have, though,” Brendon pointed out.  “I walked home with you after school yesterday.”

“Okay, so maybe it wasn’t some kids,” Tyler muttered, lowering his head, his gaze sharp and almost angry.  “It doesn’t matter, though.”

Josh had never understood what blood turning to ice in his veins would feel like until he heard Tyler say that.

“Who was it?” he asked quietly, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.

“It doesn’t matter,” Tyler repeated forcefully, shaking his head as though to clear it.  “It’s really great to see you, Josh. You, too, Brendon. Uh, do you want to come in? You guys know where my room is.  I’m going to go get some water, do you want anything?”

“Could I have some water as well, please?” Josh asked.

Tyler nodded and smiled before turning and heading toward the kitchen.

As soon as Brendon and Josh were in Tyler’s room, Josh turned to Brendon.  “What happened to him?”

Brendon took a step back, his hands raised in surrender.  “I’ve got no idea, Josh. He definitely didn’t have a black eye when we were walking home yesterday.”

“So who gave him the black eye?  Because I don’t think he got that from falling off of a trampoline.”

After a few moments of tense silence, Brendon spoke up, his voice hushed and hesitant.  “What if...what if his arm wasn’t from falling off of a trampoline, either?”

Josh’s fists clenched at his sides, but he made an effor to remain calm.  “What do you mean?” He asked, knowing exactly what the answer would be.

“I mean, you said he told you that he didn’t think his broken arm was that bad, so he didn’t tell his parents...but what if his parents knew?”  Brendon’s voice grew even softer. “What if they knew, because it was their fault?”

Josh was sure, even before he asked the question, that this was what Brendon was hinting at, but it still hit him hard.  His head spun, his eyes stinging with unshed tears. “He - he would’ve told someone,” Josh protested weakly. “He would’ve told me.   He trusts me...right?”

“He might be scared to mention it,” Brendon pointed out.  “I did some research on child abuse, and - “

“How long have you suspected?” Josh interrupted.

Brendon paused, taking a deep breath.  “Um...about a month.”

“What?   And you didn’t say anything?”

Brendon shook his head guiltily.

“How did you figure it out?”

“It was - it was the hottest day of the summer, like, one-hundred-degree heat, and he was still wearing that hoodie.  That combined with the fact that he would always use the same excuses for the bruises that I did see - ‘oh, I bumped into a table, I tripped’ - and the way he kind of jerks back at sudden movements and gets really nervous when people yell, and how he always tried to go as unnoticed as possible…”

Josh thought back to all the times he’d accidentally raised his voice, and how Tyler had flinched and asked him to stop, and how Josh had been so blind not to see it, not to see that something was so very clearly wrong, even when it was right under his nose.  So blind not to see that the broken arm, the bruises, the nervous, jittery behavior, wasn’t just a normal, everyday thing.  “Oh, no…”

“I mean, I guess I started putting two and two together, and so I did some research, and a lot of his behavior is common in victims of abuse.”

Josh bit his lip, staring at the ground, squeezing his eyes shut and trying not to cry.  “Oh, geez, Bren...this is really, really bad.”

“But the point is,” Brendon continued, as though he hadn’t heard Josh speak, “another thing that’s common in these situations is for the victims to blame themselves and think it’s their fault.  So he might be worried that if he said anything, he would get in trouble for it, and I’m guessing that normally when he gets in trouble, someone - probably his mom or dad - hits him or something.”

“I think you’re right,” Josh admitted.  “So...what now? Do we ask him about it or something?  This isn’t something you can just slip into everyday conversation.”

“But we’ve got to say something,” Brendon insisted.  

Josh sighed.  “Should we lead with the black eye?”

Brendon nodded, motioning for Josh to stop talking as the door opened and Tyler walked through, handing one glass of water to Josh and taking a sip from the other one.  “Josh, how long are you in town?”

“Uh, I’m staying at Brendon’s tonight and then going home tomorrow.”

Tyler nodded, smiling.  “I’m glad you’re here. It’s really, really great to see you.”

“You, too,” Josh said, forcing himself to return Tyler’s smile.

Josh glanced at Brendon.  Brendon was already looking at Josh, and he nodded.

Just get it over with.

“Ty, um...how did you get that black eye?

Tyler stiffened immediately, his shoulders hunching as he seemed to close up entirely.  “Didn’t I already say that it doesn’t matter?”

“But obviously it does,” Josh insisted gently.  “I can tell something’s bothering you, and I’m worried.”

Tyler glared up at him without lifting his head.  “It doesn’t matter, Josh. Just forget about it.”

But I can’t, Josh wanted to say.

Instead, he just blurted out the question that had been on his mind since Brendon had told him about it.  “Do your parents hit you?”

Tyler froze, his head darting up and his eyes widening in disbelief before he blinked slowly and lowered his head resignedly.

“Not both of them,” he muttered, his voice breaking and wavering as tears gathered in his eyes, threatening to fall.  “Just, um - just my dad.”

And then his eyes widened as he realized the magnitude of his confession.  He sank to the ground, the tears starting to fall from his eyes, his whole body shaking with the force of his silent sobs.

Josh immediately dropped to his knees next to Tyler, pulling him into a hug.  “Oh, Ty,” he murmured softly, stroking Tyler’s hair in an attempt to soothe him.  “I’m so, so sorry.”

“I don’t know what to do,” Tyler whispered as his sobs quieted at last, replaced with an almost fearful trembling.

“I’m here for you, I swear,” Josh promised.  “I’m going to help you in any way that I can.”

Sniffling softly, Tyler shifted even closer to Josh, seeking comfort and warmth, until he was practically sitting in Josh’s lap.  “Thank you.”

“Of course, of course.  Always, Ty.” I love you.

Josh’s mind was racing, trying to find a solution.  Anything to keep Tyler from getting hurt again. “Do you think it would be better to stay somewhere that isn’t here, at least for a little while?”  

Tyler just nodded.

Josh glanced up at Brendon, who was still standing awkwardly in the middle of the room.  “Uh, Bren? Do you think he could stay with you?”

“Yeah, yeah, definitely,” Brendon assured him.  “I’m sure my parents won’t mind if I have one more person over.”

“Then we’ll do that tonight,” Josh decided, turning his attention back to Tyler.  “Is that okay?”

“That’s fine,” Tyler said, nodding again.

“Do you want to pack a bag, or rest for a little while?”

“Rest first,” Tyler murmured.

“Alright.”  

Tyler moved a few inches away from Josh so he could stand before standing himself, walking over to his bed, wrapping himself tightly in the covers, and closing his eyes.  

“You okay?” Brendon asked Josh once they heard Tyler’s breathing deepen as he slipped into sleep, placing a comforting hand on Josh’s shoulder.  “I know you like him - “

“I love him,” Josh corrected, his voice no more than a whisper despite the fact that Tyler was sleeping.

“Oh,” Brendon said.  “Okay, you love him, then.  That must’ve hurt to hear about.”

“It did,” Josh admitted.  “But we’ve just got to make sure he’s okay and he’s got a way to get out of this.  That’s what matters now.”

Brendon nodded.  “I agree. I’ll do some more research on how to handle this stuff.  Do you think Tyler would be okay with me telling my parents, so they can help?”

“I think we should make sure first, but that’s a good idea.”

“Plus, then they’d know why Tyler’s staying with us for a while.”

Josh nodded.

After a few moments Brendon glanced at him, his eyes glimmering with half-hearted mischief.  “So,” he began, “you love him, do you?”

Josh groaned at Brendon’s attempt at teasing him, a smile starting to form on his face.  This was safe, it was familiar.

And he definitely needed something safe and familiar now, more than ever.

Chapter Text

When Tyler woke up, the sun was starting to set and Josh was sitting in a chair that he’d pulled over to sit next to Tyler’s bed.  When he noticed Tyler was awake, he smiled at him - a little sadly, but it was a smile nonetheless, and Tyler felt like he could drown in that smile, but in a good way.  Not the way he’d written about after Josh left, and he’d started cutting.

“Hey, Ty.”  Josh’s voice was soft, comforting, and safe.  “Feeling any better?”

Sitting up, Tyler was about to nod out of habit, but he knew he’d be lying, and he didn’t really have much of a reason to lie to Josh anymore.  So he shook his head, and just that small action, that small truth, felt like such a dramatic decrease in the weight on his chest - it didn’t disappear completely, but it was so much more bearable.

“I’m sorry,” Josh said, concern in his gaze.  “Can I help at all?”

Tyler shook his head.

Josh sighed softly.  “Okay. Let me know if I can do anything for you, alright?”

“Okay.”

“Come on, I know you must be kind of emotionally exhausted right now, but we’ve got to get your bag packed.”

Tyler pulled off his covers and walked over to his closet, puling out a suitcase and throwing some of his clothes inside of it.  A few simple outfits - he could come back to get more if he ever had to. It wasn’t like his parents would notice him slipping in and out of the house.  They were hardly ever around anyway. He’d also grabbed his phone and his headphones, of course. If he hadn’t had music to depend on, he wasn’t sure he would’ve made it this far in life.

Eventually, he decided he had packed enough and turned to grab his notebook and throw that into the bag as well.  He caught a glimpse of Josh’s face as he did so, his mouth opening suddenly to take a breath, as though he wanted to say something.

“What’s up?” Tyler asked.

“Uh, it’s nothing,” Josh said quickly.  “Just - I wanted to ask about something else, but...no.  I don’t want you to feel pressured to answer or anything.”

“What is it, Josh?” Tyler pressed, slightly wearily.  “I’ve really got nothing more to hide from you at this point.”

Other than the fact that I cut myself regularly, I want to die, and the fact that I’m in love with you is the only thing keeping me alive, of course.

Josh took a deep breath.  He seemed to be preparing himself, similarly to how he’d been preparing himself to ask about Tyler’s parents.  “Do you remember - god, it must’ve been almost a year ago now, but do you remember when I saw a bit of that poem you wrote?  The, um... my trial was filed as a crazy suicidal headcase?”

Tyler nodded slowly, zipping up his suitcase and standing on legs that were trembling with nerves.  What was Josh going to ask him about?

“Tyler, um...what did that mean?  Was it really - ?” He broke off, his gaze searching Tyler’s almost desparately.  

“What you thought it was?” Tyler finished softly, and Josh nodded.

Tyler sighed.  “I...maybe. I don’t know.  I just feel like everything was wrong and my dad just brushed it to the side, said I was...was delusional, or something.  I don’t want to live in a world where people think I’m lying about something like - like that.”

“And what’s that?” Josh prompted gently.

“D-depression.  My mom, she, um, she noticed and she got me to a therapist, and...well, I have depression,” Tyler confessed.

He didn’t see any pity in Josh’s gaze - only empathy and determination.  “What can I do to help you, Ty?”

“You’re already doing so much just by being such an amazing friend,” Tyler said.  “That’s more than I ever could’ve asked for.”

“But I would do more if you needed me to,” Josh added.

Tyler just shook his head.  “I...I’m okay right now. You’re doing enough.”  He grabbed his suitcase. “But can we just - can we just leave?  I don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to.”

“Yeah, of course.  Brendon?”

The door opened, Brendon peering inside.  “Tyler’s awake?”

Tyler nodded.  “Can we go?” He asked again.

Brendon nodded.  “Sure. My house is just down the street.  How are you feeling, Tyler?”

Tyler shrugged.  “Not the best...but I’ll live.  Oh,” he added after a moment, “can I write something for my family?  Not my dad, obviously, but my siblings and my mom, to just tell them where I’m going.  They’d be worried if I just disappeared.”

“Definitely,” Brendon said.  “Take as much time as you need.”

 

They walked to Brendon’s house in silence.  None of them had anything to say, anyway.

 

When they arrived, Brendon went to the living room to tell his parents what was going on while Josh and Tyler went upstairs.

Still, they sat in silence, Josh sitting on the mattress lying on the ground next to Brendon’s bed and Tyler curled into a tight, anxious ball in the corner, until Brendon came back.

He closed the door quietly behind him.  “My parents said Tyler can stay for as long as he needs to.”

Some of the tension in Tyler’s body eased, and he heard Josh’s relieved sigh.

“And they’re going to help us do something about his dad,” Brendon continued.  “So I think everything’ll be okay.”

Josh nodded.  “Good. Thanks, Brendon.”

Tyler echoed Josh’s words, though they felt hollow in his mouth.  Everything felt hollow. His mind, his heart, his bones...the walls he was leaning against felt as thin and fragile as a sheet of tissue paper, easy to tear if you made a wrong move, and his skin felt the same way.  

“Oh, and before all of...this,” Brendon added, “I’d invited Ryan to come and spend the night as well.  Is that okay?”

Josh shrugged.  “Fine with me.”

“Yeah, sure,” Tyler said, and Brendon nodded, satisfied, before sitting down on his bed and saying something to Josh in a hushed voice.

Reaching out to drag his suitcase closer to him, Tyler pulled out his phone and headphones, swiping through his playlists until he reached the saddest one he owned.  Sometimes, he’d found, it was better to face what he was feeling than to run from it - that was one of the main reasons he’d started writing songs in the first place.

He listened to his music for a while, his gaze fixed unseeingly on the wall, until he felt someone gently remove his headphones.  He turned his head and saw that Josh had sat down next to him.

“Are you okay?” Josh asked quietly, his eyes full of concern.  “You’re crying.”

“I am?”  Tyler reached up, placing a hand on his cheek and feeling the tears there that he hadn’t noticed before.  He wiped them away with the back of his hand. “Oh.”

“Can I hug you?” Josh asked.

Tyler nodded, and Josh’s arms had settled around him before he could blink.

Just like earlier, Tyler was surprised at how comforting the touch felt when it wasn’t from someone that intended to hurt him.  Josh would never hurt him - he didn’t just know it, he felt it, and there was definitely a difference.

Relaxing slightly, Tyler rested his head on Josh’s shoulder.

“Can you sing something, Ty?” Josh asked softly after a few moments.

Tyler lifted his head and looked up at Josh, too tired to really argue or even process his anxiety at the request.  “Like - like what?”

“Something you wrote, maybe?” Josh ventured.  “It’s fine if you don’t want to.”

“No, no,” Tyler said quickly.  “I...I will.”

He considered for a moment.  He would have loved to sing Taken By Sleep, but it wasn’t finished.  He’d gotten stuck working on the bridge. But maybe Tyler could sing something else about Josh...

He decided to sing a song he’d named Hear Me Now.  It was the one that those other students had read the first verse aloud to the entire cafeteria, the very first day Josh and Tyler had met.  Tyler had started writing it just that day, wanting to explain through words just how strange it was to meet someone who really seemed to care, especially when compared to his father.

Then, when Josh had moved, Tyler had finally figured out how to continue that song as well as Taken By Sleep, feeling as though he’d lost the one person who seemed to actively want to help him.

Judging by the flash of recognition in Josh’s eyes as Tyler sang the first line, he remembered hearing it the cafeteria vividly as well.

Had he been thinking about that first day just as much as Tyler had?

When Tyler finally finished singing and rapping, Josh’s arms tightened around Tyler, but not constricting.  More...comforting.

“I heard you the whole time, I promise,” Josh whispered, his voice muffled by the way his face was buried in Tyler’s hair.

Tyler wasn’t sure quite how long they stayed there, but he wanted the time to be longer.  Maybe it was just because he was in love with Josh, and maybe it was cliché, but it was just so soothing to sit there with someone that he knew he could be himself around, who he knew he could share his music with.  That was something he’d never been able to find before, and now that he had it…

He didn’t want it to go away.

It seemed almost as though they’d crossed some threshold when Tyler had admitted the... issues with his father, when Josh’s first reaction had been to hug him like that, and when Tyler had accepted it without hesitation, without panicking at all.  That was certainly new.

And Tyler was worried that if Josh left tomorrow, went back to Chicago, it might destroy all the progress they’d made.

There was a soft knock at the door.  Brendon sprang to his feet and Tyler reluctantly pulled himself from Josh’s comforting grip.

Brendon opened the door and greeted Ryan with a hug.  “Hey,” he said, and suddenly he seemed far less confident and boisterous, even blushing slightly as he pulled away.

“Hey,” Ryan echoed with a smile.  He scanned the room, his gaze landing on Josh and Tyler sitting together in the corner.  “I didn’t know Tyler was going to be here. It’s nice to see you both.”

Brendon glanced at Tyler, clearly asking if he was allowed to say anything about Tyler’s father.

Tyler nodded slightly.  It wasn’t something he’d want to broadcast, but within this small group it seemed fine.  If Brendon and Josh trusted Ryan, then Tyler knew it would be fine.

“Tyler’s going to be staying here for a while,” Brendon explained.  “Uh, he was having some issues with his dad, and we didn’t think it was a good idea for him to stay at his own house.”

“Oh.  I’m sorry, Tyler.”

Tyler shrugged, his eyes downcast, shifting ever-so-slightly closer to Josh.  “It doesn’t really matter.”

The awkward silence that followed lingered over them like a stormcloud for a few moments until Brendon broke it.  “So, um...I was thinking we could have some pizza and then, I don’t know, play games or something and then go to bed.”

Josh nodded.  “I’m assuming Brendon’s sleeping in the bed, so who wants the mattress?”

“Well, actually, I’m sleeping in the bed too,” Ryan cut in, his grin slightly embarrassed.  “I thought he told you? We’re - “

“You’re dating, yeah,” Josh said quickly.  “So...Ty? I can sleep on the floor if you want.”

Tyler shook his head.  “You can have the mattress, I don’t really care.”

“You need sleep more than I do,” Josh insisted.

“Maybe we should just both sleep on the mattress,” Tyler suggested after a moment’s hesitation.

“Fine by me.”

“So, pizza?” Brendon asked.

“Yeah.”  Josh stood up, and then offered Tyler a hand to pull him to his feet as well.  

 

They ate in a heavy silence that seemed to be pressing in on Tyler’s ears, filtering into his brain, until his thoughts turned darker, like dead weight in his head.  

At least Josh’s red hair was still bright.  

That was something, wasn’t it?

Chapter Text

A short, gasping sob was all it took to wake Josh.  

He sat up, looking around.  It was still dark, and the blinds were pulled down over the window, but light from the streetlamps filtered in throught he slats, giving him just enough light to make out Tyler’s tear-streaked face beside him, as well as Ryan and Brendon, still asleep in the bed.

“Ty?” Josh whispered, wincing at how loud his voice sounded in the near-silence.

“Did - did I wake you?” Tyler asked, his voice shaky and hoarse from crying.  “I’m sorry. Go back to sleep.”

“No, I...you’re upset,” Josh protested gently.  “What’s wrong?”

“Just a-a nightmare,” Tyler said, shaking his head dismissively.  “I’ll be fine. Go back to sleep.”

“Is there any way I can help you?”

Tyler was silent, and for a moment Josh thought he might’ve fallen back asleep.  But then he shifted closer, resting his head on Josh’s shoulder.

Slowly, giving Tyler enough time to move away if he wanted to, Josh wrapped one arm around him.  Instead of pulling away, Tyler just pressed a bit closer. He was crying again.

“Do you want to talk about it at all?” Josh whispered, turning his head just the slightest bit so he could look at Tyler, although he didn’t really need to - he could feel Tyler nodding against his shoulder.

“It was - I don’t know what it was.  It was like my dad, but it was also me, and its face...its voice…”  Tyler trailed off with a shudder.  “I was so, so scared, and then it kept saying all these things about me - that I’m not good enough, that no one cares about me, that...um…”

“It’s okay,” Josh assured him quietly.  “You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to.”

“No, I - I want to,” Tyler insisted.  “It’s just...it was talking about you, too.  It said you don’t care about me, and that’s why you - that’s why you left.”

He’d barely managed to choke out the last sentence when he dissolved into tears again, and Josh swore he could feel his heart breaking.

“Oh, Ty,” he murmured, wrapping his other arm around Tyler and pulling him into a hug.  “Ty...I care about you so, so much.  Do you know that?”

He couldn’t tell if Tyler was still sobbing or if he had shrugged.

“Please listen to me,” Josh whispered, and Tyler looked up.  “Tyler, I…”

He wanted to say it.  He wanted to confess everything, to lay it out between them so he no longer had anything to hide.  He wanted Tyler to know that Josh loved him so much it almost hurt to look at him, but at the same time, he never wanted to look away.  But…

Was now really the time?  Now, in Brendon’s room, in the darkness that comes with the middle of the night, with Tyler literally crying on Josh’s shoulder after waking up from a nightmare about his abusive father?

Was this how he wanted his confession to take place?

“Tyler,” Josh repeated, at a loss for anything else to say.

“I’m sorry,” Tyler said quietly.  “I just - I believe it sometimes, when it says stuff like that.”

“I really do care about you,” Josh insisted, finding his voice at last.  “You’re so amazing, and kind, and talented, and I know it seems like a stretch to say you’ve changed my life, but you really have.  Everything you say makes me think about the world differently - and, honestly, it makes me think about myself differently - but one thing that never changes is that you’re amazing and you mean the world to me.  I don’t know who got those thoughts into your head, whether it was your dad or yourself or those kids at school or someone else, but you are good enough, and people do care about you - and that includes me.  You’re incredible, Ty. If it was up to me, I never would’ve left.”

Silence.  And then -

“Please don’t go back to Chicago,” Tyler pleaded softly.

This time, Josh knew his heart was breaking.  It was a pain so sharp and so, so real that he could barely take in enough breath to speak, and even once he could breathe again, he could barely force the answer out of his mouth.

“I have to.  I’m so sorry.”

“I know.”

Josh sighed, trying to fight back the tears that threatened to spill from his eyes as well.  A few managed to escape anyway, dripping down his face and landing on Tyler’s arm.

Tyler lifted his head to look at Josh.  “What’s wrong?”

Josh bit back a sob.  He didn’t want to cry -  Tyler needed him. He had to be strong.

“I don’t want to leave either,” he admitted.  “I want to stay, but I can’t.”

Tyler gently brushed away the tears on Josh’s cheeks, and Josh returned the favor.  He could feel his face burning when he realized how close they were, and he quickly pulled his hand away, fixing his gaze on the blanket they were sitting on.  Tyler did the same, although he seemed more reluctant.

“Let’s just go back to sleep,” Tyler muttered, not meeting his gaze.

Josh nodded in agreement and laid back down, Tyler laying down as well and curling up next to him, shifting until he was resting his head on Josh’s chest.

At this point, Josh was too tired, both emotionally and physically, to question it.  He just wrapped his arms tighter around Tyler as comfortingly as he could manage, waited until he was absolutely sure Tyler had fallen asleep, and finally let himself cry.

 

Josh was the first to wake up in the morning.  Tyler was still asleep, and he looked far more peaceful than he had the night before, so Josh didn’t move, not wanting to disturb him.

After a while - Josh had lost track of time, just staring at the ceiling - Brendon woke, sitting up in his bed and raising an eyebrow at Josh.  “Did I miss something last night?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Josh assured him.

Ryan was the next to wake up, greeting Brendon with a smile and a kiss, something far too domestic and routine for it to be the first time it had occurred.  “Good morning,” Ryan murmured when they broke apart.

“Morning,” Brendon replied, returning the smile as well.  “Josh is awake, but Tyler is sleeping on top of him, so…”

Ryan leaned forward to see Josh and Tyler around Brendon.  “That’s pretty cute.”

Josh shook his head slightly.  The circumstances under which it had happened were anything but cute.  

Tyler began to stir, lifting his head from Josh’s chest.  “Josh?” He asked, his words half-slurred from sleep.

“Good morning, Ty,” Josh said softly as Tyler laid his head back down.  “How are you?”

“I’m okay.”  Tyler’s gaze was almost entirely blank, revealing nothing as he fiddled with the edge of the blanket.  “You?”

Josh hesitated for a moment.  “I’m alright.”

Tyler glanced up at him.  “Are you sure?”

Josh nodded.  “Yeah. Come on, we should get up.  I’ve...I’ve got to leave by eleven.”

Tyler reached up and grabbed his phone from Brendon’s nightstand, turning it on and glancing at the screen, his face falling.  “It’s already ten.”

Josh sighed.  “Yeah, I know.”  He wanted to stay there, with Tyler, for as long as possible, but he also knew that he had to get ready to go.

Reluctantly, he stood from the mattress, stretched, and pulled his clothes out of his bag.  “I’ll be back soon.”

 

“So, are you going to tell me what happened last night, or what?” Brendon asked, leaning on the edge of the kitchen counter.

“Tyler just had a nightmare about his dad, and we talked for a little while.  I don’t know. I guess we just ended up like that somehow. It’s nothing...romantic, at least not yet.”

“That’s a shame,” Brendon commented.  “I’m sure he likes you, honestly. I mean, have you seen the way he looks at you?”

Josh shrugged.  “I don’t know,” he repeated.  “For now, I just want to help him.  I really do love him, Bren.”

Brendon nodded almost solemnly.  “I can tell.”

The doorbell rang, and Josh jumped.  “That’s probably my mom.”

Tyler entered the kitchen, his gaze fixed on Josh.  “Are you leaving?”

Josh sighed.  “Yeah, I guess.”

Tyler took a few steps forward and hugged him tightly.  “You’ll call me, right?”

“Of course I will,” Josh assured him, returning the hug.  “Bye, Tyler.”

“Bye.”  Tyler’s voice was quiet, so quiet that Josh almost didn’t hear him.

In the hallway, he could hear Mrs. Urie opening the front door, inviting Josh’s mother inside.  With a sad smile, Josh pulled away from Tyler, grabbed his bag, and went to meet her.

He didn’t see the tears in Tyler’s eyes as he left.

Chapter Text

Tyler bit his lip, struggling not to cry as he heard the door close.  Josh was gone - the rational part of Tyler knew it wasn’t permanent, but it felt like it was.

What next?  Brendon and Ryan were talking quietly as they ate cereal at the kitchen table, Josh was on his way back to Chicago, and Tyler…

Tyler was a mess.  A bruised, scarred, exhausted, half-starved mess.  And on top of that, he was hopelessly in love.

Waking up to find himself still wrapped up in Josh’s arms was...amazing.  Comforting. The longer Tyler spent around Josh, the more he was sure that Josh was the embodiment of the feeling of safety that he’d been trying to find for years.

“Guys?” Tyler said quietly, pulling out a chair at the table and sitting down.  “Can I, um...if I tell you something, do you promise you won’t tell anyone?”

Brendon glanced at Ryan, his gaze indecipherable, before looking back at Tyler and nodding.  “Sure. What’s up?”

“This is - it might sound crazy,” Tyler began hesitantly.  “But, um...I’m in love with Josh.”

Ryan looked surprised, to say the least, but Brendon was smiling triumphantly.  “I knew it.”

“You did?” Tyler asked, eyes wide in astonishment.  “H-how?”

“You always look at him like he’s your world,” Brendon pointed out.  “And it’s the same way I always look at Ryan.”

Tyler glanced away, drawing in a sharp breath.  “I - I didn’t think it was so obvious…”

“Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone else noticed,” Brendon assured him.  “I know Josh didn’t.”

Tyler relaxed at that, but only slightly.  “I don’t know what to do.”

“You should tell him,” Ryan advised.  “Maybe next time he visits?”

At first, Tyler was going to reject the idea completely.

But then he really started thinking about it.

It made sense, didn’t it?  He’d had feelings for Josh for about a year, and he’d known for certain that he was in love since the start of the summer - the day Josh had moved, he reflected sadly.  It had been a while.

So wasn’t the next step to confess?

“B-but what if he doesn’t feel the same way?” Tyler asked, twisting his hands together nervously.

“Even if he doesn’t, you can still be friends,” Ryan pointed out.  “And you’ll never know if you don’t ask.”

Slowly, Tyler nodded.  “I guess…”

“You should definitely tell him,” Brendon encouraged.  “He really cares about you.”

Biting his lip, Tyler let himself smile slightly, staring at the ground.  “I really care about him, too.”

Maybe, just maybe, there was hope.

Maybe things were looking up.

 

The next few days were better, and Tyler noticed it immediately.  Now that he was away from his father, he felt freer. It was easier to smile, to laugh, to really enjoy himself.

He was safe.  That was something he hadn’t felt in a long time…

Except when he was with Josh.

That didn’t mean he somehow needed Josh less - quite the opposite.  Things really were looking up, and somehow that only made him crave Josh’s company even more than before.  Now that Tyler felt as if he could really be happy, even without Josh, he could only imagine how ecstatic he would be if Josh was still around.

For now, he could only dream about Josh coming back, but he didn’t really mind.

He was okay, and that was what mattered.

 

But the high that came with his decision to tell Josh didn’t last very long before he came crashing back down again.

His shock back to reality came in the form of a call.

He was walking home - well, back to Brendon’s house, but at this point it was close enough - with Brendon and Ryan when his phone rang.  He pulled it out of his pocket and stopped in his tracks when he saw that it was his mother.

They’d barely talked since Tyler left, aside from one call the day after to ensure that everything was okay and for her to talk to Brendon’s parents, so why would she be calling now?  Especially since they’d barely been out of school for five minutes?

He barely had time for a questioning “Hello?” before he heard his mother’s choked sobs on the other line.

“Tyler, it’s - it’s your father,” she managed.

Tyler tensed.  “What did he do?  Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she assured him.  “No, um - your father was - was in a car accident.”

Tyler could feel the internal storm that he’d managed to tame rearing its head once again.  “He, um...is he…?

His mother sniffled.  “He died, Tyler.”

And all at once, it was like he’d been pushed straight into the eye of the hurricane.  That eerie, quiet calm, the threatening clouds along the horizon, the impending sense of doom right before the storm took over again.

The phone fell from his hand.  Distantly, he could hear his mother’s voice, and he could see Brendon and Ryan’s concerned faces in front of him.

“Is everything okay?” Brendon asked.

“M-my father,” Tyler stammered.  “He’s...he’s dead.”

Brendon and Ryan shared a bewildered glance, and Tyler had to admit that he was just as confused as they were.  He’d never been close with his father, for obvious reasons, and yet here he was, fighting back tears upon hearing that his father had died in a car accident.

“Are you okay?” Ryan asked after a few moments.

Biting his lip to stop from sobbing, Tyler shook his head.

His father was a horrible person, a horrible parent, just plain horrible.  And yet…

Well, no one deserved to die - except Tyler, but that was a different story - even if they were as terrible as Tyler’s father had been.  Somehow, he didn’t want his father to be dead. What he had done to Tyler was literal abuse, and Tyler understood that. He wasn’t stupid.  But still, he’d never wished harm on anyone else for any reason.

“Can we...can we help you at all?” Brendon asked.

Tyler just shook his head once again.  “I need to...I need a distraction. I don’t know.  I don’t want to think about it.”

“Oh, here’s your phone,” Ryan said, bending down to pick up the phone that Tyler had dropped and handing it back to him.

His mother was still on the line.

“Tyler?  Tyler, are you still there?”

“Yeah, I am,” Tyler managed.  “So...he’s dead.”

She sobbed again, and Tyler bit his lip.  It was his fault that she’d started crying again.

“Will you - will you come back home now?” She asked hopefully.

“I’m sorry,” Tyler began, “but I can’t.  I just - I can’t go back there. You’ve got to understand that.”

His mother sighed.  “I...I do. I’m sorry I never stood up for you, Tyler.  I wasn’t a very good mom.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Tyler said, although he wasn’t really sure what he was apologizing for.  “And...I love you.”

He could hear the shaky smile in her voice as she replied.  “I love you, too.”

Then he heard a click.

The conversation ended, and he was thrown from the eye of the hurricane right back into the storm.

Chapter Text

“Wait, what?  If his dad is dead, isn’t that - isn’t it sort of a good thing?”

Brendon sighed.  “Yeah, I thought so, too.  But Tyler’s pretty upset about it.”

“Why?”

“How should I know?” Brendon scoffed.  “I’m not in his head. But seriously, you need to call him.”

“Okay, I will,” Josh promised, motioning to the friends he was walking home with, Patrick and Pete, to wait for a moment as he slowed down to focus on the conversation.  “Anything I should know first?”

“You should act how you always act,” Brendon advised.  “You’re really good at helping him, otherwise I wouldn’t have called you.”

Josh rolled his eyes.  “Thanks, Bren. I feel so appreciated.”

Brendon laughed.  “You know what I meant.  Anyway, don’t suggest that he goes home or something, okay?  His mother already tried that, and he said no. I think what he needs most is just someone who can comfort him, and you’re great at that.”

“Okay, got it.”  Josh sighed. “I wish I could actually be there to help him...but I’m probably not going to be able to come visit again for a while.”

“Well, try to visit as soon as you can.  I know Tyler would be glad to see you, and it’d be pretty nice for us to catch up as well.  We didn’t do much catching up last weekend, exactly.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.  What with everything that was going on.”

Brendon hummed in agreement.  “Anyway, you should go call Tyler.”

“I will.  Talk to you later.”

“Who was that?” Patrick asked, tilting his head to the side questioningly as Josh slipped his phone back into his pocket.

“Just one of my friends from back in Columbus,” Josh said dismissively.  “Uh, I’ve mentioned Tyler, right?”

“Only all the time,” Pete scoffed.  “What about him?”

“His, uh - he had some issues with his dad, but...I guess his dad died, and he’s pretty upset about it, so one of our friends said I should call him.”

“Oh.”  Patrick nodded empathetically.  “That sounds like a good idea.”

“Well, I’ll see you guys tomorrow, I guess,” Josh said with a shrug.  “I’m going to call Tyler.”

He unlocked the door to his family’s apartment and took off his shoes at the door.  “Mom?”

“Hi, Josh,” his mother said, smiling, as she walked out into the hallway.  “How was your day?”

Josh just shrugged.  “It was okay.”

“What’s wrong, honey?”

“Uh, Brendon called me while I was walking home,” Josh began, “and...I guess Tyler’s dad died, and Tyler has been pretty upset about it.”

Josh’s mother frowned.  “Even after - ?”

Josh cut her off.  “Yeah. So I’m going to call him and see how I can help out, even if I can’t actually be in Columbus.”

“Do you have any homework?”

Josh hesitated.  “Um, yeah, but - “

“I understand that Tyler is important to you, but you need to do your homework before you go on your phone,” Josh’s mother reminded him.

“But it’s Friday!” Josh protested.  “I’ve got the whole weekend to work on it, and we wouldn’t even be on the phone for that long.”

“Josh.”  His mother fixed him with a stern look.  “Go do your homework. Putting it off won’t help you, and I’m sure Brendon will be able to help Tyler well enough until you’re done.”

Reluctantly, Josh sat down at the kitchen table and pulled out his textbooks.

His mother was probably right.  Tyler would be fine. Brendon had promised that he’d make sure of it, and Brendon rarely broke promises to his friends.

Everything would be alright.

Hopefully.

Was it really Josh’s fault if he wasn’t sure he believed it?

 

As soon as Josh had finished his homework, he practically slammed his textbook shut, shoving it in his bag, pulling out his phone, and hurrying to his room, tapping on Tyler’s contact as he did.

“H-hey, Josh.”

“Hey, Ty…” Josh began gently, hearing the tremble in Tyler’s voice.  He closed his bedroom door and sat down on his messy, unmade bed. He really needed to do a better job of cleaning his room.  “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” Tyler assured him quickly.  “Um, what’s up?”

“Brendon told me about what happened to your dad,” Josh explained.  “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“I will be, I guess,” Tyler said.  “It’s just...I shouldn’t care so much.  He...he hurt me constantly for years, he broke my arm, he did all this horrible stuff, but I don’t want him to be - I never wanted him to be dead.”

Josh bit his lip.  “I mean...sometimes we care about things we shouldn’t care about.  Whatever he did, he was still your father, and you need to give yourself time to get over this sort of thing.”

“Maybe,” Tyler said hesitantly.  “I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize, Tyler,” Josh pointed out.  “It’s not your fault that you’re upset about this.”

“I guess you’re right,” Tyler murmured with a sigh.  “I...I miss you.”

“I miss you, too.”

“Do you know when you’ll be able to come to Columbus next?” Tyler asked hopefully.

“No, sorry,” Josh replied.  “It’s probably going to be a few weeks, at least.  Maybe even months, I don’t know.”

“Oh.”

That one word was so full of disappointment that it actually hurt.

“I’m sorry,” Josh repeated.  “I’ve just got so much going on with school, and I put off unpacking for so long, and I’m really busy.  You know how it is, right?”

“Yeah, I know,” Tyler sighed.  “Sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize for this, either,” Josh insisted.  “Ty, none of this is your fault. None of the stuff with your dad, or with me not being able to come and visit...none of it is because of you.  You have nothing to apologize for.”

“I feel like I do,” Tyler muttered.

“Why?”

Tyler inhaled sharply.  “It - it doesn’t matter.  Just forget it, okay?”

“Wait - wait, what’s wrong?”

“Forget it,” Tyler repeated, more forcefully this time.  “Forget I said anything. It’s not important.”

“But...you seem upset,” Josh protested.  “So it’s obviously important, at least to you.”

“No, it isn’t,” Tyler insisted.  “Look, just - I’ll be fine, and I miss you.  Goodbye.”

“Tyler, wait - “

But Tyler had already hung up.

Something was clearly wrong, something that went beyond the death of his father, But Josh had to respect Tyler’s boundaries, and Tyler didn’t seem willing to discuss it.  Josh just hated feeling as though he couldn’t do anything to help.

Was it too much effort?  Was it even worth it, trying to maintain a friendship that would never be anything more than that from so far away, when both of them were so busy and wrapped up in their own problems?

No.  No matter how hard it was, he’d made a promise.  Furthermore, he’d made a promise to someone he was literally in love with.  That wasn’t the type of thing he could just abandon.  

He pulled up his most recent text conversation with Tyler and typed out every variation he could think up of what he really wanted to say.

I hope you’re okay.

I’m here if you change your mind.

I love you, Ty.

But he knew he couldn’t send any of them.

Instead, he just said:

Sorry if I was too pushy.  Feel free to call again or text me if you want to talk about anything.

 

Tyler: Thanks, but I have to go.  Bye, Josh.

 

Bye.

 

He knew he should probably be unpacking, but he quickly typed out a text to Brendon first.

 

I called Tyler.  He was acting kind of weird, can you check on him?

 

Bren: sure thing.

 

Feeling slightly better, he pulled open one of the many boxes in the corner of his room with a sigh.  No matter how he felt about Tyler, he had things to do, but trying to forget about Tyler just made him feel guilty, and he couldn’t help remembering all of Tyler’s apologies during their conversation.

And he was guilty, in a way, wasn’t he?  He was guilty of completely abandoning Tyler, of being blind to what was happening, and of not being there when Tyler needed him.

I’m the one who should be sorry, Ty.

Chapter Text

As soon as he ended the call, Tyler dropped his phone to the ground beside him, letting his head fall back on the wall he was sitting against as he blinked back tears.

Why had Josh called him at that exact moment?  Why couldn’t it have been earlier? Perhaps, if it had been, Tyler wouldn’t have felt the need to do this again.  He wouldn’t have broken down, and he wouldn’t have had to lock himself in the bathroom to hide, and he wouldn’t have seen the razor...

But it was no use hoping, really.  It was inevitable that he would fall back on bad habits eventually.

He glanced down at his arm, the blood beading along each of the cuts he’d made, crossing over scars and other, older cuts - some from months ago, some from only weeks ago.

But this was the first time he’d done anything while he was staying with Brendon.

Somehow, he felt that it wouldn’t be the last.

He’d heard that self-harm was addicting, but he’d figured he had enough control over his own actions to just...stop.  He’d been wrong, which only fueled the hatred he had for himself, which only fueled the idea that he didn’t need to stop.

It didn’t matter if he was hurting himself, as long as everyone else was okay.  And anyway, it wasn’t like he was dying yet, right?

Maybe he didn’t look both ways before crossing the street, or maybe he’d stopped caring about just how deep the cuts were.  But he wasn’t dying yet.

With a heavy sigh, he stood up and walked over to the sink, washing the blood off of his arm.  He ignored the sting and watched it run into the drain, diluted by the water. Something about it was morbidly fascinating, but he turned away, grabbing a few band-aids out of the cabinet and putting them over the cuts, trying to cover as many of them as possible.  Then, as the final touch, he pulled on his hoodie so the damage he’d done to his arm was completely concealed. At least it was starting to get colder now, so even if his bruises were fading, he’d still have a valid reason to cover up as much as possible, a reason that Brendon would understand.

It was a routine he’d become used to at his own house, and he had to admit that he was slightly dismayed at how easily it came to him, even after a few weeks without cutting.

When he emerged from the bathroom, Brendon was waiting outside, leaning against the wall and scrolling through something on his phone.  Tyler felt a sudden jolt of panic, his mind and heart both racing - oh god he knows - but when Brendon smiled at him, and it seemed sincere, he forced himself to calm down.

It was irrational anyway.  Maybe Brendon just wanted to talk to him.

“Hey, Tyler,” Brendon said.  “Uh, everything okay?”

The panic returned, but Tyler pushed it away.  “Yeah, everything’s fine,” he said, adding a smile at the end in an effort to really convince Brendon.  “Why?”

Brendon shrugged.  “No reason, really.  You just look a little upset.”

Tyler shook his head.  “Nope. Completely fine.”

Perhaps Tyler was imagining it, but he could swear that Brendon was frowning, only slightly.  “Okay, as long as you’re sure. You want to do something today? I was thinking of getting coffee with Ryan or something, but he’s busy.”

This time, it was Tyler who shrugged.  “I don’t really have any plans, so sure.”

Brendon nodded, apparently satisfied.  “Cool. I was thinking Starbucks? It’s not too far.”

“Sounds good,” Tyler agreed.

 

Sitting in the passenger seat of Brendon’s mom’s car, with Brendon driving and singing along to some pop song playing quietly through the radio, Tyler got lost in his thoughts once again.  His mind wandered for a while until one sudden thought shook him from his stupor.

He had no idea what was going on with Josh anymore.

When Josh had visited, he’d spent so much time and effort trying to help Tyler with the abuse that Tyler hadn’t even thought to ask about Josh.

God, he was just a terrible person today.

And every other day.

“Tyler?  I can hear your brain working over there.  What’s up, dude?”

Tyler glanced over at Brendon.  “It’s nothing, I just - “ He paused, taking a deep breath and looking straight ahead.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to look at Brendon, to see his reaction. He’d never told anyone about his problems, and he was scared to do so, but he’d been working on getting better, on reaching out.  This was a step in the right direction.

“I have no clue what’s going on with Josh.  My life just feels like one problem after another, and even though he’s always helping me with everything, I haven’t asked Josh about how he’s doing in way too long.  I feel terrible about it,” he admitted quietly, finally risking another glance at Brendon out of the corner of his eye.

Brendon was nodding slowly.  “Alright, I get that. But the thing is, Josh really cares about you.  He actually wants to help you.”

“I’m probably just making him worry over nothing, though,” Tyler insisted.

“By Josh’s logic, if it’s bothering you, then it’s not nothing.”

“I...I guess,” Tyler said hesitantly, sighing as Brendon pulled into a parking spot just outside of Starbucks.  “It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to dwell on it.”

Brendon shrugged, stepping out of the car and closing his door.  Tyler did the same. “If you’re sure.”

They ordered their drinks and waited by the counter in silence.  Neither of them could really find anything to say.

But when their drinks were finished - coffee for Brendon, hot chocolate for Tyler - and Tyler reached out to take his, the sleeve of his hoodie slipped down his arm ever so slightly, but it was just enough.

Just enough to expose bruises.

Just enough to expose band-aids.

But, worst of all, it was enough to expose scars.

Tyler saw the flash of alarm in Brendon’s eyes, and he knew he’d messed up.

Quickly retracting his hand, he pulled his sleeve up to cover his arm again, but Brendon was staring at him with an indecipherable look in his eyes.  

He cleared his throat.  “Uh, Tyler...what’s on your arm?”

“What?  Oh,” Tyler glanced down at his wrist, feigning ignorance.  “I just scraped it the other day, that’s all.”

Oh god he knows he knows -

“Okay,” Brendon said, his tone wary.  “Be careful, alright?”

Tyler nodded.  “Yeah, of course.  Come on, we should sit down.”

“Yeah, we should,” Brendon agreed.  “I’ve just got to do something real quick.”

“Cool.  I’ll be over there,” Tyler said, gesturing vaguely toward a table in the corner and hurrying away.  He watched as Brendon pulled out his phone, set his coffee down on the counter, and quickly typed something out before walking over to join Tyler at his table.

“Everything okay?” Tyler asked, still faking nonchalance.

Brendon nodded with a smile that couldn’t quite disguise his concern.  “Yeah. Everything’s fine.”

‘Fine.’

A funny word to use in Tyler’s situation.

A funny word, yes, and most certainly the wrong one.

Chapter Text

Josh’s attention was pulled from the book he was reading when his phone buzzed on his nightstand.  It was a text from Brendon.

 

Bren: how soon can you come back to columbus?

 

Josh frowned as he read the message.  Hadn’t they just talked about this on the phone, barely an hour ago?

 

Not for a while, I think.  Maybe a few weeks minimum.

 

Bren: well, get here faster.

 

Why?  What’s wrong?

 

Bren: i think tyler might be doing worse than we thought...i saw scars on his arm.  like, a lot of them.

 

Josh’s breath caught in his throat.  Scars? Brendon seemed to think they might have been more... deliberate than just an accidental cut.

 

Couldn’t they just be from his dad or something?

 

Bren: he also had band-aids on his wrist, but he hasn’t seen his dad in almost two weeks.  that, combined with how you said he was acting weird...i just don’t know.

 

Honestly, I hope you’re wrong.

 

Bren: just get here.  i’ll see what i can do for now, but he’s clearly more comfortable with you.

 

Just do your best to help him.  I’ll come visit as soon as I can.

 

Setting his phone back down on the nightstand, Josh practically ran to the living room, where his mother was watching something on the television.  She paused it when Josh entered. “Is everything okay?”

“I don’t - I don’t know,” Josh said.  “Look, I know you’ve said we probably won’t be able to go back to Columbus for a few weeks, but Brendon thinks something might be up with Tyler.  I need to know how soon we can go back.”

His mother frowned.  “Josh...have you ever considered taking a step back from all of that?”

Josh’s brow furrowed.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’ve made it clear that you genuinely care about Tyler, and I’m glad you’ve found someone you feel that way about and you’re keeping in touch with him and Brendon so well, but this is getting out of hand.  You’re almost always running off to take care of one issue or another, and it’s always about him.”

Josh opened his mouth to protest, but his mother pushed on.

“You’re allowed to love him, you’re allowed to text him and call him when you miss him, but you need to focus on your own well-being for once instead of his.  Deal?”

“Mom - “

“Deal?” She repeated with a stern glare.

“Deal,” Josh mumbled, avoiding her gaze, before turning and walking slowly back to his room.

He quickly texted Brendon the situation, and the response was almost immediate.

 

Bren: who cares?  you can drive, and my parents would totally let you stay over.  ryan practically lives here now, and they haven’t got a problem with it.

 

Columbus is five hours away.  She’d never let me go.

 

Bren: who said you needed her permission?

 

It was a good point, Josh supposed.  He could drive. But if he left without permission and it turned out that nothing was really wrong, he’d never hear the end of it.

He’d been pondering over what he should do for almost ten minutes when Brendon texted him again.

 

Bren: so are you coming or not?

 

He hesitated before typing out his reply.

 

I’ll be there by tomorrow afternoon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Josh was lucky that his mother didn’t question it when he said he was going out with friends for a few hours.  She just smiled, said she was glad he was making new friends, and told him to have fun.

So Josh grabbed his wallet, packed a duffel bag with everything he’d need for an overnight trip, got in the car, fully prepared to drive five hours to Columbus, and called Brendon.

“Hey,” Brendon greeted.  “Are you driving out?”

“In the car already,” Josh answered.  “I should be there by, like, two.”

“Great.”

“So explain the situation with Tyler,” Josh suggested, less of a question and more of a demand.

Brendon didn’t protest.  “After you texted me, I figured it couldn’t hurt to get Tyler to go out and do something, right?  As long as I wasn’t - I don’t know - pushing him out of his comfort zone or whatever. So we went to Starbucks, and when he went to get his drink, his sleeve slipped up, and - “ Brendon broke off, and when he continued, his voice sounded strained, concerned.  “It was...it was pretty bad. I mean, he still had some bruises and stuff, but they were really old and they’d started fading. But then he also had all these scars, you know? Some were covered by band-aids, but I could still see that there were a lot of them, and I couldn’t even see that much of his arm.  I’m just really worried.”

Josh was silent for a moment before he spoke.  “So you think he’s…”

“I think he’s cutting himself,” Brendon confirmed, not really able to disguise the slight tremble in his voice.  “I mean, I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong.  But he’s going to be happy to see you either way, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

“Yeah,” Josh agreed.  “I just...if he’s really got that many scars, then this must’ve been going on for a while.  How did we not notice?”

Brendon didn’t speak for a while, and Josh was starting to think that he’d accidentally ended the call, but then…

“Maybe we just didn’t want to.”

Josh bit his lip, blinking back tears.  How many times had something been wrong, but he hadn’t noticed?  How many times had Tyler needed him, but he wasn’t there? How many times had he missed this?  What should he have done differently? There had to be something, anything that he could’ve done to help.

Brendon seemed to recognize the tension his words had brought to the air.  “I’ll see you when you get here,” he said quickly, quietly.

Josh’s phone beeped as the call ended.

 

He got a text from his mother four hours into the drive.

 

Mom: When will you be home?

 

Josh was smart enough not to text and drive, so in any other situation he would have pulled over.  But it felt so urgent, so vital that he got to Columbus as fast as he could, so he just called her.  It would’ve been easier to text her with what he was really doing, but he didn’t want to waste any time.

“Hey, mom,” he said, taking a deep breath, his words coming out in a rush before she could even speak.  “Look, please don’t be mad. I’m driving to Columbus to see Tyler. And before you say anything, Brendon is really worried.  Apparently Tyler’s got a bunch of scars on his wrist, and there’s some band-aids too, so they definitely aren’t from his dad, and we can’t think of any other cause for them other than, well, Tyler hurting himself.  Okay? And I know you told me to - to take a step back, or whatever,” he added, his voice starting to shake, “but I’m so, so worried about him. If something were to happen - mom, I couldn’t just stand by. I’m sorry.”

“Take a deep breath, honey,” his mom advised after a brief pause.  “You’re - you think Tyler might be hurting himself?”

“Yeah,” Josh said.

“So you’re driving to Columbus.”

“Yeah.”

“Joshua, that’s five hours away.”

“I’m already four hours out, mom.  I’m not turning around now.”

Another brief, anxiety-ridden pause.  Josh’s heart was racing. Would she be angry?  Would she demand that he come home right now? Would she -

“Okay,” his mother said softly.

“Okay?” Josh asked, surprised.

“Okay,” she repeated.  “I’m not saying I’m not angry - I told you we weren’t going to Columbus soon, I told you to focus on yourself instead of Tyler, and you disobeyed me - but there’s really no point in making you come back if you’re already so close.  Just make sure Tyler is alright, and I expect you home before dinner tomorrow. Agreed?”

“Yeah, agreed,” Josh said quickly, before she could change her mind.  “Thank you so much, mom. Seriously. This means a lot to me.”

“You’re almost an adult, and you need to start making your own decisions sometime, I suppose,” his mother added.  “You may as well start now.”

“Thank you,” Josh repeated.  “I love you, mom.”

“I love you too, honey.  See you tomorrow.”

 

And finally, finally, he was standing at Brendon’s front door, ringing the doorbell.

Brendon flung open the door almost immediately, greeting Josh with hug, but his face was grim, concerned.  “Hey,” he said. “Uh, Tyler’s upstairs. Probably in my room.”

Josh nodded.  “Can I - ?”

Brendon cut him off.  “Dude, do you even need to ask?  The entire reason you’re here is so you can check on him.”

“Okay.  Are you coming with me?”

“Nope.  You should probably talk to him one-on-one first.”

So Josh went upstairs.

He’d just reached the second floor when his phone buzzed.  He paused and pulled it out of his pocket, expecting it to be his mother, but he stopped when he saw...it was from Tyler.

 

Josh,

I really, really miss you.  Everything was okay after I started staying with Brendon.  He’s accepting and not too pushy. He gives me space and privacy, but he’s also really nice and he helps me when I need help.  But for some reason, it’s not enough.

I’m not sure why.  There’s just something about you in particular that’s...different, somehow.  You don’t even need to speak in order to help me and make me feel better. You just need to be here.  But now you’re not, and I don’t know what to do.

I want you to know that I’m going to miss you even more, and I’m really sorry for doing this.  I know you’re probably going to think there was more you could’ve done, but there wasn’t.  You didn’t chose to move to Chicago. It’s not your fault. Please don’t blame yourself.

Tell Brendon I’m sorry, too.  

Oh, and just one more thing, because I’m not sure I could stand dying without telling you this, even if you never say it back - I love you, Josh, and I’m so, so sorry.

Yours,

Tyler.

 

Just reading it, Josh felt sick.  It read exactly like...like…

Like a suicide note.

He didn’t waste time typing out a reply.  He ran to Brendon’s room and pushed open the door.

Tyler’s head shot up from where he sat in the middle of the room, his face streaked with the remnants of silent tears.  He scrambled to his feet, and as he did, something fell from his hand, glinting in the sunlight streaming in through the window.

Tyler tried to grab it, whatever it was, and to hide it behind his back, but it was pointless.  Josh had already seen it.

A razor blade, one that had been poised perfectly over the veins in Tyler’s scarred wrist.

Josh’s gaze lingered for a moment on the small blade before he finally risked glancing up at Tyler.  His eyes flickered between the two for a few moments before he took a hesitant step forward, reaching out to Tyler, with his panicked, guarded gaze and hunched shoulders.

“Tyler - “

That was all he managed to say before Tyler interrupted him.

“I’m sorry,” he choked out, stumbling forward with a sob, right into Josh’s arms.  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry - “

He repeated it, over and over, like a broken record despite Josh’s whispered assurances that it was okay, he had nothing to be sorry for, and it was all Josh could do not to break down as well.  

They’d been right - but it was also even worse than they thought.

And that broke his heart.

Chapter Text

Tyler didn’t know what he was apologizing for, not really.  He just knew he had to apologize, so he repeated it over and over, ignoring Josh’s insistence that he had nothing to be sorry for.  Maybe he was apologizing for being caught, maybe he was apologizing for trying to do this at all...but in reality, he just didn’t know what else to say.

What could he say, when the boy he was in love with had just stopped him from killing himself?

Eventually he trailed off, and after a long, tense silence, Josh spoke.  Quietly, gently, as if Tyler was fragile - and maybe he was.

“Why would you do it, Ty?”

“I don’t know,” Tyler whispered.  “I really don’t. I-I’m sor - ”

“Please don’t say you’re sorry again,” Josh cut in, pulling away from Tyler to look him in the eyes.  “You have nothing to be sorry for. Nothing.  Whatever the reason was, no one is mad at you.”

Tyler kept his gaze fixed on the floor, but he could see Josh reaching for his arm out of the corner of his eye.

Instinctively, he pulled his arm back, looking up at Josh.

Josh, who had only ever wanted to help him.

Josh, who had always been kind and always tried to help him.

Josh, who was looking at him with the most genuinely concerned expression he’d ever seen.

“Can I see your arm, Ty?” He asked softly.

Hesitantly, though every part of him protested, screamed that it was a bad idea, Tyler held out his arm, wrist exposed.  He’d taken off the band-aids from his breakdown yesterday so he could actually see his arm when he was preparing to slit his wrists, so he could see where he was cutting.  The thought made him sick, especially when combined with the sight of dozens and dozens of scars and cuts. Some were older, starting to fade. Others stood out prominently, far paler than his regular skin tone.  But the newest ones, the newest additions to his twisted collection…

Usually it wouldn’t bother him.  But now that they were out there, exposed, and Josh could see them too, it seemed like something had changed.

Now that Josh knew everything, it was so much different.

Tyler had only ever kept four secrets from Josh.

  1. The abuse.
  2. How he was in love with him.
  3. The cutting.
  4. And how much he truly wanted to die, to just slit his wrists or jump off a bridge or even crash his car into something and be done with it all.

And now they were all out in the open, and he didn’t know what to do.

“Are these from yesterday?” Josh asked, brushing a feather-light finger over the newest cuts on Tyler’s wrist.  

Tyler just nodded.  He still didn’t quite know what to say.

“Oh, Ty…” Josh murmured, more to himself than to Tyler.  “I’m here for you, alright? I promise. Please, just try to stop cutting.”

And with the way Josh’s voice trembled but didn’t break, the way his gaze was locked with Tyler’s...how could he say no?

“I’ll try,” Tyler promised.

Josh relaxed, inhaling deeply.  “Thank you. And I swear I’ll be here whenever you need me.”

“Do you mean it?” Tyler asked quietly after a moment.

Josh’s eyes widened incredulously.  “Are you kidding?” He pulled Tyler into a hug.  “Of course I do. I never, ever want you to feel like you’ve got to hurt yourself, or - or...kill yourself, and if I can help you at all, then I’m going to.”

Tyler could feel tears stinging his eyes and a lump growing in his throat.  He could tell that Josh was being sincere, and it meant so, so much to him.

Gently, Josh took Tyler’s hand and pulled him over so they could sit on Brendon’s bed, side by side.  “Tyler, I know you’ve probably got a lot that you’re worrying about right now, but I think we should talk about this.”

“What about it?”

Josh paused for a moment.  “I don’t quite know...I mean, I guess the first thing is, even if I’m always around, that might not be enough, right?  I think you should maybe see if you can get someone else to talk to. A professional.”

Tyler nodded slowly, trying to ignore the slight stab of panic he felt at the idea of talking about the issues he’d been having with anyone other than Josh.  Was that strange? Perhaps, but Tyler couldn’t bring himself to care. Josh was good. Josh was safe. Was it really his fault if he wanted that instead of some therapist he wouldn’t even know?

“Ty?”

Tyler glanced up, pulling himself from his thoughts, and sighed softly.  “I mean, yeah. That’s probably a good idea.”

The silence dragged on for far longer than Tyler felt comfortable with, and he knew there was at least one other thing he had to bring up.  He swallowed hard, trying to find the courage to speak.

“Hey, Josh?” He finally began, wincing as he heard his voice, sounding strangled and off-key.

Josh hummed in acknowledgement.  “Yeah?”

“I, um...you saw the text.  That I sent you. You know, before…”

Josh froze.  “I saw it,” he confirmed.

“Then you know that I - I, um…”  Tyler gestured vaguely to himself, and then to Josh, unsure of how to broach the subject.

Realization lit up in Josh’s eyes, and he turned to face Tyler more directly.  “I’m guessing you’re talking about that, uh...that thing you wrote at the end of the text.”

Tyler nodded.  “I’m...I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have said anything.  I didn’t want it to get this far, but…”

“Tyler,” Josh interrupted, his voice gentle enough that the interruption didn’t seem rude, but insistent enough that it got Tyler to stop talking.  “You don’t need to be sorry. If we’re being honest, I kind of...I feel the same way.”

A wave of something unidentifiable flashed through Tyler’s veins, something both freezing cold and burning hot at the same time, washing over him and clearing his mind.  Josh was suddenly in sharper focus, and everything else seemed to fade away.

“You-you do?  You...love me?” His voice trailed off.  He couldn’t imagine anyone loving him, especially not someone as incredible as Josh.

Josh nodded, fiddling with his fingers anxiously.  “I love you, Ty. I’ve loved you for a while, honestly.  Uh, you remember when we were in the graveyard, and you didn’t want to walk on the graves?”

“That was almost a year ago,” Tyler whispered, his mouth hanging open slightly.  “That’s...Josh, I don’t…”

And he wanted to say it, he willed his mouth to form the words, but he just couldn’t.  He’d said them so many times to his family, his parents, people that had caused him pain.  It had always been a lie, and even though it would be true if he said it now, it had happened so often that saying it to Josh would almost feel like betrayal.

After all, the only thing that had ever come out of love for him was hurt.

“You don’t have to say it yet,” Josh assured him quickly.  “Not if you aren’t ready. But I do love you.”

“I want to say it,” Tyler insisted.  “I just...can’t.”

“Then don’t,” Josh said.  “No one’s going to force you.  I know I won’t.”

“Thank you.”  Tyler shifted closer to Josh, who wrapped an arm around him immediately.

“Of course, Ty.  I want you to be happy.”

“I’m working on it,” Tyler said, chuckling at his own weak attempt at a joke as he rested his forehead on Josh’s shoulder.

There was a knock at the door, and Brendon’s voice floated in.

“Guys?  Is everything okay?  Can I come in?”

Josh glanced at Tyler.  “Is it alright with you?”

Tyler just nodded, barely moving his head from Josh’s shoulder.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Josh called.

Brendon pushed open the door, his gaze falling on Josh and Tyler, sitting on the bed.  “Tyler? You okay?”

Tyler hesitated.  “Josh, can you…?”

“Of course,” Josh said, turning to Brendon and relaying what had happened in a hushed voice.  Brendon murmured something in reply, and then Josh finally turned back to Tyler. “So...how can I help you?”

Hesitantly, trying desperately not to cry, Tyler bit his lip, looking up at Josh.  “...Stay with me?”

“I will, Ty.”

“No, not - I want you to stay.  Longer than just one night,” he added.  “And I know, I know that’s so selfish - “

And I know it might be a little selfish for me to say

“ - but I’ve missed you so much, and it’s just so hard, and I-I need you here.  Please.”

But I need to know if you’ve thought of me at all today

‘Cause every day walk past the place you lived five days of the week

And then a tear slipped down Josh’s cheek.

Then another, and another, and it hit Tyler that this was the first time he’d ever seen Josh cry.

“I’m - “ Josh broke off, taking a shaky breath.  “I’m so, so sorry, Tyler. I can’t stay any longer.  I wish I could.”

“Josh…” Tyler whispered, reaching up and brushing the tears from Josh’s face as gently as he could.  

Josh was crying.  

“It-it’s not that big of a deal.  We can still text and call. Please don’t cry.”

“I’m fine,” Josh protested.  “It’s you I’m worried about.”

Well, don’t worry about me, Tyler wanted to say.   I’ll be fine.

But it was clear by now to anyone involved that Tyler certainly wasn’t fine, and trying to convince them otherwise would be hopeless.

“You know what?” Josh asked, pulling his legs up onto the bed so he could turn to face Tyler directly, grabbing his hands.  “We’re going to finish school and then I’m coming back here. To Columbus.”

“Really?” Tyler asked, holding his breath, barely daring to believe it.

Josh nodded, quickly, enthusiastically.  His gaze brightened as he wiped the tears from his cheeks.  “Yeah. Really. It’s, what, a year and a half?”

“Something like that.”

“You think you can hold on that long?”

“I’m going to,” Tyler promised.  “I swear I will.”

“And I’ll come to visit as often as possible,” Josh continued.  “And - “

Before he could even think about it, Tyler had darted forward and pulled Josh into a tight hug.  “Thank you,” he whispered, his voice as sincere as he could make it. “And…” I love you, he thought, hoping Josh would somehow get the message without it having to be said outright.

And somehow, he did.

“I love you, too,” Josh replied softly, sending that same wave of ice and fire through Tyler’s body all over again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As they were getting ready to go to sleep that night, Josh didn’t even question it when Tyler curled up next to him.

“Hey, Ty,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around Tyler and turning to face him.

“I’m not sure I’m going to be able to sleep tonight,” Tyler admitted quietly.

He could feel Josh’s gaze tracing the dark circles under his eyes.  “At least try to get some sleep, okay?”

Tyler sighed.  “Yeah, I - I know I should.  I just don’t think I can.”

“When’s the last time you slept properly?”

Tyler bit his lip, pondering the question.  “Define ‘properly.’”

“Eight hours or more.”

“Then...it’s been a while.”

Josh frowned.  “Try to sleep in a little later tomorrow, okay?”

Tyler nodded before resting his head on Josh’s shoulder.  “I’ll do my best.”

He felt Josh press a kiss to his forehead, and a light blush spread over his cheeks.

“Goodnight, Ty.  I love you.”

There was a brief pause, and then -

“You, too.”

And though it took him far too long to fall asleep, Tyler was grateful he slept at all.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And now it’s ten after four and I am taken by sleep.

Chapter Text

When Josh woke up the next morning, Tyler was gone.  It was barely seven in the morning, and soft piano drifted from down the stairs.  Brendon was still asleep, and it seemed as though his parents had left to go somewhere, so that meant there was only one person that could be playing.

Tyler.

Throwing the blankets off and standing from the mattress, Josh followed the sound of the piano as it was joined by Tyler’s voice, and he stopped in the doorway to listen.

“This is a story about a scarlet letter...yeah.”

And then he started singing something that Josh recognized, something that he’d never forgotten and he wasn’t sure he could.

He started singing Taken By Sleep.

“It just hit me as I lay my head down

“No one around, in the dark cold night, I hear a sound

“In my head, repeat track of everything you’ve ever said

“Must be something, but it’s nothing, so I just go back to bed

“It’s four, crack the door to the hallways in my dreams

“But it seems my hallway keeps closing in on me

“Forcing me out, making me think about you and how you’re gone - “

His voice cracked, and Josh wondered faintly what Tyler was thinking about.

“I see 4:05 with teary eyes and then I write this song.”

“I didn’t know it was a song,” Josh said, chuckling softly at his own stupidity, and the music faltered as Tyler spun around to face him.  “Kind of ridiculous, right? It even says it’s a song, right there in the lyrics, and I never made the connection.”

“Josh!  Uh, hi.”

“You were - that was Taken By Sleep.”

Tyler glanced away, running a finger over the keys of the keyboard.  “Yeah, it was...I didn’t know what to do for the bridge. But I - I think I figured it out last night, if you want to hear it…?”

Josh nodded quickly, walking over to stand next to Tyler.  “I would love that, Tyler. As long as you’re comfortable with it.”

A hesitant smile spread over Tyler’s face.  “I am. Yeah. So, should I just pick up where I left off?”

“Sure.”

Tyler turned back to the keyboard, and Josh recognized the very end of what he’d been playing before, and then he launched into the next section.

“And I just can’t believe it has to be this way

“You know we say it seems to me that it was just the other day

“I saw your face, I saw your light, you ran the race, you fought the fight

“But now it’s all being torn down for me tonight.”

Tyler looked almost shyly at Josh, just one stolen glance...but then there was another.  And another. And a few more.

And Josh began to understand what the song was about.

“And I know it might be a little selfish for me to say

“But I need to know if you’ve thought of me at all today

“‘Cause every day walk past the place you lived five days of the week

“And now it’s ten after four, and I am taken by sleep.”

The next time Tyler glanced over at him, Josh gestured to himself, as if to say, Me?

And Tyler just smiled again, almost sadly this time, and turned his attention back to the song.

“Spending hours on end deciding what I would say to a friend if I ever saw him again

“‘Cause I don’t know if I know, don’t want to come across the wrong way

“And I don’t know if I know, but I know I want to see your face today.”

Then Tyler’s shoulders hunched, and something changed, as though he was remembering.  Josh didn’t even have time to wonder what he was remembering.

“And somebody told me they saw you cry and break down - “

Was that talking about when Josh had started crying on the phone with Brendon?  Did Tyler know about that? Was that why he’d called almost immediately?

“ - Do you know how hard that is to get around and think about?

“It’s not like you to let emotions get the best of things

“Especially when everything is hanging in the air we breathe.

“And I just can’t believe it has to be this way

“You know we say it seems to me that it was just the other day

“I saw your face, I saw your light, you ran the race, you fought the fight

“But now it’s all being torn down for me tonight

“And I know it might be a little selfish for me to say

“But I need to know if you’ve thought of me at all today

“‘Cause every day walk past the place you lived five days of the week

“And now it’s ten after four, and I am taken by sleep.”

Tyler continued playing, but he brought his gaze up once more to look at Josh.  “I didn’t know what to say next,” he admitted. “Yeah. It’s about you. It always is, isn’t it?  But I...you came back, and I figured it out.”

Before Josh could ask, could question anything, Tyler started singing again, his voice getting more and more powerful as he went on.

“I’ll sing a song to you, my friend

“I’ll sing a song to you, my friend

“I’ll sing a song to you, my friend

“I’ll sing a song to you, my…”

And then he was shouting.  Screaming, even. And Josh could tell that he was pouring his heart into this one song, and he must’ve poured his heart into every song before this one and every song after.

“Let’s go!”

Tyler had always been so timid, so shy, and to see this stark contrast…

Every time Josh saw him, he became more and more convinced that Tyler was one of the strangest, most complex, contradicting people in the world.  He was reserved and quiet, and he was powerful and strong. He was happy, and he was broken. He was everything, and he was nothing.

But the thing about that was that he was everything to the world, and nothing to himself.

“Friend, yeah, yeah, yeah

“I’ll sing a song to you, my friend

“I’ll sing a song to you, my friend

“I’ll sing a song to you, my friend

“I’ll sing a song to you, my friend.”

And Tyler lifted his hands from the keys, turning to face Josh, looking both exhausted and half-devastated, near tears and simultaneously so much happier.

What a contradiction.

What a beautiful, mesmerizing contradiction.

“That’s incredible,” Josh whispered.  “You’re incredible.”

“I’m not,” Tyler protested, and Josh hated himself for not knowing what to say.  He hated himself for how they sat in silence until Tyler continued, at least a full minute later.  “I’m just...a person, I guess. There’s not really anything incredible about being a person.”

“There’s something incredible about you, and your music,” Josh finally managed to say.

Tyler just shook his head, glancing away.  “Not me. You. But you’re not really a person, are you?  You’re an angel. Do you believe in angels?”

“I believe in you.”

“We can’t both be angels,” Tyler scoffed.  “That’d be ridiculous.”

“Then it must just be you,” Josh reasoned, smiling faintly when Tyler didn’t protest, just standing up and grabbing Josh’s hand.

“Come on, we should - “ He broke off with a yawn.  “We should go back to sleep.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Brendon was awake when they came in, sitting up in his bed and typing something on his phone.  He glanced up at them, a smile still lingering on his face. “Oh, hey. I was wondering where you guys were.”

“We’re going back to sleep,” Josh announced, pulling Tyler gently over to the mattress they’d been sleeping on and letting them both lay down.  After a moment, he felt Tyler rest his head on Josh’s chest.

“What time do you have to leave?” Tyler asked nervously, almost as though he didn’t want to hear the answer, his voice soft enough that Brendon wouldn’t be able to hear.

“Probably just after lunch,” Josh replied with a sigh.  “I’m sorry. I wish I could stay longer, but…”

“No, I get it,” Tyler assured him.  “Just...text me? Or call me? I don’t know.”

“I will,” Josh promised.  “We’ve still got a lot to talk about, but it’s okay if you want to wait.  I think I need some time to process...yesterday. Just in its entirety.”

“Me, too,” Tyler admitted.  “I’m really glad you got here when you did.”

“Me, too,” Josh echoed, wrapping an arm around Tyler.

Tyler, who was unbelievably strong.

Tyler, who was one of the most talented people Josh knew.

Tyler, who he’d almost lost once and never wanted to lose again.

Just...Tyler.

Maybe Tyler had been right when he said that there was nothing incredible about being a person, but there was certainly something incredible about being Tyler.

Not for the first time, Josh wondered how he seemed to be the only one that saw it.