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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 points 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 fore 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.  Josh

“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