It's — well, it's not easy.
It's not hard either, because it's her and Tyler. How could it ever be hard with Tyler?
The night is deceptively light; they're driving south down the Jersey Turnpike, and light pollution and the moon and street lamps cast long shadows on the carpet in the back lounge, where Josh is curled up.
Tyler went to bed hours ago, his hand curling around Josh's ankle before slipping away without a word. She can hear the snores of the crew from here, and it's just white noise at this point, snoring and whistling along with the vibrations of the bus.
Josh doesn't stay awake often — she wouldn't call herself an insomniac, but sometimes it's difficult, her mind bursting into overdrive the moment she goes to lie down. Tyler would normally stay with her, when she gets like this, but when she'd seen the purple bruises below his eyes, and the cracks at the corner of his lips, she couldn't bear telling him something as inconsequential as I can't sleep.
She shifts upright, and thinks about making some coffee. Maybe if she got a hot water bottle she could sleep, drag some extra blankets to her bunk, leave her phone out here. If she didn't sleep, at least she could fall into that space between consciousness and unconsciousness, float there until morning. She bundles up the blankets on the couch, and cringes when she hears her joints creak as she stands. She's getting old.
In the dim of the bus, she shuffles to her bunk, feeling her way through the dark, slippers rubbing against the carpet silently.
But — it's not silent, there's something other than static. She halts, one hand on the wall, and tilts her head as if it'll improve her hearing. Someone's whimpering, oh-so quietly.
"Tyler," she whispers, falling to her knees. She sweeps the bunk curtain to one side, and in the dark, Tyler's face is ghostly pale, lips parted and eyelids flickering incessantly. Tyler is never one for thrashing, screaming in his sleep — Josh learnt of his nightmares the hard way, through trial and error and Tyler's empty eyes every morning, and it's obvious now: his arms and legs twitch minutely, his head shifts from side to side, his eyelids flicker and his face scrunches up as if he's in pain.
Josh smooths her hand down his shoulder, dropping the blankets to one side. "Tyler, babe, wake up, you're having a nightmare," she says, shaking him just a little. "Tyler," she insists, and his legs stop twitching, but his face is still scrunched up. "Tyler, wake up, it's only a nightmare."
His head falls to the side, his eyes still closed, and he mumbles, "Jenna?"
A breath halfway exhaled gets stuck in Josh's throat, but her hands don't still from where they're petting Tyler's shoulders gently, and of that she is proud.
"No, it's Josh, babe, remember me?" Tyler's eyes open slowly, and Josh can see his eyes trying to focus, so she sweeps the curls off her face and smiles at him, hoping he can see some kindness in the dark.
"Josh," he murmurs, and she nods, "Josh," he repeats. It's entrancing, the way his face seems to ripple calm, relief obvious in his heavy limbs. Her breath catches again, and sometimes she can't believe how lucky she is, that Tyler trusts her this much.
He squints at her and shifts onto his side as she begins to pick up the blankets she dropped. "Did I wake you?" He yawns, and Josh shakes her head. Tyler's hand darts out, wrapping around her wrist, and Josh's head jerks up to find Tyler staring at her. "Why're you up?"
She stares at her hands, at Tyler's long fingers, loose around her wrist. "I couldn't sleep," she admits, but now it doesn't sound quite right. Looking at Tyler, the way his eyes are slightly out-of-focus, the slump of his body, she feels lethargic. She feels tired for the first time all night.
Tyler frowns at her, minutely. "Lay here for a bit?"
Every cell in Josh's body screams no no no no but she doesn't want to argue with him, not this late, not when his face is still pale and there are bruises under his eyes. She drapes the blankets on his feet, and shifts to clamber into the bunk. "Just for a bit."
Tyler lifts up his duvet and nods, eyes already fluttering closed. Josh curls into his chest, her hands tucked between them, one knee slowly shifting to sit between Tyler's. Josh can feel his breath ruffle her hair above her, and she only closes her eyes when she feels his arm drape over her side, his other shifting to cushion his head.
In the morning, they'll laugh about Josh's insistence on just for a bit, when Josh groggily wakes to Tyler's nose pushed right up against hers. There'll be a damp spot on Tyler's t-shirt where Josh will have drooled, and all the blankets and duvet will be spilling into the corridor, kicked away by Tyler in the early, early morning, Josh draped heavy over his torso.
But now — now, Josh curls up tighter, and dares to tangle her fingers in Tyler's shirt, and purposefully thinks nothing of Tyler's low humming, of his hand rubbing circles on her back, of the sound of their hearts beating in sync.
It's what they always forget — everybody else and themselves too, now and again. Josh and Tyler are extraordinarily alike.
They shy away from some of their similarities, though. They hide from them and hide them away. It's hard to look your demons in the eye at the best of times, let alone when they're staring out from your best friend's face.
Josh hides herself away, sometimes, too. She drums until she thinks her shoulders are going to fall off, pounding the white noise out of her ears and Tyler's heavy-lidded gaze out of her head. He doesn't do it on purpose, it's her that's fucking this all up. Their band, their friendship, their past, their future.
When she decides to stop, arms shaking and blisters splitting bloody on her hands, Tyler's leaning on the doorframe, frowning with his eyes downcast. That look on his face undoes hours and hours of work.
It's like one of their little band secrets.
Josh knows Tyler can tell what's happening — she can decode it from the softness of his palm, the way his eyes will sharpen when he looks at her; the hand at the base of her spine, the way he whispers lay here for a bit? when she calms him down.
It's in the way he will stand in front of her when she gets anxious in crowds, Tyler Joseph who has never won a fight in his life; the way he curls his arm around her shoulders when an interviewer is being particularly aggressive. She can see it in his nervousness for him and Jenna to get along, she can hear it in the uptick of his breathing when she walks into a room to find him and Jenna cuddling in front of the TV. It's in his every step away from her, how could he not know?
There's no pity from him. There's no horror, there's no laughter, there's only — there's almost... — no, there's simply nothing. Josh can't, she won't read into these things.
It's one of their little secrets, and Tyler screaming about his heavydirtysoul isn't just for him, or them. It's for Josh, too.
They're in the backseat of an Uber to the venue, their manager in the front, bent over his phone and every so often gesturing it to the driver, a middle-aged woman who reminds Josh persistently of the woman who used to lead her old Sunday school. It's probably the indulgent smile she's giving them in the rear-view mirror.
Josh is squeezed between Tyler and the venue promoter, Adam, in the back. They'd played rock-paper-scissors to decide who would have to sit in the middle, but the result (Josh is the undefeated, reigning champion of all decision-making and inconvenience-causing games) was overruled because —
"You're just smaller, Josh, what can I say? I'm a big man. I'm a big, muscly man, and Adam here —" Adam nods, pressed against the window with his snapback knocked askew, "— well, he's even more muscly than me, and that's really saying something," Tyler shrugs, his face the perfect picture of regret. "We need our space."
Josh scowls and spreads her legs wider. She's been known to destroy Tyler in an arm-wrestle, fuck that noise. The only reason they're on equal footing when they wrestle normally is because Tyler is a good head taller than her, and really quite scrappy. Let it be known: Tyler Joseph may preach peace and be nothing but skin and bones, but lord, does he fight dirty. She rubs absent-mindedly at the scratch marks on her forearm, and Tyler grins wickedly when he notices, buffing his nails on his jacket.
She feels guilty about spreading her legs so far only a moment later when she notices Adam's legs have warped into a position she's never seen outside of playing Twister were her sisters. Drawing her feet up and wrapping her arms around her knees, Tyler leans over her legs to join in the pointing and gesturing, even though he's never been to Charlotte before.
Josh tucks her chin over her hands and zones out, the clack-clack-clacking of Adam's blackberry in her right ear and Tyler's "no, really, I'm sure it's this way" and outraged "you don't know if I've been here before! I could come down this road every day!" in her left.
She only notices she has been staring at Tyler's profile when he abruptly cuts his eyes to her, mouth still running off to the driver. She jerks her eyes away and feels a hot blush spill onto her cheeks, feeling like a kid caught with their hand still in the cookie jar. When she glances back, maybe a minute later, he's still looking.
There's something curious in his gaze, his eyes dark and his head tilted, minutely. Josh wants to stare defiantly back, but her cheeks are still warm and she's never been so aware of the points of contact between them: his shoulder to her leg, his arm to her knee, her hip to his. She looks away, and she is defiant because she lets it go.
Jenna is starburst, sunlight through the trees and stomping heels. When she joins them on the road for a few weeks, Tyler is a sunflower opening for the sun, head and heart tilted towards her. He doesn't get quite as many nightmares, never falls into such black moods as usual. Everyone loves it when Jenna joins them.
"It's cute, y'know? Well, it's hilarious, and obviously insulting, but it's also cute," Jenna says over her strawberry daiquiri, scarlet smile wrapped around the straw and scarlet nails drumming on the glass.
Tyler is in the bathroom, so it's Josh and Jenna sat on either side of the table, right in the middle of this twee cocktail bar somewhere along the East Coast. Josh is drawing patterns onto the grain of the table with the condensation dripping off her beer. She doesn't normally forget where they are, but her mind has been fuzzy and forgetful recently. She thinks they might be somewhere in Philadelphia.
"What's cute?" Josh asks, taking a swig from her beer, her elbow now smearing through her patterns and her head resting in her hand.
"You know — the fans, on the internet, when they talk about you and Tyler — as if you were a thing," Jenna's mouth quirks up at the end of the sentence, like they're sharing an inside joke.
"Oh, right," Josh hunches slightly, and glances about. Is it really hilarious? "It's the right of the listener to interpret the music how they like, right? So, if it makes the music more — I dunno, just more — to assume, then they can think what they want."
Josh's mind is blank like the summer sky, she fucking swears.
"You've thought about this a lot, huh?" Jenna asks, and Josh's eyes connect to hers, but she's not suspicious, or mocking. She's just Jenna, starburst and Tyler Joseph's girlfriend, her head tilted to one side, wearing one of Josh's old House of Heroes shirts. She makes Josh feel old and craggy.
(Josh knows she's not old and craggy. She's twenty-five and she's in the best band this side of 1999, but. Jenna's twenty, and blonde, and sunlight through the trees.)
"It used to be everybody's question, before you showed up." Unspoken, of course, is —
Tyler, Josh, so we've talked about the album. We've talked about the tour. We've talked about the fans. But what we really wanna talk about, and I think what everybody wants to talk about, is the obvious chemistry in this room! Come on, you two, who are you fooling?
"Does it..." Josh glances past Jenna's shoulder, her golden hair, but Tyler hasn't finished preening in the bathroom mirror or whatever he's doing yet. Not that Josh doesn't think they could talk about it together, but it's not important. It wouldn't be awkward, it'd just be pointless. "Do you find it insulting? Does it annoy you?"
Josh has never asked Jenna — because she cares, and she doesn't want anyone else to know she cares. Jenna swirls the ice in her glass around, and Josh watches her take a sip, watches the pink flush on her cheeks spread.
"It might have, back in the day," Josh's lips part, something on the tip of her tongue, who knows what, but Jenna hastily adds — "Not anymore. But maybe, in the beginning, because you two are so close and you're so pretty, I..." Jenna pauses and Josh can feel herself blushing, and they both laugh. "It's a natural response, y'know? But it's funny now, because you're you and he's him." Jenna makes a gesture with her hand, and Josh nods, because Josh is Josh and Jenna is Tyler Joseph's girlfriend; spot the difference.
Tyler appears above Jenna's shoulder, stamping to the table. The front of his hair is wet, like he's been trying to style it for the past eight minutes. Josh hides a smile behind her hair. He swings his legs around the bench to sit next to Jenna, his hand landing on her waist, and his head on her shoulder.
"What're we talking about?"
Josh pulls the sleeves of her hoodie over her hands, like paws. Jenna smiles brightly and says, flippantly, "Just about how beautiful Josh is," and Josh wants to shrink when Tyler's eyes lazily slide over to hers.
"That's not news, Jen, I've been telling people for years," and Tyler and Jenna both giggle, and Josh isn't falling, she's crashing, because no one's going to catch her.
"My favourite girl," Tyler shouts to the crowd, draping a sweaty arm over Josh's shoulders and squeezing her into his chest, before sweeping her to the drum kit. Josh twirls and bows and drums (and doesn't cry in front of others), and Tyler laughs and claps and sings (and disappears for days at a time).
"My favourite girls," Tyler whispers, eyes wide, when he finds Josh curled like a cat at Jenna's feet in the back lounge. Jenna fell asleep whilst they were watching X Files and Josh can't bear to open her eyes and see Tyler watching them. The screen is paused on Mulder and Pheobe Green flirting, and Scully is scowling in the background, hair as orange as Josh's and heart just as confused.
"My girl," Tyler promises, down on one knee. Tyler calls Josh afterwards, voice tinny and breathless. Josh swears in every language she knows, and says, "I love you, I love you, I love you," while Tyler laughs manic and jagged, like he no longer knows how to act normal. He hangs up with a murmured "I love you too," and Josh doesn't see him for three days, and doesn't cry in front of a single person.
Josh is a good Christian girl. Her parents are proud of her, Ashley and Abby brag about her to their friends, Jordan's Facebook is swamped with pictures of him and her at various shows, backstage, with random celebrities and Tyler. Her life is never what they would have chosen for her, but her family are still there to support her, still cheer from the bleachers.
Most of the time, the inconvenient press doesn't get to her, not as much as it probably should. She's an optimist, at heart — she likes loud colours, late nights, shows that never end, playing until she passes out, whiskey on the rocks and getting her rocks off. She likes big families, chosen and not. She likes girls and boys and Tyler.
Tyler is so much more than any of that put together. Tyler is soft edges, where Josh is harsh and spiky. Tyler is warm skin and whispers in the early morning, he's tossing and turning in the night, he's a hand in the dark and constantly crumbling and rebuilding. He's the bane of Josh's life, what she lives for and what she'd die for.
When they call Josh a dyke and Tyler a crybaby, it's Tyler who is first to turn and laugh, first to stand and leave, first to swing and hit (or swing and miss), depending on the circumstances.
When they say that the only way that they're making it big must be Josh sleeping her way through the state, Tyler is the first to shut them down and shut them up. When they doll Josh up in skintight dresses and false eyelashes, Tyler is the first to demand they dress him the same. Tyler is the first to calm her down afterwards and the first to rile her up beforehand.
Tyler is the first, the first, the first in her heart. It doesn't matter that Josh is not the first in his, not anymore.
Debby breaks up with her just before summer can dig its scarlet-painted claws in.
"It's not that I think you're tying me down or anything, Jo, I'm young but I'm not stupid. I love you, you know that, I hope you don't ever forget that," she says. Josh knows that. Reasonably, she knows that. "It's not that you're older than me. It's not that I think it's going too fast. It's..."
Debby's cross-legged on the floor, wearing Josh's old Biggie shirt and blue pyjama bottoms. Her hair is everywhere, and her skin is scrubbed pink and her hands are shaking. Josh thinks she's the most beautiful girl she's ever seen.
Josh is in the foetal position at the end of the couch, curled around a cushion that has the words "where there is love there is life" embroidered onto it. She can't stop crying, snot and mascara staining the cushion, but it's okay, it's fine, because Debby is crying too, though she's still speaking, tears dribbling off her chin.
"Your mind — it's — it's always somewhere else. You'll be with me, but really you're elsewhere." Josh closes her eyes, can't stand to see Debby's hands shake anymore. She wants to cover her ears as well as her eyes, because they both know what she's going to say. "I know you love me, I didn't doubt it for a second, but you love — Josh, you love —"
There's something strong and steely in Debby's voice now, and Debby's resolve is half the reason why Josh loves her. She's loyal and she sure in her choices, she's strong and forthright, and she seems to have reach the end of her capacity to cosset Josh. "Fuck this, okay. I'm never gonna be the one you think about when you wake up, so," she chokes, and whispers, "I don't want to be the one you fall asleep next to."
Josh's hands do, this time, fly up to cover her ears. Her hands feel numb, like there's pins and needles spreading from the tips of her fingers to her elbows, her skin buzzing and her blood humming quietly with static. Her livelihood depends on rhythm and noise and the kick-drum of her heart supporting the choir in Tyler's mind, but at her bone, she's just as quiet as everyone else.
Look at this mess, Josh thinks, distantly. Look at what she's done. Her hands fall away limply.
Outside, the night is calm, the lightest of spring's rain pattering against the French doors. Inside, Josh can hear every breath Debby's takes, ragged and halting. Josh feels like her skin is peeling off, like Debby is digging her chewed fingernails into her heart and massaging it like play-doh. Josh is at sea, she stranded in the desert, she's lost in her own hometown, she hasn't seen Tyler for days, she's — she's right here with Debby, and Debby isn't even angry.
She opens her eyes, eyelashes clumped together in a wet mess. Debby is closer than ever, her hands resting on the edge of the couch, eyes wide, intent, and bloodshot. Josh's hands unconsciously curl and uncurl on the cushion. "What — what do you mean?"
Debby's shoulders slump, and for the first time Josh can feel Debby's pity as her breath fans out onto Josh's face. Josh is a coward. "Don't be like this, come on."
She curls her shoulders in on herself, and Debby, sighs, quietly.
"I'm sorry," Josh mumbles, and her mind is as blank as the summer sky, she swears. Her mind is as blank as the summer sky, cool and unattainable. Her mind is as blank as the summer sky, and she's just as blue.
It wasn't always like this. Tyler was privy to a string of Josh's boyfriends when she first joined the band (David with the limp, Jonny who only liked classical music, Moses who hated Tyler), and she was happy with it until she wasn't. She could never figure it out, why none of the boys really impressed her anymore — why it was only girls, then, that held her interest.
It didn't take her long to realise why, when Tyler introduced her to Jenna, shy and hopeful and nervous. Tyler had cycled through girlfriends too (Sarah with the lisp, Eliza who only ate green vegetables, Lisa who hated Josh), but they had never received as much fanfare.
Josh used to crawl over the garage and through the window of Tyler's childhood room, when she wanted to hang out and Tyler wouldn't answer his phone. When Tyler's mom found them, time and time again, he'd always be laughing and shrugging, but never nervous. He never cared what people thought, and neither had she.
Josh had never made Tyler nervous, and she prides herself still on making him comfortable — but once she saw it she craved it, the excitement in the creases of his eyes as he ushered Jenna through the door of Josh's home. How could any man — any boy — any person at all — compare to that?
The reason why (in the end, that's always the question: why why why why?) was caught somewhere between Tyler's laugh and the words he'd purge onto the page. He felt about music the way she felt about it, like he'd been studying her soul, the kick-drum of her heart and the monsters crawling in that space above her stomach. It was all the reasons he was her best friend. She's a coward, but mostly she's an idiot.
In the end, though, was it really supposed to be any other way?