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Twenty Four

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Tyler's surprised it took this long.

When they started this tour, there had been nothing but excitement. The guys from Fall Out Boy and Panic! had been nothing but welcoming, and the crowds were full of people excited to experience their music for the first time. But now, halfway through, his old friend Doubt decided to visit again. Thanks to a few twisted words whispered in his ears late at night, the cheers of the crowd no longer gave him a joyful rush, and praise seemed forced. It didn't mean anything. No one is here to see them. The other guys only tolerate and walk on eggshells around the rapping emo kid who openly talks about how much he wants to die because they're stuck with him until this tour is over and can't tell him his dream won't go anywhere.

He's alone on the bus, curled up on the couch with a blanket in a vain attempt to stop his constant shivering. His eyes are open, but he's not really seeing anything, just like how he can't really feel his hood over his head or the heater gently pulsing hot air through the tour bus. What he can feel is his weakly beating heart and the sharp pang of hunger in his stomach and his shriveled tongue and the thick, black tar bubbling in his chest, spraying out with every cough that wracks his body. He hasn't eaten in days, hasn't slept more than an hour total all week. He only watches his friends scarf down food after performances and let's Josh's soft, airy, not-actually-snores-but-totally-are-snores drift down to his bunk and remain his one comfort during darker hours.

And Josh has noticed, because Josh always notices. He's always offering (at least) half of his taco, or a sip of his water (only water, never coffee or energy drinks), and lets his hand fall out past his curtain so Tyler can hold it if he needs to (he doesn't). He even gave a concerned "if you say so" when Tyler declined a chance to eat real food at a restaurant and stretch his legs with everyone else.

Speaking of, he barley hears the door swing open and people laughing. Everything sounds far away, muffled, like he's underwater, sinking down to the bottom of the pool, watching the air bubbles float up through the murk and pop when they meet the rippling surface. Figures are blurred and distorted, a mesh of colors that move and shift too much to have a proper form. One silhouette gets closer to him, sinks to his level.

"...ler...ay?"  the sound ripples over the surface, breaking apart when it reaches him. Something warm is stroking his head, trying to pull him out. He hopes it stays. The tar is too cold; drying over him, but this new heat is melting it and freeing him.

"...uring up...endon, can...ater?"

More noise, people talking in worried tones, things being moved, but the gentle motions on his head stay as his anchor.

"...uys can go...atch him...nks."

The noises leave and the soft hold tightens around him. He's being pulled up, stopping just under the surface. The sounds and sights are clearer.

"Tyler, what's wrong? What's happening?"  Josh asks, voice evolving from concern to full blown fear. His eyes are two dots of caramel framed in red, stark against his pale face. 

He kinda looks like a raccoon. 

The though makes Tyler snicker, which triggers another coughing fit. Black muck flies past his lips and lands on Josh's front. He doesn't lightly dabs at the stains before reaching to cup Tyler's face, swiping his thumb under his eye.

"What have you eaten today? Have you had anything to drink,"  he demands, like he thinks Tyler can respond. Tyler tries though, only because he doesn't want to waste Josh's time.

""  He pauses to be sure no goo will come up as he speaks. "...don't...need any..."

"Like hell you don't,"  Josh counters, uncapping a water bottle and pressing against Tyler's slack lips. The water sloshes down and opens his throat, cracking the sealed cavity like rain onto dry earth. "Slow sips, don't hurt yourself. We brought some food, and a few of the guys are going to get some medicine just in case." He talking just to have noise, to keep Tyler engaged and as here as he can. Can't he see Tyler doesn't want to be here?  He'd rather let the tar crust and coat until he's nothing but an unstable and fragile statue. One touch and he'll fall apart.

"Hey, hey, no. No sleeping Tyler. You need food. I'm not letting you fall asleep until I know you've eaten something."  Something hot is being pushed into his mouth. It's sweet and spicy and the first thing he's eaten in days that doesn't taste like ash. He opens his eyes, chewing slowly and weakly wrapping his hands around the wrapper, Josh helping him by the wrists.

The more he replenishes his body, the more aware he becomes. Looking down at himself and around the room, it looks like someone broke into their bus and dumped a bucket of black paint over the couch, floor, and Tyler himself. That, or one of the guys was dedicated enough to color everything with permanent marker.

Some prank.

Josh is still kneeling in front of him. The red has run down his cheeks, but it isn't as dark as before. He has a strange look on his face, a soft furrow in his brow, a frown on his usually upturned lips.

"Tyler, what's going on?"

Tyler doesn't want to talk about it right now. His now full stomach is reminding him of how exhausted he is, and talking is already too much of a chore.

"It's dumb,"  he deflects.

"If it's doing  this to you," Josh gestures to his curled up body before resting his rosy hand on Tyler's knee. "It's not dumb."

He's about to complain about how tired he is when he realizes that his previous statement wasn't actually an excuse. Because it is dumb. There’s no way people could pretend to support him for this long. The success they've been having started years ago, and the "fame" shouldn’t even mean anything. Present situation aside, this is the best he's been in years. Financially and (mostly) emotionally stable, with his friends and family proud of him. All because he's doing something he loves with someone he loves.

Someone he loves.

The muck leaking out of him isn't painful anymore. He's broken the surface and taken a gasp of clean air, his lungs filling and emptying with ease.

There must be a change in his demeanor, because Josh is sighing with relief and smiling at him. "Better?" He looks around the room like he can see the mess Tyler made.

He is better. But there's still one problem.

"I'm tired."

Josh stands and extends his hand out. An offering.

Not the one he wants.

He lifts his arms and makes grabby hands, like a little kid. Josh reaches down to pull him up, but Tyler tugs at him weakly. Josh lets himself be maneuvered onto the couch, back pressed against the leather cushions as Tyler leans against him and presses his face into the drummer's neck.

"Okay," Josh shifts and grabs the blanket and drapes it over them. "I can work with this. Do you want...”

Tyler is asleep before Josh can finish.