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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.

"N...no...not..."  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.

 

Chapter Text

Tyler knows it’s been off day for Josh.

It started when Tyler climbed out of his bunk to see Josh already dressed and sitting on the couch, rocking back and forth and staring at his shoes. And then when Pete walked onto their bus to see how they were doing, Josh only gave a tight smile and a small “okay.”

Now, hours later, Tyler is locked out of their dressing room while Josh is inside, no doubt trying to remain calm as he tries to remember where he placed a pair of sticks.

Tyler sat against the wall, staring at the door, and waited. He was proud of his friend realizing he needed a moment by himself, and that he was pushing forward despite the day hard day he’s had, but that didn’t make him any less worried.

He turned his head when he heard footsteps coming down the hall. Joe and Patrick were chatting, but stopped when they saw him on the floor.

“What’cha doin’?” Patrick asked, looking back and forth between Tyler and the closed door.

“Waiting for Josh,” he stated plainly.

”What for? Surprised you guys are even separated to be honest.”

Tyler decided to ignore Joe’s comment and instead said “He wanted to be alone for a bit. He thinks he lost a pair of sticks.”

“Aw, that sucks,” Patrick empathized. “Doesn’t he have a bunch more? Lost sticks are kinda inevitable on tour.”

Tyler sighed. “Yeah, he’s just gotta take some time to calm down. He’s been high strung all day, so he just needs to realize that it isn’t that big of a deal. You know how it is.”

The other musicians nodded. “How long have you been out here?”

Tyler shrugged. “Twenty minutes?”

Patrick hummed. “Well, hope he’s better for later. Keep us updated.”

Tyler gave a thumbs up as they walked away, continuing his vigil.

Eventually, he stood up and gently knocked on the door. “Josh? Can I come in? We don’t have a lot of time left.” He pressed his ear to the door and listened to the slow shuffles getting closer.  He pushed himself away as he heard to lock turn and the door inched open.

He’s thrown back to when they first met, among other far less pleasant memories.

“Oh Josh…” he coos, cupping a red coated cheek. His eyes track the stains down the hollow of Josh’s throat.

Josh reaches up to hold the hand on his face, and Tyler almost laughs bitterly when he sees that the marks usually only on his fingers have grown past his hand and overlap with the green of his tattoo, like a shoddy look alike of his own.

“Hey,” Josh mumbles into his palm, dark eyes on the floor.

“Hey, you good?” Of course he’s not stupid question.

“Yeah, yeah, just needed to…let it out.”

“I can tell, you’re covered in-“ The words come out before he can think better of them.

Josh’s hand tightens around his and he pulls away.

Oh great now he thinks you’re crazy way to be a good friend Tyler look what you-

“You can see them too?”

Tyler’s racing thoughts stop dead in their tracks. Josh is still holding his wrist, like he thinks that if he lets go the conversation will end, and Tyler will leave, and they’ll go back to pretending that this, whatever it is, isn’t real.

Tyler’s not going to let that happen.

“Yeah, I’ve always…” this is not how he planned having this discussion, if it were to happen at all. “Can you see…?” He rubs his throat.

Josh nods, lowering their still joined hands.

They stay standing in the doorway, their sweaty palms connected, and their marks mixing with each other into a dark burgundy. An unspoken understanding forms, a piece of the puzzle finally moving into place.

The moment is broken by a venue employee calling out from the end of the hallway they have half an hour until their set. They quickly drop their hands and rush into the dressing room, zipping up skeleton hoodies and deciding on a new pair of sticks instead of wasting more time trying to find the missing pair, before jogging out to the stage. The cheers grow louder as the intro of "Ode To Sleep" builds in volume.

“Hey!” Josh calls over the noise. Tyler can’t see through the hood, but he can hear the smile. The drummer wraps his arms around him and presses the sides of their heads together. “Thanks you, for today and everything else too.”

Tyler squeezes his arms around Josh’s middle before grudgingly pulling away. Josh keeps a hand on his shoulder, meeting his eyes as best he can and firmly saying “We’re talking about this later,” walking out onto stage and climbing behind his drums.

Filled with an entirely new wind of energy, Tyler does a few quick stretches and charges to his piano.

 

Chapter Text

They sit silently across from each other, neither knowing where to start. Before, they had been eager to be alone (Brendon’s wolf whistle echoing in their heads), but now, Tyler almost wished Josh would shout “Syke!” and they’d go back to living on their respective sides of the Egyptian river.

“How long…” Josh starts, let’s the question hang.

“As long as I can remember,” Tyler takes a sip of their shared water bottle. “You?”

“Same here. I thought I was bleeding for a little while, always asking for band-aids for the ‘hand boo-boos’. They didn’t appear around my eyes until I started middle school.”

Tyler shivers, discomfort coiling in his belly. “It was only on my hands first too. Everything I touched got dirty.” He rubs his Adam ’s apple self consciously. “Then it started getting on my neck. I had problems breathing for a little while. I’m used to it now, but…” He ducks his head. “Sometimes it feels like I’m drowning, or something is wrapped around my neck and trying to suffocate me.”

Josh hums. “When it gets bad, I can’t feel my limbs and I can hardly see.”

Tyler nods slowly, mentally replaying times where Josh would tremble in his arms, gasping and staring into space.

“When we met…when you saw me the first time, why didn’t you say anything?”

“Why didn’t you?”

That shut’s Tyler up, guiltily screwing and unscrewing the cap of the bottle.

“I couldn’t take my eyes off you.” Tyler’s heart races. “I thought it was the show lights, but then it started coming off. I asked someone in the crowd if you wore it every time you performed, and they had no idea what I was talking about.” Josh smiles and look at Tyler like he deserves that kind of attention. “You have no idea what it looks like, you running and jumping around, claiming the stage as your own. It’s like a beast that’s been set free and is enjoying its few hours of freedom before it’s inevitably contained back in its cage. You’re like a completely different person. It’s amazing.”

Red touches black, calloused fingertips meet. “Seeing you like that, it makes me feel invincible.”

Tyler knows he’s blushing, knows the pink staining Josh’s cheeks isn’t just his marks, knows that any other best friend would break contact, accept the praise and kindly compliment back. He knows he should do that, but he doesn’t want to. He wants to hug Josh, his friend, his drummer, his heartbeat, his rock, his world, his other half. He wants to break down the glass wall (more of a freely opening window) dividing them, clear and thin but seemingly impossible to shatter.

Tyler traces Josh’s knuckles. “And why do you think I need you up there with me, Josh? I may draw attention to myself, but you’re the one who always steals the show. I feed off the constant energy you share with the room. There wouldn’t be anything worth watching or listening to without you. When I met you, got to know you, it was one of the first times I felt like I wasn’t alone. I didn’t need to see the marks to feel that.”

Their hands and eyes are locked together and Tyler can feel his own heartbeat resonating through Josh’s pulse point and Josh’s hand is travelling up Tyler’s arm and suddenly there are butterflies threatening to burst out of his gut and his fingers are tingling and they’re both leaning in and-

A loud knock is the only warning they have to fly apart before a slightly off balance Brendon charges onto their bus, followed by an annoyed Dallon.

“Yo! What’s goin’ on in this neck of the woods? You two lovebirds done making out?”

Dallon lightly smacks the back of Brendon’s head. “Ignore him, we’re leaving in a few.  Just wanted to check in with you guys, how are you doing?”

“Uh…” Tyler clears his suddenly clogged throat as Josh bounces his knee.

Brendon looks between them and lets out a long “ah” that devolves into laughs. He starts patting Dallon’s chest and shoving him out the door, winking suggestively and calling out “You got this Josh!” as they leave (probably to spill some rather expensive, high quality beans).

There were approximately ten seconds of silence before the two band members explode into giggles. Tyler places a hand on his chest, taking deep breathes and exhaling laughter, Josh leans forward again, shoulders shaking as he presses his nose against Tyler’s neck.

When Josh eventually pulls away, his face isn’t smudged with grime. The drummer’s eyes widen as he reaches up to rub the hollow of Tyler’s throat.

“What?”

Josh doesn’t respond, just grabs Tyler’s wrist and holds it up between them, making a few broad sweeps across his palm with his thumb.

Everything stops.

He wants to meet Josh’s eyes, wants to hug him, wants to kiss him, but he can’t tear his eyes away from the light tan of his life line, the skin going red to white as Josh squeezes harder. The undersides of Josh’s fingers are clear as well, littered with calluses that were only ever felt by Tyler, never seen. He can see the blue-purple-green of his veins, how the fade under the surface and disappear.

Something about the first glimpse of skin in two decades must be affecting his vision because things are getting blurry and meshed together and then it’s dark and his face is warm and wet and he can feel the skin his face is now pressed against vibrating as Josh speaks and Tyler is laughing and the butterflies are fluttering out of his mouth and nothing else matters because he realizes he’s doing something that only Josh seems to be able to help him with.

He can breathe. He can breathe and nothing else matters but that.

Nothing else but Josh next to him.

 

Chapter Text

 

Tyler knows no one else can see the marks. Knows the touches that make them melt away are intimate and special with or without context. But for some reason, he isn't embarrassed when he interrupts a conversation so he can "wipe an eyelash" off Josh's face. He feels no shame when Josh holds his hand as they walk into a new venue because "Buddy system". He doesn't give a second thought to the intrigued but fond looks they both get.

He feels better. More sure of himself.

It's a good day for both of them; Tyler's hands and neck relatively light, Josh's eyes ringed in a color closer to strawberry than red. They're all gathered for lunch in a cafe, Brendon attempting to balance spoons on his face as Pete and Kenny bombard him with movie trivia questions provided at the table as the rest of the group is bubbled in pleasant conversation, occasionally watching the scene unfold in front of them.

Tyler is deciding to ignore the ruckus in favor of admiring Josh. He's listening to Dallon intently, eyes never breaking away, nodding and pausing to think before giving a response. His sincerity and attentiveness has always been something Tyler loved. He was a good listener (how else could he stand Tyler's sleep deprived and somewhat hysterical ramblings that whenever you go to a restaurant do you ever feel like the appetizers they serve taste better than the actual food you order? Because to me my chicken alfredo always seems like a bit of a letdown after having some delicious refillable garlic bread and how that observation fits into the divine cosmic rules of the universe.)

Josh seemed to care a lot more than most. Sometimes it made Tyler worry, because that means his heart had a chance of breaking easier.

Tyler's afraid he'll break Josh's heart if he's not careful.

"You've got it bad."

Tyler jumps, head snapping to Andy so fast he's sure he heard bones snap. To his relief, no one else is paying attention, so the drummer's quiet observation remains between the two of them.

Tyler can feel his marks become darker under Andy's gaze.

"Uh...what-"

"You don't have to play dumb. We all see it." A flash of heat shoots up Tyler's spine. "And don't worry, nobody here cares. In fact, there's actually money involved. If you two are a thing, and if not, when."

"Thanks..." he rubs his throat, willing his muscles to relax.”That's uh...that’s good. That we- that you guys are okay with...us...but-we haven't really..."

"Talked about it?" 

"Yeah, not-not about that."

Andy nods, ponders (is that a drummer thing? Thinking before speaking? Tyler wishes more people were drummers) and simply says "You should. It'll help you guys." before going back to his salad.

Tyler feels like he just climbed out of the pool, sweat wetness dripping off and cooling his skin and making him shiver at the sudden change. He looks at Josh and is surprised to see Josh staring intently at him. He scratches his neck, a disguised query of what's wrong?  as the marks around his eyes glow scarlet.

Tyler smiles and lightly taps their ankles together under the table, the brief connection giving his answer of I'm fine.

The moment is observed by Pete, who handed the reins to Kenny and Joe to dig into his pizza. He lightly nudges Patrick, nodding to the two men with a smirk. "Any day now, ‘Trick. We're closing in on my deadline, and the bid's been raised to $120. And it's not too late to join in."

The singer rolls his eyes. "Yeah, or you guys could follow Dallon and I's example and mind your own business and let them work it out by themselves. I bet they don't appreciate the constant remarks and 'subtle' hints."

"Ah, you're no fun. Besides, I feel like they've both got their heads so far up their asses they didn't even realize there was chemistry there until this tour. We're doing them a favor."

"Seven Dwarves? Uh, Happy, Sleepy, Snee-SHIT NO!" Brendon yelped, flinging silverware and rice from his plate in multiple directions. One spoon flew out knocked over Pete's soda directly onto his lap.

"Well," Patrick drawled smugly, handing the bassist a napkin. "I think the universe might agree with me."

And if Patrick was too busy being petty to notice that Josh was still adoringly looking at Tyler while he laughed, then Pete's willing to take a small victory where he can find one.

 

Chapter Text

Tyler, always one to think ahead, decides moments before they perform to talk to Josh.

"Josh, what are we?"

Josh favors a hug instead of looking at him; a red flag. "We're friends, silly."

"But is that it?" Tyler unzips his hoodie, lays himself bare. "Is it really just that simple?" Does it not go farther? Are we nothing more than two people with issues that met by chance? Have I been imagining things? Have I been imagining everything?

Josh unzips his hood and finally looks at Tyler, eyes moving from one feature to the next, never settling for too long. "Do you want it to be just that? Do you want something more?"

Tyler doesn't get to answer, because their intro begins and the crowd cheers and Josh is reluctantly walking to his drum riser.

They don't interact as much during their set. Tyler stays by his piano and Josh drums louder than usual.

When they walk off, they aren't as close as they usually are. Instead of giving friendly touches and laughing off their post-show high, they are silent and uneasy nest to each other.

The tension persists hours later during Fall Out Boy's set. They sit off to the side of the stage, an unnatural space between them. Brendon, Dallon, and Kenny are dancing and singing along, trying to enjoy themselves without addressing the giant elephant a few feet behind them.

Tyler holds his head in his hands, trying to block out the noise to sort out his raging thoughts and emotions. Has he always felt this way about Josh? Is this new? Is he overanalyzing things? Is their newfound ease with each other now that they've addressed their obvious connection nothing more than two friends who have found one more thing in common? What if it's not? He loves Josh, but is he in love? Is Josh in love with him? What happens if they start a romantic relationship? Will it work? Will they lose the small fanbase they have? Will it ruin everything?

The crowd errupts in a new wave of cheers as Patrick begins their next song.

"I don't know where you're going but do you got room for one more troubled soul?"

Brendon makes another attempt at breaking the tension by whooping loudly and purposefully singing the words wrong, Kenny "harmonizing" with him. Dallon rolls his eyes and lightly bobs his head with the beat.

Josh bounces his knee and keeps giving Tyler concerned looks, opening his mouth like he wants to say something, but always stopping himself and going back to staring at his hands.

"Say yeah!

Let's be alone  together!

We can stay young forever!

Screaming at the top of your lungs!"

Brendon continued to cheer and jump around, eventually running up to the slightly mopey drummer.

"C'mon on Joshie boy! Listen to the good man and get crazy!" He shouted, pulling his friend up by the arm. Josh laughed at the singer's antics, starting to relax and shyly dance. He gives one last look at Tyler before making his way closer to the stage with the others.

"I'm outside the door, invite me in

Or we can go back and play pretend."

Tyelr's heart flutters, watching Josh laugh and dance. His wide grin stretches to his ears, making his eyes crinkle and marks blend into his skin. All sound is dampend but Josh's voice, horribly off key and lilting as he tries to imitate Patrick's powerful vocals through his giggles. The bright shining lights wash over him, and for a moment, he's the sun, blinding and warm and ethereal.

Tyler is too mezmerized by the star in front of him to realize his legs have stood and are forcing him to get closer.

The underwater feeling is back, but this time he can feels everything; his heartbeat is thrumming in his ears and his skin is tingling. He takes Josh's hand and Josh turns around to face him and his caramel eyes glimmer like embers and his lips start to form Tyler's name but stop when Tyler connects them with his own.

There is a moment where Josh is tense, like a rubber band about to snap and Tyler is about to break and run, but then Josh melts against him and Tyler is set ablaze. The warmth he always felt around Josh is exploding inside him like a supernova as hands settle on his hips and a mouth eagerly moves with his own. He brings his almost skin-colored hand not holding Josh's up to his cheek. His eyes are closed and sound is muffled but he can feel the air being pushed by Brendon's waving arms.

When they finally break apart, it's like a wave crashes over Tyler. He can hear Brendon and Kenny shouting things along the lines of "I told you so" at Dallon, and his lips tingle in a way he's never felt before. Fall Out Boy is still playing, unaware of the events that unfolded a few meters away, and Josh...

Josh is laughing. He's laughing so hard tears are springing from the corners of his eyes. Not red tears. Regular, clear, happy tears that don't leave angry stains on his face. He's laughing and crying and hugging Tyler, lifting him off his feet and swinging him around, kissing what little black is still on his neck away.

"So," Josh finally speaks, breathless and giddy. "You wanna be alone together?"

"This is the road to ruin, and we're starting at the end!"

Tyler bumps their forheads together. "No more than we already are."

The crowd cheers as they kiss again.