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By the time they took their bow, Josh felt like he had taken his last breath. With fans packed wall-to-wall like sardines, it grew so humid in the stuffy underground that the sweat shining on Josh’s bare chest under the red and blue lights felt like a second skin he was desperate to shed. He picked up his discarded, mildly moist tank top on their way off the stage, tossing it over his shoulder with a limp smack.

“Gross,” Josh mumbled, cracking open a water bottle he didn’t realize he’d been handed as he followed Tyler down the narrow hallway. The white stone walls reminded Josh of a bunker. “Almost forgot how hot this place got.” He took a sip.

Tyler chuckled, stopping at the door to their joint dressing room. ’It’s a small venue, you’ll have to share-‘ were the words of their booking agent, as if it were their first day. Tyler remembered how derisively he laughed at that, and how sarcastically he responded that heaven forbid after years in a van with five guys he should risk accidentally bumping shoulders with Josh as they took turns at the mirror.

“I want to forget, but I can’t.” Tyler stood in front of the door, unmoving, while Josh gratefully took another gulp of water and wondered what Tyler was doing. “Dude, give me my water.”

Josh checked out the label, as if he were expecting to see Tyler’s name. “This is yours?”

Tyler laughed good-naturedly, finally pushing open the door. “I gave it to you to open.”

Josh snuck in one final sip before replacing the cap. “How come I didn’t get one?”

Snatching the bottle from his hand with mock-viciousness, Tyler spat, “‘Cos’ I’m the singer,” and followed Josh inside, letting the door he leaned against fall silently shut.

“Now it really feels like the old days,” Josh joked, dropping onto the single couch with an airy fwump and hoisting his backpack up from over the arm onto his lap. He dug his phone from the front pocket as Tyler pulled two tissues from the box on the vanity counter. A sudden, intense moment of realization swept over Josh and he was momentarily blindsided, holding his locked phone in his hand and staring unfocused at the blank screen. “Hey Tyler.”

Scraping off a flake of black paint from his cuticle, Tyler grunted. “Hm?”

“I’m—I can’t believe we’re back here.” The feelings swirling in Josh’s head were indescribable, and he hoped that some how, telepathically, Tyler could empathize without him having to say it. It hadn’t struck him until now, and now the gravity of the memories baked into the sticky hot basement and the narrow bunker hallways and eye-burning fluorescent dressing room lights was pulling him past the event horizon. “Like, after all we’ve done.”

Tyler continued to scrub absently at his hands with the tissues, bits of paper rubbing off and falling like crumbs. “Yeah.”

“Feels like nothing’s changed.”

“Can’t get any wet wipes?” Tyler muttered to himself. Balling up the tissues and tossing them in the basket by the door, he landed heavily next to Josh on the couch. He slouched, back halfway down and head leaning against wall. “Does it?”

Josh turned his phone over and over in his palm, nail picking at the shiny apple decal. “I don’t know.” And that was the truth.

Several endless seconds of silence blanketed the room, so thick Josh could almost feel the sludge of it weighing down his arms. The ugly overhead lights buzzed.

“Are you okay, man?” Tyler turned his head to face Josh, not lifting it from the wall, face tucked halfway into his own shoulder.

“Yeah, I’m just—yeah.” His lips felt like a mouthpiece, borrowed for a voice that wasn’t his own. “Just like, weird. I don’t know.”

Tyler didn’t buy it. Raising his head with some difficultly, resisting the almost magnetic pull of his skull to the wall, he surveyed Josh with lips pressed together. Finally, he asked, “Can I try something?”

Josh nodded, then laughed hollowly. “You wanna make it weirder?”

“Yeah. Anyway,” Tyler pulled up both his legs, tucking them under himself as he sat criss-cross and shifted until he faced Josh completely. “Give me your head.”

“You—what?”

Demonstrating, Tyler set both his elbows on his knees, cupping his hands over his shoulders at the junction of his neck and allowed his head to fall heavily forward, bowed as though in prayer. “Like this.”

Mirroring Tyler, Josh moved until he sat opposite him with his legs crossed as well, letting his head hang. Mussed yellow hair tickled Tyler’s face. He scooted backwards an inch.

“This is weird.” Josh spoke to his own chest.

“It’s only weird if you make it weird.” Tyler promised, before pressing fingers on either side of Josh’s temples, smoothing them firmly back over his ears to the base of his skull, and back again. “Does your head hurt?”

It did. Josh had barely registered the pain during the show and how much it had built up afterwards, but now the throbbing was all he could think about. It was muted, dull, but present, and alleviated slightly every time Tyler passed over the sides of his head. Bewildered, Josh nodded.

Tyler nodded back. “I used to get migraines all the time.” He pressed two fingers from each hand to just above the nape of Josh’s neck, massaging. “This is what my mom did for me. I don’t know if there’s any science behind it or anything, but it helped.”

Josh felt each breath that left him like it took pain with it, like every exhale cleaned out the walls of his lungs. It did help; somehow, magically, it served not only to melt the pain, but to ground him. Completely relaxed, Josh felt as loose and languid and heavy, heavy, heavy as tender meat falling off the bone, falling forward until his forehead touched Tyler’s shoulder, and Tyler let him lean.

Tyler’s fingers moved from the nape of Josh’s neck to the muscles connecting to his shoulders, ironing over the knots with his thumbs as he breathed slow and deep. Josh could feel the warmth radiating through Tyler’s shirt, the warmth of the soothing fingers pressing behind his ears and running back down, and the warmth beginning to glaze his insides, pool in his stomach.

“Does it feel nice?” Tyler’s breath fanned out over the shell of Josh’s ear as he massaged circles into the base of his neck. Oh, it did. Oh god, it did.

Josh wanted to nod, but he didn’t want to offset Tyler’s ministrations. “Yeah,” he said instead, lower than he intended, and breathier. Tyler’s own breath hitched minutely, but it didn’t pass unnoticed.

Nails started to gently rake and scratch over Josh’s scalp and into his hair, working from the bottom. Josh hummed. Tyler exhaled. Tyler pet tenderly through Josh’s hair. Tyler asked again, “Does this feel good?” but this time, he asked with his lips pressed to the side of Josh’s head.

In the gooey stupor of the moment, Josh’s hands left his own lap and landed on Tyler’s knees. He was ready to pull back in a heartbeat, but when Tyler responded by dropping his head down to Josh’s neck and planting the first kiss on his heated skin, Josh realized with a wave of desire that he wouldn’t have to.

Every kiss Tyler gave was chaste and feather-light, seemingly only taking comfort in the simple feeling of Josh’s skin under his lips while Josh’s hands rested unmoving on Tyler’s knees. Migraine forgotten, Tyler continued to play with Josh’s hair, combing through the yellow locks, draping his arms over his shoulders.

Josh watched his own hands move almost at their own will, trailing slowly up Tyler’s knees to his thighs, gripping lightly. When his fingertips brushed where the tattoo of his name was, Tyler jolted as though it were a raw nerve, wrapping his arms around Josh’s head and drawing him into a tight hug.

“Should we—we should, we should—“ Tyler cleared his throat to try again but Josh pulled back, lifting his head to meet Tyler’s already-flushed face.

“You want to stop.” He finished for him.

“No, no,” Tyler said almost too quickly, “I was going to say we should keep going.”

“Yeah,” Josh agreed breathlessly, surging forward to meet their lips for the first time. Tyler shuddered and immediately gave in, parting his lips to make way for the sting of Josh’s teeth as they nipped.

Allowing Josh a moment to pant, Tyler broke their kiss and shifted to his knees, crowding over Josh with one hand braced on the back of the couch and the other lightly cradling the side of his face. He sank back down to kiss him again, and again, and again, short and heavy and growing sloppy with urgency as Josh’s hands found their place again over his upper thighs.

Tyler pushed until Josh relented backwards, sinking halfway down the cushions with his back propped against the armrest. His arms wound around Tyler’s midsection to pull him down flush to his bare chest. Tyler gasped when he fell, muffled in the side of Josh’s neck and hammering pulse.

A whine he barely recognized fell from Josh’s own lips when Tyler clumsily pushed apart his knees to settle between them. His hands went palm-down from Josh’s chest, thumbs passing over his nipples as he shivered, over his heaving sides, to his hips, up to the tattoo still partially hidden under jeans.

Josh’s hips twitched up suddenly, connecting them for one brief, electrifying second. Tyler’s response was immediate—he hooked his hands under Josh’s knees with a grunt, yanking him firmly down so Josh found himself flat on his back.

“You wanna get these off?” Tyler looped his fingers under the waistband of Josh’s jeans.

Josh didn’t need to be told twice, fingers flying to his button, then to Tyler’s as he bent down again, kissing hot and open-mouthed down Josh’s pulse points to his shoulder, chastity forgotten.

“Jesus, Tyler-“ Josh couldn’t help himself as Tyler knee-walked backwards, making space to double over and kiss down Josh’s chest. He laced his fingers through Tyler’s hair, petting him as lovingly as he did earlier, and the contented purr Tyler gave vibrated straight to Josh’s dick, achingly hard and dampening the front of of his exposed briefs.

Tyler’s nails scratched over Josh’s knees as he kissed from one pec to the other, then down over Josh’s abs, muscles jumping and drawn tight like a violin string. Hands leaving Tyler’s hair, Josh gripped the arm rest behind his head and squeezed.

“I can’t take this.” He gritted. Tyler smiled; he felt it against his skin.

“Wait,” Tyler rose, and Josh almost complained. He moved backwards until he was sitting on the opposite end of the couch, back against the other arm rest and legs splayed, one foot on the floor. He motioned for Josh. “Come here, sit between my legs.”

Hesitantly, wondering if he should ask Tyler if he didn’t want to take his pants off first, Josh changed position. “Lean against my chest.” Tyler requested lowly, and Josh, crazed with lust and too far gone to think, obeyed, letting Tyler’s warmth draw him back in.

Immediately Tyler’s hand fell to Josh’s crotch, gently covering the outline of his cock. Josh’s chest felt tight and his breath caught, withering in his throat. Tyler’s other hand came around to Josh’s forehead, smoothing his hair and encouraging him to lean his head onto Tyler’s shoulder.

“There you go.” Tyler praised into his ear when Josh let his head relax. He combed blunt fingernails through the slightly damp hair above Josh’s ear and pressed his lips to the other side of his forehead as Josh shivered again, involuntarily. The intimacy and care with which Tyler cradled him juxtaposed with the raw pleasure Josh felt when he finally wiggled his hand into the front of his briefs put his brain on the fritz.

“Cool?”

Josh nodded minutely, before managing, “Please keep going.”

One long stroke upwards from the base had Josh clenching his jaw, and when Tyler found a rhythm that he liked, slower than Josh was used to, he moaned unrestrained. “Can’t believe—I can’t believe we’re doing—“ He attempted, and Tyler smirked against his temple, satisfied with the effect he had on Josh’s dwindling motor function, and amused that he was still trying.

Josh lifted his head slightly, peering down to where Tyler’s hand moved inside his briefs. Maybe it was the trance of pleasure he was under, but the way the tendons and muscles rolled under Tyler’s skin as he worked him over was something Josh couldn’t help but admire. He stared at the contrast of Tyler’s bronzy skin against Josh’s own pale stomach and hips, stark, beautiful.

Tyler took the opportunity to dive back to Josh’s neck, without pattern or strategy as he lavished him with open kisses. His hand left Josh’s head and wrapped around his torso from under his colorful arm, greedily exploring planes of soft, burning skin and hard muscle.

While he struggled to keep his eyes open, Josh noticed that Tyler’s hands were still covered in paint, oily and oxidized and cracking, leaving smudges. Josh thought dimly about how much paint there probably was smeared along his neck and in his hair, before he thought about his dick and moaned, swirls of pleasure at the thought blooming in his gut.

Tyler, rolling Josh’s nipple between two messy fingers, chuckled. “Didn’t know you were that sensitive.”

He swiped his thumb over Josh’s slit. Josh hissed. “Yeah, but also, the paint.”

Pausing, Tyler withdrew his hand from Josh’s briefs. He held his palm up, now mostly paint-free except for the creases. “Oh my god, I forgot.” He lifted the elastic of Josh’s underwear over his straining erection. It looked almost bruised, with smears of black from the root to the heat and matted in Josh’s trimmed pubic hair. Tyler laughed out loud, “Oh my god!”

Josh, on the other hand, was losing his mind. His dick twitched heavily at the sight, bead of precum pearling shiny at the tip. “It’s fine, it’s fine, just don’t stop,” he implored, wriggling back against Tyler’s chest and groin and pausing when he heard Tyler huff and stiffen.

Tyler wasted no time, replacing his hand around Josh and resuming, faster now than before. He mouthed at his neck, scratched along his chest, jerked him off quickly and efficiently and Josh no longer had a hope of holding back the small noises that bubbled over as he approached his boiling point.

Snaking his arm around Josh’s middle, Tyler pulled him snugly back as Josh felt him push his hips forward. Tyler whimpered into Josh’s neck and pushed forward again, and the idea that he was grinding against his back, using him to get himself off and curling against him like a body pillow set Josh absolutely aflame.

“I’m really close,” Josh forced, numb with pleasure and toeing the edge. “Almost there.”

Tyler’s arm tightened around him and he nodded. “It’s okay. Go ahead, it’s okay.”

Josh’s head lolled back onto Tyler’s shoulder, throat working, brows knitted in pleasurable agony, gasping to the ceiling. “Almost, almost-“

Tyler’s arm abandoned his midsection and returned to his forehead, brushing hair out of his eyes. Josh came, moaning weakly over and over, tears prickling at the corners of his eyes in overwhelming pleasure as he emptied himself over the hand that carried him through.

Barely present, Josh was halfway to slipping into a state of unconsciousness or another state of matter when he felt Tyler grind against him insistently. He had both arms wrapped around Josh’s chest and middle, holding him tightly as his eyes screwed shut, hiding his face in the side of Josh’s neck.

Josh fumbled blindly for one of Tyler’s knees. “Do you want me to-?” He offered, but Tyler shook his head.

“No, no, it’s fine, I’m,” Tyler breathed, “Don’t move, please.”

Josh didn’t, instead running his hand up Tyler’s leg as close to the tattoo his could get. He squeezed. Tyler thrusted.

“I’m gonna come in my fucking pants.” Tyler stated outright. Josh’s dick gave another valiant twitch upon hearing him swear so bluntly.

He was right. Tyler hugged him as tightly as he could, mouth opening and closing hotly over Josh’s skin, silent but breathing heavily as he unfurled. Josh’s hand soothed his trembling thigh.

Tyler didn’t let up on his hug for a long while, breathing so slowly and deeply Josh wondered whether he’d fallen asleep. His own lids grew heavy and heavier, and he was moments from resigning himself to slumber before Tyler spoke, voice papery and dry.

“I have to change.”

Josh snorted, then laughed heartily. Tyler smiled into his hair.

Making to sit up, Josh ignored his protesting muscles and the allure of another minute on the couch. “Some things never do.”

Tyler pushed up against the backrest, planting his feet on the floor as he began to tug down his pants. “I can’t believe you said that. That’s the corniest thing you’ve ever said.”

Josh reached for his backpack. “No, this is the corniest thing I’ve ever said—I love you.” He only half-joked. Quarter-joked. Actually, he wasn’t joking at all.

“Love you too.” Tyler said impossibly casually, like he was saying it over the phone, before adding, “mean that.”

Nothing had changed.