From the moment he met him, Tyler knew Josh was perfect. He had the dark curls and soft eyes of a black lamb; he was gentle, and he was kind. Perfect, perfect, perfect.
Tyler was alone. Tyler needed a drummer - a friend. Tyler needed Josh.
"Yeah," Josh said, shy but undeniably excited. How could he not be excited? "Yeah, I'll join the band."
Perfect, perfect, perfect. Easy, easy, easy.
They hit the road in a shitty old van, and it was in that van that Tyler learned three very important things about Josh:
1. He was a criminally cute napper.
2. He didn't like to talk about himself - ever.
3. He did like to steal glances at Tyler when he wasn't looking. (Tyler had noticed this.)
By the fifth week on the road, Josh had grown comfortable enough around Tyler to sing along to songs on the radio. Not hum. Sing. And Tyler would watch him from the passenger seat, grinning like he was sitting front row at a Mariah Carey concert.
He'd never gotten along with somebody so well in his life. It had almost been cruel of the universe to deprive him of Josh's light for this long. Especially when he knew it would get snuffed out eventually.
But he didn't want to think about that, not now. He just wanted to sit back and watch Josh belt out the words to Africa by Toto while they headed down the road to their next show. He wanted to enjoy being stupidly, horribly in love. At least for a little while.
(It was the love that would make it a worthy sacrifice in the end.)
Eight weeks in and Tyler was dragging Josh into a McDonald's bathroom by the hand, shoving him into one of the stalls and locking the door behind them. And Tyler kissed him. He kissed him, and kissed him, and kissed him until Josh was gasping for air. He kissed him until both their mouths were swollen, and then he moved on to Josh's neck, where he left hickeys - big, dark, disgusting hickeys - and by the time Tyler was done marking him like a cow, Josh was left a whimpering, teary-eyed mess.
He buried his face in Tyler's neck, trembling, and Tyler held him. He could've held him like that forever. Right there in that bathroom stall.
But he couldn't. He had a job to do. The most important job in the world.
They kept driving, kept performing, kept kissing in bathroom stalls, and along the way Tyler learned a few more things about Josh. He learned that he was deathly afraid of letting people down. Afraid of what it meant to like guys. Afraid in general.
"You don't have to be scared anymore, man," Tyler assured him, one hand on the wheel and the other reaching over to squeeze his thigh. "You've got me. And I'm gonna take care of you. Got that?"
Josh snorted, and smiled, and said, "Yeah. Got it."
Tyler should've felt guilty, but it wasn't a lie. He would take care of Josh. He would be gentle.
I'll be gentle, Tyler thought while they were driving down one of those dark, empty roads at one in the morning. I'll be gentle. I'll be quick. I'll make it easy.
"Can you pull over real fast?"
"Everything okay?" Josh asked, forehead creasing with that typical Josh-brand worry, but Tyler played it cool. He had to.
"Uh huh. Just pull over."
So Josh pulled over; as soon as they were parked at the side of that godforsaken road, Tyler opened the passenger side door and slid out.
Josh was starting to panic, his eyes rounder and whiter than they'd ever been. "What's going on?"
"I want you to come with me." Tyler said it like they were going for a nice walk in the park. That's all. Just a walk.
"You're kinda freaking me out, dude," Josh admitted, but he got out. Of course he got out.
Taking his hand, Tyler led him off the road and into the tall grass, led him further and further away from the van until it was just them and the yawning black chasm of a sky.
"Whoa, dude," Tyler said, voice soft with wonder and something else. "Look at the stars."
Josh tilted his head back to see for himself, and that's when Tyler slit his throat.
He was quick. He wasn't a liar. He was quick.
And yet Josh still suffered. He staggered, and sputtered, and gargled blood with his hands clawing helplessly at the wound. When his legs finally buckled, Tyler was there to catch him, kneeling in the grass with Josh's curly head cradled in his lap.
"You're okay," Tyler soothed while Josh tried his best to breathe through his severed windpipe. "It's okay. I'm gonna take care of you. I'm gonna take care of you. Just look at me, okay? Look at me."
And Josh looked at him, because even in death he refused to let anyone down. He looked at Tyler not with anger or betrayal but with an awful, impossible sadness. He looked at him until his eyes rolled back in his head and the horrible choking sounds stopped.
Tyler just kept holding him, because that was all he could do. Hold him like he'd held him in that bathroom stall. Hold him, and wait.
He didn't have to wait long.
Josh's body started to pull itself free from Tyler's arms, pull itself from the grass, pull itself up, up, up into the too-still night air. And Tyler could only watch in awe from the ground, grinning the grin of someone whose wildest dreams were finally coming true. The blood from Josh's throat hit him in the face like warm copper rain, and Tyler opened his mouth to taste it - just a kid catching snowflakes on Judgment Day.
Josh was suspended, the moon framing his head, the cicadas roaring their approval, and all the while Tyler smiled, because he had been right.
Josh was perfect.