The diagnosis comes a week before they graduate. Josh is bored and trying his best to suck the marrow out of life while he’s still young and beautiful or whatever that stupid cliché is. The problem is that even their looming graduation isn’t enough inspiration for him to do anything other than do a few stupid tricks on his skateboard and then head over to Tyler’s.
They only have three more months before college and all Josh wants to do is nothing, but he wants to do it with his best friend.
But when he gets to Tyler’s and walks through the front door as if he owns the place, it occurs to him that people actually knock for a reason. Because he can hear Tyler and his mother arguing in the kitchen and he’s fairly sure they didn’t hear him come in.
“Mom, I don’t want to do it! It’s my decision, I’ve been eighteen for almost seven months, you need to – “
“Don’t you dare tell me to let go, Tyler Joseph,” and Josh is kind of scared, because he knows Mrs. Joseph well but he’s never heard her sound so very…fragile. “Not right now. You know – “
Josh decides that if he listens more he will be a bad person, and so he tentatively steps into the doorway. He clears his throat slightly and Mrs. Joseph whips around, giving him a weak smile. “Oh, Josh sweetie. Good to see you.”
Josh decides to pretend that he doesn’t notice her tears, or the way her voice cracks. It seems kinder.
He also pretends not to notice the way Tyler’s eyes are red and watery, pretends not to see the way his best friend shakes as he brushes past his mother and walks out the front door with Josh trailing behind him.
Later, as Josh lies in the dark next to Tyler and wonders about the conversation, he continues his game of make-believe, and pretends that he’s not scared.
For the next three days, everything is okay. There are no more tears or hushed arguments for Josh to walk in on – and he would know, because Tyler spends all the time that he’s not at school at Josh’s house.
Tyler’s phone rings and buzzes almost non-stop for all of Saturday night and Sunday morning, but he refuses to even look at the device. Finally, as their game is interrupted once again by Tyler’s ringtone on Sunday afternoon, Josh asks him if he wants to just answer so the person (Josh suspects it’s Tyler’s parents, though he’s not sure why) will stop calling. Instead, Tyler stares at the phone for a solid thirty seconds before turning it off completely.
Josh doesn’t ask when the phone stays off for the rest of the weekend.
When Tyler asks him if he can spend Tuesday night at Josh’s house, it suddenly occurs to Josh that the other boy is avoiding his home. Tyler has already spent two consecutive nights at his best friend’s house, and while Josh would love having the boy for another, he’s beginning to wonder if Tyler’s mother and father miss him.
“Don’t you think…you should maybe go home, man?” Josh asks tentatively. Tyler may have been edgier than usual recently, and he doesn’t particularly want to upset him. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d be down to have you here every single night but like…don’t your parents want you home sometime?”
Tyler rolls his eyes with a little too much bravado. “Who cares? I don’t want to be around them right now, so I’m not going to be.”
Tyler seems ready to drop the subject because he’s turning back towards the TV and hanging his head backwards off of Josh’s bed, challenging him to another round of Mario Kart. But Josh feels like there’s more to be said. He’s not one for prying, but this is Tyler, for God’s sake.
“Tyler…dude, is everything okay…with you? With your family or whatever?” This is familiar territory for Josh – Tyler has never been upfront with his feelings, and Josh has always been the one to ask and the one to comfort when everything went to shit. But for some reason this time feels different. It isn’t Tyler’s usual omission of facts. It feels like he is specifically keeping this…from Josh.
There is a moment where Josh thinks Tyler will completely deny the strange way that he’s been acting recently, and he honestly has no idea what he will do if the boy lies to him so blatantly. But then Tyler drops his controller onto his chest and Josh sees his eyes slide closed in the reflection on the now-dark TV screen.
“Look, it’s – “ Tyler takes a deep breath that moves his whole body and Josh feels the world shift slightly around him. “I will tell you, just not now. I just want – one more afternoon okay?” Tyler opens his eyes and smiles weakly, meeting Josh’s gaze in the reflection. “One more afternoon of beating your ass at Mario Kart and then we can talk about the real life stuff, okay?”
Josh’s smile is a just-add-water version of Tyler’s, but inside he is trembling. He picks up his controller to still his hands and tries to pretend that Tyler is okay and that his best friend does not look exhausted.
He pretends that everything is okay, but he is slowly coming to terms with the fact that it’s not. How can it be when Tyler wins all nine rounds and doesn’t brag once?
They are sprawled in Josh’s queen sized bed with the lights off. Tyler has one foot pressed against Josh’s calf – his toes are always cold and Josh runs warm – and his head pillowed on Josh’s bicep. They got over the no-homo phase of ninth grade a long time ago, and besides, this doesn’t feel wrong. It just feels nice. Nice to be close.
Most nights Josh would be close to sleep by now, and most nights Tyler would have passed out at least half an hour ago, especially with Josh’s inferno of body heat to keep his thin frame from shaking.
But there is a slight tension to the air and both of them are thinking the same thing – how the afternoon is over, and now is the time to bring the “real life stuff” out into the open.
Josh can feel Tyler’s reluctance to the bone.
“So, I was feeling this weird thing in my side,” Tyler begins, and Josh is suddenly panicked. He does not want to hear this he does not want to know what has made his best friend cry with his mother in the kitchen, he does not want Tyler to tell him – “and my mom started getting worried. So we went to the doctor on Saturday. Like, she got me an appointment and everything.”
Josh can feel his own breath shaking out of him and he can hear Tyler’s struggle to keep his own voice steady and all he can do is pull the other boy closer and press their foreheads together and grip him so tightly that it must hurt, but Tyler doesn’t say anything about the pain. He just continues speaking in that small voice that makes Josh feel like the world is breaking apart.
Seven, eight months tops, the doctors say.
Stage four, the doctors say.
They say it has spread to his liver, his lungs, his –
Josh stops listening. Or rather, he stops processing the words that Tyler is barely breathing into his neck. He just pulls his best friend closer and the tears are falling and his brain only reconnects when Tyler says that he is refusing chemo. The conversation in the kitchen makes sense now and Josh feels like he should be mad at Tyler for not at least trying to fight but the reality is that he will have a whole fucking lifetime without Tyler to be mad at him and jesus christ, how is he supposed to do this –
Tyler breaks the momentary silence with a choked laugh, and Josh realizes that he is crying. “Kind of a shitty graduation present, huh?”
Josh wants to laugh too, to laugh this all off and have Tyler tell him that this is a joke, that the best and most interesting and most kind and most sincere and alive person Josh knows is not dying of pancreatic cancer, but of course this is “real life stuff.” The games are over, and Josh wants to stop crying for Tyler’s sake but he’s having a hard time swallowing this. “God, I just – you deserve so much, you deserve so much more, Tyler – “
“Hey now,” Tyler says softly, and Josh wonders when he became so strong because he is not crying and he is wiping away Josh’s tears as if the only sensible situation is for Tyler to be comforting him and not the other way around. “Don’t you dare think I’m going anywhere yet. We still have to get out of high school. And besides,” Tyler continues with a huff of amusement, and Josh can feel his best friend’s smile through the darkness. “I swear on my life, I am not dying a virgin, so you might be stuck with me for a while.”
Josh feels a bubble of unexpected laughter, and pulls Tyler closer to him. “If that’s what’s keeping you around then I’m gonna be such a major cockblock, dude. You are never getting laid.”
Tyler lets out a little laugh and buries his face in Josh’s neck, and Josh decides that this is how they will make it through this. It will be moments and touches and laughter and Josh finds himself wondering why he fell in love with his best friend at the worst possible time. But in the end it doesn’t matter.
They will make it through this.
Graduation comes and goes and suddenly it’s summer and Tyler is having a hard time keeping up with his best friend. Josh begins to notice that they spend more days on the couch in Tyler’s curtain-darkened living room, or lying on Josh’s bed than they do in their old hangouts around town. He doesn’t mind because any moment with Tyler is exactly where Josh wants to be. He would sit on the couch with Tyler for the rest of his life.
They touch more now than they ever have. There has been no spoken agreement, no established guidelines, but neither of them seems to need to discuss it. After all, this is Tyler and Josh in their most natural form: with Josh’s arm around Tyler’s waist and Tyler’s face pressed into his neck as he drapes across Josh on the couch in the semi-dark. This could mean nothing or everything and Josh doesn’t care either way because his best friend is still here and safe in his arms.
But the biggest change is that one day, Tyler goes back to his house for an entire eight hours. He walks into Josh’s bedroom later that night, where the blue-haired boy is half-asleep on top of his sheets in the dusk and streetlight coming in his window. Josh wakes as Tyler runs his fingers through the soft hair at his forehead, and in the semi-dark, he sees that Tyler is smiling softly, but his eyes are red-rimmed and he looks tired.
“Are you – “ Josh suddenly feels slightly panicky, sitting up and pulling the hand in his hair toward his chest.
“I’m fine,” Tyler is still smiling, pressing his hand flat against Josh’s chest in comfort, and then a beat later he looks down and says, “I talked to my parents today. And also, um…my doctor.” Josh holds his breath. “I decided to do chemo. I start this Tuesday.”
Josh doesn’t know whether he wants to laugh or cry, but he knows instantly that Tyler is doing this for him, that he is fighting for Josh’s sake, and Josh can’t help but be selfish enough to be okay with that.
He doesn’t know what to say so he pulls Tyler against him and they slide under the sheets. They fall asleep almost instantly, safe with each other, and when they wake up fourteen hours later with sunlight streaming in the window, Josh feels some stirring that could be hope.
They are okay.
The decision to do chemo seems to break some sort of wall between Tyler and his parents, and now Josh is spending all his time at Tyler’s house because Tyler is spending all his time at Tyler’s house. It’s nice, to see him tentatively reaching out to his family, sharing smiles with his father and accepting snacks from his mother. There was never a rift between Tyler and his siblings – they just wanted him to be happy, no matter how he did it – but it’s still nice to see him talking with them too.
Josh only feels slightly uncomfortable once or twice, mainly because he doesn’t know how to deal with the family’s pain. He knows that Tyler practically considers him family, but he still feels the disconnect – he is to be a comforter, not a comfortee, because it isn’t his son or his brother that is sick. No, Josh thinks to himself – not bitterly, simply matter of fact. No, it’s just my best friend who I also love so fucking much it hurts. But he doesn’t say this to Tyler or his family. He has a feeling he doesn’t need to.
And the thing is, it doesn’t seem to matter that he isn’t family. Because when that first Tuesday rolls around, there is no question that Josh will be accompanying his best friend through this trial.
Tyler has already been to the doctor once in the past twenty-four hours – to get blood work done on Monday, so that the doctors could pin down the exact chemical cocktail to pump into his veins. Josh had just assumed that he would be going, but as he was literally stepping out the door, his mom had stopped him and said that she wanted him to stay home. It was true that even when Tyler and Josh had been hanging out nonstop at Josh’s house, his parents hadn’t seen him much because he was too caught up in spending every possible second with the other boy. But Josh had just assumed that his mother would understand, that he needed to do this. He had to be there for Tyler. But Josh’s mother had insisted vehemently that Tyler could make it through one appointment without him. Josh had spat out that that wasn’t the point, and the resulting argument had been so violent and long-winded that Tyler had had to leave without him anyway.
Josh had spent the rest of the morning and much of the afternoon doing stupid and possibly life-threatening skateboard tricks that he knew Tyler would hate, before finally deciding that he had been angry long enough and heading home. Plus, Tyler had just texted him informing him that the Josephs were all going out to dinner and wouldn’t be back till around nine, and Josh was starving.
So he had gone home and made up with his mom and she cried a bit and they hugged and Josh tried not to be frustrated.
“I just…I know that the most important thing for you is to be there for him, Josh, but I miss you. We miss you,” his mom had said tearfully, and Josh had bit his tongue to hold back from pointing out that if Tyler was going to die, then Josh would inevitably be spending all of his time at home.
Instead he had embraced his mom again and promised her that he would help her with dinner and then maybe they could watch an episode of Breaking Bad or something.
Later that night, when Tyler texts Josh that the family has returne, Josh tells his mom about the chemo.
“I’m going.” He feels vaguely as though this is some sort of standoff, but his mother just gives him a sad smile, impossible affection in her eyes.
“Of course you are, sweetheart. I wouldn’t keep you from that. I just want you to remember that you have a family outside of Tyler.”
Josh suddenly feels like he’s going to cry. “I know. I love you, mom,” he says quietly so she doesn’t hear his voice shake. He hugs her again and then turns to walk out the door, to go back to Tyler. Something stops him though, and he turns back to face her where she sits watching him go from the kitchen table. “I love him too, mom.”
“I know you do, Josh.”
“No, I mean…I really love him. If it weren’t – if he weren’t – I would want to spend the rest of my life with him.” He can barely form the words, isn’t sure why he’s saying this, and is bewildered as to the tears suddenly forming in his eyes. But he is suddenly desperate to tell someone, to have someone understand that he is hopelessly in love with his best friend.
“Shhh, love, I know.” His mom is suddenly next to him, holding him and stroking his hair and it feels nice but nothing compared to when Tyler does it. But he knows they both need this moment, and he wraps his arms around her as she gives a sad chuckle. “I don’t know whether I should call you lucky or unlucky. For you to love him or for the fact that you might lose him. There will be days when you love him so much it hurts and days that you hate loving him more than anything. But I’m so proud of you, Josh.”
Josh isn’t sure what that has to do with this, but he doesn’t ask. He’s suddenly burning with the need to be with Tyler, now, and he pulls back with tears drying on his cheeks. His mom looks down and smiles softly at him, and they don’t need to say anything else. She understands.
Josh skates to Tyler’s house, the last rays of sun still just barely clinging to the horizon and the air warm and alive around him in the half-darkness. When he reaches the modest two-storied shingled home, he pauses for a moment on the front lawn. Tyler’s second floor window is open, and Josh can hear him singing quietly, playing half-notes over and over again until they sound right, and finally singing out a full chorus.
As Josh stands on the lawn, watching the light drain from the sky and listening to half-audible words, he knows that there will be days when he hates loving Tyler. But right now he feels like the luckiest goddamn bastard in the world.
The next day they all pile into Tyler’s mom’s van – Zack, Jay, Maddie, even Tyler’s dad, who took the day off from work. Tyler’s mom insists on driving even though she keeps tearing up. Josh sits in the far back with Tyler. They don’t speak much, but Tyler leans his head on Josh’s shoulder and Josh knows that the other boy is glad he’s there.
When they call Tyler’s name, the nurse doesn’t blink at the party that stands with him. She takes them to a small room with not enough chairs, where Josh stands behind Tyler with his hands on the boy’s shoulders as she explains the chemo process and names off the exotic drugs they’ll be filling him with.
But when it comes time for Tyler to go into treatment, the nurse tells them that only one person can accompany him. Tyler doesn’t hesitate a second, just grabs josh’s hand.
Josh is stunned momentarily, and then promptly feels guilty. Shouldn’t Tyler’s mom be going with him? But when he looks at Mrs. Joseph, she’s smiling and shaking her head tearily, but not in a disapproving way. She meets Josh’s eye and mouths, take care of him.
Josh tries to pretend that he’s not going to cry.
Tyler grips Josh’s hand so hard it hurts, and Josh just wishes he could do more.
They watch Finding Nemo on a tiny portable DVD player that Zack lent Tyler, and Tyler quotes most of the lines into Josh’s chest.
Tyler is woozy on meds by the end, but he doesn’t seem to want to sleep. “If I was lost…if I was lost like Nemo, would you come and find me?” Tyler slurs, and it’s kind of cute because they didn’t give him very much of the meds but he’s acting like he’s been pumped with morphine.
Josh can see the nurse working her way down the aisle toward them, coming to disconnect Tyler, but he doesn’t want the question to go unanswered. “Tyler, I would be the one lost if you weren’t around. I would search for you to the ends of the earth and if I didn’t find you I would just keep going.” He knows it’s possibly the cheesiest thing he could have said right now, and that’s exactly why he said it.
Tyler presses his smile into Josh’s neck, but suddenly the skin there is wet and Josh can feel him crying. “I want to stay with you,” he whispers in a thick voice into Josh’s collarbone, and Josh does his best not to show his heartbreak.
“I know, love,” Josh whispers into his hair. “I know. But it’s okay. It isn’t even close to being over yet. You’ve just…we’ve just gotten started. And besides,” he pushes Tyler slightly away from him so they can look each other in the eye, smiling best he can. “We haven’t gotten you laid yet. So don’t even think about going anywhere.”
Tyler’s cheeks are still wet when the nurse finally unhooks him, but he’s smiling, and that’s all that matters.
Josh knows the chemo is helping in the long-run, but Tuesday quickly becomes his least favorite day of the week. Well, not quite – but it’s a close second to Thursdays. Because for some inexplicable reason, Thursdays are when the chemo hits.
The first week isn’t too bad – Tyler feels a little nauseous and of course exhausted, but it’s manageable – and Josh begins to feel hopeful.
But the next week…if Josh felt like he had a choice, he would leave. Because it’s unbearable.
Josh has been spending every night in Tyler’s room, has gotten used to the feeling of waking up with the other boy tucked in his arms. So when he wakes up on the Thursday morning after Tyler’s second chemo session with no warm body wrapped up in his, he feels momentary panic.
It only takes him a stumbled, half-asleep walk down the hallway to find Tyler. The door to the bathroom is closed but not locked, and when Josh edges in, he finds Tyler on his knees in front of the toilet, heaving up the little food he’s eaten in the past day. Josh notices for the first time how much weight the boy has already lost, all of his individual vertebrae visible through his thin t-shirt.
Josh sits on the edge of the bathtub and pushes Tyler’s thick hair back from his forehead, where there’s a thin sheen of sweat. Tyler gags one more time into the toilet bowl and then groans and lets his head fall against Josh’s knee.
“That sucked,” Tyler mutters in a gravelly voice as Josh flushes down the contents of the toilet.
“Did it make you feel any better?” Josh asks, because really what else can he say?
After a pause, Tyler lifts his head to rest his chin on Josh’s knee and looks up at him. “Yeah. A bit. Will you just spend today sleeping with me?”
“Of course.” Josh wonders why the boy needs to ask.
He helps Tyler wash his face and mouth out and then they slowly make their way back down the hall. As he reaches up into the top shelf of the closet to get an extra blanket, he asks if Tyler wants to watch a movie or something. But when he turns around, Tyler is already nuzzled deep in his blankets, making grabby hands towards the other boy, and Josh is suddenly hit with a wave of feelings so strong that he can’t breathe.
Josh climbs in besides the most important person of his life, and as Tyler wraps himself in Josh, he hears himself saying, “I love you, Tyler Joseph.”
They’ve said the words to each other before, but just as surely as Josh knows that the words are true, he knows that Tyler understands that they mean something else entirely this time. Tyler tightens his arms around Josh’s waist. “I love you, Joshua Dun.”
And Josh knows that they have so many other things to think about and talk about and he knows the world is not a kind place, but for the moment all he can do is press his lips against Tyler’s forehead and eyes and nose and finally softly against his mouth and he finds himself wishing more than anything he has ever wished for before that kisses could cure cancer.
But Tyler kisses back and they spend the day in each other’s arms and Tyler whispers, “My body may be trying to kill me, but I’m pretty damn happy right now.”
Josh thinks that maybe it isn’t a cure for cancer, but it might be the next best thing.
A week later Tyler begins losing his hair. Josh walks into the bathroom, expecting to find the boy on his knees by the toilet. Instead he finds Tyler sitting in the bathtub, electric razor in one hand and a tuft of his thick lovely hair in the other. Tears are streaking down his face and he is shaking.
“Oh, love,” Josh murmurs, and he doesn’t think, just scoots in behind Tyler. He presses his cheek against the boy’s hunched shoulder blade, feeling his individual bones as he wraps his arms around Tyler’s waist gently. “I’ll do it too if you want.” he murmurs, and he means it with every fiber of his being. Whatever it takes to help Tyler make it through this.
Tyler takes a few more shuddering breaths and then finally loosens slightly against Josh. “No,” he sniffles. “No, I just – will you do it for me? I don’t think I’d be able to. My arms – my arms aren’t strong enough.”
“Of course,” Josh murmurs, holding Tyler as tightly as he can without worrying about hurting him. “Of course.”
They sit Tyler on a stool in front of the bathroom mirror and Josh slowly shaves off all of his hair. The shave accentuates how thin Tyler is becoming, but Josh thinks it looks good, tells him so.
Tyler just smiles slightly and meets Josh’s eyes in the mirror. “I love you,” he says quietly, and it’s only the second time they’ve said it since it meant so much more and Josh’s heart contracts so much it hurts.
A month later and Josh can see the shape of every bone in Tyler’s body. He is throwing up everything he eats, and he can’t sleep on his back anymore because it hurts too much.
Josh is afraid to even touch the boy because even the slightest contact makes Tyler tense up in pain, but he insists on Josh sleeping with him every night.
They curl up together and Josh ignores the jab of Tyler’s bones in his side. He does not care about the way he is woken up three or four times a night by Tyler getting up to puke. He just wishes there was a way for him to take away the pain.
Instead he focuses on the heat of Tyler’s palm on his skin, the soft press of his mouth every so often, the feeling of his quiet breathing when he really sleeps.
He still wakes up every morning in love with Tyler, and he knows that the rest of it is just part of the package.
The Monday of the last week of Tyler’s chemo – the next Tuesday they will take more CT scans and tests to see what the cancer is looking like and plan a course of action – Josh wakes up in his own bed for the first time in three months. His mom had insisted that he stay the night at home because she missed him, and Josh had known that it wasn’t unreasonable.
But Tyler has blood work today, and the rest of his family had been unable to drive him, so Josh is in charge.
The moment he walks into Tyler’s house, he knows there’s something wrong. He doesn’t know how he knows, but he does. He practically sprints up the stairs, his chest on fire.
Tyler is collapsed on the bathroom floor in a pool of vomit, too sick or tired or defeated to get up. Josh can hear him crying.
“Tyler, love – “ He can’t make any words form, he simply begins to clean him up and get him out of the mess. But Tyler lashes out, pushing him away.
Tyler is saying something over and over and his words are so garbled and Josh is so confused that it takes him almost a full twenty seconds to understand. “Leave me ALONE.” Tyler finally screams, and Josh can’t help it – he steps back.
There’s a brief pause where Josh feels himself suffocating and then he is stumbling over his words. “Tyler, baby, please, let me help – “
“Josh, just STOP.” Tyler is choking and crying and he sounds so desperate that Josh feels like he might puke. “Just leave, just let me – fuck. FUCK. I just want to die I hate this I hate this I fucking hate myself why the fuck – JUST LET ME DIE.” And Tyler has turned his body and his face is pressed into the bathroom carpet and his entire body seems to be straining to disappear and Josh does not know when he collapsed to his knees but suddenly he is there and he is crying and Tyler’s words are like knives fucking knives and he just wants to help but he can’t he fucking can’t and he just loves Tyler so much and how is this fair –
“Tyler, I love you.” He doesn’t know what else to say, other than this irrefutable truth. “Tyler, I love you so much.” He is crying but he’ll be damned if he lets anything stop him from saying these words. He touches his forehead against Tyler’s temple and continues spewing half-sobbed words. “Tyler, please just let me help you. You are so strong and brave and I know it hurts, I know, I can only imagine how tired you must be and I’m so sorry, love, I’m so sorry, if there was a way to take away your pain – god knows, I would do anything Tyler, but we can’t, but that doesn’t change – I love you so much, baby, please just let me help you, please don’t give up yet, please just hold on, I’ll always be here – “
He can’t go on. He lifts his head and runs a trembling hand across Tyler's forehead and neck, and both of them are breathing easier now, and he can see the tension slowly draining from the boy’s body, leaving him limp and tired on the tile floor. Josh has one more thing to say. “Tyler, I know…you’ve been doing it for me. For us. If you – if you want to just let go – “ He has to pause. He can’t breathe properly, but he needs Tyler to know this. He needs Tyler to know that it’s okay. “If you want to stop the chemo, it’s okay. It’s – it’s going to be okay, love. I promise. If you need to let it be – that’s okay.”
He can hear Tyler crying, but it’s no longer the desperate sobs of earlier. It’s a soft crying, a kind that matches Josh’s own. Josh sits up quietly and begins to clean up again, and this time Tyler lets him.
After Tyler is washed and dressed in his warmest pajamas and they’ve slid into Tyler’s bed with Finding Nemo on again, Tyler whispers to Josh, “I’m sorry.”
“Shhh, baby,” Josh murmurs into Josh’s forehead, gently rubbing warmth into Tyler’s bony limbs. “Shhh. It doesn’t matter one bit. You’re so strong.”
Josh can feel tears wetting his tshirt, and he wishes that there were no reason for Tyler to cry but of course there is.
“I don’t want to do it anymore, Josh,” Tyler breathes in a broken whisper. “Even – no matter what they tell us next week. I can’t do chemo anymore. I’m so tired.”
A tremor runs through Josh’s body and he realizes that they are barreling towards the end, but he would not take a single second of this back. “I know, love. It’s okay. We all know. You’ve been so strong. I love you so much.”
They half watch the movie and Tyler still remembers the lines and at the end, he says, “You didn’t let me get lost.”
Tyler is half-asleep and probably won’t remember saying it, but Josh feels himself beginning to cry. “Thank you,” Tyler mumbles into Josh’s shirt, and within seconds Josh can feel Tyler fall asleep.
Tyler sleeps well through the hour they have left before his appointment, but Josh stays awake, breathing every little thing he loves about the boy beside him into their interlocked fingers.
The next week a doctor sits them down in his office and tells them in a clinically sympathetic voice that the chemo has not done it’s job, and Tyler has two weeks to a month to live.
Josh thinks about how that is a good two months shorter than they promised Tyler at the beginning of all this, and he thinks about how Tyler’s decision to give up on chemo is a moot point now because it’s too late anyway and he thinks about how he will have to tell his mom and he does not think about the fact that Tyler is going to die.
Josh is the only one composed enough to drive home. He helps the family inside and carries Tyler to his bed and holds him until he falls asleep.
Once Tyler’s breath has evened out, Josh slowly untangles himself and walks home. He goes to his room and stares at the walls that have become practically unfamiliar in the past few months and thinks about how in two weeks to a month this room will become his only home.
He does not realize he’s crying until he punches the wall and tears splatter across it along with the blood from his split knuckle. He punches and punches and he can hear himself screaming and there is nothing he can do to stop it.
Josh finally comes back into his body when his mother stops him, tears streaking down her face. “Mrs. Joseph just called – baby, I’m so sorry,” she whispers, and Josh collapses in her arms because he has been so busy trying to be strong for Tyler that he has forgotten how to deal with his own breaking.
“Why, mom?” he chokes out, and he knows it must be hard to understand because he is sobbing, but as they slide to the floor, he can’t stop himself. “Why does it have to be him? I love him so much – and I thought – I thought – “
Josh can feel his mother crying too, but she just continues to stroke his hair. “I don’t know, Josh, I don’t know. The world is just – it’s just a shitty place sometimes,” and Josh is so surprised to hear his mother swear that he lets out a little hiccup. “But you’re so good, Josh. Tyler is so lucky to have you.”
“No,” Josh insists, and he doesn’t know why, but he feels the need to make this clear. “No, I’m the one who’s lucky. I’m so damn lucky – you were right mom. I just wish – “ he chokes again. “I just wish – I wish we had more time. I don’t want him to die, mom. It hurts so, so much.”
“Shhh,” she coos, and they are both beginning to calm. “I know it does, baby, I know. You’ve been so strong. But it’s okay to be hurt. The important part is you always remember this: you love him, Josh, and by god, does that boy love you too.”
Josh knows enough by now to understand that love isn’t the magical cure he’s been wishing for. But if there’s anything that can justify the pain, it’s the feeling he gets in his chest when his mom says those words.
Tyler is admitted into the ICU two and a half weeks later, when the cancer water builds up so much in his abdomen that he can’t move properly and his distended belly is visible even through the mound of blankets on his bed.
Josh has already lost two days of sleep by the time they get Tyler into the hospital, and when the doctor pulls them aside to tell the family that this is probably it, he knows that sleep is the least important thing in his life right now.
As he stands in the hallway with his arms wrapped around Maddie and Mrs. Joseph, he wonders when he became a member of their family. He remembers those first weeks when he felt uncomfortable and it seemed like he had to tiptoe around their grief because it wasn’t his to share. How things have changed – and he thinks again that no matter what, he wouldn’t give this away for the world.
The next night, the nurses let Josh stay an hour past the end of visiting hours. He has a sinking feeling that it’s an act of pity because Tyler will be gone soon, but he doesn’t let himself think about it. He just appreciates the extra time with just him and Tyler – and he also tries not to think about the fact that this could be the last time they are alone together.
Tyler is propped up on pillows and he’s attached to about five different tubes. He is skin and bones and so very pale, but he is still Josh’s Tyler. Josh pulls his chair as close as he can to the bed and rests his head on the pillow besides the boy.
“How are you doing?” Tyler whispers, and Josh almost wants to laugh because this boy is the one with the bed in the intensive care wing of the hospital, but he’s asking Josh how he’s doing.
“I’m okay,” he says softly, tracing a finger lightly across Tyler’s cheekbone. “How are you?”
Tyler closes his eyes at the touch, smiling slightly. “’M Good. I’m glad you’re here.” There’s a pause and Josh continues his slow path down Tyler’s cheek to his lips. “So…” Tyler suddenly whispers again, moving his lips against Josh’s now still finger. He opens his eyes, and there’s that glint that Josh loves. “I guess I’m dying a virgin after all,” he rasps, giving Josh a small grin.
Josh smiles slightly, feeling a familiar ache start up in his chest. “You’re not dead yet,” he murmurs, though they both know how feeble that response is. “Besides, who cares about that crap?” He tries to be lighthearted, but the tears are threatening and the plain fact of the matter is that he does not want Tyler to die, god, he does not want this boy to ever leave his side.
Tyler slowly moves a hand to cradle Josh’s cheek, shifting his body painfully to face Josh entirely. “I decided I don’t care though,” he says, a little breathless. “I decided that it doesn’t matter if I’m a virgin because I got to do something that not many other people will get to do in their lifetime.”
“What’s that?” Josh breathes, but he’s having a hard time making any sound at all and he might cry because this is beginning to feel like Tyler’s goodbye.
“I got to be in love with you,” Tyler whispers, and Josh can’t help it anymore, he squeezes his eyes shut but the tears leak out anyway. “I got to love you, Josh,” Tyler continues, brushing a thumb through the boy’s tears. “And I wouldn’t trade anything for that. God, it’s silly but – “ and now Tyler is crying too, and Josh does not know how he will do this. “I liked you so much for so long, Josh. And then I found out I was sick and I just – I knew that I had to spend the rest of my life with you. And you know what? I’m so fucking lucky, because – “ Tyler chokes for a second, but braves on in a wavering whisper. “Because I did. I’ve spent the rest of my life with you, Josh, and not many people get to spend their whole life with the person they love more than anything on earth.”
“Tyler – “ Josh is choking on his tears, and he opens his eyes to meet Tyler’s gaze and he doesn’t ever want to look away. “I love you so much, I love you so fucking much, I am the luckiest goddamn bastard in the world - thank you for loving me, Tyler.”
Tyler presses forward and kisses him softly, his lips dry and chapped and his oxygen tube in the way, but Josh would have it no other way. After he pulls away, he presses their foreheads together, and in the closeness, Tyler’s skeletal face and tubes disappear and all Josh can see are his eyes, and those haven’t changed, and for a minute they both allow themselves to forget about his sickness.
“We are the luckiest goddamn bastards in the world, aren’t we, Joshua Dun?” Tyler whisper, and Josh nods, unable to answer. “I know I’ve said this before, but thanks for not letting me get lost, Joshy.”
“Tyler,” Josh says, only it’s more like a sob because he knows this is it.
“Baby, don’t cry. I love you,” Tyler whispers, but he’s crying as he says it, and then Josh can hear the curtains being drawn back and he squeezes his eyes shut as the nurse quietly tells him that she’s sorry but he has to leave now.
He doesn’t get up right away. He presses his hands so softly against both of Tyler’s cheeks and kisses him just like that first time – forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, and they breathe each other in, foreheads resting against each other one last time. “I love you so so much, Tyler Joseph,” he whispers, and he doesn’t care about the tears that shake his voice, just that Tyler hears him.
“I love you too, Joshua Dun, so so much,” Tyler whispers back. He presses his lips one more time to Josh’s and pulls back. “It’s okay, you can go. I’ll see you in the morning.”
And Josh knows, in his very bones, that this isn’t true, that this is it. But he stands, and begins to walk away. He doesn’t turn his back, he just takes step by step backwards, keeping his eyes trained on Tyler’s.
He stops, just before he reaches the curtain surrounding the bed. “Oh, and Tyler?” The boy looks at him, and finally Josh sees the breaking. There is no trace of his watery smile, just the pain as he cries. “Thank you, for not letting me get lost either.”
Tyler lets out a choked sound and presses a frail hand to his mouth. Finally, he speaks, and the words are garbled with tears but Josh hears every one of them. “Anytime, love. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Josh nods once, half-lifting a hand towards Tyler, but he knows that if he takes one step closer to the boy, he will not leave again until security drags him out. So instead he collects himself and takes the step past the curtain, and the nurse places a soft hand on his shoulder as she draws the curtains around the boy that he loves.
“Will he be here – in the morning?” Josh doesn’t know why he’s asking, because he’s almost certain he knows the answer, and he’s not even sure if she understood the question because he’s crying so hard.
But the nurse looks at him with eyes that say I’m sorry and he knows that she understood. He chokes as she reaches out and places that hand on his shoulder again. “He’s so lucky, that you’ve been here,” she says, and Josh wants to scream that everyone keeps saying he and Tyler are lucky and he doesn’t need to hear it anymore, but she continues on. “And you’re lucky too. And I know that you know that, but I just wanted you to know that we all see it. All the staff – we’ve been watching you guys. It’s – it gives us hope.” She smiles, as if she can hear how incredulous Josh is feeling. “I know, hope in the ICU? But believe me, you take what you can get. And seeing how much you two loved each other – that’s hope.”
She squeezes his shoulder one last time, and begins to lead Josh to the door. Just before she shuts it and goes on her way, she turns to Josh once more. “It will hurt like hell,” she begins, and this time her voice is even softer. “I mean, it probably already does. But…I’m thinking that that kind of love might even it out somehow.”
The door closes and Josh is left standing in the hallway, spent.
It’s 3:42 in the morning when they come to tell the family. The moment Josh sees the nurse from earlier walking towards them, he feels everything inside of him collapse and he knows.
He doesn’t hear the words she says, but he meets her gaze and he feels her sorrow, and he remembers her words from earlier. That kind of love might even it out somehow.
Josh knows she’s right, and he knows that he wouldn’t change any of this for the world. But later that morning, when he has returned home and waved off his tearful mother and curled himself under his blankets in the dark of his room and the pain hits, he also knows that his mother was right, all that time ago when she said he would hate loving Tyler Joseph.
He knows deep down that loving Tyler is the best thing he’s ever done, but that doesn’t make the pain go away. It only makes it worse.
Josh’s mom lets him stay in bed till the service. She finally opens all the curtains in his room and slides the glass open to let in fresh air as he shuffles to the bathroom to take his first shower in a week. He hates washing because he knows that the water is draining away with the last of Tyler left on his skin, but he’s supposed to speak at the service and he doesn’t want to make a bad impression for Tyler’s sake.
The service is not as depressing as Josh thought it would be, but he finds it hard to take solace in that fact. Maddie and Jay speak together, and then Zack, and then it’s Josh’s turn.
When he stands up in front of all those people, he feels so tired. But he speaks anyway. He tells a funny story and then a poignant story and then wraps it up by saying how strong Tyler was in those last months.
Josh has never been much for public speaking, but he feels the need to do Tyler justice to this room full of relatives who never knew the boy as well as he did.
At the end of the speeches, Zack announces that they are going to play a song Tyler wrote, a track that he recorded in his bedroom and they found burned onto a disc in his room. Josh feels a vague disapproval that they’re going to play this song without knowing if Tyler would be okay with it, and he also feels confused and slightly hurt that he didn’t know about the song.
But when it begins to play, Josh forgets about all of this because there are soft piano notes that Josh recognizes and then Tyler is singing the words – now the night is coming to an end – and it is his voice, his healthy voice, from back at the beginning when he was still not so sick, and Josh feels a jolt run through him even as he cries because he realizes that it is the song, it’s the song that he heard Tyler singing from his window, the night that Josh realized how lucky he was.
The song is short, but it seems to stretch into eternity, because Josh is finally coming to terms with the void that has been left by his best friend. He is by no means through the grief – there will be more of that, lakes and oceans and drowning seas of grief – but he is also remembering that almost overwhelming feeling that he had when he first heard this song.
Josh closes his eyes. Stay alive, stay alive for me. He thinks to himself that there will always be pain, always be an unanswerable grief for what he has lost. You will die, but now your life is free. But maybe love like this, like what he felt that night, maybe it can even out the weight of the world. Take pride in what is sure to die. Maybe there is no cure to this, and maybe that’s okay.
Josh is crying, and he knows that now that he has started, he will not stop for a very long time. But it is okay. “We are the luckiest goddamn bastards,” he whispers, closing his eyes.
He wouldn’t trade this for the world.