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crooked teeth and the night life

Chapter Text

"josh, i can't fucking take this anymore," debby was saying, wiping at her tear-stained cheeks as she struggles to keep her voice steady, her skinny shoulders shaking underneath her shirt. it was his, at one point, but she'd stolen it and he'd never really had the heart to take it back.

he supposes he should've seen this coming from a mile away. they weren't any good for each other - their relationship was poisonous for both of them, but the reality of the situation sinks in despite all the negotiations his mind was trying to make to keep her, hitting him like a freight train.

"is this it?" he asks instead, feeling achingly hollow.

he waits for the spiel about how it wasn't him, it was her, just like the last time they'd separated. it'd been months ago, but he should've stayed away, he shouldn't have come crawling back to her, begging for her forgiveness. he should've gotten away, should've left her when he had the chance because he knew they'd erupt into catastrophic flames once again.

he can see the same thing reflected in her eyes. regret and guilt and pain and emptiness swirling in her stomach like tidal waves.

she should have a million things to say, something to give him as parting words. instead, she shakes her head and blinks away the tears, curling over herself where she's huddled on the end of their shared bed. it had been theirs for a year; everything was theirs, because that's what you did when you intended to marry someone, you shared everything.

"i think so," she sniffled, rubbing at her nose. "i think this is it."

"okay." part of him wonders why he's not crying. part of him wonders why he'd waste his tears on her. "i'll pick up my stuff later."

her sobs echo through the apartment as he clutches his keys and wallet in hand, walking through the dark hallway to the door.

pictures line the wall; happy pictures of happy moments of happy people. he can't bear to look at them, because they all have him and her, smiling and laughing together within their frames. he swallows down his guilt (at what? was this his fault? god, he can't remember) as his hand curls around the unforgiving, cold metal of the door handle.

a drive will clear his mind so he can figure out what he's supposed to do know. he guesses that's another part of intending to marry someone; becoming so dependent on the other that you can't see your life without them. he swings the door open and breathes in the cold stillness of the night air, lets it rush across his cheeks and against his curly hair in short, chilled wisps. the sound of the door closing behind him solidifies everything that had taken place. he takes a second to understand that this is real, that this is happening, that there's no turning back from here. where is he to go, now? all he knows is behind that closed door, crying as she rolls in sheets that smell of him.

as he walks the path to his car, he figures he has two choices - he can rent a hotel for a night or go to his mother's house. the thought of his mother being completely overbearing as she worries over her son's well-being sends a fresh wave of anxiety to his mind. as much as he loves her, he doesn't know if his mind will be able to take it, in the current state of things.

a hotel room it is. he opens his car door and slithers his way behind the wheel, sinking into the seat as tides of exhaustion settle into his weary bones. keys in the ignition, the rumble of the engine, foot to the gas and hand on the stick-shift, and everything feels like maybe, it could be okay.

he drives down familiar streets, gazing at familiar surroundings, looking upon familiar street signs and familiar houses. he drives in silence, letting the quiet roll over and soak into his skin, his mind numbed and blank as he heads deeper into columbus.

he passes by a seedy looking bar nestled into the corner right next to a dark, unwelcoming alley, and he briefly considers stopping, getting a beer or two.

he hasn’t drank for a long, long while. he glances down at his wrist, clutching at the steering wheel, and looks at the scar that carries the memory of the last time he touched a bottle of anything alcoholic.

it was a bottle of whiskey and a few other things, and he’d like to remember what the burn felt like as it slid down his throat, slimy and feeling like he swallowed straight fire. but he keeps on keeping on, doesn’t move his foot from the gas pedal, and he drives away from that seedy looking bar.

he’d tried to hide the scar with a tattoo; a big sleeve with winding colors of a scene he didn’t really understand but felt drawn to, the meaning a mess of emotion and definition he couldn’t quite put words to. it felt like home and strength, his own symbol of survival drawn upon his skin, and that was enough for him. the scar was a bit too deep, a bit too long, and if you looked hard enough, you could still see its outline through the swirls of color.

bright city lights reflect off his windshield as the night drawls on.

he finds himself deep in the heart of the city he’d been born in, parked in front of a small coffee joint. a sign hangs in the window, glowing neon and boasting that it's open twenty-four hours a day; he guesses that he can stop for a while, at least until he figures out what, exactly, he plans to do.

it’s well past eleven pm as he parks his car and slides out of the seat, wandering his way up to the door. he catches his reflection’s eye in the glass and frowns; he looks like a mess, red hair sticking up at weird angles, and there’s soft purple bags contrasting against the pale skin under his eyes. his hand shakes a bit as he slides his fingers against the cold metal bar, pressing the door open and stumbling his way inside.

the air is warm in the shop, and has a slight tinge of cinnamon to it; he breathes in deeply, happy to be away from the stifling space of his car and his memories for even just a second. the shop is small, clustered with chairs and tables and couches, but there’s a certain feeling of familiarity and warmth about it, even though josh has never been here before and will likely never come back.

he scuffs the tile with his shoe as he walks up to the counter even though no one is present behind it. he waits, quietly fixing his shirt and leaning up against the wood, eyes flicking around the scenery.

for a moment, he stands in silence, eyes fixed on a clock ticking time by with quiet noises. then, he clears his throat, still leaned up against the counter like he owns the place.

“oh, shit,” he hears someone far off in the distance, and then a head pokes around the doorway behind the counter, followed by a lanky body clad in a green apron. josh is immediately drawn to the circles of black around his arm and wrist as he scampers to attention, tapping long, skinny fingers on the counter. "sorry about that," the boy says in a voice that’s surprisingly high-pitched and effeminate; josh straightens himself out, eyes flitting over his frame curiously. "we don't really expect many customers past nine until finals, y'know."

the nametag pinned to his apron claims him as tyler. josh eyes his tattoos once more before hesitantly raising his gaze to tyler’s face; brown eyes meet brown, and tyler shifts self-consciously at the eye contact.

“no problem,” josh grins easily. tyler’s face is round and soft and earnest, his eyes wide and unblinking. he reminds josh vaguely of an owl, with his big, doe eyes and quiet stare. then, he blinks, flashing a tired smile of crooked teeth at his customer as he settles comfortably against the counter.

his eyes raise to a chalkboard tacked to the wall above tyler’s head, coffee types and desserts sprawled in a neat script. he’s never really taken to liking coffee, but if he’s gonna keep driving to wherever he intends to go, he needs something sharp and caffeinated to keep him awake. “can i just get my coffee black?” he questions, gaze dropping back to tyler’s soft eyes. he could probably get used to seeing his face on a regular basis, he decided, but he didn’t want to focus on anything other than getting away from the demons prowling at his heels.

“mhm,” tyler hums, albeit a little taken back because usually the only people who ordered their coffee black were middle-aged men on their way to dead-end jobs, not pretty boys with messy hair and crinkly-eyed smiles.

josh begins to fish out his wallet, but tyler shakes his head softly, smiling when he shoots a confused look. “it’s on the house,” he explains softly, picking out a large cup and setting about to the coffee pot. “looks like you could use a break. what’s your name?”

“josh,” he replies, blinking carefully at tyler’s back as he pours coffee into a paper cup. he slaps on a lid and turns around with a bright-eyed, timid smile, pushing the cup toward him. “well, josh, here’s your coffee. i’m tyler.”

“thank you,” josh mumbles, breathing in the scent of fresh-brewed coffee. he makes his way to a warm corner of the store, settling into a worn-down yet still comfortable couch with his cup in his hands, sipping and watching tyler as he wipes down the counter with a dishtowel.

eventually, as josh drains his cup, tyler steps out from behind the counter and walks over to where josh is holed up at with the pot of coffee in his hand. “need a refill?” tyler smiles at him gently, and josh chuckles softly, handing over his cup.

he tops off the cup and sets the pot down on the table, passing over the cup before flopping down on the couch next to josh. “so, tell me about yourself,” he says, folding his hands into his lap neatly.

Chapter Text

the shop is different during the day. the neon sign still blinks hazily in the window, proclaiming it was still open twenty-four hours without fail. josh sits behind the wheel of his car, staring at the shop as he pulls the key out of the ignition; he finds himself wondering how, exactly, he’d persuaded himself into coming back to this part of town when his hotel room and his mother’s house was all the way on the opposite side.

he’d bet money on the fact that it probably (most definitely) had something to do with a certain brown-eyed barista that he couldn’t seem to get out of his head.

it’s a bit after noon, this time, when he swings his car door open, sighing heavily. he just doesn’t understand himself sometimes – he’d literally had the nastiest break-up the night before with his girlfriend, and now he was struck smitten by some barista he knew barely anything about. his name was tyler, he was twenty-five, he lived about ten minutes away from the coffee shop where he worked full-time, and yes, he was single.

as he approaches the door, thoughts of tyler swirl in his head, abruptly stopping once he catches his reflection in the glass again. he’s more well-groomed this time, hair as neat as it can be with his unruly curls, and his face freshly-shaved. what can he say? he likes to make good impressions.

the same brown-eyed barista is standing behind the counter now, looking half-asleep as he leans his upper body against the wood; he perks up at once when the bell above the door jingles, eyes darting around the room casually (as if he hadn’t just been falling asleep on his feet). a slow, gentle smile begins creeping across his face when his eyes land on josh, immediately standing up a little straighter.

josh smiles back in spite of himself, trailing his way slowly up to the counter.

“well, hello again, josh,” tyler hums once he’s within earshot, blinking a few times to clear his vision. josh is enamored by the soft flutter of his eyelashes against his tan cheeks, flicking his eyes away bashfully when tyler catches him staring. “what can i get for you?”

your number, josh’s mind supplies none too helpfully, debby forgotten from his mind as he appreciates tyler’s beauty. “hi,” he smiles sheepishly, face heating up as his cheeks undeniably turn pink. he’s only known tyler for about an hour and a half, collectively, and he’s already turning into a blushing, squirming mess in his presence. wonderful. “d’you have any pie?”

“cherry or apple?” tyler questions in turn, resting his elbow up on the counter and propping his chin up in his hand, eyes sparkling with an unknown emotion.

josh feigns a thoughtful face, making a tiny humming noise and scrunching his nose up. the light catches on the ring embedded in his nose and tyler is momentarily mesmerized; josh moves, suddenly, and tyler’s gaze snaps back to his eyes. “what do you like best?”

you, tyler thinks briefly, a rueful smile curling on his lips. “mm,” he sighs, tapping his index on his chin. “cherry.”

“you wanna split a cherry pie?” josh takes his chances, avoiding tyler’s eyes out of embarrassment by grappling his wallet out of his pocket.

when he glances up, shyly, tyler’s smiling softly at him, cheeks a faint red and burning. “yeah. it’s my treat, though,” he mumbles, rubbing at his face with his hand. “just one second.” he turns to the open doorway, willing his heart to calm down from its rapid beating, and shouts, “hey, jenna! i’m taking my lunch break!”

“okay!” a soft female voice calls back, and a head with straight blonde hair and blue eyes sparkling mischievously pokes its way around the doorway. “no longer than thirty minutes, ty-guy,” she mock-whispers, gaze moving to josh to drop him a wink, before disappearing again into the back room.

he’s a little confused, but he laughs slightly at the affronted look on tyler’s face. “ty-guy,” josh hums thoughtfully, his voice a teasing lilt as he folds his arms across the counter restlessly. tyler shoots him a half-hearted glare and rolls his eyes, fetching the pie from the display window and two forks from a cup on the counter. “come eat this damn pie with me.”

tyler steps out from behind his workplace, holding the pie in one hand and smoothing out his apron with the other. josh follows along with his head ducked bashfully, watching as tyler picks his way to a far corner of the room, settling himself into the couch that they’d shared last night. his face burns at the memory, once again, and he rebukes himself because he’s twenty-six, for christ’s sake, why could one guy turn him into such a bumbling mess? tyler’s gazing up at him expectantly, blinking softly, and josh’s heart beats rapid-fire inside his chest as he perches delicately on the opposite end of the couch.

tyler crosses his legs and leans toward josh, pressing a fork into his hands.

“y’know,” tyler mumbles as he breaks off a piece of pie and shoves it into his mouth, pausing to swallow. he catches josh’s inquisitive gaze as he places a forkful into his own mouth. “i’m glad you came back.”

josh wants to choke on his food and die. instead, he forces himself to swallow, his face feeling noticeably (and possibly looking) warmer as he gives tyler what he hopes is an appreciative smile. “i’m glad, too,” he mumbles, wrinkling his nose.

“are you blushing?” tyler teases, poking his fork in josh’s direction.

josh finds he can’t come up with a proper response, dropping his eyes and pressing his fork into the pie for any form of a distraction.

“hah. cute.”

josh’s eyes widen unhelpfully, and this time he does choke on the pie in his mouth. mercifully, the same blonde as before sweeps over to their table with a coffee pot and two cups in hand, saving him from having to formulate any worthwhile response. “hi, boys, i brought you some coffee,” she sighs in a tone that sounds overworked, brushing her hair off of her forehead with the palm of her hand. her eyes flit between tyler and josh curiously, but she says nothing more.

“thanks, jenna,” tyler grins, while josh coughs his lungs up, bent over the table. tyler brings a hand over and slaps his back, snickering amusedly when josh gives him a reproachful frown.

“behave yourselves,” jenna chirps in return, hands on her hips while she gives josh what seems like an approving glance. he’s unable to give much thought to it, as she’s flouncing away from the table within the next second to the door at the sound of the bell that signifies another customer walking into the shop.

tyler pushes the pie onto the table and snags a cup, pouring himself the coffee before tucking his legs up onto the couch’s cushion. he sips at the warm drink, eyeing josh when it seems he isn’t looking and admiring the small things about him – the freckles littering the bridge of his nose, the way he pokes his tongue out of the corner of his mouth in concentration when he breaks off a piece of pie, his adam’s apple bobbing when he swallows.

josh’s eyes flicker closed at the taste, humming softly with appreciation, and tyler’s smile grows even bigger, his heart seemingly a little fonder. his eyes reopen, landing on tyler; they widen, and his cheeks go red instantly, dropping his gaze to the pie in his hands.

tyler snickers softly, sipping at his coffee.

“didn’t your mother ever tell you staring was rude?” josh mumbles, lifting another forkful of pie up to his lips.

in the end, they spent a lot longer than thirty minutes together.

Chapter Text

debby had texted him once over the course of the past three days. once, to say she was sorry for what had happened. once, to ask when they could get together to decide which of their stuff went with who.

the reality of their break-up was too much to bear for right now. he was still wearing the clothes from the night of his departure, which was frankly, a little disgusting, but he couldn’t find it within himself to face her. he was too afraid of her eyes and smile and laugh, too afraid of wanting desperately to fall back into normality with her, too afraid of submitting into a relationship with her when they were too poisonous for each other.

he’d wanted to marry her, at one point, but now, he was disgusted by the thought of even being in the same room as her for more than a minute at a time. he had yet to respond to her text, however childish and selfish it felt to ignore her, only driving the stake of guilt farther into his heart.

he couldn’t see himself facing his mother yet, either. he didn’t know if he could handle her pitying and coddling him at this point in time; he kept telling himself he was fine, really, this wasn’t anything he hadn’t dealt with before. he could do this by himself because he was a grown man, damn it all.

he was a grown man, and that was why he had a good friend of his go to debby’s apartment (no longer theirs, as he’d grown accustomed to calling it over the past year) to pick up some clothes for him until he could force himself into going.

“she told me to tell you that you’re acting like a baby,” mark says, rolling his eyes. there’s a duffle bag slung over his shoulder as he stands in the doorway of josh’s hotel room, presumably filled with his clothes. “look, man, i get it. breakups are hard as fuck to get through, but you’re gonna have to face her at some point.”

josh huffs a long groan. “god, why do you always have to be right?” he scuffs at the carpet with his shoe, gratefully taking the bag from mark when he hands it over. “thanks for doing this for me, man.”

mark fixes him with a smug grin. “because i’m me, duh,” he narrowly avoids the half-hearted slap josh throws his way. “anyways, good luck. text me if you need me.”

“thanks again, mark,” josh replies as he swings the door closed. he drops the bag on the floor and drags himself over to the hotel bed, burying himself among the covers and pillows that smelled of cheap hotel detergent.

 

+

 

when josh wakes up, the sky has unleashed a downpour onto the city and the clock on the nightstand announces that it’s 4:36 in the afternoon. he rubs at his bleary vision and yawns, confused briefly by his surroundings.

the weight of everything begins to sink in again as he gradually wakes up, settling heavily into his bones. he heaves a sigh and sets about to jump in the shower and change, as his clothes are kind of growing disgusting, at this point.

he doesn’t really know where he’s heading as he locks the door of his hotel room behind him. he wants to be out of the stifling air of the hotel for even just a second; coffee actually sounds nice, now, with the weather the way that it is, and he actually knows of a nice little coffee shop on the other side of town.

he’s definitely not admitting why he’s actually going to the coffee shop, no sir.

josh hurries to avoid the rain once he steps out of the hotel’s lobby, sprinting to his car to avoid the brunt of the wetness. he practically jumps behind the wheel of his car and shoves the key into the ignition, momentarily excited at even the prospect of seeing tyler.

he fumbles with radio stations as he drives, but a song comes on that he used to sing with debby in the car when they were driving together. instantly, it leaves him with a bitter taste of regret in his mouth and a heavy feeling of sadness in his stomach, and he resolves to drive the rest of the way with only the sound of the rain against the windows.

he’s in no rush, now, as he parks his car in front of the small shop and opens his door. rain patters down softly against his head as he walks slowly up to the door, avoiding his eye in the glass’s reflection of himself. just looking at himself, wading in misery, would surely only make him feel even worse.

his steps lead him up to the counter. he stands there for a second in quiet silence, rain dripping down the bridge of his nose from his wet hair as he waits for someone to come and take his order, even if it’s not tyler this time. it could just as easily be jenna, or someone else who worked there.

fortunately, it is tyler. he’s fixing the back of his apron as he takes his place behind the counter, a big grin on his face as he looks at josh. “hm, i was wondering when you’d show up today,” tyler teases. “nice weather we’re having, huh?”

he feels like he should have some kind of joking response to give back, but his mind supplies nothing helpful in the slightest and he remains oddly silent. he brushes water off of his sweatshirt and crosses his arms across the counter, leaning his forehead against them with a heavy sigh.

luckily, tyler gets the hint. he frowns at the top of josh’s head in the sudden flip of emotions, wondering briefly what exactly to do.

“alright,” he sighs after a quiet pause, leaning over the countertop to stroke his fingers through the soft wetness of josh’s curls sympathetically. “go find a seat and i’ll make you a drink, okay? then we can talk and cry or whatever. deal?”

gently, josh lifts his head up off his arms. the corner of his lip quirks up admiringly, and he gives tyler as grateful a glance as he can muster. “deal. thanks, ty-guy.”

he swiftly turns himself around before he can catch tyler’s scathing response, snickering inwardly. acting on what seems to be instinct, he heads for the corner of the shop where he’d been for the previous two nights, flopping tiredly down onto the comfortably worn-down couch. he’s near the edge of sleep once again before he’s startled awake by a dip in the couch next to him; he blinks his hazy eyes at tyler, his lips curling up into a smile. “hi,” he mumbles, breaking off into a loud yawn.

“well, that’s attractive,” tyler chuckles as he sits down, tucking his long legs up underneath him and passing over one of the paper cups to josh. “i made hot cocoa. d’you wanna talk about it?”

josh breathes in the warmth and the scents of cinnamon, allowing the growing familiarity of tyler’s and the shop’s presence to soothe his frayed nerves. “god, not really,” he admits over the lid of the cup before taking a sip, the warmth of the cocoa spreading throughout his chest. “but i guess i should, if you don’t mind.”

“not really. took my lunch break for you,” tyler smiles softly, fondly, batting long eyelashes in josh’s direction. “so you’ve got as long as you want to talk to me. i’m glad you came to me,” he adds as an afterthought, almost shyly taking a long gulp from his cup.

josh’s cheeks heat up; his gaze flickers from tyler’s eyes to his lips and back to his eyes. he takes a deep breath, bracing himself, before launching into his story.

“well, you’re gonna need to face her at some point,” tyler says once he finishes, echoing mark’s words from earlier. his tongue lacks the sharpness of mark’s, however, his face laced with sympathy. “maybe the sooner you do it, the better.”

“i know,” josh groans, setting his empty cup onto the table before burying his face in his hands. “it’d be better for both of us, but i just – don’t want to look at her. like ever. and now i have to find a new place to stay because i don’t want to go to my mom’s, but i’d need a roommate and – ugh.” he uncovers his face, resting his chin in his hand with a disappointed glare set on his face.

tyler chokes on his coffee when he remembers that he’s gonna need a roommate, too, because jenna was moving out the next month to live with her girlfriend. he coughs, doubling over and narrowly avoiding banging his head on the edge of the table.

jenna is walking up to the table, watching the whole spectacle unfold with an amused smile on her face. josh sits in shocked silence beside him, unaware of what brought on the coughing fit.

“seems like every time i come over here, someone’s choking,” jenna quips once tyler is able to sit back up, his eyes streaming with tears.

“stop coming over here, then,” tyler reprimands once he’s able to breathe, his voice rougher than before.

she snorts, rolling her eyes. “do you want more to drink or not, dumbass?”

“actually, i should be going,” josh interjects, shooting her a grateful smile. “thank you, though.”

“aw, it was nice to see you again,” jenna grins back, blue eyes sparkling softly. “thanks for coming by and keeping tyler out of my hair.” she pokes her tongue out at her coworker before sweeping away to another table, animatedly jumping into conversation with the two girls sitting there.

tyler wipes at his face, heaving in a deep breath. “i’m fine, thanks for asking,” he pokes at josh’s thigh before standing, beckoning toward the door. “i’ll walk you outside.”

he follows along without response, a bit confused yet a little more confident about the situation with debby now that it was off his chest. outside, the rain has cleared; heavy, dark clouds hang in a faded grey sky, but he’s thankful for the break in rain. he turns to say goodbye to tyler as they step outside, but his words catch in his throat once he sees tyler scribbling something on a pad of paper.

he raises an eyebrow curiously as tyler rips the paper of the pad and presses it into josh’s hand once he outstretches his arm. “you should text me sometime,” tyler’s saying, but all josh can focus on are tyler’s fingers lingering on his knuckles. they roll smoothly over his skin as he pulls back, leaving the paper tucked secure in his grasp.

his touch leaves his skin prickling in its wake. josh stares dumbly at his hand for a heartbeat, at the white of the paper against the paleness of his skin; tyler’s number, it settles in, and everything’s moving a lot quicker than he’d ever expected it to.

“okay,” he mumbles, finalizing everything with his words as he clutches the slip of paper in his hand. he stares for a second longer, before dragging his eyes hesitantly up, up, up, to tyler’s gaze; he wants to drown in the color of his eyes, in the melted chocolate and warm cinnamon and hot cocoa. sweet things, just like tyler himself.

tyler grins, a slow, crooked-toothed smile that makes josh’s head feel all fuzzy around the edges. he’s overwhelmed and a little bit dizzy and he wants to grab tyler’s face and pull him closer, rub his thumbs over his sharp-edged cheekbones and kiss him all over, bite at his neck and suck bruises against his throat –

“i gotta get to work,” tyler’s high-pitched voice shatters his thoughts; he’s staring, unfocused, at the other boy’s pretty pink lips. he gives himself a tiny, indiscreet shake and feels the rustle of the paper against his palm, shocking him back into reality.

except, nothing feels real except tyler’s smile and tyler’s eyes and tyler’s hands as he waves him goodbye. “oh, right,” josh grins uneasily, tipping him a wave back with shaking fingertips. “thank you.”

tyler hums in affirmation that he heard him as he slides the door open and dissolves into a place that josh can’t follow him, right now. it’s a little shocking to discover that he’d probably follow tyler to the ends of the earth if he asked him to. his feet barely feel solid on the ground as he shakes himself into walking away from the coffee shop; then, with a jolt, he realizes for the second time that he has tyler’s number. his number, for christ’s sake.

he can’t remember what he had meant to do following their visit as he scurries his way to his car and slides his way into the seat, banging his head against the wheel in frustration. god, he’s so fucked.

Chapter Text

over the course of their breakup, however short a time it was that they’d been apart, josh hadn’t cried once.

debby had cried endlessly, it seemed. and, as a matter of fact, she was crying right now.

josh was unsure of what to do with himself. he stood stiffly in the doorway of what was once their shared bedroom, looking on awkwardly as tears rushed down her cheeks in soft, quiet waves. his mind was currently refusing to act logically; did he dare risk reaching out to comfort her? god knows she must’ve needed some form of touch, even if it was from the center and cause of all her grief.

man up, he tells himself. he hangs back for a second, doubtfully.                                                  

come on, josh. he forces himself forward, a little wobbly on his feet, and pauses to perch on the edge of her bed carefully. gently, he wraps an arm around her shoulder and pulls her softly against his chest.

her tears were silent before, but the moment he touched her, they came in wracking, heaving sobs. her entire body quivered within his arms as she finally quit holding back. “i don’t know where it all went wrong,” he heard her whisper, voice muffled, her face pressed against the fabric of his t-shirt.

josh pets her hair gently, runs his finger through her ginger locks and heaves a sigh. how many times had they been in this same position? her, crying, him, holding her? too many to count, he knows all too well. “i don’t know, deb,” he admits, smoothing his fingers over her shoulder blade. “shit happens, i guess.”

he half expects her to be angry at his words, for things to erupt into a screaming match like they used to, but nothing of the sort happens. she remains but a limp figure in his arms, until her tears slowly quell into nothing.

quietly, she sits herself back up and wipes at the wetness collected underneath her eyes. she gives him a sad, timid smile, one he can’t find within himself to return. “alright,” she mumbles. “let’s just – god, let’s get this over with.”

 

+

 

josh collects the rest of his clothes in suitcases and duffle bags. he picks up various items scattered around the apartment that belong to him; books he’d read one too many times, photos of happy times and happy memories, the clock his great-grandmother had left him in her will, a watch his father had given him, a stuffed animal debby had given him for their four-month anniversary, among many other things.

she keeps most, if not all, of the furniture. he doesn’t really have a place to put it, anyway, and he’s not sure if he wants it in his life. in a way, he feels leaving lighter, as if most of his problems have vanished with that one single interaction. it certainly makes his mind feel less heavy, now that he knew things between them were finished.

the clock on his dashboard reads 9:03 pm as he slides behind the wheel of his car and shifts it into gear. he thinks about turning on the radio, but can’t find any motivation to move – he feels completely emotionally drained, and that made physical action even harder.

he sighs as he drives, pondering about nothing in particular except when he would be checking out of his hotel room and what he could eat for dinner. his phone buzzes in his pocket and he jumps, slightly, in momentary shock; generally, he doesn’t text and drive, but his heart begins beating quicker at the thought of tyler texting him, and he immediately moves to fish his phone out of his pocket.

from: tyler, 9:04 pm

come watch movies with me?

josh raises his eyebrows in surprise and excitement, a nervous yet excited feeling wriggling in his gut. he feels vaguely like a teenage girl, he supposes, rolling his eyes at himself. this time, he giggles slightly (fucking giggles) when another text message comes through, containing an address and an apartment number.

i know where he lives now, he thinks, followed immediately by god, that’s fucking creepy, josh.

to: tyler, 9:05 pm

be there in 10

 

+

 

of all the times tyler had found himself up here on the roof of his apartment building, breathing in the frigid night air with hands tucked calmly into his jacket pockets, this was the first where he didn’t have the urge to jump off the edge and plummet to the ground.

this was, coincidentally, the first time where he wasn’t alone.

they’d been meaning to watch movies. at least, that was what josh had been expecting considering the text. however, when he’d knocked on the apartment door, there were fingers circled around his wrist as soon as the door was open and dragging him back toward the stairs, and tyler was calling over his shoulder, “i want to show you something.”

and how could he resist, with tyler’s fingers burning electricity against the skin of his wrist? he’d followed, utterly dumbstruck, up flights of stairs until tyler was swinging a door open and releasing his grip – they’d found themselves on the roof, standing side by side, chests heaving for breath.

now, tyler’s breath clouds out in front of him in short, quiet puffs, as he sits on the edge of his apartment building and dangles his feet into the empty air. thoughts of his own impending death are silent, for now, but not far off; he finds that all he can think clearly about is how beautiful josh looks sitting next to him underneath the night sky of dazzling stars.

from his red hair to his mocha eyes to the freckles across his nose to the pink tinting his cheeks in the coldness of columbus’ night weather, josh is beautiful. he twists his fingers together restlessly as he peers anxiously over the edge of the building, blissfully oblivious to tyler’s inquisitive eyes fixated on the side of his face.

tyler huddles deeper into his jacket to keep the bite of winter away from his pale skin and fragile bones, the tip of his nose barely poking out over the collar. his eyes trail longingly over josh’s lips without much intention and they linger there for longer than entirely necessary, as he’s quite unable (or maybe unwilling) to drag his gaze away. he’s locked in a mess of thoughts about how much he’d like to reach out and take josh’s face in his hands, to drown in the depths of his eyes, to kiss him senseless and leave him breathless.

the only thing stopping him is himself. he stays firm in sitting where he is, however, because josh is not his to kiss. not quite, however much he wishes.

tyler’s gaze still stays while his body doesn’t move, trailing the outline of the features on josh’s face and fruitlessly wishing that he was his. josh turns his head, and for the first time, he does not falter when their eyes meet. usually, he’d duck his head in systematic shyness following years and years of building up walls of self-consciousness. now, his cheeks tingle with heat and he can feel himself almost glowing with the red his blushing brings, but his eyes do not drop from tyler’s and he stares back, taking all of him in.

his short, fluffy hair and his soft, emotional doe eyes, the quirk at the corner of his lips as he smiles at josh. he’s everything and nothing, all at once, and it takes josh’s breath away in a way he’s never experienced.

tyler is the one to break their eye contact, eyes dropping to the concrete they sit upon that makes up the roof and then slowly to the street that stretches below their hanging feet.

“what’re you thinking about?” josh breathes, and the air hangs in front of him like fluffy white clouds as soon as the words leave his mouth.

you. always you, tyler thinks simply and easily. how easy and how quick it would be to break the silence that now falls between them, to tell josh everything he feels and thinks and wants all at once, but he holds his tongue because now doesn’t feel like the right time.

but if now, under a covering of stars on top of the building that tyler thought would end his life long before josh appeared, is not the right time, would it ever be? perhaps nothing would ever feel as perfect as it did, right at that moment, again. he doesn’t know if anything would be right to say, so nothing is said, on his accord; he tilts his chin up to the stars and josh follows the line of his sight to the inky swirls of blackness that make up the sky, dotted with the millions of sparkling white lights.

“the stars are beautiful,” tyler whispers, watching the air leave his mouth, even though it’s not entirely the stars he’s talking about.

“mm,” josh assents in a fragile hum, twisting his fingers again in a form of a nervous habit he’s not quite sure where he picked up.

when tyler turns his head again (because he can’t keep his eyes off him for even ten seconds), josh does not hesitate to meet him. he glows under the moonlight, his face red from either the cold or him blushing or maybe even both, brown eyes sparkling. he looks like an angel, with his soft features and tongue poking between his teeth as he smiles nervously and a red halo of messy, curly hair atop his skull.

josh finds himself thinking that it was amazing how one person could destroy him, break him down until he felt an empty, utter nothingness inside himself. how one person could take away the value he saw in himself and force him into spending years building up walls upon walls upon walls of self-protection. it’s amazing, to him, how one person could shatter his self-esteem and leave, laughing, at the sheltered, frightened child they had reduced him to.

yet again, at the same time, it was amazing how one person could make him feel like he mattered, like he was precious and beautiful and something to be treasured yet feared. how could one person take such a short time to help deconstruct the garden of thorns that surrounded his heart? how could josh trust him enough to allow him to peer into his soul? it’s amazing, to him, how one person could refuse to be scared by the darkness that swallowed him whole so long ago and continue to stick by him, because he, too, had some of the same darkness residing within himself.

and all tyler can think about is how much he wants to kiss him. he wants to kiss him under the stars and in the rain and in the warmth of his bedroom and waking up in the morning and watching the sun set, wants to kiss every inch of him until he begs for mercy, and god, he’s so fucking gone for this boy.

“hey, josh,” tyler mumbles, tucking himself deeper into his jacket, half out of embarrassment.

josh turns his wide-eyed gaze to him, a tentative smile flickering onto his lips. “yeah?”

“thanks for coming to watch movies with me.” tyler doesn’t even try to stop the goofy smile that crosses his face, breaking into an even wider grin when josh bursts out into laughter. maybe he is glad that he didn’t jump, after all, if it meant he got to spend time with josh.

Chapter Text

“d’you want to come inside for a bit?”

they’re standing in the threshold of tyler’s apartment, him inside the open doorway and josh standing just outside. his limbs are quivering helplessly because he’s freezing; the chill seems to have soaked under his skin and into his bones from the amount of time they’d spent on the roof together.

tyler’s nose is tinged pink and his cheeks are bitten red with the cold and his doe eyes are wide, brimming with hope. he’s positively adorable, shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot as he waits for an answer.

josh would like very much to think he’d say no, even for just a second, but he knows that he doesn’t have it in him to refuse tyler anything. “yeah,” he says finally, clearing his throat and offering a grateful smile. “i’d like that.”

the apartment smells curiously, but barely surprisingly, of coffee beans and cinnamon. tyler strips off his coat the second he closes the door behind himself, rubbing at his arms with chattering teeth as he sets about to the thermostat.

“make yourself at home,” he mumbles, skinny fingers fumbling with the dial. he shoots josh a grin and gestures around the space. “mi casa es su casa, and all that.”

there’s a couch shoved in the corner of the room with a flat-screen perched comfortably in front of it.

that’s where josh finds himself holed up half an hour later, tyler on his right side and a large blanket draped across their laps. there’s a movie playing in the background that josh can’t remember the name of; he hasn’t been paying much attention to anything that’s going on around him, too preoccupied with tyler’s presence less than six inches away from him. he can barely focus on the images flashing by on the tv screen, his eyes flickering away every five seconds to glance at tyler next to him.

once, his eyes stay for a bit too long, and tyler turns his head to meet him. he cocks an eyebrow in question but josh can’t find anything worthwhile to say; he averts his gaze back to the tv sheepishly, and tyler snickers softly next to him.

“didn’t your mother ever tell you staring was rude?” he quips teasingly, echoing josh’s words from a previous night spent together.

josh glares at him, poking his tongue out unenthusiastically. tyler merely rolls his eyes, shuffling deeper underneath the blanket as josh tries to return his attention to the movie.

tyler’s eyes remain on him, dropping from his face to his arm and the tattoo there. he wonders briefly what it means to him and if he’d be particularly offended if he touched the ink; before he can really stop himself (and because he never really thinks things through), he’s reaching out and trailing his fingers over josh’s tattoo.

movie all but forgotten, josh’s head turns slowly to tyler’s hand and his wide-blown eyes follow the trail tyler is moving up his arm.

“i was wondering what your tattoo meant,” tyler mumbles, voice soft as his fingers trace over the interwoven lines of color on top of the scar josh had tried so desperately to hide. his fingertips move fluidly over the curvature of his wrist and josh’s heart races, his breath coming short and quick; his skin burns under his touch, had felt like electricity since the moment tyler’s hand had come into contact with his skin.

usually, he’d feel the need to brush of the question with a vague answer and jump into another conversation. he wasn’t particularly fond of talking about his tattoo or what it meant, considering he didn’t really even know.

this time, under tyler’s gentle eyes and careful fingertips, he doesn’t feel any pressure to run. he relaxes into tyler’s touch, finds himself leaning into it as he calms his rapid breathing and fast heartbeat. he clears his throat and tyler’s eyes raise to meet his; time slows and they melt into each other’s gazes, his hand curling softly over josh’s wrist. it feels to josh like it’s belonged there all along.

a slow, tentative smile crosses tyler’s lips and josh finds that he can’t breathe properly. he blinks unsteadily for a second and sucks in the warm air, drawing a deep sigh from his chest.

“you don’t have to tell me about it,” tyler breaks the silence first, removing his hand quietly and curling back into himself under the blanket. “was just curious, that’s all.”

josh misses his touch instantaneously. his skin still tingles where tyler’s hand had been, and he swears he can still feel the press of his fingertips against the skin of his wrist. he takes another deep breath, closing his eyes as he hesitantly draws the details, faded around the edges like old photographs, back to his mind.

“i got it last year,” he begins, opening his eyes and twisting his wrist around to admire the fluidity of the ink that adorns his skin. he can feel tyler’s eyes burning holes into the side of his face, wide open with curiosity lurking in their depths, and he struggles to keep his voice steady.

“uh, it was a little after the first time debby and i broke up. i was – um, i was a pretty heavy drinker, i guess. i mean, i used alcohol to solve all my problems. it started in high school and it got bad. when we were dating, she kept wanting me to get help, go to rehab, or something –“ he pauses to swallow down his nerves, voice quivering unhelpfully as he continues. “she thought she could fix me at first. but it got too big for either of us to handle and she – uh, she left me.”

he clears his throat and shakes his head slowly; he can taste the bitter salt of tears in his throat, the prick of wetness gathering at the corner of his eyes. “she left me one night. i didn’t really know what to do, so i just – i drank, and i drank, and i drank until i couldn’t see a foot in front of me. i broke one of the bottles on the kitchen counter and i –“ his voice breaks. “i just. i carved my wrist up. i didn’t want to be alive anymore. i hoped it would be enough to kill me.”

a pause. silence hangs in the air, heavy and dark and ringing with bitter regret; josh’s throat clicks when he swallows, and he can’t bring himself to face tyler as he blinks away the sting of unshed tears. “she forgot her keys and she came back to get them. found me there on the kitchen floor bleeding to death, and i guess i was talking about how much i loved her.”

tyler inhales sharply next to him and reaches out to touch his wrist.

something within him breaks at the simple contact.

one second, he’s sitting upright, trying his damnedest not to cry.

and the next, he finds himself pulled flush against tyler’s chest as he sobs, guttural and wailing; hands are stroking up and down his spine and lips are pressed to his ear, mumbling something soft and calming.

it seems that when he cries, his mind makes it appear as if it could be never-ending. he feels as if he’s drowning in his lapses of tears that roll like tidal waves for hours when they only last for minutes.

all the while, tyler clutches him close without complaint. somewhere along the line, josh cries himself out and falls asleep against the comfort of tyler’s chest to the soft beating of his heart, hidden safe between his ribcage, a lullaby for his exhausted mind.

Chapter Text

a movie plays on low volume, distant in the background. it's forgotten from their world, at the moment, two boys sitting rigid next to each other, one in the midst of a panic attack.

tyler's never been on the other side of a panic attack. he's had them, before, way too many times to count on his own two hands since he was twelve years old. this is a first, actually watching one, seeing what it looks like, and he's frozen in place for a split second without any inclination of what he's supposed to do.

what would jenna do if you were having one right now?

and that seems to fix his train of thought. he reaches out to touch josh's wrist, to say something comforting; words hang on the tip of his tongue but they're cut short by josh suddenly wailing, tears rushing down his cheeks in loud, frightened waves.

do something, tyler. and he does. he pulls josh close to him, flush against his chest, and whispers things next to his ear that he barely hears himself saying. words fall from his mouth without stopping, tyler’s hands rolling up and down josh’s clothed back until the crying slows enough for him to be able to hear his own thoughts.

quiet.

the movie continues to play.

tyler hums soothingly into josh's ear, tucking him closer against the softness of his chest as he smoothes his quivering fingers over his spine. he's scared, he realizes breathlessly, terrified at the sudden turn in events. he's never seen josh like this before and it's shaken him to his very core.

a wet patch is glistening on his collarbone from josh’s tears. he swallows, throat clicking.

he moves one of his hands to twine his fingers through josh's rumpled curls fondly, listening patiently to his breathing evening out, lulling into calmness.

for a moment, tyler ponders about breaking their silence, asking if he’d like to stay the night. he stops, breath stopping entirely as he hears a tiny snore fall from josh’s mouth. he’s asleep, surprisingly, head tucked comfortably against the junction where tyler’s shoulder meet his neck; his breath tickles against tyler’s skin in tiny whispers, hands clenched in the fabric of his shirt.

gently, tyler trails his fingers through josh’s hair and rests his nose against his forehead, inhaling quietly. for now, this could be alright.

the movie rolls in the distance with josh tucked against tyler's chest, both bathed in silver moonlight from the open window. and he, too, falls asleep.

Chapter Text

soft pink sunlight filters in through the open window on the other side of the room. tyler wakes up slowly, to unfamiliar surroundings from the normality of his bedroom, a harsh pain in his neck from the angle he’s been sleeping in and the promise of a headache lingering around the edges of his skull.

he feels a little more than pleasantly warm, and there’s something heavy lying on his chest. warily, he cracks open an eye and blinks blearily into the too-bright morning, jaws parting in a exhausted yawn.

quite unwilling to drag himself out from under the tides of sleep, he blinks uncertainly a few more times until his vision clears; he tries to shuffle around into a more comfortable position to ease the crick in his neck and maybe fall back asleep, but finds himself unable to move much.

alright, that’s strange, and just enough to get him the rest of the way awake. he opens his eyes fully this time and sees another body curled up on top of his chest, head tucked into his shoulder and snoring lightly against his throat. red curls tickle the underneath of tyler’s chin and he inhales in surprise when he realizes that it’s none other than josh laying on him.

“oh,” he mumbles before he can stop himself, and josh shifts slightly, eyelids fluttering. for a moment, tyler is stunned and confused, drowsily trying to recount the events of the previous night. his arms are rested upon the expanse of josh’s lower back, fingers tucked into the fabric of his shirt, and he subconsciously pulls josh closer to him as memories flood his tired mind.

his thoughts slowly begin to click into place like pieces of a puzzle. his heart thunders in his chest as he gazes upon their forms, tangled together on his couch; there’s an uncertain feeling crawling underneath his skin, his fingers tingling as they brush over josh’s warm back.

and god, he wants to stay like this until the end of time.

unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, for the sake of getting this situation over with quicker), he doesn’t get a chance.

josh stirs, inhaling a shaking breath and pressing his face up to tyler’s throat. as if realizing something seems off about the situation, he recoils slightly, eyes flickering open uncertainly about his surroundings. “tyler,” he mumbles softly, sounding as if he meant to ask his name as a question but it came out as a statement.

tyler can’t breathe.

he forces himself to draw in the warm air around him, to be able to dignify josh with a response.

“hey, j,” he sighs after a quiet pause, tightening his arms where they’re still lax on josh’s lower back without thought. “was just about to wake you up.” (he ignores the fact that he’s a liar, that he was completely going to stay there until josh woke up by himself, because he still wants to be here forever).

“i’m sorry about all this,” josh says quietly, slightly muffled as his lips are still pressed against the skin of tyler’s neck (even though he doesn’t feel sorry and he doesn’t have any inclination to move).

he shivers involuntarily, rubbing his palm against josh’s lower back because he can’t find anything else to do with himself. “i don’t mind.” and for once, he really doesn’t.

+

breakfast is strawberry pancakes and sticky sweet syrup and crunchy-crispy bacon and cinnamon coffee (which josh has never thought he’d like, but tyler apparently loves it and he just had to try it and god, it was good). their world is potent with the sound of clattering silverware scraping against porcelain plates, the scent and sound of bacon sizzling in a pan as tyler stands over a stove with a spatula in hand.

he’s humming something soft and pretty as he flips the bacon, and josh’s heart tugs fondly as he shoves more of the almost sickeningly sweet pancake in his mouth. tyler’s a really damn good cook, alright – he’s regretfully on his third pancake and he kind of wants a fourth, but he thinks he might die if he eats any more.

“you’re a really good cook,” josh echoes his own thoughts (for the second time) once he swallows, his mouth tasting something like the strawberry candy he used to eat as a kid.

“so you’ve said,” tyler quips; he turns his head slightly to flash josh a lopsided smile over his shoulder before sticking a piece of bacon between his teeth. “thank you.”

josh finishes off his plate, and groans as he rests his forehead on the kitchen table, the beginning of a stomachache rolling deep inside himself. “so good,” he whines, letting his eyes slide closed. he could probably sleep right then and there, if he was being honest with himself.

tyler snorts half-heartedly, piling the rest of the bacon on a plate. “poor baby,” he rolls his eyes, sweeping over to collect josh’s plate from the table. almost as an afterthought, with the plate in hand, he reaches out and ruffles josh’s curls sweetly.

at the same moment, jenna finds it upon herself to wander into the kitchen in a t-shirt and basketball shorts that are a little big on her hips. “g’morning,” she mumbles, rubbing at her eyes with the heel of her palm and eyeing the two of them curiously. mercifully, she says nothing, making her way over to the coffee pot.

“morning, jenna.” tyler pulls his hand away from josh’s hair and he feels the loss of his touch ache deep in his chest. he dumps the plate in the sink and leans up against the counter, watching as she pours herself a cup of coffee.

for a second, the room is draped in a comfortable, companionable silence. another girl pokes her way through the doorway after jenna. josh’s head raises off the table enough to look at her, wondering who exactly she is; she instantly goes to jenna and burrows her face against her neck. it’s a sweet gesture, and tyler’s looking on at the two of them with a tiny smile.

“hey, debby,” jenna smiles endearingly at her, wrapping an arm around her waist and pressing a kiss to the top of her head. she’s wearing a shirt that’s hanging loosely off one of her shoulders, and from what he can see, there’s tons of pretty little hickeys embedded into the skin of her freckled back.

his heart stops. everything about her is too familiar; from her wavy hair falling over her shoulders, the shape of her hips and her hands and the sound of her voice as she whispers good morning to jenna, to her fucking name. debby.

“oh, fuck,” josh whispers before he really even comprehends what is happening.

she whips around in surprise at the sound of his voice, ripping away from jenna’s embrace, hair falling into her wide-open eyes. her mouth parts, as if she wants to say something, before slamming closed; he can hear the click of her jaw from where he’s sitting.

he wants to puke. everything about this rings wrong.

“josh,” she says instantly, because after all the time they spent falling in and out of love, it’s almost as if they can read each other’s minds. “hang on –“

but he doesn’t want to know what she’s about to say. he stands mechanically and he leaves as quick as possible.

“what the fuck was that?” jenna hisses in a voice that’s supposed to be secretive, but josh can hear her all the way from the living room. he stumbles his way to the front door shakily and throws himself outside, seemingly unable to pull in enough oxygen from the stifling air around him.

tyler glances between debby, absolutely horror-stricken, and jenna, her expression unreadable. his gaze trails after the empty space where josh had been sitting a second previous and he’s stuck, for a moment, before forcing himself into motion and following after him.

he finds the door open; he closes it behind himself, looking around the scenery before his eyes land on josh. he’s sat up against the wall, knees tucked up to his chest and head resting on the tops, arms linked loosely around his ankles. his heart gives a physical ache that leaves him breathless. “josh,” he says softly, but he doesn’t stir.

at the sound of tyler's voice, the tears josh had been trying to hold back begin to fall silently. he presses his face closer to his thighs, sniffling softly as he tries desperately to hold himself together.

tyler crosses the few steps to be by his side. he slides down the wall to sit next to him, keeping his distance but staying close enough so that josh knows that he’s there if he needs him. seconds stretch into minutes, and it’s silent except for the noise of someone’s tv playing and birds chirping in the trees. they sit, side by side, nothing being said until tyler thinks his head might explode from tension and josh feels like he’s drowning in his thoughts again.

he raises his head tentatively, blinking against the sunlight before raising a hand to rub at the tears staining his flushed cheeks. tyler turns to look at him and thinks that if hearts could shatter, this could quite possibly be what that felt like. the helplessness, the anger, the desperation, and the anguish displayed in josh’s watery eyes all at once hit him with a physical force, like a punch to the gut.

“i’m just glad she’s happy,” josh whispers after a second of holding tyler’s gaze, and that’s what hurts tyler the most.

Chapter Text

“josh, i still love you.”

it’s been raining outside most of the day in grey-skied, dismal columbus. josh watches the tiny drops of rain race by on the window, staring past to the outside world rather than looking at debby’s face. they’re seated in a little café not far from debby’s (once theirs, his mind reminds him bitterly) apartment, about a five minute walk away – it proved to be the most neutral point to meet at and discuss what was to be of them.

he finds that he can barely stand to look at her anymore. her words don’t sting as much as they used to, even though he still resents what she’s done; it’s finally soaked in that no matter how much his anxiety tells him he could’ve, there was nothing he could’ve done to fix their relationship. they were toxic for each other long before the moment he tried to kill himself.

she only stayed because of that incident. he knows it well. she loves him, just like he loves her, but she only continued dating him past that point because she was scared of him trying to attempt suicide again.

“josh?”

he never responded to her.

“did you hear me?”

“yes, i heard you,” he says, finally, dragging his gaze away from the window to focus hesitantly on her face. the beautiful girl he’d been so helplessly in love with, and once upon a time, the girl he foolishly thought he’d end up spending the rest of his life with.

only to find out she broke up with him the second time because she’d fallen in love with someone else, too. she didn’t cheat on him, no, she wanted to make that clear from the start – she never cheated on him, but it would’ve caused them both too much pain if she had stayed.

debby clears her throat, rubs her hands together and gives josh a pleading look. he doesn’t quite understand what she wants him to say. that he loves her? he did, but he couldn’t force the words out of his mouth, and the thought made him want to be sick. that he forgave her? truthfully, he didn’t, but they were too far gone now to backtrack.

“i’m glad you’re happy,” he decides, heaving in a deep, shaking breath. her eyes flash with surprise, her mouth parting quietly like she wants to speak – she says nothing, however, her eyebrows drawing together in confusion and her lips closing tiredly.

she blinks once, returning her hands to her lap. “i am,” she says, wincing as if she regrets the words the moment they leave her mouth. josh wants to be angry, to feel something other than the despairing emptiness in his chest, but nothing comes to him.

he draws in a deep breath, turning once again to the window. “good,” he mumbles, eyes falling on a pigeon hopping around the sidewalk in search of food. he wants to say he’s happy, that he’s doing fine without her, but nothing of the sort is true. he’s a mess, and he’s only been this unhappy once before in this entire life, when she first left him. he could desperately use a drink, right about now.

you don’t need a drink. you know how hard it was to quit. and deep within himself, he knows he’s right. josh’s gaze moves to her, staying for a brief moment; the side of her head is turned away, her eyes focused on something outside. there’s a bite mark on the side of her throat, red in color and quite angry looking, helping to do nothing but fan the flame burning in his stomach.

josh would very much like to throw up so he at least had an excuse to leave the table. either that or he would burst into tears. neither of those options sounded particularly pleasant.

“josh, i’m gonna go.”

surprised at her voice, he glances up from where he’s been staring stupidly at his hands crossed in his lap. they flicker to his untouched coffee cup on the table and up to her form; she’s staring at him nervously and maybe even disappointedly, her phone grasped within her hands. “jenna wants to meet me for lunch.”

the mention of jenna’s name makes his stomach twist up with unease. it only serves to be a reminder of how much better off she was without him, how much happier she was now. “okay,” he replies mechanically, numbly. “goodbye.”

“be careful, josh.” she doesn’t say it, but he can hear the inflection in her tone – don’t try and kill yourself again. like he’s a child.

and with that, she’s gone from his sight.

he takes his phone, and he calls tyler.

+

“you look like shit.”

josh has the grace to smile, running a hand through his rain-wet hair tiredly and letting it rest against his skull for a brief pause. tyler stands lazily in the doorway of his apartment, arms crossed over his chest and hip cocked jauntily to the left.

“well,” he sighs, heaving himself up into a standing position and casting josh a gentle smile. “i’m glad you called me. come inside and i’ll make coffee.”

he still isn’t the biggest fan of coffee ever, never really has been. however, drinking the syrupy, sticky, overly sweet liquid is worth it all, even if he isn’t particularly fond of the taste half the time. anything could be worth everything if it meant he could experience the feeling of tyler’s fingers brushing against his skin as he passes over a cup, his tiny lopsided smile shining at him through the steam, the gentle hum of appreciation he gives as he drinks in the scents and flavors of artificial cinnamon.

they’re sat in tyler’s kitchen atop red barstools, bathed in the shine of fluorescent light bulbs. nothing much has been said between them since josh arrived, just tiny snippets of brief conversation. however, they find that nothing really does need to be said; the quiet pause is comfortable to them, the sound of rain pattering against the windows playing softly in the background.

josh looks to tyler. his eyes are closed, face turned to the window above the kitchen sink and mug raised to his lips as he drinks his coffee. he’s beautiful, sitting there in the peaceful silence, with all of his angular features and fluttering, long lashes against his sharp-edged cheekbones.

he wants to say just how beautiful he finds tyler, but he bites his tongue before he can because the last person he called beautiful was debby and the thought of her digs the knife in his back even deeper.

he turns his head away so quickly that his neck aches in protest; his brows furrow immediately, hands fumbling nervously as he shoves his cup onto the counter and away from him.

tyler’s head moves to him in surprise, eyes widening of their own accord in the sudden shift of atmosphere. he reaches out carefully, resting his hands lightly on josh’s wrist.

his skin sets aflame at tyler’s touch. he looks at him once more, his mind buzzing with incoherent thoughts.

“you okay, josh?” he’s asking, but josh can’t focus on anything other than the way tyler’s lips form his name like that’s what they were always meant to do.

josh can’t breathe. all of the air he had in his lungs is now lodged in his throat and he stops blinking, stops moving, stops thinking, stops seeing anything other than tyler’s mouth.

“i want to kiss you,” josh admits, the words coming out without any hesitation, a mechanical movement. it’s all he’s wanted to do for the past week and it’s all he thinks about anymore. he wants to know what tyler’s lips feel like against his, what he tastes like, wants to kiss every square inch of his skin.

“then do it.”

all of the air that seemed nonexistent before rushes back into his system, sudden and intoxicating. he nearly chokes, his chest stuttering. “what?” he asks, blinking dumbly before finally raising his eyes to tyler’s. he’s smiling just barely, gaze shining with unknown emotion, their cups abandoned on the counter next to them.

“kiss me.”

Chapter Text

“kiss me.”

and, for a moment, he hesitates, because tyler isn’t his to kiss.

but the way he’s looking at him, all wide doe eyes and timid smiles and rose-tinted cheeks, feels more like home than anything ever has in his entire life. even more than debby or his family or his friends or anything ever had.

kiss him, josh. and for once, he listens to his thoughts.

he leans in and tyler meets him halfway, his hand still wrapped around his wrist; he grips josh’s skin a little tighter and laughs breathlessly just before their mouths meet.

there aren’t any fireworks following their first kiss like all the romance novels josh had read described. there isn’t a spark between them at the touch of their lips. kissing tyler isn’t anything like he expected – it’s so much different and so much more than what he’d ever felt when he kissed debby.

kissing tyler feels like he’s right where he’s supposed to be. every tiny brush of their lips sends him tipping over a precipice that resonates a finality he’s never experienced. and when they separate several seconds later, josh feels like he has an all new purpose.

by the look in tyler’s eyes, josh knows he can feel it, too.

+

there’s abandoned coffee cups leaving rings on the wood of the table in tyler’s living room. they’ve been sitting there for a few hours, now, once fresh-brewed and hot to the touch (when they were first brought in early that afternoon when him and josh had relocated from the kitchen).

now, they’re stone cold and practically untouched by either of their hands since they’d been poured; they’re doomed to sit in the darkness of night until tyler pulls himself together enough to drain them into the kitchen sink the following morning.

for now, he has no motivation to do anything, all of his energy seemingly sapped from his body. he can’t sleep, and that’s not an unusual thing, really. most of the time, he’s kept awake half the night by his anxiety and overwhelming thoughts. contrarily, it’s an unusual thing for him to get a restful night of sleep.

his thoughts are blank and his bones are weary and his skin feels heavy wrapped over his frame. he closes his eyes numerous times, waiting to be drawn under tides of sleep like the lull of ocean waves, but it never does come and he finds himself in the same position. sitting in his living room with his chin tilted against his chest, blinking open bloodshot eyes to gaze at full cups of coffee he made that’ll never be drank, bathed in a silent darkness that makes his ears ring, and a blanket draped across his lap.

and he’s tired. he knows he’s tired. everything within him screams out his weariness, but his body still refuses to shut down. he’s trapped in a vicious cycle of restlessness even though he doesn’t really move; the only thing that does are his eyes, as they flicker about his surroundings. (the shadows on the walls cast from the streetlights outside, cut into geometrical patterns from the screen of his open window; the coffee cups that he’ll eventually have to scrub clean from letting them sit that long; josh sleeping on the opposite end of his couch. josh. joshjoshjosh.)

he feels more awake now. he rocks his head forward and groans at the pain in his neck from the angle he’s been sat too long in, hazy eyes focusing on josh (his best friend? boyfriend? anything?). a twinge of jealously shoots up his spine at the fact that josh can sleep and he can’t, trapped in this limbo state between feeling half-dead and just a little bit alive, enough to keep on breathing.

and that’s a ridiculous thing to be envious about, but his eyes narrow anyways at the other boy’s sleeping form. he’s half-covered in a blanket and curled in on himself, frayed red hair fanned out above his head on the pillow like a halo, mouth hanging open and eyes scrunched close.

tyler smiles something tiny and sweet to himself as he readjusts his blanket and throws his head back against the couch. that boy’s a real piece of work.

and when he wakes up in the shine of a raspberry sunrise, never having realized that he’d fallen asleep, that boy is gone.

Chapter Text

when josh wakes up, tyler is dead asleep.

his neck is craned against the couch in a way that can't be in the slightest bit comfortable, pretty lips parted, tiny little snores falling past.

josh remembers what it's like to kiss those lips; he touches his mouth fondly, smiles against his fingertips.

i love you, he thinks, and his eyes widen. he's way more awake than he was two seconds ago. wait, josh, what the fuck?

and then, clearly, as if he hadn't heard himself think of it before - i love you.

he loves tyler. there's no way in hell he can deny it.

he needs a breath of fresh air. he'll get breakfast for them both; a walk will clear his head. he'll be able to think things over better, think of what to do with himself from that point forward.

+

the door closing echoes behind him. he moves into the kitchen and calls, “ty, i brought donuts!”

the empty room echoes his words. he glances around the kitchen curiously, placing the bag from the café down the street on top of the table before calling tyler’s name again.

it’s a possibility that he could still be crashed out on the couch. he pokes his head into the living room, but finds only another empty space, void of life; the coffee cups from the night before are still on the table.

“tyler?” josh questions again, louder than the previous two times. he doesn’t really know what he expects, as the four blank walls around him give no response or even any indication that tyler was ever there at all.

he pulls his phone out of his pocket and dials tyler’s number. there’s a static thirty seconds of ringing, tyler’s voicemail instructing him to call again, and no answer.

it’s strange, and it’s frightening; he’d stepped out for twenty minutes to get breakfast for the both of them and tyler had disappeared from the apartment entirely. he carefully searches it, calling his name every now and then, trying to push away the thoughts that this could probably count as trespassing as he knocks on the bedroom door.

he tries the handle and it turns easily under his hand, giving way; he pokes his head around the doorframe. the room is pristine, with a neatly made bed and a clean floor that he can actually walk through (it’s so different to josh’s messy nest that he calls his room; debby used to yell at him for hours on end about his bad habits). the pastel blue blankets and matching pillowcases look like they haven’t been touched in days. it’s almost surreal.

“tyler?” he calls out again, in case he might be in the adjoining bathroom. no response, his voice echoing through the empty room, bouncing off of the white walls. they’re void of paintings and pictures, and it’s so strange to see; he’s used to having things hanging on the walls, but tyler obviously has no affinity to such things.

he closes the door, leaving everything like he found it, and wanders his way back to the living room.

a curious, morbid thought arises to him, and his eyes widen, freezing in his tracks.

and then he’s bolting out the front door, slamming it behind him, and taking the stairs two at a time.

+

he wrenches the door to the roof open, panting heavily; the air doesn’t seem to be getting all the way to his lungs in his panic, but he finds him.

he finds tyler on the roof.

his t-shirt, too big for his frame, hangs off his skinny shoulders and rustles slightly in the wind; his head is bowed and he’s sitting on the concrete edge of the roof.

he sits bolt upright at the noise of the door creaking on its hinges and bouncing off the wall, nearly hitting josh on the shoulder; he ducks out of the way and carefully, steadily approaches tyler. he’s scared beyond belief, his heart racing and his eyes watering slightly; fuck being scared, he’s terrified.

tyler’s eyes narrow at the sight of him. he swallows, and josh can see his throat working from where he’s standing, stuck in his tracks.

he clears his throat and whispers, tiny, timid voice almost carried away by the breeze, “i thought you left.”

there’s so much emptiness in his voice, so much hollowness swimming in the depths of his eyes, that josh realizes tyler is more broken than he could’ve ever imagined.

he can’t find the words to say what he wants. his brain is running in too many different directions at once, and he can’t summon a single cohesive thought to give.

tyler’s eyes are still fixed upon him. josh says nothing, standing there with the edges of his body outlined by the bright shine of the sun, looking down on his best friend sitting at the end of the roof.

what would’ve happened if he had showed up just a minute later?

tyler looks away, to the street stretched out beneath his feet. “it’s okay if you did. everyone does.”

“tyler, i would never leave you,” the words spill out of josh’s mouth before he’s even aware he’s speaking, immediately taking a step closer. he wants him away from the roof, away from the danger and the terror that lurks there, away from whatever’s inside his head that’s put him up there once more.

tyler lets out a disbelieving huff, turning his body further away from josh. he buries his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking, and josh’s heart leaps up into his throat as he realizes that tyler is crying.

“tyler –” josh mumbles, carefully taking another step. he needs to get off this roof before he does something even more drastic.

“go away, josh.” his voice is muffled by his palms pressed to his face.

“tyler, please –“

leave, josh!” this time, tyler screams and his voice cracks on his name, wrenching his hands away from his face and snapping his head around to glare at the boy standing less than a foot away from him. his eyes glisten with tears and he blinks rapidly, shaking his head jerkily to try to get them to go away. he’s the strong one, he’s always been the strong one, it’s not okay for him to break like this. he can’t have anyone see him like this. “just fucking go!”

it’s the first time tyler’s ever raised his voice like that, the first time he’s lost all semblance of his gentle self, and it terrifies josh even further, shakes him down to his core.

he chokes on the air that doesn’t seem to be getting all the way to his head. he can feel the onslaught of a panic attack and he does his best to force it away, to keep himself strong and standing because tyler needs him like he’s never needed anyone before.

“tyler, please,” he murmurs, taking another step, trying to pace himself; he wants nothing more than to run to his side and pull him away forcefully, but he knows that it would just end up worse than he could ever even begin to imagine. he has to be patient. there’s a way to fix this. there has to be. he can’t lose him. “you don’t want to do this.”

tyler scoffs once more, somehow coming across as even more disbelieving than the first time; he curls further in on himself, swinging his feet like a child sitting on a chair where his toes don’t quite touch the ground.

“tyler,” he begins again, voice a little clearer. another step. “i can’t lose you. i’m not leaving you. i’d never leave you, i promise.”

another sniffle on tyler’s part, another step on josh’s.

“i’m sorry,” he says, eyes glazing over as he stares at the ground. one push, it’s all he needs.

he pushes himself. and he falls.

Chapter Text

falling is the purest thing tyler has ever felt.

he feels like he’s flying, for once; like he has suddenly grown wings. pure, wide and white, soft and beautiful as he soars through the sky. the rush of wind ruffles his hair and his newfound, fluffy wings, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

crunch.

in the end, it turns out he was very much a flightless bird.

+

josh wasn’t aware he could scream as loud as he did, in that moment.

it’s like one second, tyler is there – he’s whispering an apology, and josh wants to ask what for, but the words never leave the tip of his tongue. he’s there, and then he’s not, and he’s falling, and josh is screaming.

+

phone calls, stairs, screaming, running, crying, heart pounding. he wants to rip the fucker out of his chest.

red is josh’s favorite color. most of his closet is red, his favorite snapback is red, his hair is red.

but red looks bad when it’s spread out from tyler’s cracked skull, fanned out from his hair like a halo, slowly leaking onto the pavement and turning concrete a vibrant crimson; it’s sickening and josh falls onto his knees and he throws up for god knows how long.

hours, it feels like, until his chest stops heaving and his lungs stop aching. his throat burns and his entire mouth tastes like bile.

he throws up again when he looks at tyler again. he’s not fucking breathing.

a crowd gathers on the sidewalk. they’re all talking at once.

there’s a matching emotion in every single one of their eyes. it’s panic; someone is yelling to call nine-one-one, and the joke’s on them, because he already did.

he wipes his mouth off with the back of his hand and he spreads his fingers over tyler’s still chest, pressing the heels of his palms against his ribcage.

staying alive, staying alive.

+

ambulance. someone is yelling, sirens are flashing, everything is too loud.

he’s gone into sensory overload. someone yanks him away from tyler and he screams again, voice hoarse; the sound is brittle and weak and he thrashes in their arms, repeatedly shouting out tyler’s name.

stand back, sir, we need to give him cpr.

he wants to scream that he was already giving him cpr, he was trying to keep his stupid heart fucking beating, but he goes limp in the person’s arms. he doesn’t have any fight left in his bones.

are you coming, sir?

he blinks, and the next time he looks up, tyler’s body is spread across a stretcher. there’s a pool of blood where he used to lay on the sidewalk and nothing more, no more evidence that he was even there before at all.

he nods. he’s coming. someone is still holding him. he thanks them and it’s a feminine voice who replies when she says, you’re welcome, sir.

“my name is josh,” he says emptily as he clambers into the back of the ambulance. the doors slam behind him and people bustle around him; the noisy beep of machines fill his ears as they attach all sorts of tubes to tyler’s body, prod him and poke him and talk to him like he can hear them.

he knows that tyler’s too far gone to hear anything.

+

the last time he was in a hospital, he’d broken his arm.

he was young and stupid and he’d climbed all the way to the top of a tree despite his parents saying get down from there before you hurt yourself, tyler.

but who was he if he wasn’t a rebellious child?

no, he wanted to climb. he wanted to feel free, so he climbed higher, higher, higher. all the way to the top.

and how he fell.

it was the first time he’d sprouted his wings, and it wasn’t the last.

hazy memories fade in and out of his mind. he doesn’t really know where he is, but he doesn’t like it; he thinks he can hear someone familiar talking to him, saying come back to me, tyler.

he’ll try his best to find his way out of the dark. it’s not taking him prisoner, not tonight.

+

the walls are white. the sheets are white. everything is white. everything smells sterile.

josh fucking hates it. he hates hospitals and he hates the fact that he’s sitting in a waiting room chair, every part of him uncomfortable and aching.

if white had a smell, it would be the smell of a hospital. the old man in the room next to tyler’s intensive care unit is dying; he’d been in a car accident, and josh feels like he’s not going to make the night.

he just wants to see tyler.

he’s been here for three hours. no one has updated him on his condition and half of him feels like he’ll live, that he’ll be okay, and they’ll go on chasing their happily ever after because they’re young and in love.

the other half of him knows that happily ever after is bullshit.

+

he didn’t realize how annoyingly agonizing the sound of a clock ticking was until it was the only thing he could focus on. his thoughts were too scattered, and his hands were twitching placed upon his thighs; he’s been staring at the clock on the wall (white, like everything in this godforsaken place) for lack of anything better to do, watching time slowly turn into nothing.

three hours? no, it’s been four. it’s bordering on five.

a man dressed in white sweeps past him and he snaps to attention, but there’s nothing for him there. no news, no update, and it sinks so heavily in his chest that tyler is dying and he can’t be there for him.

the old man in the room next to tyler’s dies half an hour later.

+

coma.

another man dressed in white, who’s actually here with news for josh; he’s a doctor. josh doesn’t know his name. he’d said it, but he was too busy panicking. all he knows is that someone had called him mr. dun and asked if he was here for tyler joseph. he’d said he was, yes, and he’d met a man with paper-thin lips that were pursed when he’d informed josh that tyler was in a coma.

he doesn’t hear much else.

coma.

tyler is in a coma.

+

the nurse is sweet, round-faced and wide-eyed when she says, “we don’t know much about comas, honey, but there’s a good chance he could still be hearing you if you talk to him.”

she bustles around the room, opening the curtains to let in the sunlight on tyler’s battered frame; most of him is wrapped in sterile white gauze, parts of him casted. they’ve shaved his head and there’s a row of stitches at the back of his skull. josh loves his hair, hates the fact that it’s gone and he won’t get to run his hands through it for a long, long while.

the nurse leaves – she’d said her name, too, but he wasn’t listening. from the moment he pushed the door open, it was straight to tyler’s side to assess the damage.

she’d given him a list of injuries, but he wasn’t listening.

tyler’s in a coma. there’s a good chance he could still hear him, though.

so he sits by his side, slides their hands together and marvels at how perfectly they fit, pressed up palm to palm, and he talks. oh, he talks for hours.

and he tells tyler he loves him almost every other sentence.

Chapter Text

i love you, i love you, i love you.

these words guide him through the dark.

his world is lit up by distant flashes of memory. they’re never clear, and always hazy around the edges, threatening to slip away into the darkness forever. he wonders if he has a voice, in this world; he tries to speak, but nothing comes out, and he’s not sure of what he even wanted to say in the first place.

maybe that he loves the voice back. he likes their voice. it’s familiar and it’s beautiful and he wants to hear it for the rest of his life. he’s lucky, because they never really stop talking; they talk about things that tyler can barely hear, their tone a dull, wonderful drone as he gazes up at memories of his family and his childhood.

the memory of him breaking his arm flashes, when he fell from the highest point of the tree, and it scares him.

where has he gone to?

i love you.

+

jenna has not slept in three days.

coincidentally, her best friend has been in a coma for three days.

she came the moment josh called her, in a flurry of tears; she’d almost gotten a speeding ticket, too, had gotten pulled over on the way to the hospital. in the end, she’d gained a police escort when he’d seen how serious the situation was.

she’d ran into the waiting room, frantically asking for tyler, but she didn’t find him. no, she found josh, and they immediately fell into each other’s arms, each of them crying.

and they had waited, side by side. but josh didn’t talk for the entire five hours it took for someone to come and tell them tyler’s condition, just stared at the clock on the wall and lost himself in his own world.

he only came out of that world when the doctor introduced himself and ran them by tyler’s ‘condition’, as his hollow voice had called it. a list of injuries was briefly prattled off, the most prominent being a broken leg, and hip. plus the fact that the entire right side of his ribcage had been fractured in his fall.

josh headed right inside the door, practically forcing himself past the doctor; the noise he made was almost inhumane as he gazed upon tyler’s broken, mangled body, and he immediately burst into tears, rushing to be by his side.

she stood outside, one hand on the door as she tried to prepare herself. but no amount of preparation could have helped her with what she saw.

+

the nurse was very sweet, and jenna liked her.

she hugged jenna and patted her shoulder and talked to tyler like he was conscious; and for all they knew, he very well could’ve been. who was to say he couldn’t hear what they were talking about? any sort of negativity was immediately banned from the room.

she called tyler’s parents, despite the hospital already having doing so; she offered her condolences, updated them on tyler’s status, all the while josh sat by his side, holding his hand and constantly talking to him.

when will you be here?

we were on vacation in hawaii. we’ll be there as soon as possible.

+

josh is lost in his own world.

tyler is, too.

i love you.

but who are you?

he has to know who the voice is. he has to know who loves him. he feels like he loves them, too, in the deepest parts of himself; he knows them from somewhere, sometime, someplace. he needs them.

his memories are growing more distant, more faded, more hazy. they’re few and far between, and they come quick and fade so fast that he barely remembers what he sees when they’re over and he’s drowning in the darkness once more. he recognizes voices, sometimes, talking to him; the voice who says they love him constantly, his mother and his father, jenna, maddy, jay, zack.

come back to us, tyler.

he’s trying.

+

four days.

tyler’s been in a coma for four days.

josh doesn’t sleep very often, and when he does, it’s riddled with nightmares and he wakes up with his heart pounding, always holding tyler’s hand. but he never wakes up, doesn’t blink or move or squeeze josh’s hand back. there’s no response and the more time passes, the scarier it gets.

he hasn’t showered in four days. tyler’s parents flew in yesterday, and they take turns looking over their son; one of them is always in the room if the other leaves. they bring each other food or coffee and he bags underneath everyone’s eyes grow darker and deeper as more time passes. no one can sleep.

“come back to us, tyler,” josh whispers once, at two am when he can’t sleep; jenna’s sprawled in a chair next to his bed, greasy hair pulled up into a bun piled high at the top of her head. tyler’s parents have an inflatable mattress shoved in the corner that they sleep on, and josh has hardly vacated the chair he’s in at the moment since he’d been able to go into the room. it’s cramped, but they make it work.

jay, zack, and maddy show up at odd intervals, sometimes all at once, sometimes only once at a time. there’s worry deep in their eyes as they brush their hands over the unharmed parts of tyler that are okay to touch, whisper that they love him; maddy’s fond of kissing his forehead and telling him to get better soon, because she misses him.

there’s a limit on how many people are allowed in the room at a time. they’re almost breaking it. sometimes, they do, if they’re all there at once, but tyler needs them.

+

i miss you, ty.

i miss you, too, maddy, tyler thinks, voice echoing in the empty room. he’s figured out that he can’t speak, as he doesn’t exactly have a physical form, but his thoughts come across just fine. it’s a break from the unbearable silence in the darkness, as he’s lucky if he gets any memories at all anymore. i’ll be back soon.

i love you, says the voice.

but who are you? i need to know who you are. i think i love you, too.

the one that hurts the most is his mother’s voice. please come back to us soon.

i will, mama, i’m trying so hard.

tyler, i miss you so much, jenna whispers when she thinks everyone is asleep. her voice is always so soft that sometimes, tyler almost misses it. he’s so glad that he never has.

oh, jenna, i miss you too. i’ll paint your nails when i come back, i promise. i know you like that.

he hopes he comes back soon. he doesn’t know how long he can stand the darkness.

the memories aren’t coming anymore.

+

“we haven’t gotten any response,” the doctor tells the group gathered. his pale white face conveys no emotion, lips always pressed in a tight line as he delivers the most devastating news out of the entire five days they’ve been waiting.

as if they don’t know. they’ve all been here. they know there’s no response.

tyler’s mother sobs.

jenna comforts her, to no avail.

tyler’s father calls maddy to update her, and maddy tells zack and jay, eventually.

josh holds tyler’s hand. “we need you to come back now,” he mumbles. he’s getting desperate. “please, ty, fuck. i don’t know how to do this without you.”

+

the voice calls him ty.

usually, his mother is the only one who calls him ty; it’s very, very confusing. the last time he speaks, there’s no ‘i love you’ tacked onto the end, like there always has been.

what’s happening? where are you going?

don’t leave me, please, i don’t know how to do this without you, either.

a memory appears, right after his last thoughts echo through the room. it’s the darkest one yet, and he can barely see anything happening; it clears up, very, very slowly.

it’s a bright, toothy smile, straight and perfect. followed by hazel, rounded eyes, crinkled at the edges. and finally, bright, fire engine red hair, slowly fading into brown roots.

and a name occurs to tyler’s mind.

josh.

i love you, tyler.

i love you, josh.

+

six days.

six days and it feels like maybe, just maybe, tyler won’t fucking wake up.

josh wants to scream. he’s losing it, and it’s coming all at once; he can’t do anything normal, he barely eats, he doesn’t shower, he just talks aimlessly to tyler even though he can’t fucking hear him and he begins hating himself and he hates tyler for jumping just a little bit. he’s forgotten how to be normal, he just wants him so back, and it’s fucking killing him.

why’d you jump, tyler? why’d you have to jump? we need you. i need you. i can’t do this without you.

+

why’d you jump, tyler?

josh is angry. he’s angry, and he’s belligerent, and anger is clouding the dark space tyler has grown accustomed to. how long has he been here, anyway? he’ll have to ask someone when he comes home.

why’d you have to jump?

i don’t know. i don’t know what you mean. where’d i jump from?

he doesn’t remember anything outside of the clips of memories, and the occasional feeling that clouds his space; right now, it’s anger, and it rolls in deep waves that feel red.

how does a color have a feeling? he doesn’t know, but red is definitely associated with anger, now.

don’t be mad, josh. i’m trying to come home. i’m sorry for jumping, even if i don’t know where i jumped from.

+

“i’m going to get some extra clothes,” josh announces. he’s stopped holding tyler’s hand, and he’s actually moving around; he showered and he feels cleaner than before. jenna smiles at him easily; he’s come out of that scary world he locked himself in for so long (six days) and he’s coping. tyler will come back to them soon, she’s so sure of it.

tyler’s not coming back, josh is so sure of it.

he’s lost him. he’s lost him entirely and it’s all his fault and he doesn’t deserve to fucking breathe anymore.

he ripped the most beautiful person away from himself, from his family, from the world; he doesn’t deserve to be alive if tyler isn’t. god, if you give them tyler back, i’ll give you me, he prays as he drives; he hasn’t prayed in god knows how long, but he swears that god can have him if they just give his family tyler back.

he’s caused so much unnecessary pain.

+

god, if you give them tyler back, i’ll give you me.

where are you going, josh? don’t do anything stupid. i’m trying to come back to you.

+

josh is convinced this is the right answer.

the last time he was up here was six days ago.

the red patch of blood is gone entirely; it has either rained or someone washed it away. he wants to see it again, to remind himself that this is real, that tyler actually jumped and is laying in a hospital bed, withering away.

real? what’s real? is he real? he stretches his hands out in front of him, glances over his fingers, squints his eyes at them. they don’t look real. they don’t feel real. he’s not real. this isn’t real.

if he jumps, it’s not real.

i’m coming, tyler.

+

i’m coming, tyler.

where are you coming to? this place is scary. i don’t want to be here anymore.

+

he toes the edge of the roof warily. not real, not real, not real.

something buzzes in his pocket; is that real?

feels real. could be.

he fishes around and finds a phone. it’s steady in his hand when he grips it. real.

incoming call.

tyler’s mom.

“hello?”

“josh, where the fuck are you? he’s waking up.”

Chapter Text

the darkness is scary.

it’s suffocating, closing in on him like walls, choking him; he doesn’t even have a physical body anymore, how can he be breathing?

he wants out, he wants out, he wants out.

something is beeping and someone is Y E L L I N G but why are they Y E L L I N G who is Y E L L I N G

white.

white, white, white.

+

“he’s waking up!”

“where’s josh?”

“i’ll call him –“

“someone get the nurse!”

“tyler, can you hear me?”

“he’s choking!”

+

he’s blind, he thinks for a split second.

all he sees is white. is this what being blind is like?

he blinks twice, but nothing but whiteness.

he’s blind. interesting. he’s always wondered what that’s like, to be blind.

static fills his ears.

is he deaf, too?

is he even alive, right now?

is this death? is this heaven? is this hell?

nothing but the white in his eyes, and the static ringing in his ears?

he wants the darkness back. he likes his memories much better.

+

the first thing tyler does when he comes around is choke on the feeding tube shoved down his throat. the nurse carefully retracts it from his stomach and he breathes, coughs, chokes on the air flooding his lungs suddenly.

“oh, thank god,” jenna gasps, fresh tears filling her eyes.

he feebly blinks, twitches, gasps, and then passes back out.

“at least he woke up,” the nurse sighs, patting his mother’s shoulder sympathetically. “it’s a good thing. he should come around pretty soon.”

+

he hates the color white.

it’s his least favorite color, and it’s surrounding him.

he’s drowning in a sea of white. this is hell. he’s convinced it’s hell.

all he has are his own thoughts. his family no longer speaks to him. his memories don’t play. josh doesn’t talk to him. where have they all gone?

this is hell.

+

two hours.

josh returns within five minutes after almost jumping. he’s twitching and crying, and he collapses on the edge of the bed, shivering. “is he dead?” he croaks, twisting his fingers up into his hair and pulling. he should’ve jumped.

“no,” jenna mumbles. her voice is concerned, and he doesn’t have to look to know her face is pained and worried. “he’s just sleeping. he’ll come around.”

+

i’d like to come back now, please.

get rid of the fucking white.

i can’t take it.

what did i do to deserve this?

i’m sorry.

please just let me see something else.

please.

please,

please?

i’m sorry.

+

he can feel himself blink. funny. he doesn’t have a physical form, how can he blink?

but he does it again, and again, and the ringing in his ears is lifting. many voices are talking all at once, shouting, almost, but he still only sees white. maybe he is blind. maybe his body has returned to him, but he lost his eyesight somehow.

i fell, didn’t i? i fell again. i remember this, when i first fell.

he can’t feel his wings anymore. he blinks, and his eyelashes flutter. the white begins to clear. am i not blind?

“he’s waking up,” a clear voice. jenna’s, high-pitched and like a peal of bells. she’s excited. he must be the one waking up. they’ve been waiting for him.

he blinks, and he sees many faces. they crowd him, looking down at him, all blinking at him owlishly. he smiles.

and then comes the pain.

it wracks every part of his body, sets his nerves aflame, and he tries to scream, but all that comes out is a hoarse croak. make it stop, make it stop, make it stop

his eyes squeeze closed, one of the only parts of him that don’t hurt, and tears roll down his pallid cheeks.

“i’m administering more pain medication.”

it burns. it burns, burns, burns, burns.

and then he feels nothing, but a dull sort of ache.

he’s tired.

goodnight.

Chapter Text

one, two, three.

three hours since tyler woke up, choking on his feeding tube.

the first thing he did was smile at everyone surrounding him, and it’s amazing to josh. the boy almost died, and the first thing he does when he comes back to reality is smile.

he’s ignoring the fact that his smile was completely warped into an open-mouthed, silent howl of agonized pain within just two seconds of waking up. he’s still a little (read: completely) awe-stricken that tyler’s first instinct was to smile.

that smile is etched into his mind. so is the grimace that contorted his beautiful features into something tortured when his body caught up to current time and realized just how much pain he was in.

broken leg, broken hip, one half of his ribcage fractured. josh can’t even begin to fathom what that must feel like. he almost wishes that the fall would’ve killed him, just to spare him the agony.

he shakes his head, attempting to derail his thoughts, but it fails. if tyler had died on impact, they’d both end up dead at the same fate, jumping off of the same edge of the same roof. maybe they’d meet up again in the afterlife. he hopes they do, at some point in the distant future.

or maybe not so distant. who knows? life has a funny way out fucking with you.

“josh,” jenna says, and her voice is sweet, but she can’t hide her emotions to save her poor, forsaken soul for any cost in the world. she’s riddled with concern, for tyler, and for josh, and maybe even for herself. maybe she thinks that she caused all of this, somehow. but she didn’t, no, that was all on josh’s head.

he unlatches his hand from tyler’s, ignores how empty the gesture makes him feel. he’s grown too dependent on tyler, just like he grew too dependent on debby. look where that had gotten him; he glances vaguely at the tree imprinted onto his arm. a steady reminder in his day-to-day life. he’s a fuck up, that’s the only thing he knows for sure.

that, and he loves tyler. two things he knows for certain. it’s strange.

“jenna,” he replies, sliding his tongue behind his teeth. where she’s bad at hiding her emotions, he’s good at controlling his, when it’s not at the heat of the moment. that’s a different story.

“where did you go?”

oh, off to kill myself. wait, you can’t say that; she won’t understand. she almost lost tyler, josh, you selfish prick, you think she can handle losing you, too?

“went to go get clothes,” he uses the same lie as before, three hours ago, when he’d up and left out of the blue. how close he’d come to just being reduced to a pile of smashed, brittle and broken bones and ruby red blood painting the grey concrete. so, so close. “i came back as soon as she called me.”

for the first time, they’re the only two in the room. tyler’s parents had left to go get some peace of mind in the cafeteria, he figures; maddy and jay are at school, and zack’s working. he’ll be around as soon as his shift ends.

no response. does she know he’s lying? no way she knows he’s lying.

she cracks an uneasy smile. “okay,” she responds, but it’s weak. she knows something’s up, just can’t quite put a finger on it yet. imagine if she’d been able to. and then, quietly, “josh, we love you. you know that, right?”

he does. he smiles, and it’s bright, toothy, genuine. “yes,” he says. “i love you guys, too.”

+

four hours is torture. four hours since tyler woke up. four hours, four hours.

he waited five the last time. he doesn’t know if he can’t wait five again. he wants tyler awake now. he misses him.

“i miss you, ty,” he sighs, leans back in his chair and kicks his feet up on the edge of the bed, mindful of jostling any of tyler’s bandaged, broken bones. he runs a hand through his hair, turns the frayed locks over his fingers and he waits. jenna’s asleep in the chair again. she sleeps a lot. josh won’t blame her.

tyler wakes up at four and a half hours. it’s almost exactly on the dot when he stirs; josh snaps to attention, nearly falls out of his chair in his haste to look at him, lips already parted to call his nurse.

he still doesn’t know her name. it’d be impolite to ask, at this point. she knows his name. he’s an unfortunate person, really.

the flutter of his eyelashes over his cheeks, the roll of his eyes under the lids, is enamoring. josh could watch it forever. his peace is shattered when tyler coughs, eyes flickering open groggily; he’s pumped full of pain meds, and it won’t be long until they start trying to wean him off of them.

even with the medication, he’s still going to be in for a world of hurt.

he frowns, blinks at the ceiling with a groan; his lips purse in distaste and he lets out another hoarse, crackly sort of whine. he throat must be dry.

josh uncaps the bottle of water by his bedside, leans into his peripheral vision and tips the bottle up to his lips. he sips, softly, and then begins coughing; his body wracks with the effort and he sobs out in pain, eyes squeezing closed.

the sight makes josh physically ache, as well. it’s sickening. he wants to throw up.

but he doesn’t. he cards his fingers through tyler’s hair and scratches his scalp as reassuringly as possible as he coughs up his lungs.

“hi, ty,” josh murmurs once his coughing fit ceases; he blinks up at josh unseeingly, eyes watery and hazy. he looks like he’s in so much pain and josh knows he is; there’s a lump in his throat and an ache in his chest. he just wants tyler to be okay, but they’re a far way off from even beginning to be okay. “i’m so glad you’re awake.”

tyler, on the other side, is not. “josh,” he whispers, voice tired and strained. “hurts. bad.”

“i know, sugar,” josh sighs, gently pressing his fingers against tyler’s scalp in geometric patterns to attempt to soothe him. “i’ll ask if we can get more pain meds, okay?”

“okay.” he’s not registering anything josh is saying. he won’t for a while. “m’sleepy.”

“go ahead and sleep, baby, i’ll be here when you wake up.”

“okay.”

he’s out like a light.

and josh waits.

Chapter Text

waiting is all he really does anymore.

it comes and goes in random intervals, for long, extended periods of time; tyler’s pumped full of so many medications to keep the worst of the pain away that when he wakes, it’s only for two or three minutes at a time, never more than five.

josh waits for hours on end for him to wake back up, just to see an exhausted smile every time he blinks open his eyes, greeting those in the room in a voice cracked and hoarse with sleep and disuse. it’s usually just him and jenna in the room, as his parents have gone back to work, but sometimes they’ll be there, and tyler’s eyes shine with emotion and possible tears as his mother pushes the hair back from his forehead and tells him how much she loves him.

as always, he’ll turn to josh and outstretch his hand, and josh will take it, hold it and stroke feather-light patterns into his skin. “you’re here,” he says, just two simple words, but they carry the weight of the world.

josh will nod and grin and mumble, “i never left.”

and then it’s back to waiting.

+

as the days stretch into nights and the nights stretch into weeks, tyler stays awake longer.

his face is always peaceful when he wakes up, but it contorts into anguish from his trauma as his body reminds him that they’re still healing.

every time he wakes up, he always wishes the fall would have killed him. he doesn’t know how long he can bear the agony put on his body, even on all of these medications; he can barely shift without tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. his only solace is his sleep, where he dreams about his family and a boy with faded red hair and a perfect smile.

he always expects josh to have left by the time he wakes up. but he never does. he’s always in his chair, feet propped up on the edge of the bed, doing something with his hands; either on his phone, or reading, glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose as he envelops himself in a land of fiction that’s so much better than the current reality of his life.

tyler never knew josh wore glasses. he wakes up, once, blissful; it’s suddenly wiped away by severe torment that twists his face into a mask of misery. josh snaps his book closed with an audible thud, leaning toward tyler and absently pushing the frames back into place on the bridge of his nose. “hey, beauty,” he greets him, and tyler manages to smile through the pain.

he truly does feel beautiful when josh looks at him. he reaches out a hand, and josh intertwines their fingers, listening to his uneven breathing slowly quell into something less rattling and pained. he thinks maybe tyler’s gone back to sleep, if his eyelashes fluttering over his cheeks is anything to go by, but he blinks them back open and gazes over josh’s face curiously.

“c’mere,” he rasps, tugging his hand out of josh’s grip; he leans in further, and tyler cups his jaw with one hand, sliding his thumb over his bottom lip. he huffs a laugh and tyler smiles. “didn’t know you wore glasses.”

josh seems surprised at the fact that he’s wearing glasses; he must have forgotten that he had them on. he’s not a big fan of the way they fit his face, but he uses them occasionally for reading. “oh, yeah,” he dismisses with a wave of his hand, slightly embarrassed.

“they look good.” tyler coughs softly, wincing as he shifts around before offering josh a tiny smile, glancing around the room. they’re alone. “where is everyone?”

“jay and maddy are at school, zack’s working, and jenna ran to get us some coffee,” josh relaxes into the chair, reaching for tyler’s hand and tangling their fingers back together. “i can text her if you want something?”

“i’m okay,” he blinks appreciatively at josh, squeezing his hand and ignoring the dull ache his shoulder gives in return. “it’s good to see you. i’ve missed you.”

“i’ve missed you, too,” josh replies instinctively, because it’s all he’s been able to think about for the past four and a half hours; he lean forward and lifts tyler’s hand to his mouth, pressing a kiss to every one of his knuckles. a steady flush rises into tyler’s cheeks and he laughs, lilting and sweet. “i’m glad you’re awake. how are you feeling?”

“not gonna lie, not feeling too great.” a half-hearted shrug, followed by a wince as his fractured ribs are jostled about; he clears his throat, blinking away sudden hot tears of pain that begin pricking at the corners of his eyes.

josh’s mouth pulls down in a frown, and he sighs, squeezing tyler’s hand and kissing his skin softly. “i’m sorry, baby,” he murmurs, voice gentle as he noses over a peculiar scar on the outside of his wrist. “nurse said we can’t give you anything else. wish we could, i really do.”

“hey,” tyler sighs, doing his best to smile reassuringly at josh; the boy worries too much, and it makes his heart ache for him. he hates the fact that he’s the main source of his troubles. “it’s okay. i’m healing. i’ll be better in no time, just you wait.”

wait. josh hates waiting, but he’d wait for the end of time if tyler so much as asked.

Chapter Text

three weeks.

tyler stays in the hospital for three weeks.

it’s a constant battle to do anything; shower, use the bathroom, even change, and he hates every minute of it.

he hates not being able to be dependent on himself. he hates having to be utterly helpless; it’s either jenna or josh undressing him (embarrassing), bathing him (all around strange), wheeling him around the hospital when he gets sick of his bed (sometimes fun), among other things.

although, not every part of it is bad; josh breaks rules for him, has wheelchair races with jenna and him down the halls when it’s late at night. he never leaves when tyler is awake, but he leaves sometimes when he’s asleep. he’s never alone. someone is always by his side.

it makes him realize how foolish he’d been, trying to kill himself over his trivial fear of being alone.

he’s happy, now. even though the hospital is overbearing sometimes, with all of his injuries, the staff is kind toward him and josh is always there to hold his hand when it feels like things are going to get to be too much.

the day he leaves is like a breath of fresh air.

the nurses that have been there with him since day one are tearful as they wave him goodbye; he’s in another wheelchair issued by the hospital until his hip heals enough for him to be able to use crutches. he hopes that day comes soon.

josh is pushing him down the halls, jenna by his side; he’s surprised how many of the staff know him, how many of them wave and wish him good luck. one even stops them to give him a hug, always mindful of his ribcage; she whispers in his ear, “i don’t want to see you back here again. take care of yourself,” before departing with a wave to josh.

he informs him that she was one of the nurses who saved his life. the nurse that held him as he panicked, promised him everything would be okay; her word had stayed true, throughout everything. he’s very grateful to her.

tyler is, too. after all, he does owe her his life, in some ways.

the sun is bright when the main doors open, welcoming them to the outside; it’s beautiful and warm, kissing tyler’s skin as he blinks, taking it all in.

he’s alive.

he’s breathing.

he’s fine.

his life will go on.

after all, he used to say he wanted to die before he was old, but because of josh, he might think twice.