Josh dreamed about one of the worst nights of his life.
If you asked him, it would be too soon if they never returned to Reading again. He saw the crowd, nearly twenty-thousand strong and out of control, in his mind's eye. From the start of the set, everything had gone wrong. Josh and Tyler had both been on edge by the time they reached “Car Radio” – Ty's baby, his moment to let loose and do something really out there, that was when it went from bad to hell...
Crowd surfing was nothing Tyler hadn't done before but, for some unknown reason, that night was the wrong night, the wrong crowd. In the strange way that dreams were, Josh knew what would happen if Tyler put himself at the mercy of that rowdy, drunken crowd – knew, but was powerless to stop it. He watched helplessly as his best friend removed his microphone, the only lifeline he had.
Josh's hands and feet acted of their own accord, pounding out the familiar beat, even as his mind screamed to stop.
“Yo!” Tyler said, voice amplified across the packed field. “I need to get there.” He pointed to the elevated pedestal halfway across the sea of bodies. Then, he did something Josh would never forgive him for: he threw himself face-first into that sea.
At first, it looked as though everything would be okay. Tyler began to crawl, assisted by the fans beneath him, and Josh allowed himself to believe that this time would be different. This time, the crowd would deliver Ty safely. This time, Josh would be spared the agony of watching the wave of fans list to the right; of watching in mute horror as his best friend disappeared beneath the crest of the wave.
Except, of course, that's not how dreams work.
If he had any control over his own body, Josh would throw his drumsticks down and dive in after Ty. But, that wasn't what he'd done that night so that wasn't what his dream allowed him to do. Just like that night, Josh could do nothing but rise to his feet, biting back a scream of rage as he tried to bang out something resembling the rhythm he was meant to be playing. He missed more than one beat but didn't care if anyone noticed.
Josh's breath lodged in his throat. Inside the dream, he knew that Tyler would re-surface after fighting a leery festival-goer to retrieve the black ski mask that had been ripped from his head, and would awkwardly continue his journey toward the platform. Josh knew this because it had happened but, because it was a dream, Josh also knew that anything could happen. He didn't breathe easily until Tyler's dark head re-appeared over the sea of people.
And stupid, reckless, determined man that he was, Tyler kept going when Josh would have dragged him back to the safety of the stage.
He should have expected it when the lights went out, because he and Ty had agonized over every moment of the set, yet it managed to take him by surprise. Josh's heart leapt into his throat when the field went dark. He lost sight of Tyler, as he always did, in the dark void of bodies and fog. He let the drumbeat fade into silence, desperately scanning the crowd. There was no sign of Tyler.
The red ski mask Josh wore smothered him, constriction amplified by the fear pulsing through his veins. Josh couldn't breathe. He yanked the offending mask off and tossed it aside. That was when reality and dream overlapped to create Josh's own personal nightmare.
The night that it had happened, Josh hadn't been able to hear Tyler's shouts of, “Get off!” or “Josh, help!” because his bandmate had foolishly removed his mic before diving into the crowd. In the dream, though, Josh heard it; heard it as clearly as if Tyler had been standing right beside him, which Josh thought, was exactly where he belonged.
But he couldn't help, then or now, damned instead to watch helplessly and wait while the dream threw the laughs and insults of the men harassing Tyler at him in surreal fashion. One, he counted. Two. Three...
When he reached twenty, Tyler struggled to the top of the crowd. Josh's heart gave a heavy thump and he was finally able to draw in a lungful of air. He gripped his sticks hard to cover the shaking in his hands. Even though it had been more than a year, Josh had never shaken the fear that had eaten him that night; that feeling that something awful had happened to his best friend as he just stood by and stared.
The glare from a strobe light – brighter, somehow, in dreamland – hit Josh full in the face, a reminder that there were cameras on him. Josh grabbed the red cap laying at his feet and shoved it on his head before he forced himself to sit and play something resembling a tune as Tyler struggled to make his way across the sea of bodies. He tried to look away, worried that the cameras might catch the irrational fear on his face but couldn’t keep his eyes away for long.
It was like watching a drowning man strike out for shore; Tyler rode one wave, only to be knocked back by the next. Josh had to press his lips together tightly to keep from screaming out in anger and frustration as the crowd pushed Ty forward, and back. Finally – finally! – Tyler grasped a rung of the platform that had been erected for his climbing antics. His white tank had been ripped nearly off.
Josh felt a rush of hatred toward the men and women who had groped and abused his best friend – a feeling that intensified when Tyler started to climb and Josh realized that one red-socked foot was missing its shoe. The fact that someone would show Tyler, who lived and breathed for his fans, so little respect as to steal his shoe made Josh want to throw down his sticks, storm out into the audience, and lamp every one of the drunk, stoned creeps that had laid hands on Ty.
But the dream, wicked thing that it was, wouldn't even give him that pleasure. Josh’s body continued to go through the motions while his mind railed futilely. There was only one moment when emotion so intense struck Josh that he was almost able to break the dream's hold. The moment when, nearly at the top of the pedestal, Tyler's foot slipped.
Logic told Josh that his friend hadn’t been in any real danger at that moment. (That he had never, at any point of that night’s concert, been in real danger.) Tyler had assured him time and time again that he'd had a strong grip on the steel bar, that he wouldn't have fallen, but it was impossible to convince Josh's heart of that.
At the top of the temporary structure, Tyler flexed his muscles to show the crowd below that they hadn't beaten him though, even from his spot on the stage, Josh could see that his friend’s legs were none too steady. Then, Tyler bent to fix his earpiece and mic back in place. Relief made something like tears sting Josh's eyes then, as they had that night. He blinked them away before he dared speak. Grateful that they had set up a system allowing Josh to speak privately to Tyler throughout their shows, Josh used it then to call a halt to the show.
“That's enough,” he told Tyler in a voice that shook more than he would have liked. Josh almost never took charge when it came to their shows; he had always been happy to let Ty take the lead. His insistence that they end the show early must have shocked Tyler because he stopped it then and there. “We gotta be done,” he told the audience who were shocked but would later attribute the abrupt end either to Tyler’s assault or a scheduling error on the part of the BBC and not at all to the truth.
Josh was too shaken to hear his bandmate's words. He continued. “I mean it, Ty. If you don't get your ass back here, right this instant, I'm going to-”
“Josh,” Ty said, voice amplified through the enormous speakers around the field, “That's it. We gotta be done.”
Josh sagged in relief, allowing his sticks to fall unnoticed to the floor. The crowd would assume that Tyler was telling Josh that he couldn’t continue. Josh didn’t care; he just wanted to be far from the lights that rubbed his nerves raw. He wanted to drag Josh away from the people who would hurt him. He wanted…
The dream muddled Josh’s brain, making his thoughts confused and crowded. For the first time since they'd started performing together, Josh didn't wait for Tyler to return to the stage so they could take a bow. Without so much as a glance at the audience, he rose on legs that felt impossibly heavy and let them carry him to the portable unit that had been assigned to the band. He didn't remember barking at the others to leave the unit, though he’d had to pass out more than one apology the next day because of his abrupt behavior.
Maybe it was the dream, maybe it was pure emotion. Either way, Josh didn't see another person until Tyler walked through the door.
“Josh,” Tyler called as he entered, pulling the ruined shirt over his head, “what was that-”
He didn't get to finish the sentence. Josh grabbed Tyler by the shoulders and slammed him against the wall so hard that the whole structure shook. Tyler's brown eyes opened wide in shock. The outburst was uncharacteristic for Josh; he'd never so much as raised his voice at his bandmate before – but, then, he'd never been forced to watch helplessly as Ty was attacked, either.
Josh felt flushed. Blood roared wildly in his ears. He wished that he could blame it on the dream but that was exactly how he had felt that night; he would never forget it.
“Don't. You. Ever.” he ground out, “do that to me again. Do you understand?”
Tyler blinked slowly. Something crossed his face, something more like realization than understanding.
That same feeling passed through Josh, every bit as powerful as it had been that first night. And, just like that night, Josh found himself acting on impulse, giving in to the need that flared to life within him. He leaned forward to capture Tyler's mouth in a kiss that surprised them both.
Which was where the dream ended. It was where the dream always ended. Josh woke with a gasp; sweating and exposed, he tried to shake off the dream.
“Hey.” The sleepy voice was accompanied by a questing hand that slid across the hard planes of Josh's stomach. “Are you okay?”
Chest heaving, Josh collapsed back on the pillow. “Yeah,” he answered breathlessly. “Just a dream.”
Tyler snuggled in, resting his cheek against Josh's shoulder. “A bad dream or a good dream”
Josh wrapped an arm around Ty. What a question.
The dream forced Josh to relive one of the worst nights of his life – one of the worst, but also the best. He smiled into the darkness.
“Both,” he answered.