“I told you to stop reading those things.”
Josh knew it was Tyler even before the other man’s hands fell on his shoulders and gave them a comforting squeeze. He didn’t bother brushing away the tears that streamed down his cheeks. His Twitter feed stood open on the laptop in front of him.
Tyler reached out and slowly closed the laptop, shutting out the cries for Twenty One Pilots to end their hiatus, before gently urging Josh to face him. Josh allowed himself to be turned. He wrapped his arms around Tyler’s waist, breathing in the scent that was uniquely Tyler.
If Tyler thought removing the tweets from Josh’s vision would stop them from haunting him, he was mistaken. They – and the thousands like them – were burned into Josh’s brain.
@joshuadun COME BACK!
the hiatus is literally KILLING ME @joshuadun!
I bet @tylerrjoseph really kicked @joshuadun out of the band. No hiatus, @twentyonepilots are finished!
It had quickly gotten to the point where Josh couldn’t go online without it triggering an Anxiety attack. The longer the hiatus lasted, the worse it had gotten. Today’s bout of tears was not the first. Not even the second or third. Each time, Tyler had gently scolded Josh for putting himself through the torture of checking social media, then held him until the tears had subsided.
Josh didn’t know why he put himself through it. He just couldn't seem to stop. Maybe it would be different if he told them...
Even as he thought it, his stomach churned and he had to push out of Tyler's embrace so he could dash to the bathroom. Ty followed, sinking to his knees beside Josh and rubbing circles on his back. He had always known the best way to comfort Josh, whether that meant a 2AM run to Taco Bell or holding his hand as the doctor passed on the diagnosis no one wanted to hear.
Tonight, it meant waiting patiently while Josh brushed and rebrushed his teeth until he felt clean again, then wrapping Josh in his favorite sweater (which, of course, happened to be Tyler's) and leading him to the sofa. Josh curled into a ball, with his head on Tyler's lap. Ty tugged a blanket off the back of the sofa to cover Josh while he absently flicked through channels on the TV.
Crying always made Josh feel tired. Although... what didn't make him tired these days? Tyler's fingers found Josh's hair and ran through the faded strands. Josh knew that his hair was one of the things Ty was most attracted to about him. He even had the song to prove it. The steady movement of Tyler's long fingers through his hair was soothing. Josh let his eyes drift closed, lost in memories of better times when those same fingers had tightened on the vibrant locks in pleasure as Josh's mouth had-
It took a moment to realize Tyler had stopped stroking his hair. When Josh did, he opened heavy eyes to find the other man staring down at his hand in dismay. Josh's foggy brain took longer than it should have to process what he was seeing.
A clump of hair had come out in Tyler's hand. The longish strands hung limp between his fingers. Tyler stared down at them as if he couldn't believe his eyes. Warm, fuzzy feeling broken, Josh scrambled into a seated position, moving as far from Tyler as he could without leaving the sofa. He watched in mute horror as Tyler closed a fist around the clump of hair and slowly looked up with eyes full of pain.
All my hairs abandoned all my body...
The words rose, unbidden, to Josh's mind. Words to a song that wasn't even their’s but the fans had taken to as if it had been. A song that had always made Josh slightly uncomfortable, even though he didn't know why at the time. He wondered if Tyler was thinking about that song too.
He had known it would come sooner or later, the hair loss, but Josh had half-convinced himself that as long as he looked normal, the cancer wasn't really ravaging his body. The hair clutched in Tyler's white-knuckled fist put an end to that flimsy belief. This is it, then, he thought.
Josh couldn't stand to look at Tyler any longer; couldn't handle the realization that everything Tyler loved about him would fade into nothingness as the chemo and cancer duked it out. He pushed himself off the sofa and made his way to the bathroom. This time, Josh reached for the electric razor that sat on the edge of the sink unit. His finger hovered over the “on” switch but Josh found he couldn't press it.
There was a tornado forming in Josh's brain. It swept up random thoughts and threw them together in a maelstrom of emotion so powerful he was hopeless to resist its pull.
I won't watch it fall out, piece by piece.
If I do this, they'll know. They'll all know.
Josh knew that, if even one photo surfaced of his shaved head, there would be a Twitterstorm of theories about what it meant. If he was lucky, fans would just assume he was going bald due to the chemicals he regularly subjected his hair to. He thought he could live with that but, if anyone knew the signs, if they'd been forced to watch a loved one waste away, they would know enough to call it by its name – and that Josh didn't think he could cope with.
He thought of the look on Tyler's face as he'd stared down at that handful of hair and multiplied it by a thousand. By ten thousand. All their fans, their loved ones, the label, and all the people who'd been waiting to see them fail... everyone watching, staring, trying to gauge how Josh was doing on any given day, based on nothing more than the bags under his eyes and slump to his shoulders.
He couldn't do it. Josh's head dropped as he felt the winds of the tornado in his mind touch the edges of his soul. He was ready to give in, to lose himself in the madness...
A hand closed around his.
Josh looked up to see Tyler's reflection in the mirror above the sink. One hand worked the razor free from Josh's clammy fingers while the other came to rest on the sink beside Josh's waist. If anyone else had done it, Josh would have felt trapped. But Tyler wasn't anyone else. Josh leaned back, ever so slightly, until their hips met.
“I'll help,” was all Tyler said.
Fresh tears stung Josh's eyes. He shook his head. Josh couldn't explain what made him refuse, except a hundred memories struck him all at once: Tyler playfully ruffling his hair; laughing together as they picked out dye colors; Tyler gripping his curls tightly in the throes of passion. It seemed wrong somehow for Tyler to be the one to do it.
“You-” Josh had to swallow back the emotion that tried to choke him. “You love my hair,” he finally managed.
Tyler's eyes met his in the mirror. His hand moved from the sink to Josh's waist and held tight.
“I love YOU,” he told Josh. Then, he turned the razor on.
Josh watched in the mirror as Tyler worked. His hand moved from Josh's waist to gently brush away the hair that fell to Josh's shoulders. When he finished, Tyler gently turned him so that they faced each other, the sink at Josh's back.
“Bald or not,” Ty said as he lovingly caressed Josh's scalp, “you are and will always be the most gorgeous person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.”
He leaned in for a kiss, but Josh turned his head away.
“It's going to get worse,” he warned miserably. “A lot worse.”
Tyler nudged Josh's chin with a finger, forcing him to look up. “That's what I'm here for.”
Josh swallowed hard. It took a lot of effort to say the next words, to voice his own worst fears. “What if it doesn't get any better?”
Reaching down to link his fingers with Josh's, Tyler said, “Then I’m here for that too. Always, no matter what.”
His lips descended on Josh's then and Josh met them eagerly. Tyler's arm snaked around his waist and pulled him close for a moment before releasing him. Color rose to the other man's cheeks as he said, “If you're feeling up to it, I'd like to show you just how much I love you.”
Josh smiled for the first time that day, maybe the first time that week. Leave it to Tyler to know exactly what he needed in order to feel whole again. He let himself be led to the bedroom, where Tyler slowly undressed Josh and worshipped every inch of his body, starting at his now-bald head. Later, as they lay in a tangle of limbs and sweaty sheets, Tyler kissed the back of Josh's neck and breathed, “If we can win a Grammy, we can kick cancer's butt.”
The fact that, after everything they'd seen and done in the last few years, Tyler still had an aversion to cussing made Josh laugh out loud. When the laughter died away and Tyler's steady breathing told Josh his lover was asleep, he amended Tyler's words.
“If I can win a man like you,” he whispered to the dark room, “I can kick cancer's ass. And, for you,” he promised Tyler's sleeping form, “I will.”