Tyler tossed his phone away with a grunt of annoyance. It hit the foot of the bed and bounced onto the floor. He hoped it was broken so he wouldn’t have to look at it again.
Jenna came out of the bathroom, skin glowing from a shower. She glanced at the phone that lay facedown on the floor as she went to the dresser to pick up a bottle of lotion.
“Everything okay?” she asked over her shoulder.
Tyler ran a hand through his hair, scowling. There was no point lying to his wife; she knew him better than he knew himself. Only one other person knew him as well as Jenna did. Just thinking about it made Tyler tug at the short strands of his hair.
No, he was not okay. Did he want to talk about it?
He threw himself down on the bed, grabbed a pillow and dragged it over his head, hoping Jenna would leave it at that.
Jenna gave Tyler a few minutes to wallow while she got dressed. After that, she decided if he wasn’t going to open up on his own, she’d have to use a crowbar.
“Have you called Josh today?” she asked.
The pillow fell to the floor as Tyler shot up. His eyes were dark. “No,” he snapped, “why would I?”
Tyler and Jenna didn’t argue often but, when they did, it usually had a lot to do with that tone of voice. Jenna liked to think of herself as a patient person – but she didn’t take any crap, either.
“Because,” she said, fixing an expression of innocence on her face, “you have a tour starting in less than two months. Usually, you’d be inseparable by now.”
“Oh,” Tyler said. He sounded less defensive but a lot more tired. “We’ve got everything worked out.”
Jenna had seen the boys changing details right up to the moment they took the stage. Tyler and Josh were both perfectionists; she didn’t believe for a moment that they had “everything worked out.”
And she didn’t appreciate being lied to.
Turning her back on Tyler, Jenna went to the mirror above the dresser and picked up her hairbrush.
“Well, you should give him a ring anyway,” she said, running the brush through her hair. “If you wait any longer to offer congratulations, Josh will think you aren’t happy for him.”
Tyler mumbled something. Jenna didn’t catch exactly what it was, but she suspected it wasn’t kind. She turned to give Tyler an assessing look. He wouldn’t meet her eye.
“You are happy for Josh, aren’t you?”
He didn’t answer.
“I’ll be in my studio,” he said as he rose and left the room.
Jenna waited until the door closed behind Tyler before she picked his phone up off the floor. Punching in her date of birth to unlock it, she saw the string of tweets that had upset her husband.
“Oh, Ty,” Jenna said sadly. This has gone on long enough, she thought.
Closing Twitter, she opened up Josh’s contact details and hit “dial.”
Tyler spent most of the day locked away in his studio, screaming at nothing in particular. It didn’t much resemble music and he didn’t much care. The only thing that mattered was getting the frustration that burned like lava out of his lungs. If he could just breathe, maybe he could think.
If he could think, maybe he could figure out why he was so angry.
He couldn’t remember ever being so angry. Not at Josh, anyway. He’d been that angry with the world, with himself, with life… but never Josh.
You know why, a little voice piped up. Tyler screamed until he couldn’t hear the voice anymore.
“Not bad, bro, but the lyrics need some work.”
The scream died in his throat. He knew who is was without turning around; he just wasn’t sure he couldn’t face Josh as raw as he was at that moment.
“What are you doing here?” It wasn’t the most welcoming welcome, but Tyler felt like a bomb ready to explode and it was getting harder to put the fuse out.
Josh didn’t answer immediately. He went to take his place behind the spare drum kit he kept in Tyler’s studio. Picking up his sticks, Josh tapped out a quick rhythm while he tried to get control of his emotions.
He knew Tyler hadn’t been hostile toward him on purpose. He also knew how hard Tyler worked to keep the rage that ate at him day and night in the music where it belonged. To get that kind of greeting from his best friend, Josh knew Tyler must be pretty worked up.
Jenna had said as much when she’d called that morning.
“I don’t know what’s bothering him, but he won’t talk to me. Can you come?”
Of course he would. There was never any doubt Josh would drop whatever he was doing to help Tyler through a bad patch. It wasn’t even a question. The real question was what had set Tyler off?
Josh hadn’t seen Tyler so worked up in… well, ever. Tyler had been annoyed when the label threatened to drop them if he leaked another album. He’d been frustrated when it took three days to work out the bridge for a new song. He’d been hurt when Josh had moved out to L.A. He’d even been angry when overly excited fans shared the location of his new house online. But this…
This was something else, something Josh couldn’t quite put a name to.
The only time he’d seen Tyler anywhere close to as upset was when a handful of so-called fans decided Tyler was homophobic, for reasons that never made any sense. Even then, Tyler hadn’t been this agitated.
Josh watched as the other man left the microphone to sit at the keyboard. His fingers danced over the keys, seamlessly adding to the rhythm Josh beat out. For several long minutes, they let the music do the talking for them.
Making music with Josh brought the kind of peace screaming had failed to deliver. There was something so natural about being alone together, creating something out of nothing, that made the world seem okay. At least for a while.
Unfortunately, the music always came to an end.
They sat in silence for a long time after that; Tyler at his keyboard, Josh at his drums. Tyler didn’t know what to say. He pecked at the keys absently, filling the silence with jumbled, discordant notes. Josh sighed and, clutching his sticks in one hand, leaned against the toms.
“I had over thirty-five thousand congratulations on Twitter,” Josh said finally, “and about that many messages from my mom.” He tapped the drum with a finger. “But nothing from you.”
Tyler clenched his eyes tight against the feelings that battered him at Josh’s words. He’d known it would come up, of course, but Tyler had secretly hoped the right thing to say would miraculously drop out of the sky before it did.
“Naw, man,” was all he could think to say. It was so lame that even he cringed.
Josh cringed. He didn’t know exactly what he’d been expecting but it wasn’t an emotionless, “Naw, man.”
“Is that it?” Josh asked incredulously. He tried but couldn’t keep the hurt from his voice.
Tyler spun around. His eyes flashed and a muscle in his jaw jerked.
“What do you want me to say, Josh?” he snapped. “Do you want me to say that I’m happy for you? That I think you’re making the right choice? That Debby’s exactly the right person for you?”
Josh would have been less shocked if Tyler had punched him. The look of surprise he wore quickly faded through pain, into betrayal.
“Yeah,” he said in a low voice, “how about you start with that?”
Tyler looked away. “I can’t do that,” he said.
A roar started in Josh’s ears. It filled his head until it pressed against the back of his eyes, making him squint against the pain. A drop of moisture fell to his cheek. Josh dashed it away.
Instead of answering, Tyler stood up and crossed the small space. He wrapped a hand around the door handle, stopped, and leaned his head against the door instead. Josh watched the other man’s shoulders rise. Tyler was obviously fighting some sort of internal battle, but Josh couldn’t help him. Not this time. Tyler’s words had struck him too deeply. Josh was afraid to move, lest everything important to him bleed out onto the studio’s tiled floor.
“Why not, Tyler?” he demanded. The words came out gruffer than he expected. It sounded like he'd been the one screaming for hours.
With a breath so ragged it shook his shoulders, Tyler stood up and turned to face Josh for the first time since he’d entered the room. He met Josh’s eye, then proceeded to break his heart.
“I can’t say it because it’s not true. I’m not happy for you because Debby isn’t the right person for you. And,” he continued, “if you marry her, it’ll be the worst decision of your life.”
Tyler knew his words cut Josh because he felt it in his own gut. They were so close he couldn’t hurt Josh without hurting himself.
Josh let his drumsticks fall to the floor as he stood. Moving around the kit, he took the few short steps required to close the distance between them. His teeth were clenched so hard it looked like his jaw had been riveted shut.
They stood face-to-face, but an ocean of emotion kept them apart. Tyler felt like he was drowning in that ocean, unable to breathe. He wasn’t even sure anymore if he wanted to save himself.
“Why?” Josh asked finally. “Why would you say such a horrible thing? I thought we were friends.”
When Tyler opened his mouth to speak, a wave broke over his head and he nearly choked. “We are. That’s why I can’t let you do it.” His words were weak. Feeble. The last gasps of a drowning man.
“Can’t let me do it?” Josh asked. His gaze turned to stone. “You can’t-”
Josh stopped, closed his eyes, and took a breath. He was obviously trying harder to keep the peace than Tyler had, and Tyler loved him for it. But it only prolonged the inevitable.
“Why, Tyler? Explain it to me.”
Tyler fished for an answer that would sound convincing but was far enough from the truth to be safe.
“Because,” he said, “Debby’s toxic. She manipulates people, then tries to play the victim.”
Josh’s eyes opened, and Tyler saw something he’d never seen in them before. Hatred.
Good, he thought. It’s better that way.
With a move so quick Tyler didn’t have time to throw his arms up in defense, Josh shoved him. Tyler hit the studio door with a force that made it rattle on its hinges. The last breath he’d been clinging to wooshed past his lips. He doubled over, clutching his aching chest.
“Don’t you dare,” Josh warned in a dangerous voice. “Don’t you fucking dare use words on me that aren’t your own.”
He grabbed Tyler by his shirtfront and hauled him up, slamming him against the door. “If another word comes out of your mouth that isn’t your own, it’ll be the last one we ever speak.”
Hands shaking, Josh released Tyler, appalled by his own behavior. Josh wasn’t normally an aggressive person but hearing a fan’s bitter words coming from Tyler’s mouth unleashed something primal in him, something that wanted to hurt Tyler as much as the other man had hurt him.
The other part of Josh, the part that had always instinctively sensed the pain in others and longed to sooth it, wanted nothing more than to beg Tyler to take it back. To make it unsaid. If Tyler would just take it back, they could get through this. They wouldn’t be staring down the end of a friendship.
But Josh could see the darkness creeping across Tyler’s face and knew there was no chance of that.
“You’re right,” Tyler began, “my reasons are way more selfish than that. If Debby comes between us, nothing will ever be the same. We’ll never be the same. This-” he waved at the recording equipment, at the logo painted on the wall “-will never be the same.”
It sounded a lot like the mini-freak out Tyler had experienced the night before his own wedding. “What if it changes everything?” he’d cried into Josh’s shoulder. “What if being with Jenna ruins being a band? What if it ruins us?” Josh had talked him down and, the next day, Tyler had hugged him. He’d told Josh he was the happiest man alive. “I couldn’t have done it without you, man,” he’d said.
“You said the same thing about Jenna,” Josh reminded him now. “And what did I tell you then?”
“That Jenna could only make us better.”
Josh nodded, anger ebbing as he realized the level of fear it must have taken Tyler to lash out the way he had. “And I was right.”
“Debby’s not Jenna,” Tyler said defensively, earning a sigh of frustration from Josh.
He took off the baseball cap he wore to run a hand through his hair. Before he could make any sort of argument, Tyler continued.
“Debby’s not a bad person,” he admitted, “but she’ll never understand us the way Jenna does. She’ll want more of you than I’m willing to give.”
Josh frowned. That wasn’t the way that phrase was supposed to go but Tyler, silence broken, didn’t give him a chance to correct him. He spoke in a rush.
“I love Jenna and I know you love Jenna.”
Josh nodded. Yes, of course he loved Jenna. If they'd shared blood, they couldn’t have been closer. It seemed like a stupid, pointless thing to say.
“Jenna loves you,” Tyler continued. “And, I love you.”
It wasn’t the first time Tyler had spoken the words but this time, they seemed bigger than ever. They seemed like proclamation, rather than a statement of fact.
Josh squeezed the brim of his baseball cap and released it. Something about the way Tyler stared at him made him uncomfortable.
“Yeah, bro,” he said, “me too.”
Tyler’s shoulders slumped. He let out a defeated sigh before reaching out to take Josh by the shoulders. “No,” he said, voice full of intensity, “I love you, Joshua. I love you the way I love Jenna.”
Josh didn’t physically recoil at Tyler’s words, but he may as well have. Tyler watched the gulf open between them as realization sank in.
Tyler nodded. He let his arms drop. “Yeah.”
“So,” Josh bit his lip nervously. “You, uh, you’re…”
“Bisexual?” Tyler nodded again. “Yeah.”
Josh fiddled with his baseball cap. Tyler wanted to snatch the thing and throw it across the room so Josh would focus his attention on him, but he knew his friend needed something to do with his hands when he got upset. He clenched his own hands into fists at his sides.
Tyler’s heart sank as he watched Josh struggle to come to grips with the situation. He’d known, the moment he’d said it, that the truth would be the end of them. He’d also known, though, that Josh had a right to know why his engagement to Debby Ryan had come between them.
“Uh, okay, man,” Josh said clumsily. “That’s cool, you know, but I don’t- I mean, I’m not into-”
It was understandable that a lifetime of being told it was a sin gave Josh a natural aversion to the idea. It was the same reason Tyler had fought his own feelings for so long. Suddenly, though, faced with the prospect of losing him forever, Tyler decided he’d happily burn in the fires of hell for any number of eternities rather than go another moment without tasting Josh’s lips.
He caught Josh’s shoulder’s again but, this time, he pulled the other man forward into a kiss.
The roaring started in his ears again. It spread rapidly through Josh’s body, lighting every nerve ending on fire along the way.
Tyler’s lips were softer than he’d imagined.
Wait, what? He’d never thought about Tyler’s lips before. He’d certainly never imagined what it would feel like to be kissed by him!
Well… maybe during the loneliest parts of the tour when he could hear Tyler and Jenna giggling quietly in Tyler’s bunk – but he’d always told himself that it was Jenna he fantasized about, not Tyler. Because he wasn’t attracted to Tyler.
When Tyler pressed his lips to Josh’s, though, his body seemed to forget that fact. His gasp of surprise turned into a groan of pleasure when Tyler’s tongue took the opportunity to slip inside. The hands Josh had thrown up to push the other man away somehow found themselves clinging to Tyler’s shirt instead. He held on for dear life. A crazy whirlpool of feelings lashed around Josh and Tyler was the only solid thing in his world.
Tyler moaned Josh’s name against his lips. His grip softened, one hand sliding down to the other man’s waist where it caught Josh and urged him forward. Chest to chest, body to body, Josh could feel Tyler’s growing arousal.
And he knew Tyler could feel his.
Tangling his free hand in Josh’s wild curls, Tyler tugged gently, tilting Josh’s head back. Josh’s murmur of disappointment earned a chuckle from Tyler, who pressed a finger to Josh’s lips as he kissed a trail down his chin and neck.
Josh found it impossible to stay silent as Tyler’s lips found his earlobe. He groaned aloud when the other man’s tongue traced the gauge there, then dipped lower. The movement brought Tyler’s finger into his mouth. Josh nipped at Tyler’s finger before wrapping his lips around it and sucking.
Tyler’s hand left Josh’s waist to grab the nearby sound deck for support. Josh felt the tremor run through Tyler’s body and smiled. There was something intensely pleasurable about making a man as strong as Tyler Joseph weak at the knees.
Tyler’s world was an explosion of sensation; of taste and touch and Josh. So much Josh he felt like he could lose himself in the other man forever – and that didn’t seem like a bad thing. Nope, not at all.
He was a creature of light, bursting with joy. Tyler had thought, when he kissed Josh, it would the end of their friendship. The end of everything. There was no way he could have expected Josh to kiss him back. Or, to tug at his shirt until Tyler pulled it up over his head and tossed it aside. Or to gasp, “Oh, god, yes,” when Tyler reached for the waistband of his jeans.
It was everything Tyler could do to keep from exploding when his hand dipped inside Josh’s jeans to close around the hard length of his erection. He brushed the tip with his thumb, making Josh arch into his touch and cling to Tyler’s shoulders for support.
Josh wasn’t the only one having difficulty staying on his feet. Giving up, Tyler sank to the floor, twisting so he could wedge a knee between Josh’s legs. Tyler gave an experimental thrust with his hips and earned a delicious noise from the man beneath him in return. The sound drove all other thought from his head. He couldn’t wait any longer. He reached for the button on his jeans.
“Wait,” Josh gasped. He laid a hand on top of Tyler’s and shook his head. “Stop.”
“Wait.” Josh said, closing his fingers around Tyler’s. He pulled Tyler's hand away from the button of his jeans and the moment they both craved. “Stop.”
Tyler had to stop because Josh didn’t think he could. A dam of repressed emotions had burst within him and there was no hope of rebuilding it. He had to rely on Tyler to be his lifeboat.
Josh saw the moment rejection stamped itself on Tyler’s heart and was quick to rub it away. He pushed Tyler back enough to sit up but didn’t release him. Wrapping his legs around Tyler’s waist, he reached up to touch the other man’s face.
“We can’t,” he repeated. “Not yet.”
At “Not yet,” a small spark of hope flashed in Tyler’s eyes.
Josh shook his head. “It wouldn’t be right. I left Debby sleeping in my bed, for Pete’s sake.”
Tyler pressed his lips together uhappily at the mention of Debby, but Josh carried on.
“This… whatever this is,” he said helplessly, “isn’t going away. Debby deserves to know that and she should hear it from me.”
He traced a finger up the hard ridges of Tyler’s chest, glorying in the way Tyler’s eyes closed at the touch. If he was going to break things off with Debby, he’d better do it quickly because Josh didn’t know how much longer he’d be able to keep his hands off Tyler.
Being sensible was not an easy task with Josh pressed against him. It was even harder to do with Josh’s talented fingers climbing up the muscles of his chest. Tyler caught Josh’s hands and linked their fingers. Raising one hand, he pressed a kiss to the back of Josh’s hand.
“You’re right,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fair to Debby.”
And, he added silently, although Josh had promised the thing between them wasn’t going anywhere, Josh needed to decide for himself what he wanted, without desire blinding him. Things might look different from a few thousand miles away.
Please, Tyler begged whatever god would accept them. Please pick me.
“And,” he added, “Jenna-”
“Should probably learn to knock.”
Jenna was surprisingly unperturbed by finding her husband in the arms of his best friend. It should have been… devastating? Heartbreaking? Insulting? She didn’t feel any of those things. Mostly, she felt a sense of relief.
She’d always known Tyler and Josh were closer than friends usually were. Jenna loved that about them. Now, seeing their bodies pressed together, she felt something else. Something like…
Acceptance. Acceptance was the word she was looking for.
The men broke apart guiltily, looking mortified. Jenna just shook her head, doing her best to smother the grin that tried to creep onto her face. For the first time, she understood why so many people fantasized about her boys together.
Oh, yeah, Jenna thought. I could ship that. I could ship that hard.
“Come on, then.” Jenna grabbed Tyler’s shirt off the sound deck and tossed it to him. “We should grab a bite to eat before Josh flies back to L.A. And,” she added, “when he gets back, we can talk about boundaries.”
Jenna turned, leaving Tyler and Josh gawking after her as she sashayed away.