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josh feels dead dandelions on his shoulders the day he meets tyler.

it's a blind date that mark set up for them, since mark thinks they're apparently perfect for each other, and given mark's track record with setting him up on blind dates, josh somehow doubts that. he works himself up and he's positive he's setting himself up to have a bad time, convinces himself that the guy mark set the blind date up with is going to hate him, or that he's going to wind up being a huge asshole.

he has a lot of thoughts swirling around in his head, drowning out all of his senses, at least up until this guy spots him, and walks up to him with the sweetest smile on his face, and asks if he's josh.

josh is the kind of person who falls in love fast and hard and as he confirms that, yes, he's josh, and after tyler introduces himself, he feels the dandelions on his shoulders getting squashed, and replaced by purple pansies, and his heart grows to twice its size.

*

there's a garden in josh's head.

it's dead and abandoned and it's a fucking sad place to be, and he's stuck with it. sometimes he tries to till the soil and to throw down some seeds, but the birds always pick the sprouts out of the ground before they can grow into anything beautiful.

when tyler comes into his life, though, he comes bearing a few saplings for some cherry trees, and a wagon full of sunflowers. it starts slow but josh's head becomes a happier place. it's still a little sad, but things are brightening up a bit and tyler's always there to throw down some fertilizer and to wave his arms around to scare the crows away on bad days.

*

"what does dysphoria feel like?" josh asks, keeping his voice seemingly curious, late at night after he's had a bad day. he feels vines and thorns creeping out of cracks in his porcelain exterior and he doesn't feel quite right.

tyler shrugs a little bit, and presses a key on his laptop to pause his music so he can respond. "it's not fun. i can't quite describe it. it's... kind of like dissociating, i suppose. i don't get it as bad as i did before i was on testosterone, but... sometimes i look at my tits, and i feel so detached from them, like they don't belong. if it's on a day that i'm psychotic on top of everything, i get the urge to, literally, cut them off. most days i'm okay with them, though. i love my body most of the time."

the thorny vines wrap around josh's neck and he feels kind of like he's choking, but he nods and cozies into tyler's side a little further.

"why do you ask?"

"curious."

"that's fair." tyler yawns, and winds up shutting his laptop and sliding it off of the bed and onto the floor (their bed is a mattress shoved into the corner of their bedroom), because he's exhausted. he falls asleep quickly, and josh stays awake, trying to shake the feeling that something's wrong.

*

josh feels rose bushes sprouting between his shoulder blades as he's cramming himself into a suit for a friend's wedding. he feels sort of like something's crashed into him, and that it's knocked his soul out of his body. he feels wrong and when he looks into the mirror he feels an obvious disconnect between how he feels about himself and how he looks. it freaks him out, not being able to recognize the person looking back at him in the mirror.

*

there's potato sprouts under his finger nails and he scratches at his arms as he loses his mind in the bathroom of a church. tyler's with him, of course, trying to get him to breathe and to stop scratching himself. tyler asks him to breathe and to explain what's wrong so that he can at least try to help.

josh tells tyler that he looks wrong and tyler thinks he's being reassuring when he says that josh looks fine, that he looks as handsome as ever, and that word--handsome--makes josh's skin crawl and bubble and he can feel dandelions sprouting out of every crack and orifice in his body, seemingly pretty yet harmful and damaging.

*

the first time josh has an excuse to wear something other than a ratty t-shirt and skinny jeans he's owned for five years is on halloween. halloween is high holiday for witches, and josh heads to a secondhand store to buy an outfit that seems appropriate for a modern day witch.

he feels like a stereotypical tumblr witch, the kind that buys a few rocks and calls it good (not that they aren't perfectly valid, since religion is a very personal and almost intimate thing), when he's staring at himself in the mirror. he feels nice and pretty in a long black maxi skirt, and he likes the way that the shirt he has on, which is tucked into the skirt, gives off the illusion of him having a small waist. he's not bold enough as to wear any daring shoes, other than his doc's that he's owned since his junior year in high school over a pair of fishnet stockings.

he even has tyler paint his nails black for him, and has him help him with putting on black lipstick and a touch of eyeliner, and josh feels a little more at home in his body for the first time in months. he doesn't feel as if he looks masculine or feminine, not one way or the other, and he likes that. tyler even calls him pretty and josh can feel the sunflowers on top of his head.

*

tyler's fairly observant and on a night that josh decides he wants to learn how to paint nails on his own, tyler asks, "are you trans?" from where he's sitting on their couch, working on crocheting something, since he crochets as a hobby. (it's mind numbing and time consuming, and sometimes doing something like that is needed to take the edge off.)

tyler's question was innocent, and he didn't mean anything bad, but josh still freezes, and drops the nail polish brush that was in his hand. something in his heart withers and his chin wobbles a little bit because that's a thought he hasn't been wanting to think about, yet tyler's just dragging it out of the depths of his rose bush mind, and putting it on display for god and everyone to look at.

josh feels like he's lying as he says, "no," before going back to painting his nails.

"it's okay if you are, honey. i'm gonna be the last one to hate you for it, obviously."

josh still shakes his head. he feels too small to be having this discussion. he doesn't feel grown up enough for it. he feels like he has some soul searching to do before talking about it, and he just doesn't want to do any soul searching right now.

*

soul searching is never really a choice, josh finds out on a morning that tyler's at work and he's stuck at home. he feels dramatic as he sits in their bath tub having what he thinks is the worst anxiety attack of his life over the possibility that, hey, he might not be cis like he thought.

*

josh feels dead rose bushes scratching at his throat as he asks, "what if i'm not cis?"

tyler has a pair of bush trimmers at the ready though as he responds. "it's okay if you're not. if you're not cis, then... we can figure it out. together. you don't have to go through that stuff alone. i went through it alone, and it fucking sucked."

*

josh feels less heavy when tyler suggests a pronoun change. josh doesn't know how to go about anything, how to go about experimenting, and tyler suggests starting small. "it could just be a small thing, j. maybe around the apartment i could use different pronouns for you, and you could see if you like how it feels. you don't have to tell everyone."

"i'm going to feel like i'm lying if i don't--if i don't say something." josh fiddles with his thumbs, trying to scratch out some of those stupid potato sprouts from under his nails. anxiety is making him feel all creepy and crawly but tyler soothes it somehow.

"i'm gonna let you in on a secret--when it comes to your gender and transitioning and experimenting... all of that is highly personal and intimate, and it's information that you aren't obligated to share with anyone. i know there's this deal where people want to overshare everything about themselves, but... it's not bad to keep some things to yourself, if that's what you're comfortable with. if you don't want everyone knowing you're not cis, then you don't have to let them know. if you do want to let some people know, then that's cool too. it's up to you. whatever you decide, i support you one hundred percent."

josh nods slowly and he feels relief flowing through him, because tyler's right. he's allowed to come out at his own pace. "how would the different pronouns work?"

"it's kinda like... if i introduced you! if i introduced you, i could be like, 'this is josh, and they're my lovely significant other.' like that. or if you find out that you're a girl, i'd totally be down to introduce you as my girlfriend, and if you still like the word boyfriend, that's cool too. whatever you're comfortable with, y'know?"

"i don't--i don't think i'm a girl. i've thought about it, and it doesn't sound or feel right. being a boy doesn't sound or feel right either. why does this have to be so stressful?"

"i mean... it doesn't have to be. you don't have to have everything figured out right now, and it's okay to be confused for awhile, even if awhile ends up being a long time. i mean... i didn't figure out i was trans until i was, like, twenty, bud. it's not a race. anyways... do you wanna try the pronoun thing?"

josh nods.

*

josh feels as if water is being sprinkled over the sunflowers growing from the top of their head when they ask one of their friends to use different pronouns for them. they decide to talk to jenna first. she's at the apartment to pick tyler up, since they have plans to hang out for the day while josh does their own thing (namely getting ready for work, and actually going to work.)

tyler's in the shower and jenna's saying something, making a joke, and after hearing her refer to them with the wrong pronouns, josh feels the hair on the back of their neck standing up, as if they were a kitten and jenna were a big scary dog. "hey, uh, jen?"

she stops speaking and tilts her head a bit before asking, "what's wrong?" her eyebrows are all furrowed and josh feels safe as he explains himself.

"um. i'm--i'm in a weird spot right now, but if you could... maybe, uh... use they and them pronouns for me i would, ah, really appreciate that."

she winces a bit. "oh! of course! gosh, i didn't realize. i'm so sorry about that. do you want to talk about it?"

josh shakes their head. "not yet. i'm just... trying it out for awhile. it's okay, right?"

"absolutely, sweetie." jenna leans over and kisses josh high on their cheekbone. she likes giving people cheek kisses and josh doesn't mind it. "talk when you're ready. anyways--"

*

"i just feel like i'm copying you." josh feels as if their eyes are being scratched up by a bunch of prickly plants as they rub at them with the sleeves of their sweatshirt.

tyler runs his fingers through josh's hair, and keeps on holding them. "if it makes you feel any better, i didn't realize i wasn't cis until one of my trans friends came out to me. like... she described how it felt for her, and i was like, huh, maybe i'm trans, and as it turns out, i am. it happens, sweetheart, and it's scary as fuck, but it's okay. i don't think you're copying me at all."

*

josh is apprehensive about coming out to more people. the next person they come out to is mark.

mark's nice and josh trusts him well enough, so while they're sitting in the backseat of mark's car, binging on fast food, josh asks, "how do you feel about nonbinary people?"

mark looks a little confused, but he answers accordingly around a mouth full of hamburger. "they're cool, i guess...? i mean... they're people. i've met enough trans people through tyler that i'm not--i'm not particularly phased by it. why?"

josh shrugs, and is sure to keep a vaguely pleasant look on their face as they're picking at their french fries. "i think i might be... y'know. nonbinary."

"oh. huh." mark shrugs as well. "that's cool. you using any new pronouns, or a new name?"

"they and them are preferred," they mumble, feeling red roses scratching at their cheeks. "if that's okay with you. no new name, though."

"it's okay with me, josh. i'm not so much of an asshole that i'm going to go around misgendering you because of my own mental blocks. we're totally tight, bro."

josh has to facepalm for a moment before calling mark a dork.

*

"what's the next step?" josh asks while they and tyler are in the car at a stop light on the way to josh's parents' home for dinner.

"what do you mean?" tyler casts them a glance.

"i'm out to you, jenna, and mark. what do i do now? i still feel like something's missing."

"new clothes? different hairdo? i think the first thing i did after realizing i was trans was chop all my hair off. you could let yours grow, or dye it a different color or something if you want. we could also go to a few secondhand stores if you want to take a look at some of the girl clothes, or whatever. anything you wanna do, we can try, man."

"mm, bad pet name," josh comments nice and quick, feeling something prickly and gross sticking to their upper back.

tyler casts them a glance that's slightly longer than what's typically considered a glance. "so i can start calling you sweetie and honey like i want to, instead of 'bro' or 'man?'"

josh rolls their eyes and sighs. "i suppose."

*

the next time josh really feels at home in their body happens on an evening that jenna hangs out at theirs and tyler's apartment. they're in the bathroom, and jenna's on the counter, with josh standing between her legs. tyler's on the floor behind them on his phone, and jenna's holding josh's chin in her hands as she's going over their lips with something. josh doesn't know what it's called, or anything about it, other than it feels sort of tacky on their lips, and doesn't seem to smudge like all the lipstick they've bought does.

jenna doesn't take too long to finish what she's doing, and when she's done, she leans over a bit so josh can look at themself in the mirror. "do you like it?"

josh smacks their lips a few times, before nodding as their cheeks turn a few shades darker. they can feel the puffs from dead dandelions floating around in their chest, making them feel so light and almost carefree.

their cheeks burn a little brighter when jenna leans forward and snaps her fingers at tyler to get his attention before asking, "hey, ty? can i kiss josh? they're looking super pretty." she winks at josh before looking back to tyler.

tyler beams up at her, and nods. "as long as they're alright with it, then go for it, jen."

it's not the fact that jenna wants to kiss them that's making them blush (because the concept of having a third person involved in theirs and tyler's relationship isn't a new one to them, and also because the three of them have been dancing around this for a few years now,) it's the fact that she called them pretty.

jenna looks at josh, her blue eyes wide an expectant, and josh just nods. jenna kisses them on the lips, nice and gentle, kind of how she does everything, and josh swears their cheeks are the shade of a ripe tomato when they see that in the wake of their kiss, jenna's lips are left looking a little more burgundy than they had been beforehand.

*

tyler's riding josh into the mattress of their bed and their insides feel like a bed of white gardenias. tyler's holding josh's wrists above their head, and his grip on their wrists tighten as his bouncing slows, eventually coming to a complete stop. josh looks up at him, a small frown on their face, asking, "are you alright?"

tyler nods, and says, "i'm fine. you just look, like, super pretty right now. kind of wanted to take a moment to appreciate the view."

josh huffs and breaks eye contact with tyler, opting to attempt to hide their face in their bicep. "i'm not pretty."

tyler scoffs, and uses one hand to hold down both of josh's wrists, and his other hand to gently smack their face a few times. "fuck off with that. you're gorgeous." he rolls his hips, and josh lets out a low moan. "tell me that you're pretty."

josh whines and scrunches their face up. "stop lying, tyler."

tyler scoffs again, louder this time, and uses his free hand to force josh to make eye contact with him. "i'm not lying to you. i want you to look me in the eye, and admit that you're pretty."

"there's nothing to admit. i don't see myself the way you do. i'm--i'm a man, or i at least look like one. i'm not pretty. i can't be pretty."

"yeah? so... when you're railing me over the counter in our bathroom and you call me pretty, are you misgendering me?" tyler cocks his head and puts his tongue in his cheek. he still has a hand on josh's cheek, and he's clenching around their cock a little bit.

josh frowns, a worried look washing over their face. "no, no, baby, of course not. no. i just mean that i'm just--i'm masculine. i'm too masculine to be pretty."

"okay, i might actually smack you now, because that's bullshit. who cares if you look masculine? you're a pretty person. i'm going to keep teasing you until you tell me you're pretty." he bounces once, and he can practically feel josh starting to leak. "say it."

"i just don't get it. how am i pretty?" josh looks a little misty eyed, and tyler lets go of their wrists when he sees their chin wobbling a little bit. josh does't move fast--their hands slowly gravitate to tyler's thighs.

"should we stop...?"

they shake their head. "no. i don't want to stop. i'm just confused. i don't get how i'm pretty. i'm not even wearing any make up, and i haven't shaved in, like, a month. i'm the opposite of pretty."

tyler sighs. "i just think you're pretty. you think you're all masculine and shit, and i believe you when you say you think that, because dysphoria can do that to you, but that doesn't change how i see you. you have very soft and delicate features." he rolls his hips again, nice and slow, and keeps a hand on josh's cheek, brushing his thumb across their cheekbone, before bending down to kiss them on the lips.

"i mean... if you think i'm pretty... then i must be, right?" they sound like they don't quite believe it, but also like they're trying, which draws a beaming, blinding grin from tyler.

"fuck yes. the prettiest person to ever pretty, i tell you."