Tyler Joseph has a clean left wrist when he meets Josh Dun, who happens to have two red marks on his, during The X Factor. It’s proper to shake someone’s hand when you meet them and almost everyone shakes with their left hand so that they can check out how many tallies are on their new acquaintance’s wrist. It’s just one of those things. People will always be curious. Most of the time this is never a conversation starter, unless someone has lots and lots of red marks, or none at all. Tyler has gotten used to people commenting about his “misfortune” of not falling in love yet, so when Josh’s eyes trail to his wrist, then back to meet his gaze, Tyler is completely shocked that he doesn’t say anything about it. his face must have shown that he was expecting something though, because Josh lets out a laugh, “Did I miss something?”
Tyler quickly drops his hand and stutters, “No, no, I just - I’m just used to people giving me crap for not having any marks.”
“I think you’re lucky.”
“Yeah. Love’s complicated. You should keep it that way,” Josh responds, nodding at his wrist.
Tyler notices just how pretty Josh’s eyes are and then he wonders just how easy it's going to be to keep his wrist blank during this competition.
They go back to Miami before the live shows start and the day after they fly in, Josh calls Tyler.
“What are you doing?”
“Um, honestly? Or should I make up an exciting lie?”
“Truth,” Josh’s voice echoes out of the earpiece.
“Sitting on Tumblr,” Tyler mumbles, laughing to himself at how boring his life is at home.
“I’m picking you up in literally five minutes. Come outside.”
Josh’s there in four minutes and forty-three seconds, actually, but it's not like the younger boy was counting in his head or anything.
“You’re early,” Tyler comments when he hops into the passenger seat.
“Surprised to see me?”
Josh’s joking when he asks, but the other boy’s response is serious.
“I mean, I figured you would have cooler people to hang out with once you got home. I kinda thought you might just be friends with me because we were stuck on a TV show together,” Tyler says nonchalantly.
Josh frowns, “Seriously? That’s ridiculous. You’re honestly my best friend, you’re stuck with me.”
Josh reaches over and squeezes Tyler’s hand, without removing his gaze from the road, and the younger boy squeezes back.
After they win, the boys spend a lot of time in LA and every time they are there, they rent the same five-bedroom house in the hills. Josh has the room in the very back of the house, so naturally, Tyler picks the room next to his. When they have days off they usually spend their time reading, sprawled out on Josh’s bed, stealing glances at each other over the tops of their books.
Well, maybe Tyler is the only one stealing glances, but sometimes he’s met by dark eyes and it makes the butterflies in his stomach even worse. he really, really likes Josh. There's no denying that. But the fact that he still doesn’t have any marks on his wrist is both comforting and disappointing. It's comforting because he’s not like, secretly in love with his best friend or anything, but it's disappointing because he’s never felt this way about anyone before, but apparently that’s not even love. he doubts he’s ever going to get a red line at this rate.
he looks up again and he’s met with dark eyes, again.
“Nothing,” Josh smirks, “You just get so into your books.”
“It’s not my fault you keep picking amazing ones for me to read,” Tyler defends himself.
“You’re cute,” Josh comments before turning his attention back to the paperback in his hand.
Tyler looks down at his wrist. Nothing.
“Ty, I swear to god, if we get caught...”
Tyler rolls his eyes playfully before pushing the door marked “Do Not Enter” open, motioning for Josh to walk through.
“It’s not even locked, it’s fine! No one is going to come up here this late at night,” the younger boy insists, closing the door quietly behind them and heading up the stairs after his friend. Once they reach the top of the stairs they open another door and step outside onto the hotel roof.
“Wow,” Josh breathes, looking up at all of the bright lights.
They’re in New York, one hundred floors up, with buildings towering above them while taxicabs and people buzz around below.
“I know,” Tyler replies, taking it all in, “I still can’t believe we’re here Josh. This is our life.”
“There is honestly no where else on this earth I rather be right now,” Josh murmurs, and suddenly he’s looking at the other boy with an overwhelming gaze of adoration.
Tyler is pretty sure that if he doesn’t break this eye contact immediately he’s going to end up jumping Josh, and that would not go well, so instead he starts walking towards the stairs.
“I totally forgot the hot chocolate. I’ll be right back,” Tyler yells over his shoulder. he can hear Josh laughing behind him as he makes his way inside. he grabs the mugs full of warm liquid from their room and heads back up, mentally telling himself to get a grip. him and Josh are friends. That’s all they will ever be. When he finally makes it back to the roof he finds Josh sitting down near the edge, staring at his hands. Tyler frowns, wondering what he’s looking at, but when he goes to hand Josh his mug, he finally sees it.
There aren’t two red lines on Josh’s wrist. There are three.
Tyler’s stomach drops, but he knows he has to act like a normal best friend, “Oh my god, Josh, why didn’t you tell me you got your third?”
Josh’s still silent, staring at his wrist, an unreadable expression on his face.
“That’s great though, I mean Ashley is really, really lucky,” Tyler continues, confused as to why Josh would be upset. he’s in love with his girlfriend, after all, what’s the big deal? Isn’t that how life is supposed to work?
“Uh, yeah, I guess she is,” the older boy mumbles.
Josh’s silent for the rest of the night and it doesn’t make sense to Tyler, but he doesn’t push it. he assumes maybe Josh’s just upset because Ashley hasn’t gotten a new mark on her wrist yet. he doesn’t know what else it could be.
“Sometimes I seriously wish the internet was never invented,” Tyler huffs, tapping on his phone aggressively.
“May I ask why?” Josh doesn’t look up but instead keeps flipping through the magazine he’s reading.
“All these stupid rumors about me and Jenna Black, I mean, seriously? I can’t have one girl friend without everyone assuming we’re hooking up?” Tyler makes a disgusted facial expression, shoving his phone into the other boy’s face. A completely zoomed-in photo of him and the girl walking next to each other is on the screen, with the caption ‘Jenna’s new flame!’
Josh rolls his eyes and pushes the phone back at the younger boy, “I mean you do text each other all the time, and you always hang out when you’re both in LA...”
“Josh! Not helping!”
“I’m just saying if you actually did like her that would be okay. I mean do you like her?”
The way Josh asks the question makes Tyler feel weird. he can’t quite put his finger on it, but there's a hidden emotion in the boy’s voice.
“Are you sure?”
“Josh, I swear, I do not even have the tiniest thing for her. Like, ew.”
The older boy seems to be happy with this answer because he nods slowly, a small smile creeping onto his lips.
It happens at a The 1975 concert, which is almost too cliché for Tyler’s liking. Almost. Josh gets tickets and insists that they go together and when the younger boy questions why he isn’t going with Ashley, Josh looks at him like he has two heads.
“Because it’s our thing, Ty. I’m not going without you.”
So, of course, he goes.
Tyler tries really hard not to notice how cute Josh looks in boots and an army jacket. he tries really hard not to think about how much this feels like a date when Josh is protectively leading him through the crowd, or when he refuses to let Tyler pay for his own ticket. he tries really hard not to stare at Josh while the band plays songs that he swears he could have written about the boy next to him.
It’s right after they finish playing “Me” and they start playing “Fallingforyou” that Tyler feels Josh reach down and intertwine their fingers together. he turns to look at the other boy for the first time since the show started and finds that Josh’s eyes are watery, but he’s still so focused on the music, silently mouthing the lyrics, gently squeezing the other boy’s right hand.
Tyler lets out a shaky breath that he didn’t realize he was holding and something inside of him clicks. There's a pinch at his left wrist and he tears his gaze away from the older boy and looks down at his arm, thinking maybe a bug bit him. Instead he can make out a small, straight, red line
he didn’t mean to say that out loud. he pulls his sleeve down hastily, turning back to Josh, praying he didn’t notice what he was looking at. Luckily, the older boy is still watching the band intently. he’s also still holding Tyler’s other hand.
Tyler can't deny it anymore. he’s in love with Josh Dun.
For the first time in his life, he actually wishes that he didn’t have any marks on his wrist.
Tyler covers up the red line on his wrist with makeup every single day and most of the time he likes to wears band bracelets for added protection. he can’t deal with anyone seeing it because the first question they will ask is who and he has no idea how he can lie his way out of that one. he hasn’t been talking to any women, or any girls for that matter, and he honestly has no idea what he would say. It just becomes part of his routine. Shower, makeup, accessories.
he’s good at it. It’s been almost four months and no one has any idea that he got his first mark.
Josh breaks up with Ashley and Tyler has been so preoccupied with distracting himself from the older boy that he almost doesn’t even notice. Almost.
It’s not like it matters anyway.
Tyler’s in a rush to get ready in time for an interview one morning and he forgets to cover up his wrist. he forgets to throw on a bracelet. They are all seated next to each other at the radio station, Tyler on one end and Josh next to him, and he starts animatedly telling a story, waving his hands around with excitement, when he realizes Josh’s eyes are glued to his wrist. That’s when he realizes the single red mark is completely visible.
Josh says nothing and they move on to the next topic with the interviewer, but Josh looks like he’s seen a ghost. Tyler is trying really hard to fight back the tears that threaten to flow. he’s got no way out of this. Josh knows every detail about his life, every person in it, and Tyler racks his brain trying to think of who he can pin this on before he loses his friendship with the older boy. The second the interview ends, Josh grabs his arm and drags his down the hallway, into the bathroom, and locks the door behind them.
“What the hell is that?”
“Josh, don’t,” Tyler begs.
“Sorry if I’m upset my best friend hasn’t even told me he’s been talking to anyone and suddenly he’s fallen in love with someone today,” Josh’s yelling now, and Tyler doesn’t understand why he didn’t put his damn make up on this morning.
“It didn’t happen today.”
“You got this before today?” Josh’s jaw is clenched now, “Since when?”
“Since April,” Tyler replies, almost inaudibly.
“What the hell, Ty! How hasn’t anyone noticed before?”
“I’ve been covering it up.”
“Why?” Josh yells, and after a moment of silence from the younger boy he continues, “April what?”
“Josh...” Tyler tries, but the other boy isn’t listening to his.
“What day did you get that?”
Josh’s face goes white, “Before or after the concert?”
Tyler’s crying now because he knows that his response isn’t going to be okay.
“During. I got it during the concert.”
Josh’s out the door by the time Tyler blinks away another tear.
Josh doesn’t come back. he doesn’t tell anyone where he is. Management is pissed that he just ran off by himself, while they were in the middle of LA, when they are supposed to be in the studio, but they’re at least happy that he waited until after their appearance to disappear. They’re still pissed though, really, really pissed. Tyler knows that it’s all his fault and he feels bad that Josh is eventually going to get yelled at because of his.
Tyler is in the studio with Fall Out Boy now anyways, but Patrick and Pete are the only ones who’ve recorded at the moment, while Tyler just stares off into space, Patrick’s next to him, on the other side of the glass. Patrick’s phone rings and he steps out to take the call.
“You sure you don’t want to get in this today? Sing it out?” one of the producers asks the younger boy, nodding towards the booth.
“No, I don’t think so. Sorry,” Tyler replies.
He just shrugs and turns his attention back to the othis boys. After several minutes Patrick steps back in and slowly sits back down.
“That was Josh,” he starts in a low voice, as Tyler snaps his head up, “he’s okay. he’s with Michael.”
Tyler feels like crying all over again because he knows that Josh only really hangs out with that boy when he wants to get drunk and go out. he pictures the two boys talking about how pathetic he is, laughing as they drink. Patrick must be able to tell that he’s thinking something along those lines because he speaks up again.
“You know how he is. he just needed time to himself to clear his thoughts. he’ll be back.”
“Yeah, well if he comes back, he’s just going to avoid me,” Tyler mumbles.
“So that really is for him, huh?” Patrick asks, pointing to the mark on the younger boy’s wrist. Tyler doesn’t say anything but that seems to give Patrick his answer anyway.
“Did you ever ask Josh why him and Ashley broke up?”
Tyler thinks about it for a minute, “No, I guess I didn’t. I never really wanted to hear about it. God, I’m the most selfish friend.”
“No you aren’t,” Patrick chuckles, “Well, they fought about Josh’s third mark.”
“Because he got it while we were away on tour. he didn’t get it while he was with her. Like, physically hanging out with her.”
“So?” Tyler asks, clearly not understanding the point the other boy is trying to make.
“Tyler, everyone I know remembers exactly when they got each of their marks. And everyone I know was actually with the person when it happened.”
“So what are you saying?” the younger boy asks, still confused.
“I’m saying, Ashley and Josh broke up because he didn’t get his third one with her,” Patrick raises his eyebrows for dramatic effect.
“Are you sure they weren’t just talking on the phone or something?”
“It doesn’t usually work like that...”
“Well, when did he even get the newest one then?” he’s still confused.
“I don’t know. he never told anyone. But maybe you should ask him about that one day.”
Tyler doesn’t have a chance to ask more questions because Pete walks out of the booth and tell Patrick he needs to record lead vocals. Pete doesn’t say anything once Patrick walks out, he just wraps his arms around the smaller boy in a bear hug, and Tyler finds himself starting to cry. Again.
It’s almost two in the morning when the boys get back to their house and they all retreat to their respective rooms for the night. Tyler pauses by Josh’s door though, eventually walking into the back room, sighing when he finds that it’s empty. Not that he really thought Josh would be there, but still.
he lays down on top of Josh’s comforter and curls up, wishing he could take back everything that has happened in the past twenty-four hours. he doesn’t want to lose Josh, because despite everything, he’s still his best friend. Tyler must fall asleep at some point because before he knows it, a gentle shake and someone saying, “Hey”, wakes him up.
It’s not just someone. It’s Josh.
“Hi, uh, I’m sorry, I was just, I didn’t mean to...” Tyler trails off.
“It’s okay, Ty,” Josh says softly. he’s surprisingly calm. And surprisingly sober.
Tyler quickly gets up and heads for the door, but he feels a soft grip on his arm and turns to face the other boy.
“Wanna go for a walk?”
Tyler squints at the clock, which reads “3:05 AM”.
“Yeah,” Josh replies, like it’s the most casual question in the world, “You don’t have to, though.”
“Well, I’m awake now. So, okay, I guess.”
Josh leads them out the front door and down the street, turning off onto the familiar bike path. It’s quiet outside. It’s still. Peaceful. Tyler isn’t sure if he should wait for Josh to speak or if he is supposed to say something. Is this the part where he apologizes for ruining their friendship? Is he supposed to ask him to forget everything? he’s snapped out of his internal debate when he hears the boy next to him start talking.
“I’m sorry I ran,” Josh says, “You know how I get when I’m, uh, blindsided with stuff.”
“It’s okay. I get it, I’m sorry too,” Tyler adds.
“You don’t have to apologize for anything. You didn’t do anything wrong. I mean, I wish you had been honest with me, but I get why you weren’t. Believe me, I do.”
Tyler doesn’t get it, Josh is being so nice and so not awkward and that’s just weird.
“Look, Josh. I don’t want it to be awkward with us but I get that it’s going to be different. It’s okay if you need your space for awhile.”
Josh doesn’t say anything back to that, but there's a ghost of a smile on his lips. Tyler is beyond confused at this point and he wonders if he is hallucinating this whole thing. After all, it is like, three in the morning.
“Do you remember when you got it?” Josh speaks again, “I mean, I know you said at the concert, but like, do you remember the specific moment?”
Tyler can feel himself blushing, “Um, yeah.”
“Josh, I don’t think that...”
“I won’t freak out. I promise. Please?”
Tyler rolls his eyes and lets out a little huff, “Fine. You were holding my hand, they started playing ‘Fallingforyou’, I looked over at you and you were singing, and then bam, I felt it.”
“’Fallingforyou’, huh? Pretty cliché, Joseph,” the older boy says with a smirk.
“It’s not like I chose that moment. It’s not like I chose you,” Tyler says, a little harsher than he intended.
he swears he sees Josh frown before he mumbles, “I know.”
The silence is awkward now. Somehow Tyler managed to ruin a moment that wasn’t even there. he decides to try to keep the conversation going, “What about you? Do you remember when you got yours?”
“Yep. Each one,” Josh murmurs.
“Tell me. Your turn.”
Josh stops walking when they reach a tall street lamp and they stand together under the yellow light. he pulls up the sleeve of his sweater, showing off his three neat tally marks that pop against his tan skin.
“This one,” the older boy points to the first mark, “was Melanie. I was fifteen and we had been dating for a few months when she asked me to homecoming by spelling it out with candles in my front yard. Afterwards she gave me a big bouquet of roses and she signed the card ‘I love you’. Right after I read the card, it happened.”
Tyler huckles at the story, “Wow, and you said I was cliché?”
“Oh just wait, it gets worse,” Josh jokes back.
“This one,” he points to the middle mark, “was Debby. I was sixteen, as you know, and we had just started doing live shows for The X Factor. But, the exact moment was when she sang one of The Never Ending’s new songs for me, by herself, and then she told me she had written it for me.”
“Cliché, but still cute,” Tyler replies, “Last one?”
Tyler is suddenly really nervous to hear this story, especially after Patrick had made a big deal about it, almost suggesting that the mark wasn’t for Ashley at all.
“Ah yes, this one,” Josh points at the last mark on his arm. Tyler thinks it even looks like it's a slightly deeper shade of red than the other two, but he wonders if it's just the lighting, or the fact that it's newer, or if he’s just making things up in his head again.
“This one was different. I got it this year. It’s funny because I was dating Ashley at the time, but that’s not how I got it.”
Tyler gulps. So Patrick had been right, it wasn’t for Ashley, but then who in the world did Josh fall in love with this past year? Had Josh been cheating on her? Tyler was almost more hurt at the thought of Josh secretly seeing someone that he never mentioned than the thought of Josh not returning his feelings. Suddenly, Josh drops his arms to his side and takes a step closer to the younger boy.
“Do you remember when we were in New York, like, in February?
“Yeah?” Tyler answers skeptically.
“Remember when we went up on the roof?”
“Obviously. It was my idea, remember?”
“Right, well, we were on the roof. And I said that there was nowhere else I would have rather been in that moment, which I sincerely meant, by the way. You were looking at me like, I don’t know, I was the greatest thing in the city that night.”
Josh’s voice is getting shaky now and Tyler can't remember ever hearing his voice like this. The younger boy’s heart is starting to beat faster now because Josh is talking about him and he’s confused because he thought that this story was supposed to be about the older boy’s third mark.
“And then you started walking away, you had to go back down to our room, and right as you left, I felt it,” Josh finishes simply, not removing his gaze from the brown eyes opposite of his.
“What?” Tyler whispers, because there’s no way he just heard that story right. Because that would have meant...
“On February twenty-third I fell in love with you, Tyler Joseph, and it turned my whole world upside-down. I guess I should have told you sooner,” he reaches down and lightly touches Tyler’s wrist, traces his finger over the mark, “and for that, I’m really sorry.”
Tyler kisses Josh. Or maybe Josh kisses Tyler. But all that really matters is that somehow he’s kissing Josh and he can hear the buzz of the dirty streetlight above them, but for some reason, it seems utterly perfect.