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something just like love

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“He—he what?”

“You heard me the first time,” Techno says, breaths shorter than usual.

“You can’t just—he what?”

Technoblade looks at him dryly.

“You can’t just drop that on me, Techno. He—what did he—I thought he went fishing!”

“He stormed out of the house, Wilbur. Many hours ago.”

“He said he was going fishing!”

“He stormed out of the house without a fishing pole.”

Wilbur scowls and crosses his arms. “Still possible,” he mutters.

“Wilbur,” Techno deadpans.

“Techno,” Wilbur glares.

“You yelled at him, and he yelled he was leaving. When you asked where, he shouted, and I quote, “Hell if I know. Maybe to fish.” Then he left the house without any fishing gear. You put the pieces together.”

Wilbur doesn’t want to.

“In other words,” he says obstinately, “you lost the child.”

“He wasn’t mine to keep track of,” Techno says. “If anything, you ran him off.”

He winces away from the accusation. “Why did this even—when did—”

“Wilbur.”

“Can you just—just tell me, Techno. You’re not giving me much to work with here. In fact, you’re being extraordinarily unhelpful, so if you’d cut the vague crap and tell me what’s going on, I’d—”

“He’s drunk, Wilbur,” Techno repeats, sounding like if he’s asked to say it again he may commit a homicide.

Drunk.

Hearing it confirmed…

Well. Wilbur may commit a homicide, too.

His eyes glaze as he stares at the wall. Disbelief—pure and raw—filters steadily through his veins.

“Your spontaneous death would be so incredibly inconvenient,” Techno says baldly. “I’m hoping that you’re just incredulous, not having a heart attack.”

“It’s the latter,” Wilbur says, mouth dry.

Drunk?

“Lovely,” Techno mutters. He twirls a stick around in his hands, drawing random swirls on the dusty ground. “Now I have to deal with him myself.”

Wilbur snorts. “You don’t care enough.”

Techno looks up sharply, eyes flashing, and for a split second Wilbur is surprised. For a split second, he sets their past aside and remembers why Techno traveled here in the first place—because Tommy asked for him; because Tommy lost Tubbo; because Tommy needed another person on his side.

For a split second, something like love flashes through Techno’s eyes.

But then it disappears.

His shoulders fall, his posture relaxes, and, shrugging, he says easily, “You’re right. I don’t. He’ll make it back eventually.”

Wilbur bites back his retort, and furrows his eyebrows at the ground. “Are you sure?”

“That he’ll make it back?”

“No. That he—just—he’s drunk?”

“A little hung up on that, aren’t you? I think you’d better get to the knight-in-shining-armor part of the story before the damsel dies.”

“You aren’t funny,” Wilbur snaps. He grabs his boots from the shelf and begins to shove them on.

“I’m not meaning to be,” Techno says—and, to be fair, his face is entirely devoid of humor. Then again, his face is always devoid of everything, so it isn’t exactly a reliable tell.

“Where’d you see him last?” Wilbur asks, and pauses. “Wait. How do you even know he’s drunk? Were you with him? Why’d you leave him? Why—”

“Don’t yell at me,” Techno says. “I ran into Niki right near the border on my way back from scouting. She told me she’d seen him drinking.”

“And neither of you thought to do anything about it?”

“Of course not,” Techno says, eyes narrowing the slightest bit. “We love seeing children suffer.”

Wilbur scowls instinctively, but quickly realizes what Techno is getting at behind the apathy: Techno is meant to stay a secret. He cannot alert Manberg to his presence. It’s his only job, really—besides being there for Tommy: don’t let word get back to Schlatt that he is here, that he is on their side.

It makes sense, then—if Tommy is where Wilbur suspects him to be—that Techno wouldn’t be able to help him. It makes sense, too, why he was out of breath upon arriving—he must have sprinted back to send Wilbur to Tommy as quickly as possible.

“Fine,” Wilbur says, understanding that much. He stands, brushing his hands off on his pants, and frowns. “But Niki?”

“Curfew,” Techno answers.

Wilbur furrows his eyebrows. “Surprising,” he mutters. “Nothing like that’s stopped her from helping anyone before.”

“She would’ve,” he says lowly. “She was really worked up.”

“Why didn’t she, then?”

Techno glances at the ground.

Wilbur steps toward him, confused.

“If she isn’t back by curfew, it…well.” Techno clears his throat awkwardly. “It isn’t—it isn’t her that gets punished.”

Wilbur’s stomach churns.

Tubbo.

He doesn’t know how he knows, but he does. He’s certain.

If Niki breaks curfew, Schlatt hurts Tubbo.

And it adds up—Niki’s inaction could hurt Tommy, but her action could hurt Tubbo, and guilt’s always stuck closer to action than anything else. She would never hurt either of them—but, more than anything, she would never let her choice hurt either of them.

Choosing to break curfew was choosing to hurt Tubbo.

“It was one or the other,” Techno says.

Tubbo.

Wilbur swears under his breath. “I should have been paying better attention,” he mutters, and moves to the coat rack. “I should’ve known he’d leave. I should have been watching him.”

“I was watching, so it’s alright.”

“S’pose so,” Wilbur says, and ignores the guilt gnawing at his stomach. The guilt that reminds him—over and over and over, in slimy, hissing tones—that he was the one who initiated their fight, that he was the one who said he didn’t care where he left to or who he left with, that he was the one—the cause, the motivation: encouraging the liquid down Tommy’s throat with every harsh word he had said; with every harsh word they had exchanged.

The guilt that reminds him that he is directly responsible for Tommy’s safety, or lack thereof.

He pulls his coat tighter around him.

“I’d help you look,” Techno starts, “but I don’t think I should—”

“I know you can’t,” Wilbur cuts in, and sighs. “Going to find him would’ve been stupid. I’m glad you weren’t rash.”

Something like amusement flits over Techno’s face. “That’s someone else’s trademark. Not mine.”

“Thank Ender,” Wilbur says. “He’s got a dozen people’s worth of rage, hasn’t he? Can’t imagine two of him in one nation, let alone one home.”

Techno’s impassivity returns as Wilbur strides toward the door. “I can look around here, at least—”

“That’s alright,” Wilbur says, pausing in the threshold. “I know exactly where he is.”

He pushes through the door.

 

///

 

Wilbur thinks, if anything, that this should multiply his anger. And it does, at first—he's furious.

Tommy is in Manberg. Tommy is drunk in Manberg.

He is an idiot.

Wilbur’s been proved right. He’s been justified.

He's been an idiot.

As soon as he sees Tommy on that bench—knees squished into his chest, head in his hands, rocking shakily back and forth—every drop of anger drains away.

He doesn’t run, even though he wants to, because he doesn’t want Tommy startled. He isn’t surprised that Tommy is here at all—this is his and Tubbo’s bench, this is his and Tubbo’s spot. He knew he would come here, because this is where they come…or, came, he supposes, when Tubbo was stressed or disappointed, or when Tommy was tired—

—and drunk, apparently.

He isn’t noticed as he rounds the bench, as he blanches, as he squats in front of where Tommy’s sitting.

Carefully ignoring the vomit near his feet, Wilbur swallows his fear, swallows his guilt.

He hovers his hand over Tommy’s kneecap, and says, as quietly as possible, “Tommy?”

Tommy jerks away from him, wide, unfocused eyes shooting up, face paling rapidly.

“Hey, hey,” Wilbur says, and grabs his shoulders, anchoring him. “You’re alright, yeah? It’s just me.”

Tommy blinks. There is water on his cheeks. “Wil?”

“Yeah,” he says softly, sinking to his knees. “Yeah, Tommy. It’s me. I’m right here, okay?”

“S’cold,” Tommy slurs. He blinks again—hard—trying to keep Wilbur’s face in focus.

“I know,” Wilbur says, even though he’s sweating. “I know it is. Let’s get you home, alright?”

Tommy shakes his head sharply, and—finding that a horrible mistake—grabs his face in his hands again. “D’n’t wanna leave,” he says.

“Why not?”

“Waiting.”

Wilbur frowns. “Waiting? Who—you? You’re waiting?”

“Mmhm.”

Wilbur bites the inside of his cheek, and hopes beyond hope that Tommy isn’t talking about—

“Tubbo,” Tommy mumbles, and shivers. “Tubbo’s coming.”

Wilbur bows his head.

“Wait—waiting for Tubbo,” Tommy continues.

And what can Wilbur say to that?

No number of lies will comfort him. No number of lies will make things right. No number of lies will fix his world or his friends or his family.

Wilbur opens his mouth and closes it five different times. His hands remain on Tommy’s shoulders, but his eyes remain on the floor—he cannot bear to see the hurt, the pain, the trust in Tommy’s face when he inevitably tells him that Tubbo’s not coming, that Tubbo won’t come, that Tubbo can’t come for a long, long time; that Niki had to choose between saving Tommy or saving Tubbo, that that’s not a choice anyone should ever have to make—

He’s cut off by a wet cough.

Tommy’s shoulders collapse into sobs.

Wilbur swears under his breath. He climbs up next to Tommy on the bench, wraps his arms around his shoulders, and tugs him into his chest.

“Alright,” he whispers, moving his hand to the back of Tommy’s head and pushing it against his chest. Snot and saliva and tears and cold sweat drench his shirt, but he couldn’t care less; it hardly registers. “Alright, Tommy. You’re okay.”

Tommy shakes his head and says something completely indiscernible.

“Breathe,” Wilbur says. He rubs circles on Tommy’s back with his free hand. “Just breathe, alright? You’re going to be fine.”

They continue in this manner—Tommy crumbling, Wilbur comforting. Tommy sobs and cries and cries and it’s not fair, none of this is fair, because at his age, Wilbur was drinking with his friends. He was drinking to have fun. He was drinking to float.

He wasn’t drinking by himself. He wasn’t drinking to escape. He wasn’t drinking to drown.

It isn’t fair.

At length, though, Tommy’s sobs recede to hitched, shallow breaths.

“You’re alright,” Wilbur murmurs. “Just breathe, yeah? You’re going to be fine.”

“Just want—w’nt Tubbo.”

Wilbur’s heart splinters. “I know,” he says hoarsely.

“D’n’t w’nt to fight ‘nymore,” Tommy manages, hiccuping. “D’n’t like fi—fighting.”

That, at least, Wilbur can rectify.

He rests his cheek on Tommy’s crown. “We’re okay, Tommy. I’m sorry that we—I’m sorry that I snapped at you this morning. I was angry with Schlatt, and with the circumstances, and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. That’s—”

Tommy shakes his head miserably. “D’n’t like fighting war,” he clarifies.

And what can Wilbur say to that?

No number of apologies can atone for the permanent stains—blood or otherwise—on Tommy’s heart, in Tommy’s mind. No number of apologies can help him forget the injuries he’s given, the injuries he’s gotten. No number of apologies can keep his friends, can keep his family safe. No number of apologies can bring Tubbo back home, or bring them all back to their home. No number of apologies can end this war.

No number of apologies can justify a sixteen year old fighting.

Wilbur wants to promise that they’ll be okay. He wants to promise that nothing will ever be able separate them or hurt them. He wants to promise that when this is over, they’ll have L’Manberg, and they’ll have each other. He wants to promise that there is a future where Tommy can have a childhood, where he can have normal, fun teenage experiences—like drinking with his friends to have fun, not to forget.

He wants to promise that it’ll be over soon.

He cannot.

So he hugs Tommy tighter, swallows his fears, and says, “Me neither, Tommy. Me neither.”

“J—just w’nt it to stop,” Tommy mumbles, voice raw with all of the things only alcohol could ever urge out of him, all of the things he would never, never own up to while he was sober—affection, vulnerability, fear. “D’n’t like fighting.”

Wilbur squeezes his eyes shut.

Tommy’s breath quickens. Wilbur shushes him, still rubbing circles on his back, but it doesn’t matter. He continues anyway. “D’nt want to lose Tubbo,” he says desperately, clinging tighter to Wilbur. “D’nt want to—to lose you. Can’t—can’t live with—without you. If s’mthing hap—happen’d—”

“Tommy,” Wilbur says gently, interrupting the spiral before its roots can take further hold. “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to leave you, okay? You’re stuck with me.”

Tommy’s breath hitches over and over and over, growing so shallow that Wilbur almost pulls back, almost checks that he’s alright.

But Tommy pushes closer into his embrace, and Wilbur slumps in relief.

“’M so—so tired,” Tommy whispers.

“I know,” he returns, just as quiet. “I know you are.”

Tommy falls asleep in his arms. Wilbur does not sleep. The scent of alcohol is too powerful. With each inhale he’s reminded of his failure, of his future, of his fear.

This is his failure: he lost his temper.

This is his future: the boy passed out in his arms.

This is his fear: not keeping that boy safe.

Wilbur will not fail him again. He will fight anyone, anything to better his future. His fear will not come to pass; he will keep him safe.

They sit until the sunlight makes Tommy groan.

 

///

 

He chides Tommy in the morning. He calls him an idiot in colorful language—using a plethora of words that children should not be exposed to, but, then, Tommy’s hardly a child, is he?

Tommy sits at the kitchen table with his head slumped in his folded arms. He whines and moans and complains and shoves his hands over his ears, but it’s okay. It’s okay, because he’s okay. It’s okay, because he’s dramatic and an idiot, but he’s okay, and they’re okay. They’re both sorry, they’re both terrified, and neither of them acknowledge it, but both of them know.

Wilbur pulls the story out of him by pulling the curtains open and shouting at the top of his lungs. Tommy swears. Techno laughs.

The story is uncomplicated. He drank three bottles of “an undisclosed liquid” that he found in “an undisclosed location”—“short term memory loss,” he claims—after storming out last night. He’d planned to “stab” something there, he says, and it doesn’t make sense, so Wilbur chastises him for being careless. Tommy brushes his lecture off—“I wouldn’t have died,” he insists—but there is something real, something trusting, something like love in his eyes that Wilbur takes as understanding. He will not again think of returning there without a purpose or companion, and Wilbur is grateful.

Tommy also grumbles that he’d drank it all on an empty stomach, since he’d left before dinner. He keeps other details to himself—like if he blacked out, like how much he remembers—but that’s okay.

He’s an idiot, but that’s okay, because he’s okay.

It doesn’t mean that things are okay, because they aren’t. They are still at war. They are still fighting for their freedom. Tommy drowned his feelings but woke up to his reality. Except for the pounding headache he drones on and on about, nothing is different. Nothing has changed.

But—as Wilbur drops the blinds shut, as he rolls his eyes and grinds an herbal remedy for Tommy’s hangover—that is all okay.

Something just like love got them here. Something stronger than love will keep them going.

And, someday, things will be alright.