The worst part about seeing your best friend again for the first time in months is that he's taller now.
Maybe it's just the shoes, maybe it's that Tommy's posture has gone to shit since his exile, or maybe it's just actually been a long time and Tubbo has grown a little taller but it is weird and not right and Tommy hates it.
The President's uniform fits him better than it ever did. Tommy's clothes have all gotten too loose.
They're standing on the Prime Path together, on this monument Tommy built to no one, and Tubbo is taller and Tommy's trying to speak but he can't. Because all he can hear is Dream's voice, talking to Tubbo in the same way he used to talk to Tommy, and Tubbo's quiet reply agreeing with him.
And he's trying to talk about what Dream did to him and how he's sorry and how Tubbo doesn't deserve to look as tired as he does. He swallows his tongue.
Because the worst part about it is that as much as he wants to make Tubbo feel okay again, he's embarrassed. He's embarrassed that he let Dream get to him like that. He's embarrassed that he fell for it. And it's so stupid and shitty of him to think, but he's embarrassed about trying to kill himself. He knows he doesn't have to be embarrassed about shit like that because he was suffering and alone and being manipulated and he knows all that shit but he still feels so stupid.
He grabs his elbows, holding his arms around himself as tight as he can. Tommy tries to tell Tubbo that he's not a bad leader and he was doing his best and that he's sorry but none of it can swim out of the thick sludge of shame in his throat.
"See you tomorrow," Tubbo says, sounding a little confused as if he can't quite believe that Tommy's here either.
Tommy nods. Tubbo doesn't walk to L'Manberg like Tommy expects him to. He walks to the Holy Land. Tubbo doesn't believe in Prime, but he goes to Church whenever he doesn't want anyone to see him. Whenever the pain in his scars gets too bad or he just needs to cry alone.
His back is straighter than it used to be. He carries a sword on his hip now.
The worst part about seeing your best friend for the first time in months is that no matter how well you know them, you really don't know them at all.
Tommy finds Tubbo by the lake, the night before there isn't a lake anymore.
It's his first night back, it's his first time really talking to Tubbo in months. He really wants something good. That kind of soft reconciliation that he'd dreamed about in Logstedshire because he's gotten to yell at Tubbo and get all of it out and now they can have some quiet before the storm.
But instead of a nice, quiet conversation, he's watching Tubbo shove a bottle of whiskey into his jacket in a panicked frenzy. "What the fuck?" He asks, gesturing vaguely in front of him, and Tubbo has the audacity to look back at the lake as if nothing happened. Tommy sits down next to him. "Tubbo, what the fuck?"
"Tommy," Tubbo says, just a simple acknowledgement, and his face is still puckered up like he's tasted something rotten. Tommy scrambles on top of him and digs into his jacket, which was always too big for him anyway, and takes the bottle out, holding it away.
"Why are you drinking?" Tommy doesn't want to deal with this right now. He doesn't want to come back from exile just to find out that his best friend is suddenly an alcoholic or something equally fucked up like that. He's not even mentally stable enough to help himself, let own drag Tubbo through whatever the fuck kind of problems he's developed since Tommy's been gone.
He can hardly figure out if he did the right thing by leaving Dream. He doesn't have room for this.
Tubbo doesn't reach for it, just holds his hands up in surrender. He deflates. "I- I don't know, it's dumb, it's really dumb, I haven't- I haven't been doing it, it's just this one time, and it's just... just forget it happened, okay?"
Tommy can't help but hear Dream earlier, laughing in Tubbo's face, towering over him in the way that everyone did, calling him an idiot, and he can't stop thinking about that. So he sets the bottle down on the rocks next to him and says "I'm not gonna judge, Tubbo. Just fucking talk to me, mate."
Tubbo drags his hands down his face, groaning. He looks like Wilbur. Tommy feels some odd thing inside that isn't quite grief, isn't quite anger, isn't quite anything he knows how to describe. It might not have a name. It might just be something that has stumbled into his chest and decided to sit itself down and make a home out of it.
Tommy keeps his face set because that always makes Tubbo talk about whatever he's not talking about. Although, then again, what does Tommy know about Tubbo, anymore?
The cluster of things in him that rise up at that thought almost sound like Cat.
"I don't know. I just- I was just thinking about- about Schlatt. And wondering if it was the- the thing that made him... you know?" And really, Tommy shouldn't know. If he doesn't know Tubbo that well anymore, he really shouldn't know how he's going to end that sentence, that he's trying to say that made him hurt me, but he does. Because it's weird to think, but he wondered the same thing about different people.
He had clung, desperately, to the thought that power made Wilbur what he was. That it was sitting in that high place that made him go mad, that there wasn't an evil bone in his body before it, but Tubbo hasn't blown up New L'Manburg yet, and George has never been driven to mass genocide for a damn throne, and Wilbur wasn't really that good a guy to begin with. And maybe, he had thought, maybe it was him that got to Dream. Maybe it was just his fault for being an insolent little shit who never listened, who wouldn't give up his armour, who just kept biting and biting no matter how much the hand fed him. And he still thinks that that might be true, but he's considering for the first time in a while that it might not be.
He offers a small hum of agreement. Tubbo's uniform looks stiff and uncomfortable, probably from being dried up with saltwater, but if Tubbo's not going to give him a hug or something then Tommy's weird, pathetic imitations of that contact are going to have to be good enough. He moves a little closer to Tubbo, so their shoulders are touching.
"We're so fucked," Tommy says, and Tubbo laughs.
Score one for Tommy Innit.
"We are, aren't we?"
And they are.
Tubbo's hand brushes against Tommy, as if he's about to grab onto it, about to hold it again, as they used to when the harshest word Tommy had ever thrown in Tubbo's face was "clingy." But he pulls back, folding his hands upon his lap, which is probably for the better. He doesn't move away, though, and he doesn't get up, so Tommy considers that score two.
It isn't much, but Tommy will take what he can get.
Tommy stands on top of an obsidian grid, his chest cold and hurting, and he really, really needs all he can get, right now.
The bench feels different. Less comfortable. The wood is digging into his back, and the bench feels somehow smaller and bigger than it used to.
The soft notes of Chirp squirm into his ribs like worms in an apple. He swallows heavily. Quackity turns his head to the side and everyone politely pretends that Tommy isn’t crying like a baby.
Tubbo has his arms crossed. His president's uniform is dirty and ripped and he should really get someone to look at the red spot on his shoulder, but he’s not crying. He doesn’t even look like he's present.
“Prime,” Quackity mumbles, and no one thinks of anything to say.
One more step forward is all it would take. Forgive him for wanting to go out with a little dignity, Tommy thinks, watching Tubbo a few meters away. There's a reason he came here alone.
He fidgets. It felt a little poetic at the time, just throwing himself into the crater, but he should have known that Tubbo was spending his time hanging around that crater, probably reminiscing about the good old days, because that was just what Tubbo did. Tubbo's crying, but Tubbo is a quiet crier, just like Will. If it weren't for the tear tracks running through the dust, Tommy might not have noticed at all.
Tommy puts his head in his hands, trying to massage out the ache in them. There's no real background noise like there was in the Nether. Not even that buzzing in his head, or the constant drone of his own voice, like there was on the pillar. Instead, there is a cottony blanket of silence over everything.
"Can you leave?" Tommy scuffs his shoe against the rock awkwardly. He had this whole speech to the universe planned out and it doesn't really work with Tubbo here.
Tubbo steps forward, takes a very deep breath, and then says "You jump and I'm coming with you, so either come back or get us both killed."
The first real emotion he's felt all night is a surge of panic and disgust. "What the fuck, Tubbo! No, fuck off with that, stop." He rocks back onto his heels. Prime damn it all, he can't do anything right. He can't even have the decency to kill himself off without hurting his friend in the process.
Tubbo strides forward. Tommy nearly stumbles back, but doesn't, until Tubbo is standing only a few steps away. He is not crying anymore. His face is set, resolute, because Tubbo is a stupid, stubborn bastard and Tommy is not going to break down in front of him over this, that would be ridiculous.
"So are you gonna do it or not? Or are you going to come back home with me and stop being a fucking idiot?"
Tommy wraps his arms around himself. A surge of anger flashes through him, hot and quick, like the explosions of his armour back in exile. "This isn't fair."
Tubbo glares at him. "What's not fair?"
Tommy's tongue doesn't settle in his mouth. It feels like there's a rock in his throat because none of this is fair. Tubbo is a good person. Tubbo doesn't backstab people who help him or take things he doesn't deserve or constantly fucking disobey, god, do you ever learn-
Tommy steps forward. Tubbo rushes up and yanks him by the arm roughly away from the crater that used to be their home. "That wasn't fair," Tommy says again, numb.
"Fuck you," Tubbo responds.
"You can't just threaten your life to get me to do what you want, that's not-"
Tubbo is holding on to him by his sleeve but Tommy can practically feel the way his fingers would dig into his wrist. He looks down at the fabric and finds it scrunched up. "And you don't get to kill yourself, Tommy."
Tommy flinches. It sounds a lot shittier when he says it that blunt.
Tubbo turns away from him, bringing up his free hand and rubbing at his face, clearly wiping away tears. "Okay," Tommy says, head fuzzy.
Tommy sniffs. "You're still a dick."
The urge to recover is something that Tommy gets like a punch in the face.
He's sitting on the bench, listening to Cat with Tubbo, feeling the cool night air on his face and still trying to process the fact that Dream is gone and everyone is okay when he thinks I want to feel better.
He says it to Tubbo, out loud. Part of him doesn't want to say it. Part of him wants to keep it buried inside so he can accomplish it on his own and he doesn't have to risk the mockery that he knows Tubbo won't give him, but he says it anyway. Tubbo accepting death was disturbing. A lot of things about Tubbo have been disturbing, lately.
"I want to get better."
Tubbo leans forward, elbows on his knees, looking tired enough to collapse on the spot. "That's good. You deserve it."
Tubbo doesn't mention himself. Tommy crosses his arms over his chest and digs his heels into the dirt. "I'm only doing it if you do too."
It seems they're both thinking of the same thing when they look at each other. Standing at the edge of a crater, Tommy's knees shaking, Tubbo rooted to the ground, the words you jump and I'm coming with you vibrating through the ozone in the air.
"I'm fine, Tommy," Tubbo says smoothly, and Tommy's mouth goes bitter as he's reminded of what a good liar his friend is. "You were the one who was exiled. I'm doing good."
Tommy figures that the best time to start addressing things is now. "Don't lie to me like that. It reminds me of him. So stop."
Tubbo swallows hard, turning his face away. "I-"
"I'm not doing this without you Tubbo. It's you and me."
There is no versus anymore. No big bad to distract them. There's not another fight and that is unfamiliar and scary and it makes his chest tighten but it's true. It's Tubbo and Tommy and it always has been, no matter who they were up against.
"Well," Tommy continues awkwardly, "come on, you gotta give me something. I can't admit something traumatic while you just get to stay silent, that's not fair."
Tubbo's knee bounces as he opens and closes his mouth, although no words come. Cat stops playing. Tommy sits in the quiet for only a few moments before he can't stand it anymore and puts in Chirp.
"I-" Tubbo stops again. He holds his chin in his hand, like he's trying to think of what to say. "I added locks to all the White House doors. They weren't supposed to be there, but I kept feeling like Schlatt was going to storm in and... yeah." Tommy slides across the bench until they're sitting close enough to touch. "I really don't wanna talk about that. Schlatt's dead. I'm over it."
Tommy's head snaps to the side. "I said the same thing about Dream when I got out of exile and you were all no, Tommy, healing takes time. What the fuck? You can't just change your opinion on something like that just because it's about you now."
Tubbo scratches at the back of his head. "Sorry. I can be stupid like that."
Tommy groans. "You know what? Every time you insult yourself, I'm going to compliment you. Tubbo, you are one of the smartest and most dedicated people I have ever met."
Tubbo smiles at him, although it's still a little strained. He's got a bruise forming on his head where Dream hit him with the axe, and the cut above his eyebrow hasn't clotted yet. "Same goes for you," he says, almost spitefully. "And every time you brush off the exile I'm going to force you to spend the day in Snowchester with me drinking hot chocolate. And I'll compliment you."
"I don't wanna spend all day inside," Tommy grumbles.
"Too bad, that's the new rule." Tubbo pauses for a long time, staring out at the SMP, his smile loosening. "Tommy?"
"If anyone tries to hurt you like that again-"
Tommy pushes on Tubbo's arm. "I wasn't the one getting hurt."
"One day inside."
"That doesn't count."
Tubbo scoffs, but a smile pulls at his lips again. Score three. Tommy reaches out, shaky and hesitant, and gently touches his fingers to Tubbo's hand. Tubbo stiffens. Tommy is about to pull back when Tubbo's hand wraps around his.
If they were a little younger, if things were a little different, Tubbo would probably turn to him again and promise, like he always did, that everything was going to be okay. Instead, Tubbo keeps his gaze fixed on the distance. Chirp lets out its last note.
"You'll stay?" Tommy asks, voice quiet and reedy.
Tubbo squeezes his hand. "As long as you let me. As long as I can."