Wilbur came in dragging his backpack behind him. Tommy was perched on the kitchen counter, and he looked up quickly, reminding himself he wasn’t in trouble, Wilbur wasn’t going to slap him across the face, breathing harshly with a heavy smell of booze like his old families. He did look dejected though.
“I went to like five stores for materials for my project and none of them had pipe cleaners. Can you fucking believe that? And then it started raining on my walk home and the cardstock got ruined. Like a sign from god or something.”
“It just wasn’t meant to be,” Tommy tried to joke. He didn’t notice anything was off for a second. But then he saw that Wilbur’s eyes were wide, stopped in his tracks.
Tommy felt his heart drop. He fucked up somehow. What did he do? What had he done?
Wilbur wasn’t moving, his face white. “Are you okay?” Tommy tried to ask, his voice shaking. He fucked up, he made Wilbur scared. No. No no no.
Tommy tried to walk towards Wilbur, even though every bone in his body wanted to run. “I didn’t- I didn’t mean to,” he whimpered. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” Wilbur backed into the wall, his eyes unfocused, his breathing harsh. No no no no no no.
Tommy tried to reach out, to help, to fix it, he needed to fix it. Wilbur flinched sharply away from his hand, sinking down the wall and fumbling with his phone.
“Techno,” he whispered into it, his voice breaking as he glanced scaredly up at Tommy. Tommy backed away, his mind racing.
Techno was down the stairs in thirty seconds.
“Get the fuck away from him,” Techno growled, and Tommy stumbled back. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He could feel the pain coming, fuck he’d been doing so well, a whole month without fucking up, without bruises on his arms, how did he mess this up, they’d only been nice to him and look what he fucking did.
Techno was crouched next to Wilbur, whispering to him while he whimpered. “You’re safe,” Tommy heard, and “I’ve got you.” Wilbur’s whines were high and terrified.
“I didn’t--,” Tommy tried to plead, but the noise made Wilbur flinch. Techno whipped his head around, his eyes dark.
“Get. The fuck. Out,” he snarled. Tommy tripped over himself to leave the room.
No time to pack bags. No time to plan. Tommy grabbed his hoodie and stumbled out of the house and into the rain, running blindly.
Fuck. Fuck. No.
Tears stung his eyes, mixing with the rain on his face. He’d thought this time would be different. Fucking idiot Tommy. It was always going to be like this. He was always going to fuck it up.
Wilbur’s petrified face swam through his mind. His desperate whimpers. Tommy’s feet thumped against the wet concrete as he tried to remember. What did he do? The moment Wilbur’s eyes glazed over. “It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Tommy shook his head, wiping his face with his too-long sleeve. Just focus on running. Finding a place to stay for the night.
He had twenty dollars, kept in his pocket just in case. The most he could save up. That was probably enough for food for a few days. Alleys were a no, but maybe he could find some sort of forest to take cover in.
He’d really thought this time would be different.
Techno had been so angry. Tommy shook his trembling hands. He’d never seen him that angry before, except maybe when Wilbur came home with a black eye and bruised arm, and both him and Philza had to convince Techno not to beat up the guys who did it.
No one would try to convince Techno not to beat up Tommy.
Tommy gasped for air, running faster.
He stumbled to a stop in between two stores, unable to keep going any longer. There was a space between trash cans that would work for now. Tommy crawled between them and curled up, holding his sleeves over his head, hoping desperately that it was enough to hide.
Phil could tell something was wrong the minute he answered the call. Techno’s breathing was harsh and slow, and there was a pause before he said anything. Phil had started walking to his car before Techno could explain.
“Tommy’s gone,” he said hollowly, and Phil’s heart sank.
“What?” He asked softly, and Techno started telling him, scared and slow and tripping over his words.
“He-- I-- he was-- I thought he hurt Wilbur,” Techno said, his voice pleading. “Wilbur called me-- just said my name, he sounded so scared. N’ I ran downstairs,” he took a shaky breath. N’ Tommy was standin’ over him. I thought he hurt him, dad, I didn’t--,” Phil could hear his son’s quiet sobs.
“Techno, hey, it’s okay. I’m not angry, okay? What did you do?”
“I told him to get the fuck out,” Techno murmured, and Phil’s heart dropped. “I didn’t-- I’m sorry I wasn’t thinkin’, I’m so sorry…” Techno trailed off.
“It was an accident, dad, an accidental trigger just like I’ve done so many times. And now he’s gone. Didn’t even bring anythin’, just his hoodie. And Wilbur thinks it’s his fault, which is bullshit, and I don’t know what to do,” his voice was empty and scared. For once, he sounded like the child he was, the child who had been hurt far too many times.
“Techno, we’ll get him back,” Phil said calmly, keeping his voice from shaking. “It’s not anyone’s fault. He’ll be okay, we’ll be okay. Take care of Wilbur. I’ll be back soon, we’ll find him.”
“Okay,” Techno said shakily, and hung up.
Phil clenched his fists around the steering wheel, urging the light to turn green. Fuck.
He didn’t blame Techno, of course he didn’t. They would have to talk about being careful around Tommy. But Phil knew how scared Techno got about his brother getting hurt. He-- well, he would also beat a few people up to keep Wilbur safe.
God, why did his sons have to go through this? None of them deserve this pain. Tommy had just been settling in, just starting to trust. And now he was somewhere on the streets, scared and alone.
And Wilbur, having an anxiety attack and then having to blame himself for Tommy’s disappearance… Phil could scream with the unfairness of it.
No, no, Phil, focus. Finding Tommy. He was going to find Tommy. He had to.
He opened the door to Techno holding Wilbur’s shaking form, both of them crying. They whipped their heads around when Phil came in. Techno immediately got up to get his shoes on, followed closely by Wilbur.
“Are you sure you’re okay to come, Wilbur?” Phil asked worriedly, eyeing his trembling shoulders.
“Of course I’m fuckin’ coming,” Wilbur said, his voice shaky but determined. Phil nodded.
The three piled into the car, Techno in the back. Phil put a hand on Wilbur’s shoulder for a second before he started the ignition.
“Where do you think he would go?” Phil asked.
“I think we should try the town,” Techno grunted. “He would’ve wanted to get food at some point, right?”
Phil nodded, driving towards it. When they got there, Phil parked the car. “How about you and Wilbur go that way, and I’ll go this way?” he suggested, and his sons nodded.
Phil walked down the street, checking in each alleyway and store. “Tommy,” he whisper-called. “Tommy, I’m here.” There were no responses.
Techno refused to break down. Even though his hands were shaking, and his head was spinning, and the guilt that was eating at his stomach was threatening to kill him. Wilbur must’ve been able to tell what was wrong, (always could) because he took Techno’s hand softly and squeezed it.
“I was so mean to him, Wilby,” Techno whispered, checking an alleyway. “So fuckin’ mean.”
Wilbur leaned close. Techno knew it was harder for him to talk after anxiety attacks, so he didn’t wait for him to.
“I just-- I thought he was gonna hurt you,” Techno murmured. “I was so scared. It’s my job to keep you safe.” Wilbur put his hand on his shoulder. I forgive you.
Techno stopped in front of an alley with some suspiciously shifted trash cans, letting go of Wilbur’s hand and patting him to stay there. He walked into the alley quietly, and sure enough, there was Tommy’s dirty gray hoodie, covering a Tommy-sized lump. Techno’s heart lifted in relief, and he thought he might start crying. Tommy, breathing, alive, here.
“Tommy,” Techno said softly, as softly as he could through his shaking voice. Tommy’s head snapped up, and Techno could immediately see the fear in his eyes. He backed away.
Tommy pressed against the wall, shaking, barely breathing at all. It was different from Wilbur when he got scared, Techno thought. Wilbur always looked like he was somewhere else. Tommy looked like he was really, painfully here.
“M’ not gonna hurt you,” Techno said, glancing at Wilbur watching nervously from the end of the alley. Tommy shook his head, muttering something.
“What was that?”
“You are,” Tommy whispered a little louder, “but I don’t blame you. I deserve it.” On the last part, his voice shook, and he snapped his mouth shut.
Techno pulled at his long hair. “You don’t-- Tommy, you didn’t know,” Techno said. “I thought-- I didn’t realize it was just an accident. I’m not gonna hurt you.”
Tommy looked at him blankly for a second and then ducked his head, his shoulders shaking. He was crying and murmuring something over and over. Techno moved a little closer, slowly, and crouched down.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I don’t want to go back, I’m sorry, please, I’m sorry, don’t deserve you guys don’t deserve this but I don’t wanna go back don’t wanna be hit anymore don’t wanna don’t wanna--,” his voice was broken, and soft, and punctuated with whimpers.
Techno clenched his fists, and he was angry now. Not at Tommy, though. Techno buried the anger, trying to focus on the crying boy. “Shh,” Techno whispered, “you’re okay. We’re not-- Tommy, we’re not gonna send you back. You’re family.”
Tommy let out a choked, high sob, and Techno leaned back, cursing himself. What’d he done wrong?
“Can I touch you, Tommy?” Tommy nodded shakily. Techno moved the bin to the side a bit, and sat next to Tommy against the wall. He let the shaking kid, his brother, lean into him, and he ran his fingers through his hair softly, ignoring his own tears.
“I’m so sorry, Tommy. I’m so fuckin’ sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t-- I didn’t wanna scare you. I never wanna scare you. I’m sorry,” he held Tommy close to him, treasuring every soft breath he made. He was alive. He was okay. He was here.
“Didn’t mean to scare him, I didn’t mean to,” Tommy’s words rushed over each other, coming to an abrupt stop. “Didn’t mean to,” he whispered.
“I know, Tommy, I know. Wilbur knows too.”
Tommy looked up at that. “Is he… is he okay?” he asked shakily.
Techno thought for a second. “Yeah, he’s okay. He’s been through a lot of shit. No matter how careful we are we can’t always keep him from rememberin’.”
Techno didn’t tell Tommy about all the nights of pained sobbing, the days of soft whispers that could do nothing to stop Wilbur from remembering pain, only pain. He didn’t tell Tommy about how matches, even in ads and pictures, still made his brother go to a dark cabin in the middle of nowhere begging to get out as the flames rose around him. Okay. As okay as he could be.
Tommy stared up at him, like he could see what he was thinking. Techno blinked and gathered the boy close. “We’re quite a bunch, huh? Philza’s fucked up kids.”
Tommy grinned through tears. “We should start a circus act.”
Wilbur shifted, looking around nervously at the empty streets. He knew everything was fine. Tommy was okay, Techno was calming him down, Phil would be here soon, everything was okay. He could call for Techno if he needed him, only a few feet away. But his mind still screamed to him to hide.
Today’s attack was so bad. So scary. Alone in the shed, his father by the door, grinning with his teeth showing unnaturally, holding a lit match-
Nope. No. Wilbur wasn’t gonna go there. He could not afford to panic again. Not with Tommy hurting so much, so close.
Why did he have to panic at the worst times? And make Tommy think he’d fucked up, when it was just Wilbur’s stupid, broken brain. Techno too, he had been shaking so bad earlier with guilt, just ‘cause stupid Wilbur had called him, had scared him.
Wilbur heard sprinting, and he looked up quickly. Phil.
Phil ran straight toward him, and slowed down when he got close. “Are they okay?” He whispered. Wilbur nodded, inclining his head to the alleyway.
“Talking,” he said, his voice weak. Phil nodded, holding out his arms for Wilbur. Wilbur sunk into his dad’s chest, and he could feel his hand in his hair.
He let himself be relieved.
Tommy was okay. It was okay.
“They’re coming,” Phil told him quietly, and he raised his head quickly to see Techno and Tommy coming out of the alley, Techno supporting the nervous, tearstained kid. Tommy looked at Wilbur first, and his eyes widened. He walked towards him.
“I’m so sorry for scaring you,” he said softly.
“Not your fault,” Wilbur managed to say. He held his arms out a little, questioningly, and Tommy immediately leaned into him. Wilbur smiled and held him close. He was okay.
On the ride home, Wilbur and Techno sat on both sides of Tommy in the backseat. Phil ordered pizza to be delivered.
The four cuddled close to each other on the couch, Tommy snuggled in Phil’s lap and Wilbur leaned on Techno’s shoulder. Up was playing on the TV (Tommy’s favourite.)
“Why are you grinning, gremlin child?” Techno asked Tommy suspiciously.
“S’ just,” Tommy yawned, eyes half closed. “S’ just how I always imagined family.”
Phil made a soft noise in his throat and pulled Tommy closer. Yeah, Wilbur would die for this kid.
“Little brother alert,” Techno whispered to Wilbur. “I am now the middle child.”
Wilbur covered his mouth to hide his grin, jabbing Techno with his elbow, careful to be quiet, because it looked as if Tommy had fallen asleep. Phil rolled his eyes at them, and Wilbur stuck out his tongue.
Yeah. This was family.