When Tommy opens his door, it's to see his undead brother on the other side.
Wilbur has been back for a few weeks now, and it shows. His skin has lost the pallor it had held in cramped offices and dark ravines, now flushed and freckled from time under the sun. His cheeks aren't as hollow, his eyes aren't as dull. For the moment, he actually looks alive, instead of like a corpse about to keel back over at any second. Which is good. Probably. It's just that he's grinning, wide and wild and promising trouble.
"Tommy," his brother says, and his voice curls around the name like a challenge and a call. It's like a kick to the ribs, that tone, familiar and foreign at once. That's the problem voice, the troublemaking voice, the so-how-about-potionmaking voice, and he hasn't heard it in years. Somehow, he knows what Wilbur is going to ask before he even takes a breath in, because there is nothing so obvious as a wild thing straining at the seams of its shape. All the signs are there, from the glint in his gaze to the sharp points of his teeth. The delicate gauze of humanity is held around him by little more than a thread. "Run with me."
"Are you insane?" Tommy snaps, but steps forward anyway. Fucking bastard. He can already feel his fingertips ache, pleading to turn to claws or wings or fins. He can't let them, though. That's one of the rules, one of the big ones. Fuck the rules, obviously, but still.
Of course, Wilbur just gestures grandly in an overexaggerated shrug. "A little, probably. Come on! Unless you're scared ."
The taunt comes with a swaying sidestep, bent at the knees, a canine's playful bow. It's a happy, cheerful invitation to banter while they still have human tongues. Tommy grimaces anyway. "Don't you have Techno and Phil to drag into your shit? At least they can protect your sorry ass when you get in trouble for it."
"Techno is hibernating, and Phil's old," Wilbur complains, like he's an obnoxious human child instead of an obnoxious whatever-the-fuck adult. He flicks an ear in annoyance, because they are now russet-red and halfway to the top of his head. Thirteen years, he'd said; of course his control is slipping. "Besides, Dream is in prison. He can't do jack about shit."
True. Besides, he's been reminded now, and the wild thing in his chest is baying to be let loose, and Wilbur is holding out a hand in invitation. It would be an absolutely terrible idea on almost every level if he were to do this, reckless and irresponsible, but some desperate part of him simply does not care. "You're an idiot," Tommy says, but straightens up, stretches, rolls his head from one side to the other. Anticipation buzzes under his skin, drowning out any hesitance or logic. His legs carry him outside without his brain's permission, and Wilbur practically springs forward to knock their shoulders together, and that tightly bound magic flares in response- and then they're off. Wilbur tears himself free of his human form, an oversized fox landing on the wooden path in the same moment that Tommy slips out of his own skin. His claws skitter on the oak planks, and Wilbur laughs at him for it as he slides around, flicking his white-tipped tail in amusement before bolting down the stairs.
Even after all this time, controlling five limbs is as easy as breathing. Easier, maybe. Tommy chitters in frustration for about three seconds, because raccoons are not built for speed, before remembering that nobody here can stop him from breaking the laws of the land. Not anymore. He shakes off that fur as if shedding a coat, letting himself change into something that can actually run. Wilbur takes that as a challenge, of course, shifting between forms like water running in a stream. His shifts are fast and fluid, smooth as hewn stone. Tommy pushes himself into a longer-legged dog, a little less expertly but just as successfully. He overtakes his brother in an instant, and gets gently tackled for it.
They wrestle halfheartedly for a moment, right until his great dane of a brother decides to lick his fucking face. It's the equivalent of a hair ruffle, but either way, Tommy's absolutely obligated to squirm away indignantly. Wilbur lets him, tail wagging, bouncing into a bow and then out of it. The message is clear; it's his turn to run.
His brother is a fucking child.
Fine. Whatever. It's not like Tommy delights in springing forward to actually tag him before taking off as fast as he can. It's not like there's wild joy running through his veins along with the adrenaline, tempering it, keeping his head the clearest it's been in months. No nostalgia for their childhood builds in his throat, of course. That would be ridiculous.
Wilbur tags him back outside of Tubbo's old house, and then promptly turns into a cat to better dart amongst the half-ruined structures around them. Tommy pounces on him as they do laps around Church Prime, and they run wild through the Holy Lands as small, scurrying things for a few minutes until that gets boring. One of them initiates the return to dogs, and they tear across the place right up until they hear voices.
"The hell?" Puffy mutters, standing on the Prime Path, armful of papers clutched to her chest. They both freeze mid-tussle, before simultaneously realizing that it looks more suspicious that way and smacking their heads together when they move at once. Tommy yelps, and Wilbur bumps their snouts gently in apology, their audience forgotten. He scrambles upright, and starts the chase again, because he's noticed who's with her.
"They're playing," Eret says as he and Wilbur race off towards the museum. Their voice is bittersweet and knowing, yet somehow awed. Tommy picks up the pace a little, because their gaze feels a little too piercing. He already knows that they're clear-sighted , of course, but this is not how he wants to test their limits. It's probably fine, though, because all they do is repeat themself. "They're playing tag."
He's too far away to hear Puffy's answer, flinging himself into the shade of the museum. Wilbur follows on his heels, a little less playful, a little more desperate to avoid the others. That's fair. They're in the midst of breaking so many rules, and they both know it. If someone catches them, the consequences would probably make exile look pretty.
That realization must show somehow, because his brother bumps into his side in an attempt to shake him from his thoughts. It doesn't work, not really, but the thought counts for something. On one hand, he's suddenly remembered how badly this could end. On the other, this is genuinely the best that he's felt in years , magic flowing wild and free at the chance to finally run together. Some part of him is terrified; some part of him is fucking thrilled.
Those two emotions only swirl together even more at the way that Wilbur decides to sit back and shift again, because the great fluffy dog before him folds up into a tiny little nightingale. His brother sings something at him, something that means come here, come fly, be free. It's a horrible idea. It's a horrible idea, and they both know it, but Tommy finds himself following suit anyway. When his brother gets into trouble, when he does something idiotic, he follows. This is nothing new.
Wilbur chirps in delight, and starts upwards, carving a path through the wide blue sky. Tommy beats his wings and follows in his wake, sort of. His brother is luxuriating in the wind one moment, diving wildly the next, riding air currents in the third. He's content to just savor the feeling of fresh air between his feathers, not pull the dramatic stunts that Wilbur does. Neither of them have been up here in a very long time, alone or together, and yet Wilbur is giddily spinning around and doing tricks like an overexcited fledgling. The man is excited to be back, sure, but it's a bit much.
Thankfully, he eventually calms down, and they weave through the last remaining redwood trees on the edge of a crater. The old woods are impossibly enduring, surviving the burning of the forest and the detonations of L'manburg and the test of time itself. Wilbur sweeps through a hole in the leaves and alights on a branch more than wide enough to hold him as he turns back to something almost-human. His ears are still soft and furred, and his eyes have catlike pupils, and his canines are a bit too sharp. None of that matters, though, except that it does, because he's relaxed enough to not even bother with fully fledged humanity. He raises an arm in invitation, and Tommy finds himself human-shaped and pressed against his side in an instant. Wilbur is practically a furnace right now, excess magic finally burnt off but still lingering. It's nice, because they're both going to fucking hurt tomorrow. Again, though, that also doesn't matter. His brother is hugging him tightly, and the ache of suppressed magic in his chest has been quietly released, and his lungs feel full and clear for the first time in months and months. Their hair is ruffled by the wind, and their boots and clothes are both covered in mud, and Wilbur smells like wet dog and cinnamon. It's nostalgic enough to feel like a crushing weight.
"Aww, Tommy," Wilbur murmurs, as if he isn't the one with his face buried in his little brother's hair. "Are you tired?"
"Fuck off," Tommy replies, and very definitely does not yawn in the middle of it. His magic is settling back down, flooding him with a satisfied sort of exhaustion, the kind you feel after a good day as opposed to a miserable one. Wilbur scoffs at him, but also cradles the back of his head with one hand, impossibly gentle. Tommy breathes in, out. "Bitch."
"Gremlin child," Wilbur replies fondly, and that's enough for Tommy to wrap his arms around him in return. His brother startles, then clings desperately, warm and protective and safe. Tommy clings back on instinct, face hidden in Wilbur's shoulder, jacket lapel pressed against his cheek. It's a little pathetic, but he doesn't want to move, doesn't want to leave. Even now, despite literally everything , he burrows into his brother's arms and feels like everything is alright. And it's not. Very few things are anywhere near alright.
But this, just maybe, is.