He couldn't quite pinpoint where it had all gone downhill.
Perhaps it had been when Wilbur was president. A walled-in asylum where wind ripped through his hair and his feet bounced off uncharred grass, safe in undashed hopes, secure in the bliss of ignorance.
He had grown up with Wilbur's shouts of independence and of glory with no consequences. Wilbur bathed in a golden light, he walked in silver shadows. Tubbo watched and cheered, satisfied with safety, satisfied with security. He could remember a glint in Wilbur's eye even then. Perhaps Schlatt had had a point, somewhere in his restless tirades.
Perhaps it had been Schlatt.
He could barely recall when Schlatt had first stumbled into the city. Flickering memories hazed with uncertainty, of a weathered old man who slapped him on the back with surprising strength and the richest of grins. Hobbling up to a podium. That booming voice, eager applause.
Schlatt had been like a promise. Their eyes were drawn to him like a dream come true. Where Wilbur swore for safety and security, Schlatt lit excitement in them like a rabid flame, scorching their senses and setting their minds alight with the thought of something so new. Everything had seemed so surreal, until it all came crashing down with the fear in Tommy's scream as flaming arrows chased him away that September evening.
Tubbo had tried to flee that night. He remembers treading softly through the shadows, the rustle of leaves which gave him away, and the hand, like iron clamping down on his shoulder. He remembers the tight stench of alcohol from an old man's breath, the cool handle of a pickaxe as it was placed into his hand.
Schlatt watched as Tubbo took down the walls that night. Tubbo watched, almost like a spectator to his own actions, as his safety and security was torn down with the unsteady thumps of an axe.
Perhaps it had all gone downhill with Tubbo.
Before, Tubbo had tried to keep these thoughts out of his mind.
Sometimes, on nights where the town feels far too quiet and Tubbo feels far too alone in its midst, he thinks about Schlatt. He thinks about the gleeful hoots and cheers the day of the festival, he remembers looking around at people he had known all his life, and he remembers the bright-eyed grins on their faces as they looked up at their president.
Wilbur, wild-eyed and floundering hands, looking for all the world to Tubbo like a man who'd lost more than could keep him afloat.
Tommy, sad eyes and uncertain smile, asking Tubbo whether he's happier now.
Tubbo, entangled in ropes licked by flames, can feel the smoke curling through him like poison. He can see Wilbur and Tommy from here. Schlatt's hand is on his shoulder again. Schlatt's dead, isn't he? Schlatt should be gone, shouldn't he?
A sudden, flaring pain tugs through Tubbo's head, and he's on the floor. He's not sure whether it's part of the pain when he hears the rumbling laughter behind him. Perhaps it's just thunder. Perhaps, when the pain wrenches a scream from Tubbo's mouth, it's just the rain.
When it ends and Schlatt grabs him by the shoulder to pull him to his stumbling feet, when his head feels slightly heavier and it lolls backwards with new weight as he stands, perhaps, Tubbo thinks, this is all just a dream. But the pain leaves a dull throb on both sides of Tubbo's head. But in the shard of glass Schlatt holds before the two of them, so they're staring into the eyes of their own reflections like a morbid sort of photograph, Tubbo can see Schlatt's reflection loom. Tubbo can see his own skin paling to paper-white. Tubbo can see the curved ebony of Schlatt's horns on either side of his head, and Tubbo can see the matching ones, slightly stubbier, planted in waves of his own brown hair.
He wakes up in a cold sweat on the dewy grass of l'Manberg just as the sun is beginning to wash away the night in a bleak golden glow. For a moment, his breath catches in his throat as memories of the night flood back in an almighty flow, and for a moment he lies still, in hopes that perhaps reality would prove him wrong.
Just this once.
His hand twitches. His finger strikes the coolness of glass.
Sometimes, when Tubbo finds himself accidentally alone with his thoughts, the now familiar pain rips through his skull. He remembers what Wilbur used to say about Schlatt, what Tommy used to say, in times that now seem years away as ram horns crook their way around Tubbo's ears.
He remembers a box on a stage in front of everyone he used to know, chilling words which exploded into fireworks in his chest. He remembers Tommy's retreating back as he fled under fire. He remembers a low cackle, which even now drives a cold knife into Tubbo's chest with its collected cruelty.
He remembers Dream, expressionless and silent, leading Tommy away with a hand on a slumped shoulder.
Tubbo doesn't know why, when he's not alone, when he's distracted, why he tries to kid himself. He doesn't know why he acts like he can't pinpoint where it had all gone downhill. He doesn't know why he acts like he can't remember the bright-eyed grins on their faces the day of that festival. When Tubbo died in eruptions of flicker and flame, he doesn't know why he acts like he can't remember the silence. The magnetic spew of Schlatt's wildfire burning its way into his skull in eager, attentive eyes. Even now, with the podium long dismantled, Tubbo can still feel those eyes. They watch him through every window, strangers he knows so well peering keenly through every mottled glass. They follow him in the shard of glass in which he saw his horns, and they watch him now, curled up and hiding in the corner. He can shut the blinds, he can barricade every slotted window, but he knows even then they'll just meet him at the door.
Eyes attentive and eager. Eyes accusing and jeering. Eyes rolling in the back of a coffin.
Eyes which, Schlatt whispers from the murky corners of his mind, burn inky truths into the green fabric above Tubbo's heart.
Sometimes, Tubbo can hear other voices. Perhaps they used to be familiar, to some boy some years ago, but to Tubbo the cold lies of childhood they wield do nothing but hurt him. Directly, too, because then the horns come back in flashes of agony, and banished voices are nothing but a healed memory as he falls once again to his knees on the floor.
"You're just as bad as me," a gruff voice whispers.
Tubbo isn't entirely sure whether it comes from his head or from somewhere next to him.
Is he imagining the hand on his shoulder?
"-perhaps you're worse."
And why does every touch feel like it burns?
"No one cared when you were executed."
Flashes. His hand wobbles as he outstretches it slowly, reaching for bright-eyed grins enclosed in the confines of a memory just before him.
"Why do you think they care about you now?"
Brightness. He can close his fist around them, he can allow a shaky smile at familiar faces. He can close his fist around them, but when he opens it there's nothing there but the sudden thickness of air.
"Just face it, Tubbo-"
Dream. Tommy. Hands, clawing at Tubbo's throat.
"-this nation died with me in the camarvan."
"I don't wanna be like you."
The words are cracked, voice splintered from lack of use, and when he feels like white-hot knives are stabbing his insides, he isn't quite sure how he gets them out.
The hand tightens on his shoulder. Burning. Scorching, as Schlatt seemed to do most everything he touched.
An ashen-faced Wilbur Soot, gazing over his destruction with a sword in his back. A lit match was all it took to destroy him completely.
A whooping Quackity, whose blood was enriched by the carnage until it burned a little too deep. Revenge. Revenge. Revenge. Reve-
A waiting crowd on the 22nd of September, kindle for the quick rage of a fire. Heat besieging their senses far too easily, savage blaze shooting through bodies ill-prepared for the destruction.
Tubbo didn't want to be next, but the prison of the ram horns served as a raw reminder that the flames had left scars.
It was as if Schlatt had read his mind. Or perhaps he didn't need to, because Schlatt was his mind.
"It's too late for that."
"Please. Let me go."
He didn't realise the tears were coming until they were there, wet on his cheeks and heavy on his button-up.
A low laugh. How could he laugh?
"It's not as simple as that. I'm apart of you forever now, Tubbo-"
"-you must know that, right?"
"You must know you are destroying your beloved nation?"
Sometimes, Tubbo isn't sure whether it's him or Schlatt. Sometimes, he's back in dusky September evenings, a pickaxe in his hand and a hand on his shoulder.
A spectator to his own actions.
Screaming in his head.
He doesn't even flinch.
The fight is over.
The fight is
Obsidian walls, coming down.
Blue light beaming away a sunset.
But he's alone.
And there's no one
to pick him up now.
And as, from where he lies,
Tubbo watches the wintry disintegration of trees above his head,
he thinks. Once again.
But the horns still come.