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tubbo woke up one morning to see that his new roommate and friend was not actually present in his room, and his first reaction was to panic.

it had only been a few days since they had taken on ranboo, the promise to help in the bakery downstairs exchanged with a place to stay, and already tubbo had grown very used to having him around. they had become friends a few weeks back and, upon finding out that the other was staying in a hostel until he could find proper accommodation, tubbo immediately offered up the spare bed in his room. since then, any absence of ranboo usually meant he was somehow getting himself into trouble (though through no fault of his own).

and so, you see, this was not exactly a good thing to wake up to.

tubbo tore off the covers and leapt to his feet. there wasn’t time to change or brush his teeth or anything, not if his friend was possibly in danger, so instead he raced down the stairs to the bakery itself. as he reached the bottom, he heard the voices of his family talking about something or other. pausing at the door - as he always did, in these situations, as he still wasn’t sure if he was welcome in this conversation - he listened in.

“i really do appreciate this, ranboo,” said niki, her voice light and happy. “tubbo doesn’t often come down early to help out.”

“not often? do you mean, like, never?” fundy said, chuckling.

“i’m sure he’s already helpful anyway,” said ranboo.

ah. so he really was there. good, tubbo supposed, that he was safe, though the conversation currently in place was making his stomach churn. his slight discomfort was interrupted by a hand on his shoulder, making him startle and turn to see who was there.

“good morning, tubbo,” said eret, smiling at his younger brother. “had a good night’s rest?”

tubbo shrugged.

“you aren’t dressed yet. everything okay?”

“yep,” said tubbo, and went upstairs without waiting for a further response.

maybe he should get up earlier and start baking then, too. it made niki so happy - he’d love to be responsible for that. she was always so kind to him. giving back would be only the least he could do.

_

tommy hated ranboo. apparently.

of course, the best possible thing to come from this would be for all three to be friends, but tommy was insistent that ranboo was ‘stealing tubbo from him’ and that he should ‘fuck off into the next country’. it could be worse.

today, though, tubbo returned from his delivery rounds to see tommy showing ranboo one of his books, the latter stifling giggles as he scanned whatever was in them. they seemed to be getting along, for once! tubbo grinned and slid into the space onto the bench that usually only held tommy and himself.

“hey guys, what’re you reading?” he asked.

tommy didn’t look up from the page. “it’s one of those funny books, innit? comedy and all that.”

“oh, cool!”

huh. tommy had never really shown those to tubbo, but it made sense. after all, even now, tubbo was struggling to keep up with the reading speed ranboo was currently at. instead, he opted to sit back and enjoy the fact that tommy was finally coming around.

ranboo turned the page and immediately slapped the bench, laughing. “oh - oh that is priceless.”

it was a good thing. even if tubbo couldn’t really take part.

_

“and this is ranboo!” tubbo beamed, presenting ranboo to wilbur. “he’s staying with us for a bit, or for longer, maybe!”

the pair had decided to visit tommy’s family today, wanting to hang out with him, and it turned out wilbur had just returned home after a few weeks away. tubbo was under the impression he had never met ranboo before, so had excitedly introduced them to each other.

“oh, ranboo? i remember you, from somewhere out in town, right?”

“i vaguely recall,” ranboo said, smiling politely. “how do you do, wilbur?”

“quite well.”

ah, this guy. what a people person ranboo was! he seemed to know everyone! tubbo was glad. honestly. it saved a lot of time and introductions. tubbo couldn’t find a downside to this guy. he was very lucky to be his friend. right?

he caught wilbur giving him a concerned look and glanced up at him, straightening up. “how was the trip, wilbur?”

“it was okay. can i speak to you?”

“sure,” tubbo said. “we’re speaking right now.”

“oh, i meant in private.” wilbur nodded to ranboo. “no offence intended.”

“none taken, of course. i’ll go catch up with techno.” ranboo patted tubbo’s back and entered the house.

look at that! he was even friendly with techno! tubbo was pretty sure techno still didn’t like him, especially considering the broken arm he had given him last year, so it was quite the achievement for ranboo.

“tubbo?” wilbur said gently.

he blinked, not even having noticed that he had zoned out. “mhm?”

“how have you been doing?”

“just - just fine, really. why?”

“you look a little - ” wilbur paused to rethink his wording. “ - tired. sad? something like that.”

“no need to worry, big man!” tubbo said. “i’ve just been getting up a bit earlier to help niki with the early shift, and i’ve - oh, i’ve been trying to learn how to read a bit faster, too!”

wilbur gave him a fond but exasperated look. shit. even wilbur was tired of him? no, it wouldn’t do to think like that. “let me guess - these lessons have been late at night?”

“i’m a busy guy, wilbur. there’s no other time.”

with a small sigh, his friend’s brother shook his head. “alright. if you say so. please get some sleep, though, okay?”

“okay.”

“promise?”

“… promise.”

_

fuck.

tubbo mentally apologised to wilbur as he checked the time. all night, he had been trying to work through the books on his desk, and though he felt like he was improving at first, his progress steadily declined over the course of the night. and now it was already eight in the morning, and he had to get downstairs and help out because it was already far too late.

barely suppressing a yawn, he trudged down the stairs, barely keeping his balance. he entered the oddly empty kitchen - how late was he? - and began taking out the ingredients for cookies. yes, that would be useful. he was dying to be useful.

it felt like hours - or maybe it was - before anyone came to interrupt his work. odd, really, because eight in the morning should not have been a time to abandon the kitchen, but most things were confusing these days.

“tubbo?” niki gasped. “what are you doing here at this time of the morning?”

“i know,” tubbo said weakly, and his voice sounded even more raspy than he thought it would. “i’m sorry. i overslept.” he focused on the bowl he was mixing ingredients in, not wanting to meet his sister’s eyes and feel the shame truly set in.

“overslept? tubbo, it’s five a.m.!”

stopping his work, tubbo squinted up at her. “what? but my clock said it was eight?”

“how long have you been here?!”

“a few hours, i - i think?” he wasn’t sure. he didn’t know. why did he not know?

“did you maybe misread your clock? i think it might have been three, not eight.”

actually, that would make sense. it all made sense now, in fact. “oh.”

niki gave him a small, almost pitying look. if tubbo knew anything, she was about to ask him how much sleep he had gotten, and he really didn’t want to answer that, so he looked back at the bowl and kept mixing.

“i’m making cookies,” he said. “should i add chocolate chips?”

a deep sigh - had she picked that up from wilbur? - and she moved to stand next to him, adjusting his grip on the wooden spoon. “if you’d like, it would be a lovely touch, tubbo.”

and the morning went on, neither mentioning the incident again.

_

across the field, fundy was showing ranboo the Stump Circle, and tubbo couldn’t help but feel a little left out.

it wasn’t really his fault. after all, it was a secret for just fundy and him, something they had never told anyone about after finding the mysterious formation of large stumps here. they would come here and draw out designs for wild and wonderful machines. it was one of their things. he was a little reluctant for it to be shared - without his permission - with ranboo. that guy was everyone’s perfect friend these days, and tubbo was starting to feel like maybe it was because he wasn’t.

he yawned into his hand and continued with his work, drawing enchantments on tommy’s helmet. his best friend would need this, and it was his job to make sure it was well-prepared, no matter how much time it would take. he’d do anything for tommy.

when he was done with the enchantment he had been applying, he sneaked another look up and saw that fundy was already dragging ranboo off, probably to the next place in the three-day tour he had been giving him recently.

snorting a little at the thought, tubbo returned to the helmet.

_

phil loved ranboo.

that was certain.

it had taken months for tommy to feel like a real part of the family. tubbo could recall the endless teary nights as tommy had tried to explain to him that he just didn’t feel like he fit. of course he recalled those nights - how could he forget? it had made his heart ache every time the other boy slammed open his door and threw himself into his arms. usually, that was the sign that they were going to have an impromptu sleepover.

tubbo missed those.

he had thought that tommy had just stopped wanting to do them, but he arrived at tommy’s house to return his newly-enchanted armour one morning to see ranboo’s little bag sitting innocently just next the door. it seemed the sleepovers were still continuing, just not for him.

this time, he had walked in on phil handing ranboo a feather from his wing.

it was a sign of trust and family, if tubbo remembered right (and he knew he did), which meant that ranboo had already adopted himself into two families. what the hell. for a moment, bitter jealously shot through him - he had never received a feather - but the feeling faded quickly into sudden understanding.

it was so simple, wasn’t it? ranboo was simply better than him in every way fathomable. and it was plain to see.

after all, it was tubbo who had broken his promise to wilbur only days after making it; it was tubbo who hadn’t been voluntarily getting up on time to niki; it was tubbo who couldn’t even get himself to just read fast enough to understand tommy’s funny books; it was tubbo who just wasn’t enough, every goddamn time.

he turned swiftly and left the room, ignoring the surprised “tubbo?” from phil and instead heading back home.

_

‘approximately ten hours’ was the correct answer to wilbur’s question of how many hours of rest he had taken in the past week, but tubbo was not about to be honest.

“i get plenty of sleep every night. don’t worry about me,” tubbo said, his eyes scrunching up as he smiled widely at the older boy. “how about you?”

“seven hours a night. i’m working on it,” wilbur replied easily. “how much is plenty, tubbo?”

“enough! really, don’t stress. i’m not worth - it’s not worth all that much fuss, you know?” he said, catching himself. no self-pity, nope. that would be dumb of him.

his words seemed to have the opposite effect to the one intended, wilbur immediately frowning and pausing his work to properly look at the boy curled up to his side, half-asleep already. “yes, it is. and you absolutely are. are you sure you’re okay?”

“of course, big man.” tubbo snuggled further into wilbur’s arm and felt sleep wash over him like a great wave. “good night, wilbs.”

wilbur softened at the nickname. “good night, tubs. glad you’re taking a break.”

_

“where the hell were you?” tommy yelled. “i’ve been waiting half an hour, and you just thought, ‘ooh yeah, let’s not show up today!’, huh? fuck you, tubbo.”

he knew he shouldn’t have let himself fall asleep, knowing wilbur wouldn’t wake him up, and here were the consequences of that. a day ago, he’d promised not to miss his best friend’s performance in the contest. hell, he’d even been enchanting tommy’s armour for this. how could he forget? he really had fucked up big time this time around.

“even ranboo managed to be on time and not miss this,” tommy said. “what were you doing, then, bitch-boy?”

was there a good way to put this? “… i was taking a short nap.”

“you - you were just napping?” tommy said, rage returning with triple the force. “fuck you, fuck you! i hate you, tubbo, you’ve gone and abandoned me.”

“it’s because you don’t sleep enough,” said ranboo. he was watching the pair with a completely neutral face. “maybe try sleeping on time?”

tommy spun around to tubbo again, having been paying attention to ranboo. “you haven’t even been sleeping on time? you said you fixed your sleep schedule! what was that, a lie?”

“no, i…” it had just been all messed up again recently. tubbo opened his mouth to say this, to tell him he was so, so sorry, but winced at tommy’s expression and decided against it. whatever he said, tommy wouldn’t calm down. maybe he should just wait it out.

“come on, ranboo. i’m going to need help with getting this stupid armour off.”

_

tubbo arrived home after sitting alone and fixing eret’s broken sword in some quiet corner of town to see the last thing he needed right now. there was eret - who had said he was too busy to spend time with him today - sitting with ranboo and drinking tea with him, both exchanging some sort of gossip. disheartened, tubbo lingered in the doorway before moving on to the kitchen without drawing attention and setting down eret’s sword against the counter. he began to prepare to make another batch of cookies, hands moving automatically to grab the ingredients.

“i don’t even know why he tries,” ranboo said from the other room. “it’s clear nobody cares.”

“ah, but it’s amusing to pretend to care. do you see his face when he does?” eret responded, his words met with light laughter.

were they talking about… him?

“i feel a bit bad about it, i guess,” ranboo was continuing, but tubbo was finding it difficult to focus on anything but the jar in front of him.

“he deserves it. you know what he’s done.”

“i suppose… tommy deserves better. i guess it’s, like, revenge for him?”

“exactly!” eret said.

the walls were closing in, and tubbo’s hands shook as they opened the jar to measure out the sugar he would need for this recipe. he tried to ignore the build-up of stress that had been building up inside him these past few weeks, tried to tune out the words of the people just a room away, tried to keep himself upright.

a snippet of conversation broke through his wall. “…walking around in his awful green shirt…”

his hand slipped, spilling the sugar all over the counter. that had to be him. he had a green shirt. of course it was him, of fucking course. why did he even have any doubt?

what broke him, in that moment, was the realisation that the sugar lying before him was not sugar but salt. he couldn’t even get this basic thing right.

he couldn’t even tell sugar from salt, and he was meant to be a baker.

fuck.

fuck, fuck, fuck.

there was no way he could live like this anymore. he needed to get out.

_

his friends were going to be fine without him. it was fine.

he sat on the bench, watching as they messed around on the swings and laughed harder than they had with him in weeks. maybe it was going to be easier for them without him, after all. maybe they’d be better off. wouldn’t be too surprising, really. that seemed to be… well, the pattern so far.

as ranboo pushed tommy again and avoided the kick backwards, both boys wheezing with amusement, tubbo stood up from the bench and dusted himself down. his best before date had passed, and it was time for him to move on.

neither of his former best friends noticed as he left the park, passing the old graveyard and vanishing from view beyond the trees.

___

tommy cupped his hands around his mouth. “tubbo! where are you, you idiot?”

just like the last twenty-four times he had done this, there was no response from the trees around him. somewhere off to his right, fundy shouted something along the same lines, his attempts equally successful.

it had been three days since tommy had last seen tubbo, and it stung him to know that somehow, in some way, he had to be responsible. if he wasn’t, he knew tubbo would leave him some note or clue. hell, he wouldn’t have left at all if only tommy had kept calm the other day instead of shouting his head off about tubbo missing his dumbass contest. he stopped at the nearest tree and buried his face in his palms, trying to suppress a sob.

where was his best friend? was he okay? was he still upset, and had he even found anywhere new to stay for the past few nights? was he safe?

“tommy,” said a voice. it wasn’t tubbo, so it didn’t matter. he ignored the voice, wiping at his face and forcing himself to keep moving forwards. “tommy. we need to get back inside.”

“shut up, wilbur. i’m not going without tubbo.”

his older brother caught up to him but, instead of physically stopping him as he had expected, walked alongside him down the faint path. “i know. i want him to be alright as well. but you know as well as i do that we’ll be able to find him more easily with daylight.”

“no. i told you, i’m not going home until i’ve got him back.”

“tommy, we need to think about this. we’re going to pool everything we know about why he might have run away, and - ”

“he didn’t run away. he wouldn’t do that. come on, wil, you know this.” he didn’t really believe himself, but he couldn’t admit it just yet. there had to be a reason for this.

wilbur gave him a sad look. “why are you so sure?”

“he loved - loves everyone here. and we love him too! there’s no reason for him to go.”

“that’s why we’re having the meeting. we all care, tommy, and we all want to find him.”

for a second, tommy hesitated. it might be a good idea to gain clues. maybe someone knew something. alright. “alright.”

“yeah?” wilbur said.

“yeah.”

_

“he just seemed more tired than usual, a little off, but i assumed he was ill,” phil said, and tommy scowled. really? past tense? that didn’t sit well with him. “did you guys see anything odd?”

“well, one day he was up at three in the morning, baking cookies?” niki said.

from next to tommy, wilbur shifted. “does anyone know if he was sleeping well?”

“sleeping well? he barely slept at all,” ranboo said. “i’m surprised we haven’t found him sleeping on the floor of the woods already.”

softly, so softly tommy could barely make it out, wilbur sighed and whispered, “he promised.”

…he would unpack that later.

_

the village beyond the woods was small, but not small enough to be ignored easily. tommy marched into the centre of town and stood on a little podium, gaining the attention of surrounding civilians.

“have any of you seen a young boy, about my age, brown hair, probably wearing some kind of green shirt?” he asked the people around him. “he’s my friend, and i’ve lost him.”

“yeah, i know the kid. tubbo, right?” tommy nodded enthusiastically and the villager continued: “he’s just staying at the inn.”

was it that simple? either way, there wasn’t a moment to waste. tommy thanked them and raced towards the cosy little building at the end of the street. in here, just in here, could be his best friend. after these few days of hell, it would be like finally being able to breathe again. tubbo wouldn’t be missing anymore, and -

the door opened in his face just as he was about to knock and he pushed through, his friend’s name at the tip of his tongue. he searched every corner of every room he passed through, and finally found him, sitting there with a purple-clad young man and drinking something that released steam into the air.

“tubbo!” he said, voice raised, elated. his best friend froze, and then turned his head, and finally, finally spoke to him, for the first time since he had missed his contest.

“tommy?”

tommy attacked him with a hug, surprising whoever this new companion was, and tubbo returned it with the same force.

“i’m sorry, tommy. i should have done better,” tubbo said, and tommy felt him shaking slightly. he held his friend impossibly tighter.

“no, no, i’m sorry, you didn’t deserve me yelling at you. i should have been fine with you taking a nap, you’re allowed to do that.”

shaking his head, tubbo pulled away, face wet with tears. “you’re allowed to be mad. i said i’d be there, i broke my promise. i keep breaking all my promises, i just - i can’t stop messing things up, and i’m not good enough for you guys, and ranboo is perfect, and he can do better at all the stuff i’m meant to be doing, and - ”

“shut up, dumbass,” tommy said, wiping away his friend’s tears. “when we get home, we’re having a long talk about this, and you’re going to see that everything you just said was complete bullshit. let’s get you back, everyone’s worried.”

“i’m not - did you not just hear what i said?”

“yeah, i heard it, and then i disregarded it, because you’re wrong. come on, if i have to see niki cry one more time i am going to murder something.”

“niki’s been crying?” tubbo asked, and he looked so damn confused that tommy wanted to wrap him up in a hug again and drill it into his head that yes, they cared about him, and that no, he wasn’t some massive fuck-up. he wanted to, but he had to get him home first.

“sorry, mr… uh, purple guy,” tommy said to the person tubbo had been talking to. the guy just stared at him, looking done. “i’m stealing your talking buddy, but you know, we are best friends, so i have every right.”

“ah, yeah, sorry about this, purpled,” tubbo added.

“whatever, dude. see you around,” said the purple guy.

tubbo waved, and tommy pulled him away and dropped his voice as soon as they were out of earshot. “his name is purpled? what the - ”

___

it was a new day, and things felt the same as always. tubbo hopped out of bed and headed downstairs, where niki was waiting for him. she was already kneading the dough for some fresh bread, hands working steadily. music drifted in through the window from where someone outside was singing.

“you look tired,” niki said gently, barely even looking up. “you don’t need to be here so early.”

“ranboo is, usually. i want to be useful,” tubbo responded, picking up his apron from the peg.

“and you are.” she looked properly at him and smiled. “but more so when you’re actually awake. go back to bed, tubbo.”

tubbo yawned. “okay. see you later, niki.”

_

later that day, as tubbo was doing rounds and handing out the orders from the bakery to customers in the neighbourhood, he found himself suddenly picked up off the ground, little wrapped packages falling out of his basket as he dropped it. he yelped in shock and tried to struggle free of the hold, but found he was held too tightly.

“i’m so glad you’re safe,” said the person holding him, and very suddenly tubbo realised it was actually phil, and that this was a hug and not an attack. phil was flapping his wings, hovering a few feet above the ground. “we all missed you very much.”

ensuring the descent was slow, phil placed tubbo back on the ground and picked up his packages, carefully placing them back in the basket. tubbo stood a little awkwardly as the basket was passed back to him and phil gave him a warm, second hug.

“don’t you go running off again,” he said. “niki and eret may have gotten to keep you, but we’re no less your family than them. don’t forget it.”

something very soft burrowed its way into his heart. “thank you. i won’t.”

phil patted him on his shoulder and swooped back up into the skies. after watching him go, tubbo double checked to see if all of the bread was back in the basket. they were, in fact, all present, but there was something else lying on the top: one of phil’s feathers.

tubbo hoped it wasn’t an accident.

_

back on the bench, tubbo hummed to himself as he watched a few nearby bees go about their day. there was not too much going on, but by the sound of the distant yelling, there soon would be.

he looked up and saw tommy and ranboo approaching, the former arguing one-sidedly with the latter as usual. as soon as he saw him, tommy rushed over to tubbo and tackled him to the ground.

“you stay right there,” he ordered. “if you disappear today, i’m sending techno after you next time. got it?”

“got it, got it,” tubbo said. “hello, by the way.”

with a huff, tommy let go and helped him up. “hey. i brought my book again.”

ranboo, still quietly stood there, nodded enthusiastically. “awesome!”

there was a sinking feeling in tubbo’s chest, but he shrugged anyway. “cool.” he watched with mild disappointment as tommy opened his book, sat between his two friends on the bench, and started to read silently.

for a few minutes, there was only the sound of slight laughter and the crickets chirping. despite all of his practice, tubbo still didn’t seem to have caught up to the others’ reading speed. they probably just forgot about his dyslexia again, which was fine, he swore, but… this was going to be a waste of time. it wasn’t even enjoyable to sit here. all he could feel was that bitter loneliness clawing at him again.

rather than letting it consume him again, he cleared his throat and stood up instead. “i think i’m going to go back home, actually.”

“what?” said tommy, darting to his feet. “no, you said you were going to stay.”

“i’m not - i’m just going back to the bakery.”

“i said no.” he grasped him arm, holding tight. “you’re not leaving me again.”

“what the hell, man? let go!” tubbo protested, trying to free his arm.

“and what, let you fuck off to the next village? become best friends with the purple guy instead?”

“purple guy?” ranboo whispered to himself, clearly bewildered.

tommy powered on, “you can’t just replace me like that, you know!”

“i’m not replacing you, you’re the one replacing me!” tubbo shot back, and tommy stopped.

“huh?” said tommy.

“with - with ranboo,” tubbo finished.

“huh?” said ranboo.

“what gave you that idea?” tommy asked.

tubbo gestured at the book. “you’re reading together, hanging out together, all that. and - and you’re enjoying it more with him, too.”

“that’s ridiculous, we do all that shit together, as, like, a trio.”

“sure. i guess. i’m sure it - it feels that way. but you should know that i won’t be angry with you or anything for this, like, ranboo’s amazing.”

poor ranboo, still not understanding what was going on, gave a weak thumbs up. “thanks? i think?”

“tubbo, why would you even say that? everyone knows i prefer you, i hate this bitch,” tommy said, pointing at ranboo, whose thumbs immediately pointed down instead. “i brought this book for you, anyways. see? it’s about weapons and engineering and all that stuff you’re always telling me about.”

“it is?” tubbo said.

“well yeah, but again, it’s one of those comedy books, y’know? haven’t you been - ?”

tommy froze. yep. there it was.

“shit. why didn’t you just say anything?” he whispered. “you know i’m happy to read things out loud for you.”

“didn’t want to inconvenience you.”

“that wouldn’t be an ‘inconvenience’! it’s a million times better if you understand the jokes with us! hell, i don’t even get half of them, this is your interest, not mine! you need to speak up when something bothers you!” tommy took a deep breath to calm himself. “sit back down. we're going to force you to hang out with us on pain of… i don't know, death or something.”

_

fundy woke him up at the stroke of midnight.

“there’s something you have to see,” he said as a form of explanation, and the next thing tubbo’s tired brain knew, they were outside, running across the fields down a familiar path.

they arrived at the Stump Circle, and tubbo gasped.

there were jars of tiny lights on each stump, and more fairy lights strung up all around. snacks on paper plates lay scattered around on a few of the stumps, and the designs fundy and tubbo used to make were displayed along the strings of lights like flags fluttering in the light wind. yet the most significant attraction lay at the heart of the circle, where a small machine sat.

“is that - ?” he began, and fundy nodded excitedly.

“yep! i got help from a bunch of people, like sam and ranboo, and we tried making our design for the flying machine!”

oh, so that was what he had been doing here with ranboo the other day! tubbo felt his eyes fill up with tears of what could possibly be joy or relief. perhaps it was wonder, in fact, because the flying machine that stood before him truly was the one he had designed with fundy all that time ago.

“this whole thing - it’s amazing! thank you, fundy,” he said sincerely, holding his brother’s hands. “really.”

“well, it’s the one year anniversary of finding this place, so… yeah!” fundy lit up and tugged him over to the flying machine. “come on! get in! it actually works, and it’s so awesome!”

“let’s take it for a spin!” tubbo laughed, getting in with fundy.

“woo!”

_

ranboo was waiting when he got back, a few hours later. apparently seeing that he was still vibrating with energy from the flying machine, he chuckled and let him talk about it for the next half an hour. when he was done, tubbo flopped back on his bed and glanced over at ranboo.

“thanks for helping him with that,” he said.

“i really didn’t do much,” ranboo returned. “it was mostly the others.”

“either way.”

he fell silent and stared up at the ceiling. some part of him wanted to tell ranboo about everything he had been feeling since the others had begun to get close to him, but he knew ranboo had probably already figured it out. it wasn’t like the pair weren’t good friends, after all.

“i’m glad you’re here,” he said, voice full of sleep. “you’re a good friend.”

“you give me too much credit.”

“nah, i don’t,” tubbo smiled, despite it being directed upwards. “i really don’t.”

_

you need to speak up when something bothers you!

tommy’s words rung through his head as he sat outside eret’s door, waiting for them to come out for breakfast. there was something he needed them to clarify, something that had been bothering him for days.

“tubs?”

oh. so eret wasn’t in their room after all. tubbo got up with a small grunt.

“hey eret! just had a - a question.”

“go on,” said eret.

“you remember the other day? when you were talking about me to ranboo?”

that seemed to catch eret off-guard. “huh? when was that?”

“you know, when you were talking about my awful green shirt and how - how tommy deserves better and - and - and - ”

what?” eret exclaimed. “are you talking about when i was discussing dream?”

“you were talking about dream?” well, shit. that was one hell of a miscommunication. “oh.”

eret chuckled. “well, that’s solved, at least. thank you for fixing my sword the other day, by the way. i’m sorry i couldn’t spend time with you. want to go out and make flower crowns?”

grinning like a child being presented with a sweet, tubbo nodded. “you don’t even need to ask!”

_

tommy and tubbo lay on the roof of the bakery, and tubbo wondered what he had done to deserve a best friend like this.

“- and i promise you, tubbo, you can mess up a million times and i won’t care.”

their fingers were tangled together, tommy having decided he wasn’t going to let tubbo go after having missed him for several heart-wrenching days. the sun looked kindly down at them. somewhere in the distance, someone was playing guitar. it was probably wilbur, tubbo thought idly. he’d been playing a lot more recently.

the enchanted armour tubbo had helped with lay to the side, where tommy had put it after showing all the new marks to tubbo and relaying how each fight at his contest had gone. tubbo had offered to renew the enchantments and ensure they would still work, but tommy insisted he was happy with how they were. it was nice, really, to just talk with him for a while.

he tuned back into the conversation. “oh! you know what you said about not being ‘good enough’” - he made finger quotes in the air - “or something? fuck that. seriously, man. i mean, you - ”

tommy and tubbo lay on the roof of the bakery, and tubbo wondered what he had done to deserve a best friend like this.

___

strumming his guitar gently, wilbur revelled in the feeling of having tubbo back by his side. he had missed the kid dearly in his brief absence, and had wondered if there was something he should have said earlier to stop him from leaving. yet here he was, protected under wilbur’s wing and humming along to his music, and everything was okay.

after a few minutes, tubbo opened one eye. “sorry i broke my promise, wilbur. i swear i didn’t want to.”

wilbur let his music die away. “that’s alright, tubs. i just wanted you to speak to us about what was bothering you.”

tubbo fiddled with the hem of his shirt. “i just feel useless in comparison to ranboo. he can do all the things, and people seem to like him so much more. he’s replaced me, like… new and improved.”

“hey, no. none of that.” wilbur reached out and shuffled tubbo over to stare at him. “tell me, can ranboo build even half as well as you? can he carve neat enchantments into armour the way you can? can he just… be you?” a pause. “he can’t, i promise you. and i mean it. you’re the only person who can possibly be you.”

tubbo looked up at him, wide-eyed.

“tommy was so upset when he found out you had wandered off. apparently you had just been sitting on the bench, and the next thing he knew, you were gone,” wilbur said. “he went everywhere around the village looking for you, and then the woods, and even the lakeside. i think that was the scariest part, actually.” his eyes unfocused as he recalled the way tommy had dived into the water to see if there was any trace of him or - heaven forbid - a body down there. it was a relief, that time, to see no sign of him there. “you can’t be replaced, tubbo. and even if you could be, nobody would ever, ever want to. do you understand?”

blinking back tears, tubbo leaned sideways against wilbur and closed his eyes. “i don’t know.”

“you will. we’ll tell you until you do.”

tubbo hummed softly. “you’re too kind to me.”

“not as half as kind as you are to us all,” wilbur replied gently.

receiving no further reply, he began to strum again, a sweet but sad melody that wrapped around his almost-brother and begged him to remember that he was loved by everyone he loved himself.

that he was not going to be replaced, that he was worth so much on his own.

and that he should never, ever doubt this.