Phil’s hands are not soft.
They are calloused, hard, and worn. His fingers bear scars from untold battles, his palms are creased and lined with effort. Oil, soot, ash, crosses his fingertips and stains them as the eons pass, as he fights battles and wins, as he gains his wings and loses them only to start the cycle anew. Over and over he crashes through challenges meant to bring him down, climbing their ruins and wearing the barbed-wire crown of victory.
Phil gains a name. A title. Philza, Angel of Death. Feared by all, beloved by none. He has conquered worlds and slain armies.
This child will be the death of him.
Or, more rather, he will be the death of this child.
“Please, Will,” he says softly to the crying babe, holding him gently, dangerous hands tender as they support his head and neck and hold him close. “Please stop crying.”
Wilbur, at a mere eight months old, does not stop crying. It has been almost a full twenty-four hours of this, and Phil is terrified he is doing something wrong. He is centuries old, has dealt with children before, but never on his own. Never dealt with one so precious, so close to his own heart. A son actually born of his own flesh and blood, mother lost to the mortal curse of death. Phil is not mortal, and he knew from the beginning it was dangerous to get attached. Yet here he is, a baby in his hands that cries all night long and has his mother’s hair and eyes.
“Wilbur, please,” he begs, and he is so, so tired. He aches for a modicum of rest, just a moment to lay his head down and sleep. He knows there are bags under his eyes, knows that he shouldn’t have to bear this burden alone, and yet here he is. Wilbur cries, loud and healthy, so at least Phil knows that he’s not sick in the chest with some sort of pneumonia. There’s no sign of illness and he’d tried everything-- changing him, feeding him, walking in circles for hours. Singing to him. Reading. Swaddling him. Hell, Phil had given up at one point and left Will safe in his crib, sat in the kitchen, and swore to let him cry it out on his own. That had lasted all of an hour before he couldn’t take it anymore, and had come back to hold him once more.
Phil is so, so tired. He misses his wife.
Somewhere in the house, a door shuts.
Logically, he knows who it is. His brain supplies the name and face helpfully, the only other person who knows this address other than himself. Wilbur is a babe locked in a tower, for all purposes. Phil is not allowing anyone other than himself and one other to know the location of this house, precious and crafted by his own hands for a woman he loved like nothing else. The place where Wilbur was born, where that woman died. Where she lays under the earth, feeding the flowers above here, where Wilbur is going to grow up safe and happy and alive. Despite knowing the house’s security, he still tenses as footsteps climb the stairs. As the door creaks open. A nose pokes in.
“Is he still crying?” Phil forces his shoulders to relax, tucking Wilbur’s brown head of hair against his shoulder, and nods.
“Hi, Techno,” he says softly. Gently, with glacial grace, Techno worms his way into the room. Twelve and scarred to hell and back already, a not-quite-son. An apprentice, for anyone who asks. Someone who cares, when it comes to Phil. Someone to teach. He’s taken apprentices before-- Techno is a little different, he already knows.
“He’s so loud for something so tiny,” Techno complains mildly, and Phil gives him a half-hearted glare.
“He’s a baby,” Phil says, moving to set Wilbur down in his crib again, polished spruce lined with feather-stuffed pillows. “They tend to be loud.” Phil has no experience with babies. He has no idea if this is normal. But he’s not about to tell Techno that. “Will you watch him, for a bit?”
“I don’t know how to take care of babies,” Techno says, even as he creeps over to the edge of the crib, looking over at him. “I’d probably hurt him.”
“All you need to do is sit here and watch him,” Phil says, and before he can stop himself, “please. Please, Techno. I’m so tired.” He laughs, dragging a hand down his face, but it is not a happy laugh. When he opens his eyes again, Techno is staring at him over his shoulder, eyes unreadable. Technoblade is often unreadable, Phil finds, but they have only been working together for a year. He’s sure he will learn over time, as will Techno. For now, Phil trusts Techno to watch his son while he tries to nap. That is not something he would grant to just anyone, and based on the way Techno is staring at him, he knows it too.
“I just have to watch him?” He asks, as if to clarify. “With my eyes?”
“Just make sure he doesn’t roll over and suffocate,” Phil says before taking a step back. “Hour at most. Please.”
Techno glances back down at the baby in the crib, then back at Phil. He nods, minutely, and hey, Phil will take it. He turns to go, exiting the room and leaving Techno with Wilbur, eyes already shut before he hits the couch for a nap. Even Wilbur’s crying has faded into monotonous background noise, enough so that he falls asleep without issue.
When he wakes, the house is silent.
First comes relief. Second comes panic-- something has gone wrong, the baby is quiet, too quiet, the house is too quiet, and Phil’s feet thud as he pounds up the stairs. All he knows is death, and so he has come to expect it. His wings ruffle, on alert, as he throws open the door to the nursery he’d painted ages ago-- only to find two sleeping forms in the room.
Techno, in the rocking chair. Wilbur, in the crib. The chair has been dragged across the floor to hover gently over the crib, and Techno’s hand is draped over the side of it, head slumped against the wood with Wilbur gripping onto his thumb with one tiny hand. Phil settles. Stills. Takes in the scene before him, and then gently, he reverses and exits the room. It’s been more than an hour for certain; but if Techno and Wilbur are asleep as well, he’s going to try and catch up himself. Prime knows they all need it. Phil doesn’t quite realize it as he makes his way down the stairs, back to the couch, but he’s smiling.
Wilbur grows, sprouting like a young tree in the forest they call home. Years pass, and so do birthdays. His hair grows long and curly, hanging over his eyes and brushing his neck. Eventually, Phil cuts it, the strands trickling to the ground and with pain, Phil is reminded of the woman who bore Wilbur. She is in his every move, in his first stumbling steps, in the way he speaks, how he learns. She is in his eyes and hair, in his smile.
Pain is a near-constant when Phil is around Wilbur, and slowly, he feels himself detaching to deal with it.
This is not abnormal. Phil detaches from mortals often, when he finds the bond growing too strong for his liking. Mortals grow old. They die. Phil learned his lesson long ago that loving them was difficult and losing them was unfathomable. In order to move on, he forces himself to detach from mortals when they start to get too close. Wilbur is supposed to be the exception, and yet.
And yet, the idea of watching his own son grow up and die under his care is terrifying. Oftentimes, Phil’s chest is tight with the idea. Of losing Wilbur, the brightest human he’s ever known. And so he detaches. Gently, he distances himself. At first he doesn’t realize he’s doing it, simply staying out longer than he normally would, making Wilbur rely on himself for longer periods of time. He doesn’t chatter with him as often, holds his wrist instead of his hand. Wilbur is confused by the change, clearly, little eyes filling with tears some days when Phil refuses a hug, when Phil pushes him away for the thousandth time. It’s already a bad day, a few years later, when the line holding his soul in place snaps.
“Dad,” Wilbur calls him, five years old and witty to a fault already.
Phil’s heart breaks.
Technoblade lives near them. Not in the same house, but close. Technoblade is fifteen and independent and strong. He and Wilbur know each other-- they are not friends, they are acquaintances, and Phil has slowly been teaching Techno what he knows. Eons of knowledge to pass on to a troubled teenager, a warbred pig, who already has enough self-control to swim through riptides and tear mountains to the ground.
Phil needs to leave, to spread his wings and make a show of force. He needs to detach from the softness he has acquired over the past six, seven years, and forget about the life he’s created here in this gentle wood. He needs blood. The voices ring true, louder than ever when Wilbur says that word-- dad.
So Phil bundles Wilbur up with a pack, shuts down the house. Shutters the windows.
Dumps Wilbur on Techno’s doorstep.
“I’ll be back,” he says to Wilbur, making sure the blankets are tucked under his chin. “Be good.”
He leaves Wilbur with those words, heart aching in his chest as he pushes through the sky, fleeting cirrus clouds leaving his hair damp and clothes heavy.
Technoblade opens his front door to a shivering child and minimal instruction.
“So,” Techno says, the tiny shivering bundle of boy sitting on his armchair in front of the fire. “Do… you want a drink?”
Wilbur is five years old, he knows. So he should know how to talk. Right?
“Please,” Wilbur says, voice small, and ah, okay, yes. Next is figuring out what he can feed a child. Technoblade is out of his depth here, fingers stuttering as he opens the icebox and rummages. He’s got water, of course, and cool milk set aside in a bottle, mostly for baking projects and hot chocolate. It had been a chilly, dewy morning when Techno had opened his door to Phil’s kid on the steps, and he’d been shivering despite the blankets and jacket around him. So he pulls the milk out, and the chocolate powder to start up over the blazing fire.
“What did Phil tell you, again?” Techno asks, mind whirling as he sets up a pot above the flames. Wilbur’s watching him with teary but bright eyes, silent for the most part as he shivers on the chair. He hasn’t stopped since Techno brought him in, and he’s not sure if he’s cold or if it’s from something else entirely.
“Be good,” Wilbur repeats, voice high. “Dad will be back.”
“Right,” Techno says, glancing back at the pot of milk as he pokes the charred wood, stirs the flames. Something stirs in his gut as well, heavy dread laced with worry. It makes his head ache a bit.
Phil doesn’t often leave abruptly like this. He’ll give warning. He sets things up, he doesn’t just leave without planning.
Wilbur is not wearing shoes.
In the end, that’s what tunes Technoblade in to the severity of this situation. Wilbur is shoeless, sockless, even though he’s been bundled up tight in blankets and jackets, with a bag hastily packed against his tiny shoulder blades. Technoblade is fifteen, although Phil treats him like an adult, which he appreciates. Usually.
He does not appreciate this.
Wilbur falls asleep with a belly full of hot chocolate, Techno’s favorite mug curled up against his chest, eyes drooping and drooping until finally, he’s asleep.
Technoblade sits on the floor across from him, and watches. Wilbur is small. Wilbur is five years old, and has interacted with Techno a handful of times. He knows him well enough to fall asleep in his home-- trusts him enough to linger when Phil leaves him there on his doorstep. When will Phil even return? Techno isn’t suited for long-term childcare; he’s a teenager of war, born and raised in thick-scented blood, slogging his way through battlefields and army camps. Before Phil had agreed to take him in and teach him, Techno had just been another child soldier fighting at his side, hands too steady on a blade they were too small for. The Angel of Death, general of their army and terrifying to all the younger ones, had lingered on Technoblade when he’d seen him at first. He’d seen something for sure-- something to give him just enough pause, something to make his wings ruffle in the air behind his back, and later on come to whirl him away.
Technoblade had long since stopped calling Phil the Angel of Death, but it’s not hard to see why he’s called it. Even plants die under his thumb unless cared for by machinery, crude redstone on a timer watering and caring for them. Phil feels some sort of guilt for his wife’s death, Techno knows. Techno knows a lot more than Phil thinks he does.
Wilbur has been left in his care to keep him alive.
There’s going to be a bit of a learning process, Technoblade thinks to himself.
Techno is not one for kindness. Life has not been gracious to him. A child soldier, bathed in blood, who occasionally hears voices that call for violence. Technoblade is a rational person-- Phil is his teacher. Phil is always teaching him things, lessons disguised as tasks and quests, always at the end of a journey, a quip about something Techno has learned paired with a sly smile. And Techno always finds that he has learned something. So as Wilbur sleeps, tucked up in Techno’s armchair, eyes shut tight, he props his chin on one hand and thinks to himself: this is a lesson in kindness.
And dammit, Techno wants to pass this class.
So Wilbur wakes up in the morning to the sound of a hammer against wood, a breakfast laid out on the table in the kitchen. Toast in one hand, free fist rubbing sleepy eyes, blanket still around his shoulder, he meanders to where Technoblade is pulling together slabs of oak wood planks and banging iron nails into their ends.
“What are you doing?” Wilbur asks, making Techno’s shoulders jump a bit. He glances back, then down at the half-finished project in front of him.
“Making you a bed,” he says, glancing back once again to judge Wilbur’s height, making sure he’d estimated right. Something in the back of his head chatters. “So you don’t have to sleep on the chair while you’re here.”
Wilbur hums. Techno twirls the hammer.
The dance they jitter through is wrought with stumbles and the stubbing of toes.
Techno lives in a house a distance away from Phil’s, although it isn’t far. Minutes on foot, seconds if Phil uses his wings. He has his own farm, his own way of living, and a strict routine that he’s committed himself to. Wilbur is a bump in the road, but he won’t let his presence stop him. Technoblade wakes early the second day, making himself a cup of tea, and then after a moment of hesitation, warms up some milk for Wilbur and leaves it on the kitchen table. Chores come first, and he likes to get them done in the early morning when the grass is still dewy and glittering, when the water clings to the spiderwebs in the forest and turns them into kaleidoscopes. The sun is below the treeline and the slight chill of morning air makes the laborious tasks easier than if they were being done in the midday sun, and so Technoblade wakes up early to do his chores. He feeds the cows and chickens. He changes out the hay in the small barn, milking the dairy cow and bringing the milk to the main house. He refills the dog food bowls for the pups he lets run around the property, and then ends up on his knees in the dirt, fingers stained with brown as he pats the soil around potato seedlings.
“What are you doing?” In the monotony of his morning, Techno had almost forgotten about Wilbur. But now he’s here, tiny hands resting against the fence surrounding the farm and bright eyes watching him. The sun is just above the trees, coloring brown curls into honey.
“Planting,” Techno says simply. Wilbur has a line of faint white above his upper lip, remnants of a drink that Techno had left out for him.
“What are you planting?”
“They’re full of starch.” Technoblade is not one for children and their impatient questions, but he has no choice as Wilbur climbs up on the fence and sits perched on top, balanced carefully. If Phil was here, he might get up and urge Wilbur down, for fear of him falling. Techno figures that if Wilbur falls on his own, he might learn by himself of the danger. “And nutrients.”
That question is going to drive him mad. “Because that’s how nature decided to make them,” Techno says, voice tight. He can’t remember the last time he had a conversation like this with someone other than Phil. “They’re good to eat.”
“Can I eat one now?”
“No.” Techno pauses, hands in the dirt and chilly from the damp soil, before glancing over at Wilbur. Wilbur, who is still sitting on top of the fence, squinting in the bright sunlight. His legs swing, back and forth, back and forth. “Do you have school?”
“Dad teaches me things,” Wilbur says, swinging his legs. “He.. taught me. My ABCs. They go like this. A, B, C, D--”
Technoblade is fifteen, and knows his alphabet. He doesn’t need a five-year-old to recite it to him. And yet, he doesn’t do anything but drop another potato seedling into the hole he’d just dug with his fingers, patting the soil down carefully as Wilbur sings for him.
“X, Y, Z. Now I know my ABCs, next time won’t you sing with me,” Wilbur finishes, voice carrying over the field of crops and bumping against the trees, echoing. Techno sighs, sits up, brushes his fingers off against his pants. They’re already dirty. More dirt smudges won’t hurt.
“No thanks,” he says, watching as Wilbur grins in his direction, wide and happy. “I think I’m past the ABCs in my schooling.”
“Dad teaches you too,” Wilbur says, nodding a bit. “He’s your school.”
“In a way.” That’s an interesting observation. Wilbur’s five-- clearly not stupid, but not the most observant ever either.
“Is this a lesson?” Wilbur asks, and oh, wow, okay.
Maybe he is observant.
Technoblade at least, won’t lie to him. “Yes. I think so.”
“Am I your lesson?”
“If I say yes, will you cry?”
“Hmmmm.” Wilbur scratches his face. “No.”
“Then yes. You’re my lesson.” Techno hears a thump, and the next time he glances up, Wilbur is standing on the same side of the fence as the farm and is peering into the bucket of potato seedlings with mild curiosity.
“Okay,” Wilbur says, and reaches into the bucket, tugging out a potato seedling. Techno doesn’t stop him-- he only reaches over, snags another seedling, his fingers bumping with Wilbur’s small hand as he tugs it out and scooches forward. His back aches gently as he leans over, digging out a shallow pit to stuff it in, and then covers it back up with dirt. He doesn’t look up. He just reaches out for another seedling, keeping his ears pricked for the sound of Wilbur beside him. He’s not going to try and keep too close of an eye on the kid, but he doesn’t want to let him wander off into the woods alone either. Phil would kill Techno in a heartbeat if Wilbur got hurt, he thinks.
Dirt shuffles beside him, soft sounds of someone digging, and Techno quietly pats down more soil over his own seedling. There’s this bucket to get through and one more after that, so when he glances over and Wilbur’s got his hands in the dirt and a determined look on his face, Technoblade says nothing.
The morning rolls over into afternoon with a lazy turn of the sun, dragging across the sky and stinging the back of Techno’s neck. At some point he gets up, leaving Wilbur in the dirt and with the potatoes in order to get his sunhat, and after something tickles the back of his brain, a scarf. He tugs his hat on himself, then drapes the scarf onto Wilbur’s neck carefully.
“What is this?” The kid asks, sitting up and immediately reaching for the fabric. He tugs it off, turning it over and over in his hands. It’s maroon, a relic from a few years ago when Techno had traversed the tundra on his own for Phil.
“Scarf,” Techno says. “Put it back on.”
“It’s not snowing,” Wilbur says, the dirt on his fingers staining the red. “Why?”
“The sun can hurt you just as much as any snow can.” Techno informs him, tapping the straw of his hat and coming away with a stinging finger. He’ll have to smooth it out again at some point. “Put it on.”
Wilbur pouts, but wraps the scarf around his head anyways. He looks very silly. Techno does not tease him for it.
Days pass. Phil does not return. Technoblade is expecting maybe a few days, or a week of Phil’s absence. Phil is too cautious with Wilbur to leave him with Technoblade for so long (especially with how Techno gets sometimes). He figures by the end of the week Wilbur will be returned to the house down the path and Techno will continue sparring lessons with Phil and learning and Wilbur will be out of his life.
A week passes. Wilbur accompanies Techno on his morning chores, and then one day, Techno wakes up slightly later than normal. Not by a lot-- maybe an hour or so. It happens, especially when he cannot sleep at night or when he’s up late simply by virtue of getting carried away reading. Last night he’d been scouring mythology books, trying to ignore how when the clocks clicked to midnight, it would be one week officially since Phil had left Wilbur on the doorstep and vanished without even a note.
(And oh, how Techno had looked. He’d taken Wilbur’s backpack aside and dumped it out, searched the contents, shaken out the blanket and jacket he’d arrived in. He went to the other house down the path and searched frantically, through cupboards and on doors and even rifling through Phil’s notebooks. There was nothing. No note to soothe his anxious hands, no message or secret for him to linger over. The voices had rattled to him in that empty house. He’d gone back to his cabin and to a sleepy Wilbur with defeat, trying not to let it show in the slump of his shoulders. Wilbur had been quiet that night.)
Regardless, Techno wakes up an hour later than he normally does. The sun is already in the sky. He has a pit in his stomach for some odd reason-- he doesn’t enjoy breaking routine.
Wilbur is sitting at the kitchen table, hands dirty, door open a crack.
“Good morning,” he says, feet kicking gently where they can’t reach the ground. In his hands is a glass of water.
“Good morning,” Techno says warily. They’ve fallen into an odd workday, circling around each other and Wilbur copycatting nearly everything Techno does on the daily. It’s a method of learning, sure, but it leaves Techno feeling watched and responsible. It makes his head ache.
“I fed the chickens,” Wilbur says out of nowhere, and Techno’s hand goes still on the handle of the icebox.
“By yourself?” Techno asks, and Wilbur nods, bringing the glass to his lips. Techno continues opening the icebox after a moment, staring into it.
“Mhm.” There’s a sound, and when Techno turns around with milk in hand, Wilbur is still grasping his cup. “And cows.”
“You fed the chickens and the cows?”
“I just said that.”
“And I’m just checking.” Techno tugs out his favorite mug, staring at Wilbur still. The kid’s hair is getting long, curls brushing his neck. “You got up early.”
“It’s because you’re loud. Snoring.”
“I don’t snore,” Techno scoffs, and Wilbur imitates him with a surprising degree of accuracy.
“You do,” he insists. “And I woke up. And then I fed the chickens and cows and sat with the kitty outside.”
Technoblade sighs, slumping into a chair. Wilbur imitates him again, sighing, leaning back in his chair and slumping his shoulders. “That cat has fleas,” Techno informs him, although he has no idea if it’s true. He’s just guessing. “And stop copying me.”
Wilbur lifts a hand with wide eyes, staring at his fingers like he might see little hopping bugs on them if he stares hard enough. Then looks to Techno again, narrowing his eyes.
“Stop copying me,” Wilbur growls out, trying to lower his voice. A slight bolt of irritation flickers through him, and as if to mock him again, a voice-- stupid, kid, who does he think he is --
Techno presses a hand to his forehead, inhaling, then exhaling. The voice has been more prominent in recent years. Phil tells him it’s normal. That the voice is just a part of being cursed like Techno has been, and that when it calls for blood and crops up whenever Techno is irritated it just wants to cause havoc. However, Phil is not here to spar with him to make it go away. Phil is not here to listen when Techno needs to rant about it. He only has Wilbur, who is pressing his fingers to his forehead just like Technoblade is and is grinning underneath his hand.
“Knock it off,” Techno mumbles. There’s the start of a ringing in his ears, E, always the note E. Violin strings rattle in his mind. Today is not going to be fun.
“Knock it off,” Wilbur says. Technoblade heaves a great heavy sigh-- he is Atlas, and the world is being held up by his shoulders. The world, who is sitting across from him with a faux-annoyed look that mirror’s Techno’s own. The world, who slips off his chair when Techno does and follows him outside. He makes the rounds around the farm, and well.
He doesn’t need to feed the chickens or the cows, at least. And he tries not to be annoyed when Wilbur starts to carry around the cat he’d mentioned. He tries. He really, really does.
But Wilbur is being more annoying than usual today. He carries around the cat like it’s a stuffed animal, not helping with the rest of the chores like he normally might. The novelty has clearly worn off, and Technoblade can’t help but almost pity the kid. It’s been a week straight of living here with no sign from his father, doing mundane tasks with a person he hardly knows, much less cares about.
And he keeps copying Technoblade. Over and over.
“Seriously, Wilbur,” Techno grits out, halfway through changing the hay in the cow’s stalls.
“Seriously, Wilbur,” Wilbur calls back from where he’s sitting on one of the barn gate doors, still holding that fucking cat. The steady note of violin has been rising in his head ever since this morning, and now it’s a pressing issue that Techno needs to address. Preferably, by himself.
“Go check to see if the hens have laid,” Techno says, and maybe it comes out sharper than intended, but hey. He’s been bothered all morning.
Wilbur hardly gives him a chance for quiet. “No!” He says. “I looked this morning!”
“Well, go look again,” Techno says, gnashing his molars and trying to keep his cool. Cool, like the icebergs he’d seen in the far north. Cool, like the first snowfall, like the damp air in the morning. He forces himself to think. 1, 2, 3. “They might have laid more by now.” 4, 5, 6.
“No!” Wilbur’s feet thump to the ground and the cat hisses, scrabbling slightly. Wilbur doesn’t hesitate to let the cat go, but he makes a sad little noise and stomps his feet. “No! No eggs! No chickens! No!”
The violin strings in his head get a tiny bit louder.
“Wilbur,” he says, 7, 8, 9. “Get out of the barn.”
The noise in his head is at a sickening level now, a cacophony of voices and violin, an inharmonious melody of violence. Technoblade throws down his pitchfork, and before he can stop himself he’s throwing himself at Wilbur. A tiny arm is in his grasp quicker than Wilbur can ever react, and then he’s dragging the kid out into the midday sun and through the yard.
“Let go!” Wilbur cries, voice filled with terror and upset. Techno does not stop. He storms forward, dragging Wilbur despite the younger kid shoving his feet into the dirt, scrabbling his long nails at Techno’s arm until he welts. He doesn’t stop, only pausing to snatch up his practice wooden sword from where it lays beside the small, unused outdoor furnace he used mostly for burning garbage. Wilbur shuts up his whining when he sees the sword, but doesn’t stop struggling. It’s a five-minute walk for them to reach the clearing that Technoblade finds most enjoyable, but it takes seven with how much Wilbur is wriggling. Techno does not let go until they get to the smooth grass, cut evenly down with a scythe early in the summer, and practically tosses the kid to the side.
sword-- blood-- blood for the blood god-- wilbur-- e okay?-- careful-- blood--
Techno takes a breath, ignores the whines he’s hearing from Wilbur, and shoves his feet roughly into first position.
The violin rings in his head, in his ears, loud enough that he cannot hear Wilbur’s complaining anymore, or his terrified questions. Or maybe Wilbur has just stopped asking them. Unlikely. Wilbur asks questions about everything.
Techno’s feet move into second position. Wilbur had asked a question about the birds, the other day. How do they fly? Techno had mulled over the answer for a while as he’d carved out a new handle for a cabinet inside before answering Wilbur: that was something he didn’t know. Phil would know, with his endless knowledge and wings. He would surely know how birds flew. But Phil was not here, so Techno had to face Wilbur and tell him simply: he didn’t know.
Techno doesn’t know a lot of things. He does know this. Feet falling into line immediately, sword whooshing as it swings. The wooden practice swords have a different sound than the metal ones do-- metal is sharper, more of a whoop than a whoosh. Wood is soft. It carves easy under his hands, especially good woods like spruce and cedar. With those, he could carve many things. Cabinet handles. Doors. Bed frames for small children.
The ringing in his head is less now. The voices are quieter. He can hear himself think a little better, hear the whoosh of the wooden practice sword, the sound of birds above.
The grass rustles beside him. Wilbur is no longer sniffling, no longer crying. There are no questions posed Techno’s way as he carefully takes back control of his body, as fluid in his motions as a river. Carve your new path, Phil had said. Erosion wears down any rock over time.
Maybe Techno is the rock. Wilbur is the water, an unfamiliar new spring popping up in the middle of a mountain. Carving its path through the canyons and valleys and stone. Techno, as a mountain, is unsure if he likes this new river or not. It’s very loud. Its footsteps are uneven, hesitant, but Wilbur is a good copycat and learns very, very quickly.
Wilbur had learned how to feed the chickens and cows on his own this morning. There’s a spark of something in Techno’s gut, a feeling he refuses to accept, so he shoves it down. The voices clamor more when he thinks about it-- but not necessarily in a bad way.
The calls for blood are mostly gone. The leather handle of the sword in his hand is soft against his grip, and their needs are sated by the movement of his body. Flowing, but sturdy and sure in it’s footsteps. Beside him, a much less stable being.
Techno opens his eyes, tilts his head to the side. The violin is no longer all-encompassing. He can think now. Beside him, a few meters to the side, Wilbur stands on the grass. His eyes (rimmed with red and still slightly watery) are locked on Techno, little hands raised in the air in mockery of Techno’s footsteps and routine.
Techno settles to a halt, feet shoulder-width apart, sword raised like Phil had shown him long ago, in a field far away from this one. Wilbur is a beat behind him, but ends up in the same pose nonetheless. For a second they stand there, staring at each other, and then Techno lowers his sword and Wilbur blinks absently.
Neither of them apologize to the other. Techno, because he thinks it’s unspoken. Wilbur, because he really has nothing to apologize for in his eyes.
Technoblade hands over the wooden sword that’s too heavy for Wilbur now, and shows him how to hold it. He shows him the steps, corrects his balance, and breaks their daily routine. The voices settle. It only took them a week to get so riled up they snapped, and Techno is at least a little grateful they took that long. They’re settled by the simple act of pretending to be violent-- they sound almost amused when Techno lets Wilbur go hog wild with the wooden sword, swinging it around with two hands and chopping at the long grass on the side of the clearing. He’s shouting something-- Techno doesn’t bother to tune in. Wilbur deserves a bit of privacy, after all. Instead, he just lies back in the sticky summer heat, shutting his eyes against the sun and feeling how his clothes paste to his back with sweat. Exertion from moving around makes his muscles twinge, but he ignores it. Grass, itchy against his back and neck, the hum of insects, and Technoblade almost feels safe here in this cocoon of sweetgrass and summer.
Until something hits his stomach, and he has to open his eyes again.
“I’m done,” Wilbur says, folding his legs and plopping to the ground beside Techno. He removes the wooden sword from where Wilbur had dropped it on his belly, setting it to the side.
“Did it help?” Techno asks, although he’s not quite sure what Wilbur had been working out through it. Something had been released there-- whether it be frustration, energy, or frustrated energy.
“Yes.” Wilbur nods sharply, reaching out with a hand and picking at the grass. He trickles some onto Techno’s chest. Techno just brings a hand up to his eyes, covers them, ignores the tickle.
They sit there in the sun for a while.
Phil comes back two days later.
The first indication of this is a shadow passing over a window, one of the glass ones that Techno had bought from a traveling trader. It’s the window he stores his flowers by, the alliums and pink tulips that he had picked himself from the fields, and a handful of poppies that Wilbur had brought him one day.
A shadow passes over them, and both boys' heads pop up. Wilbur’s, from a picture book. Techno’s from a book of war.
Wings flap outside, and there’s the thump of footsteps. Before Techno can get up, Wilbur is off the floor and running to the door, fumbling with the handle before throwing it open.
“DAD!” He shrieks, and there’s muted laughter from outside. Wilbur throws himself into the golden evening, and into Phil’s arms.
Techno leans on the doorway of his cabin, ignores the streaks of red in Phil’s sleeves, down his pants, and crosses his arms.
“Technoblade,” Phil says, nodding gently. “Glad to see you two are well.”
“It’s been nine days,” Wilbur says from where he’s pressed up against Phil’s middle, hesitant hands of his father on his shoulders. “I counted.”
“Good job,” Phil says lightly. “I told you I would come back.”
Techno’s face burns. The voices roar in the back of his head. He says nothing. Just meets Phil’s gaze evenly, does not flinch when they lock eyes and hold it for a second.
“Thank you,” Phil says after a moment again.
“Not like you gave me much of a choice,” Techno reasons out loud.
Phil winces, and then just like that, they leave. Wilbur takes a minute to gather up his minimal belongings from the floor and the makeshift cot and bed frame Techno had created that first day, and then they’re gone.
The cabin is very quiet. On the windowsill, the poppies wilt slightly as the sun goes down entirely. Techno lights the lanterns methodically, lighting up the whole area of the cabin and the barn, the clearing around his home.
It is very quiet.
There is another house down the road, filled with chatter now, but Techno doesn’t live there. He lives here, with his cows, and his chickens, and his lesson.
Maybe it had been one of patience. One of kindness. One of caring?
He’s not sure.
He’ll have to ask Phil.
A few days in the trenches had set his mind straight.
Or at least, as straight as his mind could be. One does not live for centuries without gaining some kind of insanity. Phil is not a rule, not an exception, just an anomaly. But his existence is fraught with problems. There is always a war being fought somewhere, he’s found, and it only had taken him a few days of flight to find one. Far enough away that he’s separate from Wilbur, away from his mortal sons-- mortal son, he reminds himself. Techno is not mortal, not entirely.
Also not his son. Phil has to remind himself of that fact more often that he’d like.
Blood spatters his hands, drips down his cheeks, and people fear him. It’s a power trip. The voices in his head settle slightly, and the feeling comes back to his fingertips one night in his tent, and then he realizes he has to go home. Wilbur is with Techno, but it doesn’t stop the slight fear in his chest that something may have happened. A mortal son. A fragile life.
Phil is surrounded by the thing he is most terrified of. How ironic, he thinks to himself as he leaves the battlefield behind and flies almost nonstop until he reaches the quiet houses in the woods. Wilbur is elated to see him, and despite the reason he’d left them both in the first place, Phil is just as excited to see him back. Technoblade is more hesitant-- there’s a bit of hostility in his gaze as he lingers in the doorway.
Phil knows he should’ve left a note. Left something.
But the call had been so loud and he’d been so desperate. The pain had been immeasurable.
Still, he can acknowledge when he has made a mistake. This is the reason he doesn’t flinch away or find an excuse when Techno approaches him, a day later, Wilbur in the house somewhere. Wilbur had told Phil about the week with Technoblade-- the chickens, the cat, the dogs, the farm. The potatoes. Wilbur had wobbly shown him the beginning steps to fighting stances, and Phil had forced back the wave of sickness that came over him when he thought about Wilbur fighting on a battlefield and instead just smiled. Said he was proud.
“So what was the point?” Technoblade asks, his shadow lingering on the ground and stretching far above Phil’s own. Even at just fifteen, he is tall. He will only grow more. “Leaving him with me? Was it a test? A lesson? Did I pass?”
“I’d say none of the above,” Phil says, turning around from where he’s standing in the front garden with an apple in hand. Techno is on the side of the dusty path they use to traverse between their homes, eyes wary, uncertain of himself. This isn’t the first time Technoblade has challenged him in some way-- Phil even encourages it at times. But this feels a little different.
“So what was it?” Techno demands. “I could’ve done something wrong. I could’ve hurt him. I--” He freezes, catches himself. Phil raises a brow. “The voices got bad at one point.”
“Wilbur’s under the impression you two had fun,” Phil says after a beat of silence. “Did you not?”
“It was…” Techno looks conflicted again for a moment, his hand twisting by his side. A nervous tick. “It was terrifying,” he admits.
Well, Phil can certainly relate.
“I needed a break,” he admits, turning the apple over in his hands. “I was-- Wilbur was--” Inhale. Exhale. “Life is a fragile thing,” he tries to explain. “I needed to remind myself of how precious it is.”
“So you dumped your kid on me,” Techno bites out, “and ran off to go kill some people.”
“Pretty much,” Phil says.
Techno stands there, fingers twisting at his side, and then finally: “That was a shitty thing to do.”
Phil supposes it was. His head is clearer now. He can think rationally. Life is fleeting but compared to the soldiers on the field who met his own blade, Wilbur’s will be long and filled with love, especially if Phil is by his side. “Yes,” he says. “I think it was. I’m sorry.”
Techno grits his teeth. It looks like he has more to say, but in the end, nothing comes out. He just huffs out a breath, tears his eyes away from Phil, and glances up at the sky and the sun. Summer is almost over, Phil reasons. Autumn is on its way, with its bronze leaves and frigid air.
“Just don’t do it again,” Techno says abruptly, pulling him from his thoughts of the seasons. By himself, he never really had to think about them. But with Wilbur, with Techno, he has all the time in the world to think about it. Techno’s staring at him once more, gaze determined, eyes hard. “At least, not without warning.”
Phil smiles, a quiet affair. “I’m glad you two had fun,” he says, and Techno’s fingers twist, then still.
“Goodnight,” Techno says, and turns to head back down the path.
“Technoblade,” Phil calls after him. A spur-of-the-moment decision. An olive branch, maybe, in order to soothe this rift. “I really am sorry. I should have told you.” Techno lingers, and then Phil gently settles the branch down. “Stay here tonight? Wilbur misses you. You’re all he talks about-- I said I would let him visit tomorrow, but he’ll be delighted to see you now.”
Technoblade stands there, half-turned away. Phil’s about to give up when he turns back, face unreadable. Less upset, clearly. But he’s taking the branch. Tucking it into his back pocket.
“Sure,” he says, and awkwardly moves to enter the front garden, wooden gate clicking slightly. Something aches in his heart for a fleeting moment, but he pushes the feeling aside. Not anymore. Not tonight. Tonight is for Wilbur, his mortal son, who he will make sure he raises to be a good person. A gentle person. Tonight is for Technoblade, a semi-mortal anomaly that Phil has picked up and perhaps made his own. Someone who he will raise to be prideful, but considerate. Warlike, but fair. Tonight is for both of them, for Phil to repent.
Phil turns after Techno, Wilbur shouting gleefully at the sight of him when they enter. The door shuts quietly to their warm house behind them.