Wilbur was back.
Phil had been so overwhelmingly, mind-numbingly happy, seeing his son again. His son, his alive son, his Wilbur. There was a grey streak in his hair, and maybe his smile showed a few more teeth than Phil was used to, but it was still Wilbur. Phil had been braced for a stranger wearing his son's face, but no, it was still his boy, deep down. Just a bit older, a bit more jaded, viciously happy to be alive.
The crows had been slightly wary of him; they'd kept a distance, only a few hopping close enough to nip at the edges of Wilbur's coat. None of them had perched on Wilbur directly. And Tommy's gaze - what little he'd seen of it, anyway, he'd been too focused on Wilbur to pay much attention - had been hard as stone, his jaw set in a combative line. Phil hadn't cared about any of that, though.
Wilbur was back.
He'd asked for a place to stay, and Phil hadn't even hesitated before offering his attic. A bed, a shower, whatever his son needed, he was happy to supply it.
And then he'd left again.
That was fine, of course. Wilbur was an adult. He could go where he wanted, Phil certainly wasn't going to force him to stay (no matter how much he wanted to wrap his son in his wings like he had when Wilbur was small and never let him go again). So Phil had smiled and waved and watched Tommy and Wilbur walk off together.
And now it was just him, sitting in his cabin, trying to figure out why there was a slight shake in his hands.
Wilbur was back.
And Phil was happy about it! So incredibly happy. He'd missed Wilbur so much, hearing his voice and seeing his smile had felt like a drink of water in the desert.
... So why were his hands shaking?
His communicator beeped softly, and Phil jolted, scrambling to pull it out of his pocket. He felt a crushing, awful mix of emotions at the notification; disappointment that it wasn't Wilbur, happiness and relief that it was Techno, guilt that he was disappointed.
[Technoblade]: m awoake
[Ph1LzA]: be right over m8
Phil practically ran out of his cabin, quickly crossing the bridge and unlocking Techno's cabin before hurrying inside (he'd gotten into the habit of locking Techno's door while his friend was asleep, just in case. You never knew with this server).
Techno was sitting up in bed when Phil reached his room. His fur was a mess, there was a spot of drool on his pillow, and he was still rubbing sleep from his eyes. But he was awake.
"Hey, mate," Phil greeted him, smiling and leaning against the doorframe.
"Mmh." Techno yawned. "What time is it?"
"Late afternoon. You, uh." Phil hesitated, trying to figure out a way to say this, then finally settled on "A lot happened while you were out."
Techno's ear flicked, and he scowled at it, reaching for the familiar emerald earring lying on the bedside table. "Great."
Phil fought down a much fonder smile; Techno had told him once, on one of those evenings where they'd tried a few sips of Phil's moonshine experiments and stayed up way too late trading stories, that he didn't feel right without the weight of the earring anymore. Not wearing it made him feel off-balance. "I'll let you wake up properly first. Go get dressed, I'll make food."
"Potatoes?" Techno asked, hooking the earring in place and flicking his ear again, smiling a little at the sensation.
"You need meat," Phil huffed, falling into the familiar pattern of banter after a period of hibernation. "You're getting rabbit stew. Protein is important after hibernating, Tech, you know that."
Techno picked up the rest of his around-the-house jewelry and started putting it on. "Do I know that? Because potatoes sound really good right now, Phil, not gonna lie."
Phil rolled his eyes good-naturedly and headed downstairs. "I'll add potatoes to it."
It was easy to fall back into the rhythm of the work, focusing on spices and cooking times rather than... everything.
Wilbur was back.
Phil couldn't shake that thought.
Techno came downstairs in his usual outfit just before the stew was done, like usual. The timing nearly always worked out that way. He looked considerably more put together now, like he had just woken from a regular night of sleep instead of a month of hibernation.
Techno took a seat at the table, Phil poured two servings of stew (he had forgotten to eat lunch) and joined him, and they ate in comfortable silence.
Phil found himself relaxing with just his friend's presence; everything was okay now that Techno was awake. It usually was. He just... sometimes had problems when Techno was asleep and all he could hear was the wind outside and the creaking of branches or planks that might be footsteps, knowing that Techno was helpless, powerless to defend himself -
"Did you do the..." Techno made a vague gesture with his spoon. "The bird thing?"
"Torpor," Phil reminded him. "And yeah, I did. Twice this time, I think."
It was a form of hibernation. Much shorter than Techno's - it usually only lasted a day or so - but close enough. Curled up with his best friend, covering him with one wing, Phil could just sleep without worrying about anything. Of course, then he'd wake up and patrol the surrounding area until his feet and hands and face were numb from the cold, just in case something had happened while he was asleep, but it was worth it for those worry-free hours.
Techno nodded, taking another bite of stew, then paused. "... Phil, your hands are shakin'."
"Oh," Phil said distantly, looking down at the hand holding his spoon. The spoon was rattling softly against the edge of his bowl. "So they are. That's odd."
"Phil," Techno said, and Phil recognized that edge to his voice. "What happened while I was asleep?"
Phil took a deep breath, forcing his hands to still. "Just... finish eating first, okay mate? You need the calories."
Techno obviously didn't like it, but he didn't argue. He just ate a little faster, more like a soldier on a schedule and less like someone enjoying the first meal they'd had in a month.
Phil managed to force him into eating a second bowl, too, before Techno set his spoon down and rested his elbows on the table.
"Okay, seriously, Phil, what happened?" Techno asked quietly. He looked so genuine, so open in a way that he really only ever was with Phil. It took Phil's breath away every single time.
He let out a small, nervous laugh, picking at the grain of the table. "Where do I even start?"
"The beginnin' is usually a pretty good place," Techno pointed out with a raised eyebrow.
"Well..." What even was the beginning? Phil thought back, trying to remember what Techno had last seen. "You remember how Ranboo said Tommy was dead, and we thought he was wrong?"
"He wasn't. Tommy died in the prison. And then Dream brought him back a few days later."
Techno frowned, tilting his head to one side. "Why?"
Phil shrugged. "Don't know, mate. But he's definitely alive, I saw him earlier today."
"Oh no," Techno drawled. "The thing I predicted is true. Whatever shall we do."
Phil laughed again, a little louder this time.
Wilbur was back.
"I know less about Pogtopia and L'manberg than I thought," Phil said instead. Techno liked linear tellings, it made more sense to go in chronological order. He wasn't avoiding Wilbur's return, why would he do that? He was happy his son was back, ecstatic, even!
Techno frowned, leaning forward a little. "Wilbur wrote you letters, though. I saw him doin' it."
"They weren't all the way truthful, evidently." Phil started tapping his fingers absently against the table. There was no pattern, he just needed to move, to fidget, to do something. "I talked to Fundy a little bit. He said... Schlatt won the L'manberg election?"
Techno went suddenly, dangerously still, the way he did just before a fight, the kind of stillness that had Phil fighting the urge to reach for his sword and look around for a hidden enemy. "... Phil, that's why I was called to the server. The whole point of me bein' here was to fight in Wilbur's revolution against Schlatt. Did... Did you not know that?"
Phil slowly shook his head. He hadn't known that. He had been so happy to see a familiar face that he... had never actually questioned why Techno was here.
... What else hadn't he questioned?
"Never mind," Techno said with a sigh, though he didn't relax all the way. "We can work that out later. I'm guessin' there's somethin' else?"
"... Wilbur's back." The words nearly caught in Phil's throat, but he forced them out anyway.
Techno stared at him. "... What do you mean?"
Phil ran a finger along the grain of the planks in the table. "Dream brought him back. He came by earlier, he - Techno, he's alive."
His best friend, the person who could read him best, looked intently at him for a moment. "Phil. You're shakin' again."
"Time passes differently when you're dead," Phil told him, ignoring the tremors. "It goes faster."
Phil's voice sounded strained, even to his own ears. "Ranboo was there when he first came back. He said..."
"Phil." Techno reached across the table and very gently took his hand, pulling his fingernails away from the wood of the table where they'd started to dig in. "How long?"
"Thirteen years," Phil admitted, feeling the words like a knife to his heart. "My son was dead for thirteen years."
Techno's gaze softened, and he drew breath to say something else, but Phil kept going.
"I did that to him, Techno. I put him there."
"Hey, no -"
"It's my fault," Phil insisted, and he hadn't said the words aloud before, but he'd thought them. They'd run through his head every night since November sixteenth as he tried to sleep, every time he saw a diamond sword, every time he glanced at the picture of Wilbur hanging on his wall. "I killed him, Techno."
Techno hesitated for a moment, then stood up and tugged gently on Phil's hand. Phil followed, like he always had and always would, and Techno led them both over to the living room to sit on the couch.
"Okay," he said quietly when they were both settled. "You need to talk. So talk."
"I don't need to talk -"
"Phil." Techno's voice was gentle and careful, full of the certainty that only comes from knowing someone best in the world. "You need to talk. I'm not gonna judge you for whatever you need to say, you know that. Just talk."
Phil hesitated for a long moment. He didn't even know what Techno thought he needed to say, he didn't need to say anything.
"... Why didn't he tell me?" he whispered eventually, hating how broken it sounded.
"Tell you what?"
"Everything." Phil kept his gaze firmly on his lap, on his hands, anywhere but Techno's face. "He didn't tell me he'd lost two lives. He didn't tell me he lost the election. He didn't tell me he was hurting. He didn't tell me anything, and what he did tell me, I don't know if I can trust anymore."
Techno went still again, a shocked sort of stillness this time. "... He didn't... You thought he had all three?"
"I thought he had all three." The admission loosened something in Phil's chest, and suddenly he was just talking, the words spilling out of him like water from a spring. "I didn't know, Tech, I thought - I don't know what I thought. I tried to talk him down from pressing that stupid button, and I couldn't, and I heard the TNT ignite and I sacrificed my wings for him, Techno, and I don't regret it, but then he turned around and threw a sword at me and told me to kill him, and I thought..."
Techno pulled him into a hug, and that's when it registered that Phil was crying.
He wrapped his arms and shattered wings around his friend and buried his face in Techno's shoulder and kept going. "I thought he would respawn. I thought it would be okay. And then he told me you were a traitor, and had withers, and everything was so chaotic, I didn't have time to deal with anything. And then Ghostbur -" He broke off with a harsh, hiccupping sob.
"It's okay, Phil," Techno said quietly, running a calming hand through Phil's hair. "Whatever you need to say, nothin' you don't."
"Thirteen years," Phil keened, the words tearing out of some broken, grieving part of him. "He was alone and he was hurting and I did that, Techno!"
Techno kept running his hand through Phil's hair, slow and methodical. "You didn't know."
"That's not an excuse!"
"No, it isn't. But it's true."
And it was. Phil hadn't known. He had made a hasty decision without all of the facts, because he hadn't been given time to think about it, and it had come crashing down unexpectedly around him in the worst possible way.
Phil started sobbing.
Techno just held him, an anchor in a storm, while he grieved, mourning his son and everything that came with him, mourning his own choices and their consequences. He hadn't cried since November sixteenth, Phil realized, and the realization made him sob a little harder.
Finally, when it felt like he had no tears left to cry, he calmed down, taking deep breaths and letting them out slowly. He felt... lighter, somehow, like the tears had been building up and weighing him down without him realizing.
Techno was still running a hand through his hair. "Is there anythin' else?"
"Wilbur's going to live in my attic," Phil said quietly. His voice was hoarse. "Until he can get back on his feet, he said."
"Imagine livin' in your dad's attic," Techno huffed. "Cringe."
Phil laughed softly. "The second thing he asked me for was a shower."
"He told me in Pogtopia he'd never washed his president uniform. You raised a very unhygienic boy, Phil," Techno told him in a mock-disgusted tone. "Just a very dirty boy."
"Dirty crime boy," Phil mumbled, remembering with a pang of nostalgia how Wilbur used to refuse to take baths because crime boys need to be dirty, dad!
"Sure, a dirty crime boy."
Phil was pretty sure there was nothing else he needed to say. He had cried, he was good now, he had a hundred little things he needed to do. He should get up and get back to work. But... he really didn't want to.
Techno, of course, noticed his hesitance. "You know, Phil, I'm still feelin' pretty tired. After-effects of hibernation and all that. But you know, if I get too cold, I might just start hibernatin' again."
Phil smiled. He knew exactly what Techno was doing. "We can't have that."
"Good thing I have a heater!" Techno stood up from the couch, carrying Phil upstairs so easily you wouldn't have thought he weighed anything at all.
"Techno, I have work to do!" Phil protested, but it was more performative than anything.
"Heaters don't have work," Techno corrected him, setting him down carefully on the bed.
Phil rolled his eyes fondly and helped Techno take off his earrings. "I'm not a heater, and I can just leave -"
"Hmm, nah." Techno set his earrings on the side table and laid down next to Phil, pulling him down too, putting an arm around him and burying his face in Phil's hair. "You're trapped here now."
"Oh no," Phil sighed, grinning despite himself. "I am absolutely trapped by this and could in no way escape."
"Mm-hmm. Trapped. Very definitely."
Phil curled in a little closer and draped a wing over both of them like a blanket. "I suppose I'd better make the most of it."
A soft, low rumbling sound started up in Techno's chest. It sounded like something being rattled around and getting caught on his ribs, a little too scratchy to be called a true purr, but purr was the closest word. Techno only made that sound when he was happy and relaxed, or trying to calm Phil down, or both. Right now, Phil guessed it was both.
Crying so much had sapped a lot of Phil's energy, and he was curled up in a soft bed with his best friend and listening to one of the most comforting sounds he'd ever encountered, and he had been working maybe a bit too much recently, and so it was very, very easy to just close his eyes and let himself drift off.
Wilbur was back.
And Phil was okay with that.