Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
In which Ranboo’s limbo is drifting through his own memories just as he loses them.
crossposted to ao3
Ranboo hadn’t heard much from Tommy about what being dead was like, but the look in his eyes was enough keep Ranboo nervous, but if this is it, it really isn’t all that bad.
He’s home, isn’t he? He’s at home. He’s in his basement, staring at rows of sugarcane. It’s peaceful.
Ranboo also wasn’t expecting any visitors. He’s dead, isn’t he? He doesn’t know any dead people, but Ranboo hears glass shatter and turns around sharply, a little shout of surprise slipping out as he turns to see Philza Minecraft smashing glass bottles on his floor. That’s not really too startling. Far more disorienting, is Ranboo sees them. As in himself, watching Philza do so. Phil finishes his destruction and turns back to Ranboo– as in, other Ranboo, the one staring at him in mild surprise as well. Phil types something on his comm, gives Ranboo a nod, and leaves.
Ranboo remembers what he wrote, because that’s what this is. It’s a memory. Phil had interrupted his potential experiments and destroyed all the bottles of water, and had messaged him you’re safe now before disappearing once more. Phil had been kind. He’d worried Ranboo was going to hurt himself. Ranboo remembers it.
“Oh, well, isn’t this some cruel irony?” Ranboo says dryly. He’s not expecting a reply. Not even his little particles with their irritating whispers and fussing had followed him here. Other Ranboo is doing just that, actually. Continuing to explain something or another to the particles. “Alive, I never got to keep my memories, but here…” Ranboo scans the walls of his home. He’s not homesick, not for here, but he is longing. “...I guess it’s kinda fair? I deserved my memories at some point. Took too long.”
Ranboo sighs. He watches his other self climb the ladder, and as he does, the room blurs and distorts. He cannot remember a room he was no longer in. Ranboo decides to follow, climbing the ladder. His front room is empty, so he goes to his front door. He opens his front door at the Arctic Commune, steps through it, and shuts a different front door behind him, in a place which brings another ache to his chest. New L’Manberg. Intact. The walls are up, and he can see himself, talking to Tubbo, on the platform across from his old house. Ranboo– current Ranboo, dead Ranboo– approaches. He hears their conversation.
“–Thank you, minutes man. I think Big Q and I will have to discuss things further. I know you want to help, but this part…” Tubbo’s eyes wander, looking right through his dead future husband to over the wall on the hillside where Quackity and Fundy are in conversation. “I think we’ll have to manage it ourselves.”
“Okay,” Ranboo hears his past-self reply softly. “I know you’ll… I know you’ll do what’s best.”
Current-Ranboo winces. He doesn’t want to hear the rest of this. He knows what this will lead to. Tommy exiled. Ranboo heads for the little tunnel dug in the wall, having to bend down to squeeze through it. He heads up the hill toward Quackity and Fundy.
He can’t hear them.
“Hello?” Ranboo tries to speak to them. They don’t acknowledge him, and Ranboo of course can’t hear them because he wasn’t here for this part. He saw them over the hill, but he never heard what they said. “Right…” Ranboo sighs. He turns back around and watches himself and Tubbo leave, heading up the Prime path. Ranboo moves to follow them, but he stops. Where they’re going, it’s like things just fuzz out, like a white fog is shrouding anything past the tunnel, actually more than just in the tunnel, it’s like it’s inching closer.
“Don’t– What’re you– Don’t go in there!” Ranboo runs toward himself and Tubbo, a panic he can’t quite understand tight in his chest, but he isn’t fast enough. The two of them disappear into the fog and Ranboo tries, he does, he runs after them, and then there is just nothing.
Ranboo realizes he can’t remember what he and Tubbo had talked about outside his house. He can’t remember where they had gone or what had come of it.
Ranboo understands, he understands that Tommy was right, Limbo is not peace, it is hell.
Ranboo has died, and now he gets to watch himself forget.
Ranboo presses his palms over his eyes, he doesn’t want to cry. If tears burn him even now he doesn’t know what he’ll do, but he doesn’t cry yet, because instead he hears someone else crying.
“Michael,” Ranboo jolts up, he realizes he’s sitting at the dining table in Tubbo’s cabin. “Michael!” Ranboo stands. It’s night, the windows outside dark, the room lit by the fire and a lantern.
“Whoa, it’s okay, Bossman,” Tubbo gives him a look, smiling, a gentle hand on his arm. “I’ll go check on him.”
“T-Tubbo… you can… you can see me?” Ranboo says hoarsely.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Tubbo doesn’t answer his question, he just climbs the ladder to Michael’s room.
“Tubbo– Tubbo, y-you touched my arm–” Ranboo begins to climb the ladder after him.
He emerges from the trapdoor and it is day, a different day. Michael is awake and resolutely not crying as he runs to greet his father, little wooden sword in hand.
“Michael,” Ranboo scoops him up with desperation. “I’m here, buddy, I’ve got you–” He says softly, holding him close.
“Look who decided to join us,” Tubbo teases him, sitting on the floor next to a pile of building blocks he and Michael had been working on.
“Tubbo, I–” Ranboo doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know if Tubbo can really hear him or not.
“Were you on a mining trip?” Tubbo asks more carefully now. He isn’t looking Ranboo in the eye, but he is looking at him intently.
Ranboo remembers this. It was their not-argument. Where Tubbo knew he was keeping secrets and he didn’t push so Ranboo just said:
“Yeah,” Ranboo repeats his once living words with something not quite like remorse. “Mining trip. I’ve got to–” Ranboo stops, a lump in his throat. “I’ve got to pay Foolish somehow, right?”
Tubbo nods, just as he had before, and he doesn’t ask questions. He does say one thing, though. Ranboo repeats it at the same time, remembering it well. This he had put in his memory book, but he hadn’t needed to. This one had stuck.
“I worry about you, you know.”
Ranboo remembers his reply. He wishes he’d said something different, but he repeats it all the same.
“How’s… How’s the project with Jack going? In the warehouse?”
And Tubbo puts up his walls, just like Ranboo knew he would. They would continue to keep things from one another. Tubbo shrugs. “Fine. I’d rather keep work at work and home at home, though, so why don’t you join us?” Tubbo nods to Michael still in Ranboo’s arms.
“Yeah, sure,” Ranboo sets Michael down, the toddler running back over to Tubbo, sitting down heavily, considering with the utmost care where to put the next block in the structure Tubbo had been building with him. Ranboo does what he’s supposed to. He sits down between the two of them. He plays along. The rest of the day had been good, it had been happy, but those questions had remained unanswered. They would continue to be unanswered. Part of him just wants to stay quiet, to let himself relive this moment kindly.
“Tubbo, I’m… I’m kind of scared right now, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but…” Ranboo doesn’t know if trying to change things will do anything, but he can’t stop himself from trying. Ranboo fiddles with one of Michael’s blocks. “I don’t want to–” He looks up.
Tubbo is no longer beside him.
“Tubbo?!” Ranboo scrambles to his feet. It is then he realizes he cannot see Michael. “No– No this one was important, I can’t lose this one, I can’t–”
The white light reflecting on the snow outside grows brighter, and brighter, and brighter, and then nothing. Ranboo sees fire. And he sees Tommy.
“Oh no,” Ranboo says weakly.
“Oh fuckfuckfuck– shit!” Tommy scrambles to put parts of it out, but it’s too late. The mushroom house is burning.
“It’s… it’s too late, Tommy. And I am… I am so sorry for what comes next.”
“Come on, man, let’s just– Let’s just get out of here–” Tommy doesn’t acknowledge what he said, just grabs his arm and pulls him until he starts moving. Ranboo runs.
This one fades faster now. Maybe it’s because Ranboo isn’t fighting it. He doesn’t want to remember his part in Tommy’s suffering.
Ranboo is still running. This time he’s running from something. Or maybe to something. He knows he’s on his way to his panic room. He’s trying to remember why he went there this time. What had he been running away from?
“Coward… coward, why were you such a coward?!” Ranboo shouts his frustrations, about to turn around, to try to run back, to at least pretend to face what he had been running from, but then something nags at him, something curious.
That voice. The voice that had sounded like Dream, that had been so elusive and irritating and just convincing enough to make Ranboo afraid of himself.
If it was just in his head, would it be here?
Ranboo walks more slowly now, cautiously. He approaches that little divot under the water. He’s wearing his armor. The water doesn’t burn as he returns to his self-entombment. He shivers. Why did he do this to himself? Ranboo stares at the letters on the wall, you are fine.
He was a fool. A desperate, scared fool, but nonetheless.
“What were you running from this time, huh?” Ranboo scans the walls, waiting for that awful voice. There is no reply. Ranboo remembers the voice, so shouldn’t it be in his memory? Maybe the voice didn’t come this time.
Ranboo has his inventory. He has a pickaxe. He breaks through the block he know has a chest behind it.
There isn’t a chest.
There is white light.
What was in the chest?
Ranboo stares, wide-eyed, before he turns and runs. He makes it out into the water, he surfaces, and the sky is white. The hills and the beach are narrowing under just white.
Ranboo doesn’t know what he was running from. He doesn’t know why he came out here. He doesn’t know–
“Ranboo?” Tubbo asks. “You still with me, bossman?”
Ranboo refocuses on Tubbo across from him. Ranboo looks down. They’re at the kitchen island. Ranboo is cutting up golden carrots. Tubbo is peeling potatoes.
“Y-Yeah, I’m still with you,” Ranboo says. “Can you hear me?”
Tubbo gives him a peculiar look. “Um, yeah I can hear you. I’m not totally deaf.”
“Okay. Okay–” Ranboo tries to piece it together. He doesn’t know what to do, if he can do anything. “I don’t want to lose you.”
Tubbo stares at him, puzzled. “Okay,” he laughs, unsure, uneasy, “then don’t.”
“Where’s Michael?” Ranboo scans the cabin.
“Still down for his nap. Dinner won’t be ready for another hour, though.”
Ranboo goes to the ladder, climbing it quickly.
He opens the trapdoor to white light.
“No, no no no– We have to go–” Ranboo grabs Tubbo’s hand. “We’ll– We’ll get Michael when we can find him, just run–”
“What’re you– Where the hell are we going, Ranboo?!” Tubbo keeps pace, even as he’s startled.
“Just run!” Ranboo keeps dragging him along as the white of the snow seems to spread. He runs for the water bridge through the mountain, it’s all he can think of.
“Ranboo, wait, your armor!” Tubbo shouts at him, but it’s too late. Ranboo’s skin doesn’t burn. The water doesn’t hurt and he keeps holding Tubbo’s hand until suddenly he is no longer under water, he’s standing outside of a meeting room in the Holy Lands. Tubbo is in his presidential suit again.
“We’re… we’re here for the meeting,” Tubbo stares at Ranboo like he’s trying to piece something together.
“Tubbo, no, we’re– We’re not here for a meeting, okay?” Ranboo puts his hands on Tubbo’s shoulders, scared if he lets go of him Tubbo will disappear. “Do you remember where we were before? We were in the cabin, and…” Ranboo can’t remember what they had been doing.
“Yeah, yeah I remember, you were scared for Michael,” Tubbo nods, looking worried.
“Oh thank god, you remember,” Ranboo feels weak with relief. “Something is happening that I– I can’t explain, but something is eating my memories and I can move through them somehow–”
“Right, because you’re dead.”
“W-What?” Ranboo falters. Tubbo looks unphased, serious and concerned, but not like he’s said anything shocking.
“You’re dead. And you’re falling apart, and now you’re running from it.”
“Y-Yeah, I… I didn’t realize you knew,” Ranboo says hoarsely.
Tubbo shrugs, staring around at the holy lands. “Well, I’m part of your mind, so if you know, I know,” he looks back at his husband, or his future husband rather. “So what do you want to do?”
Ranboo tries to focus. “I want to– We have to find Michael.”
Tubbo nods, serious and calculating, and he doesn’t act any differently to how Ranboo would imagine he would, which makes sense, if he thinks about it.
“Okay, you’re running through your memories, and they’re disappearing, what do we do if you run out?” Tubbo says.
Ranboo tries to bottle his despair. “I don’t– I don’t know.”
“Well, we’ve got to start thinking then, don’t we?” Tubbo nods, determined. “It’s like you said, Ranboo. You don’t want to lose me,” Tubbo puts his hand over Ranboo’s on his shoulder, staring up at him, just below his eyeline. “Then don’t.”
Ranboo doesn’t know if it’s naive to put his faith in this echo of his husband, but he has nothing else. “W-We keep running. Come on, we– We find Michael, we take him too.”
Tubbo nods. He holds Ranboo’s hand, and Ranboo runs down the prime path, through the archway, and emerges in a quarry. Or not a quarry, a construction sight. He can see Foolish’s towering figure working away. Tubbo is beside him in his Snowchester shirt and vest. He’s holding a bow.
“Oh, I remember this! I kept almost shooting Foolish so you had to pay him more,” Tubbo says brightly, lining up a shot.
“Yeah, I had to pay him a lot,” Ranboo goes to stop him, but he also knows he hadn’t then and likely wouldn’t be able to now. He’s right.
The arrow flies, landing a few inches to Foolish’s right.
Foolish turns around with an indignant huff. “That’s it! I quit!” He begins to storm off, as he had. At this point Ranboo should go over and offer him more gold. Ranboo doesn’t really see much point.
“You’re supposed to go after him,” Tubbo says pointedly.
“We never used that mansion anyway,” Ranboo says. He tries to remember when he last went to go see Michael at this time, if he could maybe head there now.
“Yeah!” Tubbo frowns. “Why is that, d’you think?”
“I don’t– I don’t know,” Ranboo says distractedly. He’s paranoid. He’s not sure if the gleaming snow is just snow or if the edges are beginning to blur here too. “We should keep moving.”
“Yeah, I mean, you pick the mindscape, bossman,” Tubbo shrugs. “You know what I thought the move would’ve been a bit of a hassle, but really, I think it was too much space for the three of us.”
“What?” Ranboo has stopped paying attention.
“Oh, yeah– Maybe,” Ranboo takes Tubbo’s hand again. He starts walking.
“You know, I bet you could just think your way to another memory. Walking is so slow.”
“You sound just like him,” Ranboo murmurs.
Tubbo jogs to catch up with his stride. “That’s because as far as you’re concerned, I am him, Ranboo. I am me, actually.”
“Right,” Ranboo glances down at him and when he looks up, they’re on the Nether roof.
“Whoa, that’s so weird!” Tubbo says excitedly. “It just changes, man, that’s insane–”
“So, if you’re my version of Tubbo, you’re basically just a part of me, right? So why bother being Tubbo at all?” Ranboo asks grimly, continuing his trek. He has no idea what memory this is, where they had been going.
“I barely understood what you said just there. I think that’s a you type question, Ranboo. I do think it makes sense, though! Why wouldn’t you want me here with you?” Tubbo says.
Ranboo feels an ache in his chest. “Yeah, I mean, you’re… you’re right,” Ranboo doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know what happens when he runs out of memories. He’s so scared of what will happen when he lets go of Tubbo’s hand.
“Because you don’t want to lose me,” Tubbo nods. “And why would you, I’m a catch,” he laughs.
“Yeah– Oh, damnit–” Ranboo can’t take it anymore, panic building in his chest, he stops and pulls Tubbo into a hug. “I love you. I love you so much and I’m sorry– I can’t–”
Tubbo hugs back. It feels like him. It’s Tubbo hugging him right now, and Ranboo doesn’t care if it’s a memory, this is his Tubbo. “We’re alright, bossman. I’m not leaving you by choice, and I’d like to see the afterlife try to make me fucking move, got it?” Tubbo buries his face in Ranboo’s chest like he always did. “Love you too.”
Ranboo takes a shaky breath. He tries to pull himself together. “Come on, we– We still need to find Michael,” Ranboo says.
“Let’s go get our boy,” Tubbo nods, still holding Ranboo’s hand. He starts walking.
“Let me try to…” Ranboo keeps pace, thinking it over. “If I think about a memory, maybe I can take us there.”
“Okay. Well, you’re not great at remembering things, bossman,” Tubbo says.
“Well, apparently I’m better than I thought, because I remember all this!” Ranboo gestures furiously to the Nether roof. “Okay, okay, let me think– Let me think.”
The first memory he finds is not a happy one.
He’s still holding Tubbo’s hand, and they’re standing outside of the prison.
“Oh. This is when…” Ranboo falters.
“He can’t be dead,” Tubbo says it automatically.
Ranboo jumps, as it’s like Sam has just manifested from Tubbo’s words.
“Dream… Dream beat him to death,” Sam sounds as horrified and wounded as Ranboo remembers. Obviously.
“You’re going to kill me one day, Sam. I expected better,” Ranboo says bitterly.
“I’m so sorry,” Sam’s pitiful monologue could apply to either thing, his abandoning of Tommy, his murder of Ranboo.
“And you kidnapped our fucking child!” Tubbo looks about to throw himself at Sam.
Ranboo can see no reason to stop him. Tubbo doesn’t get the chance. He swings at Sam and then Sam is gone.
“What the fuck–” Tubbo almost falls over. Sam isn’t gone entirely, he’s walking quickly back to the prison. “Oh I remember this bit– Not gonna fucking miss this time!” Tubbo chases Sam. He suddenly has his crossbow. Tubbo misses. “Fuck.”
“You didn’t hit him then, you’re not gonna hit him now,” Ranboo says wearily. “Oh my god, he took Michael– Out there in the actual, proper living world, he has our son, oh god–” Ranboo feels like tearing his own hair out. He feels tears burning his cheeks. Of course now they burn.
“Hey, hey calm down, it’s okay, Ranboo. It’s going to be okay. Michael will be fine,” Tubbo is quick to reassure him.
“H-How can you say that?! You can’t know you’re as stuck here as I am!” Ranboo shouts to the unforgiving sky.
“I know because we’re stuck here, but I’m not,” Tubbo says fiercely.
“What’re you–” Ranboo struggles, feeling breathless. “What’re you talking about?”
“Ranboo, real-me, the one out there and very much alive, I will get Michael back. I will protect him. You know I will because I know it too,” Tubbo actually grabs him by his tie, forcing him to focus up. “Michael is going to be fine.”
Ranboo nods, terror fading. “T-Thank you,” he sighs. “I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t fight back, because he would’ve hurt him, and I– I don’t know.”
“You could’ve told me,” Tubbo says quietly, staring at Ranboo’s chest, where they both know one day a sword will cut through him. Had cut through him. “You could have told me you needed help. I would’ve helped you.”
“I didn’t know I needed help until he arrested me, and by then there was nothing I could–”
“You know that’s not true,” Tubbo says sharply. “You know it’s not. There’s so much you never tod me and if you had, if we– if we both had been better, you disappearing for days on end would have scared me. It should have fucking scared me Ranboo, but, and maybe I’m assuming now, but it didn’t. Because you’d disappear on me for days at a time.”
Ranboo’s defense feels childish, but he can’t help it. “And you kept things from me, the nukes, did you think I wouldn���t find out about those? You took risks, you made plans–”
“I know I did,” Tubbo says, still firm, but gentle too. So very him. “Maybe I thought I was keeping you safe. And I can’t know for sure, but I’d like to think I regretted it. I think I’d be sorry, after all this. Sorry we loved each other but not enough to trust each other.”
Ranboo nods. Crying doesn’t hurt anymore. Tubbo reaches up and brushes the tear from his cheek.
“How’re you… how do you have memories of water where it doesn’t burn?” Tubbo, always the scientist.
Ranboo laughs weakly. “I don’t really know.”
“Come on,” Tubbo smiles, patting his cheek before letting go. “I want to find our boy. Where are we going next?”
The ground shakes underneath them, Ranboo almost falls over. They both look up to the sky. They know what this is. TNT rains from above, the air is clogged with smoke, and people are screaming. They’re toward the end of it now. Nothing left to save.
“Right. You were there for doomsday,” Tubbo says wearily. “You helped us prepare, I reckon you might’ve fought with us.” Tubbo pauses, their conversation interrupted by more explosions.
“We should– We should go–” Ranboo grabs Tubbo’s arm, pulling him toward the edge of the chasm.
“Yeah,” Tubbo laughs bitterly. “You did.”
“What?” Ranboo is more focused on the explosions.
“You left. You went with them, didn’t you? After,” Tubbo says, staring up at the grid of obsidian, at the godlike figures watching them.
“I…” Ranboo stares up at them. He feels like he should feel guilty. He doesn’t.
“I mean, I know you’re not gonna deny it,” Tubbo says coldly. “I know, you know. You left with them. And you stayed with them. And you don’t find that wrong.”
“But you do,” Ranboo says.
Tubbo stares at something in the crater below, “I mean, who knows, but you seem to think I do.”
“Maybe,” Ranboo follows his gaze. Ranboo is unsettled to see another Tubbo down in the crater. He stands beside Tommy in the wreckage. They were together. Ranboo wonders if that means another version of himself is somewhere else around here. He isn’t sure, sometimes he is himself, as if standing in the place of his memory’s body, but other times, it was different. He doesn’t know if it matters. He’s not really set on acting out his memories right now.
“I wish this one would fade faster,” Ranboo murmurs.
“Of course you do,” Tubbo scoffs.
“Aren’t you supposed to be me, sort of?” Ranboo frowns. “Why would you feel differently?”
“I dunno, you figure it out. I’m not you, I’m your Tubbo, dipshit. So, I have Tubbo thoughts. And I think sometimes you treat forgetting like running away,” Tubbo says pointedly.
“And I think sometimes you’d treat my memory like a free confessional,” Ranboo says coldly.
And then Doomsday is gone, and they’re standing at the very top of the cookie outpost, staring at the glowing lights of Las Nevadas in the distance.
“Did you know I got executed?” Tubbo says. He says it exactly like he had that night. And Ranboo feels the same surprise like a punch to the chest.
“Are we doing this? Acting it out?” Ranboo says, less critical, more pleading.
“No,” Tubbo shrugs, expression mild, unaffected, just as he had been then. “You could always ask me if I’m alright. I think you did that bit well.”
Ranboo sighs. “Are you alright?”
Tubbo smiles. “Yeah! Yeah, a bit burnt from the fireworks, but other than that,” that casual tone fades. “Do you think if we’d kept talking like this it would’ve been different?”
“Talking like what? You didn’t– You didn't tell me anything. I mean, you told me what happened, but not how you actually were a-and you– You only did it because you thought I’d forget,” Ranboo doesn’t like being angry, but he can’t help it. He wishes Tubbo had been honest with him, really honest, before he had died.
Tubbo shrugs. “I wish I were sorry. Maybe I am, I dunno.”
“Yeah. I don’t know either,” Ranboo murmurs, staring out at the distant cityscape. It’s even more of a facade than it had been in life.
“I know,” Tubbo says teasingly, bumping his shoulder against Ranboo’s arm. It’s all he can reach.
They both watch as the Las Nevadas skyline is eaten by white light. This time Ranboo doesn’t try to run, but he holds onto Tubbo’s hand a little tighter. The world returns, still partially white. They’re outside the cabin in Snowchester.
“Michael!” Ranboo bolts up, about to run inside to get him, but instead he’s nailed in the back of the head by a snowball. He hears Tommy’s familiar cackle. Ranboo turns around, Michael is on Tubbo’s shoulders, and Tommy is gearing up a second snowball for launch.
Tubbo laughs. “He’s fine, Ranboo! I’ve got him. You might want to watch out,” he nods back to Tommy.
Ranboo ducks, the next snowball barely missing him.
“Oh, you’re in for it!” Ranboo grabs a handful of snow. Snow took longer to sting. He would be fine for the afternoon, and later today he would be dry and warm by the fire with his family. This had been a good day. One of the best. Some time after Tommy had been revived, but before Wilbur's revival. When for a brief time things had gotten better.
Ranboo loses himself, he loses himself in them, in his family and fun and a memory that should have been longer. Ranboo finds himself breathless, laying on his back, Tommy currently running around with Michael on his back, shouting about their victory and using words maybe Ranboo would prefer his toddler didn’t hear. Tubbo lays down beside him.
“This one’s gonna fade too. Can’t be long now,” Tubbo says.
“I know,” Ranboo sighs.
“What do we do?”
Ranboo looks over at him, Tubbo’s eyes bright, his cheeks flushed. There’s snow dusting his eyelashes. He looks at Tubbo, not in the eye, but just at him. He doesn’t know if he can commit that face to memory, but he wants to try. He reaches out a hand, cupping Tubbo’s cheek, thumb gently brushing across his skin. “Enjoy it.”
Tubbo smiles, it’s not a happy smile, because of course he understands. “Okay,” he says softly.
And then Ranboo is dealing with a face full of snow and Tubbo is laughing, that delighted, wheezing giggle. Ranboo wants to get lost that too.
And then it’s gone. Ranboo wishes he could have held onto it, even just a memory, even just a little longer, but the love was there. He didn’t let that go. Ranboo is standing in the doorway, Tubbo is sitting at the dining table, and Michael is in his lap, half asleep.
“Which one is this?” Tubbo asks. He stands, cradling Michael, letting him drowse against his shoulder. “Could be any of them, right? Another day together, that’s sort of alright, isn’t it?”
Ranboo knows better. And he knows Tubbo does too, but he appreciates the effort. “This is where I leave,” Ranboo says softly.
Tubbo’s expressions softens into something without blame, even if it still hurts. “Is it?”
“I… I have everything on me that I know Sam takes after he arrests me. Or maybe it’s…” Ranboo shrugs helplessly, smiling almost like an apology. “Maybe it’s just a feeling? I don’t know. But I’m gonna…” Ranboo turns around, facing the snow outside, the afternoon slowly turning to evening. It could’ve been any other day. Ranboo wishes it was. “I’m gonna walk out that door.” If he keeps walking, surely they’ll end up in another memory, they’ll keep running until there’s nothing left. And he knows how this one ends. He doesn’t see why he should pretend otherwise.
“Yeah, you’re gonna walk out that door, and you’re going to be gone for days, that’s what you do. And then Sam is going to arrest you, and then you will sit in there and I won’t know I was supposed to save you until I can’t fucking save you anymore,” Tubbo’s voice tremors. Michael stays asleep. He’d stayed asleep the whole time. Ranboo remembers. The last time he ever saw his son, Michael had been asleep. He’d kissed his forehead and left. And some time between now and the day Ranboo knows he will die, Michael gets kidnapped. And Ranboo knows his living Tubbo will save him, but he won't know anything else. Tubbo can’t stop himself, pushing on almost like an accusation. “Why didn’t you ever ask me for help?”
Ranboo shrugs, still something like an apology. “Why didn’t you?”
Tubbo scoffs. “We don’t have the answer to that one, do we? But we do have the answer for you. So why didn’t you?”
Ranboo steps forward, as he had before, on his last day with his family. He kisses Michael’s forehead. Then he kisses Tubbo’s. He almost speaks, he almost answers Tubbo’s question.
“You don’t have to explain,” Tubbo says, anger fading. “I know.”
Ranboo looks outside, at the flurries coming down and the long journey back to his own house in the commune, a long journey alone. Ranboo gets one step outside. Just one.
“What if you stayed?” Tubbo says.
“What?” Ranboo stops.
Tubbo steps up closer, cradling Michael with one arm, the other taking Ranboo’s hand. “I don’t care if it’s a memory, I don’t care if you know where this is gonna go, what if–” Tubbo stops, his thumb gently rubbing circles in Ranboo’s palm. “What if this time, you stay, Ranboo?”
Ranboo stares out at the snow. He almost says what will it change? But he doesn’t want to do that. He knows that he can’t go back and change the past, but Tubbo is asking him to stay. That means more than whatever the future holds. Ranboo stares out at the snow, at the dusk, at the white of the snow that he knows will soon turn to a light to eat away all of this. He looks back at Tubbo, and Michael, and the warmth of the cabin and an evening together he knows he never saw.
What if this time you stay?