Tubbo never minded long car rides. There was something comforting in the warmth of it, in leaning his head against the window and watching the landscape roll by. He had memories of trying to play his DS on trips to his grandparents' house when he was little, but he'd always made himself sick doing that. Now he just looked out the window, read strange billboards and let his thoughts go all soft and mushy. The further they got from the city, the less signs there were to read, but there were more animals. So that was pretty neat.
"You a fan of cows?" Puffy asked as they passed yet another field of them.
Tubbo shrugged one shoulder.
"Pretty neutral," he said. "They're cows."
His aunt chuckled.
"Fair enough," she said. "I prefer sheep, personally."
Tubbo considered for a moment.
"I can get behind that.”
He glanced at Puffy, and she was smiling. She looked over at him and he smiled back. He'd always liked her, the few times they'd met.
"There's a lot of farmland around here," she said.
She snorted and the car fell silent again. That happened a lot, it seemed, between the two of them. Tubbo didn't mind. He appreciated that she didn't feel the need to force conversation, and the quiet was a nice change of pace from the constant bustle and background noise of the hospital.
Puffy glanced at the clock on the dashboard.
"How are you feeling?" she asked. "Do you want some more meds?"
Tubbo watched another field roll by, this time full of horses.
"Nah," he said, feeling the ever-present prickling on the edges of his new skin. "Not so bad right now."
Puffy took him at his word with a hum. Another thing he appreciated.
Yeah. They'd get on just fine.
Tubbo caught a glimpse of himself in the side view mirror, but didn't linger on it, looking out instead at the sprawling fields that lined the way to his new home. Funny how much could change in just a few weeks. New house. New school. New town. New guardian.
He smiled, despite himself.
Tubbo barely noticed when they entered the town itself. There was no sign saying Welcome to Logsted with a population counter that ticked over comically. There were just suddenly houses every once in a while, breaking up the endless farmland. The houses started to become more frequent and closer together, and then he saw an actual person walking on the pavement and ah. Civilization.
"What do you think?" Puffy asked as they passed a crumbling stone wall.
"Seems nice," he said.
"Pretty different from the city, huh?"
They pulled up to a cozy looking two-story house built from brick and shingles. It had a big yard with a huge old oak tree planted right in the middle and window boxes stuffed with flowers.
"Home sweet home," Puffy said, turning off the engine. They sat there for a moment, before Puffy turned to look at him. "Ready?"
Tubbo got out of the car and it was…silent. He just stood there for a moment, listening to the Nothing that pressed down on him. He could hear the wind rustling the leaves of the big oak tree, like skimming your hand over paper.
"You okay there?" Puffy asked, noticing his reverie.
He nodded, smiling with self-deprecation.
"It's quiet," he admitted.
"Oh," she said. "I guess it is."
Quiet used to be rare. Dangerous even. Waiting to be shattered. Now it seemed like Tubbo had an endless supply.
That was okay. He could use a bit of quiet.
"Come on," Puffy said and locked the car with a button on her keys. "Let me give you a tour."
The house was as homey on the inside as it was on the outside. All of the furniture in the living room looked pleasantly squishy, and there was even a brick fireplace that Puffy said she lit in the winter. The kitchen was bright and much cleaner than his old one. The stove had a gas range as well, instead of electric. He didn't let his gaze linger on it anyway. There was a bathroom downstairs, and Puffy's office where she said she took remote clients sometimes. All the floors were shiny hardwood and covered in thick rugs. And while there was a comforting amount of clutter that made it all feel lived in, everything smelled clean. Puffy said that while she was gone, a girl a couple of years older than him had been coming in to open the windows and water the plants and such, and that's why it wasn't stuffy.
The upstairs was smaller, just a short hallway connecting two bedrooms and a bathroom in the middle. There was apparently another in Puffy's room, so Tubbo actually got this one to himself. It was the first time he'd had his own bathroom.
She showed him his bedroom and it was…
He touched the cream-white bedding. It was soft and clean, covering a double bed that sat in the middle of the room instead of with the side pushed against a wall like he was used to. It was a bigger bed than he'd ever had, and it clearly wasn't put there for him.
It was a guest bedroom. From the framed, pressed flowers on the wall, to the pale blue curtains, to the silver colored ashtray on the nightstand.
Puffy picked up the ashtray and slipped it into her coat pocket.
"Hoping he would visit?" Tubbo asked lightly.
Puffy just smiled sadly.
"Yeah," she sighed. "For a while I did."
She took a look around the room and it was clear she was seeing all of the same things he did.
"If I had time I would have gotten rid of some of this stuff before you got here," she said. "Feel free to take down anything you don't like. We can get you new bedding, some decorations, bring in any of your furniture from storage…whatever you want to make this place feel like yours."
And Tubbo liked her, he really did.
"Thanks Aunt Puffy," he said. She smiled, crinkling the corners of her soft brown eyes.
"Of course," she said. "This is your home now too."
But it wasn’t.
"I'm gonna go grab some of your boxes from the car," she said, nodding towards the door. "Wanna help?"
After dragging all of his boxes upstairs, Puffy said she was going to the grocery store. She offered to take him along, but understood when he said he was too tired. It wasn't even a lie either. Tubbo didn't think he'd ever been as tired in his life as he had been the past few weeks.
Even so, he had enough energy to sit on the floor and open a couple of boxes. And honestly it was nice to be alone for a bit.
Unpacking his boxes was a bit like opening Christmas presents, except it was just all his regular old junk inside. But he wasn't the one who had packed them, so there was an element of surprise to it. He wondered if Puffy missed anything when she was boxing up his shit and found that the idea didn't really bother him. He couldn't think of a single thing he'd be that broken up about losing. Maybe his laptop. But more for the hassle and boredom than anything sentimental.
He opened yet another box of clothes and seriously when did he get so many shirts? He only wore like two. He held up a weird pinstripe button-down that he only remembered wearing once to some council meeting or other and wondered if Puffy would mind helping him donate a few things. Probably not. That seemed like the kind of thing she'd go for. Charitable and all.
That wasn't very nice.
He put the shirt back in the box and tried not to wonder if he'd always been a bit mean, or if that was just one more thing about him that was changing.
Tubbo opened another box and this one had his old bedding that he couldn't use anymore. It was the same bedding he'd had since he was a kid—navy blue with sharks printed on it. He'd never really thought much about it, but maybe he had outgrown it. He was almost sixteen, after all. He wondered if he could donate it too, or if any charity would even want his old bedding.
Probably not. Might as well bin it then, he guessed.
He shoved that box aside and opened another. This one seemed to be full of miscellaneous junk. A plastic duck, his desk lamp, a few books that he'd been forced to purchase for school, a picture frame…
Tubbo's hand hovered over it for a moment, like the photo might burn him, then he picked it up.
For years this picture had been sitting on his dresser, so familiar that he stopped seeing it. Now he touched the dust on the glass, the scratches on the wood.
Puffy had put a blank sticky note over his dad's face, and it covered up half of his own as well. He could still see the harbor in the background. The bright yellow of the giant inflatable duck. White sails.
He was ten or eleven in the photo. The half of his face he could see was smiling. His dad's arm was wrapped around his shoulders, pulling him in close.
Tubbo put the picture back in the box without removing the post-it note.
Maybe he'd take a break from unpacking.
The week passed slowly. Puffy helped him find places for all of the things he wanted to keep, and took the rest off to donate. They got new bedding—dark green and blue plaid—and gray curtains. A few days in they got the delivery from the storage unit and now his old desk, dresser, and bookshelf were set up as well. Puffy showed him how the locks on the windows worked, and the thermostat, and the taps. She got him his own house key, showed him the garden, and was thrilled to find that he shared her interest in growing things. She took him to see the shops on Logsted's little Main Street and introduced him to the girl who worked at the bakery and had house-sat while Puffy was keeping him company in the hospital. Her name was Nikki and she gave Tubbo a free muffin when Puffy told her he was new in town.
It was all very nice and welcoming, and it might even feel like he were on a strange holiday if it weren't for the lingering looks he got from passersby and the constant prickling in his face.
It barely even hurt half the time. But God did it itch.
On Wednesday, Puffy started work again. She told him she'd been taking some of her remote clients even from her hotel room while Tubbo was in the hospital, but she now she said it was time for her to start going back in to her little office in town. She didn't seem reluctant to leave him alone, but she stressed that if he needed anything, he could call her at any time.
He appreciated it, but he couldn't really see it happening.
He spent most of his free time playing games. Messages from his friends at his old school stopped coming around his second week in the hospital, and he had a feeling there wouldn't be many more. He'd had a few coding projects in the works before…everything, but they just didn't seem very interesting anymore. Maybe he'd start something new. If an idea struck him.
He took a lot of naps as well. So much of his life seemed to be spent sleeping these days. It made sense. His body was still using a lot of energy keeping his face together and patching up his thigh where they took the skin graft from. That didn't mean it wasn't boring as hell, being so exhausted all of the time.
So on Saturday, just two days before his second first day of school, he decided to take a walk. Shake things up a bit.
He started out from his aunt's house, locking the door behind him with the house key she had made for him, and headed down the street. He wasn't going anywhere in particular, but his sense of direction had never been terrible so he figured he'd be able to find his way back, whichever way he ended up wandering.
He passed lots of houses and gardens. Stopped to stare at a cat sunning itself on the pavement. Nodded back at a man watering plants in his yard. It still caught him off guard just how quiet it was when he was outside. How some layer of sound he didn't even know existed had just been stripped away. The rare car that passed seemed to only make the silence more stark as it tore through, leaving echoes in its wake.
Tubbo turned down a street to find himself staring down a cul-de-sac. He was about to turn back, but then he realized he could see trees between the houses and well…he grew up in the city. He'd never really seen proper woods before.
There was enough space between the houses that it didn't feel weird to go between them, and there was even the mouth of a path that opened up at the edge of the woods.
He only considered for a moment before ducking under a spiderweb and starting down the path.
The woods weren't overly dense, and light dappled along the dirt path. Rocks and tree trunks were blanketed in moss, and the air was damp and sweet smelling. Tubbo found himself smiling as he wandered down the path, something in his shoulders relaxing.
There were a lot of crows in the neighborhood, and here was no different. He heard them cawing and occasionally caught a glimpse of them hopping across the path or perched in trees. There were other birds too, and a fair amount of insects as well, but the crows really seemed to be everywhere.
The path curved a fair bit, but it stayed wide and mostly clear (he had to step over a fallen log once, that was pretty fun) so he wasn’t concerned about getting lost. That is, until he rounded a bend and found himself staring down a fork in the path.
He stopped. Both paths were a bit narrower than the one he'd been walking, but neither seemed like an unintended offshoot. Tubbo faltered. He really should just head back. He didn’t know anything about these woods or what might be in them. And he didn't even tell Puffy where he was going. This was actually a perfect sign to turn around and quit while he was ahead.
It was just one fork. If he picked a direction and kept it stuck in his head, all he had to do was go the other way on his way back. Besides, the path split forward in a Y-shape. It's not like it would be hard to tell the main path he came from.
Just a little further then, he thought as he took the path on the left.
The scenery didn't change much as he went deeper, still more trees and bramble and crows. But then he started to hear the sound of running water in the distance and maybe he was getting closer to a creek.
Sure enough, the further he went, the louder the sound got. And, well, now he was curious. He walked for ten minutes maybe, but still the source of the sound was nowhere in sight.
In fact, the sound was getting softer again. He frowned. Maybe the path didn't actually cross it. And he wasn't about to go wandering aimlessly around the woods. He sighed, a little disappointed, and turned back. It seemed about time to call it a day anyway. He was getting tired.
He walked back along the path, humming a bit of a song that had been stuck in his head.
Maybe Puffy knew about these woods. He could ask her when he got back. See if she knew anything about a creek.
He walked. And he kept walking. And he walked some more. And honestly shouldn't he have reached the fork by now? He could have sworn he hadn't been walking for this long after he took it. He stopped to look over his shoulder. Maybe he'd passed it and hadn't noticed? But all he saw behind him was more woods, and the path seemed just as narrow as it had been. He hummed and continued the way he had been going. It must've been just a bit further along.
Except now the sound of running water was getting louder again and was it ever this loud when he passed it the first time? He didn't think so, but maybe he hadn't been listening as hard. Now it sounded so close. Like it could be around any bend. In fact, he was almost certain he heard it just around this one…
Suddenly, Tubbo was in a clearing. And it was quiet.
He blinked in surprise. There was no sign or sound of a creek anywhere. Just a grassy clearing with an old stone well in the middle. Wind whistled through the branches of the surrounding trees.
Had he just imagined the sound?
Except the longer he stared at the well, the more he realized that he actually could still hear running water. It was just incredibly faint. There was no way he could have heard it from the path.
The sound seemed to be coming from the well, and, well, that made sense didn’t it? Wells had water in them after all. Or something.
He walked towards it. It really was a stone well, just like out of a storybook. Moss climbed up the stone walls, and oxeye daisies grew along the base. There was a little wooden roof and everything, and a crank for bringing the bucket up. There wasn’t any bucket or rope though, and as Tubbo got closer, he saw that the basin itself has been blocked off.
He came closer. He swore he could hear the water underneath, but it was so faint. He rested his hands on the edge of the basin and leaned over it, tilting his head to hear better.
The harder he listened though, the fainter the sound became, until suddenly it was gone. And he wasn't sure he'd ever actually heard it at all.
Lovely. On top of everything else, he was losing it as well.
He leaned back, frowning, and his hands came away damp.
"What are you doing?"
Tubbo turned around and there was a boy standing there. He looked about Tubbo's age. He was blonde, wearing a red and white T-shirt and holding a basket of…daisies?
"Oh," Tubbo said. "I didn't think I'd see anyone out here."
He really hadn't.
"You're on our property," the guy said, crossing his arm so the basket of daisies dangled dangerously at his side.
Tubbo looked around, as if expecting to see a house or fence or literally anything else marking it as not just more woods.
"It's not so easy to tell that then, is it?" he said. "Maybe you should build a fence or something."
The guy narrowed his eyes at him, mouth falling open slightly in disbelief.
"Wha—who even are you?" he demanded.
"I'm Tubbo," he said, "I just moved into town last week."
Tubbo went to shake the guy's hand. His hand was still damp from touching the well, though, so he scrubbed it off on his jeans first. The guy obviously noticed and grimaced when Tubbo offered him his hand.
"I don't want your sweaty handshake," he said.
"It's not sweat, it's—"
"Look, Tuber. Or whatever your name was—"
"Whatever. It's been…lov—grea…I've certainly met you, but you are on our property and I think that you should go."
Tubbo shoved his hands in his pockets when it was obvious the guy wasn't going to shake his hand. He looked around the clearing, and yeah… the path he came in from was apparently gone. He wasn't even surprised at that point.
"I'd be happy to, bossman," he said. "But there's one problem with that."
The guy frowned at him.
"What's that?" he asked.
"I have absolutely no idea how I got here."
The guy just stared at him in disbelief, eyes crinkling. Tubbo took it as cue enough to change the topic.
"So why's the well blocked off?" he asked, turning back to look at it.
"Someone fell in it," the guy said flatly.
"Oh," Tubbo said, looking back at the guy. "Were they okay?"
He figured it was a dumb question the moment he asked it, but the guy actually had to think about it for a second before answering.
"No," he eventually decided.
Tubbo leveled him a look, suspicious.
"Are you just making this up?" he asked.
"No," the guy said, clearly defensive. And yeah, there's no way he wasn't just making it up.
"Really?" Tubbo pushed. "Who was it that fell in then?"
"Oh," Tubbo said and eyed the basket of daisies he was carrying. The guy obviously noticed Tubbo looking and kind of hid them behind himself with a frown.
"You really don't know how you got here?" he sighed.
"No clue," Tubbo said, cheerily.
The guy looked up at the sky like something might save him, then turned on his heel.
"Fuckin'…come on, then," he said. "Tell me where you live."
Tubbo couldn't remember the house number off the top of his head, but he was able to tell the guy the street name. The guy nodded, said he knew it and that there was a quick way to get there cutting through the woods.
They started down a path that Tubbo was pretty certain wasn't the one he came in from, but he was kind of past questioning the geography of the woods at that point. Every so often, the guy stopped and pulled a few oxeye daisies from the edge of the path. He gave a Tubbo a challenging look when he was caught watching, and Tubbo resolved not to ask.
"What's your name?" he asked instead.
"It's nice to meet you, Tommy."
"Yeah, I know."
Tubbo snorted, and he swore he caught a glimpse of a smile on Tommy’s face.
"Do you spend a lot of time in the woods?"
"Do you spend a lot of time asking stupid questions?"
The guy kind of cringed as soon as he said it, but Tubbo just shrugged, unbothered.
"Just trying to make conversation, bossman."
Tommy was silent for a moment, stopping to pluck another daisy and drop it into his basket.
"Yeah," he said eventually, and Tubbo realized he was answering the question. "I like it here. It's all…peaceful and shit."
"It's nice," he agreed. "Quiet."
"Yeah," Tommy said, and it didn't so much seem like he was intentionally trying to cut off the conversation anymore, just that he didn't know how to continue.
That was okay. Tubbo could keep it up just fine on his own.
"Is there a creek around here?" he asked suddenly, looking around as if he'd see it, despite not hearing it at all anymore.
Tommy frowned at him.
"No," he said. "Why?"
"Thought I heard water earlier," Tubbo said, then shrugged sheepishly. "Guess I must have imagined it."
(There was no way he imagined it.)
"Hmm," Tommy said. "Maybe you should get your ears checked."
"Maybe!" Tubbo said cheerily, running his fingers through the awkwardly cropped hair above his right ear. The motion caught Tommy's gaze and he did an incredibly obvious double-take at Tubbo's fucked up ear. His eyes went wide.
"Oh! Shit. No no no, I didn't mean…"
And maybe it was a bit mean, but he looked so startled and guilty that Tubbo couldn't help but laugh.
That seemed to break Tommy out of his panic because he actually shoved Tubbo. It wasn't hard, and Tubbo was a bit sturdier than Tommy, so he just kind of swayed with it.
"Dick," Tommy said, but he was grinning.
Tommy took them around one more bend and suddenly they spilled out into a neighborhood. Tubbo had to stop and blink for a moment at the abrupt return to civilization. They had walked for maybe five minutes. Tubbo was certain he'd spent at least half an hour wandering before he found the clearing.
Sure. Why not?
Tommy didn't notice his surprise, at least, too busy ducking down to grab some more daisies that are growing at the edge of the woods.
How many daisies did one man even need?
"Crocus Street is this way," Tommy said, pointing and starting down the road. Tubbo jogged to keep up with him. Tommy was a fair bit taller.
"Have you lived here your whole life?" Tubbo asked as Tommy took him through the neighborhood.
"Do you like it?"
Tommy gave him an odd look.
"I guess?" he said. "Not like I have anything to compare it to."
"Have you not gone on many trips?" he asked.
And apparently that was the wrong question to ask.
"No," Tommy said, and he closed up. Mouth pressed into a thin line.
"I haven't either," Tubbo offered, pretending he didn't notice the sudden change in mood. "Actually, I'm pretty sure this is the farthest I've ever been from…"
"Where I grew up."
Tommy hummed in disinterest.
Tubbo cast a look around for something else to talk about and noticed something strange about the house they were passing. It had two chimneys: one clearly very old and made of chipped stone, and one much newer one built from brick.
"All the houses here look…"
"Old as balls?"
"I was gonna say weird but yeah now that you mention it…"
"Most of the houses are leftover from the original settlement. Whoever built them was fucking cracked at construction or whatever so there's never been much of a reason to knock them down. Doesn't keep people from adding weird shit to them though."
They passed a house that looked almost like a modern house growing out the side of a much more traditional brick house.
"Huh," Tubbo said. "Do you know a lot about local history?"
And he must have stepped on some other landmine because Tommy shut down again.
"Not really," he said, and suddenly stopped short. "We're here."
And sure enough they were at the corner of Puffy's street.
"Oh!" Tubbo said, when he realized where they were. "Awesome! Thanks man."
"Yeah, yeah," Tommy said, kind of scuffing his sneaker on the pavement absently. "Just don't get fuckin' lost again."
"No promises!" Tubbo grinned.
Tommy's face twisted up.
"Serious, man. Don't go wandering around places you don't know. This town…Logsted's…just don't poke around too much. Or at all. Better yet, leave."
Tubbo's eyebrows rose, but before he could open his mouth to ask what that meant, Tommy spun on his heel and started walking back the way they came, basket of daisies swinging gently at his side.
"See you around Tommy!" He called, much too loudly in the quiet of the neighborhood.
"No!" Tommy yelled back, without turning around.
Tubbo grinned. Yeah. They'd get along just fine.