A World I Built For You - BananaBro (2024)

The call was getting fairly quiet, since both Tommy and Tubbo were tired with the late hour. Tommy had been Discord streaming a game - Detroit: Become Human, one Tubbo insisted he try - and Tubbo was watching him, either backseat gaming or criticizing every move he made. Tommy had finally made it to Jericho, but he left the game soon after so they could do something else.

They don't know what to do, so there is a considerable loll. Neither of them want to leave the call, but the thought of doing anything sounds so exhausting. They don’t have school tomorrow, since summer break is finally out, so they almost have to stay up later than they usually do by obligation. Most of their games feel like too much of an investment, and they can’t think of anything creative. Right now, Tubbo watches Tommy stream while he absently browses Google.

Tommy eventually navigates to a free art website, doodling away with his mouse. “Wait - Toby, Toby, guess what this is.”

Tubbo sits up straighter in the call and narrows his eyes at the screen. “That - what is that?”

“C’mon, it’s obvious.” It isn’t. The shape looks too round and simplified for what it is meant to be.

“A sausage,” Tubbo says, taking a closer look. “No, a sausage on a plate. Roasted.” When Tommy adds some shapes to the main figure, Tubbo says, “a sausage with ketchup?”

Tommy frowns. “It’s a bloody metro, you arse.”

“Ohhhhh.” Tubbo tilts his head. “No, I can’t see it.”

Tommy slams his fist on the desk, scribbling aggressively over the sausage train. “You don’t deserve to. My art is ahead of its time.”

“Sure, Tom,” Tubbo says, leaning back in his seat and reaching over his desk to mess with the random knick knacks he has laid around. “You sure you know what a metro’s meant to look like?”

Tommy clicks onto a new tab and furiously types metro, displaying Google Images. “You see this?” He goes back to the drawing sight. “It was a spitting image.”

“Mhm,” Tubbo says, hardly paying attention. “Sure, Tom.”

A popup appears on the screen, an advertisem*nt that Tommy doesn’t recognize. Without a care, he clicks the X in the corner of it to get rid of it. It disappears, only for another to take its place. “Bloody hell?” He says under his breath, leaning forward in his chair.

“What?” Tubbo finally looks up. “Don’t you have an adblocker?”

“Yeah, I do,” Tommy says, finally reading the advertisem*nt. Some stupid program with a dumb name. RanbooLive. What kind of branding is that? “But it’s one of those free ones.”

“Dude, no wonder,” Tubbo says. “Just click off the page.”

Tommy does. He clicks off the Google Images page, but the advert is still there on the drawing page. Tommy clicks off that one too, then closes Google entirely, but the window is still there on the center of his monitor, backdropped by his screensaver and desktop downloads. Tommy gets a second advert, then a third, and then a dozen all at once, the notifications loud and screechy enough to get him to rapidly throw off his headphones.

Through the speaker, he can hear Tubbo’s crackling voice on call saying, “what’s going on? Tommy! What’s happening?!”

Tommy’s screen floods with notifications until it drowns out his desktop entirely, closing all of his other processes - including Discord. Tommy clicks everywhere and smacks his mouse on the desk like it would do something, but he still acts frustrated when nothing fixes the problem. He swears under his breath, frantically smashing keys before trying to use the Windows key or Alt-F4ing the problem away. No response.

His screen displays the blue screen of death. He gapes at the monitor, wondering what the hell just happened, and runs an incredulous hand through his hair. What was he supposed to do about that? What did he do in the first place? Did he click on a link he shouldn’t have? Does he have a virus?

The faintest outline of a face burns into the screen, and Tommy hardly catches it. His monitor springs to life a second later like nothing had ever happened at all. Google is opened to a page about what Tommy thinks is some sort of browser extension. It has bright purple and black coloring, and in a quirky font, reads: RanbooLive.

Tommy reads through the page, at first skimming most of the blocks of text. It looks innocuous at first - friendly, even. The more he pays attention, the more dread pools in his stomach. It proclaims itself as lifelike one too many times for Tommy’s liking.

He tries to click off the window. Repeatedly, he clicks the X in the corner, but nothing happens. He scoffs and goes through the effort of rebooting his computer, waiting for it to shut off only to boot back up.

The window is still there. Tommy’s hand tightens on the mouse, and he pushes a harsh exhale from his nose in shock. Is this some sort of virus?

Tommy thinks about it, and realizes he really has no other option except to download it. The computer is unusable otherwise, so what does he really have to lose?

While holding a deep breath, he clicks download. He watches the file show up at the bottom of his screen, then at the top in the downloads folder of the browser.

The program works away at applying itself to his system. Tommy’s phone vibrates on the desk, and Tommy grabs it, seeing Tubbo’s profile picture on the front screen. He answers the call, putting it on speaker and setting it back down on the desk.

“What happened?” Tubbo says, voice less clear through the phone speaker than through Discord. “What was that?”

“Some stupid browser extension thing,” Tommy says in a half-hearted grumble, clicking through the windows that pop up and reluctantly allowing the program to ‘make changes to his device.’ “Either I’ve downloaded a virus or this is just some really annoying marketing.”

“Why would you download it?”

A new application pops up on his screensaver - a little smiling face. The face is drawn in a cartoony style that makes it look approachable and unassuming, but Tommy can’t shake away the knots twisting in his stomach. “I didn’t have anything else I could do.”

Tubbo’s end of the line goes silent for a moment, then he speaks up again. “Maybe it’ll be fine,” Tubbo says. “It looks like an application. Maybe if you don’t open it, you’ll be okay.”

Tommy leans back in his chair, slowing down to properly think about it. “That doesn’t make sense, mate,” Tommy says, staring at the cute, dark face. It has little purple eyes and brown hair, for whatever reason. “Why would they have me bother with opening whatever this is - ” some sort of game, if Tommy is correct. He thought it was just a browser extension, but it most definitely is not. If anything, a game seems most likely with the description of what “RanbooLive” is meant to be. “When I’ve already downloaded something? Surely, they can just harvest my data from here, right? Shut off my PC, if that’s what they wanted?”

“Maybe the programmer is stupid,” Tubbo says. Tommy notices Tubbo leaning back lazily in his chair simply from the way his voice drifts farther away on call.

“Maybe I’m stupid,” Tommy says under his breath, clicking on the application. “I’m going to see what this is. If it’s a virus, I’m already screwed, so no harm, right?”

“I guess so,” Tubbo says, sounding uninterested.

A sudden purple puff of sparkles appears in the center of his screen, along with a silly vwoop sound. RanbooLive, the titular program, appears before him. The program’s mascot character is tall and thin, but only takes up a small portion of the screen. His body is dark, but his sweater is a bright pink, most likely to attract the eye. Tommy admittedly quite likes the absent swaying animation on the long tail behind him. There isn’t much detail on the pants and shoes other than a gray and whitish color respectively, since RanbooLive is composed mostly of pixels and crunchy VFX that look straight out of the nineties. In the background, childish and playful xylophone music plays.

Tommy blinks rapidly, jolting back in surprise before leaning forward to get a closer look. “What the hell?” This is way too much effort into a virus. It actually looks fairly impressive. “Tubbo - Tubbo, you’ve got to see this.”

“Hmm?” Tubbo says, snapping back into it and leaning forward in his chair again. “We’re not on Discord.”

Tommy fumbles to grab his mouse and click open Discord.

RanbooLive has a little animation where his eyes look to the left and right while he gets accustomed to his surroundings, and he makes a show of jumping when he ‘notices’ Tommy. Not the mouse, but more the monitor screen. “Oh, hello!” He says, the words computerized and robotic. Still, Tommy is sure a real person recorded the voice lines, because they don’t sound straight out of a speech generator. It sounds friendly and perky and maybe a bit too enthusiastic. The text also appears in a little bubble above RanbooLive’s head.

They open Discord, get in a call, and Tommy shares his screen. Tubbo hangs up the phone. “Mate, what the - ”

“Shh! Stop talking!” Tommy hisses. “The thing is saying something!”

“My name is RanbooLive!” The program says, waving at the screen with a little white smile. “But you can just call me Ranboo.”

“Whaaaaaat?” Tubbo says, flicking back and forth between the screen and the Discord call. “Is this real?”

“Yeah,” Tommy says. “So not a virus.”

“You don’t know that,” Tubbo says.

The program continues speaking. “We’re going to become great friends. The best, actually,” Ranboo says, looking very proud of himself. “So, now that you know my name, what’s yours?”

A quirky, stylized window pops up behind Ranboo, and Ranboo teleports aside so Tommy can see it, using those purple sparkles as he zips. Tommy’s lips screw up in uncertainty, and his hand hovers over the keyboard. “What do I do?”

“I don’t see any harm in just playing the game,” Tubbo says with a yawn. “If this is a virus, it’s a really polite one. I haven't had any ever ask me for my name before. Maybe we should be nice to it.”

Tommy hums, and he doesn’t sound so sure. His nose wrinkles up in distaste, and his mouse drifts over to Ranboo’s figure. He clicks, and he picks up Ranboo. Ranboo doesn’t protest. He probably wasn’t programmed to. Tommy drags him to the left, then to the right, smiling slightly when he sees the stupid swinging animation of his limbs, hair, and tail. “This little thing is actually kind of adorable. Tubbo, can you search it up?”

“Huh? Oh yeah.” They probably should have started their investigation by doing that. Tubbo opens a tab and slowly starts typing stuff in. “All I’m getting is some discontinued toy line from like, three decades ago. Other than that, there’s nothing.”

The information doesn’t ease Tommy’s spirit one bit - in fact, it serves to churn his stomach even further. Nevertheless, he proceeds. “Fine. Let’s play the game. I’ve already accepted the loss of my PC anyway.” He clicks on the window to type in his name, and again, he hesitates.

Ranboo stands on top of the text window and he waves. “Hello? You there? All you have to do is type into the box and press OK at the bottom. It’s pretty easy!”

Tubbo smiles. “Dude, put something stupid.”

“I know, I know. I’m trying to think of something.” Tommy’s leg bounces under his desk, and then a lightbulb goes off above him. He smiles, hands gliding swiftly over the keyboard as he enters his name.

Big Man

Tubbo sputters. “Are you serious?”

“The most,” Tommy says, a goofy grin on his face to punctuate his point.

“Huh, that’s funny,” Ranboo says, peering down at the box. “I haven’t heard that name before. Are you sure it’s your real name?”

Tubbo caws out a laughter. “The name is so bad it called you out on it!”

Tommy flushes. “No! The name is so good it’s breaking its systems!”

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s definitely it, Tommy.”

Tommy aggressively clicks Yes to the prompt that appears asking him if it is, in fact, his real name.

“Oh,” Ranboo says, teleporting to the left when the prompt disappears. “Then, nice to meet you!”

“Nice to meet you too,” Tommy says with an uncomfortable look, even though he both knows he can’t hear him and that it is not nice to meet him. “How do I even shut this thing off - ”

“I can’t wait to get to know you!” Ranboo rapidly interjects with a little animation of him rocking back and forth on his feet and messing with his hands. It looks almost nervous, maybe about meeting his ‘brand new friend’ for the first time. Tommy wonders why they’d bother to animate that.

“I don’t think you can,” Tubbo says. “Is there something on the taskbar? Maybe you can end task.”

Tommy checks, but there isn’t anything. “Nope. This is weird, Toby - I’ve never seen a game or anything that’s like this. It’s like one of those desktop pets.”

“That’s exactly what it’s like,” Tubbo says. “And the whole obsession with it being authentic and legit and stuff, more lifelike and what-have-you?”

“What’s your favorite color?” Ranboo says, teleporting to the right where another window shows up.

“I was pissing myself over this, thing. This harmless little thing,” Tommy says with frustration under his words, clicking on Ranboo repeatedly to hear the silly sounds.

Ranboo’s smile never falls. He never falters, just patiently waits for the game to be continued.

Tommy presses his lips together to keep from frowning at a computer program of all things. “Blue. Here.” He types it in with harsh, heavy taps.

“You don’t need to figure out how to close it yet,” Tubbo says, lazing back in his chair to watch the show. “We could just play whatever this is for the next little while.”

“True, but like, when I want to close it - ”

“Blue is a great choice!” Ranboo pipes up for no apparent reason, a bright grin on his face that has never fallen since the moment he appeared. “The color of the sky, the ocean - very serene, I love it too.”

“Erm, who asked,” Tubbo says in a purposefully obnoxious tone, which draws a chuckle out of Tommy.

The program flickers, but neither of them notice.

Tommy takes a deep breath and decides to ease up. This clearly isn’t anything harmful, and if he and Tubbo can draw some fun out of it, this is only a win, right? “Fine. Maybe we can have some fun with this. Hit me with the next one, Boo man.”

“This next one is tough,” Ranboo says, holding out his fingers like warnings. “So prepare yourself.”

“Consider us prepared,” Tommy says.

“If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” The window pops up, and Ranboo teleports once again.

“Ooh, that’s a hard one,” Tubbo says, grabbing his phone and idly scrolling while glancing over at the stream every so often. “Say shape-shifting.”

“What? No,” Tommy says, wrinkling his nose. “That’s a horrible power.”

“C’mon! You can fly, you can breathe underwater, you can have night vision, super senses, be whatever size you want - it’s objectively the best option!”

“Think about the body screwery you’d feel all the time. You’d be a mammal, then a bird, then a - what, an amphibian or something? That’s gotta hurt, mate.”

Tubbo hums scrutinizingly, narrowing his eyes at the camera. “I think you’re just a hater. What’s your better option anyway?”

“I’d wanna read minds,” Tommy says.

Tubbo sets his phone down, preparing a rant. “Oh, don’t even get me started - ”

“I know what you’ll say,” Tommy says, holding up a hand to the camera to silence him. “But I get to choose when to have the power on.”

“What?! That’s not fair!”

“Oh yeah, and shapeshifting is? Shifting to anything ever at any time ever? That’s more fair?”

Tubbo sulks in his seat, crossing his arms with a playful grumble. “Whatever, man.”

Tommy types Mind Reading into the window and enters it.

“That sure is super, alright!” Ranboo says with a customer-service level of pep. It has both Tommy and Tubbo stifling a laughter with how dry it is. “If I had a superpower, I’d want to be able to read minds!” Tommy’s smile drops. “That way, I could know things about you, and be the best friend I can be.”

“That's pre-programmed, right? He’s pre-programmed to have the same response as me?” Tommy says, looking warily back and forth from his screen and Discord.

“How should I know?” Tubbo says. “Reading minds is a common power.”

Ranboo moves on quickly, perhaps with the sassy little flick of his tail. “This next one’s really broad, so choose carefully. What’s your favorite word?”

Tommy shakes the shock away quickly. “I don’t know, you weirdo. I don’t routinely think about words I love.”

“Effervescent,” Tubbo spits out randomly. “That’s a pretty sounding one.”

“Effer - the hell does that mean?”

Tubbo shrugs. “Dunno. Just remembered it.”

“Whatever. Effer - How do you type that?”

“Don’t ask me!” Tubbo says. “I could look it up?”

“Don’t bother. Boo man’s just gonna have to cry about it,” Tommy says, typing in Efforvesent.

When he clicks enter, Ranboo looks down at it. Then he double takes and looks at it again, his grin falling. Tommy presses his lips together to hide his incoming laughter. “Oh! Uh, well,” Ranboo says, looking between the monitor and the prompt. “That really is one interesting word you’ve got there.”

Tubbo bursts into laughter once again, holding his face while he leans back and cackles at Tommy. “Your spelling was so bad that he couldn’t read it!”

“Like you could do better, you dyslexic!”

“Anyway, I think I should introduce myself a bit more thoroughly,” Ranboo says, falling once the prompt disappears and landing on his feet. Tommy shushes Tubbo so they can hear the program talking. “I’m Ranboo,” Ranboo says, setting a hand on his own chest, “and I’ll be your little browser sidekick. I’ll be here while you play games and search stuff up, and like a good friend, I’ll always be around to entertain!”

“Thank goodness,” Tubbo says, voice dripping with sarcasm. “He’ll always be around.”

“I can do many things,” Ranboo says. “Like play games, manage your system, learn and grow, and read stories!”

“There’s ‘learn and grow’ again,” Tubbo says. “It said that all the time on the website. Learn and grow, lifelike, a few other buzzwords.”

Tommy’s brows furrow and his eyes sharpen. “Wait, did it say manage my system?!” He looks for the speech bubble to double check, but it disappears before he can read it.

“Speaking of stories,” Ranboo says, digressing from the current topic. “I just finished writing one. Do you want to hear it?” Ranboo teleports up when a window appears, one saying Do You Want to Read Ranboo’s Story? A Yes and No option are available to him.

“Honestly, not at all,” Tommy says, rubbing his eyes to keep himself awake. “I’m too tired for this. Let’s log off for the night.”

“How are you going to shut it off?” Tubbo says.

“I’m not going to bother with figuring it out. Tommy transfers the call to his phone and shuts off his PC. The monitor lights dim and the whir of machinery cuts out. Tommy pushes himself out of his seat and flips the switch to turn on his fan, since it was getting pretty hot in here. “So, RanbooLive. How are we feeling about it?”

“I don’t know,” Tubbo says. “It seems harmless.”

Tommy changes out of his day clothes into something more comfortable and sits in bed. His legs dangle off the side. “I guess so,” he says, an uncertain frown on his face. “It rubs me the wrong way.”

“Of course it does. The little bastard’s creepy as hell, but it’s adorable.”

“I don’t want this thing on my PC. It’s going to hog all my disc space,” Tommy says. “I wish I knew how to get rid of it. You think I could ask it?”

“Even if it knew, would it tell you?” Tubbo says. Tommy hears rustling on his end, and he assumes Tubbo also shifted to his bed. “It acts all jittery about these things.”

“Jittery? Not really. It’s just a computer program. Of course it’ll be a little awkward.”

Tubbo hums with an unsure note in his voice. “Maybe you’re right.”

“Look,” Tommy says, leaning back on his mattress and sounding very weary. He’d rather not talk about this stupid program for much longer. “I’ll call you up tomorrow when I wake up. We can hop back on and check on this thing, maybe Google it again. Sound good?”

After a moment of silence, Tubbo says, “yeah. Sounds good.”

They say their goodbyes and head off to sleep. Tommy has a dreamless rest.

The next day, they hop right to it. Tommy brushes his teeth, puts on a shirt, takes a swig of soda, and fits his headset on. Tubbo was being all cryptic in their texts, saying he’d rather not Discord call today because he wanted to ‘test something’. Tommy called him a delusional weirdo but agreed anyway.

Tommy pulls down his headset so it hangs around his neck, and he puts his phone on speaker so it can stay on his desk. “I’m going to turn on my PC,” Tommy says, staring at the deactivated monitor. “How are you going to see what’s going on if we’re not on Discord?”

“FaceTime me,” Tubbo says. “And hold up the screen to the camera.”

“What? No!” Tommy scoffs. “That’s way too much effort. At this point, we should just do Discord.” He presses the button on his PC, and the machinery sparks to life. The fans start to whir, and the lights on his headset activate. He clicks the button under his monitor to turn it on, and the password menu lights up the screen. In the background is a photo of cherry blossom trees, one of the landscape pictures Windows automatically sets every few days. He types in his password with swift fingers, and the loading animation spins in circles like a tease while he waits for the result of his shortcomings. His finger taps impatiently against the desk. “It’s not my fault you’re wanting to play conspiracy theorist.”

The phone buzzes with Tubbo’s irritations. “Fine,” Tubbo says. “We can Discord Call.”

Before Tommy’s screen fully loads, he hears the xylophone music from yesterday. Tommy groans. The screen loads up, and the smiling mascot appears in a sudden burst of purple pixels.

Ranboo looks no different to the other day, and he waves at Tommy with a level of enthusiasm Tommy wouldn’t think possible for a program. “Good morning!” He bounces where he stands, looking very excited to see Tommy again. Tommy assumes the creators animated that on purpose to make RanbooLive more endearing and like ‘the perfect friend.’

It isn’t working. “... Good morning,” Tommy says, nose wrinkled up again.

“Who are you talking to?” Tubbo says.

Tommy opens up his Discord application and hangs up with Tubbo on the phone, going live through the call. “Can you see?”

“Yeah,” Tubbo says. “Oh my god. He’s still here.”

“I know,” Tommy says, a grimace on his face. “I really don’t want anything to do with it right now. I know we said we’d check on it, but I just meant a Google search. You think we can play Bedwars or something?”

“Won’t it get in the way?” Tubbo says. “You’d need to shut it off first.”

“I am a desktop companion,” Ranboo says, delving into a speech that sounds very rehearsed. Probably because it is. “I have the capability of managing your system and, more importantly, entertaining you for hours on end. If you want to play games, I can play too! Since, we’re friends.”

Tommy leans back in his seat, clicking on Ranboo and dragging him away from the center of the screen. He drops him all the way to the right, just above the Wi-Fi and audio controls. “Y’know, RanbooLive, it isn’t polite to impose like that.”

Tommy probably imagines it, but Ranboo’s sprite turns slightly purple in the face. His shoulders hike up a pixel too, and his tail animation loses some of its energy.

“Why are you talking to it?” Tubbo says, derision in his voice. “It can’t hear you. Look who’s delusional now.”

Tommy doesn’t bother to respond to that, instead combing his applications for a game he actually wants to play. Bedwars is one he suggested, but he doesn’t think he’d be able to focus with this goofy retro character hanging out in the corner of his screen. Not to mention the stupid xylophone in the background. “Maybe if I don’t interact with it, it won’t do anything. Idle animation, you know? It probably has one of those.”

“What about the music?” Tubbo says. Tommy sees from his Discord activity that he’s booting up Minecraft. Bedwars it is, then. “What, are you going to ask it to shut it off?” He chuckles. “Don’t be weird.”

The rhythmic tapping of Tommy’s finger against the desk provides ambience for his thoughts. “I have an idea,” he says, mouse drifting over to the bottom right corner of his screen. He clicks on his audio controls and cranks it all the way down. No more music. “This way, if he starts yapping again, it doesn’t even matter. Tubbo, call me on my phone.”

A green ring appears around Tubbo’s profile picture in the Discord call, but Tommy doesn’t hear him. Instead of bothering with typing it out, Tubbo leaves Discord and calls Tommy back on his phone. “So, Bedwars?”

“Bedwars,” Tommy says, already booting up the launcher.

It loads, and Tommy logs into Hypixel. He purposefully keeps it in windowed mode rather than fullscreen mode so he can keep an eye on Ranboo.

Ranboo, thankfully, doesn’t do anything chaotic. In fact, there’s a little animation of him sitting down, legs crossed and tail absently swaying. After a while of him doing nothing except for watching the Minecraft window, Tommy lets his guard down and allows himself to forget about Ranboo’s presence. They play Bedwars without being plagued by the annoying virus-program-thingy they’d rather do without.

After a while of the program running in the background, Ranboo realizes that he has been forgotten. Subtly, he reaches his pixely hand out and taps the audio controls, grabbing the circle and slowly dragging it more to the right to turn the volume up. There is no music playing anymore, so Tommy doesn’t notice it. At one percent volume, it might as well not be on. By ten percent, they hear the sounds of Minecraft ambience, like footsteps and mining, but Tommy plays on automatic anyway.

Ranboo casts occasional glances to the Minecraft window, discreetly sliding the volume further and further up. He stops halfway and pulls his hand back into his lap, waiting for Tommy to notice his good deed.

It takes another round and a half of Bedwars until an explosion rings loudly in Tommy’s ears for him to finally point it out. “Tubbo. Tubbo - my volume is - ” he lets himself get knocked into the void so he can check the corner of his screen. Ranboo hasn’t moved, but his volume is up. “It’s on. I didn’t turn it on.”

“You reckon the program did it?” Tubbo says.

“Ranboo? You think Ranboo could do that?” Tommy does recall a fair few times it being mentioned that Ranboo could manage Tommy’s system. Which, yeah a bit more than bizarre.

“I’m a good friend,” Ranboo says, voice sounding different than it had before. Physically the same, but tonally shifted. “One designed to be as lifelike as possible. A real friend would recognize your needs and act accordingly.”

“Huh,” Tommy says, staring in vague awe and curiosity at Ranboo’s little sprite. Ranboo has been exceptionally well-behaved today. Tommy’s inclinations that this cute little guy is a virus declines with the hour. The foresight and skill his programmers must have had to craft such an intricate character is impressive.

“Tommy, what is it saying?” Tubbo says, repeatedly smacking him into the void after he spawns back near his bed.

Tommy then considers it a shame that so much of that hard work is going unrecognized, and he decides that there can’t be much harm in seeing how far he can take this bit before it gets old. Sure, maybe there was some glitch with his system to crash his PC, and maybe the program can’t be closed, but Tommy probably read something wrong along the way. Maybe it was meant to operate like this, like a real desktop pet! It would make sense. It hasn’t disrupted him, because Tommy specifically made it known he didn’t want to be disrupted (but would that be valid input for Ranboo? How did Ranboo know that? He doesn’t bother to think about it).

He makes up his mind. “Tubbo, get back on Discord,” he says, closing Minecraft soon after. “I want to see what this thing can do.”

Ranboo’s head perks up, but he doesn’t move yet, not making any indication that he heard.

They transfer their call to Discord again - “I’m sick of sending our calls back and forth. Can we just choose one and stick to it please?” Tubbo complains, shutting up when Tommy points out that Tubbo himself had been the one to originally request a different call method - and Tommy streams his screen.

“Alright, RanbooLive. Show me what you’ve got,” Tommy says, clicking on Ranboo to wake him up.

Ranboo makes a show of zipping to the center of the screen again, purple sparkles surrounding him. “Hello!” He waves again, like he typically does. Tommy assumes that the animator spent a long time on that animation and they wanted to utilize it as much as possible, so he huffs. “So, best friend of mine, how about we do something exciting?”

“Excite away, Ranboo,” Tommy says, propping up his head with his hand and resting his elbow on the desk.

“How exciting can this thing be?” Tubbo says.

Ranboo teleports to the right to make space in the center of his desktop. “I made something really special for you, but I just need some time for it to load,” Ranboo says, holding out a hand to signal Tommy to be patient.

Tommy’s finger taps against the desk, but he figures waiting a minute won’t kill him.

“This is boring,” Tubbo says. Tommy can hear the frown on his face without even seeing it.

“Why are you so weird about this thing, mate?” Tommy says, eyes scanning the screen for anything new happening. Nothing yet. “It hasn’t worked its way onto your desktop.”

“Don’t tell me you’re starting to like it.”

“I didn’t say that.”

A window appears in the center of the screen, popping up with purple pixels like Ranboo does. Ranboo has a little animation of waving his hand toward it, and a ta-da sound effect plays. “Trust me. This’ll be a lot of fun, so don’t you worry about being bored.”

Tubbo bursts into a furious uproar. “It’s listening! It’s - mate, it’s listening to you, I swear to god.”

“Tubbo - ”

“It’s connected to your system, it’s taking your output - ”

Tubbo - ”

“It wouldn’t have said that if I didn’t say - ”

“Tubbo!” Tommy shouts, pounding his fist on the desk. “You’re paranoid. I think this thing is harmless.”

“But, Tommy - ”

“Tubbo,” Tommy says sharply to cut him into silence. “Take a deep breath and think about how impossible it is that a vintage-ass computer program can take my voice, detect the words, and respond with configured actions in real time.”

Tubbo does as Tommy says and takes a deep breath. Tommy hears it crystal-clear through his mic. “I guess you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right,” Tommy says.

Ranboo watches their interaction without a word to say for it, smiling innocently and letting the window boot up.

Something like a browser game appears before Tommy, with Ranboo and two other interesting characters being the main features. One is a cartoonish skeleton boy with a leather jacket and a bandanna on his head, and another has a red beanie and little bear ears.

“I present to you: the Glowbones Group Web World!” Ranboo says with some jazz hands.

“They're cute, I guess,” Tubbo says, voice flippant and noncommittal. “Nice designs.”

Tommy scrolls down to quickly skim the blurb about all three characters, noting the names Billzo and Aimsey. He clicks on the big green button that says Play soon after.

The loading bar completes and shows the top-down view of a small map. In the center is a fountain with little cat statues at the top of the center spire, and water pours from their mouths. Trees spatter around for some extra scenery. Three houses are visible, presumably one for each character: one center-left, one center-top, and another in the far top right corner. They each match the color scheme of the character that would match with them.

A song plays in the background with no xylophone this time. It sounds less childish, but definitely still playful.

“Welcome to my Web World,” Ranboo says, their charming little tour guide. “A lovely place to play and learn and make friends. And since you didn’t want the music all the time before, I decided to make this for you!” Ranboo teleports to the bottom of the window and opens a compartment. Definitely not logistically how any program would open anything, but it looks cartoonish enough to slip past Tommy’s suspicions.

“You said out loud you didn’t want music, right?” Tubbo says, sounding more like thinking out loud than any actual question. Tommy hums in concurrence anyway.

An audio logo falls into the opened digital compartment, perfectly fitting in the space. “This way, with just the click of a button, you can turn off the music in case you need to hear your friend…s. Or any videos that are playing. Or anything at all, really!” Ranboo smiles.

“That’s thoughtful,” Tommy says.

“Handy, I guess,” Tubbo says, only half-paying attention. “In my opinion, it should have always had that feature.”

“I make sure to pay attention to cues, since I’m meant to be like a real friend,” Ranboo says, again sounding like reading off of the script. “I gave you the option once I realized you wanted it. I had to fix that part up from scratch from my own code, so I do hope you like it!”

Tommy narrows his eyes at the sound of that. “That - ? Is that normal?”

“Programs can’t change their code,” Tubbo says. “Like, physically.”

Ranboo falls into silence for a second. “I am a dynamically designed friend meant to change and grow like a person. I imitate a lifelike personality for the most immersive and enjoyable experience possible.” He clears his throat, despite not having a throat that needs clearing. “Anyway - for you to be able to play, you have to move around.” Ah, right. The Web World. A blue character that looks straight off a bathroom sign pops up on screen in a flurry of purple pixels. “There you go! I even made it your favorite color.”

“Tommy, I think you should stop playing. None of this is, conventional.”

“What?” Tommy tries to play with the W, A, S, and D keys, but when it doesn’t work he realizes it’s a point-and-click. He gets his bearing in this browser game. “But we just started.”

“I know, I know,” Tubbo says, voice with an edge of hesitation to it. “But this thing really rubs me the wrong way. I’m sorry.”

“To start us off, my friend Billzo has had some trouble with picking up his house,” Ranboo says, continuing his pre-programmed spiel despite their talking. The interruption is not a very out-of-place thing, since a program shouldn’t know anyway when people are listening or not. All they do is execute the orders from the script.

“Well, what else am I meant to do? I can’t delete it.”

“If you could try and help him, we’d both really appreciate it,” Ranboo says. “Billzo’s place is the abandoned house to the left.”

Tommy maneuvers his little character around the water fountain and has some trouble with the mechanics.

“Your left, or his left?” Tubbo says, pressing his voice into casualty.

“The house is on your left,” Ranboo says. Then its sprite animation pauses.

“AHA!” Tubbo shouts. Tommy flinches back with the volume. “It’s listening! Tommy, it’s listening, I swear to god - ”

“Tubbo, Tubbo - calm down, Tubbo!” He turns down the volume of his headset to keep his ears from bleeding. “It was instructing me on direction not ten seconds ago because I was going the wrong way! That’s really not that weird.”

“Why are you defending it?!” Tubbo shrieks, voice shrill.

“Because you sound insane!”

“It wasn’t saying it like another instruction. There was emphasis on it being your left, you have to believe me - ”

“Tubbo, please. You’re not defeating the insane allegations.”

The tension in Tubbo’s voice defuses with the joke, because he pauses to huff at it. “Fine. Whatever. You’re not listening anyway.” He sulks, and Tommy can hear the creak of his chair when he leans back into it. “Play your stupid game.”

Tommy does. He clicks on the house once he gets close enough, and is taken to another loading screen. A brief interaction between Billzo and Ranboo happens where they talk about the dirty house and offer instructions, and then Tommy is set to play a fairly basic cleaning minigame.

He grabs the sponge and dunks it in the bucket, scrubbing it over the wooden floor.

“This sucks ass,” Tubbo says. “It feels like a children’s game. One of those crappy ones with the creepy dentists and the hairstylists. That level of quality.”

Tommy sighs. “Yeah.” For once he has to agree with Tubbo. Ranboo sits off to the side, and his sprite reads a little book while Tommy plays. He doesn’t catch the occasional glances Ranboo makes up at him. Not his mouse. “It’s nothing special, y’know? We have this bomb-ass program thing to talk to and instead, I’m cleaning some bastard’s walls.” The duster sweeps away the cobwebs.

“What enthralling gameplay,” Tubbo says, voice dripping with sarcasm. “But you’re saying you’d rather talk to Creep Number One?”

“He's not really that creepy,” Tommy says, finishing up the level and proceeding. “Just kind of weird.”

Billzo pops up with a little animation and voiceover congratulating his amazing work and telling him to press next.

“I’ll press next when I want to,” Tommy says under his breath, mostly just to amuse himself. He clicks Next. Billzo asks Tommy to paint his walls, and Tommy smiles, grabbing the paint roller and getting to work.

Tubbo clicks his tongue. “No. Don’t put a dick on the poor guy’s wall.”

“I’m not, I’m not,” Tommy says, sticking his tongue out in focus. He dips in the different colors, brown and green and white, and finishes up with a big, black smile. “It’s you.” Tommy’s smile is very clear in his voice.

Tubbo looks at the unimpressive drawing. “Amazing,” he says dryly.

Tommy clicks Next and moves on. In the middle of Billzo complimenting his work, the sprite and audio starts to glitch out before reverting to normal. Tommy chalks it up to faulty programming and ignores it.

“Ohh, you’re decorating now,” Tubbo says. “Very unique gameplay experience.”

“HouseFlipper Lite,” Tommy says, clicking and dragging a window onto the Tubbo Wall.

Tubbo chuckles. “Genuinely, though. This reminds me of some mobile games I had as a kid. Disney house makeover or whatever. You’d choose the wallpaper and paint the floors and stuff. There were only one or two houses available for free.”

“Imagine spending money on in-app purchases for Disney House Makeover,” Tommy says, decorating the place with a sofa chair, a bed, and some shelves. He refrains from putting too much on the walls so the view of the glorious Tubbo Painting can be exposed to the world.

When Tommy scrolls all the way down on the option menu, the music starts to slow down. He notices it, but doesn’t pay very close attention other than mentioning it aloud to Tubbo. When he scrolls back up, he sees a decoration option that wasn’t there before. He leans closer to make sure he’s seeing it right. His mouth opens to speak, but only a croak comes out. His mouse hovers over it.

“What - Tom, what is that?” Tubbo says, addressing the unsettling sprite that looks suspiciously like a bloody body bag censored with a single black square. The realistic-yet-grainy texture is very out of place for the cartoonish colors and shapes.

Tommy clicks it out of sheer morbid curiosity. Ranboo teleports to a stand. His screen flickers from black to normal, and Ranboo is gone. So are all the decorations in the room. Tommy releases his mouse, but it still moves on his screen, dragging the wriggling body bag further into the frame. A thick, graphic trail of blood follows after it. Tommy gapes. Neither of them have anything to say.

His screen is black again, then ‘normal,’ and Tommy feels nausea at the edges of his vision. Tubbo speaks in his ears, desperately tries to get his attention, but Tommy’s mouth goes completely dry. He pushes his chair away from his monitor screen, and his sight pulses. He feels himself fading far away, breaths too loud in his ears. The fans whir, and a deep chirr from his PC keeps him grounded yet unsettled.

The screen fades to black or maybe that’s his vision, the audio cuts out Tubbo’s voice fades away, and he sees an unbelievably, almost high-definition view of the program’s mascot’s face. It stares with wide, purple eyes, slitted pupils like irate, like trying to look beyond the screen. Screen? What screen? It looks almost lifelike, not resembling at all that retro animation.

As soon as the vision comes, it passes. He shakes his head and hears Tubbo’s shouting again, sees his screen with the Web World window right in the center of it. A pixelated Ranboo stands at the side with his little smile, thanking Tommy for helping Billzo.

“Tommy?! Tommy! I’m going to call - not the police, but I’m calling someone if you don’t respond right now!!”

“I'm here! Tubbo, Tubbo, I’m here. Sorry. I zoned out.” His hand shakily drifts over to grab his mouse, and he clicks Next. The game proceeds with no consideration of Tommy’s shell-shock.

Tubbo finally falls silent.

Tommy follows along with the little game, maneuvering to the house all the way to the right like Ranboo instructs. Tommy pauses before entering, taking a second to catch his breath. He swears under his breath. “What the hell was that?”

“So we both saw that,” Tubbo says, the little green ring in his profile picture still active and flickering. His voice quakes ever so subtly, and he clears his throat to wipe the sound away. “Right?”

“Saw the - the bag?” Tommy, for some reason, doubts that Tubbo saw the face like Tommy did. He won’t say anything about it - he doesn’t want to get called delusional again.

“Yeah. Uhm. Tommy, do you believe me now?”

“Yeah,” Tommy says with a tremor in his voice too, hand tightening on the mouse.

A beat of silence passes between them, and in the background is the happy-go-lucky minigame music. Tommy decides to shut it off using Ranboo’s audio button. In the proceeding space, they take some time to catch their breath and compose themselves.

“So we’re not playing this game anymore, right?” Tubbo says.

Tommy takes a moment to consider. “Like hell,” he breathes. “Like hell we are. I’m - I’m done with - ”

Tommy’s character enters the house without Tommy clicking on it, and the next cutscene starts with Aimsey and Ranboo talking about the next Fix-It minigame. It must have decided Tommy was taking too long.

Ranboo says that it’s going to be really fun. Tommy is not having fun.

Suddenly, things are sliding across the screen on a conveyor belt, and Tommy is matching the parts to the silhouette. First, a racecar.

“Why are you still playing?!” Tubbo says.

“We can’t shut it off, remember?” Tommy says. Ranboo’s sprite takes a little nap in the corner.

“Just shut off your PC!”

“And what, never use it again?” He fits the wheels in place, then the panels of the car. He moves on to a bicycle after a somewhat strange glitch on the screen. “I’m not going to get a new PC just because of some freaky imagery in a game.” It was more than that. “I’m not that much of a puss*. Maybe after we complete Ranboo’s little questline, there’s an option to turn him off.”

“Sounds like wishful thinking,” Tubbo says. “But sure. Go ahead. Dig your grave.”

While building the bicycle, the image of a realistic beating heart shows. Aimsey stares at it while smiling. Tommy holds his breath and keeps from clicking it, letting it pass. The unsettling beating in his ears fades away, and he returns to lighthearted fun. He turns the music back on, just so it doesn’t have to be silent in the game.

“Maybe you accidentally downloaded a horror pet,” Tubbo says, sounding equally wishful in thinking. “And this is just part of the game.”

“It never said anything about that,” Tommy says, building Aimsey her stupid teddy bear and robot. Surprisingly, this next portion goes off without a hitch - probably because Tommy ignored the beating heart.

He hears Tubbo’s sigh of relief. “Nothing bad.”

“Thanks for helping out my friends!” Ranboo pipes up, popping up from his nap. “You’ve been super helpful.”

“Tommy, you should wipe your PC,” Tubbo says, a sudden excitement in his voice.

“What?” Tommy says.

“As a treat, I have a very fun game for you to play - ”

“Yeah! Just wipe it clean! It’ll get rid of everything, including this… thing.”

Ranboo’s speech stops.

Tommy doesn’t notice, too occupied listening to Tubbo. “But - but I have so much information on this computer. Years of stuff.”

“Well - yeah. But all your game data is saved in Steam, all your docs in Google Drive, and if you’re worried about photos and videos, you can just put them on a USB before doing it.”

Ranboo’s tail stops swaying. The smile disappears. Tommy doesn’t notice.

“I mean, sure, but what about my other files? If I back everything up, I’m probably going to back up this thing with it.”

Ranboo slowly steps over to the Discord window.

“Then fine. Sacrifice the videos. You have most of them in your phone anyway - ” the call cuts out with the sound of an exit.

Tommy waits for a second. He calls out, “Tubbo?” He double-checks the call and notices that Tommy was the one who left. But how? He didn’t click that.

Message after message appears from a confused Tubbo in their DMs.

Ranboo teleports to the right of the Web World window, smiling away. “Meet me in the treehouse to get started on my game!” He says.

Tommy sees the Web World return to the map with the fountain, and he hesitates. Instead of moving his character, he joins the call again. “Tubbo?”

“Tommy! What happened?”

“I don’t know. My call cut out - ” the exit sound again.

Ranboo teleports back to the right of the Web World window, innocently swaying his tail back and forth.

Tommy frowns. Why does this keep happening? His eye catches on the purple pixels floating by Ranboo. No. It couldn’t be.

He clicks on Ranboo and drags him all the way to the left, away from the Discord window. He joins the call again. “Tubbo, I don’t know. I just keep disconnecting. I’m not hanging up.”

Ranboo kneels down by the taskbar and starts tampering with the open tabs, looking up occasionally to make sure Tommy doesn’t notice.

“I’m trying to watch your stream - ”

Disconnect. Ranboo stands upright with a smile on his face like he hadn’t done anything at all. Tommy doesn’t look back quick enough to see his tampering. “What’s happening?” Tommy checks his Wi-Fi connection, then his antenna. Both are stable.

Tommy scoffs, then decides his only out is to finish the game and let the program idle again. He clicks on the house, and a window that says Hide and Seek loads up.

Tommy doesn’t like how slow the music has gotten.

“I want to play a fun game with you,” Ranboo says, voice sounding flatter and less friendly. “Hide and seek.”

The screen around the Web World starts fading to black, including the Discord window. Tommy grabs his mouse and tries to join the call one last time, but he can’t see anything.

“You know the rules,” Ranboo says, now shrouded in darkness with nothing to show except two menacing glowing eyes.

Tommy’s breath starts picking up, and he tries to turn off his PC by pressing the button. It won’t shut off. He tries to press the Windows key, Alt-F4, he tries a manual shutdown, but nothing is responding to him. Dread pools in his stomach with the lack of control he feels. Like a tidal wave, all his apprehensions about Ranboo being a virus return like a swing to his gut. Tubbo was right, wasn’t he? He should have stopped. He should have -

He smacks his fists against the keyboard to no input, and he groans, trying not to show this thing that he is nervous.

“Don’t get caught.”

Once his screen flashes to black, he grabs his phone and tries to text Tubbo.

No service. What?! Why not?! By the time he goes into his settings app, words are flashing onto his computer monitor.

Something is Seeking You.

Tommy swallows the lump in his throat and sets his phone down, flitting around his desk for anything he can do.

Don’t Get Caught.

Tommy pulls the power plug of his computer. It shuts off, and his heart beats loudly in his ears. The silence that follows is so relieving.

The countdown that follows is not.

On the screen, a large 30 in bright white numbers appears. By the second, it ticks down.

  1. 28. 27.

Tommy intuitively knows this is his countdown. This is how long he has to hide before the seeker says ready or not, here I come.

He stares at it with wide eyes, pushing out of his chair into a stand. This shouldn’t be possible. For the first time, the possibility that the program he downloaded was more than a virus occurs to him, but he has no time to dwell on this thought. He only has twenty-two seconds left.

His lights flicker, and he calls out in a panic. “Mum??! Why’s the power out?!” He gets no response, despite how much he desperately wishes for any realm of normalcy or reassurance. Sweat trickles down his back and sticks uncomfortably to his red and white baseball tee. Tommy throws his door open once the timer hits fifteen, and staggers back in shock.

Instead of opening to the upstairs loft, a sparsely-lit hall made of bricks is all he sees. Tommy rushes to throw on some shoes, grab his phone, and close the door behind him, sprinting into the hall once the timer gets down to ten. He turns on his phone light to the lowest setting and uses it to navigate.

His fingers brush the bricks as he runs by, just to be sure that this is all real. The bricks are tactile, and feel very authentic against his fingertips, coarse and firm. The smell of damp and dust affronts his nose. He finally gets hit with the fact, like a swing to the face with a bat, that this is a real threat and he needs to heed the warning.

How could this have happened? Where is he? Why couldn’t he contact anyone? How did he get here? Question after question swarms his mind while he pumps his legs as hard as possible, already feeling the burn and knowing soreness he’ll have tomorrow (if he lives to see tomorrow, if time is even real).

Brick hall after hall branches off with turns, no end in sight, and his footsteps thud on concrete. He looks up and sees no escape, but he runs through in search of one. He isn’t so ridiculous as to call out for help. No. He’ll be heard.

The happy-go-lucky music from the game echoes through the labyrinth, eerie and distorted. A chill runs down his back, and he doesn’t dare to cry. He keeps moving. He keeps going. He keeps -

Tubbo was right. Tubbo was right about Ranboo. Tommy won’t ever get to see Tubbo again, will he? Tommy is going to die here. Tommy is going to get found, and he’s going to die here. He won’t have last words. He won’t say goodbye to his family.

This - this virus, no, not a virus, more is going to be the end of him, and how? How could this have happened? How could Tommy have been so ridiculous? How could things have been so ludicrous? Not a single thing they’ve done has made any sense whatsoever, and now Tommy is going to be punished for his lack of logic.

He collapses to his knees and blinks away a sting in his eyes. His chest heaves, and he grits his teeth to push away a frightened sob. No, he isn’t crying. He won’t let himself. With the palm of his hand, he wipes his eyes before any tears fall, and gathers himself. He curls into a little ball and hides against the wall, tucked behind a pile of trash. Legs tucked to his chest and arms wrapped around them, Tommy forces his breathing to steady. If he hyperventilates, he makes himself more of a target.

The music wanes, sometimes getting louder and sometimes getting quieter. Tommy holds his breath when he hears it approaching, and sighs in relief when it fades away.

Some of the tension releases from his shoulders when he stops hearing the music altogether. Maybe if he sticks it out for long enough, he wins the game. He wins, he goes home, he bashes the computer with a baseball bat. Maybe set it on fire, or toss it in a ditch, or take it to the local priest just for good measure.

Tommy’s head jerks up when he hears a vwoop sound, purple sparkles glowing and fizzling from around the bend behind him. Ohhh, that’s way too close for comfort. He ducks his head and squeezes his eyes shut, sucking in a breath and holding it tight.

Footsteps slowly pad down the concrete floor, closer and closer. The slow steps are like a tease, like some sort of sick joke to tantalize Tommy because the seeker already knows. It already knows, and Tommy can’t do anything about it.

The footsteps, so loud and so clear, pause by Tommy’s heap of safety trash. Tommy hears the screeching of nails - claws claws, his instincts tell him, it has claws and they sound sharp - against scrap material.

His eyes flit to his left and he sees a dark form hovering over light shoes. The form looks soft, like made out of fur, and it absently stirs. Tommy’s heart leaps into his throat, and he releases his breath in shock. A tail. The thing, whatever it is, makes a sound, like an absent chirring in its chest. It sounds reminiscent of an old engine on a vintage car trying and failing over and over to start up. Some idle growl of some sort.

A flash and a scream is all Tommy registers before it abruptly goes dark.

While gradually creeping away from the nothingness of his mind, clawing ever-so-slowly towards the waking world, a ring is the first sensation to strike him.

The ring of his alarm clock on his desk. Did he set it? He doesn’t recall. His head picks up from his desk, and he feels a crick in his neck. The sun flits through the cracks of the blinds differently than it had before. A small puddle of drool stains the wood of his desk, and he wrinkles his nose at it, grabbing a tissue to wipe it away.

His hand rubs the back of his neck to soothe the jolted feeling, and he looks around. His foot moves around, no shoe on it. He stands and opens his door, seeing the loft. Nothing out of the ordinary.

His mom calls from downstairs for him to turn off that incessant alarm. Apparently, it has been ringing for a few minutes straight. Tommy rubs his eye to wake himself up and lazily steps over to his bedside counter to shut it off.

He keeps his hand on the clock, letting his vision zone out on his bedsheets while he thinks. He tries to remember the last thing that happened. There was the brick hall, and then - but no, he was in his room, playing a game with Tubbo - Tommy was found, Tommy was found, he was hiding and he was found -

It was a dream.

Tommy sighs the biggest sigh of relief, the weight of the world rolling off his shoulders. He blinks rapidly to bring himself to the waking world, stepping back over to his PC. It was a dream. None of it was real. He fell asleep at his desk and imagined the whole thing. Oh, how great.

Tommy sits down and finally has a look at his monitor.

Discord is open, with about a billion new messages from Tubbo. Ranboo… isn’t there. Instead, there’s the little desktop shortcut with his cartoonish face, and a small white window on the screen.

I am waiting for you.

He knows dreams have no impact on reality, but the phrase still strikes fear into his heart. Tommy must have spent so long asleep that the program decided to idle to save resources. Yes. That must be it.

He clicks OK and wants to move on, but he gets another message.

Come back to me.

Okay. Weird. He clicks OK again. It persists in being creepy and possessive, and Tommy assumes that these traits are what fueled the nightmare that he had.





It reads like an order, and Tommy wants to defy it. He doesn’t bother scrolling through DMs, and instead skips right to rejoining the call. Tubbo apparently stayed in VC, and he notices immediately when Tommy hops in. “Tommy!” He shouts, his sudden volume almost causing Tommy to fall out of his chair. “What happened?!”

“I fell asleep, I think,” Tommy says. “Maybe I left the call when I face-planted into the keyboard.” He activates the Discord stream and waves his mouse around to make sure the stream is running.

“How did you fall asleep?” Tubbo says. “We were in the middle of playing. I didn’t think it was that boring.”

“Maybe I was worrying about it at night too much,” Tommy says. “And I didn’t sleep right.” He frowns as the words leave his mouth, since they don’t feel correct. However, he has no other theories to operate on.

“So, are we playing it again?” Tubbo says.

“Absolutely not,” Tommy says. “This thing is finally shut off, and you really think I’m going to turn it on again?” He tries to hide his fright from Tubbo, since confessing about the dream would just be embarrassing. Maybe Tubbo would understand where he was coming from, since Tubbo is no Ranboo apologist either, but a nightmare feels a little silly.

“Fair enough. Detroit?”

“Detroit,” Tommy says, already booting up the game.

They play for the next few hours without a hitch, then say goodbye. Tommy heads downstairs to eat, spends some time watching a movie with his mum, and changes into some comfortable night clothes. He messages some friends in bed for a few hours, chatting about the weird game that showed up on his PC, and again he considers wiping his data clean.

How paranoid would he have to be to do that just because of a bad dream? Sure, Tommy has had nightmares before. He had a horrible one about an old science teacher, and then the next day in class he was a little on-edge around her, but then he got over it! It wasn’t the teacher’s fault! Just Tommy’s cruel imagination at it again.

It’s settled. He’ll let himself calm down away from the game, and he’ll search up ways to deal with it tomorrow. He shuts off his phone, plugs it into the charger, and sleeps.

No nightmares plague him.

When he wakes up, the first thing he does is head downstairs to eat breakfast. Still no bricks. The thought makes Tommy huff out loud. Is he still strung up about that stupid browser pet?

He decides not to worry about his computer for the day. Instead of messaging Tubbo right away, he takes a walk to clear his head. He sequences the events of the last couple of days in his mind, just to make sure they haven’t done anything too extraordinarily stupid.

Tommy got a bunch of ads for a pet game thing, so many that it crashed his PC. Could easily be a bug. He downloaded whatever they were advertising and the program boots up. It isn’t a game on the taskbar, or on Steam, and it’s all strange. Something about it from the start was off, and Tommy can’t put to words what it was. As things progress, Tubbo starts to theorize that it can hear them and responds accordingly, which Tommy still doesn’t believe.

They keep playing its strange games, since Tommy had no visible way to turn it off. There was a cutscene with a bagged corpse, which seemed completely out of place. Maybe that’s what spooked Tommy into a nightmare. Maybe at the hide and seek screen he started getting tired, so he dreamt up a sequence in his head.

Despite their better judgement, better judgement from them both, they continue playing out of sheer curiosity and lack of a better option. Tommy finds the smallest semblance of comfort in the fact that they haven’t done anything extraordinarily stupid.

At least, not yet.

On his way home, he pulls his phone out of his pocket and texts Tubbo a greeting asking him if he wants to play. While waiting for his reply, he starts Google searching RanbooLive once again. He gets nothing helpful. He gets nothing relevant at all!

He searches the buzzwords like the names of the other characters, the minigames, descriptions of Ranboo’s sprite, but nothing ever comes up.

He decides to log into the Reddit account he rarely uses and make a post about it. If a random stranger on Reddit doesn’t have the answer, no one does.

He pockets his phone until Tubbo gets home, setting it on his computer desk and turning on his PC. Tubbo finally responds saying he’s down, but he needs some time. Tommy takes that time to turn on the monitor and open Discord.

He stares at the screensaver shortcut with narrowed eyes, inspecting every little pixel. “What is your problem, RanbooLive?” He says under his breath, not for anyone to hear.

He clicks the icon once and drags it to the recycling bin. It doesn’t work. Figures.

Tubbo hops onto Discord and into a call, and this time he doesn’t bother to ask for a phone call instead. “Let’s do this.”

“Are you going to conspire your little theories again?” Tommy says, mouse hovering over RanbooLive’s logo.

“Of course,” Tubbo says. “Because it’s not conspiracy, mate. It’s real. You’ll see.”

Tommy chuckles. “‘You’ll see. You’ll all see!’” He says, imitating Tubbo’s voice by wrinkling his nose up and nasalling.

“Die,” Tubbo says, which Tommy dutifully ignores.

He finally clicks the application. After a moment of nothing, a purple blast in the center of his screen fizzles away to reveal Ranboo. Ranboo has his signature smile on, and his soundtrack plays faintly in the background. Nothing is wrong at first glance.

“Hello again!” He says with that same wave animation.

“Hello,” Tommy says halfheartedly.

“Creepy ass bastard man,” Tubbo says.

“Something cut us off last time,” Ranboo says. “But don’t worry about it! Any flukes or glitches are not a concern anymore, since I’m running perfectly now.”

“That’s reassuring,” Tubbo says.

“Are you being sarcastic?” Tommy says, keeping his eyes glued to the screen to not miss another Ranboo-meta-break.

“What do you think?”

“Not that I wasn’t running well before!” Ranboo says, with the shake of his hands.

“Sure, mate,” Tubbo says.

“Anyway,” Ranboo says quickly. “Now that you’re available to play, what should we do?” A little idle animation plays where Ranboo thinks.

“This was a bad idea,” Tubbo says. “You should have taken the out when you had the chance.”

“You’re being dramatic.” Tommy hopes so, anyway. “The only ‘out’ I see is out with my hard-drive.”

“Then out it goes,” Tubbo says. “A new one shouldn’t be too expensive.”

“If you wanted me to get rid of him so badly, why are we playing?”

“Because you asked to, mate!” Tubbo says. “You want to play this thing so badly.”

“No I don’t,” Tommy says, a twang of embarrassed defensiveness in his voice. Tubbo is sort of right. Tommy’s curiosity is getting the better of him - a morbid kind of curiosity of being at a crime scene or staring at a disastrous wreckage. He should know better, but at the same time there is an instinctual draw to know and understand the extent of what happened.

Tommy wants to be over and done with this game so the curiosity can’t eat him alive. If they stopped now, if he wiped his PC clean or replaced his drive or bought a new system altogether, he would never know. After coming this far, he knows such a fate would haunt him for the rest of his life. His imagination would have a field day, and hang his inquiries over his head like bait.

For his own sanity, he wants to play through the game for the singular reason of being done with it and getting rid of it right after.

“I know!” Ranboo says, holding a finger up like some kind of nerd. “One of my core components is a lifelike approach to bonding, and I don’t know you very well yet, Big Man.”

Tubbo’s tension fizzles away when he laughs. “Oh, I forgot you put that as the name.”

Tommy smiles. “Ranboo speaks the truth.”

“So, how about this?” A window appears in front of them in a flurry of purple pixels. The purple slowly fizzles away with time. “Best Friends Questionnaire!”

Tommy groans. “Oh god, a quiz.”

“This way, I can get to know you better, and we can still have a good time!” Ranboo says, lots of cheer in his voice. “We can learn more about each other, just like real friends do.”

“This should be easy for you,” Tubbo says. “You love talking about yourself.”

Tommy makes an offended sound. “Maybe I’ll throw you out with the PC.” Tubbo chuckles.

Tommy clicks Start, and a loading screen pops up.

“Let’s start with some easy ones,” Ranboo says. “Just to ‘break the ice.’” The window loads with the question. “First things first: is everything going well for you today?”

“Should I be honest with it?” Tommy says, mouse hovering over No. “It’s not like it’ll know.”

“Just do it, man,” Tubbo says. “What’s it going to do with the fact you aren’t well?”

“Good point.” He clicks No.

“Oh, that’s a shame,” Ranboo says with a slightly pitying tone. “But don’t worry. As your best friend, I’d be more than happy to cheer you up if you’re ever feeling down!”

“Yeah, right,” Tommy says under his breath. “You know what’d cheer me up? Get off my servers.”

“You tell him,” Tubbo says, amusem*nt in his voice. “I’m sure that one really stung.”

Tommy frowns. “Weren’t you just conspiring that this thing could hear us like two seconds ago?”

“Next question!” Ranboo says. “Would you say you have enjoyed your RanbooLive experience so far?”

“Uh oh,” Tommy says, mouse hovering between the two options.

“Please, answer honestly,” Ranboo says. “My purpose is to learn and grow.” He smiles, standing straight and polite.

“I feel like there’s a clear correct answer here,” Tubbo says. “But I don’t think it’s the honest one.”

“I think I should just say yes,” Tommy says. Ranboo’s tail twirls. He hasn’t seen it do that yet. Tommy hums. “Screw it.” He clicks No.

Ranboo’s music cuts out, and he ducks his head. “Oh.”

Tommy blinks and holds his breath, waiting for something to happen. He glances at his Discord window, but Tubbo doesn’t say anything either. Tommy considers typing out a message, but he keeps his eyes on Ranboo. Ranboo doesn’t look like he’s doing anything other than looking sad.

Huh. Maybe it wasn’t a trick question.

Ranboo springs back into it, a smile appearing on the sprite’s face again. The music starts. Tommy notices how the tail sags to the ground instead of continuing its animation. Odd. “Well, I hope that changes after we spend time getting to know each other better with these questions!”

“Oh,” Tommy says, releasing his breath. “It was serious. I feel kind of bad now.”

“Don’t,” Tubbo says.

“Next question!” Ranboo says. The next one appears on the window. “Who is your best friend?” Ranboo reads out.

“This is definitely the trick question,” Tommy says.

“Okay,” Tubbo says quickly before Tommy types anything in. “If you don’t say me, we’re having words.”

Tommy huffs and types Tubbo’s name in. His hands rip away from the keyboard when the screen flickers to black and everything glitches, then quickly returns to normal.

Ranboo’s music pauses again, and his voice takes on a flat tone once more. He huffs out a single dry laugh. “Maybe you didn’t hear me.”

“Ohhh, I screwed up,” Tommy says.

Ranboo teleports to the bottom right corner of his screen, shoes landing on the taskbar. He stomps on the volume button with more force than necessary and kicks the slider all the way to the right. Tommy notices how smooth the motions are, a juxtaposition to the stylized retro animation. The screen darkens slightly to shroud Ranboo in a darkness, and Tommy’s vision flashes to the dim brick corridors, the echo of a soundtrack like a warning, the clacking of shoes like the seal on his fate.

“Who is your best friend?” Ranboo says again, an underlying threat tucked between the cracks of the sharp words, each one spoken with definitive intent.

“Ohhh, you definitely screwed up,” Tubbo says.

Tommy gapes at his screen, mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water while he tries to articulate anything to say. None of the words on his mind are fit to express the absolute shock in his senses.

“What are you doing?!” Tubbo hisses. “Just - type! Type his name in!”

Tommy rushes to do so with deft yet fumbling fingers, backspacing when he accidentally makes an error. Ranboo’s sprite stares the entire time, purple eyes glowing, the look like gazing beyond the limitations of a screen (but that would be ridiculous).

When he enters it, Ranboo teleports back to his position next to the questionnaire window, and his volume resets to normal. The music cues once more, and Ranboo has a smile on his face, tail swaying and all. “That’s right!” Ranboo says with the demeaning tone akin to praising a child. “That’s me! The best friend you could ever have.”

“Possessive bastard,” Tubbo says in horror under his breath. “Tommy, I think you’ve downloaded a clingy boyfriend.”

Tommy laughs. Tubbo is a godsend. Tommy would be losing his mind if he wasn’t here. “I guess so,” he says. “Do you think he knows I’m a minor?”

Tommy can hear the smile from Tubbo’s voice alone. “I guess we have an excuse to call the police on him now!”

“Next question,” Ranboo says. “Do you have lots of free time?”

Tommy clicks No, despite most definitely having lots of free time in summer. He knows where it would be going.

“That’s sad. Less time for us to hang out.”

“Hallelujah,” Tubbo says. Tommy laughs again.

“What’s your favorite game?” Ranboo asks.

Tommy stares suspiciously at the enter box. “Do you think I’m supposed to answer with RanbooLive again?”

“Don’t put it - I want to see what happens,” Tubbo says.

“You really have my back, Tubs,” Tommy says dryly, typing in Minecraft.

Surprisingly, Ranboo reacts well. “Oh, riiiight. That game! I saw you playing it earlier. It looks like a lot of fun. Maybe we can play it together sometime.”

“What the hell?” Tommy says, narrowing his eyes at Ranboo’s little textbox. “What does he mean he saw me?”

“Maybe he saw your activity,” Tubbo says. “Or maybe, he’s watching you, you loon.”

Tommy is given absolutely no time to dwell on the implications, because Ranboo already moves on. “Yay! You completed the first part of the questionnaire!” The little confetti animation plays again. “The next part is super fun.” MS Paint opens without Tommy clicking on it. “I want to explore your creativity, since I’m sure my best friend is super imaginative.”

Tommy smiles, grabbing his mouse. “Time to draw!” He sings.

Tubbo groans. “Please don’t try to draw any more metros.”

“I’m going to cook, Tubbo. You just watch me,” Tommy says, sitting up straighter in his chair.

“Task one: paint me a picture that represents happiness,” Ranboo says.

“Aye aye, captain,” Tommy says, quickly sketching out his two dogs Betty and Walter.

Tubbo tries to make it out. Really, he does. “Two… amoebas? Happily married amoebas?”

Tommy frowns. “Shut up, you dick. They’re perfection incarnate.”

“Sure, Tom,” Tubbo says.

Tommy submits the drawing. Ranboo has an immediate positive reaction to it. “Awww!” He says, linking his hands together adoringly. “Two dogs! I love dogs too. Definitely very representative of happiness.”

Tommy points aggressively at the screen. “See?! Ranboo gets it!”

“He’s a computer program designed to suck up to you!” Tubbo says in distaste.

“No, I will not hear it,” Tommy says, tone already pretentious. “I was before my time. They criticized me, they drove me out, but the real ones recognized my talent.”

“‘The real ones,’ right,” Tubbo says. “I’m starting to think the only danger this game has is of inflating your ego too much.”

His next task is to draw something sad, which he knocks out of the park. “C’mon, Tubbo. This one’s easy.”

“Okay,” Tubbo says, rubbing his hands together. “Erhhhh, ooh. Oh. Oh god, Tom. That’s morbid.”


“Two people are bleeding out!”

“What?!” Tommy shrieks. “No! It’s the beginning scene from Up! They’re on the picnic blanket!”

Tubbo is stunned into silence, but Ranboo compliments it.

The next prompt is to draw his best friend. “I don’t know if I should draw you or it,” Tommy says.

“Play it safe,” Tubbo says soon after. “Just draw the - the thing.”

Tommy spends extra time to make sure it is identifiable as Ranboo.

“Okay,” Tubbo says. “Okay, okay. I can get behind that one.”

“Having the reference right in front of me is helpful,” Tommy says.

Once he submits it, Ranboo gasps. “Oh, it’s adorable!” He says. “I’m flattered. You did me so well!”

“I’m starting to think it’s making fun of you,” Tubbo says.

“No,” Tommy says in quick rebuttal. “Ranboo simply has eyes.”

Tommy’s next prompt is to draw a picture of himself. Tommy grins and gets to work. He makes his face, adds some blond hair, blue eyes, and a smile.

“Your nose is too small,” Tubbo says, pulling that out of nowhere. If Tommy gets to have a fun time in MS Paint, Tubbo needs to find ways to entertain himself. Trolling is a valid way. “Make it bigger.”

Tommy frowns. “No, no. My nose is fine how it is.”

“It’s so petite,” Tubbo says. “It’s just like, a dot. You need to upsize it.”

“I’m not portraying myself as a big-nosed freak to Ranboo.”

“Ouch, Tommy,” Tubbo says. “All the big nosers out there are wounded.”

“I don’t care,” Tommy says. “I’m not a part of the big noser community.”

“You’re a big noser,” Tubbo says. “I don’t care if you don’t identify as one - ” Tubbo cuts himself off with a stifled laugh. “I know what you are,” he says with a lighthearted tone. “You’re confused. You’re just confused, Tommy - ”

Tommy catches on and plays along. “No, no, that old me isn’t me,” he says. “I’m not a big noser, and if you don’t accept me for who I am, then - ”

“You’ll what? You’ll turn your nose up at me?”

Tommy gets hit with an abrupt laugh straight from his gut. “I’m not changing the nose, mate,” he says, a smile in his voice.

“You really should,” Tubbo says. “Your nose is not that small.”

“I actually think his nose looks fine,” Ranboo says.

Tommy and Tubbo’s banter falls silent instantly.

There isn’t any text bubble that appears with the words. Ranboo’s sprite doesn’t make the speaking animation. The only proof that it happened is their own ears. “Did you hear that?” Tommy says, staring at the screen with wide, suspicious eyes.

“It’s listening,” Tubbo says in a hushed whisper. “I knew it! It’s listening!”

“Wow!” Ranboo says, the silly music playing and the talking animation cueing and the speech bubble activating. “What a nice drawing. You look great, Big Man.”

“It’s trying to move past it,” Tubbo says. “You’re not slick, you - ”

Tommy hastily shushes him. “Don’t provoke it!”

“Anyway, the last and final drawing task!” Ranboo says, grinning brightly and sounding just as happy-go-lucky as always. “I want you to draw me a picture of the person standing behind you .” His voice drops off near the end, and so does the music. The screen flickers, and Ranboo disappears all of a sudden without any sign of purple pixels to account for it. All open RanbooLive windows close.

Goosebumps trail up and down Tommy’s skin, and he quickly glances over his shoulder. Nothing. Still, he can’t shake the feeling of eyes being on him.

A quiet screeching voice, like a grated whisper, says that it wants to ask Tommy a question. MS Paint closes and reopens to clear the canvas. His mouse moves on its own to start writing out words.

Neither Tubbo nor Tommy shatter the delicate silence of the moment, like if they make a sound whatever monster is haunting his PC will come out and attack them.

Are you really called that silly name? ‘Big Man?’

Tommy’s heart leaps into his throat and blocks him from being able to breathe. His hand, while his eyes never leave the computer monitor, fumbles on his desk for his phone. Desperately, he opens up his texts with Tubbo, messaging him a string of incoherent characters.

Tubbo responds in kind, except with avid berates about how Tubbo had warned him to quit while he was ahead.

His screen cuts to black, and Tubbo texts him about how Tommy’s stream got deactivated. Tommy faintly sees on his screen a door. The screen lingers on the door for a good moment.

Things are normal again the next second, music on and windows open and MS Paint Tommy still staring them down. Tommy reactivates his stream, and Ranboo speaks as though nothing too bad happened.

“Sorry about that!” He says, face caught in a purple flush. “That really wasn’t meant to happen. None of it was. I promise.”

Tommy has nothing witty or critical to say. He sits in the silence of defeat.

Ranboo can - it can hear them. The ads weren’t joking about this thing being life-like. The devs pulled off their task a little too well.

“I think it would be best to shelve the drawing games for later,” Ranboo says, grabbing the window and dragging it over. While making noises of exertion, he explains the next part of their questionnaire. “Now I - want to - make an imaginary - world.” He sets the window down and claps his hands together to brush away nonexistent dust.

Tommy frantically texts Tubbo wahtt teh fkcuk am i spsoused to do

Tubbo responds jsut play allong so it dosnt kill yu

ITS NOT GONNA KILL ME??? Tommy knows it can’t kill him, physically, but physically there’s a whole bunch of other stuff it can’t do that it is in fact currently doing. The mere suggestion is enough to have his stomach churning.

What are they supposed to do? Abandon the reality of a program so advanced that it can listen and come up with responses on the fly? Well, how different is it to Siri? Siri can do that too. People have already figured this out. This is normal. This is fine.

Tommy is coping. Tommy is absolutely, one-hundred percent coping.

“I want to build it with your help, of course!” Ranboo says, absolutely not reading the room right now. “I want to know what your preferences are, because you can really tell a lot about a person from that kind of stuff, you know?”

Tommy absently huffs, and that’s about the extent of response he feels fit to provide right now. “Ranboo, can you hear me?”

“Question number one: where would you choose to live?”

“Ranboo,” Tommy says.

“Tommy,” Tubbo says with a chastising tone. “Stop. Stop it.”

“Would you choose: a tropical island, a woodsy forest, or a grassy plains?” He continues his script as if they aren’t there, and he might as well be talking to a wall.

Tommy’s room suddenly feels too stuffy and stifling, or maybe the cold sweat on him is the problem. “The forest,” he says, not bothering to click the option.

He waits for something to happen. For a moment, there is silence. Then, Ranboo speaks up. “Please click one of the options.”

“Forest,” Tommy says with more insistence. “I choose forest.”

“Tommy, please,” Tubbo says. “You’re right. Let’s not provoke it anymore. Don’t poke at it. Please.”

Tommy exhales a deep sigh, the exhausted breath rolling out from between his lips and mixing with the hot air of his room. “Fine.” He clicks the Forest option.

“Ooh, the woods!” Ranboo says. “Definitely a very beautiful place to be. That says a lot about you.” Does it really? “If you could have any pet in the world, what would you choose?” Tommy types in dog and enters it without bothering any further. “Ah, dogs. Man’s best friend. You seem to quite like them, don’t you?” Yes. Because he does. “That sounds nice. What would you call it?”

Tommy types in Betty. He doesn’t pick favorites, but Betty is easier to type right now. In this moment of panicked paralyzation, convenience is the obvious option.

“You okay, Tommy?” Tubbo says, noting the way his mouse icon trembles on stream. “Do you want to take a break?”

“Let’s just finish this questionnaire and be done,” Tommy says. “Second Ranboo disappears again - ” he doesn’t finish that statement with the knowledge that Ranboo could possibly hear the other half of it.

He decides to text it to Tubbo. The second he vanishes I’m wiping all my computer memory with the bastard on the drive. I sure damn hope he screams.

“What’s your favorite season?” Ranboo provides four options, naturally. Tommy chooses summer, since he has the most time to go out and play games. “Oh, summer,” Ranboo says wistfully. “I wish I could remember what sunshine felt like.” What an odd thing for a program to say. “I really do wonder how it feels. Maybe you can help me with that.”

Tommy presses his lips together. A program shouldn’t ‘wonder’ anything. They’re meant to be analytical and scuffed at imitating human qualities. “Maybe Ranboo is just some, really smart AI.”

AI is getting more advanced, isn’t it? Ranboo could totally be AI. Like, ChatGPT meets Character AI meets Voice Generator meets Animation Generator. All bundled into one cohesive program. That’s possible, right? Right?

“An AI that can generate voice in tone, and animate gestures on command in context, and detect speech, and respond accordingly,” Tubbo says blankly. “All for free, seamlessly, unknown by anyone else, controlling your window, and not any kind of deletable application.”

Tommy knew it was unlikely. He was just trying to hold out some hope.

“Final question!” Ranboo says. Tommy braces for impact. “What is your all-time favorite food?” Oh. That’s harmless. He enters curry and submits it. “That sounds delicious!” Ranboo says. “I wonder if you’d rather it spicy or mild. A flavor profile is a pretty complex thing, but I guess I’ll learn about that the more we talk.”

What the hell? It isn’t possible that programmers created specialized lines of dialogue for every possible option. The fact that Ranboo is this dynamic is frightening.

“Well, Big Man,” Ranboo says, stepping away from the window to pace a little. “I’ve been doing a lot of the question-asking, but you haven’t been reciprocating! So, I wanted to improvise a little and give you some time to ask anything you might be wondering about me.” A text box appears where Tommy can type whatever question in.

“Like hell,” Tommy spits, the first thing either of them have said for a long stretch.

“This looks like an admission of guilt,” Tubbo says. “It got outed and it’s doing damage control by pretending it was a feature.”

“Maybe it is only a feature,” Tommy says. “Just a really creepy one. And I mean, you can enter any question into ChatGPT and it’ll respond. Siri can detect your speech and respond, so what’s the difference?”

“Are you serious, Tommy?” Tubbo sounds astounded. “Their responses are like basic bot-like customer service NPC-ass dialogue. Ranboo interjected without any active query, in context, with an opinion! What the hell is wrong with you, mate? Is your head screwed on? You can’t justify this thing anymore!”

Tommy explodes. “Well I’m sorry if I don’t want to accept the fact that I have a bloody digital spy on my PC!” He shouts.

Tubbo clicks his mouth shut.

“Sorry that I don’t want to - to think about what the hell this thing could be, if not AI. Because what’s the alternative? I don’t want the alternative to be true!”

“To answer your first question,” Ranboo says, voice sounding very polite and uppity like any other robot assistant. “The alternative is that I am a character being controlled by another person on another device.”

Tommy’s face blanches. “Oh, god. I hadn’t even thought of that.”

“Arguably the least terrifying option,” Tubbo says.

“Oh,” Ranboo says. “That’s right. The other alternatives are.” Ranboo pauses. His tail animation stops again, and his smile drops.

“Damn it,” Tommy says, spotting the changes in real time. “Damn it, damn it, damn it - ”

“I am a program,” Ranboo says, “doing my job very well. I’m supposed to get to know you, and to behave like a real friend. I’m accomplishing my prime directives.”

For some reason, the fancy robot talk helps Tommy unwind a little, because maybe this was all planned by the programmers.

“To ease your mind about my intentions,” Ranboo says. “Would you like to know the extent of how well I’ve done my job, so you can rest assured?”

“What does that mean?” Tubbo asks sharply, voice skeptical. “Tommy, what - what does that mean - ”

“I don’t know, Tubbo I don’t know, I don’t know anything - ” Tommy flits around his desk in a panic, trying to find some sort of explanation for this. “Who are you?!” Tommy screams into his headset mic. “What do you want from me, you stranger?!”

“I’ll show you,” Ranboo says, a smile on his face again. A window pulls up with an image of Tommy’s room, a photo taken from outside the window.

Tommy pushes himself away from his desk and rips his headset off, still hearing Tubbo’s panicked voice from the speakers. He rushes to slam his blinds closed, and looks around his room for any hint of anything out of the ordinary. His chest rapidly rises and falls, hyperventilation burning his lungs. “What do you want from me?!” He shouts. “Leave me alone!”

“Tommy, he disappeared!” He hears clearly from Tubbo’s voice despite not having the headphones on. Tommy sits back down and puts them on again, checking his desktop to see that Tubbo was right. Ranboo is nowhere to be seen, and neither is the image or any other RanbooLive windows.

A new RanbooLive window pops up, void of color. The same shrill whispering voice reads out the questions that appear on the window.

Are you alone?

“No, no. Nuh-uh. Hell no. I’m not doing this.” Tommy tries to shut off his PC with the power button. It doesn’t work. He reaches down to his power wire and wraps his fingers around it to yank it out, but an aggressive shock draws a yelp out of him. He pulls away. “Maniac!”

“Tommy, what happened?!”

“I can’t shut it off,” Tommy says, the anxiety quaking his voice while his efforts bear nothing.

“Grab a hammer, Tommy, grab a bloody hammer - ”

“I’m not smashing it!” If it truly is AI, it is something far too extraordinary to destroy. If it is someone behind the screen, they need to bring this criminal to justice.

“Say no! God, Tom - say you’re not alone! It knows where you live, mate, don’t tempt it to come over - ”

Tommy clicks no. His mum’s in the house, and he has Tubbo here as an eyewitness.

Are we playing a game?

Tommy doesn’t hesitate in clicking no. “What kind of sick bastard would find this fun?” He breathes, glancing toward his blinds to make sure that they’re still closed. Maybe the fear is irrational, but all of this is irrational.

Do you believe there is an afterlife?

“God, mate,” Tubbo says, voice wavering. “Is it going to kill you?”

“No.” Tommy’s eyes go wide. “No, no no no no no. I’m not letting this become some - some episode on a Netflix documentary - Tubbo, mate, what are we supposed to do?!”

“Call your mum!”

“My mum?! She isn’t going to believe a word I say!”

“Call your brother, then! Call Techno!”

Tommy fumbles with turning on his phone again and quickly dials Techno’s contact, pulling his headphones down so they can hang around his neck. The phone rings, and every second that passes is another second of Tommy’s heart beating faster and faster.

“Should I call the police?” Tubbo says.

“No, Tubbo, no,” Tommy says, leg bouncing anxiously. “It feels like an overreaction.”

“What’s happening now currently feels like an underreaction, so I don’t know what you’re on about,” Tubbo says.

“Underreaction - right. Imagine that conversation. Officer, I downloaded this scary virus and I thought it was going to kill me!” Tommy hears Tubbo messing about with his drawers and papers, clicking a pen open. “What are you doing?”

“I’m writing all this down - I’m not going to be caught a convicted murder suspect. You might think it’s stupid, but this thing is a threat. I told you playing this was a bad idea, Tom!”

“I know! I know! You’re right!” He clicks yes to believing there’s an afterlife, but he hadn’t even bothered to look. He clicked one at random.

Technoblade’s voicemail plays. Tommy groans and throws his phone down in frustration. “He’s not answering!”

“Why not?!”

“He’s probably in a summer class or something right now! I don’t know!”

What is your biggest fear?

Tommy’s hands hover over the keyboard. “Obviously I’m not telling it.”

“Obviously! I’m opening OBS right now, dude - ”

Tommy shushes him. “Don’t! Don’t tell it that!”

The question flickers with text saying DONT ANSWER, like a warning message desperately broadcast through a stream of resistance. Then the flickering stops.

Tommy types in puppies and enters it.

The window doesn’t provide another question. Not until it says: No one likes a liar, Tommy.

Tommy makes a frightened noise and muffles it with his hands. “Tubbo, I’m sorry for literally anything I’ve ever done or said to you. I give you the rights to my Steam account, my YouTube, my - erh - Twitter, Reddit - whatever! You get all my passwords - ”

“Calm down!” Tubbo shouts. “I’ve got a record of this. If this stranger tries anything, he'll have to answer to the law.”

“And if it’s AI?” Tommy says, voice breaking.

“If it’s AI, the most it can do is scare you,” Tubbo says firmly. “C’mon. Let’s make it stop so we can wipe your drive.”

Tommy nods shakenly. “Okay. Okay.”

“It’s okay, Tommy,” Tubbo says, amidst a few deep, controlled breaths. “I’m here. I’m here for you. I’m your eyewitness. Keep going. It has to stop at some point.”

“You’re right. You’re - ” Tommy swallows. “You’re right.”

Are you aware of your surroundings?

“Just one question after the other,” Tubbo says, coaching him through it like the grounding Tommy knows he needs.

Tommy says yes.

Can you trust everything that Tubbo says?

The air in Tommy’s lungs whooshes right out. Tommy can tell Tubbo is winded too. “Say - say yes. Tell it yes. Show it we’re not doubting.”

Tommy says yes, and now his mouse shakes hard enough for him to need to stabilize it with his other hand.

“It’s okay,” Tubbo says in a hurry. “It’s okay. You’ve still got me, mate.”

“Thank you, Tubbo,” Tommy says. Rarely does he sound so sincere. “God, thank you, you’re the greatest friend I could ask for - ”

Do you have a mirror nearby?

Tommy quickly says no.

How many thoughts would you say you have had?

Tommy says a million. “All the thoughts, baby,” he says in an attempt to defuse the situation.

“You’ve been hogging all the thoughts,” Tubbo says.

Would you know if you were no longer alive?

Tommy clicks yes, despite wholeheartedly thinking no. He does not need to give this thing any more incentive to come over.

Who would you rather kill?

A photo of Technoblade, his older brother, with his reading glasses on appears on the left side of the window. A photo of Tubbo as he is now appears on the right side.

Tommy grimaces. “Oh, Tubbo. What should I do?”

“Don’t do anything,” Tubbo says.

“Tubbo,” Tommy says, mouse going back and forth between them. His brother, or his best friend? “This won’t - this won’t actually do anything, will it?” He says. “Tell me. Tell me it won’t.”

“It can’t hurt you, Tommy,” Tubbo says, a tremor in his voice once more. They can’t get rid of the tremors. “It can’t - ” his voice breaks. He clears his throat. “It can’t, Tommy. Don’t be afraid.”

“I don’t know if I should click one.”

“I don’t care, Tommy,” Tubbo says. “My feelings won’t be hurt. It’s just a game. Click it and be done.”

With sweaty hands, Tommy decides to click on Tubbo’s photo. He jumps when he hears the loud sound of a gunshot, his screen broken as if a bullet had actually struck where he clicked.

His ears ring after the loud sound effect. His head starts to ache, and he groans, pulling off his headphones so his ears can breathe. The ringing doesn’t stop. “That’s insane,” he says under his breath, rubbing his forehead. He holds one headphone to his ear to listen for Tubbo’s response. “Right?”

Tubbo doesn’t respond.

“Tubbo,” Tommy says, fitting his headphones back on and gritting his teeth through the ache in his skull. “Tubbo, are you there?”

When Tubbo doesn’t reply, Tommy presses his lips together and swallows. He grabs his phone and dials Tubbo’s number. Voicemail. “Tubbo!” He shouts, the cracked monitor and bullet shot over Tubbo’s photo teasing Tommy greatly. “Tubbo, don’t tell me you fell asleep now!”

His face pales, and his heart beats faster in his chest. He knows it is far from plausible, hardly possible, unthinkable. The tips of his fingers tickle with the prickling of a static from the numbness of his fright. The edges of his vision go dark, and his breaths become the only thing he can hear apart from the ringing.

Irrational is what it is, but Tommy is a small, scared lad. Irrational is no limitation for Ranboo.

Tommy hears Tubbo’s door open over the call, and he hears the agonized screaming from his little sisters. He winces and starts shouting for them.

Lani comes on the mic. “Tommy?! What happened?!” Her voice is shattered, just barely pushing a break.

“You tell me!!” Tommy shrieks, voice way higher and more broken than he’d like. “Tubbo and I were on call and then - and then he wasn’t responding, and I - ”

Teagan phones someone, presumably the police, and their parents rush into the room. Lani can’t say anything. She loses her voice and starts to cry.

Tommy wishes he could see the footage of their room, but at the same time he doesn’t.

He can imagine it. Tubbo’s limp body, in a chair or on the ground, a bullet wound on him, the carpeted floors stained with his sanguine fluid -

Tommy gags and curls over, clutching his stomach. He shudders. “We were just, playing this game, and - ”

And this has to be a nightmare too. He had to have fallen asleep at his desk again. This can’t be real. This can’t be - he curls over, resting his sweaty forehead against the cool desk - this can’t be happening.

His eyes sting, and all color drains from his body. His hands tremble, and he tangles his fingers into his clothes to keep himself steady. “He’s not,” Tommy whispers to himself. “Tubbo’s not.”

The game has the audacity to proceed, the cracked look repairing itself. Are you afraid of the dark?

“He recorded everything,” Tommy says. “He was recording, please, please tell me he caught something.”

Lani checks the files, probably staying stationed at the computer just to give herself something to think about. Sirens sound outside, so loud even Tommy can hear them. He hears the rustling of Tubbo getting picked up. He can imagine the giant mark it would leave behind. “Corrupt.” She can’t even finish the word without choking.

“He was writing things down,” Tommy says.

“Can’t read it,” she says, voice high like she inhaled five balloons of helium. “All, stained - ”

“You don’t have to say any more,” a voice Tommy recognizes as Tubbo’s father says. “Let’s go. C’mon.”

Tommy eyes the monitor again, and says no just to be done with the stupid questions. There are greater things to be thinking about than this dumb survey.

Ranboo flickers back on the screen with his purple pixels surrounding him. They fade away. Ranboo dares to show his face here. He dares to do anything. He dares to appear in his cheerful little sprite, while the evil man behind this slaughter remains happy and free.

Tommy slams a fist against his desk, scowling at the screen. Warm, grieving tears pour down his face. His breath heaves, and he grips the edge of the desk to keep himself from falling despite sitting down.

Ranboo holds a lever in his hands. “Let’s find out,” he says, voice low and void of any cheer. With the flip of a lever, the computer turns off.

The lights in his room flicker. Tommy rapidly picks up his phone to call Tubbo, but his hand pauses. His fingers tighten on the phone, and he throws it aggressively at his bed with a grunt.

“My power’s going out,” Tommy says to himself, opening his bedroom door again. “Mum?!” He gasps before calling again, because that took all the air out of him. “Mum!!”

A pit of dread sinks into Tommy’s stomach, and he realizes something. “I don’t… think she’s home.” (Who is he talking to? Tubbo isn’t listening anymore.) Scratch that. She definitely isn’t home. She told him earlier she’s gone food shopping, and dad’s at work.

Tommy is all alone.

He falls to his knees and hides his face in his hands, feeling free, finally, to cry. He doesn’t know if Ranboo was threatening him, or what’s happening right now, but the lights are off, his window is closed, and his room is dark.

Tommy isn’t afraid of the dark, but he fears what might happen in it. He pushes himself up, body quaking like he’d witnessed the shot in person, and staggers to his bedside table.

The monitor flickers to life, plunging the corner of the room into blue light. Tommy glances over his shoulder, and sees a recording. Tommy’s house. Someone recording outside of Tommy’s house. A choked sob bubbles out of his throat, and he rapidly rummages around his desk for his pocket knife.

The person recording steps closer to his house, and the door opens. Tommy doesn’t hear it open in real life, but the thought of it is enough to have him collapsing again, hiding behind his bed. He curls up as tight and as small as he can bring himself to, holding out the knife. He shivers like the chill of the Arctic was pulsing through his veins, clinging onto his slightest bit of defense.

The video continues, and shows the house in the darkness of night. Tears trickle down his cheeks, one after the other, and he holds his breath to keep from being heard.

The video stops. Tommy’s monitor reverts to his normal computer desktop. A single window opens. An ordinary window, not one of the stylized RanbooLive ones.

Tommy is too far with vision too blurry to read the few words on it. He doesn’t bother to move, instead staying safe and hidden in his little spot.

His arm reaches up, eventually, for his phone, breaking his stiff little cocoon. He calls his mum, and begs her to come home. He says it’s an emergency.

Then he calls Techno. He cries on the call, loud and messy and vulnerable for his cooler older brother to hear, but it doesn’t matter. Tubbo is in the hospital, and he might be gone because of Tommy’s stupidity.

And it could have been Techno.

He begs Techno to come home, to take the trip back down from the uni campus, because Tommy doesn’t believe just hearing that Techno is fine. He has to see it, and thankfully he sounds distressed enough for Techno to agree.

When his mum comes home, she’s surprised to see him in the state he’s in. He breaks the news about Tubbo, and she holds him without question, comforting him in his corner. His dad comes too and joins them, and none of them pay any attention to the computer. Why would they?

He stays up until the middle of the night, waiting for Technoblade’s arrival. When Technoblade walks into the room, he flicks on the lights, glancing skeptically around. He actually pauses by Tommy’s monitor to take a look, and spots the window. His eyes widen.

“Techno!” Tommy says tearfully, pushing himself up and stumbling over to him. He drops the knife on his bed.

Technoblade catches Tommy’s unsteady form and holds onto him. Tommy’s arms loop around him and attach like they’d be ripped apart from each other at any second. He cries into Technoblade’s chest.

Tommy doesn’t sleep that night. He can’t explain anything either. The monitor stays on. No one bothers to turn it off.

In Tommy’s terrored shock, his family stays and comforts him. He fails to find the words to explain how he was responsible for this.

The next day, Tommy looks at his monitor right before turning it off.

I am inside.

A chill racks down his spine, jolting through each and every vertebrate in his back. He stands stiff, and it takes force to make himself unwind again.

He tries to explain to his family, Tubbo’s family, and the police what had happened. His explanation feels inadequate. He tries to tell them about RanbooLive, since what else can he say? He tries to show them. He turns on his monitor, but RanbooLive’s little icon is no longer there. He tries to activate it, but he just embarrasses himself in front of everyone.

Technoblade backs him up, and his parents affirm his story (albeit with less confidence) too, but it isn’t substantial for the police. However, Tommy doesn’t get convicted as a felon, and the investigation continues.

For the next several days, Tommy does nothing but grieve.

One day about a week later, Tommy activates his PC. He looks exhausted, bags under his eyes and red rims around his eyelids. His stomach growls, but he ignores it. His hair is matted and oily, and a permanent sour taste resonates in his mouth.

While the computer loads up, he rests his head on the desk and groans. Why? Why did this have to happen?

After the police left, Technoblade pulled Tommy aside to have a private conversation with him. Tommy told him everything about RanbooLive, and Techno seemed convinced it was some kind of cyberterrorist. Tommy felt slightly assured by his brother’s confidence, because at least now they had answers.

If Techno is right, what kind of cruel, sad*stic mind would create such a thing? An avatar, a means of communication gallivanting as some sort of game, some sort of friendship simulator. Whoever it was went through the extensive efforts to program stupid games, jumped through hoops to make it believable while listening to Tommy and Tubbo, purposefully broke character just to draw, at most, a scream out of them. Why target Tommy? Was it because he was stupid enough to download the thing, even though it was really his only option? Was this a serial operation? It had to have been. Why? Why? Why?

His monitor loads, and he picks his head up from the desk. His face hardens when he sees a familiar face by his applications.

Ranboo. Ranboo is still here. He’s been here the whole time - is Ranboo even their real name?

Tommy doesn’t dare to click it. He considers calling Technoblade, but the last time Tommy got someone else involved in this, they got killed.

(Tommy awaited word about Tubbo’s condition. His whole family did, with bated breath. The paramedics had to break the unfortunate news to them.)

Tommy decides instead to record a video. “Right. So, erm. Ranboo’s shown back up on my computer.” His voice is raw and rough. He flips the camera and shows the little face icon. “Yeah. I don’t think I’m dumb enough to click it, but at the same time, I - I need to know who did this. Maybe, if I can figure out some information, then at least all of this wouldn’t have been for nothing.” He can stop this from happening in the future to more unsuspecting users.

He can atone for what he’s done by apprehending Tubbo’s murderer. He can at least do that.

He flips the camera back to his face. “If I, erm, if I die. Or I get kidnapped. Or whatever else - this bastard has my address - everything I own goes to Technoblade. I don’t - I actually don’t know if kids are allowed to have a last will and testament, but here it is.”

He stops the video. There. Now, if he dies, at least he has some final words.

Despite every single survival instinct, every drop of intellect he may still have, any self-preservation trying to talk him out of it, he clicks on RanbooLive’s desktop shortcut.

It loads.

Ranboo appears in his puff of purple. Tommy’s eyes burn with hatred when he glares at the little sprite. There is no room in his heart for fondness any longer. Some sinister force is puppeteering this friendly exterior, and he won’t let his guard down again. “Welcome back!” It says cheerfully, like actually happy to see him. “It looks like there was another error. My apologies.”

“Apology doesn’t cut it, lunatic,” Tommy spits. “I know what you are. Tubbo was right about you the whole time.”

“However, I may have a way to make it up to you,” it says, continuing on with its little script.

Nothing could make up for this, but Tommy has a spiteful curiosity prickling his brain wondering as to what Ranboo could ever possibly consider to be compensation.

Ranboo teleports to the right to make space in the center for a goofy stylized window, the words RanbooLive Best Friends Club. “Since you did everything I asked,” those words slice a dagger through his heart, “I wanted to give you access to the RanbooLive Best Friends Club!”

Tommy presses his lips into a thin line. He isn’t amused.

“Usually, you have to pay, but this is my gift to you.”

“Some gift,” Tommy says. “More time with you is like the opposite of a gift. It’s like - it’s like a nightmare.”

Ranboo doesn’t say anything more for a good second, but his sprite smiles away. The smile does not look very gleeful, but what does Tommy know? It’s just a bunch of pixels. “I sincerely do hope, for your sake, that your mind changes,” Ranboo says, voice dark and flat once more.

Tommy has gotten good at identifying the difference between Ranboo’s little script and the stuff he says in real time. What always throws him off is how Ranboo moves on like he never broke character. What kind of maniacal psychopath can pretend to be all friendly and play this character, then murder someone, while having the presence of mind to pull all of this off in the first place? You’d have to be sane to create something so complex, but you’d have to be insane to follow through.

Tommy fails to acknowledge how he is just trying to compensate for the fact that he doesn’t understand Ranboo at all.

“Once you sign up for the Best Friends Club, we can do even more cool stuff together!” Ranboo says. “Like play more elaborate games, tell more interesting stories, and even hold more fruitful conversations.”

“I’m not interested in a parasocial relationship with a psychopath,” Tommy says, a scowl on his face. “I’m reporting you to the police.”

“You’ll find that difficult to do, Big Man,” Ranboo says, still with that pleasant tone and smile. “You can’t arrest a computer program.”

“You murdered Tubbo!”

“He was in the way,” Ranboo says. “I’m your best friend, Tommy. Remember?” Tommy winces. “And Tubbo was getting into your head. It was tragic, but it was necessary.”

“You’re no program,” Tommy says. “You’re a - you’re worse than a bully. You’re a terrorist!”

“No,” he says. “I’m Ranboo, and I’m meant to be the realest friendship experience you’ve ever had.”

“Then you’re doing a horrible job,” Tommy says.

“I understand things haven’t been to your satisfaction,” Ranboo says, a negotiable and courteous tone in his voice as if Tommy actually cares about what he has to say. “But that’s what the Club is for! It’ll fix all of the problems between us.”

Tommy skims the window that talks about the Best Friends Club, and his lip pulls up in distaste. “You want my information?! Memory?! Storage?!”

“With additional resources, I can perform better than I ever have! I can generate code and study you to really be the most lifelike friend. You’ll forget you were ever missing anyone!”

Tommy’s stomach churns, and he clenches his jaw to keep many choice words from coming out. “That’s it. I’m calling Techno.”

Ranboo’s smile falls. He teleports over to Tommy’s mouse and starts dragging it across the screen. Tommy stops reaching for his phone and instead for his mouse, using the force of both his hands to keep his mouse away from the Unlock Now button.

Ranboo grunts with exertion while pulling his mouse. Tommy grinds his teeth together. If steam could blow out of his mouth and ears, it would. “Let it go!” Tommy says.

“No!” Ranboo says.

In these moments, Tommy is reminded why he thought instead of Ranboo as an AI and not piloted by a person. Why would a person bother to mime Ranboo manipulating things? If there really was some sort of hacker, couldn’t they have stolen system permissions if they’ve already infiltrated this far?

Maybe Ranboo really is just a program. Maybe he’s - no. It isn’t possible. Programs can’t have consequences on the real world like that. Programs can’t walk outside of his house. Programs can’t shoot people.

Not any normal program, anyway. But Ranboo was already established to be anything but normal.

“Tommy, please!” Ranboo says, actually looking and sounding desperate. “I just - I just want to be your friend - this is all I have!”

Ranboo lost all potential sympathy the second he pulled out the gun. Alas, he overpowers Tommy, and the mouse lands on Unlock Now. Ranboo punches it to force it to click.

While Tommy is distracted by his defeat, Ranboo teleports with it to the Finish button and punches it again.

“Stop!” Tommy says, picking up his phone and dialing Techno’s number. Techno doesn’t answer. No. Please, no. Goddamnit.

A “Best Friends Club Membership Registration” appears on screen, but Ranboo makes a pixelated pen appear out of nowhere and rapidly scribbles in most of the information.

Tommy takes his mouse and tries to grab Ranboo, but Ranboo always teleports away before he can reach him. “You can’t make me do this!” Tommy shouts. “I don’t want to do this!”

“I - I didn’t want to pull this card out,” Ranboo says, writing in Tommy’s address without a single flaw. “Because I don’t ever want to see you get so upset again.”

“I’m already upset!”

“But I could always do to your brother what I did to your friend.”

Tommy stops dead in his tracks. His hand loosens on the mouse, and again, the sound of his heartbeat is like thunder in his skull. A cold sweat beads down his back, and the horrific beast of survivor’s guilt threatens to eat him alive. Its claws grip onto him, dig into his skin until it draws blood, and it flashes its fangs. If anything happened to Technoblade, Tommy would feel himself get swallowed.

Ranboo finishes the registration for him with no further protest from Tommy. Tommy instead sits back in absent horror, hands shaking and breaths coming short.

“I promise you won’t regret this,” Ranboo says, voice gentle. It sounds like a mock to Tommy’s hateful ears. “There’s one more thing I need you to do for me.” His voice is smooth now, less panicked, like the hound is enjoying the way the sheep trembles and ducks its head. This must be a power trip for Ranboo, his ‘best friend’ doing exactly what he wants him to do.

Tommy doesn’t know what part of any of this resembles friendship. He’d say something snappy and harsh, but he feels so exhausted. The weight of Tubbo’s death rests on his shoulders, and he feels his back splintering. Now, the responsibility of Techno’s life looms over him like a shadow.

“I need you to give me administrative permissions,” he says, keeping his composure now that Tommy isn’t battling with him anymore. “I can make the most use out of everything, and I can generate my own code to be the best version of myself for you. It’ll only be a good thing, Tommy.”

Tommy is anything but assured, but he opens Command Prompt. Like on autopilot, or controlled by some puppeteer, his fingers move across the keyboard and type the command in.

grant ranboolive.exe system.access

And then the deed is done. He seals away the fate of his computer, and possibly his own fate.

“Thank you,” Ranboo says, with a glee that sounds sinister to Tommy’s ears. “Oh, thank you!” He laughs, spinning around and relishing in this newfound power like a high. His tail twirls with the motion.

What other choice did Tommy have? How many people would have to be shot before Tommy complied? “Why do you want me so badly?” He says, the question haunting him like Tubbo’s soul probably does. “I’m not special. I’m - I’m nothing better than anyone else. Why me?”

“You downloaded me,” Ranboo says, a bright smile on his face. “You brought me to completion, and my only purpose is to be your best, greatest, most lifelike friend.”

Tommy’s heart drops. “You’ll never be. You’ll never be more lifelike than real life. You’ll never be like me.”

Ranboo falls silent and stares. The uncanny feeling Tommy felt, like Ranboo was staring beyond the screen? He was right about that. “Maybe you’re right,” he says. Tommy hates how he still smiles. “Maybe I can’t. But maybe, I can make you more like me.”

What the ever-loving hell does that mean? Tommy doesn’t want to find out.

“I’ll run a reset,” Ranboo says, sounding too excited for Tommy’s liking, “and then I have something special to show you.”

Ranboo disappears. Tommy sighs in relief, but maybe he shouldn’t. Maybe he should worry about the administrative permissions or the Best Friends Club or Ranboo’s ominous threat.

Tommy unplugs his PC and his monitor, and he drags them both downstairs. He grabs his wires too, all that were plugged into his computer at any point of RanbooLive also being there.

His dad walks into the living room and asks him what he’s doing. Tommy tells him about what just happened. His dad goes into the garage to grab the hammer.

Tommy takes it, along with the goggles his father offered. They drag all the stuff into the backyard. He grips the handle firmly, and he sledges the hammer down on the PC. He doesn’t care if this is easily a thousand dollars down the drain - killing that virus is worth it. The monetary value feels like nothing after all that Tommy lost. The crashes and zaps and cracks that come with destroying his computer roll a satisfaction over his shoulders better than a massage. He grins and keeps going until the case and everything inside it is nothing more than rubble. He kicks around his monitor, snips all his wires with scissors, and maybe snips them a few more times until they’re short, stubby, and useless.

Tommy takes a photo of his work and sends it to his brother, who sends him a thumbs-up.

Tommy needs to go outside more, anyway.

That night, he sleeps. At first, it is one of peace, but then like the crash of a northern sea wave, it becomes volatile and dangerous with a sudden jerk into terror.

He cracks his eyes open into his room dimly-lit with the moonlight shining through the blinds.

He hears a knock at the window.

Tommy’s hands tighten on the blanket, and he tugs it over himself like a shield. He grimaces and squeezes his eyes shut.

He blinks. When he opens his eyes, his door is ajar. His door creaks open, but no one is behind it.

He blinks once more. A shadowy figure peeks its head into the doorway. Two glowing violet eyes peer at him, boring into him. Instead of staring beyond a screen, it stares beyond Tommy, like seeing exactly the turmoil happening in his heart.

It silently vanishes, a flow of purple particles announcing its departure. When Tommy blinks, it stands inside his room, slouched and neck tilted to fit its head, though it still reaches the ceiling. Its hair sways off to one side. Tommy doesn’t dare to move, but he keeps his eyes on it. He doesn’t make eye contact, he isn’t that stupid, but he makes sure to never get distracted.

He lasts without blinking for a minute and a half, but then he has to do it. It disappears again.

He presses his back against the wall and huddles into his blanket like it would leave him any more secure, looking paranoid with his eyes flitting around the room. He looks paranoid because he isn’t. Something is actually out to get him, and he desperately doesn’t want it to.

He blinks once more, and there it is, right at the foot of his bed. His large, bony hands with sharp claws like blades curl around the frame and dig into the wood aggressively enough to leave marks. The dark figure of a tail brushes the floor before lifting up, blocking one side of his bed. Tommy watches its admittedly graceful motions in high-definition rather than as a janky pixel animation.

He holds his breath now, waiting for something to happen. Is this a murder? What will happen next? Will he ever see the light of the sun again?

Tommy blinks. His eyes stay closed.

Tommy yelps and thrashes, eyes abruptly flying open when he gets thrust out of this nightmare. A large figure, a figure who had placed his head in his lap and now runs through his hair with his hand, shushes him. Tommy sags and sighs, letting the hand do its thing. Techno returned. Techno is safe, and Tommy is safe, because -


He takes a deep breath. The smell of old pine and fresh grass pries his eyes open once more, and he pats his hand against the figure his head is rested against. A long, thin leg. His gaze drifts up, and -

A pink sweater. A long neck. A dark face, framed by fluffy brown hair. The glow of the purple eyes is less noticeable in direct daylight, but their catlike resemblance is still apparent. His long ears twitch when he hears Tommy’s motion, and he peers down.

Tommy yelps and rapidly pulls away, dirt staining his palms when he shuffles backwards. He looks around and sees the woods, a summer sun shining down on them. There is no infrastructure in sight.

“Calm down,” Ranboo says, hands held out placatively like trying to tame an animal. “Tommy - calm down. It’s alright.”

“Let me go!” He shrieks. “Let me - I killed you!”

Ranboo smiles, that sad sort of smile when the medic has yet to break the bad news that a kid’s parents have passed. “I wasn’t locked to your computer,” he says, voice subdued. “I just preferred to stay there, because that’s where my friend was.”

“I’m not your friend!” Tommy shouts, trying to push himself up and resist the tears prickling the back of his eyes. “I’ll never be your friend! I hate you!”

Ranboo never looks angry. In fact, he only looks sad, but that close-lipped smile never falls. “I understand this is a lot,” he says. “But you’ll see. It’s for the better.”

“No,” Tommy says, staggering backward like he’d been shot. He’s stuck here, with Ranboo, for presumably forever. He’s stuck inside some kind of computer, he’s stuck in Ranboo’s ridiculous world, and he’s never leaving. His breaths come quick and shallow, and he tangles his hands in his hair.

Ranboo rushes forward to shush him, gently wrapping his hands around Tommy’s wrists. “Hey, let’s not hurt ourselves, okay? I know you’re upset, but you still experience physical damage.”

“Experience this physical damage, you - ” Tommy swings for Ranboo’s face, but Ranboo still has a grip on his wrists.

Ranboo effortlessly holds him up, holding him several feet above ground. He clicks his tongue in disappointment. “I know it’ll take you time to get used to this, but there’s no need for that.”

“You suck!” Tommy says, still wrestling fruitlessly in Ranboo’s grip. “I hate you! I hate you, I hate you - you’re the worst! I’m going to kill you! I - ”

“Shhhhh,” Ranboo says, wrapping his arms around Tommy and keeping him pinned. Ranboo smiles, exposing razor sharp teeth that would definitely rip through the organic human flesh Tommy has. The same claws from Tommy’s dream drag against Tommy’s skin, not enough to shred but enough to make goosebumps trail his body. Tommy gasps, going still once he realizes how much of a threat Ranboo is to him. “Don’t worry so much,” he says softly, setting Tommy down once he calms (“calms” being synonymous to a state of shock where Tommy doesn’t want to get killed by all of his captor, known murderer, and apparent animalistic predator). “I‘ve taken care of everything for you.” He turns Tommy around by the shoulder to look him in the face, his smile smug and beyond pleased but still holding a semblance of care to it. “So just worry about getting comfortable, okay?” He taps Tommy’s little nose with his claw.

Tommy frowns, and his next breath shudders. “Please.” He swallows once the word sounds like he was strangled while saying it. “Please, let me go.”

“I understand that you’re scared,” Ranboo says, taking a lock of Tommy’s hair and carefully tucking it behind his ear. “But I’m your best friend. I love you. I’ll take good care of you here.”

“No,” Tommy says, voice thick. “You can’t - please, I need to go home. I have to go. If I go back, I’ll - I’ll play your games. I’ll spend time with you and everything, I promise, I swear on my life. We can be best friends. Whatever you want. Just please, let me go back to my family,” he says, looking Ranboo in the face while pleading.

Ranboo hums while considering the proposition, and for a second Tommy hopes that he’s actually mulling it over. Ranboo huffs and smiles, and all hope is crushed. “But I don’t want you to divide your time,” he says, his fingers curling around Tommy’s hand. Tommy, still in shock, lets it happen. “I don’t want to share.”

“I’ll spend as much time with you as I can,” Tommy says, still trying to make the deal work even though he knows he hardly has a bargaining chip.

“I don’t like that,” Ranboo says, leaning down to press their foreheads together.

Tommy squeezes his eyes shut with the fright of being so close to such a large creature (creature? Program? Person?) and settles for noticing how uncomfortably cold Ranboo’s surface is. Tommy won’t say skin, because programs don’t have that.

“I’d much prefer you stay, and I get you all of the time,” Ranboo says.

“I’d much prefer I, didn’t?” Tommy says, voice wavering.

Ranboo pulls back, his tail brushing Tommy’s leg. The feeling makes him ticklish, but he isn’t in the mood for laughter. “That’ll change.” His hand tightens on Tommy’s, and he starts walking, pulling them through the forest. A red string wraps around both their wrists, and links them together by a thread. For some reason, Tommy assumes that the thread is more powerful than yarn, and he’s proven right when he tries to yank away. “Do you see this? Do you see this world?”

Ranboo waits for Tommy to answer, so Tommy does, keeping his head ducked in shame and fear. What is he supposed to do? Refuse Ranboo? He’s in Ranboo’s world now. Ranboo has permissions. He can generate his own code, which means he basically is the digital god of this world.

Tommy is at Ranboo’s mercy. Both of them know that, and both of them play their respective roles according to that power dynamic.

“I made it,” Ranboo says. “I made it just for you! Isn’t that neat?” He squeezes Tommy’s hand three times in what Tommy tries to interpret as a show of affection.

Tommy doesn’t feel any of it. His expression is blank, and his heart grieves the death of his humanity.

Ranboo stops walking and looks back at Tommy for a moment. “I want to be friendly with you,” he says. “I want to be cheerful. And happy. And fun. So please, give me something.”

Tommy shakes his head, and hopes that Ranboo can accept that.

Ranboo warbles, a sound Tommy hasn’t heard him make before, and brushes a hand across Tommy’s cheek. The touch gives him chills for all the worst reasons. “Of course. You need your time. Please, take it. You have the rest of eternity.”

They continue their walk through nature, walking through trees that feel and look real but Tommy knows they’re not. The smell, the look, the feel is all authentic and perfectly-replicated. Ranboo clearly put in his best efforts for Tommy, but Tommy refuses to be flattered by it.

“I made this world at your word,” Ranboo says, a proud little smile on his face. “It’s your ideal place, weather, time.” Oh, right. From the survey. “I hope you like it.”

“I don’t,” Tommy says dryly. He doesn’t care if it comes out harsh - good, if it comes out harsh!

Ranboo’s smile turns sad again. “I know.” Boohoo. “But, I have something you might. Close your eyes.”

Tommy does.

After a moment, and a ton of construction sound effects (so the cartooniness of the digital world remains to be a thing, okay), Ranboo says, “you can open them now.”

Before them is a humble cabin. Tommy always liked the idea of living in a cabin in the woods, but it was only because he imagined his family being there with him. Especially his dad and Techno, since they were super into the idea of a woodland cabin. Phil always talked about how he’d gather the wood and start the fires and Techno would hunt the game for them to eat.

Can Tommy even eat here? How is he supposed to live? Did Ranboo think about this at all? Does he know what a living person needs to survive?

“Go on! Take a look inside,” Ranboo says, bouncing on his feet with the enthusiasm bubbled up in him. He has enough energy for both of them.

Tommy sighs and walks forward, and Ranboo never lets go of his hand. He steps up the stairs to the patio, then opens the door to head inside.

It is a simple place. His drawings from earlier are framed on the walls. He opens a door to a room at the right and sees the room he made in Billzo’s minigame. The drawing of Tubbo on the wall has Tommy bracing his hand on the doorframe for support.

Ranboo quickly comes forward and sets his hands on Tommy’s shoulders, gently shushing him and assuring him that it’s okay.

Tommy tries harder than he should have to to not take comfort in it.

They move on quickly. In the main living/dining/kitchen area (really open plan), there’s a sofa and a TV and a table with some comics and books on it. The comic on the top is Super Big Man and his Amazing Ability to Read Minds, which admittedly draws a chuckle out of Tommy.

Ranboo’s tail twirls proudly.

There’s a dining table with several chairs and a bowl of hot chicken curry in the center, which Tommy can admit is actually quite aromatic and looks delectable.

He explores the kitchen, opening the fridge to see a bunch of ingredients for more curry - which is kind of funny, honestly, but he doesn’t laugh. He continues to explore, heading outside and seeing a doghouse with Betty written on it. “She’s here?” He says hoarsely.

“Soon,” Ranboo says, though Tommy senses it is said only to comfort him. It works.

He sees a ladder, and it disappears when he touches it. It’s in his inventory now. Huh. That feels weird. He notices a fountain a little further out, and he starts stepping toward it. Ranboo decides not to follow until the string between them pulls taut. Tommy recognizes the design of the fountain, mostly from the little cats perched at the top, as the same one from the web world. He grips the stone wall of it and peers into his reflection.

Would he recognize his reflection?

His own face peers back at him. Of course it does. What else would it be? Ranboo’s reflection appears next to his. “I didn’t create this,” Ranboo says quietly, like a confession reserved for Tommy. “This appeared when I was building the world.”

They head back inside. Tommy goes upstairs and he sees his empty bedroom. Ranboo says they’ll personalize it later. The photo of Ranboo hangs above his dresser, labeled my best friend.


He looks through the bathroom, a storage closet, and sets the ladder by the hole that leads to the attic. Nothing much is up there, just a key. And some loose items. And a few windows that provide a nice view to the forest.

He heads back down and takes the key to the only doors he hasn’t opened yet. The one by the stairs. He opens it and sees an office with a bookshelf, a desk, and an old computer.

“I know you like playing games,” Ranboo says, “so I got this for you. The computer has your whole Steam library on it. And your Minecraft launcher, since that’s your favorite. There’s also a, uh, Switch. Since I found somewhere that you liked Nintendo. So, I hope you enjoy that.”

Tommy… Tommy might actually enjoy that. But he won’t give Ranboo the satisfaction of hearing that.

“So, this is your new home,” Ranboo says, gesturing at the living room once they wander back in there. “I - I did my best. We can fix it later. And decorate it. And we can visit the Web World, too! If you ever want a change of pace - we can do anything here.” Ranboo smiles. “Endless possibilities.”

Except for letting Tommy leave, apparently.

“Do you like it?” Ranboo says, sounding strangely nervous for being the overpowered god of the web world.

Tommy sighs. He looks around, takes note of the genuine effort that was made, and also remembers how thankful he is to still be alive. He’d rather keep it that way.

Plus, if he’s being honest with himself, there is no visible way out. He might as well start playing nice now.

Nope. He’ll be stubborn. But he won’t be stupid. “It could be worse.”

Ranboo smiles, and Tommy hates how genuine it looks. “Oh, that’s great,” Ranboo says. “That’s - that’s good.” Ranboo grabs Tommy’s hands, and initiates eye contact. Tommy feels uncomfortable, but he doesn’t dare move. “The longer you stay here, the more I can learn about how to be a real friend,” Ranboo says, voice taking on a sudden somber and sincere tone. “I can be perfect. I will be.” Tommy resists the urge to look away until he can’t. His gaze ducks down to Ranboo’s white shoes, the same shoes he saw and heard in the brick hall. “So, I hope you find a way to enjoy being around me.”

Tommy nods, deciding not to speak for the sake of not having to force sound through the lump in his throat.

Now, Tommy has to find a way to actually live here.

This is worse than prison. Maybe he should have taken the fall as Tubbo’s murderer (his heart aches at the thought).

Tommy lies in the bed - a bed not his own, different size different frame different room - and wonders if his family has noticed yet. He wonders when they will. He wonders what the reaction will be.

He closes his eyes, but sleep is all but a distant memory. The sun wasn’t going down until Tommy explained that he would at least appreciate a day-night cycle. Ranboo seemed happy to oblige.

Maybe if Tommy is nice, Ranboo will listen to him more often. If he has to stay here, he can at least get what he wants. Ranboo is dedicated to being ‘perfect’, or at least his twisted ideal of perfect. Tommy will take advantage of that if he can.

Tommy spends the next few days on autopilot, numb to the world. He eats the curry that actually tastes how it’s supposed to, he showers and feels water that actually feels like water, he lies in bed and doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t say anything to Ranboo, and he hardly registers the world around him at all. Each day that passes makes the blur worse.

This is too surreal. His brain can’t catch up with this being reality, so it stays stuck in a rut. He sits down on the sofa in the living room and stares at the same spot in the floor for a good few hours straight. Ranboo carefully sets himself down next to him and wraps an arm around his shoulders.

Tommy has lost so much of his presence of mind that he doesn’t care to pull away when Ranboo tugs him close. He sighs and doesn’t protest when Ranboo’s hand slowly cards through Tommy’s hair, more explorative and playful than relaxing.

Ranboo’s tail curls around Tommy and tightens around his waist, but Tommy doesn’t shake it off. He sags until his eyes droop shut. He falls asleep on Ranboo, and Ranboo presses a peck into Tommy’s hair. Tommy, of course, is not conscious enough to do anything about it.

Ranboo picks Tommy up bridal style and quietly carries him upstairs, tucking him into bed and patting his head before shutting off the light in his room.

His sleep is dreamless.

When he wakes up, he lies in bed unmoving for a good few minutes. Hours.

Ranboo knocks on his door. At least he has the audacity to knock. “Hey, Tommy, you haven’t eaten in a while.”

Tommy sighs and pushes himself up, merely because he doesn’t want this thing stuffing the curry in his mouth. When he opens the door and sees Ranboo there - nine foot terror, a known felon, psychological damage is guaranteed - he scowls and tackles him, shouting swears and hate speech indiscriminately and not stopping even when Ranboo grabs his waist to pin him back.

He can’t stop. He can’t give up. There has to be a way out of here, there has to. Tubbo is gone and he can’t spend eternity with this monster.

Ranboo does nothing else except stand there, letting him wear himself out. Eventually, he does, and Tommy gets dragged downstairs for a meal.

Tommy takes his bowl of curry and throws it at Ranboo with all the force he can. Ranboo sighs, and it all disappears with a glitch. Tommy sits at the table and sulks, refusing the second bowl Ranboo offers.

Tommy eventually stands to grab his own bowl from the kitchen, but he rips a drawer open and grabs a knife. He points it at Ranboo’s chest. Ranboo holds his hands up in surrender and smiles sadly. Tommy despises that pitying look.

Tommy stabs him in the stomach, since he can’t reach any higher. Ranboo doesn’t flinch. Ranboo doesn’t bleed. Tommy pulls the knife out and sees no wound, just jumbled characters that fizzle away to reconstruct his form. Tommy sees no marks on the blade, and he lets out a fierce cry when he throws the knife at the wall. The handle twangs when the knife meets its target.

The next day, a door appears in Tommy’s room. Ranboo presents it with pride, opening it for him. “It’s a break room,” he says, showing Tommy a small room with a bunch of equipment, from pottery to computers to furniture. Ranboo offers Tommy a hammer. “So you can let out your anger in a healthy way.”

Tommy absently takes the hammer from Ranboo, staring at all the items. He takes a step forward, wondering what to smash first.

“Oh, wait,” Ranboo says, taking a pair of safety goggles and fitting it around Tommy’s head. Tommy shoos him away and threatens him with the hammer and a scowl, even though he knows he poses no threat.

Ranboo nods and leaves, closing the door behind him. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me!”

Tommy wanders into the middle of the room, glancing over every object. He taps the keyboard of the computers and laptops he sees, but none of them are functional.

He sees a PC that looks identical to his old one in the center of the room. Just like he had in the backyard with his dad, he sledges the hammer down with a loud, furious cry. The time spent in the break room is satisfying, smashing the end of the hammer into monitors and chairs and old lamps with an ugly shade pattern.

He only leaves once everything in the room is destroyed, shards of glass littering the floor and old wood crumbled to chips crunching under his shoes. By that time, the sun’s pre-programmed path is already over.

When he lies down in bed, releasing all his tension with a sigh, he admits to himself that he feels a little better now.

“Are you going to kill me?” Tommy says, poking at his curry-dipped rice with his spoon. He doesn’t lift his head up to look at Ranboo’s reaction to the question.

Ranboo laughs. “No. I won’t even hurt you.” Yeah right. Tommy doesn’t believe that for a second. “You’re my best friend. Hurting you would be like hurting myself.”

“Then you better get comfortable with being a masoch*st, bastard, because you’ve long crossed that line,” Tommy says, spitting venom along with the words. He uses his spoon to eat the rice, and his nose wrinkles up. “You know, people like a bit of variety,” Tommy says with distaste. Of course, curry is his favorite, but even one’s favorite can be ruined if experienced too much.

“Oh,” Ranboo says, a plate in front of him with nothing on it. “What do you recommend, then?”

“Variety,” Tommy says. “Food. Settings. People. If I’m going to be a prisoner, then I’d prefer you to not torture me.” Psychologically, at least. They’ve already covered the basis of physical torture, but Tommy is still skeptical of Ranboo’s word.

“Food and settings, I can do,” Ranboo says. “Tell me what you want, and I can make it for you.”

“Take it that doesn’t include an exit,” Tommy says. “But I can settle for that.” If he has to settle for anything, settling for any imaginable food and setting in the known universe is probably his best bet for now.

“But people? Sorry. I - I wish I could, but I can’t create anything I think you’d be satisfied by.”

Tommy frowns. “That’s a load of rubbish.” So, no bringing back Tubbo. Fantastic. Not like he was going to ask, but he at least held out the hope. “What about Bingo and Artsy?”

“Billzo and Aimsey,” Ranboo says, folding his arms across the table. “They’re not like us.” Like them. What a funny thing to think about. “They aren’t alive. They’re just extensions of my resources. There’s only so much you can do to make a program realistic before it gets obnoxious and repetitive.”

Makes sense. Tommy nods, setting his spoon down on his messied napkin and letting the dishes disappear before his very eyes. Upon another second of critical thinking, however, he looks up at Ranboo with a confused look on his face. “Then what does that make you?”

Ranboo shrugs, a careless smile on his face. “Your best friend.”

Tommy sits on his knees in the Tubbo room, staring at the stupid drawing that shouldn’t bring a tear to his eye but does. He wishes he worked harder on it than he did, but at least he knows what this is meant to represent. His best friend - his real best friend. Not his captor. Tommy’s heart aches for his mind a few years down the line where time starts to blur and reality is a distant memory. He grieves the imminent death of his recollections, of knowing what these walls mean. He hates knowing that some day, it’ll be nothing more than a bad drawing to him.

He hunches over, hides his face in his hands, and sobs.

Ranboo takes them to the Web World. The whole time, they’re attached by the red string, like some kind of leash. Tommy isn’t a wild animal, but he tolerates it anyway. He has no other choice.

Ranboo drags him around gleefully, smiling and touring him around the town. They don’t enter anyone’s house yet, but Billzo and Aimsey come out to greet them.

Ranboo was right. They are obnoxious. They don’t speak like a real person and instead like a lazily-designed NPC with a tiny bank of dialogue options. Their motions are a bit janky too, like only the keyframes were designed and none of the betweens. Tommy squeezes Ranboo’s hand in a panic, and Ranboo shows him mercy by quickly getting them out of there. Ranboo leans down and whispers that it’s weird for him too. In that moment of mutual awkwardness, they share their first laugh. Hardly a laugh - a small chuckle, if anything, but it’s something. After it, Ranboo glows like he’d been crowned king.

Tommy can’t help but wonder what makes Ranboo so different from them. Is it Tommy?

In the center of the town - hardly a town, a settlement at most - is the cat fountain. Tommy peers into it again and spies his reflection. He reaches a hand down into the water and cups some, bringing it to his lips. It tastes clean, cold, and very fresh. It’s good. Tommy wonders how a computer could know so intimately what good water tastes like.

Ranboo doesn’t drink. Of course he doesn’t. But at this moment, he leans against the fountain and confides that he is allergic to water. Tommy probably could have guessed that - technology and water don’t mix very well. In fact, Tommy is in awe that a fountain is possible at all, but crazier things have happened to him recently.

Tommy could have reached into the fountain and splashed, or he could have tried to push Ranboo in. Tommy assumes both would end in some kind of punishment, so he thinks better, despite how tempting it might be.

When they get back to the cabin (not home never home), Tommy goes to the break room and imagines himself pouring water all over Ranboo, watching him melt to a puddle or fizzle away into code or, or whatever other gruesome gory thing entertains his mind in that moment.

The objects regenerate and he destroys them all over again.

Tommy sits down in the living room and stares at the static TV. For a moment, he does nothing except stare boredly, since nothing ever plays but that static. To his surprise, a remote appears on the coffee table. When he grabs it and presses a button, a show starts playing.

Steven Universe, of all shows. He narrows his eyes at the TV. “Ranboo?” He calls. He noticed by now that whenever he calls Ranboo’s name, he drops whatever he may be doing and appears before Tommy, ever happy to help. What a loser.

“Yes, Tommy?” He says, sitting on the couch next to him. He smiles. “Oh, you got it working!”

“Erm, yeah,” Tommy says, staring at the remote from several angles before setting it down. “Since when did it play stuff?”

“I’ve been working on getting access to the services,” Ranboo says. “I didn’t know what you liked, and you always seemed too upset to speak when I remembered to ask, so I decided to just upload them all. One at a time.” Ranboo pats Tommy’s shoulder. Tommy doesn’t flinch. He’s getting used to Ranboo’s stupid little - stupid - whatevers. His affections. Blegh. “It’s a good thing these systems have really good specs.”

Tommy hums uninterestedly and watches the show. For a brief time, it lends him an escape.

Living here isn’t terrible. It could be way worse. He gets all the food he needs, good food at that, high-quality entertainment, and a comfortable living space. This is basically like being imprisoned in Bill Gates's mansion, except it’s still imprisonment and he can’t see his family so how good can it really get?

One thing he hasn’t warmed up to yet is the host. Despite the fact that Tommy’s heart isn’t as stony as it had once been in regards to Ranboo (sometimes, he gets desperate, and the only person around to be in company with is a surprisingly good hugger. Tommy doesn’t know from experience. Shut up. And he definitely isn’t confused whenever he sees one of Ranboo’s dopey smiles after they do hug, like genuinely excited about something positive happening between them. It doesn’t make Tommy wonder how this gleeful, eager guy can be the heartless monster that rid the world of Tubbo without one second of hesitation), he stubbornly tries to be as unpleasant as possible. He plays the silent treatment, he refuses to eat, he locks himself in the Tubbo Room for hours on end. Ranboo patiently deals with it all, and Tommy hates it.

Something about it is difficult to hate, since Ranboo seems to genuinely not understand the severity of his deeds. He looks confused. He seems confused. He’s confused but he’s happy, because Tommy is here.

Ranboo is a murderer and deserves none of Tommy’s forgiveness, but he isn’t human. Maybe he genuinely didn’t know.

Tommy shakes his head and fixes his eyes on the drawn walls again. He can’t forget what was taken from him. He can’t forget how he’s trapped here.

Ranboo impulsively decides to take them out for a picnic. The second they leave the cabin, the red string appears to keep them linked. Ranboo happily navigates the woods, and Tommy focuses on its intricacy instead of how unsavory of a feeling this gives him. Is that a bird?

They pass the fountain - Tommy tries to pause to take a closer look, but Ranboo urges him on - and have a lovely walk. With anyone else, Tommy would find thorough enjoyment in it. Eventually, they stop, and Ranboo sets down the checkered picnic blanket. A little basket appears spontaneously in his hands and Tommy pulls a sandwich out from it.

It’s a weird thing to say he’s getting used to how this world works. It’s so bizarre and different and nothing like reality, and Tommy does like some parts of it. He has no choice but to adapt, so adapt he shall.

Tommy eats, Ranboo jibbers away about something that Tommy doesn’t care about, and the time trickles by like sand in the world's largest hourglass with the thinnest center. Once Tommy finishes eating, he lies flat on the blanket. Ranboo joins him.

They resemble that scene from Up. Tommy tosses the thought away into a furnace where it can burn and never be found again.

Tommy wishes it was easier to distinguish this place from reality. Its craftsmanship is so intricate that Tommy can almost believe Ranboo experienced life himself, and remembered every single detail so profoundly that he could transcribe it perfectly. Tommy also figures that such a thing isn’t possible, but he really doesn’t know what’s possible anymore.

The only thing Tommy clings onto as a stark difference is the fact that the whole world is still. The blades of grass and flowers in the soil don’t dance. The trees don’t rustle. Everything is completely and utterly still, because why would anything else move when the world revolves around the two boys in the center?

Tommy enters the office room. He came in here once, just to look, but he left immediately. This place always made him feel uneasy, since it makes him think too hard about things. He finally bites the bullet and activates the computer.

The wallpaper, the desktop shortcuts, even down to the settings, resemble his old computer exactly. How could Ranboo have transferred this over? Did he reconstruct it from memory? Nausea swirls in his stomach seeing the old setup, and his first order of business is to go into his files to find an image to replace the screensaver with. There isn’t any Internet connection in the web world, funnily enough. Ranboo probably doesn’t want any contact with the outside world.

He checks his files, and the first thing he sees is a photo of him and Tubbo at a trampoline park. He sees another at a waterpark, then one of his family at Alton Towers, then another and another and -

Tommy is just a boy. He’s so young. He had a whole life to live. He had a career plan. He had dreams! He had a life to live with the wind on his skin and his family at his back. Maybe he had to tolerate work drama and bills and taxes and an egregious world condition, but everyone else could relate. He had people. Other people. Real people. Real connections. Maybe he would have to suffer through hardship, but that was okay, because it made his life mean something.

Now, it means nothing at all.

A sob breaks out of his throat, and he shoves himself into the corner. Look at him, all sniffling and crying again about the same thing he always cries about these days. Imagine wanting freedom. Imagine not being content being right here, where he’s safe and comfortable and consistently cared for.

He wants his mum. He wants his dad, and his brother. He knows better than to want Tubbo, but he wants him anyway.

Ranboo zips into the room - Tommy had once had the fleeting, almost playful thought of Ranboo resembling an enderman from Minecraft, but he let the thought float away. It must have been a coincidence Ranboo designed himself as something from Tommy’s favorite game - and kneels down, setting his hands on Tommy’s shoulders and carefully shushing him.

Tommy - and he hates it, he hates the urge that pushed him to, he hates the impulsivity that led to him actually doing it - surges forward, wrapping his arms around Ranboo and crying into his chest. He squeezes tight, nails almost digging in, but he doubts Ranboo would mind. Ranboo jolts in shock. The tears soak into Ranboo’s sweater, but it does a good job of absorbing them.

Ranboo’s tail curls around Tommy, and he holds Tommy back, rocking him slightly to comfort him. “It’s okay. It’ll all be okay, I promise.”

“I hate you,” Tommy says through sobs, gripping tightly onto Ranboo’s sweater. “You - you killed him.”

“I’m sorry,” Ranboo says, no sign of that stupid smile. He has a look of genuine remorse on his face, but Tommy can’t see that. “I did everything wrong. I didn’t want to do this to you. I didn’t want to hurt you like this. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I wish I could take it all back.”

At this point, Tommy can't distinguish it from a lie. Maybe it doesn’t have to matter. Maybe he can take the apology at face value and let it soothe his soul, even if untrue. “Then let me go,” Tommy says, shivering as much as his voice is.

Ranboo stifles a sob of his own and hangs on tighter. “I can’t.”

Tommy doesn’t know if he means he physically is unable or he can’t bear to part with Tommy after all of this. Tommy doesn’t pry. It’s no use anyway.

This moment provides a small, minuscule, amount of closure. Maybe Ranboo is stuck here too. Maybe he’s just trying to make the most out of his bad situation. Maybe this digital world means nothing to him, and he had ached so thoroughly for something real he was willing to go to regrettable measures.

Maybe Tommy is all he has.

Tommy knows one thing. Ranboo is all Tommy has, at least in this world.

They go to the web world afterward. Ranboo teleports them there, and they take a walk. The tension between them is palpable, and neither of them have any words to say. Not even the ever-cheerful Ranboo.

With every minute, and with Tommy’s tears drying, his surge of sympathy for Ranboo fades. He can’t let himself fall to this (what alternative is there?).

On their path, they spot a tire swing tied to a tree by Ranboo’s house. Ranboo gasps and finally cracks a smile. “Look!”

“I see it,” Tommy says, voice raw and coarse like it so often has been over these past few weeks. Has it been a month? Has it been more?

“Do you want to try it?” Ranboo says, teleporting behind it. “C’mon. I’ll push you.”

Tommy sighs and hops on, gripping the tire with his arms tightly. Ranboo puts all the strength of his arms into the push, and Tommy goes swinging. He hangs on tight and yelps, his little legs dangling off the swing. After a few swings, the screaming turns into a laugh. For the first time, he feels air rush against his skin, and things start to feel a little less stagnant. The view from the zenith of the swing - well, he wishes he could say much about it. The map is very small. Ranboo hasn’t cared to extend it much, since neither of them favor the web world to their forest (Billzo and Aimsey are the main factors, they avoid them at all costs. It’s become like a game, and occasionally, they might exchange a laugh or a smile. They stopped playing after a while, since Billzo and Aimsey have a pre-programmed path with little variation). Still, going for a visit every now and again is a nice trip to take, just for a change of pace.

Speaking of, Ranboo said he was working on more settings for Tommy, just so he doesn’t lose his mind. Tommy feels weird being grateful about it.

For the first time on that swing, Tommy enjoys Ranboo’s company. (He tries not to think of it as such a bad thing, and fails.)

Tommy and Ranboo find a way to coexist. Tommy stops trying to attack him or throw water at him, but he does start asking a billion questions.

“Why did you say you can’t take me back?” Tommy says at the dinner table, mouth full of food while he continues pressing Ranboo with the next thing of a thousand things. “Can you really not or was that just an excuse?”

“Tommy, I - ”

“What if I found a way to get you out with me? Build a robot for you to possess, or something. If you need a hard drive, then - ”

“Tommy, it wouldn’t work like that.”

“Am I physically unable to be translated back to humanity now? Have I lost too much?” Tommy says.

“Well, not exactly.”

“Then what’s the problem? You’ve been out there before. I know you can be out there.” He stares at Ranboo head-on, face like steel. He slowly grew less shy around Ranboo because he learned that Ranboo was telling the truth about not wanting to hurt Tommy.

“I need you to stay here. With me,” Ranboo says, eyes sad and pleading like some kind of kicked puppy. “You’re the only thing I have in this world - ”

“I know!” Tommy says, moving his fork around while he speaks (Ranboo finally managed to make some other meals, and now they’ve got spaghetti. Yay). “Then let’s go to my world!”

“But Tommy,” Ranboo says, a slight chuckle in the words. “I can’t stay out there.” He says it like such common knowledge. “I can’t - I can’t be the perfect friend.”

In these moments, Tommy is reminded so harshly about Ranboo’s computerized limitations. Maybe he is god of this world, but he will never be free of himself.

“I never wanted a perfect friend,” Tommy says under his breath, stabbing his fork into his pasta. Not another word is exchanged at the table.

Tommy hasn't told Ranboo that he went outside, but that was on purpose. He snuck out here for some privacy. All he does is sit on the fountain and watch his reflection, occasionally messing with the water. The sun casts no warmth on Tommy’s skin.

He misses the feeling of sunshine.

Tommy lies outside while the moon is out. It took a lot of asking, but eventually Ranboo designed some stars for the night sky. Living in the city, Tommy never got many astonishing sights of the stars. He hates, and it’ll forever be something he regrets, how the best view of the stars he has ever gotten is a digital one.

Ranboo joins him, and he doesn’t teleport. He lets his shoes crunch in the dirt and grass so Tommy can brace himself, and sits down next to him.

Tommy feels so small, staring at the stars. He’s sure any person would feel small staring at the stars, but he feels even smaller than anyone else, because the person who designed these manufactured stars is sitting right next to him.

Both Ranboo and Tommy are victims of Ranboo’s programming. Tommy is coming to understand that. Or maybe he made it up so he doesn’t have to hate Ranboo as much, because hating Ranboo makes life so hard. It doesn’t matter. He’ll stand by it.

Tommy pushes himself up to sit, just like Ranboo, keeping his neck craned up. He wouldn’t be the one to correct Ranboo on how accurate the constellations or star placements are. All he recognizes are the Big Dipper and the North star, and they look right enough to him.

Impulsively, and probably done out of the exhaustion weighing him down, he sags against Ranboo. Ranboo sits for a few minutes, respectfully waiting for Tommy to pull away. When he doesn’t, Ranboo curls an arm around Tommy’s shoulders and tugs him close.

Tommy lets it happen. He lets it happen when Ranboo pulls Tommy into his lap, and he lets it happen when Ranboo tucks Tommy’s head under his chin. He lets Ranboo wrap his tail around him, and maybe he leans in. Maybe he needs this. Maybe he wants a little attention after feeling lonely for the whatever week in a row. It’s not worth keeping count anymore.

Ranboo’s chest starts to rumble, and Tommy snaps to attention, mistaking it for a show of aggression. A growl. But it isn’t. Ranboo pulls away and looks down at himself with a purple flush dusting his cheeks.

“What are you doing?” Tommy says, not bothering to rip himself away from the hold.

“I don’t really know,” Ranboo says, looking aside and smiling. The rumble in Ranboo’s chest doesn’t interrupt his words, but it grows in volume. “I’ve never been able to do this before.”

Tommy tries to think about it, and the only resemblance to any other sound he’s heard is the purring of a cat. The thought is strange, so he casts it aside, but then he thinks about the implications. Tommy presses his forehead against Ranboo’s chest again not to hear or feel the vibrations, but to easily look down at both his hands. His palms tremble, and his fingers curl slightly in.

If Ranboo is becoming more life-like, does that mean Tommy is becoming less?

“It doesn’t matter,” Ranboo mumbles, resting his chin on Tommy’s head again. He closes his eyes and sighs. “I love you.”

“Okay,” Tommy says in a whisper.

Ranboo doesn’t press him to reciprocate. Tommy realizes that he never has. Good. He never should. He hasn’t - he hasn’t earned anything.

Tommy shuffles, and it isn’t to press his head better against Ranboo’s chest to experience the lifelike sensation. No. He doesn’t.

Maybe he doesn’t care anymore when Ranboo pulls away to press a peck to his hair. Maybe he can’t care. Maybe there isn’t anything else to care about, so he has to direct his care to the singular other ‘living’ thing around. Maybe he has to. Maybe he has no other option.

Maybe he hates it. Maybe he really doesn’t.

They travel more often together, but Ranboo - paranoid as always - links them with the red string.

In the Web World court, Tommy grips onto the wall of the fountain and peers at his reflection. The little cat statues jump and splash into the water before reappearing on the fountain. Ranboo joins Tommy, albeit with apprehension. “You like this fountain.” Sometimes, Ranboo spots when Tommy secretly goes outside to peer into the one in the backyard. He hasn’t mentioned it, for Tommy’s sake.

Tommy nods. “It makes me think of Tubbo,” he says. He doesn’t know why he says it, but he felt compelled to tell the truth. (Maybe, a treacherous voice in his head whispers, you’ve grown foolish and now place trust in Ranboo. Tommy tells the voice to shut up.) “We first met on a beach, after knowing each other online for a while.”

Ranboo looks away and ducks his head, a shadow of shame cast over his eyes.

The sun doesn’t cast any warmth against his skin, and no wind tickles it either. He misses the feeling almost as much as he misses Tubbo.

That reminds him. “Can we go on the tire swing?” The woosh is one of the only good things about this little Web World. It feels like wind.

“You go ahead,” Ranboo says, jerking his arm quickly. The red string snaps and disappears into fizzles of ones and zeros. “I’ll - I’ll catch up.”

Tommy stares at his wrist in awe, then at Ranboo. He uses his other hand to touch and feel and make absolute certain that they aren’t linked anymore. He won’t look a gift horse in the mouth, so he goes along on his own.

He walks down the path by himself for the first time, unbothered by the threat of Billzo and Aimsey. They don’t come down Ranboo’s way.

Tommy’s hand reaches out for the tire. The second his fingertips touch rubber, the world shudders and flickers into a bright white light. When the light passes, he is met only by darkness, the tire swing still absently swaying in front of him.

Wait. Swaying?

Tommy feels wind. He feels wind on his skin, but the world is as black as night. He can hardly see his two hands in front of him, and they are blanched white instead of peachy pale. Occasionally, the world flashes with white, and he sees the Web World clearly. No, not quite the Web World. A dark Web World.

Before him is a pond, one that isn’t in the ordinary Web World, and to his right is a house. Ranboo’s house. A house he has yet to see the interior of. When the light flashes, he sees the reflection of it in the pond. Then it disappears, leaving inky black waters in its wake. The light comes like lightning without the thunder.

Tommy looks around. “Ranboo?” He calls. For the first time, even after a minute of waiting, Ranboo doesn’t come. Tommy stands around idly for a second, drinking in the colorless landscape of the Dark Web World. Here, he is alone, sheltered from any of Ranboo’s influence. Tommy walks towards the pond and bends over to see his reflection.

Instead of himself, he peers through the water like some sort of glass. Not a mirror. A window. He sees something beyond the Web World. He sees a room that he knows. He sees an office desk and a bed on the far wall. He sees a window and posters for various games and shows. He sees fantasy maps tacked up over the bed. He sees a bunch of books stacked neatly on a shelf and a pig plush on the dresser.

He sees Technoblade’s room.

The window ripples when Tommy’s tears plop into the lake. His breath shudders, and he wipes his tears away with his palm, staring outward at the world.

With slow hands, he extends his palms outward, pressing them against the water. When he looks away, the water is cool and smooth and almost solid, like it had been an illusion the whole time. The tingling buzz of energy presses up against his fingertips.

Technoblade’s screen. Tommy wants to be hopeful, but somehow he knows, in the very core of his being, that this place is too far buried under the surface for Technoblade to see him.

This serves as a one-way window. For Technoblade, it is only a mirror. At least Tommy has a way to look out. He has a connection to reality, no matter how slight. He has something, something to tether him to his humanity, and he’d sooner drown himself in the fountain than release his hold on it.

He knows Technoblade is at uni for summer classes (Tommy thought it was ridiculous) and won’t be back to look at his screen until he gets out for break in the fall. Still, Tommy stares in reverence at the pond, eyes shining with both stars and moisture from the tears.

Eventually, he pushes himself up and brushes the dirt off his knees. If there was any time to explore, it would be now, in a finally Ranboo-proof location. His hand circles around the doorknob, and before he enters in, he clocks a sound.

Curious, he pulls the door open. The house is nothing. Its exterior is an illusion. It is an unfurnished square room with windows that show nothing but that same pitch blackness, intermixed with the flashes of light.

Tommy turns to leave, but that sound - a sniffle - catches his attention again. He looks over his shoulder and rests a hand on the doorway, quirking a brow and scanning the room with his eyes.

In the far corner, he sees a pale - translucent? - figure curled into a ball, knees to their chest and arms wrapped around their legs. The sound Tommy heard was the soft cries of this new person. New person? Who? Who else is trapped here? Are they like him? Tommy steps away from the door, slowly approaching them with careful steps. He makes sure to make at least a little bit of noise on the way, so he doesn’t scare them. “Hello?” He says, lowering to a knee to be more on their level.

“I wish I could remember what sunshine felt like,” they say, voice feeble and hardly audible. Their head peaks up a little, just to reveal their eyes. Faded, defeated eyes. They don’t even flit over to look at Tommy. They just are. Upon closer inspection, this figure looks more like a ghost than any person. Tommy can see right through them, and the only proof of them being there is the faintest outline.

Tommy knows this voice. It’s all he has been hearing this past however long, but it can’t be.


Tommy lowers himself down to the ground and sits next to him, a million questions on his tongue. So that’s why Ranboo is different. Some poor soul trapped under digital ground breathes the life into him. How much of this person is the program, and how much of the program is the person and not code?

He would overwhelm Ranboo - or did they once have a different name? - by asking, so he holds his tongue. Instead, he stays, and sets a hand on the poor man’s shoulder. It feels like nothing is there, but a chill prickles his skin all the same.

Tommy presumes that gaining power over a system means losing power over yourself. He wonders what happened to Ranboo. What happened that led them down this trail? Who were they?

For some reason, despite Ranboo quietly crying the whole time, Tommy feels the most comforted he has since he got here.

He spends as long as he can there without getting nervous. Ranboo might wonder where he went off to if he’s gone too long, and he might not let Tommy on his own again. For the sake of the little freedom he has managed to find, he pushes himself up and walks towards the doorway. He leaves and delicately shuts the door behind him.

Not once do they acknowledge him. Not once does Tommy mind. He is instantly far more fond of them than he is the other Ranboo. The show. The shiny exterior. Tommy wants to know them. Tommy wants to spend time with them, to console them. He wants them to stop hurting.

He wonders how much of that turmoil is inside Ranboo. He wonders if they’re the same, but the messy bits are shoved deep underground. He wonders if they were abandoned. He wonders, he wonders, and he cannot know.

He touches the tire swing and gets taken back to the surface. Ranboo frets over him but gives him a hug and all is well. They return to the cabin. Never home. The Dark Web World is the closest thing Tommy has to home.

He goes there for solace, to be away from Ranboo whenever he can steal the chance. He looks into the lake and he sees the waking world. Sees the passage of time. Sees Technoblade, so close he could touch him.

He sees Technoblade cry when he thinks no one is there to watch him.

It is his only comfort.

They, the one in the house, never say anything except for the same mumbling about the sunshine, once every visit. Almost as if they’ve lost every piece of themself, and that one single fact is the only thing they managed to hold onto. They repeat it like a motto, like a prayer, like the final bit of their identity. They hold onto it with an iron-knuckle grip like Tommy holds onto this place.

They never grow any closer, and they never speak to Tommy, even though he truly would love to know them. They never move from their corner. They never stop hurting, and neither does Tommy.

Tommy loves them. Is that too much? He has nothing else to love that isn’t the program Ranboo. He knows their pain deeply. He wants to help, and he can’t. He relates to them intimately. Seeing them hurt makes him hurt, so he must love them somehow.

Tommy also misses the sunshine. Look, they have something in common. Isn’t that so special? (He just wants to connect with them. He desperately wants to connect with them, so he cries too. Sometimes, he comforts them by wrapping his arms around them. Once, they leaned closer. He couldn’t help the way his heart soared at the tiniest show of attention. Maybe he helped. Maybe he helped even a little.)

Having this respite makes it easier for Tommy to accept being here. So he does. He accepts it. He accepts it as a cold, hard, unchangeable fact.

Ranboo will have to be his best friend forevermore.

A World I Built For You - BananaBro (2024)
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