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slowly but surely

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During the Autumn season in Goiky, nighttime was.. usually peaceful. Quiet, even. There were occasional late-night conversations or arguments, sure, but the competitors normally drifted off to sleep earlier. Daylight savings time was over, after all.


On this particular night, clouds hung over the sky, none of which were sentient. The obscured moon was the only source of light around, the rest turned off for the night. However, it was just enough to illuminate the crimson thumbtack's aimless path around the dead, seemingly endless fields.


Pin, lightly shivering, frantically searched the challenge grounds for a.. certain shade of green. She knew for a fact she had better things to do than look for a person she had learned to hate for years on end at 10 P.M.--like sleeping--but she couldn't leave a fellow Loser in distress. She wouldn't let herself rest otherwise, although she never allowed herself much rest in the first place.


"I really need to work on that, huh..." She mumbled, rubbing her eyes.


With a bit of help from Coiny, Pin had come to realize something was off. Since the lava shower (as her dear co-captain, who is much better at naming things than her, put it), Leafy had been less and less upbeat as time went on. 


Challenges with her were normally.. difficult. To put it simply, Leafy was stubborn, and didn't seem to like the idea of not being in control. However, recently, it's been less, "I want to do it! Let me do it, Pin!" and more, "Oh, okay, go ahead. I don't mind."


Sure, she might have been annoyed by her almost childish demeanor before, but...

It wasn't like her. At all.


Pin didn't like that one bit.


She had checked everywhere; the melted swing sets, the stairs, the bathrooms, even Gelatin's steakhouse, a place that barely anybody visited anymore except to sit at the now scorched benches. The only other place she knew of was the cliffside--one of her favorite places. It was quiet, since.. barely anybody visited. It was the perfect place to relax and let your mind drift off. 


Though... the thought of a clearly unstable, distant Leafy heading to the cliffside...

As soon as the thought entered her mind, Pin immediately started towards the cliffside, cursing under her breath. She knew that something had to have happened already. It had been about two hours since she started to search, and Leafy had been missing for even longer.


'No, no, no, no- Wait, Four would be able to recover her, right-? But even if she did jump, we can't be sure because the crack is too deep to see if anything fell. So that means she could still be somewhere else- maybe she just ran away? Is it- is it because I-'


Pin's thoughts were then cut off by faint, choked sobs. She stopped in her tracks, her gaze darting around. The sky gave off a hazy, dark purple glow, darkening the rocky ground beneath them. Dead grass poked through the cracks like weeds, giving a bit of life to the area. It was much darker than the fields due to the low clouds and the apparent, almost unnatural lack of moonlight. However, she could just barely see a patch of forest green in the not-so-convenient darkness.


As she started to approach, a twig snapped under her feet. Somehow.


Pin sighed, letting out a little "What a cliche…" before realizing Leafy had heard the twig, her head now lifted to face her.




For the next few seconds, it was silent except for Leafy's incoherent stutters and attempts to explain herself. She then shrunk back, quickly rubbing the tears off of her face as she forced a smile. "H..Hey, Pin," Her tone was kept light and upbeat despite the wavering. "..How are you? Is-isn't the moon pretty..?"


Pin shifted her gaze towards the sky, finding the moon almost completely obscured by the clouds. "Eh, not her best look. Besides," she took a few steps forward and stood beside her, "I didn't come all the way out here to talk about the moon."


"Then..." Leafy's voice trailed off, a seemingly nervous edge to it. "What did you come out here for?"


Pin's eyes flicked toward her, her head not turning. "..I've.. never really been one to worry about.." A pause interrupted her sentence, "..Past friends, but I've noticed you've been.. I dunno, off. Distant." She took a long pause, rocking back and forth a bit. "..So, I came to ask.. are you okay?"


"Never better!" Leafy replied almost too quickly, a nervous chuckle following. Pin squinted her eyes.


"Then why did I hear you crying?" 


Leafy froze, taken aback by the sudden low tone that came from Pin's voice. She was used to the snarky, almost amused tone that she exhibited whenever she spoke--but not this. Now, it was serious, low, and... worried, it seemed. She nearly forgot to reply. "..I- uh.." She was cut off.


"Mind if I.. sit down?" Pin mumbled, her head finally turning in her direction. She still struggled to make eye contact, though, as she immediately looked to the side.


"Uh.. sure."


Pin then settled down beside her, staring at the hard ground for a moment before turning to her. "So... What's going on, exactly?" Leafy opened her mouth to protest but was cut off again. "And don't try to argue that you're okay. I know that something's wrong and I won't let myself rest until I know what it is... even if we're not really close anymore."


Leafy shrunk back when she mentioned that, wiping the tears from her eyes. "...That's the issue." Her voice was just barely a mumble, but it was loud enough for the thumbtack to hear.


"What do you mean?"


She was silent for a few more seconds, gaze fixed on the ground. "..I.. I was told something not too long ago. While you and the others were dead." Leafy chuckled under her breath. "It uh.. it took me a while to realize this, but.. he was right."


"About what? And- and who?"


A sort of darkness loomed over Leafy's face as her head lowered. "Firey. He.. told me that.. nobody likes me. And.. if anyone knows that I have any friends, everyone's going to hate them too." 


'Excuse me?'


There was a moment of stunned silence. Pin stared down at her with an unreadable expression: it showcased both worry and.. anger, it seemed. Her mouth hung open ever so slightly, indicating her want to say something. To protest what she was just told.


...But she couldn't find her words.

An almost unsettling smile slowly etched onto Leafy's face as her eyes filled with tears. "I mean- he.. he wasn't wrong, right?" This time, she let out a small, heartbreaking laugh. "I did steal a whole island! The- the one that belonged to him? All because he didn't let me on!" Her laughter got harder, her knees folding up and her hands reaching up to hold her head.


"..Leafy, listen-"


"How selfish can I be!? I know his reasoning for leaving me out was dumb, but come on! I would have gotten over it!"




Tears started streaming down her face, but the laughter continued. "I keep trying to make new friends, but it doesn't ever work! It's a lost cause now! All because of that STUPID ISLAND!"


"Leafy! Listen to m-"


Her hands now covered her face, muffling her words slightly. "None of the other contestants will EVER believe that I can change, and I'll always just be a stupid, annoying island thief who deserves to ro-"


Before Leafy could go on with her self-deprecating rambles, Pin grabbed both of her hands in a tight grip and pulled them away from her face. "Leafy-! Come on, this- this isn't like you at all!" 


For the next few moments, a heavy silence hung over the cliff side, only broken by Leafy's attempts to choke back sobs. The two simply stared, waiting for someone to say something. Anything.


Pin loosened her grip on her wrists, sighing softly. "Look. What you did back then was.. messed up. That can't be denied." The leaf across from her wiped her eyes, giving a nod in agreement. "..But that.. doesn't mean you have to belittle yourself like this."


"B-but everyone still ha-"


"I know. People are still going to hate you for what you did. That's natural, but notice how I said people are going to hate you. I didn't say everyone hates you, did I?"


"..No, you didn't."


Pin nodded. "Exactly. Besides, you wouldn't have been voted back in if everyone hated you."


Leafy pulled her hands back from Pin's grip, hugging herself with her eyes fixated on the ground. "But- but that doesn't change the fact that I won't ever change."


The thumbtack's head tilted to the side. "..Then.. how did I change?"


Leafy's head slowly lifted back up. "Huh?"


"If people truly couldn't change for the better, I wouldn't be here right now. I'd be.. wherever Four sends us when we're eliminated."


"EXIT?" Leafy corrected, her breath hitching.


"Yeah, EXIT." 


Leafy didn't answer, leaving silence between the two. This gave Pin time to just.. think. Take in the situation.


She.. didn't want to think about what would have happened if she had been too late. The same thoughts from earlier seemed to return- about how, if Leafy really had jumped, they wouldn't know or would just assume she ran away. Sure, she would have been alive soon anyway, but the thought of her even trying to escape through that was.. scary.




...Maybe Leafy really wasn't as bad as she used to think. And, even though Past Pin would be scoffing at this in disbelief…

...She started to consider the possibility of a fresh start.

Meanwhile, Leafy stared at the ground, a skeptical frown slowly making its way onto her face. "..Hey. Why.. are you doing this..?" She asked hesitantly, her gaze fixed on the rock beneath them.


"Doing what, exactly? Talking to you?"


"No.." Leafy lifted her head to face her, her eyes narrowed slightly. "Why are you treating me like an actual person..?"

Although her tone was soft, the words stabbed through Pin's heart like a knife.

For a few moments, Pin sat, staring at Leafy's unreadable expression with widened eyes. When it came to responses, there was a large variety of options to choose from. Consoling her, dismissing her, maybe even a hug if she wanted to abandon the idea of giving her space.

In the end, all she could let out was a pathetic "..Huh?" in reply.


"Y'know, why aren't you calling me a monster or trying to kill me?" Leafy's tone was arguably more bitter now, and the plastic tack in front of her winced at the reminder.


Regaining her senses and taking advantage of the silence, Pin let out a little sigh. ".. It's because I want to believe you can change."


With a chuckle, Leafy shook her head repeatedly. "Bullshit. That's bullshit." She whispered under her breath.


"Is it, though?" The tack asked with a raised eyebrow. 


"Yes! You hate me, don't you?"




Pin turned her head away, speaking in a lower tone.


"I don't think I ever did."

And now, it was Leafy's turn to be dumbfounded. After yet another few seconds of incoherent stutters, she spoke. "Since.. when? Why?"


She sighed. "I can't really answer the first question because, again, I never did. But.. I've always seen a bit of myself in you."


"Pfft, seriously? You think I'm an amazing leader with good strategy skills?"


"Oh, don't flatter me right now--that's not always true and you know it." Pin rolled her eyes. "But no. That's not it. Remember when I was.. kind of a bitch?"


A feeling of confusion washed over Leafy. "Yeah, but.. what does that have to do with me?"


"The thing is, I had good intentions. I wanted to be the heroic leader everyone needed, but I came off as rude. Bossy. And, again, a bitch." Leafy snickered quietly at her vocabulary, earning another eye roll from Pin. "..I.. think that may have been the same case with you. You wanted to help others, right?"


"Yeah, but it backfired horribly. I got eliminated because of it, remember?"


"Nono- I mean before that. Way before that." Sighing at a still confused Leafy, Pin tried to elaborate. "The- the first game. Remember? You were always like, 'I'll help you out!' and it was sort of annoying to those who didn't need it?"




The tack chuckled. "What? We were all annoying as kids, even me. Just because I'm trying to comfort you doesn't mean I can't acknowledge that."


Leafy let out a defeated sigh, looking down. "Good point…" She then paused. "Oh- right, continue."


With a nod, Pin did as such. "Anyway, again, you had good intentions. But you went down the wrong path and.. lost yourself. You get angry too easily to ever be considered kind, and you're so focused on your reputation that it's hurting you." Leafy tensed up in front of her, but the other continued on. "But I really do think you can get back on track. Not out of fear of getting eliminated or spite, but out of desire to... I dunno, simply be a good person."


"That's not enough."




Leafy sighed, looking up at the clouds and speaking in a low voice "That was my motivation before. It.. clearly didn't work out."


There was a period of silence as Pin thought of what to say next. God, why did Leafy have to be so.. complicated compared to everyone else-?


She gathered her thoughts and took a deep breath. "Then.. why not come up with another one?"


"Another what?"


"Another motivation. Another reason to help others."


Pin could basically see the gears turning in Leafy's head by this point as her eyes were glued to the ground beneath them. "..Like what?" 


"I dunno, like… making real friends. Or recovering your relationship with old ones."


"Like with you?"




The leaf stared into her eyes with a glimmer of… hope, it seemed. "I.. was able to restore my friendship with you, right? I- was that not what you.. meant by all of this?"



It wasn't, but…


Pin, after a moment of hesitation, gripped one of her hands. 

" It is now ."

That… appeared to strike a chord of sorts inside Leafy. She appeared stunned, and after a bit, just before she considered apologizing…




Pin then felt arms wrap around her, the sound of a heavy sob following. She tensed. "Wait- are- are you okay? I'm sorry if I said something wrongIdidn'tmea-"


"No no- it's.. it's okay. You're too good with words and I.. couldn't hold it back anymore.." Leafy choked out a laugh.


"Am I..? I've always thought I.." Pin cut herself off with a sigh, shaking her head. "Aghh, whatever, I'm done arguing about this kind of stuff." 


Letting out a soft laugh, Leafy pat her back lightly. "There's my Pinny!!"


"Wh- Pinny??"


"Yep! New nickname. Since we're friends now and all, y'know?"




To hear the term used towards her from Leafy's mouth was something Pin never expected. At one point, it was something she never wanted. She resented the days the leaf would babble on and on about the power of friendship and how much she loved everyone.


Not anymore.


To Pin, that side of her was endearing. It always was, no matter how much she denied it for all of those years. For seven fucking years, Leafy was denied help. Denied a source of comfort. Someone she could depend on. How could Pin hold any of that against her after all of that? After how much change the two had gone through?


She let out a light chuckle. "Yeah, friends…"

Pin never thought in a million years that she would say this. Yet... here she was.


She wouldn't change a thing.