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One Shots!

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Nickel's POV

  I still cannot believe Suitcase voted me off. Suitcase, of all objects!!! It's just so...

  AAARRRGGHHH!!!!!! I can't even think STRAIGHT!!

  I flopped myself onto my bed, bouncing into the air a little. At least Balloon was voted off too, that does it some justice. She just doesn't understand, I was just trying to protect her!! And what do I get in reward? A vote off. Sure, I was aggressive, but hey, that's the only way you get things done around here. You can't be a total pushover, or everyone uses you.

  Then I hear a knock on my door. "Hello? Nickel, you in there?"

  It doesn't sound like Balloon, but if they're here to talk about my "feelings", then they can get the hell out of here.

  "Yes, I'm here. Come in."

  The door opens with a creak, and then I see that it's Paper. He quickly looks around the room before focusing his eyes on me.

  "Um, how are you?" He nervously says in his squeaky voice.

  "I'm fine, thanks."

  "Ok, that's great! So, if you're not hung up on the elimination anymore..."

  Are you kidding me? Did he NOT pick up the sarcasm?

  "Paper, mind your own business." I scowl, turning away.

  "Nevermind, you still are. Well, OJ just wanted me to tell you that the remaining contestants are coming to visit in honor of the halfway mark."

  The show is halfway over? I didn't even realize. There were nineteen contestants at the beginning, now there are only, what, nine left?

  "Wow, sooooo exciting."

  He sighed softly. "They'll be coming after 8:00, see you later Nickel."

  "Yeah, see ya."

  Paper left the room quietly, closing the door behind him.

  Upon hearing the final thud of the door closing, I faceplant onto the bed and groan. Is life always this hard?

  "After 8, huh?" I mutter to absolutely nobody. I honestly don't expect anyone to come to talk to me.

  I mean, Microphone will be talking to Soap and Cheesy, Knife would probably be gloating to Trophy, Marshmallow, wherever she is, is most likely going to yell at Apple, and Suitcase would be talking to...

  Balloon.

  Ugh, just thinking about them is making me feel sick and angry to my stomach. Before I know it, I'm absolutely livid again! Every single particle of me is seething in hatred at those two!

  But, there's one little bit that just doesn't feel anything, it's just... numb. It's empty. And it's slowly taking over.

  I don't like it.

Baseball's POV

  I should be mad at Suitcase, I really should, but I just can't bring myself to hate her! It's really annoying, she's technically supposed to be my enemy now, but we're still on the same team and still an alliance, if you can even call it that anymore.

  And I still hope that we can be friends, even after that... elimination.

  Oh, who am I kidding!? She probably hates me now!! I just dissed her opinion off at the elimination, but the fact is, it's true! Sure, Nickel was a little mean and forcing to Suitcase, but he didn't deserve to be eliminated, right?

  WHY MUST LIFE BE SO CONFUSING!? I could KICK something!

  I sigh to myself, then walk to a nearby hill and sit down. The night is relatively cool, I'm glad for that.

  "Baseball," I hear someone start. It doesn't sound like Suitcase, but I don't turn around. Instead, I respond wth,

  "Yeah?"

  "Congrats on making it this far in the game! We are at the halfway mark, so we've decided to reward you guys!" I can identify the voice now, it's MePhone.

  "Really?" Wow, the halfway mark! I didn't realize we were this far in! I turn around this time, revealing none other than MePhone. "For real! We're letting you guys spend the night at Hotel OJ, you can hang out, chat with your pals, whatever. But all of us are going, like it or not. We leave at 8:00." And with that, MePhone left, leaving me with my thoughts once again.

  Still, the halfway mark! There are nine contestants as of now, so there were originally eighteen of us? Wait, that doesn't sound right, let me see. Tissues, Cherries, Trophy, Box, Yin-Yang, Apple, Cheesy, Soap, Balloon, Nickel, Suitcase, Mic, Knife, Lightbulb, Paintbrush, Fan, Test Tube, Marshmallow and me. That's nineteen. Nineteen of us entered this competition, and now only nine remain. Wow.

  I start walking back to the main area, and start to think. There's only one person I want to talk to, and that person is the only one who understands me. That same person also happens to be my best friend. Yup, Nickel. I don't feel compelled to talk to anyone else, just him. Ever since his elimination, there's been a growing black hole inside me, I just don't feel the same without him. It's like he is my light, no matter if he's sarcastic or not. And now that light has dimmed, and I'm stumbling around in the dark. I'm completely lost without my light.

  Then, I realize with a jolt, I haven't really talked to anyone since the elimination!! I really need to talk to Nickel.

Nickel's POV

  I look at my clock for the millionth time. 7:58. I swear, time has never passed so slowly in my life! I get up, and pace around the room. Am I waiting for something? Someone? No! I'm not waiting, I'm not!!! Whatever, it's just really boring here. I sigh, and lean against a table. I feel my eyes drooping as I slip into LaLa Land. Then everything is black.

  *Knock knock!* A sudden knock on the door wakes me up, and I look around the room. *Knock knock!!* There it is again. I call out, "Hello?" A very familiar voice comes from the other side. A voice that I could never get tired of. "Nickel, buddy? You in there?" "Baseball!!" I exclaim. Oh dang it. Well I failed horribly at trying to contain my emotions. "Can I come in?" "Do you even have to ask? Sure, come on in, invade my privacy." I added sarcastically. He just opens the door and says, "You are so predictable." He grins widely when he finishes, and I give him a small smile.

  "So Nickel, how's it going?"

  I laugh, for real, and say, "You are so predictable."

  "Hey!" Baseball exclaims, but he laughs anyway. I smile and laugh right along with him. I dunno, I just feel that I can be myself when I'm around him. Whatever "myself" is.

  So there we were, sitting together on my bed, laughing and talking about random stuff. It ruled. There's just something special about spending time with the one person who really cares about you, no matter what.

  I didn't want it to end. And as I was just hanging out with Baseball, the empty feeling inside me filled up with... something. I don't know what exactly, but it was warm, and it lifted weight off my shoulders. Pretty soon I could feel this feeling coursing through my entire body!! What the heck is this feeling!? And why do I only get this feeling around Baseball?

Baseball's POV

  This is amazing. Just chilling with Nickel, not worrying about the competition, or anything! Just random stuff and laughing. I guess this what Hakuna Mattata feels like!

  As I talked with him, I felt something blossoming inside me. That numb black hole that was once there was replaced with something... warm. It feels so amazing! I also saw something else. The childish light in Nickel's eyes. They came back. It was something I thought I would never see them again, but here they are!

  He smiled as he talked to me, it was genuine! I felt like a kid again, just talking to my only best friend. I just wanted to preserve this moment in a jar forever!

  But of course, I just HAD to screw it up.

  Despite them shining, I noticed a troubled look when I gazed into Nickel's eyes. So, naturally, I asked him, "Hey, you look a little bothered, is something up?"

  He just gives me a confused look and says, "Hm? Oh, it's nothing."

  Here's the thing though. With all my experience with Nickel, I've come to understand his game. One rule is that whenever he looks troubled, but says no when you ask, something's DEFINITELY up.

  "Nope, I'm not backing off this time. Something's wrong, so say it!"

  "Nothing's wrong!" He protests.

  "Nickel, I've known you for five years. I know when something's up with you." And before thinking, I immediately ask, :Is it about Suitcase?"

  Just at the mention of her name, Nickel lowers his eyebrows and shakes his head. As if disapproving of Suitcase. But he looks up at me and says, "No, it's not Suitcase this time."

  He's telling the truth. So if Suitcase isn' t bothering him, what is?

  "So, what's bothering you?"

  "Nothing." Nickel says again.

  "I'm gonna do it!" I half-shout. Nickel's expression turns from discreet to a little frightened.

  "No Baseball, don't do it!"

  Oh man, I love making him squirm like that. There's a little trick I learned back in our childhood that would always make Nickel spill the beans. Let's just say that it's not just girls that can unleash the puppy dog eyes. Heheh.

  "I will do it Nickel."

  "No, please, I am BEGGING you to not do it."

  "You're spilling the news anyway, better to do it now."

  "No."

  "Then I'm doing it!"

  "Oh dear god, please help me. Baseball, no! Please!"

  "Nope, you made up your mind, I made up mine."

  "Baseball ple-"

  Before he can finish, I gaze at Nickel, almost into him. Basically, pleading him with my eyes to say everything on his mind.

  "......FINE I'LL TELL YOU!!! JUST STOP!!!!!"

  Works like a charm.

  "So? I'm listening."

  Nickel sighed deeply, then he began to speak.

  "Well, I don't know how to describe it, but, ever since the elimination, I've had this... feeling. When everything else was anger, there was this one part of me that felt numb. Like it was empty. It was like there was something missing from me... until recently."

  He turned away, but I slowly spun him around back to me, holding him with my foot. He hesitantly looked up at me, and I held his gaze.

  "Go on."

  I could tell he was thinking. I could only hope he would open up. Then he started talking again, with more confidence in his words.

  "Until recently, when you came here to talk to me. The empty feeling disappeared, and was replaced with something new. And then I realized, I only get this warm feeling around you. I don't know what it is, or where it came from, but it makes everything else dissipate. I-I just don't know."

  Wow, that's....

  "That's odd..."

  "Hm?"

  "I feel the same way..."

  Listening to Nickel talk about his feelings, they were the EXACT same ones I was going through! And...I think I know what that sensation of warmness and familiarity is.

  It's called love.

  I love Nickel.

Nickel's POV

  I can't believe I just did that. I just revealed everything I was feeling, right to Baseball. I'm such an idiot. I noticed that he was staring out into space for a while, so I asked him, "Hey dude? You okay?"

  Then, out of absolutely NOWHERE, he kisses me!!!! I feel my cheeks heating up really fast as his lips press against mine. I'm in total shock right now, I want to react, I want to pull away from him, but my brain just won't let me. Or is it something else?

  Finally, he pulls away from me, his face as shocked as mine, and probably as red too. I can hear myself breathing heavily, but it's silent. We sit there for a while, none of us speaking to each other, until Baseball breaks the quiet.

  "Sorry, I just... I've held this feeling in for a long time, the one you just mentioned, it blooms inside of me every moment I spend with you, happy or sad. It drives me to be with you, to stay with you, be the best person I could be, just for you. Nickel, I... I love you Nickel, I love you with all my heart."

  H-he loves me!? He-he actually loves me... The strange feeling inside me is suddenly so familiar to me now, and it bursts forth, I now realize what it is!

  It's love. I love Baseball. The same way he loves me.

  Without thinking, I quickly get up on my feet and kiss Baseball. I close my eyes and press my lips onto his, pushing all my feelings for him into it, kissing him for as long and as hard as I can before breaking away.

  I gaze at Baseball, his face is as red as a tomato, and he's smiling at me. I quickly look down, trying to get my feelings in check. To be honest, that was very unexpected. I didn't want to do that! No wait, yes I did. I need to stop concealing my feelings from others, especially to Baseball.

  Slowly, I scoot over to him, resting my head on his side. He doesn't object, in fact, it feels like he's snuggling into me! Is it bad that I like it? I grasp his foot, and feel myself drifting off to sleep. But before that happens, I whisper to him, "I'm not ever going to be the same without you."

  Right before I completely close my eyes, I hear his warm, quiet breath say, "Ditto."

Chapter Text

Paintbrush's POV

That was a close one. We almost lost the challenge! I'm glad my team pulled out in the end, even though SOME PEOPLE didn't even HELP MATTERS!!!! Take Lightbulb for example. She. ELECTROCUTED. Fan, threw Test Tube into the water, who is by the way, still trying to recover, AND, she spent most of the challenge talking to a CRAB. A CRAB!!!! And then, after the challenge, she's crying because her STUPID CRAB apparently left her!! I swear, she went crazy back on Idiotic Island. She's just so weird.

"Wake up sleepyhead!! Hellooooo?? Earth to Painty, please respond, over! Helluuuu??"

What?? Then, I feel a jab in my side. It didn't hurt very much, but it was enough to wake me up. I instantly get up to my feet, ready to absolutely PUMMEL the living daylights out of who did that. I look down, then lower my fist. It was Lightbulb.

"Eyy, the commander responds!" What the heck is she wearing? I-Is that a space helmet? Is she doing what I think she's doing? "Come commander, we must fight off the snorkledooks, and claim back our land!!" Okay, she's just spitting out random nonsense now. Just like she always does.

"Lightbulb, I am not playing with you." I firmly say. Then, Lightbulb takes off her helmet, revealing her smiling, goofy face. "Aw come on Painty! Just this one time?" She pleads. "No." I say again. Hopefully, she gets it this time. "Ok then. Oh! I'll get Fan to play with me!!" Lightbulb squealed, and ran off to find Fan. I sighed, and sat back against the shady oak tree. It seems that ever since episode 11 happened, Lightbulb has been bugging for my attention more.

Well, more than usual.

Honestly, I'd be happy to talk to her if she wasn't so crazy all the time! Besides, team leading is hard, I have more than enough to eat on my plate already, and I don't want seconds. Speaking of seconds, I'm stating to feel a little hungry. I got up and walked to the team tent to hopefully find myself a snack.

Lightbulb's POV

I wonder why Painty doesn't want to play with me, they're not busy right now, maybe they're tired. After all, they were sleeping underneath a tree. Where did that tree come from anyway? I searched around, trying to find Fan, in the hope that he wasn't busy. I'm not an attention hog, I just don't like to be alone. I mean, what use is a lightbulb if it has no one to shine for?

Well, after 30 minutes of searching, and still not finding Fan, or anyone else, for that matter, I decided to go back to our team tent. It's very spacious, and it's electric yellow! On the way, I found a field full of flowers! Well, the more accurate term would be Dandelions, but whatever. They're the same thing! Anyway, I peek into the tent to find Paintbrush sitting around, chewing on some trail mix.

"Hey Painty!" They rolled their eyes at me, but said, "Hey Lightbulb." WAIT, I just got the greatest idea! "Painty, you want some updog?" "Um, what's updog?" "Not much, what's up with you!" And then they just stared at me. But I could tell their mind was working to figure out what I just said. Haha, silly Painty!

"So, brush person! Whatcha doin?" "Eating trail mix." "Oh! Can I have one?" Painty scowled at me, then they said, "Lightbulb, there's some over there, get it yourself." "Ok, thanks Painty!" I hopped to, and picked up some trail mix. The label said it had extra raisins, and everyone knows I'm all about those raisins! Mm!

I quickly open my bag, and sit next to Painty, they look a little annoyed, but they turn their head down at their food. "So, have anything planned today?" I ask them. "No, not really." They sound bored, maybe I can plan something for them!! Maybe we can go see that field I saw earlier! Yeah, that sounds like a great idea!

"So, are you bored?" "Yep." "So, can I take you somewhere cool?" "Maybe." Hm, ok, maybe's a good sign!

"Painty, it's a really cool place, I think you'll like it there!" "Yeah? How so?" "It's got a lot of flowers, and it's really pretty!" "...You have my attention..." Success!!

I grabbed their hand and quickly pulled them up, Painty making surprised sounds as I half dragged them across the tent and grass. "Lightbulb, I can walk you know!" "I know!" I hastily reply. "Come on Painty, it's just over here!"

Paintbrush's POV

Agh... My head hurts after Lightbulb dragging me around everywhere. Then I hear her say, "Come on Painty, it's just over here!" Finally! I swear, I'm going to get a concussion if this keeps up!

I stop moving, and realize Lightbulb stoped dragging me. I sat up and took in my surroundings. I couldn't help it. I let out a tiny gasp of disbelief. The view was...breathtaking.

All around me, dandelions gracefully swayed with the howl of the breeze, and sometimes seeds would sprinkle everywhere. I felt their gentle stems and fluffy tops brush against my body, and there were yellow ones too, the ones that weren't dead. I took in a 360 view, the same thing as far as I could see. This field stretched for miles! But, I didn't see Lightbulb anywhere. I squinted against the sun trying to catch a glimpse of her, where was Lightbulb?

I slowly stood up, and honestly, I was getting worried. Sure, Lightbulb has a tendency to disappear sometimes, but it should be easy to spot her within all these flowers. I walked around, calling her name. "Lightbulb!! Hey Lightbulb, are you there?" My voice seemed to echo across the field, but I heard no response.

"Painty, look what I got!!" "Agh!" OH MY GOD, WHAT THE HECK LIGHTBULB!? "LIGHTBULB, WHERE WERE YOU!?!?" "Woah Brush Gal, take a chill pill, I was just gathering some flowers!" She explains, then pulls out a bunch of dandelions behind her back.

"Ta da! See? It's for you!"

Wait, really? "Thanks Lightbulb..." I reluctantly took the bouquet from her, there was a pretty yellow bow tying it together.

"It's...nice." "Thanks Painty!" She sat down beside me and smiled and laughed. "So, do you like this place or no?" "Yeah, this place is pretty nice." "Knew it! See Painty, I told you!" "Yeah, yeah, whatever." I can't help but smile at her goofiness, but then I quickly look to the ceruelean sky.

"Hey Painty," Lightbulb suddenly says. "Yeah?" "If I was a flower, what kind of flower would I be?"

Lightbulb? A flower? Hm, this isn't hard at all, actually!

"A dandelion."

"Really?" "Yep." "Why?"

Why a dandelion? Haha, where to begin?

"Well, first of all, you're yellow. And dandelions can be found anywhere. They are considered weeds, but honestly speaking, they're beautiful. Their bright yellow is bold, and is easily recognisable in field. And even past their living stage, they become little balls of fluff, and their seeds fly in the wind, their influence easily spreads to other places. Just like you."

I picked up one of the flowers on the ground and softly blew on it. My breath, along with blowing wind, carried the seeds far away, to grow in another place.

Lightbulb stood there, her face expression shocked. And for the first time since I'd known her, she was speechless.

I think I screwed up.

"Uh, what I meant was-"

Then, I was suddenly interrupted by a warm kiss on my cheek, and a jolt of electricity shocked my body.

"Wh-wha?" I ask Lightbulb, probably looking like a love-sick idiot, but I'm still in shock, okay!?

She just grins ear to ear, and replies:

"Hey Painty, did you know that you can make a wish on a dandelion?"

Then, she uproots one, and blows on it. The tiny seeds fly away with the breeze.

Then, she lays down beside me, and pats the ground next to her, motioning me to do the same.

I do, and slowly descend down to the earth below, and soon I'm lying next to Lightbulb, and she plants ANOTHER kiss on my cheek. The same buzz of electricity courses through me, but this time, I'm...expecting it? And, to be truthful, I kinda like it...

"Does this make you my girlfriend now?

"Yep!" She replies happily.

"And, by the way," I start. "I didn't know you could make wishes on dandelions...so what did you wish for?"

"Well, I'm not supposed to tell you," Lightbulb slyly says, "but I can tell you that my wish already came true."

Chapter Text

Suitcase's POV

I'm still sad about the elimination. I've been sad for a long time. And now that Balloon is gone, I don't think I can hold up much longer. Nickel is also gone... I really don't want to admit it, but I'm going to miss him too... He's still an alliance member, even if he didn't act like one... I needed to make myself known... But I really regret it now...

Sitting at the dock is one of my favorite things to do nowadays, especially since everyone I could talk to is gone. I think Baseball is mad at me for voting Nickel off, and Knife is always busy doing his own thing. I picked up a rock and threw it at the water's surface; it sank down beneath the surface with a blub.

I never wanted to cause any drama, my intentions were far from that, actually. I just felt like a doormat. I needed to stand up, I realized that more than ever. But was then really the right time to do so? I took out all my pent up anger on Baseball and Nickel at that elimination, and look what it cost me. And they seemed so..devastated. And especially Nickel, he looked so...hurt. Like he trusted me...and I broke his heart...just like that.

No, Suitcase, don't think like that! He, he never trusted you to begin with! What we had before... He was so mean to you and Balloon! He..he deserved to be eliminated! I don't want us to get in danger like that again... He...he...he... Urgh! Who am I kidding, I do care about Nickel, a lot!! And, recently, with my time to think, he DID want to protect me, he just..has an unusual way of showing it. And come to think of it, I may care about him a lot more than I really think. But he probably hates me now...

Nickel's POV

I'd hate to admit it, but from the moment I was eliminated, only ONE thought has been going through my head. The thought that has prevented me from getting enough sleep, the thought that has plagued my mind everyday for the past MONTH.

Suitcase.

She backstabbed the alliance, she backstabbed ME! I thought that if I just keep her away long enough, she would stop, but NOOO!! She voted for me at the elimination. She stuck with the guy that caused nothing but trouble last season! Yes, I know that the viewers are glad to see me gone, "Oh my god, Nickel's so mean!" "I'm so glad Nickel's gone, he was such a b!cth!" "Nickel's such a sh!thead to Suitcase and Balloon, he should die or something!" Don't think I don't read the comments. Seriously! But nobody realizes that I only have good intentions! Sure, I did suggest that we ditch Balloon, but that was because I didn't want his bad influence near Suitcase! See, this just proves that anyone can stab you in the back. ANYONE!!!

I'm just so confused right now, urgh!! I honestly feel like I'm going to freaking EXPLODE right now, and thinking about Su- HER isn't really helping.

I only wanted to protect her, that's all.

And she just, she pushed me away.

I warned her to stay away from him. And I took things to the next level. Yes, I might have "overreacted", but you can't be a doormat when it comes to protecting the people you love.

N-not that I loved her to begin with, I just cared for her.

But she hates me now...

Suitcase's POV

I let out a tired sigh as I got up from the dock, the last of some salty tears dripping down my edges. I stared at my reflection in the water. My image wavered and rippled to the soft dusk breeze. Even after that episode, I still don't know who I am.

"Maybe a walk will help soothe my thoughts." I said to no one in particular. I wandered aimlessly, still thinking about recent events. I just can't get it out of my head! Then again, losing your best friend isn't something you just get over. It just seems so unfair to me, he did nothing wrong!

Wait, where am I? I checked my surroundings to try and get some bearings. Then I realized that my strolling brought me right outside Hotel OJ. I gazed up at the looming structure that held all the season 1 contestants that didn't make the season 2 cut and the now eliminated contestants of season 2. You know, I never realized that the hotel looked Exactly like OJ, minus the slight discoloration and windows.

Out of the top of my eye, I saw movement. I looked to see at least seven floors up, a shadowy figure opened a window. I couldn't tell who it was, but they obviously didn't have arms. This doesn't look good. I squinted to see better, but the figure spoke.

"Suitcase?"

Oh god.

It was Nickel.

Nickel's POV

Usually, I don't do social, but I was getting tired of being in the room. I opened the door into the hallway, I could see Pepper and Salt walking down. You know, it never struck me as to why everything was orange. The hallway was orange, the ceiling was orange, most of the furniture was orange. I think OJ should consider getting a new paint job.

I started to walk right down the hallway, the same direction Salt and Pepper were going. Someone opened their door and stepped out.

Balloon.

I quickly averted my gaze from him and stared straight ahead, but I could still see him out of the corner of my eye. And I knew he could see me too.

"H-hey, Nickel. Can I talk to you about-" I didn't answer him. I don't feel like talking to him right now. And probably not ever. I picked up my pace, and strode past him, not giving a second glance.

"Omg, did you talk again?"

"Like, stop being an attention hog. Nobody like, likes you."

"That's not true! I found somebody on the show who-"

"Did you like, hear that?"

"Probably a like, gust of like, wind or something."

I heard some deflating and laughter as Salt and Pepper speedwalked past me. I'll admit, that was a little cruel, but it's Balloon. I don't really feel any sympathy for him. Especially after... No, you know what!? Screw that!! I. Don't. Care. Not anymore. I think I need some fresh air.

I opened a nearby window and cool evening air came rushing in. I stayed for a while, taking it in, when I noticed I shadow at the bottom of the hotel. I leaned out further, trying to see who it was.

Wait...that's impossible...

"Suitcase?"

Yeah, it had to be her! Who else could it be, Box!? No, because she's running away... I wasn't thinking, there was just something I needed to speak to her about. And it just couldn't wait.

I jumped out a window, 7-stories up.

Suitcase's POV

Ok, they're definitely armless, they opened the window with their foot. And there's only ONE armless contestant that is currently eliminated.

Nickel.

And he saw me.

I ran and ran, far away from Hotel OJ. Far away from Nickel. I don't know why, I just...didn't want to see him right now.

I heard a deafening thump behind me, and despite my panicking brain, I turned around.

I gasped in horror.

Nickel was on the ground.

Unmoving.

Nickel's POV

Crap... That wasn't such a good idea... I think I broke my face or something. Am I dead? No, that's not right, but there is an EXCRUCIATING PAIN in my leg. Ok, so I broke my leg! Better than breaking your face.

You know, now would be a good time to have arms.

Slowly, I pushed myself of the wet grass into a sitting position, and saw Suitcase standing, shaking a couple meters away from me.

Then she ran.

Somehow, I pushed myself of the ground and onto my not broken leg. I gingerly lowered my foot to the rough, grassy ground, I can't stand on one leg forever.

"Agh!"

Dammit! That really hurt! I could feel my bone crack. I don't know why I just didn't stop, but something willed me to take a step forward.

And another.

And another.

Limping, I half bounced, half dragged myself to...wherever. I saw Suitcase take off in a straight line, so that's where I'm gonna go. Eventually, I found her by the dock, staring at the steadily climbing harvest moon.

I stepped onto the dock, my footsteps obviously heavy. Suitcase didn't turn around. I walked all the way to the edge, and sat down beside her, looking down into the water.

"What do you want?"

Jeez, she sounded so...depressed. Emotionless. It didn't even sound like a question. Did my actions really make her like this??

"I don't really know, I guess I just want to talk."

"You shouldn't have come here. Y-you're eliminated."

"Yeah, lots of thanks to you."

Crap.

Her gaze fell to the water, but then she looked at my leg and turned her full attention on me.

"Y-your leg!!"

"Eh. I'll live."

"It looks..painful. A-are you sure it's okay?"

I looked at my leg to access the damage. Um, yeah, it was bleeding. And bent the wrong way. And it hurt like absolute hell.

"Look, I'm fine, okay? But," I grabbed her leg and looked into her eyes.

"There's something I need to talk to you about."

"Y-yeah?"

Okay Nickel, just two words. That's it. Two words. Not a big deal, right?

Who am I kidding, this is a big deal! Apologizing has always been so awkward for me, there's something about saying that...word, that makes my mouth glue. But I'm here now, so might as well.

"Suitcase, about the elimination..."

"I know where this is going. Look, leave me alone, I just-"

I grabbed her foot tighter, but made sure it wasn't too tight, and she turned back to me. I stared straight at her, deep into her eyes, and then she met mine.

"Suitcase, I...I...I'm sorry. About everything. About using you, pulling you away, underestimating you, yelling at you, and just plain being a complete jerk to you. I was wrong. I tried to push you, and look what it did. You're strong, independent, and I ignored that, ignored the fact that I was pressing you too hard, and ignored the fact that you were becoming so sad under my negligence. I should've known better, I should've treated you better, but truthfully speaking, that was the only way I knew how to protect other people. It sounds twisted, I know, but I just want you to understand, I only did these things because I...I...I...I love you."

Did I really just say that. Oh my god, that was so cheesy... She hates me anyway, it's not like she'll accept me!! Why did I say that, just a sorry and explanation was enough!!

I didn't have to say that I love her!!

Even though it's completely true...

She had this surprised expression on her face, she was totally shocked. Figures. Guess it's time to take my leave.

"That's all I had to say, so I guess I'll just go.."

I was going to stand up, despite my condishawn, I MEAN, condition, but suddenly, I was interrupted by a warm sensation on my, erm, "nose", and then a longer one, on my lips. Was she.. WAS SHE KISSING ME!?!? Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, to be honest...I like it. A-a lot!! I started to kiss her back, sitting back down on the dock. A feeling coursed through my body like never before, as we kissed under the light of you the moon.

Eventually, she let go, and I just sat there, absolutely in awe at what she just did.

"I love you too Nickel."

"Uh, y-yeah, I, uh, I-"

She gingerly put her foot to my mouth, and my cheeks just exploded in a new sensation of heat as I started madly blushing all over again.

"Shush, you don't need to say another word."

Argh, why does she have to be so damn HOT!?!?!?

Wait, did I say that out loud?

Oops...

"Just take in the moment..."

"Y-yeah. I'll do that." I said, kissing her on the head. She giggled a little, and snuggled into me. I cuddled her back, and we stayed like that for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

Apple's POV

Wha...? Why is Marshmallow here? Hopefully she's just here to talk... Then again, she threw a rock at my window. I'm just hoping for the best.

"M-Marshmallow?" "Hi Apple! Hey, could you come down here? I want to talk to you..."

"Oh, um, s-sure!"

Ok, so far so good. Just a talk. Nothing more. Yep, just a regular, friendly talk! Nothing special- oh, who am I kidding!? I really want this talk to be something special. Ok, I love Marshmallow! I loved her ever since we became friends again, I didn't want to lose her!! And then Marshmallow started to hate me again in, what? Episode 6? Yeah, episode 6! I was heartbroken! I didn't know why, or when, or whatever! And then she hit me with a mop in the very next episode, and she looked so happy to see me gone! Nothing could ever hurt more, not even when I was cut in half! But I kept holding on to her. In the hope, when one day, I could apologize for whatever I did to make her so mad at me. I think that day is today. Or tonight.

I don't think I was thinking, I just jumped down from my room. Oh, and might I mention, my room is, umm, 7 floors up! Yeah, that was a dumb move.

Before I hit the ground, I feel something catch me, and there's a soft, high pitched grunting sound. I open my eyes, and I see Marshmallow holding me, bridal style.

"Ermm"

"Hi..."

"Well this is awkward.."

"Heh heh, umm"

"I think you can put me down..."

"Oh yeah, right."

Good thing I'm red, or else Marshmallow would see me blushing like crazy! Blushing, she gently set me on the ground, and I got back my balance.

"So, wh-what did you call me down here for?"

"I just want to talk."

"Ok, what did you want to talk about?"

"This might still be a touchy subject for you, but it's about how I treated you after episode 6. I know I accused you of betraying me, but I've recently found out, um, the truth. I-it turns out Bow possessed you, made you say all those things to me. A-and then I w-was, I was so awful to you!! I bl-blamed you for something you di-didn't do, and, a-and..."

Suddenly, Marshmallow falls to her knees in front of me, crying and sobbing, I can't even make out half the words she's saying anymore! Marsh... No, don't do that to yourself, it's not your fault Marshmallow...

"Apple, I...I...I'm so sorry Apple, I was so mean a-and horrible, a-and you di-did nothing wr-wrong!! I'm so sorry Apple, I-" "Marshmallow, please." I kneel down beside her and hug her. Not too tight like last time, but tight enough so that I hold her close to me.

"Marshmallow, no, it's not your fault, it's okay, I-"

"NO!!" She suddenly cries out. "NO, IT'S NOT OKAY!!! I WAS SO MEAN, I WAS SO HORRIBLE TO YOU, AND YOU DID NOTHING WRONG!!!!! I'M THE WORST FRIEND IN THE WORLD, I DON'T DESERVE A FRIEND LIKE YOU, YOU ONLY WANTED TO PROTECT ME, AND I........I......."

Slowly, she lifts her face up, her eyes have a red tint in their outsides, and tears are streaming down her soft, white face. I can feel myself tearing up too, my vision is getting blurry.

"I don't deserve anything."

I broke. I can't stand to hear Marshmallow talk like this!! No, she's worthy of so much more, don't talk like that!!

I collapse onto Marshmallow, sobbing and holding her. I feel my tears swiftly sliding down my shiny, red surface. I don't want Marshmallow to be soggy, but I can't help the tears falling from my eyes. I feel a different set of tears running down my side and a soft, high pitched wail. Marshmallow.

I clutch her, not wanting to let go, in fear of losing this moment, in fear of losing Marshmallow again. Like all those other times I held her. Yes, caring for her and fear of losing her were part of the reason I always did that, but there was another reason too.

I love Marshmallow.

Wait, did I already say that?

We stayed like that for a while, holding each other tightly, until I heard Marsh stop crying. She looked up at me, eyes really red, and said this.

"Apple, why do you still care about me? After all my accusations, you still treat me like a friend. Why?"

"Marsh, I," Ok, this is it. Before wasn't the right time, but now is.

"Marsh, it's because I, I, I love you."

I don't know what came over me then, but I did something that I normally wouldn't do.

I kissed her.

I brought my body closer to hers, and I kissed her with as much feeling as I could. She looked surprised at first, but she kissed back.

Eventually, I let go. We were both blushing madly, I even prepared myself for a storm of shouting! What Marshmallow said next, I was not expecting.

"I love you too Apple."

Oh. My. Apple juice. She loves me back!? I feel so happy right now!! Actually, happy isn't even the right word for this! Uhm.... OVERJOYED!!!! Yeah, that's right! I'm overjoyed!!

And so, I sat there, smiling like a goofball. Marshmallow was smiling too, but then she said, "Hey, Apple? Can I ask you a question?"

"Yeah, sure!" "Would you like to, uh, move into Purgatory Mansion with me?" Move in with Marshmallow? Absolutely!! Duh!

"Of course!! I'd be happy to!"

"Wait, really!?"

"Yeah! We're technically girlfriends now, right?"

Marshmallow chuckled, oh my apple juice, it's the sweetest thing I've ever heard, and said, "Mansion's this way. Let's go!"

She stood up, and held her hand out to me, smiling. I took it gladly, and we walked to our new home, hands clasped tightly together.

Chapter Text

Balloon's POV

"Mom?"

"Yes dear?"

"Are angels real?"

I ran around, searching. Where is she? I hope she's still not in danger. She has to be okay, she has to!

"Of course honey!"

"Oh. I drew an angel in class today, and said she was my angel, but the others said angels aren't real, and that I wouldn't have one, even if they were."

My heart fell in sync with the thumping rhythm of my feet. Beads of sweat slid down, my eyes were watery from the cold air. I know I'm on the verge of popping, but I don't care. I need to find her.

"Don't listen to them sweetie, everyone has an angel!"

"Where are they then?"

Panting, I delved deeper into the forest, the grass was frosted, and the trees were lined with thin, white snow.

"The angels live among us; they are closer than you think."

"How do you know if someone is your angel?"

The paper I was carrying crinkled and blew in my hand, I gripped it so it wouldn't fly away. This is too important.

"Finding your angel is easy. They are always by your side, watching you, even if they're not there at the moment. They love you and look out for you, congratulating you when you've accomplished something, laughing with you when you are happy, and comforting you when you are sad. Your angel loves to spend time with you, and they would never leave you."

"Can I love my angel?"

I collapsed onto my knees, landing hard on the thin ice, cracking it, and revealing the yellow green grass underneath. I need to keep looking, but I couldn't go any further. I visioned her warm, pure smile, her laugh full of life, her sparkling, loving eyes. Suddenly, I wasn't tired anymore, but renewed with a new force. I got up, and kept running. Kept looking.

"An angel's love is always something you should cherish, and it's even better if you love your angel back, friendly or romantically. If you love your angel, with all your heart, your love will last forever."

"But no one likes me...much less loves me. Maybe I don't have an angel."

"Maybe you haven't found your angel yet. Always remember..."

I came to a little clearing in the forest, where the sun shone brightly and all the ice reflected like mirrors. It would've been beautiful...if it wasn't for her dead body laying in the middle.

I mindlessly walked over to her, and then fell to my knees. There she was, the brown leather suitcase with golden straps that changed my life. Dead.

Her eyes were peacefully closed, you couldn't tell she had frozen to death in her sleep. She still had a smile on her face, like she was just relaxing in this tranquil area. I reached out to touch her, stroking the side of her face, which was now cold and hard.

I choked up, the sobs coming in sudden hiccups. I let it run, salty tears rushing down my face onto the cool ground, melting the frost on the grass. And still, the tears tormented me. I can't help it anymore, my friend, my crush, my love, my angel.

Dead.

A gentle wind blew up, surrounding me. The air turned warm, and the softest and lightest of kisses, like a silky flower petal, touched my forehead, filling me with warmth and leaving me a little tingly.

The temperature turned cold again, but the initial warmth remained like the last burning embers of a fire. I found my mouth curling up a bit, of course, I can't ever be the same, but the least I could do for her is move on, and keep her in my heart. All she ever wanted for me is to be happy, and that's what I will try to do.

I lowered my arms under her, and lifted her up. I'd never noticed how light she was. I would tell the others, and we would bury her properly, it's the least she deserves. I looked at the paper in my hand, and with some thinking, let it go. I don't need it now. I will try to live my life without any more regrets.

I stood up, and walked away with her, the warm air still circling me.

"Your angel will always love you."

Chapter Text

Nickel's POV

I'm trash.

Absolute, utter, trash.

I was a sarcastic little asshole to everyone, I forced friendships apart, I made my own team member, my own alliance member, steal a battery, I overlooked and ignored what emotionally was important to my team, and...

I was a horrible friend.

I wouldn't be surprised if everyone hates me now. Suitcase, Balloon, Mic, Knife, the viewers, and even Baseball. I deserve the hate, to say the least.

But maybe I can make it right somehow.

Which is why I plan to sneak out of this place.

I want...need, to apologize.

~~~

Late at night, very close to midnight, everyone is finally asleep. I swear to god, these guys have a party every night. But the important thing is that everyone's sleeping. I open my room door, it creaks loudly, and I flinch.

Nothing happens.

With a sigh, I slip out the gap in the door, and walk down the hallway. Stay casual, I remind myself. It's normal that objects come out of their rooms in the middle of the night. I've seen a couple of them sleepwalking. Or it's just a case of insomnia. Either way, no one should suspect too much as I make my way to the elevator.

Once I get to the lobby, I sprint. Can't waste any time. Opening the main door with effort, I step onto the stone path, and take it all in.

It's been almost a year since I last saw the outside of the hotel. And before you can argue about the portal, it takes us inside the hotel. OJ doesn't let us outside his hotel because "MePhone said so".

But nobody really gives a crap. Apple had left recently, no one knows where she went. We were also informed that Marshmallow had once again left the parameters I had no idea existed.

I turned my head to the orange trees lining the walkway. Each one was trimmed more or less the same, we can thank Soap's OCD for that. Anything else around the hotel I couldn't entirely make out, since it was still dark.

Speaking of which, I need to get moving. I dash across the walkway, my footsteps clicking against the floor at a quick beat. Before long, the path ends, making way for the grass.

The contestants sleep outside, so all I need to do is look for a rectangular shaped object in the middle of the night.

That can't be hard, can't it?

I slow down, needing to catch my breath. I'm also near the official challenge area where everyone is dozing, and I can't risk anyone waking up.

Looking around, I can see what remains of the previous challenge, the chests, targets, and containers. I can also see the elimination area. The screen is dark, just like the sky.

And then I see the contestants. Their bodies are scattered all across the grass, and it's light enough that I can make out definite shapes.

I guess this won't be too hard after all.

I scan the sleeping forms, until I see one that looks like Suitcase. Quietly, I tiptoe over to her spot, and gently shake her. She groans a little, and turns over so I can see her face. But I know she can't see mine.

"Meet me by the edge of the forest. Please."

"Ok, just give me five minutes..." She tiredly mumbles. Good enough. I nod, and run to the meeting point.

~~~

I've been waiting here for a few minutes, and I'll wait as long as I need to. But thankfully, I didn't have to stand there for much longer. I saw Suitcase sleepily strolling over, her eyes a little baggy from stress or lack of sleep.

She looked up, and she looked taken aback by my appearance here. She glared, but still continued to approach. Suitcase kept walking until she was right in front of me, then she stared at me sternly and said in a cold voice,

"What do you what?"

I take a deep breath before replying, "I just...want to talk, okay?"

"Sure, whatever." She shrugs. She's...avoiding eye contact with me. But it doesn't matter, she needs to feel comfortable if we're going to sort this out.

"I'm sincerely sorry about what I've done to you, you and Balloon. So...I just wanted to come and set things right between us. I don't want to hate you. I'm really sorry." I say. Suitcase stays silent and unresponsive.

Then she mumbles, "...so..?"

So? What does she mean by that?

"Suitcase...what do you mean?" I ask.

"So what? Have you come to apologize because you know I can't hate? And just so you could...you could use me again?"

"What? Suitcase, no, I-"

"It's NOT going to work. I'm NOT the same person you saw on the glacier. I'm NOT the same person who would blindly follow every single order I was given!"

"Suitcase, please-" I was practically pleading with her now, but she wouldn't listen!

"NO! How do I know you're being true!? How do I know you mean what you say!? You've done NOTHING but try to tear me and Balloon apart and shaming me with all your sarcasm, and for WHAT!? Why would you try to take away the ONLY FRIEND I HAD IN THIS DAMN GAME!?"

Her eyes were on fire, not literally, but they might as well been. She doesn't understand! Why won't she listen!?

"Suitcase, you need to understand that I was only trying to protect-"

"There it is again! "Protect"! What do you need to protect me from!? Balloon!? NO! I. Don't. Care! He is my friend, and YOU don't have the right to be JEALOUS OF HIM!"

"HEY, who said I was jealous!? I was merely trying to keep you in the alliance!"

"KEEP ME IN!? BECAUSE WE NEED THE NUMBERS TO ADVANCE!? LOOK WHAT HAPPENED! YOU'VE BEEN ELIMINATED, EVEN WITH THE "NUMBERS". AND YOU KNOW WHY!? BECAUSE YOU WEREN'T A TRUE ALLIANCE MEMBER! BECAUSE YOU WEREN'T A FRIEND! AND I HOPE YOU LIKE BEING ALONE, BECAUSE THAT'S ALL YOU GOT OUT OF THIS!"

"UGH! I CAN'T BELIEVE I THOUGHT FOR ONE SECOND THAT MAYBE WE COULD GET ALONG, BUT SINCE YOU ARE ACCUSING ME OF THINGS I NEVER MEANT TO DO, AND DISSING ME OFF, IT'S BETTER WE DON'T EVER SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN!"

"I HOPE YOU BURN IN HELL!"

"YOU KNOW WHAT!? BE THAT WAY! I NEVER LIKED YOU IN THE FIRST PLACE!"

Then she kicks my leg, so hard that I fall over.

"I hate you."

The grass crunches as she storms off without another word. I get up, the greenery stuck to my face where the tears fell. I gaze at her stomping to where she was before, a few contestants already up, and asking her what happened. She goes by without an answer.

The sky has gotten lighter, I should head back before anyone notices I'm gone. I quietly make my way back to the hotel, with only one thing on my mind.

Suitcase and I...

We are never going to be okay with each other.

Chapter Text

Pudding Cup's POV

I kept my eyes on the tightly sealed white envelope as I slowly made my way home. My fingers traced over the stamped seal of France on the thick sheet. This was, without a doubt, a letter from the government. But why?

I halted briefly, sweeping my gaze to get my bearings. The red brick house Oreo and I called home was a few paces away from where I stood. As I resumed walking, I couldn't help but wonder, how was Oreo doing?

He was drafted for military service two months ago, and ever since then, he's been sending weekly letters on how he's holding up at the warfront. His tales are awfully bizzare, telling stories of loose animals and awkward situations with other people.

Honestly speaking, I would love to be out on the battlefield with him, but I can't without it being illegal. Despite that, Oreo would always write that I was as manly and brave as any of the other guys he was working with.

But I have no idea as to whether I should take that as a compliment or not.

So in the meantime, the closest I can be to him is when I read his letters to our son, Coco. He DEMANDS that I read what Oreo has to say every night before going to bed, and if there aren't any new ones; he rereads the old ones!

I stop, realizing that I'm currently standing in front of my house. Stepping up to the door, I take out my keys and unlock the door. The moment I enter, the space between me and outside closing with a thud, Coco comes leaping at me from the stairs.

"Did we get a new letter from Dad!?" He excitedly squeaks. A smile forms on my face in reaction to his enthusiasm, but I have to shake my head no.

"Not today," I start as his grin falls away, "but maybe next time."

He nods vigorously, a bright smile still remaining, and dashes back up to his room. I sigh in content, this boy is going to become a wonderful man one day.

I slipped off my sneakers and walk to the table in the living room, dropping the mail on its glass surface. Most off the envelopes contained really dumb ads, but I did keep a few coupons, just in case. And then, too quickly, I came upon the letter from the government.

Holding my breath for an unknown reason, I carefully tear open the envelope. I managed to get the flap undone without too much trouble, and take out a white sheet of printing paper, folded into thirds. There are also small squares, pictures, inside the envelope, but I'll look at that later.

Unfolding the paper, I read the top line, Dear Mrs. Crumbs,...

My hands begin to shake as I read the next line, and the next, and the next... By the middle of the damn letter...I can barely keep myself together, having to suppress sobs every few seconds..

Dear Mrs. Crumbs,

We regret to inform you that your husband, Oreo Crumbs, has passed away in battle at approximately 9:00 p.m., July twenty-fourth. He died from bleeding out from multiple shots to the head, chest, and neck. We wished to enclose you with this information in hopes that it would give you some comfort knowing how Oreo passed.

There was never a question where his loyalty lied in battle, he was a brave soldier and fought to the end. He cared for his friends and always did his best. He always kept it light, and took it all out in battle. Oreo was one of our greatest, we all mourn his loss.

If you'd prefer, we will be able to send his body to you, and the funeral will be held at your household. Or you could travel to Paris, and we will hold the funeral there. Either way, full military honors will be provided for your husband, as he deserves it.

May you grieve not alone, and not for long, and may the years ahead be beneficial to the remaining members of your family.

Deepest Regards,
Army Medal, General.

No...

No no no no NO!!!!!!

F#@k!!! Why did this have to f&$king happen!?!? He...he promised to come back alive..!! And...and then he had to go and f!#king die like a hero..

Tears overflowed in my eyes, making my vision blurry. I dropped the letter and buried my face in my hands. My breathing was ragged as I heaved sobs, but I miraculously managed to grab the envelope and letter and walk to my room.

I sat against the wood frame of the bed, sinking into the light yellow mattress, and placed the two items on the night table. Still sniffling, I grabbed Oreo's favorite pillow, homemade for his 27th birthday, and hugged it tightly.

Coco, with his brilliant mind, wanted to make something really special. So he decided to sew together a pillow that looked exactly like an Oreo. I knew absolutely nothing about sewing, so I got one of my friends to help him. It was a late gift, but Oreo loved it.

I remember him praising Coco like there was no tomorrow, his charming smile beaming brighter than the sun.. I remember him pretending that the Oreo was his face...he was such a goof...that's why I love him..

I try to stop them, but the tears came as fast as the memories started piling up. I remember how nervous he was asking me out for the first time..he actually needed Police Hat as a wingman.. He told me that it took weeks for Oreo to build up the courage to ask..

I remember how Oreo would always get so drunk at parties.. I'd have to drive him home and take care of him when he woke up and had a killer hangover..

I remember how on April Fools Day, he'd always give me an Oreo filled with toothpaste.. After the first few years, I'd learned to expect it, but always took the Oreo anyway.. Then he'd laugh at me, and I'd laugh with him..

I remember when he proposed to me.. And I remember his exact words..

"Pudding, you are the most beautiful, amazing, stunning, wonderful woman on this planet. I've loved you for so long, and I'll love you forever. And I want to keep being like this, forever with you. So...will you marry me?"

I said yes...he slipped the ring on my finger and kissed me with all the love in the world...

And all to soon, we were getting married...and then we had Coco...and we made so many happy memories together...no matter what happened, we'd come back to each other in the end..

And then...he was drafted for military service.

I remember him kissing me and hugging Coco, and he promised that he'd send letters...he promised to come back alive...

He promised...that this would become another memory, another story we could share with others...

What about now?

Shaking, I reach for the envelope, looking for the small papers inside to hopefully distract myself from this..

I had no such luck.

I flipped the small squares over, and started going through them. They were pictures...pictures of Oreo... There was one with him and his gun, he was fully dressed in his uniform, and he looked...happy... proud. Another one was of him with some of the other guys that were drafted, talking and enjoying a meal.

I look at all of them, lingering longer and longer on each one. He's so happy in all of them. One salty tear slides down my cheek. Another one follows it. And another...and another...and I'm crying again..

I drop the pictures and hug the pillow even tighter, burying my face into it. Sob after sob comes out, each one slightly louder than the last. I try hopelessly to contain the noise I'm making, I...I'm not supposed to be f@%king crying. I don't cry.

But...Oreo...he was my everything. Loss after loss made me almost immune to tears...but that didn't mean they were any easier to take. And with this...the one person who mattered the very most to me...it's like everything else came crashing back.

It's okay to cry when your loved one dies...right?

I feel so weak...

Come on Pudding Cup, get up.

I force myself to stand, and I reluctantly put the Oreo pillow down.

I was never the type of person to grieve for long. Besides, there are times when you just...need to move on, ya know?

Oreo...he...he would want this. For me to move on.

But it's gonna be impossible for me to tell Coco about this...

We- we'll get through it though. Together. As a family.

We will get through this loss.

And we'll be stronger than ever.

Chapter Text

"Pudding Cup, won't you please me mine?"

"Do I need to say this a million times? I'm. Not. Interested."

Oreo DID NOT take his breakup with Watermelon very well, but after a week or two, he started to act like his normal self again. But, and much to everyone's surprise(and a few others dismay), he didn't shy away from the dating game.

He stuck even closer to it than before.

There were only three female contestants left on Object Illusion, dating Watermelon was out of the question, and going after Gumball was contradictory, as she worked with Watermelon. So that only left one.

Pudding Cup.

But, unfortunately for Oreo, she wasn't into it as much as he was.

"Pudding Cup, I swear, if you give me a chance-" Oreo tried to persuade her once again.

"I'm done with chances, alright? I have much better things to do than date a guy, so SCRAM." She snapped back at him, cutting him off.

"So...you'd date a girl?" Oreo smirked.

"NO!" She yelled at him. She promptly turned away, clenching her fists and slightly blushing at being called a lesbian. Pudding Cup was straight as a line, and she knew it.

"Okay, I was kidding, don't get mad!" Oreo apologized. "Here, I brought you this."

Pudding Cup turned around with a sigh, and stared at the gift Oreo had brought her.

A single red rose.

"It was kinda tough getting the thorns out, but it was worth it to give it to you!" He exclaimed when Pudding Cup remained speechless.

"Oreo." She finally said.

"Yeah?"

"Do you seriously think you can win me over with flowers?" Pudding Cup asked him, putting a bit of a disgusted tone on 'flowers'.

"Well yeah, since you're a girl and all-" Oreo started to explain himself, but was promptly cut off by Pudding Cup.

"Yeah, no, not gonna work. I'm a tomboy, you can't expect me to like you just because you brought me some flower. You're gonna have to try harder than that." She said. Then Pudding Cup proceeded to walk away from him.

Now, the regular guy would've been somewhat crushed by a statement like that. But Oreo is persistent, when he has his eyes set on someone, he just does not let them go. And something about her statement motivated him.

"You're gonna have to try harder than that," she had said. And Oreo took it as a sign. Not only was Pudding Cup playing hard to get, but he also saw that she was expecting something more out of him. And only then would she succumb to his love.

Oh he was going to try all right.

And he was going to knock her socks off.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning, Pudding Cup had been walking around, bored. Police Hat was still kind of mad at her for the whole 'Oreo dating Watermelon' thing, so she tended to avoid him most of the time.

It also took forever(that's what it feels like to the objects, at least) for their host, Wii U, to think of a challenge, so more often than not, there wasn't much to do.

Pudding Cup slowly sat herself down in the grass and laid down, hands behind her head. She closed her eyes and simply absorbed the warmness of the day. She knew as well as anyone else, the drama that had gone down recently still shook the contestants of Object Illusion, so much that there was barely a moment of true relaxation for anybody.

Around here, you take what you get, or you might regret it.

Then, a shadow crossed Pudding Cup's sight. She opened her eyes, expecting to see the form of a passing cloud, but instead, a shadow of someone loomed over her.

Taken by surprise, she shrieked, and proceeded to punch whatever was in front of her.

"Ow! Geez Pudding Cup, you can punch hard for being a girl!" Oreo cried out, clutching his chest. Quite a few crumbs had dropped to the ground as aftermath of the hit, but other than that, Oreo had not taken too much bodily damage.

"Well that's what you get for sneaking up on me!" Pudding Cup retorted. "Anyway, what do you want?"

"Well, in honor of our love-"

"You mean your love."

Oreo stood quiet, and then laughed.

"I guess that's accurate. But someday you'll have to face the truth! I know you like me!" He declared. Pudding Cup rolled her eyes, she couldn't believe what she was hearing.

Sure, she was just the tiniest bit jealous of Oreo's relationship with Watermelon, but she had convinced herself it was nothing more than that, that she was only looking after her friend.

Our key word here being 'convinced'.

"But, I wanted to give you this, to symbolize my love for you." Oreo continued saying as he pulled out a brightly orange hued rose that he was hiding behind his back. The rose was fresh, as if he just picked it.

"Again with the roses?" Pudding Cup sarcastically commented, although the strange color did catch her attention. She'd never heard of an orange rose before, much less seen one. Indeed, these roses are difficult to find in nature.

"Well, yeah, but I really wanted for you to have this one, I really want you to be mine!" Oreo explained. He had looked up different rose colors online just the day before, and had used the hours between then and now to find this specific color of rose. He hadn't gotten any sleep, but if it meant being one step closer to Pudding Cup, it was worth it.

"Look, stop trying for me, because you are never going to win me over. Give me as many roses as you want, but it won't work." Pudding Cup crossed her arms as she said her sentence.

"At least take it?" Oreo handed the delicate flower to Pudding Cup, taking her hand and placing the flower in it.

Pudding Cup flushed at his gentle touch, for a heartbeat, they held each other's hands. But once the exchange was completed, Pudding Cup immediately tried to hide her blush, responding with a simple "Fine."

But inside, her heart still fluttered at the thought of her hand in his, for a much longer time span. 

"Thanks, I guess." Pudding Cup finally said before leaving the scene. Oreo grinned and bade goodbye to the person he oh so desired before leaving on another mission. Pudding Cup's heart belonged to him, he was sure of it.

But, as for Pudding Cup, she still wasn't as infatuated as Oreo was. And the way their interaction ended wasn't as desirable either. But what was she supposed to do? She didn't want to admit to him that she appreciated the simple gift, that would only fuel his desires more.

But she couldn't read Oreo's mind, could she? What she didn't know, was that no matter what she did, Oreo would still be pining for her.

Pudding Cup looked at the, once again, thornless rose. Tomboy as she was, she couldn't deny the beauty of the flower. She would need a place to put the gift Oreo had given her, but where?

Suddenly, she saw a broken cup laying on the ground. It was perfect for the rose, she thought. Pudding Cup dug the plastic cup through the ground to fill it with dirt, and placed the orange rose inside it.

The rose drooped slightly, due to gravity, but Pudding Cup thought the display was decent enough.

A slight smile appeared on her face as she gazed at the orange rose, but she shook herself quickly, remembering the last time someone had quite the same desire for her.

And that last time ended in heartbreak.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pudding Cup didn't know when she had fallen asleep, but what she did know was that she had done so lost in thoughts of her past under the stars.

She couldn't help herself, thinking of him. The flower reminded her too much of of her now ex-boyfriend, Jello. A boy who had promised to never hurt her, to always comfort her in times of losses, hurt, and to be a guiding light.

I think most can imagine how that ended.

Pudding Cup loved him, she really did. But after what happened, she saw that she was a fool to fall for him. She shut herself out of the dating game, completely. And while she was friends with boys, she would always deny any romantic feelings for them, even if deep inside, she did.

She just couldn't handle any more heartbreak.

And as well as awakening to her own confusing thoughts, Pudding Cup also saw yet another colored rose of the likes she'd never seen.

This time, it was a soft lavender color that stood out from much of the greenery of Florida.

Pudding Cup picked it up quizzically, inspecting it with interest.

"Boo!"

"FRICK!"

Pudding Cup turned around in a panic, then forced herself to relax as she saw who'd snuck up on her.

It was Oreo, smiling like he just won the Olympics.

"God dammit Oreo, I told you not to sneak up on me!" Pudding Cup scolded him. But Oreo simply put his hands behind his head smugly and said, "Well, I didn't listen to you!"

Pudding Cup scowled at him, and picked up the lavender rose she had dropped in the moment of panic.

"And I suppose this is your doing as well?"

Oreo nodded, and said with hope in his voice, "Yes! Do you like it?"

"I guess it's nice." Pudding Cup said.

No, wait, why did I say that!? She thought to herself. Mentally, she facepalmed, but she knew it was wise to not take it back.

Oreo grinned, and replied smugly, "Ha, I knew you'd like it!"

"W-whatever. It's just nice." Pudding Cup said quickly. She wasn't aware of the color rising in her cheeks, becoming brighter and brighter.

"Soo..." Oreo dragged his sentence, getting a bit too close to Pudding Cup for her liking.

"I know what you're gonna say, and no, I don't like you like that." Pudding Cup said blankly.

"Oh..." Oreo replied, sounding a little defeated. "But just you wait, I'm not giving up on you!" He immediately said afterwards, surprising Pudding Cup a little bit.

"I'll see you in a few hours!" Oreo called to her, running off.

Pudding Cup sighed and put her hand to her face.

He just doesn't learn, does he?

She looked around and picked up the cup containing the orange rose, which she'd left on the ground.

As she looked at the two gifts Oreo had given her over the past two days, she subconsciously intertwined the two stems, lost in thoughts once again.

And she couldn't help but think about Oreo and her. Oreo was very bold with love, and his feelings for whoever attracted him were always undeniable. He wasn't afraid to admit love. Quite the opposite, really.

While Pudding Cup...Pudding Cup, and though she would never say so, was shyer about getting into a relationship. She always let her past get in the way of letting her feelings truly blossom. She'd stuck herself in a cycle, of love and heartbreak.

When she'd find even the tiniest bit of romantic feelings inside her thoughts, she'd try to crush them as soon as she could, to prevent the past from happening again.

But even this rejection of her own feelings killed her inside. Time and time again Pudding Cup would watch as someone she'd develop feelings for fell for someone else.

And time and time again, she'd wonder if that girl could've been her, if only she'd admitted sooner.

But she always told herself it wasn't meant to be.

This time however, was much different.

Someone had fallen for her. And more importantly, they wouldn't let go.

And she didn't know what to think about it.

So she just ignored it, she ignored the love that was so freely given to her, because her logic was that if she just showed no emotion, no signs, he would give up.

But Oreo defied all of it.

He didn't give up, and he would never give up. Pudding Cup is, he realized, the girl of his dreams.  He wanted to have her, more than anything in the world.

And Pudding Cup didn't understand it. But through all the thoughts in her head, one bubbled up, every time she'd try to deny it.

Maybe I do like him...

She gazed at the roses, now intertwined to one.

Could Oreo possibly help me love again..?

Pudding Cup traced the delicate outline of the orange rose, the petals bouncing up when her finger would leave them.

Could I possibly forget..?

She shook herself out of her daydream, closing her eyes and thinking hard.

No. I can't love.

Pudding Cup slowly got up, weary from her conflicting thoughts.

She knew she needed someone to talk to about all this.

Someone who would listen to and understand her.

She didn't know who that person was, but she'd find out soon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Police Hat, can we talk..?" Pudding Cup asked quietly.

Pudding Cup was never the kind of person to soften the edges, so it's obvious she would never approach someone so tenderly. She was upfront, a the-truth-hurts-deal-with-it kind of person.

So the gentleness in Pudding Cup's voice threw off Police Hat, for a little bit, anyway.

Pudding Cup nor Police hat had uttered a single word to each other since their fight, and it was very unlikely that Pudding Cup came to apologize. So whatever she had to say, Police Hat knew it was important.

But that didn't mean it would be any less awkward.

"Oh, hey Pudding Cup." He replied.

"Um, listen, I know you're still probably mad at me, but-"

"Are you sorry? Beause...I owe you an apology as well." Police Hat nervously said.

The two of them, Pudding Cup and Police Hat, had similar personalities. They were both stubborn, proud, confident figures, and didn't ever truly mean harm.

And when they said something, especially an apology, they meant it.

Then they spoke at the same time.

"I'm sorry for overreacting like that."

"I'm sorry for accusing you like that."

They stared at each other for a moment, baffled and confused at what the other said a second ago. The silence stayed until Police Hat found his voice again.

"Erm, what I meant to say was that I'm sorry for accusing you wrongly. I've been...thinking...about it, and you're right, I shouldn't go around blaming people for things, I should've just talked it out with you and Oreo and got to the bottom of things. I-I'm a police officer, I can't jump to conclusions."

Then he took a breath, pressing his fingers together nervously.

"I'm really sorry, Pudding Cup."

"Yeah, I'm sorry too." Pudding Cup replied. "I might've overreacted when you blamed me... I guess I was just really mad. But I am kind of a jerk.." She muttered.

"Well, that's part of who you are, and you can't really change that." Police Hat stepped closer to Pudding Cup, trying his best to comfort her. "I mean, can be overly strict sometimes, but that's just who I am."

Pudding Cup sat on the ground sighing. Police Hat sat next to her, ready to listen to whatever she was going to say.

"It's just that...Police Hat, I have a problem."

"What kind of problem?"

"It's about Oreo," Pudding Cup said hesitantly. "He's always trying to win me over, and I don't know how to feel about it. I'm a tomboy, I don't usually deal with things like this."

"So...you need some help?" Police Hat tried to confirm.

"I guess you could say that."

"Well, I'm not sure what advice I can give you, I've honestly never dealt with love myself. I guess, give it time? I haven't talked to Oreo recently, so I don't know if he's really in love or just desperate. I mean...do you like him back?" Police Hat was trying his best to understand Pudding Cup's dilemma and assist her in any way possible. But first, he would need to find all the details.

"That's the thing." Pudding Cup confessed. "I don't know."

Police Hat was confused by this statement. As a police officer, he never focused on love, and has never had, nor realized romantic feelings for anybody. He had no idea that love included a "I don't know" phase. He'd always thought it was a 'I do' or 'I don't' kind of thing.

"How can you be unsure of whether you like him or not? It's such a simple question!" Police Hat followed up his thoughts.

Pudding Cup sighed in exasperation, she couldn't believe that Police Hat was being so ignorant. She'd thought that even with his little knowledge of love, Police Hat would know that it wasn't really that simple.

But apparently, she was wrong.

"Police Hat, it's not that simple." Pudding Cup echoed her own thoughts. "Love is a...strange thing. It can make you do things that you thought you could never do, and it can make you question yourself many times more than once. It leaves you breathless and confused, and, well, it's hard to explain, but it's something you can't understand just like that."

Pudding Cup put her knowledge into words as best as she could, remembering her own experiences with this powerful emotion. She looked up at Police Hat, who simply gave a slow nod of understanding.

"Okay...but do you like him? Think really hard." Police Hat said again. As complex as Pudding Cup claimed love to be, Police Hat knew love boiled down to a 'yes' or 'no'.

It took a long time before Pudding Cup actually responded, however. She did as Police Hat told her, she thought about every recent interaction with Oreo, how she declined his love, but how'd she blush at his touch. How'd she genuinely appreciated his company.

And how'd she reject her own thoughts of a romantic relationship with him.

Then Pudding Cup realized, she had really, truly, and undoubtedly fallen for Oreo. She loved him.

But there was still something else.

"I do... I do love him." Pudding Cup said slowly. Police Hat nodded, smiling a bit.

"Well, in that case, just go to him, say you love him!" He said eagerly. As much as he disliked the idea of being in a relationship on a show such as this one, he just couldn't pass up the opportunity to get his two best friends together.

"I, I c-can't." Pudding Cup replied immediately. "There's...something...I didn't tell you.."

Her newfound love for Oreo was undeniable, sure, but Pudding Cup found that history was now repeating itself. She'd fallen for a boy who liked her back, and once they'd confess, everything would be perfect.

That is, until her heart was broken again.

"What is it?" Police Hat asked, knitting his eyebrows with concern. Something must've greatly disturbed her for Pudding Cup not to vocally express her emotions.

"I...I...I can't tell you. I just can't." Pudding Cup sighed. "It's personal."

Police Hat nodded with full understanding, he had his own fair share of secrets that he never told, just like anybody else.

He gently put his hand on hers, and looked her in the eyes.

"I get it. But if there's anything else you want to share with me, I'm always here to help. It's my job."

Pudding Cup nodded, but then softly slapped Police Hat's hand away from hers.

"Don't touch me." She said quickly.

"Right, right, sorry about that." Police Hat sheepishly apologized again. Pudding Cup got up, signaling that their talk was over.

"But seriously, thanks Police Hat." She said.

"You're welcome." Police Hat replied, and he started to head off when Pudding Cup stopped him.

"Wait, one more thing."

"Yeah?"

"Are...are we still friends?" Pudding Cup asked.

"Of course we are." Police Hat replied with a grin. Pudding Cup smiled as well, and they both headed their separate ways.

It wasn't until an hour later that Pudding Cup ran into Oreo again.

"Hey Pudding Cup, there you are! I was looking for you!" Oreo smiled, hands suspiciously behind his back.

"Erm, hi Oreo, what's up?"

Pudding Cup had found herself much more anxious around Oreo, now that she'd uncovered her secret crush on him. She was trying her absolute best to hide it, but some things just subconsciously arise when talking to the one you love.

"Well, it took a while, but I was able to get my hands on this!" Oreo replied as cheerfully as he could, one of, in Pudding Cup's opinion, his more annoying traits, but his grin didn't fail to make her smile at least a little bit.

Oreo took his hands out from behind his back to reveal a bright blue rose. Pudding Cup was nothing short of confused and amazed.

"These don't grow in nature," Oreo was explaining. "So it was really hard to get one of these, but it was worth it! You're a lot like this flower, hard to get, but graceful and lovely!" And he said all of that smiling proudly. He then cleared his throat and held his arm out.

"For you, chère madame." He said, offering the flower to Pudding Cup.

Huh, first time he's spoken French to me in a while, Pudding Cup thought to herself. She took the beautiful rose from Oreo and looked at him.

"Um...thanks..."

"You're welcome, mon amour!" He grinned.

Pudding Cup blushed slightly at the comment. My love, he'd called her.

"Oh, Oreo, before you leave again, we...we haven't had a proper conversation in a while...umm, how are you?"

Pudding Cup mentally slapped herself, that is so awkward, who starts a conversation like that!? She thought to herself. But, to her relief, Oreo answered like a normal person would.

"I'm doing just fine, looking at you. You are très belle, you know that, right?"

Pudding Cup couldn't help but blush even more at being called 'very beautiful', as a tomboy, she didn't focus on beauty, and as an object, it wasn't very important nor relevant.

"So, how are you, then? You look a little...distressed." Oreo commented. It was true, Pudding Cup was still torn to pieces about whether to love Oreo or not. But then she quickly changed the subject to avoid possibly awkward questions.

"I'm fine. But you don't look so hot yourself. What do you call it...oh yeah, you look tired." Pudding Cup put flatly. But it was true, Oreo found himself having trouble to stay awake. The truth was, he hadn't gotten a single wink of rest for over ninety-four hours.

"Oh I'm fine, besides, sleep is for the weak!" Oreo responded while flipping his hand for extra effect.

Pudding Cup was still concerned, but she just shrugged it off. "Okay..."

Pudding Cup knew that the time was coming. She wanted to love Oreo, but she needed to preserve her feelings. She had concluded that Oreo would one day move on, or simply lose interest.

Better to be rejected now when these feelings are still mild, Pudding Cup had said to herself.

She needed to break his heart, before he could break hers.

But being honest here, it shattered her heart more.

"Oreo..." She started slowly. "I know what you're trying to do, and I'm flattered, but it won't work. I'm a tomboy, and love doesn't mix well with me anyway. Whatever you're believing, get it out of your head."

She then swallowed air, preparing herself for what she was going to say next.

"I don't love you, nor will I ever."

Pudding Cup dropped the exotic blue rose on the ground, and walked away.

And Oreo was left standing alone, gazing in the direction of where Pudding Cup was heading.

As far away from him as she could.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After a few minutes of relentless speedwalking, Pudding Cup finally decided she could sit down for a while. Her legs ached, but not as much as her heart.

She'd shed a few tears while putting some distance between her and Oreo, she didn't want him to go after her, or see her crying.

Pudding Cup fell to the ground, shaking at what she just did.

I needed to do it, it was necessary for me to, she thought to herself, trying to convince the other half of her mind that it was for the better that she straight up rejected Oreo like that.

So she questioned herself, why did she feel so upset? She did it to achieve the exact opposite of what her dominant emotion was right now. But instead of sparing her own feelings, she ended up killing them.

Well, at least there's a zero percent chance that Oreo still likes me...

But Pudding Cup was devastated. She had truly believed she found real love again after so long, and then she ruined it. She kept telling herself it was for the better, but the more she said it, even whispering it to herself, the less she thought it to be true.

"I don't love him... I don't love him... And he can't love me." She told herself.

"He...doesn't...love...me..." She said again, her voice breaking with sadness.

More tears began to fall on the grass, and Pudding Cup wiped her eyes, only succeeding in making them sting even more. She looked around, spotting a bush she could hide herself in. Without a second thought, she parted the branches and quickly sat in the shade and safety of the bush, its leaves brushing against her side.

Pudding Cup hugged her knees, bringing them close to her, and buried her face inside. And then she really let the tears loose. They brewed around her shut eyes and slid down her plastic body before dripping off and landing on the grass below her. Pudding Cup quietly sobbed, the first time she'd done so in a while.

"I can't l-love him... I can't.." She whispered to herself. "And he can't love me. It's that simple Pudding Cup...stop crying.."

But she couldn't get herself to stop. For a few minutes, she sat there, trying to get a hold of her emotions. She considered getting up and having a talk with Police Hat, but she decided against it, mainly for her own dignity. So she stayed inside the bush, hiding from everybody until she was ready again.

It was well into the night when Pudding Cup finally crawled out of the her bush. She'd stopped crying quite some hours ago, but she just didn't want the risk of running into Oreo again, or anyone, for that matter. But she figured that it was about time she quit throwing a pity party and face the world.

No one was around, thankfully, and she started to head back to Hotel Wii U. She'd gotten a notification from Wii U saying that the hotel was finally finished renovating, and the contestants were free to enter again.

But as Pudding Cup exited the bush, something strange laid on the grass beside it. Curious, Pudding Cup turned on her phone and activated the flashlight app.

And she gasped, frankly surprised at what she saw.

Laying on the ground was a bouquet of three dozen, or thirty six, red roses, wrapped together with a silk cream ribbon. Attached to the ribbon was a little white notecard with a heart made of intricate patterns on the outside.

What...who...when... Pudding Cup thought as she picked up the gift, completely baffled by the surprise.

After Pudding Cup had ran away, Oreo knew she didn't want to be looked for. She just wasn't that kind of person. So instead, he went looking for one final gift for her. He searched for the rose bush that he'd gone to so many times before, and laboriously picked thirty six of its finest red roses.

When he'd made sure it was perfect, plucking the flowers of thorns and wrapping it in a silk ribbon, he wrote a simple note to her and signed it. It took a while for him to find her, but it was relatively easy, following the faintest of crying until he came across the bush she was in.

Oreo simply placed the roses next to her, and walked away. He knew he would probably get in trouble with Pudding Cup if she knew he lingered there, or even attempted to bother her in her moment. So he walked away quietly, hoping Pudding Cup would see it later on, and understand that he would never stop loving her.

And that was exactly what happened.

"I'll always love you, no matter what. Always yours...Oreo..." Pudding Cup read.

He really just won't take a hint, will he?

Pudding Cup laughed a little, sighing with content. Oreo is a hard person to get rid of, but that was just something you had to love about him. He was always trying his hardest, he always persevered.

And the small thought that plaqued Pudding Cup's mind for so long burst into a brilliant sunrise of realization, she didn't have to let her experiences get in the way.

That was the past, and this was now.

Oreo truly, genuinely, undeniably and absolutely loved her, and she loved him back. She wanted a relationship with him, and she wanted to freely love him, with no concern of some horrible breakups.

Pudding Cup wasn't going to let this slip by anymore.

And so instead of heading back to the hotel, she pulled out her phone and started to research. Oreo had given her roses to symbolize his love, so it was her turn to give some back.

After she was satisfied with her results, she set on a quest to find the gift she needed. And it wasn't long before she found it.

Doing the same as Oreo did, Pudding Cup picked the thorns off of the twelve roses she'd found, and tied them together with a dark brown ribbon. It took a while for her to get it right, as she rarely did this in her entire life, but she eventually got it to work.

And then she wrote a little note.

Now, Pudding Cup wasn't a very fancy person, so she wasn't as poetic as Oreo was about his emotions. But the one line she wrote, I love you, came from the bottom of her heart.

Now here comes the harder part...finding the guy. Pudding Cup thought to herself.

Thankfully, it didn't take long for her to spy him resting against the trunk of a tree.

Like Oreo had said before, he hadn't slept for almost four days, Pudding Cup meant much more to him than sleep. But he just couldn't stay awake any longer. Pudding Cup smiled gently at him, silently appreciating that he'd stayed up for so long just for her, and set the roses next to him.

She stood there for a while, gazing at his peaceful form, and without a second thought, bent down and kissed his forehead.

It's about time for second chances.

And nothing will stop me from loving this  doofus  any longer.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time in a faraway land, the land that lay behind rolling green hills and majestic mountains, vast oceans of blue, golden plains and sandy dunes, the land that laid over the rainbow...

This mystical land was known as Yoyleland, and it was the only land in the universe that could grow the infamous Yoyleberries, which were very useful for warfare purposes, among other things.

All of Yoyleland, however, belonged to one kingdom, and one kingdom only.

The thriving Yoylekingdom.

And a bustling, exciting city Yoylekingdom was! There was always at least one party going on every single week, and there was plenty of finance to go around, what with the unique items Yoyleland had to offer to other kingdoms.

And there was one thing that really represented the kingdom's heart.

The beloved, Princess Leafy.

Along with her father and mother, she ruled the subjects of the kingdom with a soft grace. Leafy acted as an ambassador of sorts for the people of the kingdom, as well as a peacemaker.

When things seemed unfair in life, Princess Leafy would step in and reassure the situation was under control. Usually reaching a fair compromise, she'd prevent the spread of violence in the city.

She was a true symbol of peace through and through.

So when the princess had fallen ill, it shocked the whole population speechless.

The witch doctor had paid a visit to the castle, to where the princess was lying in bed. He shook his head, claiming that this sudden ailment was the doing of magic beyond his power.

And he was correct. The reason for her sickness was naught of a regular disease, but of an enchantment. Indeed, Princess Leafy had pricked her finger while tending to the humongous tree growing in the middle of the castle.

You see, this tree was magic, a spell placed upon it by a figure long forgotten. The tree would grow splendidly, forever reaching up towards the clouds above, as long as it was treated right and tended to properly.

Princess Leafy was simply trimming the lower branches of the mega sized tree as she always did, when she received a small splinter on her finger tip. There, she fell suddenly, floating like a feather down the height of the tree.

The kingdom was in despair.

But, the witch doctor had claimed there to still be hope. For the only way to wake the fallen princess was to encounter her with a one true love.

At first, the people of Yoylekingdom paid visit to the princess, as she loved her subjects dearly.

However, this did not work, she slept soundly as ever.

Next, her family had come in. Still, the princess slept, a peaceful smile on her face.

They tried members of the royal court, people from outside the kingdom, and even those whom were not of their own species.

Still, the princess stirred not.

The situation, it seemed, was helpless. Surely there was no way to wake her, everything was given a shot, and yet nothing proved to be effective.

If none of that worked, what would've?

On a lovely spring day, when the sun was still rising up, Princess Leafy still slept in her bed. State of mind tranquil as a dove, her smile remained soft as ever.

A maid by the name of Kite passed by her room, holding a box full of popcorn. She was ordered to deliver the sweet and salty delicacy to a guard's room, and she had to walk past the princess's room to do so.

Kite poked her head through the doorway, just to find Leafy still sleeping. A Blue Jay had flown in, taking rest upon the woven blanket lying on top of Leafy.

Kite sighed, entered the room, and placed the delivery on top of a dresser. She waved her hand around the songbird, and it flew away in a hurry. Kite turned around, when a sudden stirring brought about her attention.

"...Kite?" Princess Leafy addressed her maid drowsily.

"Your Majesty! You have woken!!" Kite exclaimed, squealing. She was giddy, and rightfully so. But her expression turned a shade confused, as she recalled what would bring Leafy's awakening.

A true love, it was.

"Princess, you were to be woken by a true love...and yet I am here." She proceeded carefully. "Is there a possible explanation for this?"

Princess Leafy glanced around her room in the cool morning light. She smiled, and rose from her bed.

"My dear maid, there is a very reasonable answer for this." She said.

Leafy then walked past Kite, and took the box of popcorm from the dresser. Kite stared at her, perplexed.

The young princess giggled before simply saying, "I love popcorn!"

Then she popped one into her mouth and left the room.

❤~THE END~❤

Chapter Text

"FIREY!! OH MY GOD LOOK!!" Coiny screeched. Firey turned to where Coiny's attention was transfixed by.

"A DJ party? Sounds cool." Firey said, indifferent.

"No no NO! You don't understand!!" Coiny screeched again, shaking Firey by his shoulders. Firey shoved Coiny away.

"Easy, jeez. So, what's so screech-inducing about the DJ party anyway?"

"Um, I get to show off my moves, that's what!" Coiny answered excitedly. "You know I don't get to dance that often!"

Firey shook his head, both amused and slightly annoyed by Coiny's childish behavior.

"We have all this free time between episodes, what do you MEAN you don't get to dance that often?"

Coiny pouted. "It's no fun to dance by myself."

"Right, Mr. Extrovert."

"ANYway," Coiny shook himself from his previous damp mood. "I am DEFINITELY going to this party. You?"

Firey pondered for a while, confirming his attendance with a simple nod. "Why not?"

"Great! When it's time, prepare to witness my KILLER dance moves!"

"When is the party anyway?" Firey asked, scanning the huge blue banner.

"Eight-thirty! We've got a few hours to spare." Coiny said matter-of-factly.

"So, um," Firey twiddled his fingers. "Mind showing me some dance moves before we go to the party?"

"Heck no!" Coiny denied Firey's request in response. "They're secreeeetttt."

Firey huffed. "Fine.  I'll go tell other people about this party.  Be a good frenemy and help me out."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Coiny replied in the same manner, parting ways with the flame.

For the next three hours, the two objects, Firey and Coiny, set out to tell everyone on the BFB cast of the upcoming party.  They consulted a team at a time, as it was easier to tell who they have and haven't told.

And while it took little to no persuading to convince some objects to come to the party, others were harder to sway.

"Ugh, I HATE parties." Fanny growled at Coiny.  

"Once in a lifetime opportunity, Fanny!  Are you CERTAIN you want to miss this?" Coiny pleaded the female.  He gave her a nervous smile, in hopes to somehow change her spiteful attitude. 

"If I agree to go, will you stop bothering me?" 

"Yes!" Finally, Coiny was getting somewhere!

"Eh, alright.  See you there." 

Something about the way Fanny said that didn't completely reassure Coiny she'd come, but it was good enough.

Coiny walked away, feeling good about what the evening would bring.  Not only was there going to be a party with all his friends; Coiny would at last show off some dance moves he'd been toying around with!  He was excited, to say the least.

After what seemed like an eternity, the time finally came.  Coiny bounced up to the building where the gathering would take place.  Some objects, he noted, were already mingling.

He also noticed a yellow and purple striped party hat, adorning three red ribbons on their head.  Coiny had never seen nor remembered this stranger from anywhere, but he didn't bother with the fellow.

Whoever it was appeared to be having a great time chatting with the other contestants. 'Best not to ruin the fun,' Coiny thought to himself.

More of the cast poured in.  Coiny's team, The Losers, came in as a group.  He skipped over to them, giddy.

"Hey guys!  Glad you made it!" 

"I'm not the type to miss a party!" Cake said with his usual happiness. "I do wish Loser was here though.." 

Cake's gaze dropped to the floor, as did Leafy's, who shifted her feet in a guilty sort of way.  Pin took note of the sudden drop in mood, and took action.

"Well it doesn't matter if Loser is here or not, we're still gonna have fun, aren't we?" She said, wrapping an arm around Cake.  He brightened, giving a vigorous nod in reply.

"That's more like it!  Everyone else is inside, come on!" Coiny ushered his teammates past the main entrance where they were chatting, and they were overwhelmed with ear-blasting music.

"Alrightt!  Who's ready to partyyy?" X yelled the loudest an object with a smol voice could yell. "You wanna make any DJ requests, come up here, and gooo craazzzyy!"

Four snatched the microphone from X. "It took a lot of hard work to put this party together, so have fun or fACE THE CONSEQUENCES!!"

Everyone nodded, mostly out of fear of Four.  One zap and he could kill them all!

"Okay then, party on!" 

Four then left the stage, and X resumed his DJing.

"So!" Firey half shouted to Coiny.  It was rather loud in the room. "When do you plan on showing those moves you've been talking about?"

"Soon!  I'll ask X to clear the dance floor, then you'll see how much of a wizard I am!" Coiny shouted back, moving his arms in a waving motion.

"You mean a wizard as in being really kooky and weird?  Because you're a master at that!" Firey cracked up, almost dropping his pizza.

"You'll see who's laughing soon!" Coiny lightly pushed Firey.

"Hey!  You made me drop my pizza!" Firey gasped, shook.  

"I'll leave you to your mourning." Coiny walked away from Firey as he desperately tried to pick up slices of pepperoni off the floor.

'Gotta make my way up to X,' Coiny thought determinedly, weaving through the crowd of partying objects.

He scrambled up to the DJ booth, a good vantage point to view the party below.  Out of the corner of his eye, Coiny spotted Fanny conversing with Lightning.

The copper coin chuckled.  Looks like she had come after all.

"X!  Yo, X!" Coiny flailed his arms about, hoping to grab the co-host's attention.  But it didn't work, for X could barely hear over the music blasting at full volume.  Not to mention, that this was where the sound was coming from.

Coiny, being ever so resourceful, tapped X instead.  It was a success this time, and X turned around.  He slipped off his headphones so he could hear what Coiny had to say.

"Hi Coiny, having fun so far?"

"Definitely!" Coiny grinned. "So uh, could you do me a favor and clear the dance floor for a super sick dance off?  I think that would REALLY raise the fun factor in here."

"Sure thing!" X chirped.  He lowered the music, and tapped the mic twice.  Everyone's attention went back to the booth.

"Everyone get your dance pants on, because we are having a DANCE OFFFFF!!" He announced.

Yells of mixed emotions erupted into the air.  The party goers were excited, for the most part, but Coiny could see some wailing in despair, or simply caring less. 

"Okay, everyone who's participating, line up over there!" X pointed to the East wall. "Everyone else, off the dance floor!  Group dances are allowed!"

As X talked, the objects moved as he said.  A shortish line had already formed before Coiny took his place.  More objects lined up behind him, and a clearing in front of X's booth was made.

"Alright, it's time to get your groove on!!" X cheered.  The participants and spectators cheered with him.

The music was turned up once more as the first dancers made their way up.  Coiny recognized them as the members of Iance, but without Fanny or Snowball.

"I A N, C E yes!  We are Iance, we are the best!" They chanted.

"YEAHHHH!!" Flower yelled, pumping her fist in the air.

"Talk about cheerleading," Book remarked.

"Book!  Didn't expect to see you here!" Coiny turned, instantly recognizing her green and blue cover.

"Guess I'm full of surprises, too!" She joked. "Ice Cube's here too!"

"Hi!" Ice Cube called from behind Book.

"Hey, Ice Cube." Coiny waved to the short female.  He then addressed Book. "So, you dancing?"

Book shook her head. "Absolutely not!  I'd rather sit back and watch.  Speaking of which, Ice Cube and I are gonna go sit down.  Good luck!"

Coiny waved the two goodbye as they walked out of his view.  Taking a look back at the queue in front of him, he realized that his turn was coming up very soon.

He got himself pumped up.  He was gonna do this!  Just a few more dances, and it would be his turn!

Waiting in line, Coiny passed the time marveling at the talent other objects had with dancing.  Leafy and Needle did a ballet recital, and some of Coiny's friends, Snowball, Pen, Blocky, and Eraser, did some sort of gang rap dance.

They even had matching gold chains.  From where they came from, Coiny did not know.

Finally, it was Coiny's turn.  He strutted onto the glowing floor.  Cupping his hands over his mouth, he yelled, "Prepare to be amazed, everyone!"

Taking a deep breath, Coiny secured his left hand on his waist, and raised the other high above his head.  Using a swift motion, he brought it down in front of him.

"Yyyyyeeet!" He said, full of energy.

And then Tree, who was standing in front of him, died.

"Oh my god!" Pen shrieked. "I think he's dead!"

"Coiny, what did you do?  You murdered someone!" Eraser said, slightly panicking.

"All I did was hit the yeet!  Lemme try again!" Coiny sputtered, punching the air.

Eraser then died.

Everyone flew into a panic then, fleeing like rats for the exit.  They spilled and scattered into the night, and then it was only Coiny in the building.

Well, Coiny and Firey, whom was watching from a corner.

"Killer dance moves, eh?" Firey snickered.

"Oh, shut up." Coiny said, unamused. 

He yeeted Firey, and then Firey died.

Chapter Text

"Party Hat, are you sure this is a good idea?" I asked my friend as we made our way to the house.

"You gotta live a little, Shieldy! Besides, it was a dare, not much I can do about it." Party Hat replied, not breaking his stride. "Why are you coming with me, again?"

"Just making sure you don't get hurt or anything. This IS a haunted house, after all."

Party Hat laughed. "This is the same place we were in for episode seven's challenge! It wasn't even haunted in the first place!"

"Still," I shook my head. "It kinda gives me the spooks. It's old, run down, not to mention a lot of time has passed last we were there."

"Hot Dog just wanted to scare me; I don't believe there are ghosts in there. What could go wrong?"

A lot of things, actually, but I kept that to myself.

"Look, Shieldy, if you really don't like this, you can just..not come with me. It isn't necessary, ya know!" Party Hat stops, eyeing me.

"I'll look like a chicken if I go back," I sigh, shaking my head. "Plus, it's probably scary to be inside by yourself."

"Looking like a chicken isn't that bad!" Party Hat scoffed, looking offended.

"You know what I meant!"

"Just teasing ya!" He laughs playfully, resuming his walking.

I groan. It's kinda hard to really be mad at him though.

"Can't we just..go inside, take the pictures, and stay outside for the rest of the night?" I ask.

"We could..but that'd be no fun! Once we're inside, you'll see there's nothing to be scared of!" Party Hat replies.

"Sometimes I wonder whether your mental age grew any further than five.."

"Heyyy! That's mean-!" Party Hat bumps me, laughing. I laugh with him.

"Seriously though Shieldy, there's nothing to be worried about. I'll be fine, you'll be fine, everything's gonna be fine!" He reassures me once again. We were at the door of the house now.

"Alright..let's just go in." I rest my hand against the cold doorknob, and turn. The door opens with a whine.

Party Hat enters first, snapping a photo of the lobby. "Everything's so old and dusty!" He commented. "Mm..and dark.."

"Hey Party Hat, should I-?"

The wooden door closes behind us, leaving the only lights coming from the open windows from the next room over.

"..nevermind.."

Party Hat shudders. "Creepy.. Could probably just be the wind though."

"I really wish we had a flashlight right now.." I sigh. "It's scarier now, and how are we gonna take pictures in the dark?"

Party Hat holds up the camera. "We could always use flash. And this camera is great quality anyway, so we should be fine!"

"Okay then, onto the next room."

We head towards the light emitting from the kitchen, where everything seemed to be unmoved. Even the giant hole in the wall Big Orange Chicken made wasn't patched up.

"Okay, picture taken!" Party Hat exclaims. What's next?"

I think for a moment. "The library! Shelly told me she scared Chocolatey away there."

"Great, let's go."

As we were walking down the corridor, Party Hat snickered and turned to me. "Hey, remember when YOU got scared out of the house?" He said, chuckling.

"We- Well-!" I sputter. "What would you do if you saw something strange and dark trying to grab someone else's foot!?"

He laughed even harder. "Kick it away, probably! I definitely wouldn't run off like a little girl!"

"Oh shut up, we're at the library, so just take the picture and we can head upstairs."

Party Hat let out a long sigh of fading laughter and snapped a photo. "It's still funny."

I took the lead. "Ah whatever, let's just go upstairs and not discuss this ever again."

"Hm, come to think about it, I don't think we've ever been in those sections of the house. Who knows what kind of spooooooky things are up there?" He smiled evily.

I rolled my eyes. "You're not helping."

Party Hat follows me heading up. The stairs were still creaky as ever, and when we got to the top, we were met with yet another large, empty room.

"Huh. I wonder why I'm not surprised."

"How many large, empty rooms does one house need to have?" Party Hat gazed around. "There aren't even any pictures on the walls, just two windows."

"Hah, I never realized you had an eye for design! Next thing I know, you'll buy this house and change it completely!"

Party Hat clicked his tongue. "Well, I can't say I'm a good interior designer.. buttt, I AM a great fun designer!" His eyes widen as he starts hopping around.

"Maybe I could line the stairs with confetti- no, balloons! NO- balloons, AND confetti! And, and, I could stock the fridge with INFINITE cakes! Ooh, I could make a mirror hall in the corridors, and I should probably do something about that hole in the wall.. " He gasps and runs right up to my face. "I could maybe even make the floors all BOUNCY!" He exclaims, giddy.

I laugh, grasping the rail for support. "You might wanna slow down the ideas there Party Hat, it mayy be a bit too early to start thinking about a funitectural career!"

"But Shieldy, once the waterfall of imagination starts, you can NEVER stop it!" He yelled, practically bouncing off the walls.

This made me laugh harder, I almost fell to my knees! Always leave it to Party Hat to turn any situation into something laughter-filled.

"Okay, okay, but don't burn yourself out! Take the picture, and let's see what other room you can fun design next."

The ever energetic Party Hat skipped to the stairway, and snapped a shot of the whole room. "Okay, left or right?"

"What?"

"Left or right? There are more hallways on the other end."

"Oh, uhhh..left!"

Party Hat pointed with his foot left. "Onward!"

Laughing, the two of us turned down the hallway, which led to more rooms with doors. A single window cast starlight in our direction.

"Hey! There are bedrooms here! And BEDS!"

"Party Hat, don't-"

Despite my half warning, Party Hat dashed past me and leapt onto the mattress. A massive cloud of dust shot up, completely covering him. He sneezed and coughed, rolling off the side of the bed.

"Ohh.. Shieldy, I don't- ACHOO! ..feel so good.." He moaned, sneezing again.

"Well what else did you expect from a dusty old bed?" I mutter, helping him up.

Party Hat sniffed, making a small groaning sound. "I didn't think it would have so much dust.. Come on though, what else do you expect me to do when I see a bed, NOT jump on it?"

I don't reply, just put my hand to my face and shake my head. He does have a point though, beds ARE made to be jumped on.

"You're okay though, right?"

He nods and sniffles again. "Yeah, the dust isn't that irritating." He snapped a picture of the room. "There's another bedroom opposite of this one. I'll go get the photo, and we can move on!"

Party Hat goes into the next room as I close the door behind us, and the click comes from the camera.

"By the way Party Hat," I say to him as he exits, "What do we do after all the pictures are taken?"

"I don't know, get comfortable for the rest of the night, probab...wHAT IS THAT!?" He shouts, pointing into the large room we were previously in.

"What.." I peek around the corner, and gasp when I lay eyes on what he was hollering about.

At the end of the room was a tall, dark figure, outside the light from the window. It didn't look like it was approaching though.

"Shieldy...we should go..like, right now." Party Hat whispered, tugging on my leg.

I nod. "Okay..no sudden moves." I inch my way past Party Hat, heading for the right hallway.

Bewm !

A laser fried the spot my foot would be next, and I halt, catching my breath before I could make a sound. Wide eyed, I look from the now burnt wood to the stranger, who was now coming towards us.

The light hits his face, and I know exactly who he is.

"It's the Hacker.." I say under my breath. Party Hat does a slow nod beside me.

"I'm back, suckers." He hisses, "lazer" gun protruding from his back. Except this time, it looked a lot more menacing, bigger, and with multiple slots for more lasers.

"What are you doing here?" Party Hat asks, a tinge of fear in his voice. "We aren't even in a video game!"

"Yes, but you must not underestimate the power of..the Hacker." He eyes each of us, not blinking even once. "And I am here.. to get my REVENGE!!"

"Dude..REALLY not in the mood for this now, why don't you go do something else with your life?"

The Hacker points a stick arm at me. "You were the one who defeated me last time! I'll deal with your friend, and then you're next!"

I looked to Party Hat for his reaction. He didn't appear scared anymore, just mad and annoyed, really.

"I'm not scared of you, weirdo! You won't be able to hurt us!" He shouted in defiance.

In response, the Hacker shot a laser at Party Hat, who swiftly dodged.

"I have upgrades," The Hacker said, "And I know how to delete you two..from LIFE."

That, made me worried. Last time we saw the Hacker, he killed everyone in the video game. The only reason I beat him was because I could deflect his lasers.

Party Hat, on the other hand, could easily die.

Without warning, the Hacker shot again, and I leapt in front of my friend, shielding him from the blow. The Hacker stepped aside and laughed.

"Ha! You think I'm dumb!?"

"Shieldy!" Party Hat whisper-hissed. "Are you hurt? Why'd you do that?"

"I'm protecting you! Unlike me, you can easily die!"

"Shieldy-" He protests, but I cut him off.

"Let ME deal with him. Now get into the room!"

"Wai-"

I shove Party Hat into the nearest room, and shut the door. Then I turn to face the Hacker.

"Go on, shoot me." I say. "You can't hit this."

Deadly looking chainsaws sprout from his arms, and they begin to spin. I gulp in some air.

This doesn't look so good.

The Hacker slashed, I dodged. He sliced the air repeatedly, aiming for my face. One of the teeth came dangerously close to my eye as I slid away laterally.

"Come back here and DIEEEEEE!!" He shouts, chasing me. A chainsaw blade comes crashing down, and I jump away, the wood splintering right where I was.

It became a game of cat and mouse, only the cat had deadly claws that scratched up the ground. We ran around the room again and again, until I heard a sound other than the whirring of chainsaws behind me.

Something collides with my back, and I fall down, painfully. I push myself up, only for me to be slammed against the wall. Groaning, I look up.

The Hacker is in front of me, an enormous hammer in hand. He pulls out his chainsaw and grins.

The glint of the silver metal wakes me up, and I squirm, but to no avail. Metal grinded against metal, I was being held by one of his chainsaw arms..!

"Time to be deleted!" He smirks. The blade switches on, and the whirr becomes louder as spinning death comes closer and closer to my face.

I look away and shut my eyes.

All I hope is that Party Hat found a way to escape and-

"Hey weirdo! Bet you can't get me, nah nah nah!" A raspberry sound follows straight afterwards.

How did he-?

"Who? What?" The Hacker scans the room for Party Hat.

But his voice wasn't coming from the room, it was coming from the ceiling..

How did Party Hat get in the ATTIC!?

I spot his eye peeking out from a hole a ways away from us.

Unfortunately, so did the Hacker.

"Grr, how dare you ruin my perfect victory!?" The Hacker growls. He thrust his chainsaw arm towards the hole, but Party Hat's eye disappears before contact was made.

"Ooh, not quite! Try again~!" He singsongs. His footsteps patter like rain above us, running all over the place. The Hacker fumes and rages, smashing the chainsaw into the ceiling again and again.

Was Party Hat trying to create a diversion?

But whatever he was trying to do, this was my chance to escape! I'd give him a piece of my mind later.

I couldn't alert the Hacker though. What around here could I use to get out? Squirming didn't work, so maybe I could push the chainsaw away..

Worth a shot.

I bend my legs and press them against the flat side of the weapon. Bracing my arms against the wall, I push with all the power inside me. The Hacker loses his balance and falls over, making two giant holes in the ground.

"Nice job, Shieldy!" Party Hat exclaims from above me. The Hacker, however, is livid.

He screams in frustration and throws the chainsaws around wildly, the latter buzzing as they sliced whatever was in their path.

"Ah!" I roll to the side and duck, narrowly missing a blade to my head. Massive cuts scarred the floor, roof, and walls, and a few holes were made. He swipes at me again, and I run. I zip past him, and he yells again, chopping up the floor.

"Hacker! Up hereeee!" Party Hat yells, and the Hacker wastes no time spearing that spot. His blade follows Party Hat's mocking voice, sending flying wood chips everywhere.

The ceiling rumbles, and more wood splinters, creaking and cracking. I race to a corner just as a huge chunk of it falls..

Right on top of the Hacker.

Party Hat whoops triumphantly. "YE-HAH! HOW DOES IT FEEL TO GET DELETED..TWICE!" He laughs. "Shieldy, that was awesome!"

"Yeah, yeah..!" I laugh while wheezing, still trying to catch my breath. "That was great, now get down here so I can figuratively RIP YOU TO PIECES!"

He drops from the attic, grin turning into a slight smile. "I saved you Shieldy, how about some gratitude?"

My hand flies to my face. "You could've been killed!"

"And if I didn't intervene, you WOULD'VE been killed!"

Another slab of ceiling comes crashing down, almost making us fall over. Dust erupts from the debris. I exchange glances with Party Hat.

"And if we don't get out of here now, we'll both be killed! Let's go!"

Party Hat follows me in the dash to the stairs, and we practically fly down them. The lobby starts falling apart as well, I hop over a piece of roof in my path.

I shove Party Hat out the door, tightly following him afterward. We keep running until Party Hat falls over, exhausted.

"My legs give..! Are..are we safe?" He panted, rolling over to face me.

Looking back at the building, only a small part of it remained standing. But, we were far from the destruction.

"Yeah. We're okay." I wipe sweat from my forehead. "You good?"

He nods. "Just a scratch, but I'm fine. You?"

"No injuries, surprisingly. I'm just really sore and my legs feel like jelly." I laugh weakly. "Tonight was crazy..! You think anyone will believe us when we say we saw the Hacker?"

Party Hat merely shrugs. "I'm just glad we made it out alive!" He rolls over again. "Let's just spend the rest of the night right here, I'm too tired to move."

"Good idea." I say, laying down next to him, hands behind my head. My heartbeat slowed as I breathed more regularly. "Hey Party Hat.."

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for saving me. I, uh-"

"No problem." He smiles. "It's what friends do."

I chuckle. "Yeah, uh, how did you get up to the attic anyway?"

"Oh, there was an entrance from the room I was in. No biggie." His face forms a slight frown. "Although, I left the camera behind when I climbed up.."

"Eh, if they don't believe us, their loss."

Party Hat laughs. "Their loss!" He sighs. "And Shieldy, thanks for coming with me. I had a lot of fun."

"Really?" I ask, confused. "Even though you were in danger and almost died?"

"Yes, even though I was in danger and almost died! If I had to be in a life or death situation with anyone, I'd be glad if it was with you." He furrows his eyebrows. "That..came out a little wrong."

I crack up. "Nah, I get it! After all, friends make it better, no matter the weather, right?"

His eyes light up. "Couldn't have said it better myself, amigo!" Party Hat's mouth opens to say something more, but instead, a yawn comes out.

"Sleep sounds great right about now. See you in the morning, Shieldy." He closes his eyes and rolls over.

"Yeah.. good night, Party Hat."

I close my eyes and let the warm night wash over me.

Chapter Text

"So? Did you get in?" Golf Ball grins, expecting the good news. She was practically jumping up and down.

How am I supposed to tell my girlfriend without shattering her heart?

"Tennis Ball?" She furrows her eyebrows, scanning my face. "Did you..not make it?" Golf Ball stares at the brown package in my hands and bites her lip. She's processing the possible outcomes.

"I..I did make it into a great college, full scholarship too..!" I blurt, grabbing her attention. "I just..it isn't Stanford."

My gaze drops to the symbol of MIT, the thing that separated me from Gb. MIT is great for computer engineering and such..but it didn't have her.

"Oh.."

"I can apply again!" I shout, seeing her crushed expression. "Th-there's still time, I can-"

"Tennis Ball, no-"

"Maybe they'll give me a chance-!"

Her voice becomes stern. "No, Tennis Ball, you don't need to reapply! Don't."

"But Golf Ball, don't you want us to be together?" I place the box onto the ground and shove it to the side.

"Of COURSE I want us to be together, but I just.." She sighs and shakes her head, short, black hair waving. Her hands rest on my cheeks, and I lift my eyes from the floor.

"You need this scholarship, Tennis Ball. We both know your financial situation isn't the best." Golf Ball firmly holds my gaze, but her voice wavers. "You are, the important person in my life. And that means I have to be willing to make sacrifices in order to do what's best."

"I," I take a moment to regain control of myself. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Of course, I still had to keep myself from quivering. "I understand. Besides..we can always text and voice chat, right?"

She gives me a small smile. "Of course." Standing on her tip toes, she pecks me on the lips. I smile back, and pull her into a tight embrace.

The day quickly came when Golf Ball had to leave for college. I had gone over to help her with moving everything to her silver car.

"Hey Golf Ball," I say, beginning a question. "You look..distraught."

She looked over at me and shook her head, making a sound between a sigh and a laugh. "I guess..I don't look the best right now, do I?"

I go over to help her with the box she was struggling to carry. "Doesn't matter how you look, you'll always look beautiful to me." Peeking my head from behind the large box, I add, "So? What's on your mind?"

"I..I'll tell you later. Let's focus on moving all of these, first."

I would say Golf Ball sounded tired, but she's tired a lot. Her voice sounded more strained; grim. Whatever was going on in her head wasn't very good.

But, if she didn't want to tell me until later, it would have to wait until later. It didn't stop me from glancing at her worriedly every few seconds though.

"Okay, everything's inside." Golf Ball announced, slamming the trunk down.

"So, the.." I drum my fingers against my thigh. "The thing you wanted to tell me?"

"Oh yeah..that." She says, slumping her shoulders. "Tennis Ball, I've been thinking about this for a while..and I think it would be best if we broke up."

My heart stops. Everything stops. I can only stare at her guilty expression as my mouth remains slightly agape, brain unable to form words.

"You know as well as I do that long-distance relationships tend to not work well, and in the case that someone else falls for you.." She looks down. "I wouldn't want you to say you're taken by some girl that isn't even there."

"We can always visit though, during the summer! We can make this work!" I plead. "It doesn't have to end like this."

She hesitates; she didn't want this either, I could tell. I just didn't understand why she was so determined to do things this way.

"Tb, we're both heading different directions in life, and you know this. And we can't just 'visit' each summer, plane tickets are expensive, you know."

Golf Ball stares at the ground and mutters,"It's hard to explain to you, you're used to having a great life and doing what you want..it's almost a miracle you turned out this good.." She jolts and looks up at me. "Th-that just came out, I didn't mean-"

"Nono, it's okay, I get what you mean," I signal with my hands and voice to stop her. "But can't we at least try?" My voice almost breaks.

"It won't work, Tennis Ball. Life is crazy, and no matter how you try, you can't predict it with numbers. I don't know how else to say it to you." She shook her head, and looks up at me with the smallest smile.

"Maybe we'll be led right back to each other. But for now, we're just friends. Don't be so hard on yourself."

Golf Ball slides into the driver's seat and ignites the engine. The tears fall faster than the small silver car as it rolls away from me.

~❤~


SmertGirl: Tennis Ball!

ClumsyBoi: WHAT HAPPENED-


SmertGirl: A guy told me he liked me and uh

SmertGirl: We're in a relationship now.

ClumsyBoi: Really? That's great!

 

SmertGirl: Uh

 

SmertGirl: You okay?

 

ClumsyBoi: Of course I'm okay! Why wouldn't I be?

 

SmertGirl: I guess I just thought that you might be upset..but nevermind that, I guess.

 

ClumsyBoi: Gb, I'm happy for you. You've got a boyfriend you can see everyday.

 

ClumsyBoi: If you're happy, that's really all that matters to me.

 

SmertGirl: ..thanks. :)

 

ClumsyBoi: Not a problem. What are friends for?

Chapter Text

Book's POV

The grass, still damp from dawn's transpiration, brushed against my legs as I walked through. The sun coming up behind me cast long shadows. A few stars still shone up above.

I pick a spot to sit under a looming tree, and rest my head against its surprisingly smooth bark. Quietly sighing, I close my eyes and take deep breaths. My spine straightens out, and I pull my thoughts to focus only on the flow of air.

However, even though I came out here to relax, my brain won't stop turning.

Lately, Taco's been on my mind. And not in the good way, either. She kept leaving us in the middle of challenges, and coming back after we've secured safety.

And then there's Lollipop, who has been showing a lot more attitude than she normally does. She always had the same perspective as I did with Taco before, but obviously, something's changed.

What's more, it's Lollipop we're talking about. Sassy, snarky, smart aleck, and dare I say snobby, Lollipop. How in the English language did she start thinking we should start giving Taco a second chance after such a great betrayal? And not to mention that she isn't even trying to redeem herself!

As the assumed team leader, all of these thoughts are quite stressing. Those two could be planning something, and in my mind, it doesn't look very good.

A rustle from the bushes. My eyes pop back open.

Ever so slowly, I creep behind the tree, keeping my gaze trained on the source of the sound. Daring not to speak, I simply waited for whoever it was to reveal themselves.

"Book?" A familiar voice called. From the bushes came a round silhouette, I could barely make out the features.

Not that I needed to, anyway.

"Hey, it's not like I'm gonna murder you or anything, you coming out?"

I step out from behind my hiding spot. "Coiny? Why are you here, you're never up this early."

"Earlier I saw you walking away," He pointed to the place where everyone else slept, "so I decided to follow you. No one goes out at the break of dawn without a good reason."

"True, true." I admit. "But I just came out because I woke up, and wanted to relax somewhere else."

"Looks like you were doing more than just relaxing," He said, almost smugly. "So, what's up?"

"It really is none of your business," I answer. "just some..personal issues I'd rather not talk about."

"Personal business, huh? Okay." Coiny nodded, and sat beside me. "So, how's your team?"

I bite my lip slightly. "We're doing fine.!"

"Really?" Coiny cocks his head to the side. "I saw you arguing with Lollipop just yesterday about Taco..OH!" He snaps his fingers and points at me. "Is that the "personal business" you were talking about?"

"Er, yeah." I rub my fingers against each other, thinking of a way to change the subject. "How..how is your team?"

Coiny seemed to radiate pride the second I mentioned his team. "Doing pretty great, thanks! Well, Firey's been more annoying than usual," He said with a slight frown, "but other than that, everyone's pretty good!"

A small laugh escapes my lips. "Must be nice, most of you know each other really well, not to mention you've got a great leader. Especially after Loser's been eliminated."

"Yeah," Coiny nodded. "Pin's been great at giving them courage. Cake's confidence is getting back up there again!" He grinned.

I can't help but smile at his positive display. "She's a great leader, Pin. Selfless, encouraging.. Much different from BFDIA."

The sun had crawled up higher since I last checked. I move over to sit beside Coiny so the rays wouldn't pierce my eyes.

"Which reminds me, aren't you the team leader of *8 names said at once*?"

"Well.. Not officially, but I try to act like one."

"Oh, cool. Makes sense, I'd wager you're the smartest one out of them, and you've got quite a bit of competing experience, not to mention a few other important qualities. Definitely a good choice for leader." Coiny eyed me as he talked.

"Heh, you think so?" My face warmed a bit, but the compliment soon faded away. "All my team seems to do is fight.."

"Well, no eight people can be expected to get along one-hundred percent of the time," He shrugged. "Especially if they've got some unresolved conflict that keeps them from getting along."

My thoughts race to Taco.

"Kind of.." I fumble with my words. "Kind of like you and Firey?"

Coiny looks down and clicks his tongue. "I guess so. I honestly don't know what happened. He's just been so..you know?" Coiny threw his arms in the air.

"You think talking about it might help?" I suggest. "Maybe that way, you can find the root of the problem?"

"Why don't you speak TO her, then?"

He rubs his chin. "That could work, if I can tolerate his stupidity long enough. Still a pretty solid idea." Coiny's eyes brightened a little. "Thanks, Book." He said, standing up. "Now I gotta get back to my team, Pin gets awfully worried, since Clock's been gone, ya know?"

I awkwardly chuckle. "Yeah, I can imagine." Bringing my knees up to my chest, I look up at his smiling figure, now catching the morning light. "I'm a little surprised, we're on opposing teams, and yet you've been so nice to me."

"We shouldn't be enemies just because we're not on the same team," Coiny replies. "Otherwise, that's a lot of hate going around. Spread love! Not bitterness."

"Huh..that is a good point. I suppose your warmness off-set me a bit."

"Maybe we can talk some other time! Maybe get to know each other better? You seem like a good person." He offered with a true sincerity.

I nod, smiling. "Sure thing Coiny."

"Peace." Coiny winked and peace-signed me, then disappeared behind the bushes from where he came.

..maybe I should actually try talking to Taco instead of disregarding her. Function as a real team again, past mistakes put aside?

Was it too late for that though? She probably hates me, after everything I've said and done.

Maybe it's worth a shot.

Chapter Text

The day was cloudy and near freezing.  Snow piled up everywhere it could, leaving the earth under a thick, white layer.  Today was a day objects would normally be staying inside, drinking hot chocolate, covering themselves with all the blankets they could find, lounging in front of a pleasant fire, or for those who didn't mind the frigid weather, building snowforts and snowmen, sledding or laughing while hurtling snowballs at each other. 

 But for the contestants and other various characters of Brawl Of The Objects, they had been spending the day spectating the finale of the previously mentioned show, watching the final five dwindle down to the final two: Shieldy and Shelly.  All around the bleachers, the air swirled and was heated with excitement.

At the starting line of the final race, the metal shield and blue seashell stood, listening to their host, Controlly, as he explained the final race.  Discreetly, one of Shieldy's supporters, Baseball Cap, passed a blue and yellow card to the finalist, to which he hesitantly plucked from the frosty ground.

 "In an effort to stick with the original Brawl Of The Objects finale rules, you may not cross the lake under any circumstances.  If you are caught doing so, you will be disqualified." Controlly stated firmly.  In contrast to his previous tone, the gray controller smiled, and walked up to a line of brown boxes. 

 "Before we begin however, I will reveal the grand prize you've been fighting for all this  time!" One by one, he threw the boxes, revealing a shiny red car, a million dollars, and a lifetime supply of golden chicken nuggets, which was immediately eaten by the spectators. 

"Well I guess that one's out of the question..." Controlly grumbled. 

"What you're really fighting for, is this," Controlly went on, pulling out a ticket made of golden film.  Even without the full sun, it still glittered radiantly. "The Golden Ticket.  With this ticket, any one wish that you make will come true automatically.  ..just don't go crazy with it." He added.

Shieldy and Shelly both marveled at the grand prize, letting out 'oohs' of astoundment.

"That being said, we can begin the race!" Controlly announced. "Contestants, are you ready?"

"Yes!" The two finalists called out in unison.  Both steeled their faces with determination.

"On your mark.."

Shieldy planted his feet to the ground, focusing on the forest of snow covered pines up ahead.

"Get set.."

Shelly closed out all thoughts, leaving her current mindset as narrow as the path in front of her.  A chilly wind blew through the area, sending a shiver to her body.

And sudden realization speared her heart.

"G-"

"Wait a minute!" The armless female blurted, her voice on the brink of a shout.  Scolding herself for sounding panicked, Shelly brought her voice to a normal tone. "Are we racing in..this environment?  Where a blizzard could possibly happen?"

Shieldy looked on in confusion at Shelly's outburst, but nodded in agreement. "She has a point."

Controlly only rolled his eyes. "I wouldn't schedule the finale on the day of a blizzard.  While this isn't the ideal weather for the finale, I can't delay this any longer, and the forecast says it's only light snow today.  Now, if you don't have any more questions.."

Though she wasn't reassured, Shelly remained quiet, and faced the forest.  She would just have to deal with the hand given.

"On your mark..get set.." Controlly started again, raising his voice with each word. "Go!"

And the contestants were off, the yells of encouragement from their supporters echoing in their heads.

Shelly shoved her fear away, for there was no time to be fretting about the situation.  She had a competition to win.  Gradually, Shelly gained a lead, her deep breaths falling into steady rhythm.

Remembering the card Baseball Cap lended him, Shieldy took a look at it.  A focused demeanor switched to a grin upon seeing what the card was.

"Go, Battle Monster!" He held the playing card up, and a yellow and white UFO-like Battle Monster appeared.  The monster gave Shieldy a wink, and zipped to his competitor.  A purple light emitted from the monster's underside, and a mustache monster was unleashed upon Shelly.

She screamed, and a cloud of dust went up as the monster mercilessly attacked Shelly.  A twinge of guilt nipped at Shieldy, but he continued on, saying thanks to Baseball Cap under his breath.

Not one to give up easily, Shelly dashed through an opening in the mustache's attacks, landing face first in a snow bank.  The mustache, thinking it had beaten its opponent, fluttered away with a coo.

"Where did Shieldy get THAT from?" Shelly sat up, dumbfoundment mixed with slight anger.  Her rival turned his head towards her, a smug look on his face.

"Later, Shelly!" Shieldy called.  Neverminding her scratches from the assault, Shelly bounced up and sprinted to close the distance. 

The fire of determination kept it away at first, but now the near freezing weather really was getting to Shelly.  Another shiver passed through her body, almost causing her to trip.

At this point, Shelly had caught up to Shieldy, only lagging behind by a miniscule amount of space.  Shelly was heaving, pumping power into her legs to keep her moving and warm. 

However, Shieldy had noticed Shelly's increasingly labored running, and a pit of worry grew inside him.  After all, Shelly was his former teammate, and a competitive race didn't change how the young male felt about her health.

"Shelly?  You don't look so good." He commented, but was ignored as yet another cold wave struck Shelly, forcing her to slow down.  The female shuddered violently.  Now that she had stopped running, the outside chill could finally settle inside her.

The next thing Shelly knew, she was on her knees, her body too weak to stand. 

"Shelly?" Shieldy halted, no longer hearing the pattering of the seashell's footsteps beside his.  He whipped around, only to see a light blue shell sitting in the middle of the path.  Light snow had already piled up on the surface.

Shieldy scrambled over to Shelly, momentarily forgetting the race.  He swiped away the snowflakes, and rubbed his hands together immediately.

'She's ice cold!'

For a moment, Shieldy flew into panic, unsure of what to do.  He could always try warming her up, but how?

The shield looked at his hands, which were still warm.  No time to think about another solution.

Shieldy pressed his hands together, rubbing them until they felt like they'd combust into flames, then placed them onto Shelly's surface, applying the warmth to different places.  He repeated this process several times, praying under his breath that it worked.

Eventually, Shelly weakly opened her eyes, and Shieldy assisted her up.

"What happened Shelly?  Are you okay?" Shieldy bombarded her with questions asked in a panic driven voice.  He urged her into walking, Shelly's legs shaking dangerously.

"I-It's cold.. Y'know, there was a reason I asked th-that question back at the starting line.." Shelly stuttered.  Her legs dragged on the ground every now and then.

Shieldy only became more confused. "I..don't follow.  Why'd you collapse like that?  You were running, you should've been fine!"

Shelly inwardly groaned.  It seemed no one on this show knew anything about object biology except her. "Here's a hint..I'm a seashell."

"Well I never took object biology!" Shieldy argued back.  He bit his lip, regretting his slightly harsh tone.

"R-Right, right.." Shelly mutters.  She had stopped shivering by now, a sign that she was too cold. "Seashells like me are native to the beach, so they're not meant to survive in cold weather-"

"Wait, not meant to SURVIVE?" Shieldy yelled, shocked. "Does that mean you could've died!?"

Shelly nodded solemnly. "Yeah.. What I just did, curling up.. It's our way of conserving heat until a heat source can be found..like what you did for me..." She trailed off, the meaning of Shieldy's actions truly connecting in her head.

Essentially, he had saved her life.

"..but why?" Shelly gazed up at Shieldy, reading his face for emotion.  She found nothing but concern and sincerity, and it confuddled her. "Isn't winning important to you?"

"Of course it is!" Shieldy replied. "But you're more important than winning.  I don't want you to die!"

"You attacked me with a battle monster." The female shell reminded Shieldy.  It was at this moment the latter took notice of the shallow scratches Shelly now bore.  He winced, a guilty bubble in his stomach.

"I didn't mean to hurt you.." Was Shieldy's only response.

Shelly simply gave him a nod of acknowledgment.

"Try to get to the finish line Shelly.  Then you can warm up." Despite the stakes, Shieldy gave Shelly a warm and friendly grin.  Shelly could only manage a weak smile back at him.

And she swore that an ember of warmth sparked inside her.

Shieldy drifted from Shelly's side, looking back at her every now and then to check if she was holding up okay.  Often, Shieldy would wait for Shelly to catch up.  Whenever the threat of tripping came, he'd dash to catch her, and the pair continued like this for a while; Shieldy and Shelly never being more than five feet apart.

"I..can't feel my legs.." Shelly muttered.  Shieldy was by her side, hands held out in case she fell again.

"Almost there.." The male encouraged Shelly, though he wasn't sure himself how much farther the race went on for.  He hoped it wouldn't be too long before they reached the finish.

"Shieldy.." Shelly murmured, before collapsing to the ground, unmoving.

"Shelly!" In a half heartbeat, Shieldy was beside his fallen friend, panic coursing through his body.

'Is she dead?'  The terrible thought was there for a fleeting second, until Shieldy banished it to the back of his mind.  His heart was beating wildly, so much that he smushed his lips together so that it wouldn't jump right out.

"Hold on Shelly," Shieldy pulled Shelly close to him, cradling her body in his arms as he stood up. "I got you."

Despite the added weight, Shieldy kept a jogging pace as he moved closer to the finish, always keeping Shelly close to him.  Whispering things to her even though she couldn't hear.

"You're not dying.  Not on my watch."

Shelly regained consciousness in a place that was, at first, unfamiliar to her.  A fire crackled on the hearth, and a thick baby blue blanket was draped around her.  Wooden, cream colored walls surrounded her, and she remembered. 

'The team Vanilla cabin!  What am I doing here?'

Something stirred beside her.  Shelly looked to her side, and locked gazes with Shieldy.  Though the former got flustered at the sudden eye contact, Shieldy seemed unaffected, relief flooding him instead. "Shelly!  You're awake!"

"Shelly's awake?" Another female voice, Slurpy, called, sharing the relief Shieldy had.  The legless bendy straw hopped over to Shelly's other side, and gave her a warm smile.  "I'm glad you're back."

"What happened?  I thought I was in the forest..?" Shelly asked.  The memory of nearly freezing to death made her shudder, and she realized she was still cold.

"Shieldy carried you to the finish line," Slurpy explained to her friend. "Then you were brought here to warm up."

"Speaking of which," Shieldy cut in, "How are you feeling?  Are you warmer?"

"K-Kind of.. Although, I learned that in object biology, an object suffering from hypothermia should get their warmth from another, i-instead of direct heat.  The blankets won't help anymore." 

"Oh.  Well then-" Without giving himself time to think, Shieldy draped the blanket over himself as well, scooting closer to Shelly so that they touched. "Th-This is okay, right?"

The metal shield couldn't help but blush awkwardly, his body heat slightly increasing.  His warmth washed over Shelly.  The slight glare Slurpy gave the male was one of skepticism, but she gave no words of protest.

"I-It's okay-" Shelly took a few seconds to respond, taken by surprise. "How long have you two been here?"

Slurpy was the one to reply this time. "We've been here the whole time.  Party Hat, Chocolatey, Pizza, and Hot Dog were here for a while as well.  Shieldy insisted on staying with you until you were better."

"Oh, uh..thank you, b-both of you..!" Shelly smiled at Slurpy and Shieldy, blushing slightly.

Shieldy chuckled. "It's not a problem, Shelly." Another warm wave washed over Shelly, melting what remained of the chill inside her.

She thought she'd let the moment last.

Chapter Text

"What are you doing here?"

Shieldy and I could only stare at each other, speechless. Looks like he had the same idea I did.

I wonder if he felt the same way about it.

"If you won't tell on me," Shieldy began, "I won't tell on you."

"It's a deal." I nod. The vast lake of ice stretched out before us, forest surrounding the body of solid water. "Be careful though, the ice may be-"

Shieldy runs, and ultimately stumbles, onto the ice, completely ignoring me. He skates around, laughing like a child. Despite the tense moment earlier, I can't help but smile at him, watching as he slid and did small spins.

"You coming?" He asks, skidding to a halt in front of me. "You did come here to cross, didn't you?

"Yeah, just..give me a moment."

The icy surface of the frozen lake lay unbroken before me. It looked safe enough to cross..

I had never really liked ice. Or anything too cold, for that matter. But if I wanted a chance at winning, this was what I had to do. There was no way Shieldy would take the long way around because I was a scaredy shell.

Slowly and cautiously, I approached the lake. The snow crunched under my feet as I inched forward, and I could sense Shieldy's eyes on me.

The smooth ice burned my foot with a freezing sensation as soon as I had made contact; I barely resisted the urge to jerk away. Setting my other foot down, I started to slide away from the safety of the shore.

My legs wouldn't stop shaking.

"Ever been skating before, Shelly?" Shieldy circles around me, very much in a teasing manner. I shake my head, anxiety levels rising as I drifted from the edge.

Where I come from, the farther you are from shore, the more dangerous it gets.

"So..I suppose you don't know how to do this?" He continues, smug. Shieldy leaped and twirled once in the air, letting out a small shriek as he landed ungracefully on his hands.

I snicker at him. "Real nice, Shieldy."

"I can do that better, I swear." He grumbles, getting back into a standing position. For a moment, the fear was gone on the wind. My feet were numb from the freezing ice, but it was better than having to run all the way around in the frigid winds.

I glance to my side. Nearly halfway there.

A crack splits the air; Shieldy and I snap our attention to the lake below.

Where Shieldy had fallen seconds earlier, a break in the ice, growing larger with every heart-stopping, high pitched creak. The ever-growing web passes under me, rough coldness piercing my feet and heart.

Everything freezes. I can't look away from the mesmerizing pattern of shimmering ice floes, changing with every new crack.

Dark, gelid water consumes me before I have the chance to scream. A rippling wave crashes over me, forcing me deeper. Shutting my eyes tight to prevent them from being stung, I kick my legs frantically, fueled by panic and adrenaline.

The dropping temperature tells me I'm only sinking down further. Cold grips my heart, reaching out tendrils that shake my body. There was no crying for help, nor even risking to see how deep I was.

It takes fifteen minutes until I can't hold my breath any longer. Weariness kicks in, slowing my movements, making them weaker. My legs don't feel like they're there anymore.

Has it been one, or five minutes? Dark and cold press in, threatening to crush me in its clutches. Every particle of my body was screaming, screeching. I couldn't even feel my own skin. Is fifteen minutes almost up?

Then everything goes quiet. I stop my weak thrashing. Even without looking, I knew the bubbles are rising up further, as I sank deeper into the cold, calm quiet.

Accept your fate.

I hope Shieldy knows how to swim though.

A pair of arms wrap around me, holding fast. Water breaks at my head like a soaring jet.

The pressure is gone, and freezing water slaps my face. Frail coughs leave in between gasps for air. Frigid streams run down my face, some of the droplets drizzling into my mouth. A stinging wind passes through, and a chill seeps in.

"Shelly. Shelly! Answer me!"

"Huh?"

Shieldy bobs slightly in the water, ripples moving out from the two of us. The water glitters along with his metal, but his worried face is cast in slight shadow.

"Are you okay?" He asks more slowly.

I nod, my body shaking. "Y-Yeah, I'm okay." Shieldy let out a breath, the warm air condensing between us.

"Good..I was worried."

He kicks his legs, steering us closer to the edge of the broken ice. The rhythmic sloshing of the water as Shieldy pushed it away was strangely soothing. One of his arms was always wrapped tightly around me, and despite the freezing temperature, it felt oddly safe.

I haven't been held like this in a long time.

Shieldy places his other hand on me, and lifts my sopping body onto the ice. I shiver yet again, what was left of the water dripping down like light rain. Everything tingles, now that I was fully exposed to the wintery winds.

"Come on Shieldy, w-we have to go."

With shaking arms, Shieldy grips the ice and pushes, but his hands slip, plunging back into the water. The splash washes over my feet.

"I-I'm not sure if I can.." Shieldy admits after a few more tries of this. He slips under the water, and panic attacks my heart. Sputtering, he resurfaces, and the fear is swept away.

Well, most of it, anyway. Dark thoughts still lingered in the far corners of possibility.

"Come on Shieldy," I plead. "Y-You can do this." I offer a foot to help him, but he lowers it back down.

"That'll just end up with you falling in again." He gives me a small, weak smile. Shieldy's arms rest on the ice, and from what I could see through the water, his legs were barely moving anymore.

"Don't give up, Shieldy! We..we need to finish the race, y-you need to be here.." Despite trying to be commanding, I tremble, not just from the cold, but also from the desperate situation. Was Shieldy really giving up? He can't just do that!

"Shelly," Despite his weakened state, Shieldy's voice was firm, and yet friendly. "You need to finish the race. I can catch up later."

We both knew that was a lie.

He continued on. "Besides..Slurpy would really like to see you win. And Party Hat, too. You persevered through the first challenge, were the first to secure final three, and got the most votes in the social challenge. The last girl in the final five.." Shieldy went on, almost in a dream-like state. He was sinking again.

Our eyes locked. Something sparked in his gaze.

"You deserve to win, Shelly."

Tears pool in my eyes; I have to clench my teeth to keep myself from wailing. One of the tears come loose, and slide to the ground. "Shieldy..stop.."

"You're not doing yourself any good by standing around here," Shieldy points out. "You'll freeze if you stay."

And he was right. Some systems were already shutting themselves down to conserve heat. I could only barely feel my legs, shaking from the cold, tiredness, and despair.

I wouldn't be able to come back from the next step of heat conservation, either.

The only thing I did was nod in numb acceptance. Shieldy smiled again, heaving himself up so that his weight rested on his elbow. With his other hand, he gives me a shaky thumbs up.

"Win it for me, Shelly."

I don't say anything, fearful that whatever came out of my mouth would be nothing more than a cry. The only response I manage is yet another small nod, a weak, fake smile.

Inch by overbearing inch, I slide across the lake, not daring to look back at who I left behind. Just focus on the trees. Focus on the race. Focus on the cloud shaped clouds in the sky.

Anything but him.

I sink into the snowy ground, having finally cleared the ice cold lake. No way to go but to trudge onward, not barely having the energy to lift my feet out of the banks.

Ever so faintly, a splash resonates around me. I pause at the treeline, and contemplate looking back.

I walk into the trees, and back to the track.

He was gone.

There wasn't any reason to rush. I walk along in utter silence. Just the wind howling, attacking and pushing.

Was it laughing at me?

Shieldy was gone.

It was my fault.

The tears come back, spilling over and running like a waterfall. My whole body aches, heart weighing heavily in my chest. A wail is sent on the wind, and the sound becomes a broken dam. Everything is shaking. Everything gets blurry.

Guilt, exhaustion, despair, the cold; all of it threatens to knock me over.

I just wanted to curl up here and never come out. I don't want to face the world. I didn't want to see, or hear, or touch or feel. I just want to stay in my shell, and be safe and warm.

Warm..how long has it been since I've felt warm?

My knees burn and the muffled wind howls outside. I hid my face away, though my tears were still frozen on my cheeks. There's no sight, no sound, no touch. Just the numb throbbing in my chest. How the pain is slowly dying away, and then cresendoing with my aching heart.

'Win it for me, Shelly.'

More tears hit the ground. I swallow to quiet the cries attempting to escape my throat. Soft hiccups come out to replace them.

You can't give up, Shelly. This is not your fate. You have to make it to the finish line. For Shieldy.

You have to.

I push one leg against the ground, then the other. My entire body quakes from the effort, and I have to pause between each step to keep myself from falling over. It was like walking with a weight on my back, and the snow just kept piling higher.

Dipping my head, all of it falls into a small mound in front of me. It wasn't much better, but it was better.

Just keep going. Another wind blew up, smacking my face and making it sting with more tears. I turn my head to the side, slightly protecting my eyes and mouth. The trees I can see go in and out of focus, pine green blurring with dark brown. My brain becomes light, and I stumble over my own feet. I wince, lifting myself from the ground once more. Everything hurt, and was numbly throbbing, inside and out.

Just keep going.

It feels like hours of struggling before the pines thin. Gray clouds blanketed the sky; the sun dully shining behind them.

And yet, it was blinding.

"Let's go Shelly, let's go!"

"Go Shelly!"

The voices merge in my head, becoming sayings of gibberish. Only a few words I understood.

Just keep going.

From an unknown source, my legs picked up power, driving me closer to the finish. I could scarcely think, like my brain was being frozen alive, slowing everything down.

It was almost like moving in slow motion.

Just keep going.

White noise blasts inside my head, and I go blind for a few seconds. The back of my eyes burned with the bright light.

A sliver of the black and white checkered line slips away behind me. Cheers and shouting surround me, an overwhelming amount of noise.

Shieldy's name is whispered amongst them.

A gray figure walks up to me, talking in words I couldn't make sense of.

For a second, I was floating.

Then the world went dark.

Something crackled in front of me, the heat brushing my face. A soft blanket was wrapped around me, too.

It was still cold, and I was shivering again, but at least my skin wasn't freezing.

I pried my eyes open, and flames leap out at me. I gasp and draw back. The fire recedes, burning inside the fireplace once more.

"Shelly?" Someone calls. A high pitched, female voice. It was so familiar..

Slurpy.

In a few hops, she was beside me, and relief filled her eyes. "You're okay! I was so worried.."

"Are we..in our cabin?" I ask. It all felt like home, the colorful, worn rug beneath my feet, the patterned, cream walls..

Slurpy nods. "You passed out after crossing the finish line, so Party Hat, Hot Dog, and I brought you here."

"Right.." I remembered. The struggle to walk; it was freezing. I almost died.

Shieldy drowned saving me.

"You won..! I knew you could do it, Shelly." Slurpy smiles, gazing down at me.

I've known Slurpy for a while now. I could sense the hidden sadness.

"..Shieldy isn't here..is he?" I say quietly.

Slurpy turns her head away from me, and stares at the ground. Then she looks back at me. Her eyebrows were furrowed, and her mouth tightened. Pain filled her eyes.

"They told me they waited for him for an hour. Party Hat stayed for two more; nearly froze to death out there. Controlly sent out a drone and found a huge hole in the lake." Slurpy pauses, shaking her head. Her breathing is unsteady. "He thinks Shieldy drowned.."

I nod, already knowing what happened. My heart begins to ache once more. Party Hat waited in the cold for three hours..?

"Of course Shieldy breaks the only rule of the race! Of COURSE!" A wave of anger emanates from her, but it isn't really one of anger. It's a frustrated-angry kind of thing. A sad-angry kind of thing. "He never learns, and now look where that's gotten him!"

I say nothing, and just lean on Slurpy's shoulder. Her racing heartbeat slows as she takes deep breaths, each one shaky from her strong emotions. Slurpy wraps an arm around me, then pulls me in for a tight hug.

"At least you didn't die on me.."

The stairs creak behind me; my heart jumps, and I turn to face whoever was there.

"Hey Shelly.." Party Hat slightly sighs. His voice sounded a lot more tired than I remember it, and it somehow felt like his voice carried more weight. Party Hat looked pale and tired, even the red streamers atop his head were drooping.

"Hey Party Hat." Slurpy and I said in near unison. I glanced at Slurpy, her concern for Party Hat reflected in her face.

"So," Party Hat takes a seat beside me, lips turned up in a half smile. "You won! Congratulations, Shelly!"

"Thanks." I wonder if it's a good time to ask what happened to him..

Silence sweeps over us for a few moments.

"You don't look so good Party Hat..are you okay?" Party Hat stares into the fire, smile gone, and I see the tear stains on his skin.

"Did Slurpy tell you what happened to Shieldy?" He whispers, still gazing at the licking flames. I reply with a small 'Mmhm.'

He sighs, and his eyes drop to the floor. I've never seen Party Hat so..melancholic before. Sadness welled up inside me, threatening to overflow.

"Controlly said they couldn't get Shieldy until the ice melted," Slurpy whispered to me. A sharp inhale from Party Hat. "Apparently it's too dangerous to attempt rescue until then."

"Oh.."

It would be well into Spring before the lake ice melted. Five months. It was five months too many.

"I was with him at the lake.." The words come out without me even processing them. Slurpy stares at me, mouth agape, but she doesn't say anything. "We fell in, and Shieldy saved me from drowning..h-he was too weak to get out himself, so I tried to help.."

Party Hat and Slurpy don't interject as I recount what happened, their eyes wide while they listened.

"..maybe I could've saved him if I didn't go.." I add in a quiet voice.

"Shelly-" Slurpy cuts in. She pauses for a few seconds, like she wasn't sure what to say. "There wasn't much you could do. Like you said, he told you to go on, and you would've fallen in if you tried to pull him out.

Party Hat nods, but doesn't say anything. He doesn't look me in the eye.

I don't want to think about what's going on in his head.

"Still, I could've done something!" I turn back to Slurpy. A mix of bitterness and guilt prick my eyes, and I squeeze them shut. Wet tears travel down my face.

It really was my fault.

Why didn't I stay? Why did I listen? Why didn't I do anything?

An attempt to stifle my cries are unsuccessful. The thoughts turn into a whirlwind, wanting to consume me.

I'm only vaguely aware of Slurpy's arms around me, and Party Hat leaning into my side in an armless hug. His soft sobs echoed in my ears.

"Hey Slurpy, I just- ..am I interrupting something?" Controlly said from behind us.

"What do you want, Controlly?"

I turn my head to look at our now former host. He holds something golden in his hand.

"Only wanted to check up on you guys. I see that Shelly's awake." He nods towards me.

Without waiting for a reply, Controlly continues talking. "Congratulations on your win, Shelly, especially since you almost died out there." He almost sounds humored.

"I wanted to give you your grand prize when you woke up, so.." Controlly walks across the wooden floor, and hands me a golden ticket.

THE Golden Ticket.

A sad face stares back at me through its reflective surface. It's like a golden mirror.

"You still remember what it does?"

I racked my brain for the answer. It feels like forever ago that I was at the starting line with Shieldy.. "It..it grants any one wish, right?"

"Anything you want. You earned this." Controlly nods.

My mind is foggy, unclear on what to wish for. Did I have to choose now?

My gaze travels to Slurpy, then Party Hat. Both alternate between looking at the ticket, then at me. I stare at Party Hat for a little bit longer.

And a bolt of clarity strikes me.

"I wish Shieldy was here!" I cry a little too loudly.

Instantly after the last sound is uttered, the ticket becomes a burning ball of light. I shut my eyes tightly until the air is room temperature once more.

Slowly, I lift my gaze. The room is still bathed in a fading white light.

And Shieldy is there.

Right in front of my eyes.

A grin spreads upon my face, tears forming once more. I laugh and cry at the same time, and he just stares. He stares at me, then Party Hat, then Slurpy, and then Controlly.

"What..happened?" The words leave his mouth slowly. Shieldy looks around like he's disoriented. "Where's-"

Party Hat rushes to Shieldy, placing his head on his best friend's side. He chokes up, grinning wildly. I join Party Hat, burying my face in Shieldy's warm chest, letting the balloon of elation inflate inside me. Eventually Slurpy hops up, wrapping her arms around all of us.

"Yeah..I'll just leave you guys to it." Controlly awkwardly says. He closes the door behind him.

Shieldy's arms wrap around me once more, gently hugging me closer. "What happened?" He asks again.

I turn my eyes to Party Hat's voice; he's looking more like his normal self. "Shelly used the Golden Ticket to bring you back..I'm so glad you're here again." He spoke the last part softly, and closed his eyes in a blissful expression.

Shieldy smiled, then turned to me and whispered, "Thanks for saving my life..I owe you one."

"No.." I whisper back. "You saved me, too. We'll call it even."

Chapter Text

"No no no no NO!" Wailed a panicked Chocolatey. Shieldy only watched her with worried eyes.

For the past week, Party Hat had been ill from a sickness he had picked up while the final seven were on a camping trip. Recently, he fell in a coma and was briskly whisked away to the hospital.

Since then, Chocolatey has been anxiously pacing around, on the verge of a breakdown.

"Chocolatey please, calm down-" Shieldy, realizing what he just said, braced himself for the outburst that would soon follow.

"CALM DOWN!? My friend is in a COMA, possibly DYING, and you expect me to calm down!?"

"Well," Shieldy snapped back, "I'm his best friend, and you don't see me working myself into the ground!"

Chocolatey let out an exasperated laugh, tinted with sarcasm. "Of course you're not, you don't understand things like these!"

"I understand perfectly!"

Chocolatey ignored him, her thoughts plunging into what made her so upset in the first place. The past consumed her mind, and she cried out, "I never should have run away, or this wouldn't have happened in the first place! Stupid disorder, stupid everything!" A few frustrated tears rolled down her face as she fell to her knees.

"..what are you talking about?" Shieldy softly inquired.

The chocolate bar merely stared at him, debating whether or not to tell him the real reason she had run away from home. Chocolatey's pain-striken eyes met Shieldy's innocent ones.

His damned, innocent, irresistible eyes.

"I have a..eating disorder. It's called Sugar Cannibalism. It..it makes me eat parts of myself."

Shieldy's wide eyes grew wider yet.

"Sugar Cannibalism is highly taboo where I come from, a-and when my parents found out..I ran away. They would've shunned me. Everyone would have."

"And then they sent Party Hat to look for you." Shieldy whispered.

Chocolatey nodded. "You know the rest." Her voice quivered, all of her harbored feelings threatening to spill over. No one but Party Hat knew about this, and he had, many times, assured her that it was okay.

But this wasn't okay.

The shame Chocolatey still felt from running away, the fear of what would happen if she went back home, or if someone she knew found her..and the feeling she most often got. The guilt of knowing Party Hat had decided to stay with her, instead of returning to his loving family and friends.

She could never forgive herself for that. And this only made it worse.

"I never should have left.." Chocolatey squeaked out, the words breaking under their own weight. More tears streamed down her face; her breathing turned into gasping as she broke down.

Shieldy wrapped his arms around Chocolatey, allowing her to hold him closer. The young male hated seeing anyone upset. He would let Chocolatey cry into him and hold him like a teddy bear as long as she needed to. And Chocolatey was grateful for his love and comfort.

"Did Party Hat ever tell you why I was with him when I met you?"

Chocolatey sniffed. "Wh-What?"

Shieldy didn't pull away from the hug, but Chocolatey could nearly see his pained face in how he spoke. "I used to live in a castle town, training to be a knight. I was too much trouble though..so the General, under the king's permission, ordered me to leave." In a barely audible fashion, he muttered, "I've seen things you don't want to know about.."

Chocolatey had heard of the still existing monarchies in the world. More specifically, the hard times that had befallen some of them. Constant war, famine, disease, and fear and anger. She imagined a very young Shieldy, witnessing all the hate and unfairness life had to offer. He was naive and unable to understand, asking his mother, who was holding him, why everyone was angry all the time.

It was enough to bring out fresh tears. Chocolatey's heart flooded with sympathy for Shieldy. He did understand.

"I'm sorry.." She whispered. A tight squeeze and shaky breathing was the response.

Shieldy was the first to speak again. "If worst comes to worst..we'll have each other, right?"

The little ember of optimism earned a small smile from Chocolatey. She chuckled softly, and returned Shieldy's loving and comforting embrace.

Chapter Text

Former members of the Bright Lights, Fan and Lightbulb, walked and talked along the forest path, deep in casual conversation.

After Lightbulb had gotten over Paintbrush's upsetting elimination, she had taken the time to hang out with her other buddies, Fan and Test Tube.

But more recently, she had found herself more opt to spend her hours with the male folding fan. It wasn't that she preferred him over the science gal; in fact, Lightbulb found her and Test Tube's friendship to be quite unique and perky.

It was that Lightbulb felt something different with Fan. Something that felt like it could eternally fuel the filament inside her. And she was certain of what it was.

Obviously, it was love.

She didn't blame herself. Fan was passionate about everything he loved, and he was always so animated. And unlike Test Tube, he was more willing to get on board with the crazy ideas concocted in Lightbulb's brain. He'd record almost everything they did, and on a sad day, the pair would rewatch their adventures and laugh the sadness away.

Not to mention that everything about him was adorable. The way his eyes lit up when doing or talking about something he loved, his voice and his sweet, dorky laugh..

Lightbulb glowed on the inside. Stupid in love, as they said.

"And there are SO many possibilities, you know? Infinitely many choices, infinitely many ends, it's all so overwhelming sometimes!"

"Infinite you say?"

"Yep. I don't even know where to begin with it! It's scary, actually..but I know I can handle this knowledge!"

Lightbulb wondered if one of these alternate universes Fan often spoke about included one where she and him were together. She had already seen how crazy an alternate timeline could be, so maybe her desires weren't so far-fetched after all.

Still, Lightbulb knew it couldn't be. Not right now.

There was a competition to win. She didn't want to risk Fan getting eliminated because he was so focused on her.

But after the show, Lightbulb could confess.

Her gaze rested on Fan, who was still rambling about the alternate universes. He walked almost with a spring in his step, and his arms buzzed around with excitement. His voice was full of honest passion and pure happiness. His perfect grin and bright eyes, and how'd he look at Lightbulb and radiated sunlight and warmth.

Definitely a guy worth waiting for.

Chapter Text

"Shelly!"

Poke.

It was just past midnight.  A waxing half moon sat high in the sky, shining lights onto the cool earth below, and into the wooden cabin that the final five of Brawl of the Objects slept in.

The moonlight granted enough sight for anyone who wanted to sneak around in the night.

"Shelly!" The voice hissed.  A young male shield, otherwise known as Shieldy, crouched by his friend Shelly's bedside.  He shook her lightly, in hopes of waking her up.

No such results were yielded.

Shieldy furrowed his eyebrows.  He didn't account for Shelly to not be a light sleeper as he assumed. 

With a yank, Shieldy pulled the blanket off of Shelly, and tossed it aside.  The former shook the female yet again, but this time with a stronger force.

Instinctively, Shelly jolted awake, turning eyes wide to the dark figure that had semi-violently woken her up.  She opened her mouth to shriek for help, but Shieldy was quicker, clapping a hand before a peep could escape.

"Shh!  It's just me!" Shieldy reassured a frightened Shelly.  Upon realizing who it was, Shelly's fear turned to one of slight annoyedness.

Shelly removed Shieldy's hand from her mouth, and spat, "You better have a good reason for waking me up like that!  It's the middle of the night, why are you awake?"

"I wanted to show you something!" Shieldy replied with his usual childish spirit, like Shelly's response didn't faze him at all. "Come with me!"

However, Shelly was skeptical.  This could be one of Shieldy's pranks, for all she knew.  And while she didn't want to be a target of the male's mischief yet again, Shelly couldn't resist the sparkles in his eyes.

Giving in with a sigh, Shelly gracefully hopped off her bed. "Okay, show me."

Beaming, Shieldy quietly led Shelly past the other rooms, down the stairs, and out into the cool night.  The shield briefly relished in the fresh air, and turned upon hearing Shelly's footsteps behind him.

The door closed with a thud; Shelly stood beside Shieldy.

"Okay Shelly, I need you to close your eyes."

"Why?" The skepticism in Shelly rose again. 

"Come on, just do as I say!  I promise I'm not planning anything tricky!" Shieldy pleaded.

"Mmhm." Shelly did as Shieldy instructed, closing her eyes like she was sleeping. 

Gently, Shieldy guided Shelly north, away from the cabin.  He couldn't hide the giddiness in his voice. "And don't open them until I say so!"

Admittedly, Shelly was nervous.  What could Shieldy want to show her at this time?  Couldn't it have waited until morning?  Why her?

She tingled with excitement.  She figured she could just have her hopes up, but maybe it was something Shieldy wanted to show only her.  Maybe it was something special.

Shelly bluntly reminded herself to not sound disappointed if the surprise really was nothing.  Shieldy was childish, and easily excitable.  The thing he wanted to show her could merely be an "interesting" rock.

Although Shieldy wouldn't bring her out alone in the night over a rock, would he?

All these thoughts raced through Shelly's mind as she was led north; arguments, counter-arguments, arguments against those counter-arguments.  And Shieldy didn't betray anything either.  In fact, he was strangely quiet.

Shelly almost didn't notice the smooth swelling and breaking of water growing every step she took.

Waves broke into Shelly's mind, sweeping all but one thought:

The beach!

"Okay, I want you to sit down." Shieldy's voice, now dripping with excitement, came from beside Shelly this time.  She did as she was told, lowering herself onto cool grass.

Grass?  There wasn't grass at the beach.

"Open your eyes!"

In a split second, Shelly had her vision back.  Miles of dark ocean lay before her, the moon's image dancing on the water's surface.  The reason Shelly had sat on grass was because the two objects were atop a moderately high cliff, overlooking the mass of water below.

Shelly didn't dare blink. "This..this is beautiful!" She awed.  Shieldy merely read her face with a satisfied smile.

"Pretty cool, right?" He looked out, taking a deep breath in.  Shelly did likewise, letting her lungs fill with the cool, slightly salty air, and releasing it, putting the female at ease.

"It's great, Shieldy." She smiled at him. 

Shieldy chuckled. "I knew you'd love it."

And with a slight shock, Shelly realized: right now, it was only them.  No one could interrupt her if she wanted to talk. 

"Well, it's pretty late," Shieldy got up. "I'm heading back."

Shelly froze.

'Say something!'

"W-Wait!" Shelly called.  Shieldy turned around, a little surprised by the outburst.

Sheepishly, Shelly continued to speak. "Do you think..we could come out here again?  ..just us?"

"Oh, of course!" Shieldy chirped. "Now come on, we better get back to the cabin."

Practically bouncing up from where she sat, the seashell hurried to match Shieldy's stride.  If it could be just them, Shelly could finally talk to Shieldy.  It's been something she's wanted ever since she met him.

She smiled widely, barely able to contain her excitement.

Chapter Text

Suitcase liked the docks, for some odd reason. She felt drawn to the tranquility of the blue water. She enjoyed the view and the lake breeze. It amused her when ripples would seemingly appear from nowhere, making small gurgles and pops. When it was windy enough, small waves would playfully brush her feet. She appreciated the rough wooden dock grounding her to a familiar place.

It was also quiet. She could think here.

But sometimes her reflection would taunt her, twisting into something she hated. The waves at her feet seemed more violent than playful, threatening to flood her with bad memories. The wind wanted to blow her away while the dock desperately clung on.

Sometimes she could see a monster trying to drown her.

It couldn't be quiet. Her accusing thoughts raced around her mind, nearly consuming her.

Suitcase never knew if it would be a good day or a bad day at the docks. But the docks were good for thinking, so everyday she came.

"I thought I'd find you here." A gruff voice came from behind.

The footsteps of Knife echoed on the wooden planks, until he came to a halt next to Suitcase. He tossed a smooth stone in his hand, catching it without flaw.

Suitcase had no comment. In her opinion, Knife was cryptic; mysterious and obscure. At the very beginning of the season, he was just your average jerk. Then in episode four, it was revealed he had a softer, more vulnerable side. Suitcase remembered how she laughed at him for it, but now it was something she regretted doing.

After all, she had her own fair share of secrets she didn't want anyone to know, much less laugh at.

Now Knife was this person no one could seem to figure out. He kept his rude demeanor, but now seemed to prefer isolation over socializing. No one knew what he was thinking. He didn't bother with the steeping drama of the show. Of course, Suitcase had no idea what Knife was like before she joined the season, but she knew he wasn't like this.

Knife flung a stone over the lake's surface. The stone flew, gracefully bouncing off the mirror like water four times before inevitably sinking. Ripples danced to the lakebed in smooth motion, distorting the reflected sky.

"You want to throw one?" A stone was placed at Suitcase's side, even though the leather suitcase had shook her head no. She continued to stare at the mesmerizing water.

"It's not like you really have a choice."

That caught Suitcase's attention. Confused by Knife's statement, her gaze shot up to Knife as he threw in another stone.

"What did you say?" She wondered if she had heard him correctly.

"Did I stutter?"

Suitcase brought her legs to her body, and pushed herself up. She didn't realize how long she had been sitting down. Grabbing the stone in her foot, Suitcase tossed it as she had seen Knife do.

The stone sunk without bouncing once.

"Hm." Suitcase couldn't tell if Knife was amused or intrigued. "Try again."

The next stone fell without any more success than the last one.

"Again."

Suitcase internalized a groan of frustration. "Why?"

"Not saying you have to. I just wanted you to throw a stone."

Unwilling to let Knife get the better of her, Suitcase threw another one. It sent water shooting upwards when it made contact.

"Need help?"

Suitcase exhausted her tension in a breath. Lately, she often had to remind herself to keep it together. Nodding at Knife, Suitcase picked up another stone.

"Bring the stone lower." Knife's voice was gentler now. "Throw it as far as you can."

Suitcase did as Knife instructed, bending her standing leg and drawing the stone close to her body. In a swift motion, she released the stone, and it flew over the water, breaking its surface twice before disappearing.

A sort of satisfaction bubbled inside Suitcase. A small smile lit her face as she watched the ripples dance away.

"Nice job," Knife curtly commented. "Needs working on, but nice job."

"Thanks." Suitcase replied. "..could I throw another one?"

Knife handed Suitcase a few more stones. "Yeah, knock yourself out."

Putting the new technique to use, the stone skipped along the lake twice again before submerging.

Another stone whizzed past hers, going a ways farther.

Suitcase liked this, for some odd reason. She didn't need to talk, nor did she have to stare into the still water for an answer. The sounds of stones soaring and skipping soothed the storm inside. There was at least some normality, something defined, in the insanity of the show.

Her reflection wavered endlessly. Always changing, but still the same. It made her dizzy. Still, she appreciated that she didn't have to always see the monsters she hated.

But they were only in her head. This was real. The view and the lake breeze, the never ending ripples, the rough, wooden dock.

She still couldn't figure out what Knife was about. The enigma remained as it was.

At least he was on her side, she assumed.

Chapter Text

"Geez..Orange is more of a loose cannon than when I last saw him."

Quadratini and I approached the edge of Elimination Island. As always, the sand was warm under my feet and the waves lapped at the shore. The fronds of palm leaves shadowed the ground, softly rustling.

"He didn't really take the breakup well.." I reply, still staring out into the sea. Somewhere out there was Lemon, Sandwich, and the others, competing for number one.

"Thanks, Captain Obvious." Quadratini snarked. I sighed.

"Still thinking about them?" His voice was softer.

I nodded sadly. "I know you said not to, but I just can't help it. Sandwich was my first friend there."

"Some friend he is, then. Voted for his own alliance member when all you were trying to do was do the right thing." Quadratini scoffed. "Why are you so hung up?"

"I voted for him too, you know."

"Well yeah, but that's different. He was being a jerk, you weren't."

A smile crosses my face. Quadratini knew how to make me feel better with his sarcasm and snarkiness. It was weird how our friendship worked. I usually can't stand mean people, but Quadratini is different. He's a great friend, if you got to know him.

The smile goes away again. "I just wonder sometimes..did I really do the right thing? I tried to help Police Hat and Pudding Cup, but only got yelled at. And in a sense, I betrayed my alliance by doing so..I didn't really do any good by following what I thought was right."

Quadratini was listening intently, with an emotion in his eyes that only I could apparently see. I laugh nervously. "Sorry, I'm rambling."

"No, no. That's okay." He dismisses my apology. Both of his hands clap my shoulders, and Quadratini stares me down. "But, you shouldn't be sorry."

"F-For rambling-?"

"No, not- Actually, don't be sorry for that, either. But I was talking about doing what you thought was right!"

"But," I start to reply, "I didn't help-"

"I don't want to hear it, Fire Axe! You did what needed to be done. Their loss that they didn't understand." His expression was intense, his voice almost commanding. "It would have been easier to ignore them, and to not get eliminated, but you didn't. You helped when nobody else bothered."

"I didn't even-"

Quadratini shook me. "Snap out if it!" He shouted. "You can't doubt yourself like this! You were doing what was right, and who gives two squats what they thought!? Your integrity is admirable! That's what matters!"

"Stop shaking me!" I screech.

He lets go, almost pushing me to the ground. Quadratini heavily breathes in front of me. "You get it?"

"I..think so? It was hard to process what you were saying while I was being shaken." I say bluntly.

Quadratini huffed. "What I was saying, is that you're a nice guy with a strong character, but you're not making everyone happy. But as long as you're doing the right thing, it shouldn't matter. You can't make everyone happy, anyways."

Silence passes between us.

He's right though. The way Sandwich did things, usually involved taking advantage of other people. Every time I called him out on it though, he'd just call me chicken or a coward. It was so wrong..but I did nothing.

I grimance, and mentally scold myself. Why didn't I go against him sooner?

"You're right, Quadratini. I guess..I just wanted Sandwich to be my friend. But I'm not going to let people step on me in the future. ..thank you." I spoke slowly.

"Ah, who needs him, anyway, you've got me!"

We both laugh, until Quadratini looks up at me.

"You're welcome, by the way."

I smile, and sling an arm around Quadratini's shoulders. "And thank you, for being a great friend."

Quadratini doesn't flinch or jerk away. "Right back at you."

Chapter Text

Soft, snowy wings tickled her cheeks. His face was cast in darkness, for the moon was empty and the stars hidden away. Delicate fingers intertwined with hers, a gentle intimacy between the two individuals hovering over the clear pool.

Ever so slowly, she closed her cloud gray eyes, pulling her saddened face to his. Foreheads touched, little tingles bursting through her arms and cheeks. The night was still.

His warm breath rhythmically brushed her pink lips, gracing her chocolate complexion. Her heart ached tremendously, every beat desperately begging him to stay. Her breathing shook under her crushing longing. 

The pool stirred. A singular ripple echoed across its surface, dimly lighting the pair from underneath them. Cerulean waves of light slithered up their legs, swaying in a flowy manner. 

Like silk, the young male of pale hair and skin slid his fingers away from hers, leaving there a lingering, warm sensation. Cloud gray met sky blue, knowing it was time to give way. She stared after him as he sank, petite feet disappearing into the water. Eventually he was submerged, the only traces of him ever being there were the smooth ripples traveling to the pool's edge.

With a soft beat, the dark green haired girl came to rest at the water bed. She'd wait as long as it took for her companion to return. A gentle breeze came about, rustling her hair and woven clothes. The moon peeked out from behind a passing cloud. Damp, cool grass wet her hands; she twirled the dark blades in her fingers. Smooth, but with a cutting edge. Night was strangely quiet. Not even the song of crickets or buzzing bugs accompanied the lone woman. Her fragile wings twitched slightly.

For two weeks, she sat alone by the water. Gazing eternally into the deep blue abyss until her eyes gave out. Unkempt hair fell around her shoulders and to her midback, her once shining wings drooped like lame limbs. Bits of grit and dirt dotted her garmets, which in the timeframe that had passed, experienced scorching sun and onslaughts of rain. 

The pool was not to be disturbed by unnatural forces such as the woman herself. She had not gotten up to drink, and the dehydration in her throat burned and cried with almost intolerable feelings. Craving clawed at her stomach, a monster who threatened to eat away at her if not satiated soon. Give another day, and she would surely pass.

In a crucial moment, she decided. With a feeble hand, she slowly mouthed an ancient spell with parched lips. The hand flopped to the ground, limp, and the fingers elongated and drew closer together until becoming one. The now pointed limb pierced the ground, rooting the transforming girl in place.

Simultaneously, similar changes were happening all around her body. The remaining of her limbs grew and joined together in tendrils of two or three, and buried themselves deep underground. Her once delicate skin turned rough and barky, shallow crevices running down the entirety of her body. Clothes of earthly colors crept up the still hardening skin and became thin layers of moss.

The transformations did not stop there. From her scalp, large branches grew forth, and her forest green hair wrapped around the new growths, growing and growing until half the pool was shaded by leafy boughs. Exhaling her last breath as a human, the girl's face was carved into her new body, twisted, but graceful.

And so she became the tree, sturdy and steadfast. Forever waiting by the silent pool.

Chapter Text

I sucked in a breath. Shieldy was alone, drawing in the dirt with a stick. Striding forward, one long step after another, I tried to look casual.

"Shieldy! H-Hey!" I called out to him.

He looked up and smiled, his face brightening until it radiated with warm happiness. "Hi Shelly, what's up?"

I scooted closer to him, cheeks flushing. "Nothing much, I-I just wanted to talk. Wh-What are you drawing?"

Shieldy moved his shoulders up in a small shrug. "I dunno, just little doodles..oh!" He perked up, beaming at me. My heart skipped a beat. "I have an idea! Anything you want me to draw?"

"I, uh- Uhm..an animal?" I stammer out, still recovering from the ray of sunshine that was Shieldy's smile.

He nodded, and gracefully dragged the thin stick across the ground as I watched on. I wasn't really looking at the drawing though, my attention was on Shieldy.

Every so often he'd screw up his face and stick out his tongue like he was trying to figure out something, and drummed his fingers on the grass, tapping the stick on the ground. He would suddenly change expressions when he started drawing again, from focused to excited, moving the stick around with his usual upbeat energy. 

Shieldy's eyes shone brilliantly, much like his own reflective surface. The muted light gray and bold royal blue went together perfectly. And on a sunny day, it looked like he was glowing. His smile was perfect, and he laughed like an adorable little kid.

I sighed inwardly, heart fluttering. If only-

"Shieldy, Shieldy!" A new voice, Party Hat's voice, snaps me out of my daydreams. 

Oh, please no-

"I need you for something, meet me by the big tree!"

Shieldy drops the stick. "Yeah, sure! Catch you later, Shelly!"

You always say that..

"O-Okay, bye..!" I squeak out. 

A lump in my throat rises as Shieldy runs off, and I break out into a small coughing fit. My sides ache from the repeated hacking.

I look up after the coughing passes, and Party Hat is standing there, staring at me like I grew a second head.

"Hey Shieldy..I'll catch up with you later."

"Okay, see ya then!"

The mention of his name sets a tiny fire in me. His voice stirs my heart, making it beat faster. 

I cough again, wheezing from the lack of air. My insides squeeze together, and tears stream from my eyes. I couldn't breathe..I can't breathe! A dull thump echoes around me as I collapse, still gasping for air.

A blurred shape is at my side, saying incoherent things. They nudge me to a sitting position, forcefully striking my back. No air was coming in now, frenzied panic clawing at my throat and lungs. Like a fish out of water, I gaped for oxygen, choking on invisible barriers.

Something comes shooting out of my mouth, then gently floats downward. More follow it, some red sometimes mixing with the white. I heave, and cough more. Air coming in rapid fire between every choke and gasp.

Weakly lifting my head, I turn to see Party Hat, eyes wide with alarm. He shakes his head and mouths things to himself, things I can't hear or make out. His face befuddled and horrified, Party Hat switches his gaze from me, to the objects I threw up.

White flower petals. Thin yellow-white streaks cut through the center of each large rounded petal. Moonflowers, I had learned. I was lucky these were the only things I was regurgitating.

"Shelly.." Party Hat's voice shook. "Those are..flower petals?"

I nod. My breathing was still shaky from nearly choking to death. 

"Who is it?", He softly spoke. The wind could carry his voice away if it wished.

Despite my aching yearning, I struggle to say his name. "Shieldy.."

No one could see their true beauty unless they waited for the night. That's when the moonflowers bloomed. But barely anyone does that..they're content with the colorful flowers that open themselves up in the light of the sun.

Shieldy was such a person.

Party Hat laughed sadly, followed by a deep sigh. "I'm guessing you don't want it to be removed."

"Never." I firmly state. "I'd die anyday if it meant I could love him."

"So what are you going to do about it? You'll keep dying very painfully if you don't cure or remove the disease."

"Love is worth the pain." I utter, my lips turned up in a half smile, "You can go do whatever you need to do with Shieldy..I'll be fine here."

Reluctantly, Party Hat nodded, and stood up to leave. He walked away, stealing concerned glances at me.

I'll never be cured. He doesn't like me in that way, and I'd be surprised if I was even a friend to him. Whenever we speak, someone or something interrupts us, and Shieldy is gone again without a second glance. It never hurts any less, my heart twisting as I try to suck it up.

The familiar wrenching feeling throbs in my chest.

I can't have him.

I whimper, biting my lip. Something is clogging my throat.

Why can't we just have a conversation?

My legs tremble and tears well in my eyes. Soft hiccups leave my mouth, turning into gasps for air. 

His soft smile, his eyes I could just melt in..his warm touch.. His carefree laughter fills my head. The way he glowed, how he'd impatiently bounce on his toes, his over exaggeration of boredom by groaning too loudly, he'd spin himself in circles until he fell, laughing through it all.

Tightly, I curl my toes to possibly try and stifle the burning I felt. I gag. Blood spurts out of my mouth and dribbles down my chin. Large white flowers slide out, splattered with thick, dark scarlets.

None of it will be mine. I won't ever know his comfort or soothing voice, laying gentle kisses on my lips. I won't cuddle his warm body in the cold nights, his arms wrapped lovingly around me. It'll never happen. He doesn't see me like I see him.

My vision blurs with tears, fat drops of it stain the grass. More flowers burst forth, along with a thick brown tendril that didn't seem to end. It was in my chest, my throat, squeezing my heart and lungs until nothing was to remain. Dark green heart shaped leaves unfurled as they slid into the open air.

Desperately, I claw at the stems that protrude from my mouth, jerking them out of my body. More come after that. The salty taste of seawater builds up. I'm choking! I'm going to die! My attempts to fight against the obstructing objects are futile, every breath out and no breath in.

A heaping mess of beautiful white flowers, green leaves, and twisting brown tendrils lay in front of me, all coated in spots of blood. Still, it grew higher, larger.

Screaming. Panic. Yelling. Running. Crying. I'm picked up off my feet. Objects on the ground drag me down and trail behind. More screaming. Blurry blue skies. The stuff lodges and creates a thicket in my throat. White noise. Numbed pain. Faraway sirens. Yelling. Lighter. White and red. Crying. Blue. Yellow. Jerking. Jostling. 

Dying.

Black.

Crying..someone was crying. Sniffling, sobbing, and quiet shushing. 

Coughing. Someone was coughing. I recognized the gagging. A voice starts up from beside me, their footsteps echoing across the floor.

It was comfortable, and warm. I struggle, but open my eyes. Everything is so white..I probably would've thought I'd died, if not for the voices coming from a corner of the room. 

Slurpy, Party Hat, and..Shieldy. All three of them.

I open my mouth. My throat is dry, no way I could talk to get their attention. There's also a mask on me. For the first time in a while, I'm breathing normally. 

How am I still alive? Did they take all of it out? I shift to the side; my body aches. A glass of water sits on the side table. All of a sudden, I'm extremely dehydrated, my body craving for fluid. 

I grunt, pulling myself to a sitting position. 

"Shelly!", The three of them exclaim in unison. They clamber over to my bed, Party Hat bursts into tears and Shieldy attacks me in a hug.

"I thought we lost you!", Party Hat wails. He cries into a surprised Slurpy's arms, who pats him on the back for comfort.

"Party Hat, there's no need to cry. She's okay," She tells him quietly. However, Slurpy looks me in the eye, silently asking what was going on.

My attention falls on Shieldy, still with his arms around me. I sink into him, letting his warm embrace envelop me entirely. Love bursts and blooms in my chest.

"I'm glad you're okay," Shieldy said, smiling. His eyes were mesmerizing. 

"Okay, give Shelly her space. She needs water," Slurpy cuts in. Shieldy stepped back. "The doctor said you were okay to remove the oxygen mask when you woke," She explained to me, removing the mask and handing me the water. I managed to control myself with it, downing the rejuvenating liquid in small gulps.

The disease wasn't completely removed, I could still feel a tightness in my chest. I guess the doctors must've pulled out an entire plant. But whatever they did, it saved my life..for the time being, anyway. My feelings for Shieldy were still there. Eventually, I would start throwing up flowers again.

But for now, things were okay. The moment of Shieldy hugging me, I could feel his relief and love flowing from him. I'm probably overthinking it, but..maybe it was a hint of something more.

Chapter Text

People have always hated me for how fat I am. And I really hate that they do that. Watermelon is fatter than I am, and no one calls her out for it!

But, she is smart. She has a plan that will carry us both to victory. I guess that's supposed to make up for her fatness.

But me, I apparently have no redeeming qualities. I'm fat, dumb, and mean. You can't blame me for the mean part though, I'm only mean because other people are mean to me!

I'm not as dumb as people think I am though. I know I'm not the most likeable person, I've been in the bottom two more times than I can count! I also know that the viewers don't like Watermelon because of her plan, but it's contestant vote now! If I follow Watermelon, she'll make sure we both don't get put up for elimination. And following the smart person is smart!

Sure, I've mayyyybe bossed the team around a few times, but that was just me trying to lead and encourage them! Not my fault no one wants my leadership!

The one thing I won't deny though, is that I'm fat. I've been told I'm quite big for a gumball, it's been a thing ever since I've been born. And of course, there's this thing where I eat a lot, but I'm just always hungry! Again, not my fault.

I know I need to lose weight. I know I need to exercise more often. I know I need to be more strict with my diet. But it's just HARD. It's tiring, males me sweaty, and I just don't like to put in so much effort.

But it isn't like I need to get rid of this excess fat. Whenever I get stuck in a place where I have no food, I'm gonna thank past me for storing up fat to use. Or I could be a sumo wrestler after Object Illusion is over, I'm already qualified for that! Or I could be a professional food taster! There are do many things I could do, so no one can make me feel shame for being overweight!

Well, that's not always how I felt. I used to be pretty insecure about my weight, thanks to Watermelon and Sandwich and literally everyone else on the show. But not anymore! I'm proud of who I am!

And for the record, I'm not fat, I'm chubby. Gumballs are usually bigger than other objects.

Maybe I'll lose weight in the future. I should, but I'll probably not do it. Sure, losing weight means I'll be healthier and happier and all that, but I'm happy the way I am now. If people can't accept my fatness, they'll just have to deal with all of me!

Chapter Text

I trekked up the small hill behind the team cabins, holding Hot Dog's note in my hand. I didn't understand why we couldn't talk in the warmth of the cabin instead of outside in the cold February air, but Hot Dog has his reasons. I just hope Shieldy and Party Hat don't tear up the place while we're gone.

My mood is dampened just thinking about it. Those two could make all hell break loose in a matter of seconds.

Hot Dog waits, looking a little anxious, at the top of the hill. I jog the rest of the way to him.

"Hot Dog, you wanted to meet me here?"

He gives me a puzzled look. "I thought you wanted to meet me?" He passes a note in his hand to me, telling him to go to the hill we were standing on.

Apparently the note was written by me, but I never wrote such a note. 

Which means the one who actually wrote these could only be one person..

"Party Hat," I groan. "I bet he was behind this."

"You gotta admit, he's pretty good at mimicking handwriting if he write both these notes and neither of us had a clue."

"Eh, I guess. But I'm going to give him a piece of my mind for setting us up like this." I turn to march back down the hill, but Hot Dog grabs my arm before I take a single step 

"W-Wait," He quickly says. "We uh, have rarely had time to hang out, just the two of us. Can we just, you know, chill out here for a while? Talk and..watch the clouds?" He smiles sheepishly.

I turn back around to face Hot Dog. "I'd like to, but I'm not so sure about leaving Shieldy and Party Hat to their own devices for too long."

"Shelly can handle them," Hot Dog claims. "And Party Hat told me he was going to be busy with a project for a while, so I doubt he'll make a mess of the cabin."

"Well.." I ponder for a few seconds. Hot Dog was right, he and I barely have time together like we used to because I'm always keeping Shieldy and Party Hat from doing stupid things. But if he says everything is under control, then I suppose it is. "Okay, we can definitely hang out here for a while."

Hot Dog smiles, and sits down in the thankfully dry grass. I take a seat next to him.

"So.." He says after a moment of silence, "what does that cloud look like to you? The one right there." He points to a small, puffy cloud I could easily see.

"It looks like...a cloud." I answer. Hot Dog giggles beside me.

"Come on Pizza, use your imagination! Doesn't it kind of look like a flower?"

I study it a little closer. "Kind of?"

"That long part is the stem, and the fluffy bit on top is the flower!"

"Hmm..oh!" I say, just now realizing what Hot Dog was seeing. "Yeah, I see the flower now."

He points to another cloud in the sky, riddled with dark spots. "Hey, that one looks like you!"

"It does not!", I scoff.

Hot Dog laughs, then suddenly goes quiet. He looks troubled.

"Hey, you okay?" I turn towards him fully. He's staring at the ground, eyes narrowed and lips pressed together as he always did when he was thinking. Not only that, but he also had this energy of slight annoyance. "Hot Dog? Answer me."

"I-I'm okay," he answers, but not making eye contact. "I just..I have a question to ask you, but it's going to sound kinda weird."

"Go on." I raise an eyebrow. Was this question why he looked so anxious when I first came up here?

But if Party Hat set this up like I assume he did, Hot Dog wouldn't have planned to ask me the question, and therefore had no reason to be anxious. Unless, he was thinking about it while waiting?

"Do you..have plans for Valentine's Day?" Hot Dog asks softly.

"Uhh-" I blank. "I don't think so, no. Why do you ask?"

"I-I, uh-!" He panics momentarily, tensing his shoulders and blinking rapidly. "I-I was just..curious!"

"Come on, tell me the real answer." I say without hesitation. I know Hot Dog well, and he is a terrible liar.

"That is the real answer!" He persists. "I just wanted to know."

"And you wanted to know because..?"

He sighs, shoulders relaxing. "It was kind of..an indirect way of asking if you have a special someone you wanted to ask out."

"Oh."

To be honest, I do like someone. I'm not planning on asking him on a date though, my personality is probably a bit too harsh. Makes me wonder why I even fantasize of having a chance. He deserves someone kind that could always make time for him. I can't do either of those. 

"Pizza? Pizza?"

"What?" I snap out of my thoughts upon hearing Hot Dog's voice.

"You kinda zoned out there..everything okay?" His tone is gentle.

I nod. "Yeah, I'm fine. How about you? Any special plans?"

"Er..well- ow!" Hot Dog holds his head, wincing.

"Hot Dog! Are you okay? What happened?" I ask quickly.

"I-It's nothing. It just feels like someone screamed in my ears.." He mutters. "But..as I was saying, I..do have someone I want to ask out."

"Oh? Who is it?" 

"Well..it's a guy I've known for a very long time.." I involuntary perk up a little at the word 'guy.' "But y'know, I'm not getting any signs he likes me, so I'm honestly really nervous."

"I can help you," I offer. "But you have to tell me who he is first."

Hot Dog tenses up again, a blush of embarrassment forming on his face. "Uhh, well I mean, you can't necessarily help me because.."

For half of a heartbeat, Hot Dog kisses my cheek. It's warm where his lips made contact.

"I-It's you.." He whispers timidly.

Heat rises to my face, leaving me almost speechless. "Wow, I..I thought for sure you didn't like me like that.."

"Are you kidding?" Hot Dog's voice is unbelieving. "You're everything I could ever want in a lover; you're smart, confident, strong-willed, you care about me, not to mention you're pretty handsome too.." He said that last part with his adorably shy grin.

"Well, in that case.." I hold Hot Dog's cheek in my hand, and bring my lips closer to his until they touched. Closing my eyes to fully take in the moment, I bring my other hand to his back and tilt my head slightly.

"Ah!" Hot Dog exclaims, holding both of his hands to his head. I break away immediately. 

"What, what happened?" 

"Don't worry, everything is fine, Pizza.", He tried to reassure me.

"This is the second time it's happened, are you sure you don't need to see a doctor?" 

"Yeah. But I'd be a lot better if the weird voice would stop screamimg." He responds in a nearly sarcastic tone.

"Hey! Weird voice! Stop screaming in my boyfriend's head." I say jokingly.

"B-Boyfriend?" Hot Dog's entire face turns red.

"I mean..if you want to-"

"Of course I do!" He interrupts enthusiastically.

"Is it okay if we keep it lowkey for a while?" I reach to grab Hot Dog's hand. "I don't want Party Hat to pester us about it."

Hot Dog chuckles. "I'm sure he'll find out soon enough anyway. He has a strange knack for knowing these kinds of things."

"I guess we'll see soon enough." Instead of just my fingers intertwined with his, I take Hot Dog's entire hand in my own. "Come on, let's get back."

Chapter Text

"Is this thing on? Over." A staticy voice fills my head, but clears up after a few seconds to reveal Party Hat's voice.

"Loud and clear, Party Hat. And that's only for walkie talkies."

He laughs. "Whatever. You remember what to say?"

I recall Party Hat's plan to get Pizza and I together. I honestly doubt it will work, seeing as Pizza doesn't show any signs of liking me, but Party Hat insisted on giving it a shot. We rehearsed for days, and Party Hat even bought an earpiece set to help me.

"Yeah." I glance back towards the cabin; Pizza should be appearing any moment now.

"Great! You're gonna have to wing the rest though."

"Party Hat, you know I can't just 'wing it.' I get anxious when making things up on the spot!" In fact, just thinking about it is giving me sweaty hands.

"Come on, this is what you signed up for! You have to do this Hot Dog, or some other guy or girl is gonna sweep him off his feet!"

"B-But what if he doesn't like me?" I ask, getting more worried. "What if this breaks our friendship?"

"Hey," Party Hat's tone becomes more serious. "You're gonna be okay. Rejection isn't the worst thing ever. What if you never get the chance to tell him again?"

I fall silent, and think. What if I never got the chance to tell him again? The weight of harboring this growing feeling is already heavy enough, what would happen if I had to carry it for my entire life?

"Yeah, you're right," I sigh. "I have to do this."

"That's the spirit!", Comes Party Hat's chipper reply. "And perfect timing too, Pizza's on his way!"

"Wait, what!?"

Turning toward the cabin, I see Pizza in the distance making his way to the hill I'm standing on. I tense, biting my lip and clenching my fist.

"Dude, calm down. What's the first thing we rehearsed?"

"I-If he brings up that I wanted to meet him, say that he's the one who wanted to meet me." I stammer.

"Yep! And if he doesn't?"

"Tell him I just wanted to hang out." My heartbeat slows to its regular pace, and I let most of the tension go.

"Perfect! I can see him getting really close now, so I'll just be quiet for a while."

Pizza jogs the rest of the way up to me. "Hot Dog, you wanted to meet me here?"

Gathering the best of my acting skills together, I plaster on a puzzled look. "I thought you wanted to meet me?" I open my hand and hold out the note Party Hat wrote in Pizza's naturally small print handwriting. It took him quite a few tries to get it right.

Pizza groans. "Party Hat. I bet he was behind this." I almost snicker, that fact that Pizza immediately suspects Party Hat is hilarious.

"You gotta admit, he's pretty good at mimicking handwriting if he wrote both these notes and neither of us had a clue."

"Thank you!" Party Hat suddenly chimes in.

He didn't actually write both of the notes, though. I wrote one of them, and Party Hat slipped it into Pizza's room unnoticed.

"Eh, I guess." Pizza shrugs slightly. "But I'm going to give him a piece of my mind for setting us up like this." He turns to go back down the hill, and I grab his arm. My face flushes as I try to find the next words.

"W-Wait! We uh, have rarely had time to hang out, just the two of us. Can we just, you know, chill out here for a while? Talk and..watch the clouds?"

Come on, please stay..

He turns around to face me, looking a little torn. "I'd like to, but I'm not so sure about leaving Shieldy and Party Hat to their own devices for too long."

Party Hat laughs. "Right, we've definitely totally destroyed the place.", He says jokingly.

"Shelly can handle them," I say, "And Party Hat told me he was going to be busy with a project for a while, so I doubt he'll make a mess of the cabin."

"Yeah, busy with Project Pizza Dog," Party Hat's voice comes in again. "And for someone who can't apparently wing it, that was a pretty good excuse!"

"Well.." Pizza furrows his eyebrows, then he curls his lips up in a slight smile and nods. "Okay, we can definitely hang out here for a while."

Party Hat cheers in the background as I beam. I take a seat in the dry grass, and Pizza does the same.

"Part two of the plan is successful! All you need to do now, basically, is confess!"

That was going to be difficult. Whenever I even thought of confessing to Pizza, there was a lump in my throat. Party Hat convinced me for a while I was brave enough to do it, but now that the moment's practically here, it was getting harder to speak. I look to the sky, tapping my fingers against the ground. Pizza's hand was only a few inches away from mine.

"So..what does that cloud look like to you? The one right there." I point to a small, fluffy cloud rests right in the middle of my field of vision. Looking more closely, it had the general shape of amarigold.

Pizza flicks his gaze up to the cloud. "It looks like..a cloud."

I burst into a fit of giggles, before forcing myself to come to a stop. I couldn't help it, the way he put it so matter-of-factly was funny! Party Hat seemed to think so too; I could hear his laughter in my head.

"Come on Pizza, use your imagination! Doesn't it kind of look like a flower?"

Pizza squints his eyes and tilts his head to the side. "Kind of?"

I scoot a little closer to him and point out the cloud as I talk. "That long part is the stem, and the fluffy bit on top is the flower!"

"Hmm..oh!" Light of realization hits Pizza's eyes, straightening his posture to be completely upright. "Yeah, I see the flower now."

My gaze drifts to another strangely shaped cloud. I stared at it a little more closely and found that oddly enough, it resembled Pizza. Dark spots were sprinkled over its area, and the cloud's general shape looked like a rounded triangle.

"Hey," I say, pointing to the cloud. "That one looks like you!"

Pizza playfully scoffs. "It does not!" I laugh for a few seconds.

"Pst, hey, are you gonna sit there watching clouds all day, or are you going to confess?" Party Hat's voice creeps into my head. My laughter dies away as he spoke. I do have to say it sooner or later, right?

I stare at the short grass, and Party Hat started talking again. "Come on Hot Dog, this is for nothing if you don't say anything."

My heart felt as if it were to pop free from my chest, what with all the fretting of all the outcomes squeezing it. I think I feared losing Pizza as a friend more than being rejected. How could I even function properly without him? Pizza's been there for me as long as I could remember.

"Hey, you okay?"

"I don't mean to pressure you..but you gotta do something. You can do it."

I repeat Party Hat's words to myself, placing all of my faith onto them.

"Hot Dog?" Pizza's gentle tone pulled me out of my head. It wasn't often he talked so softly like this, but there was something about the vulnerability and sincereness he showed to me that made my heart nearly skip a beat. "Answer me."

"I-I'm okay," I stammer out, still staring at the ground. "I just..I have a question to ask you, but it's going to sound kinda weird."

One step closer.

"Go on."

Sucking in a silent breath, I collect all my wits and the words come out, almost crashing into each other. "Do you..have plans for Valentine's Day?"

I sneak a quick glance at Pizza. He's staring at me with confusion, a finger resting sideways on his lip. "Uhh- I don't think so, no. Why do you ask?"

"I-I, uh-!" Crap, what do I say!? "I-I was just..curious!"

"Amazing lie," Party Hat comments. I wish I could disappear into the ground right now.

"Come on, tell me the real answer," Pizza replies. Of course he saw straight through my lie; he knows me way too well.

"That is the real answer!" I insist anyway, "I just wanted to know."

He cocks an eyebrow. "And you wanted to know because..?"

Well, he believes it..I think. Come on Hot Dog, compose yourself! "It was kind of..an indirect way of asking if you have a special someone you wanted to ask out."

"Oh."

'Oh'? What was that supposed to mean? Was he disappointed? Then again, it was more on the monotonous scale..

"You think he was expecting you to ask him out?" Party Hat snickers. For the love of hot dog stands, why couldn't he be quiet? My face is incredibly hot right now, I bet I'm blushing like an idiot.

Pizza's been silent for a while, just staring at the grass. Is he okay?

"Pizza? Pizza?"

"What?" he snaps his head up, turning to me.

"You kinda zoned out there..everything okay?" I ask. He pasues, and nods.

"Yeah, I'm fine. How about you? Any special plans?"

"Er..well-"

"Oh my god, just ask him out already!" Party Hat screams into my ear. I clutch my head.

"Ow!"

"Hot Dog! Are you okay? What happened?" Pizza asks almost too quickly for me to process. His warm hand is resting on my back.

"I-It's nothing!" I stutter. "It just feels like someone just screamed in my eas," I add on quietly, as a warning to Party Hat. He better not do that again; I value my hearing sense.

"Haha, very funny." I could hear Party Hat's eye roll from his voice. "Ask. The guy. Out. You won't get another chance!"

Right. I have to do this.

"But, as I was saying..I," my face heats up with every word. No going back. "..do have someone I want to ask out."

"Oh?" Pizza raises his eyebrows. His hand falls away from me. "Who is it?"

"Well," I squeeze my wrist, "it's a guy I've known for a very long time..but y'know, I'm not getting any signs he likes me, so I'm honestly really nervous." I sneak a look at Pizza. He doesn't look like he knows it's him, but his eyes are wide like a child's. I could stare into them forever.

"I can help you," he says, "but you have to tell me who he is first."

Oh no. I really backed myself into a corner this time. Tell him? Not like this!

"Improv, Hot Dog, improv! Don't just freeze up!"

"Uhh," I blank, "well I mean, you can't necessarily help me because.."

My lips connect with his cheek. Oh god. I just kissed him.

"I-It's you.."

Time to brace myself for rejection, I guess. What an I even saying, I wasn't even thinking it through when I said all that!

"Wow, I.." Here it comes. "I thought for sure you didn't like me like that.."

Is he serious? "Are you kidding? You're everything I could ever want in a lover; you're smart, confident, strong-willed, you care about me, not to mention you're pretty handsome too.."

Pizza pauses. My chest is heaving from the shot of adrenaline; what a relief to finally get that in the air!

"Well," Pizza speaks, "in that case.." His hand reaches for my cheek, until he cups it, and a warm sensation explodes in my face. I can't stop my lips from curling up. He's coming closer. Is he going to kiss me?

Our lips connect in a blast of warmth. I close my eyes, wrapping my arms around his back. It's like heaven.

"Oh my god! You finally did it!" a voice pierces my head.

"Ah!" I clutch my head. Party Hat, you couldn't have waited until I got back or something?!

"What, what happened?" Pizza demands. I gaze at him hovering over me.

"Don't worry, everything is fine, Pizza," I reassure him. His eyebrows furrow; it doesn't look like he buys it.

"This is the second time it's happened, are you sure you don't need to see a doctor?" he questions again.

"Yeah," I reply, "but I'd be a lot better if the weird voice would stop screaming," I say to Party Hat.

"Ah, whatever!"

"Hey!" Pizza pipes up. "Weird voice! Stop screaming in my boyfriend's head."

"Ooh-"

"B-Boyfriend?" Like dating? Actually going out and stuff?

"I mean..if you want to-"

"Of course I do!" I blurt. Pizza smiles.

"Is it okay if we keep it lowkey for a while?" He intertwines his fingers into mine. "I don't want Party Hat to pester us about it."

I smile and laugh, mainly to myself. Too bad he already knows.

"Wow, he has no clue," Party Hat snickers.

"I'm sure he'll find out soon enough anyway. He has a strange knack for knowing these types of things." I say to him.

"I guess we'll see soon enough,"Pizza shrugs, and takes my hand in his. I almost can't believe I finally did it. I really could cry of happiness. "Come on, let's get back."

Chapter Text

I hated the way he smiled.

Cocky and arrogant, like he was the best out of all of us and wanted to remind everyone every single second. He even said so himself. He didn't care for anyone else's feelings- only his view and his opinion. It's infuriating.

I hated the way his smile took up half of his entire face. It was toothy and gross, and his lip would end in a condescending smirk with a devilish glint in his eyes. A raised eyebrow also fitted the look; in the absolute worst way imaginable. Sometimes he would overexaggerate, and end up looking like a goofy cartoon character instead. 

It was worse when he was right about something, should the rare, once-in-a-blue-moon occasion come. That rude, superiorist attitude of his struck my nerves in the absolute worst way. He makes me want to punch things- and one day that thing is going to be him.

He always talked down on all of us. Always belittling our abilities with his stupid grin and obnoxious voice, it was like he had spent hours yelling in a closet to get that "cool" raspy effect. It didn't help that he just makes himself look dumb, either. He's always so impatient, or whining about something.

And yet he'd still smile that stupid smile of his. I hate it so much.

Then it stopped. I would walk by, and his smile turned into a deprecating scowl. Ends turned down as far as they could reach, and a disgusted squint instead of his bright glow.

It was unnatural. It was unreal. It wasn't right to hear that voice go so cold. It wasn't right for that sharp spit of hatred to jab into my chest. 

My apology didn't matter to him, though I needed it to. Because as disgusting, rude, condescending, and unappreciative as he is, it was so painful to be treated less than everyone else, as acknowledged as the dirt we trod on.

Even when I made my presence known to him, he would glare, frown; a different kind of electricity sparked from his eyes. Dangerous in a new way, threatening to smite me where I stood. 

I can't bring myself to blame it all on him anymore. No, it was my fault this was happening. God, I hated how he smiled. He's a jerk who has as much emotional intelligence as a rock, and can be compared to one in general. Stubborn, prideful, sharp, and a pain in the neck. 

But I need that smile now. A reassurance that maybe I can fix things. 

Because maybe, I missed it.

Chapter Text

I stood over Foldy's broken body, with all the rips and crinkles she now bore and the numerous jagged tears made by my knife. The weapon was gripped so tightly the rough material of the hilt was buried in my hand. It's sure to leave an imprint.

My breath was uneven and breathy, heart hammering in my chest. The cracks of a smile crossed my face replaying her smug expression transform into one of horror, her shrieks of pure terror as I struck at her hilariously fragile body, Foldy weakly struggling against my unleashed rage, getting feebler before she stopped moving entirely. And I stabbed her again and again, still unsatisfied, until she had been torn to pieces and shreds before my feet.

I should've done this long ago. The adrenaline coursing through me is an indescribable bliss that I forgot. The highest form of self-indulgence, to let out the beast that has been chained down for years, all onto someone that left me grinding my teeth and clenching my fists; the one that gets under my skin and dares to mess with me. It was wonderful! It was like being high!

And no one..no one can touch me here.

The knife twisted between my fingers, rolling over and over in that familiar way, like an old friend. My left hand, without anything to grasp, itched and twitched for a throat to choke, a body to slam against a wall. Anything to get that gleeful feeling again. The irony being, killing made me feel so alive!

No! You can't like killing, Liy! What would your team say!?

Nothing in my hands but air, and that horrible crooked smile was gone.

How could I let myself fall so low? I was doing exactly what I vowed never to do again. Shoving all those godforsaken thoughts as far as I could, I brought my still shaking hands in front of me, and closed them to make tight fists, growling at myself in disgust.

"You should be ashamed of yourself," my mind hisses.

"Oh my god!"

I stiffen. Was it one of my teammates?

"Liy, what have you done to her!?" Cried the voice, now recognizable after my moment of panic.

Stapy.

He hopped up, and horror, the very same expression Foldy bore, froze his face.

"You- you killed her.." he whispers. "I knew you were a monster, but this..?"

I stare at the ground, not bothering with a reply. He wouldn't listen, anyway. I wish he would just leave; I don't need another person chiding me for this, and especially not him.

"..I'm telling your team."

"No!" My mouth moves by itself. Stapy regards me without a trace of sympathy.

"Why shouldn't I?" His voice is darker, more threatening. He glares at me like some sort of predator.

I grit my teeth, cringing at what I was going to say. "Please just don't do it. I..I'll do anything. Just don't tell them."

"Don't bother Foldy or me ever again," he snaps. A brief hesitation. "And whenever I ask you to do something, do it."

I fume, wanting to object, but he would tell. It didn't matter if I lost all my dignity, my team can't know what I did!

"..fine," I force my reply.

A few days passed since that incident. Surprisingly, Stapy hasn't asked me to do anything outrageously stupid or embarrassing yet. Just small errands.

But I'm getting glares from everyone on his team. I'm getting glares from some people on other teams. I hear whispering and see stolen glances. Jeering and scared faces. Pen is telling me it's all in my head, but I hear the mocking so clearly, even when no one is around.

Stapy didn't tell the rest of Death P.A.C.T, it seems, just his teammates. His teammates told other people.

How long until someone told my team? I'm keeping my end of the deal, and yet Stapy decided to find a loophole like the devilish person he is. It isn't fair. It's infuriating. I hate him.

"Liy, hey! Hey!" Fingers snap in my face. I blink twice, and turn to Pen.

"Um, were you saying something?" I ask. I unclench the fists at my side.

"No, but you looked super mad," he replies.

"Is something up?" came Pillow's voice. She was walking beside me, and I remembered where I was. We wanted to take a scenic walk around, maybe prevent some death while we were at it. I must've gotten distracted.

I shake my head. "Nothing's wrong, I was just thinking about stuff."

"Like?"

"None of your business."

Pen frowns, disappointed, but doesn't say anything else.

The familiar click-thump approaches. In a matter of seconds, Stapy is there.

"What are you guys doing?"

"Nothing much," Pen replies. "Just on the lookout so we can prevent death."

"Oh yeah, I bet you'd especially want to prevent death, Liy," he snarls, then looks away with a scoff.

That's it.

That's the last straw.

"What's he talking about?" Pillow questions, glancing from me to Stapy.

I don't take my eyes off him. "Nothing, but I need to have a private talk with him. You guys continue without me."

Stalking off, I drag Stapy by the arm towards the nearest building; my team's living space.

"Gee, you sound like you're gonna murder me," Stapy mocks. I punch him on the head, and he winces in pain.

"Shut up," I snap at him.

Stapy attempts to jerk his arm out of my grasp, but fails. "Last I remember, you're not supposed to bother me."

"And you're not supposed to tell."

"You never said I couldn't tell other people," he smirks. We arrive at the house and I shove him inside. Even so, he seemed amused by my reaction.

I want nothing but to wipe that stupid smirk off his face.

Or better yet, wipe him off existence.

No. Snap out of it Liy; no violent thoughts. Control yourself and negotiate.

"Look Stapy," I say after taking a breath, "I know we have our differences and fights, but I can't take this any longer. I'm over here holding up my end of the deal, but you go and find a loophole like-" I hold my tongue, rethinking what I was going to say. People don't respond well to insults.

"..my point is, though I never said you couldn't tell anyone, I.." The next words are like leather in my mouth. "feel cheated and disrespected. I promise I won't murder again. I promise I won't bother you or Foldy again. Just tell everyone to stop talking about it." I raise my gaze to meet Stapy's hard eyes. "..please."

He doesn't respond. My eyes are drawn to his fists, tensely balled up. Nervousness sparks inside me and settles in my stomach like ash. What am I going to do if he refuses?

"Why'd you kill her, Liy?" came his voice, soft but dark. He glares up at me, tears in his eyes. "Why did you kill her!?"

"Stapy.." I hold up my hands. "I just want to end this. Don't make it such a big dea-"

"Don't make it a big deal!?" he screams. "You KILLED my best friend! You're on a team strictly against killing!"

I take a few cautious steps towards him. "I know I am, but-"

"But? But what!? What reason could you possibly have for killing Foldy!?"

"Would you stop yelling!? Everyone is going to hear us at this rate!" Clearly, calm talk wasn't going to work. I stomp towards him, still keeping some distance.

"Okay, good!" He jumps forward, us two now being inches apart. Stapy scowls. "I don't care that we made a deal, people like you don't deserve to be covered for! I'll expose you to your team, and they'll know who you REALLY are!"

"You..!" Infuriation burns inside me and rises in my throat. "You're not going to tell anyone!"

"Oh yeah!? What are you going to do, kill me!? Just like you did with Foldy!? Go ahead, see how well that works out, you dirty KILLER!"

I lash out at Stapy; the force is enough to knock him over, but he pushes himself back up and delivers a blow to my head. I grab his arm and twist it behind his back and he growls in pain. It's oh-so satisfying.

"You. Will not. Tell anybody," I hiss. He inhales sharply, flailing to try and free himself. It's pointless. Just like the way Foldy hopelessly struggled against me.

"You haven't changed, Liy," he spits. "You're the same heartless killer you were-" I twist his arm further. "Gah! The same heartless killer you were years ago," he strains.

"Shut up, Stapy. I can be nice. I can prevent all the death in the world, but you are being insufferable!"

I stumble backwards as he propels himself up, and Stapy slams me against the wall. The world spins around me.

"I don't care who you think you are, Liy. You have always been, and always will be a monster!" he yells in my face. "You kill one person, then you go on to kill some more! You say you'll never kill again, and then you murder my best friend!"

"H-"

Listen to me closely," he hisses, leaning in. "I will make sure everyone knows. Your team, and everyone else, will hate you. It's what people like you deserve."

"I'm not like that anymore!" I look for a way to possibly free myself from his grasp. If Stapy wasn't so heavy, I could easily push him away. There's a lamp sitting on a little table next to me.

"Liar! You killed Foldy!"

"Shut up!"

"What, can't handle it when I speak the truth? You're just a cowardly murderer that can't even own up!"

I'm trembling in place as he keeps talking. He keeps mocking me. Bringing up things I'd rather forget. The words stick to my tongue as I recall all their faces. Fear. Betrayal. Hatred.

All my hard work..all of it will be for nothing. He keeps talking..and talking.. Murderer! Heartless! Psycho! Oh my god, they're going to hate me! He won't shut up!

"You're gonna cry? Sure, as if you ever felt anything for anyone, anyway."

I reach for the lamp. "Just shut up!"

Everything comes crashing. The lamp, Stapy; he lay on the ground with a few shards embedded in him.

And I hit him again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

~☆~

 

I can't stop seeing them.


They're haunting my dreams. Why are they in my dreams? They shouldn't be there. They're there in my bedroom when I wake up. They whisper things to me. They won't go away.

I can't sleep. Who needs sleep when you have ghosts haunting every moment of your life? No. No, they're not real. Not even ghosts. Just my stupid, messed up head. Sleep should help me feel better.

I can't sleep.

My team is worried about me. Do they know what's going on? I can't stop seeing the glares, the hushed whispers. Everyone knows. Except them. Or maybe they do. I can't ever tell them.

..there they are. I see them. Hollowed eyes that stare right through me.

Just leave me alone!

This was a mistake. Maybe I am just the same Liy from years past. Still a monster. They stare almost in approval.

I want it to stop. I just want them to stop. Stop staring. You don't know who I am. You don't know what I've been doing. I know it was wrong. You don't get to judge me.

I scream at them. Just stop! Stop staring at me!

Footsteps thunder down the hall. They stand in the doorway, all looking at me.

"Liy! Heard you scream, is everything okay?"

I only look at Pen. Was I asleep? My gaze darted around the room. They weren't there.

"You've been acting odd lately. Is there something wrong?"

"You know you can always, talk to us, if you need anything."

"Liy? Why aren't you talking?"

"Helllooo?"

They're all staring at me. Blank stares. It's not real. They're..they're concerned. Asking about how I'm feeling.

"I..."

But I see them. Behind their eyes. Demanding the truth. It won't go away. They won't go away.

I wish they would go away. Confess? Tell them everything?

They're not giving me a choice.

They're going to hate me.

The dead ghosts stare expectedly.

"I killed them.." I can barely hear myself.

"Did you say something? Speak up!"

They flicker at me from a corner. I almost cry.

"I killed them! Foldy and Stapy, I killed them! They wouldn't shut up, they..they.." I can't look at them. I let the bitter tears leak out. Not for them. For who?

From the shadows of my room, they both smiled at me.

Chapter Text

"Can't catch me!"

The young teen, Shieldy, narrowly avoided being tagged by a laughing Chocolatey. Shieldy threw a teasing face, scrunching up his eyes and sticking his tongue out.

"Hey! Get back here!" Chocolatey yelled, swiping her arms to grab some part of the male. Too late; she opened her eyes after another burst of laughter and he was gone, having disappeared into the longer, unkept grasses.

She stopped, taking this moment to catch her breath. "You cheater!" she yelled into the sky, swiftly wiping her forehead.

"Not my fault you were too slow!" a shout came from Chocolatey's left. A smirk growing on her face, she traveled to the sound like a fox to its prey, carefully listening for any more revealing sounds.

There! A speck of blue among the yellows and greens. Ever so delicately, Chocolatey inched forward, eyes trained on her target. The grasses parted and the chocolate bar stood dumbfounded at Shieldy's quick retreat, his taunt lingering in the air.

"Ha! You need to try harder than that!"

Chocolatey took off in the wake of the rustling grasses, grinning still.

"We're just getting started!"

The sun fell on their little game as both emerged from the wild fields, Shieldy remaining victorious. He pranced around, boasting his win while Chocolatey followed behind, laughing at how childish he still was.

Shieldy flopped down, arms as wide as his smile. Breathing in deeply, he roamed the colorful sky, on the lookout for any funny clouds he could show his companion.

Coming down next to him, an arm around her knee, Chocolatey's bright grin mellowed to a warm smile, looking to the sky as well. "Looking for something?"

"Not anything specific," he replied, "just trying to find things."

"Isn't that the same thing?"

Shieldy shrugged. "I dunno."

A peaceful quiet settled between them as everything slowed, just to the drifting clouds and their silent breathing, the rustle of grass and unseen animals.

Few and far between were these moments. Chocolatey absorbed the scene, how Shieldy so carefreely had his arms splayed, his soft eyes that reflected the sun and gentle smile. How blue cascaded to yellow, through oranges both shy and bold, and streaks of pink. Clouds of all sorts dotted the sky, their graceful shadows given by the sinking sun.

Brushing a thumb against the rough grasses, Chocolatey smiled to herself. Not worrying about the future was fine with her. The past was as far away as the invisible stars above.

She didn't think herself selfish for wanting to keep the moment; the world was beautiful. She had all the right to sit back and enjoy it. To allow time to just fly away without worry or doubt was a simple miracle.

It was a miracle she wanted others to have.

The loss of presence beside her dragged Chocolatey back to her world, and she turned just to see Shieldy get up to leave.

"Hey, where are you going?"

"Back to the cabin. It's getting pretty dark."

"Shieldy, hold on.." Chocolatey sighed, "can you just stay here?"

"Hm?" He raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"I just want to sit with you for a while. You're always on the go, and that's great, but.." Chocolatey paused mid-sentence, wiping a tear from her eye. She had thought about this conversation a million times before. Now that it was happening, she wasn't sure if she could hold it together. "We never really spend time together. We go on all these great adventures, but I just.."

Chocolatey laughed awkwardly, holding her arms close to her. Shieldy was sitting close by, listening intently. "I'm sorry. I'm not..I'm not good at all of this. Expressing feelings through words. What I mean to say is that I want more moments like these..quiet, and just the two of us."

Shieldy looked down, fiddling with the grass and trying to make sense of Chocolatey's words. It did make sense, but it also..didn't. He was always glad to spend more time with Chocolatey, but without doing anything? Without talking? It sounded boring.

Yet, this is what she wanted, so there had to be some value to it. Some value in not doing anything and being quiet. Some value in slowing down and letting time pass. Shieldy had no idea what it was, but he definitely wouldn't deny Chocolatey's request.

"We can do that!" Shieldy smiled, sidling up next to Chocolatey. "Just..sitting here?"

A relieved smile dawned on Chocolatey's face; suddenly she looked so much younger. "Yeah. Just sitting here."

Gingerly, she intertwined Shieldy's fingers with her own, and the pair leaned on each other. For a while, they sat like that in a silent exchange. Chocolatey's eyes fluttered shut, and she let her lungs fill with warm air.

She gently squeezed Shieldy's hand, and he looked up to her, and smiled.

Chapter Text

Oh my bakery..she's so beautiful.

She's so kind, and sweet, and talented...always sticking up for other people and trying to make sure everyone is happy and safe. Her smile was shy, but it could light up any situation, or just bring me down back to earth. I don't think she knows how much her smile and laugh means to me; how her happiness is contagious in the best way, or how I always feel like smiling when she's around.

And she spoke so sincerely, just hearing her talk soothed my nerves. Whenever things were bad, she could always have a positive take on it. And then when she had an idea, her eyes would light up and sparkle, and she'd talk rapidly in this adorable, excited voice; it was hard not to get caught up in her idea as well.

And no one tells her this, but her confidence is so admirable. Even when people like Lollipop insult her intelligence, she doesn't let them bring her down. She'd stay strong even if the entire world were against her.

She motivated me to do better. If not for my team, it was always for her.

I just wish I could tell her. So many hours have been spent fantasizing of ways I could possibly say all of it, only to deny myself because I didn't want to run the chance of making things awkward.

But if I cou-

"-Donut! Hey, wake up, dude!"

"H-Huh? What?" I turn and see Gelatin, snapping his fingers in my face. Oh. I must've spaced out.

"Sorry," I push his hand away, "were you saying something?"

Gelatin returns my question with this weird, smug look. He's planning something.

"..I don't like that look, Gelatin. What did you do now?"

"Nothing!" he protests. "But here's what I am going to do. I'm going to read your mind!" he grinned, waving his fingers around.

"Mmhm."

Gelatin pushes his fingers against my forehead, humming to himself. "Okay, okay! Yes..I know!" He took his fingers off and rested his head on his hand, leaning in a bit too closely.

"You were thinking about Barf Bag, weren't you?"

Oh, dough. "That's nonsense! Why- Why would I be thinking about-"

"Don't even try to deny it, Donut," he cut me off and leaned back, still wearing his smug smile, "it's pretty much a public secret that you like Barf Bag."

"Public secret!?" My face was probably as red as Pin, now.

"Yep!" he laughed. "But, Barf Bag thinks it's just a rumor. So, you need to confess!"

"Confess!?" I nearly shout. There's no way I could do that. Gelatin rolls his eyes.

"Donut, are you hard of hearing? You keep repeating everything I say," he snickers. He's right though, this is absolutely no way to act. I take a deep breath and recompose myself.

"Even if I wanted to, I don't think I can do that, Gelatin. I can't run the risk of making things weird between us, or looking like some kind of creep-"

"Nonsense!" Gelatin clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Take it from me, Bagel Brain, all will be well. Now listen up: Barf Bag and Naily are going to walk up any second now-"

"Hang on," I interject, "how do you-"

"What I'm going to do," he continued, rudely ignoring me, "is distract Naily so you can get some one-on-one time with Barf Bag. Don't disappoint me!"

I'm so lost. "What am I even supposed to do!?"

"I dunno, what do people usually do when they confess their love?" he answered nonchalantly. What's that supposed to mean!? Is he seriously expecting me to confess? Now? Whatever happened to asking me if that was okay!?

"Now, hold on Gelatin-"

"Ooh, here they come! Get ready!" Gelatin cut me off again.

"Gelatin, you can't be serious," I groan. Still, I watch as Naily and Barf Bag- specifically Barf Bag- approach us. She and Naily looked like they were in the middle of a conversation, Barf Bag being a little red in the face and tugging at her fringe- a cute nervous habit of hers.

Gelatin waves the two of them over. "Naily! Barfy! Hey!"

Soon, Naily and Gelatin are in a rapid back and forth conversation, but they're talking so fast I can barely understand them. So that left me to stand awkwardly with Barf Bag, trying not to look weird.

Oh, dough, who am I kidding, I probably look super red right now. Why did Gelatin have to put me in this situation? Barf Bag looked pretty uncomfortable as well.

Gelatin very loudly cleared his throat, and waved when I turned to look. "Later, Donut! Naily and I are gonna go check something out!" he called, walking off.

"W-Wait!" Barf Bag exclaimed, "are you sure you..don't need someone else to come with you? J-Just in case?"

"We'll be fine, Barf Bag! You just stay here with Donut," Naily replied. And I'm sure I heard a whisper of a nail pun as she winked at Barf Bag, who turned redder than she was before. What was that all about?

Now Barf Bag and I are standing here, without the voices of Gelatin or Naily to fill the silence. She shifts her foot in the grass.

This is so awkward.

..I should..probably say something.

"So..Barf Bag! ..hey!"

Oh my bakery, Four come screech me now.

"Hey, Donut..Gelatin and Naily sure are acting weird, aren't they?"

"Don't they always?"

Barf Bag bursts into a fit of giggles, wiping a tear from her eye. God, she's adorable. I laugh with her, just letting the moment take hold.

"So, anything new with you?" she asks.

"I would've told you if anything was," I say without thinking. Why did I say that? Barf Bag smiles and giggles anyway, so..maybe it wasn't that weird.

"Thanks. It's appreciated..that you'd tell me if anything was up," Barf Bag trails off. She laughs again. "Sorry, that must've sounded weird."

"Oh, no, it wasn't weird at all! I appreciate that you appreciate..y-you know what I mean." We both laugh, but now things were getting awkward again. Great.

..should I confess to her? Could I? What if this messes everything up? Two years of getting to know Barf Bag..and falling in love with her..I didn't want to lose my friendship with her, more than anything.

But I also want..need to let her know how I feel, even if she doesn't feel the same way. Barf Bag deserves to know there's someone who truly and deeply cares about her, and will be there for her whenever she needs it. I want to be that person.

Am I really going to do this, though? Just..throw everything to the wind?

Yes. Stop being a scaredy cat, Donut.

"Actually..there is something I've been wanting to tell you, Barf Bag."

"Oh?"

Well, no going back now.

I clear my throat. "I, uh.."

I'm so in love with you, Barf Bag. I think you're kind, sweet, confident, intelligent, and beautiful. You make me smile and help me be a better person. I know this seems really out of the blue, but it's true. And it's okay if you don't feel the same way, because your happiness is what matters most. I just wanted to let you know I really care about you, Barf Bag, and I will always be here for you.

"I-I really like- no- love you, Barf Bag, and I- uh..-" I sputter, all of the confidence I gathered washed away, leaving me absolutely flustered.

Great job, Donut. So eloquent.

"You..love me..?" Barf Bag nearly whispered, blushing and tugging at her fringe.

I nod. "So much," I reply briefly, not wanting to trip over my words. Come on Donut, say something else! "Y-You're so kind, and sweet, beautiful, confident, intelligent.." The more I talk, the more Barf Bag smiles; her whole face radiant with happiness. Birds and butterflies are doing entire routines in my stomach.

"Donut, I-I love you too..!" Wait, what!? "I-I always thought it was something that Gelatin made up, but yknow, I always.." she twiddles her fingers, "hoped it was true. I've just been too nervous and scared to say anything until.." Barf Bag looks up and beams at me. "I love you, Donut. I, uh, don't know why I said that again, haha."

A wave of relief crashes over me, and a near-crushing weight lifted from my chest. She does love me! I could kiss her right now!

..should I kiss her? Would that be too straightforward? A new sinking, anxious feeling takes hold.

Better start with small steps.

"D-Do you mind if I..uh.." I step forward and shakily raise my hand to Barf Bag's face. She smiles warmly and places her delicate hand onto mine, gently guiding it to her warm cheek. She leans into my touch, eyes half closed with a soft smile.

Don't start crying of happiness, Donut. Don't do it.

I stroke my thumb down her face, and she steps closer. Our bodies are practically touching.

"Can..can I kiss you?"

Kiss me? I nod, all of the words having already left my mouth. Barf Bag wraps her arms around me, and I do the same, keeping one hand cupping her cheek. She stands on her toes, raising her face to meet mine, her eyes closed and complexion relaxed and tinted red. I lean in to meet her halfway, contracting my mouth hole as far as it could go.

The loud crinkling of paper cuts through our silence. I draw back immediately, somehow feeling more red and hot than I already was. I must've leaned in too quickly; great job, Donut!

"Oh, god, sorry, I uh-" I manage to stammer out.

"No, it's okay!"Barf Bag insists, letting out an awkward giggle. "Oh gosh, this is..this is kinda awkward.."

"You- You wanna try again, or..?"

Barf Bag giggles and pecks my upper lip. Her lips are soft and warm, and leave a burning, tingly impression on that spot as the rest of my body raises at least two degrees. Did that really just happen? I stand there, stunned.

That really just happened.

I knew I had a big, dumb grin on my face right now, I can feel it, but that didn't matter. I lift Barf Bag off the ground, laughing and spinning her in small circles, and she laughs too, and I kiss her; passionate and full, letting her warmth encompass me. Barf Bag leans into the kiss, and I set her down, still keeping my arms secure around her.

Chapter Text

Okay; deep breaths, Paper.

In, and out. In...and out.

This is it. You're going to confess your love for OJ in a few minutes, and all that's on the line is your friendship with your best friend! No pressure! Just control your breathing..and your sweaty palms..and don't go off on tangents or lose your nerve...or have a breakdown right in front of him like you always do..

Oh, who am I kidding? What was I thinking, trying to be brave for once? Why would OJ, the perfect man that he is, accept a confession from someone as wimpy as me? I had no chance!

Augh, why do I let myself dream like this? Now he's going to reject me, things will get awkward, and I won't ever be able to look him in his beautiful eyes ever again!

No! Snap out of it, Paper! I slap myself. Pull it together! OJ's coming through that door whether you like it or not, and you are going to confess your feelings! Be confident! Be aggressive! You can do it!

Gripping the orange blankets, I bounce on the bed to release my nervous energy. Right. You are going to tell OJ you love him. Eyes on the prize. Oh, OJ is definitely a prize. He's so nice, and handsome, and his eyes are so dreamy..

Come on Paper, focus!

The door clicks and creaks open.

"Paper?"

I'm doomed.

"Hi, OJ!" I squeak out. I clear my throat. "Thanks for being here, I know you're always super busy, managing the hotel and whatnot.."

He closes the door behind him softly, and sits beside me, smiling. "No problem, Paper, I'm always happy to talk with you."

I think my heart just skipped a beat. I flush, awkwardly laughing. "So, uh, this is gonna sound weird, but uh..hehe.."

Come on, come on, don't lose it now! Tell him you like him already!

"You okay, Paper?" OJ asks, his face softening in that way that melted my heart, "you're looking really red. You're not sick, are you?"

"No!" I say way too quickly, "no, e-everything's fine! I'm just nervous..because I need to say something really important, but I..you- you know how it is, right?"

OJ just nods slowly. I'm such a nervous wreck right now.

Okay, out with it, Paper! You can do it. Be assertive!

"R-Right, uh..okay! I really..I-I really like you!" I shout, forcing the words from my mouth.

"I..I'm sorry, I didn't catch that," OJ smiles sheepishly. He didn't? I was probably talking too fast..

No, that's okay. Just say it again, no biggie.

"Sorry OJ.. I, er.." I clench my fists, balling the blanket. Just stay calm.. "I-I'm in love! W-With you, OJ!"

His entire face goes red, with an absolutely dumbfounded look plastered all over. The same exact one whenever he finds the hotel a mess, or when one of the contestants does something stupid beyond comprehension. Did I mess everything up?

"Y-You don't have to say yes or anything..! I-I just really felt like I had to get that off my chest, a-and it's okay if you think I'm weird or want to..stop being friends.." I end up muttering near the end.

"Paper." OJ places his hand on mine; warmth shoots up through my arm.

"Y-Yeah..?"

His eyes meet mine, and I find myself staring into a sea of sparkles. His lips curl up, warm and inviting. "I love you, too. And I could never stop being best friends with you."

"Really!?" He loves me!! He said it! "So..you- you wanna date, or-?"

OJ pulls me into a cool, orange-scented hug. Oh, I love the way he smells.

"I'd love to date you, Paper."

I wrap my arms around his glass body, leaning into him.

I think that went as well as it possibly could have.

~☆~

There's no way..he can't..be in love with Paper, right? Right?

I pull myself away from the door, dragging my feet. How could he be in love with someone else when I'm right here? How could OJ betray me like that?

There's no way. OJ'll come to his senses eventually, and he'll see that I'm the one for him..

Tears as salty as me run down my cheeks. I enter mine and Pepper's room, not bothering with the lights and instead curling up on my bed.

I don't know how long I spent crying in the darkness before the door creaked open.

"Salty-Salt?" came Pepper's voice.

"Mm?" I reply through gross sniffles. "I..I don't wanna talk about it..just leave me here, alone.."

Her footsteps get louder. Then her head is resting on my shoulder and her arm is around me in some weird hug.

"You don't need to talk..but I'm always here for you," she whispers.

That made me smile, if only a little bit. I place my hand on hers.

"Thank you."

Chapter Text

"Oh my knight.." Shieldy gasped, staring wide-eyed at the large gift bundle presented before him. "Princess Diamond, you really didn't have to buy all of this!"

"It's not a problem, really," Princess Diamond replied. "I would've gotten a lot more if Coffee hadn't stopped me."

Coffee smirked and rolled his eyes in good humor. "That baby is going to be so spoiled."

"Come back to me once you've had your own baby, then we'll see who's talking," Party Hat laughed, playfully knocking into Coffee.

"I think I'll save these for later," Shieldy chuckled, pushing the gifts aside. "Thanks for the gifts, everyone!" he cheered, "but I think it's time to move on to something more fun!"

Chocolatey stood beside Shieldy. "Agreed! Let's play some baby shower games!" she exclaimed, leading the party over to an area littered with various toys and crafts. Shieldy grinned, and ran over to join them, before clutching his stomach in pain.

"You guys go on, I'll join you soon!" he strained, and waddled to a corner to sit down. He exhaled sharply, resting a hand on the small bump in his belly. Objects didn't really show when they were pregnant, but the baby was still there; alive, and..in him.

It was almost surreal. Like it was a dream, and Shieldy could wake up at any moment. He sighed, long and soft, and watched his friends happily play games. Shieldy stifled a laugh seeing Shelly in a baby pink baby bonnet with a pacifier in her mouth. She spat it out, laughing with the rest of the group. Shieldy laughed harder still as Pizza was chased by Coffee wielding a baby bib.

A familiar sound of footsteps made their way towards Shieldy. Party Hat slid down, with a big, warm smile on his face.

"Hey! How's my favorite guest of honor doing?" he nudged Shieldy.

Shieldy laughed. "Great! The baby's just kicking," he replied, looking back down to his stomach.

Party Hat sighed, leaning on Shieldy. "I almost can't believe she'll be here soon! We're gonna be parents!" he squealed. "She's going to have the best dad!"

"And that would be..?"

"Me, of course!" Party Hat said cheekily. They both burst out in laughter. "Kidding! I know you'll be amazing, too."

Shieldy chuckled, rubbing his belly. "She'll be lucky to have you as well, Party Hat."

"Heyy, don't get all sappy on me." Party Hat laughed. "How do you like the party so far?"

"It's been great! Chocolatey's an amazing host," Shieldy grinned, and laughed seeing Party Hat's pouty face. "Not as good as you, though."

"I can't believe I, the party man, wasn't allowed to plan at all!" Party Hat jokingly complained. "All because it 'isn't proper etiquette'," he said, mocking Slurpy's voice.

Shieldy just smiled at his partner, letting his jokes and shenanigans lift his mood. He had always hoped his daughter would inherit Party Hat's sense of humor.

"Hey," Party Hat's voice adopted a more serious tone, sharpening Shieldy's attention. "You seem out of the zone all of a sudden. Is everything okay?"

"I guess," Shieldy mumbled, "I'm just..worried? Anxious?" He shook his head, and looked up to meet Party Hat's intense, deep stare.

"Tell me more."

He knew there was no hiding anything from Party Hat, so Shieldy took a deep breath, and plunged into the deep end of his recent worries.

"Everything's been so fast, y'know? We get together, finally, then suddenly I'm pregnant and we're having a baby shower and I'm expecting in a few months?" Shieldy breathed. "And suddenly, I'm supposed to be a dad, and be mature and all, and recently..I haven't been sure if I can do that."

Party Hat gazed at Shieldy emphatically, his heart heavy with a sort of grief that the two shared. "Yeah, I get it..this is new for me, too."

"So how are you handling it?" Shieldy shifted anxiously. He wiped a loose tear from his eye. "It's too much for me sometimes..I know it sounds stupid, but it is."

"Shieldy," Party Hat scooted over to sit in front of him, "we've talked about this. It's okay to cry and tell me about it. And, I won't judge you if you cry in front of me. I'll probably just cry with you," he smiled like a faint sun ray poking through a cloud.

The tears fell a little more freely. Shieldy nodded, smiling as well.

"Well, I kinda..let my positivity drive it away. Cliche, but true," Party Hat stated, after seeing Shieldy's subtle smirk and eye roll. "Despite it all, I have you, and soon, a beautiful baby daughter." He stared down at Shieldy's bump, and a warm smile lit Party Hat's face. "And that makes up for everything else, right?"

A new smile spread across Shieldy's face as his eyes sparkled again. "Yeah. Yeah, it does." He leaned in and planted a sweet kiss on Party Hat's lips. "Thanks."

Party Hat slid back beside Shieldy so they could lean against one another. "We'll get through this the way we always have."

"You mean, having no idea what we're doing and possibly screaming?" Shieldy joked.

Party Hat laughed in response. "Yeah, definitely."

Chapter Text

"Oh god," Pen whispered, covering his mouth with a hand.

The members of Death P.A.C.T. looked down upon Tree, forming a circle around the shivering object. It was nothing they had ever seen from their calm, collected, and sometimes rude teammate: his arms were wrapped around himself as he lay, curled up into a fetal position. Tree's normally vibrant green leaves were now sickly shades of yellow, green, and brown, and were scattered around him, leaving Tree appearing messy and bare. His pale branches stuck out from where leaves were absent.

"Tree!" Liy exclaimed, kneeling down with her arms stretched out, "what happened?"

Mustering what little strength he had, Tree glanced up at Liy. "I..believe I'm sick,"he wheezed, his usually strong, accented voice reduced to nothing more than a hoarse whisper.

"Is there anything we can do to help?" Pie offered.

"I think the best thing to do is get some kind of tree doctor," Black Hole suggested, "or at least someone who knows what this might be."

"..ry.." Tree wheezed, and coughed for a few moments. "Firey..he knows a lot..surprisingly."

"Firey?" Pillow chirped. "That is surprising. Never took him as the type to like plants."

"Speak of the devil, and he doth appear!" Firey grinned, walking towards the group. "So, what's happening?"

Bottle grabbed Firey's hand, and dragged him to where Tree lay. "Tree's sick!" she cried. "Can you do anything?"

"Not to worry, Doctor Firey is in the house," Firey replied, not missing a beat. Behind him, Liy rubbed her temples, sighing in frustration. 

"Please take this seriously. He could die!"

Firey knelt down, and brushed a hand through Tree's leaves, while the latter looked at the flame with half closed eyes. Firey continued examining Tree, taking a leaf sample from the ground, knocking on his bark, and the rest of the team watched closely. Finally, Firey stood up.

"It's pretty bad," he announced, "this disease is common, but very lethal. He will die soon if nothing is done."

"Can't you cure him?" Pillow asked. Firey shook his head, the tips of his flames swaying with his movements. 

"No can do. I need a herb, which grows about two thousand, seven hundred sixty-three miles from here."

The members of Death P.A.C.T. shared a conflicted look. Of course they wanted to prevent Tree's death, but what Firey needed was so far away..it would take at least three weeks just for a one-way trip, if they walked non-stop. Not going the distance would be against their morals, but what if Tree died in that timespan?

But it was Tree they were talking about. Their own teammate. It shamed some of Death P.A.C.T.'s members that they were even considering letting the disease take its course so that Tree could be revived later. Then again, it was so much easier that way. Preventing death normally didn't require traveling five thousand, five hundred twenty-six miles.

"We'll do it." Everyone turned to Liy, with her fist closed and a steady, determined glare on her face. "We'll do whatever we can to prevent Tree's death, right?"

Pen then took a step, standing beside Liy. "She's right. We're team Death P.A.C.T., after all! We'll do whatever it takes, no matter the distance or difficulty!" Pen pumped his fist in the air. "Am I right, or am I right? Who's with me!?"

Now hyped up, the rest of the team agreed with enthusiastic nods and shouts. Though it went unnoticed, Tree smiled at his teammates, glad to have such caring friends at his side. Firey chuckled.

"Well, okay then," he spoke. The rest of the team quieted down to listen. "The thing I need is red, with blue flowers. It kinda smells like a fish, and.." Firey paused, thinking to himself. "It grows on mountains. Can you handle it?"

"Please," Pen scoffed, flipping his hand, "we can handle anything."

"Strange how something needed to cure a common disease is so far away, " Remote commented. Pie shrugged in reponse.

"We gotta do what we gotta do," she said. "Which direction?"

"East," Firey pointed. "And I suggest stocking up. It's a long ways away."

The team nodded one by one, understanding what they had to do. Each member, save for Black Hole, prepared a backpack filled with food, water, medical supplies, sleeping bags, and other survival tools, and began on their journey. It was well into the morning when they started, so they had almost a full day's walking ahead of them.

However, it took two hours of traveling before Pen started complaining about foot pain. Bottle let him hitch a ride in her until he felt like walking again, but it didn't take long until everyone else, except for, once again, Black Hole, was experiencing the same pains. They stopped to rest under a nearby tree.

"We're never getting anywhere at this rate," grumbled Liy, upset at their unexpected pit stop. She angrily chomped on an apple, and crossed her arms over her knees.

"We're not gonna get anywhere if we have blisters all over our feet, either," Pie droned, massaging her foot.

"I know that!" Liy snapped. She drew in a sharp breath. "Sorry. I just..we can't afford to stop like this all the time."

"Maybe we should've brought someone like Puffball with us," Pillow chimed in, "then we could've ridden to that mountain."

"I could, go back and get her-"

"No!" Liy shouted, standing up. "This is our responsibility, so we'll do this ourselves. Right, Pen?"

Pen, resting in the shade, turned to look at his disputing teammates. "Huh? Yeah, we..we gotta do this," he replied in a half-asleep daze, not quite sure what was going on.

"You're being really stubborn," Remote said. "Let's just send Black Hole to ask Puffball, and continue on until he comes back."

"Agreed," Pie turned to Liy, waiting for her reaction.

"I agree too!" Bottle chirped.

Black Hole and Pillow nodded their agreements as well. Liy sighed.

"Okay, we'll do it your way," she mumbled. "Black Hole, go back to the showgrounds and find Puffball." She stood up, slinging her backpack over her shoulder. "Everyone else, let's keep going."

And so the group parted ways. Liy and her party trekked across the grassy plains of Goiky, with conversations that kept the silence away. They debated and bickered over trivial or controversial things, but it was all in good nature to keep their spirits up. They laughed and sang stupid songs, and some went so far as to convince Liy to take small sightseeing detours. It was, admittedly, worth it, appealing to Liy's natural curiosity.

Foot pain was still a problem. They had to stop and rest several times, while Liy would gaze anxiously at the climbing and slowly setting sun. Black Hole still had not returned.

A river crossed their path, also heading eastward. Miraculously, Bottle had brought along an inflatable raft, and so the group continued their journey by water. As they floated down the river, Liy cleared her throat.

"It's going to get dark soon." Everyone turned to the darkening sky, the blazing oranges and reds of sunset behind them being consumed by the night. "We should stop, and continue tomorrow." The rest of the team nodded in agreement.

The next morning came. Remote, always the early riser, was the first to see Black Hole that morning. "Black Hole! Black Hole!" she greeted him, then shook her team members awake.

"Puffball's not coming," Black Hole told them.

"What!?" Pen gasped. "How could she refuse to help us?"

"She just said it wasn't her problem," Black Hole replied. "Either way, we have to let it go. Let's just keep on."

And so they kept on. For a week, they traveled by river, covering much more ground than they could on foot. Luckily for them, the river was mostly linear, and the ride was as smooth as they could've hoped for. They'd talk frequently; Tree was nowhere to be found when Black Hole had gone to the showgrounds, as the former was in a medical facility. Firey had said to focus on their task.

But despite that, the journey was mostly quiet. Bottle busied herself with trying to catch any fish that swam by, and Pie would drag a hand in the water. Pillow and Pen daydreamed, while Black Hole trailed beside the raft. Remote stared blanky at the water, and Liy constantly checked her compass. They were still headed East. 

Black Hole would pull them through any rough patch of river, making their journey much faster. If they were lucky, the whole mission could be completed in less than a month. 

Finally, they reached the mountains. They had left the river a while ago, and began to trek up the rocky slopes, keeping a keen eye for red plants with blue flowers, or anything that smelled like a fish. 

"Anything over there?" Pillow called out. 

"Nothing!"

They decided that by splitting up, they'd cover more ground. Still no sign of the red plants.

"It must be higher up!" Liy pointed, and pushed herself onward. Her team followed suit. They all had ducked in bushes and looked under each rock; no stone was left unturned. Everyone was getting restless. Some like Pen and Pillow attempted to edge around to the other side to look for the elusive plants.

Liy hauled herself onto the gritty pebbles on the summit. Her limbs might as well been jelly at that point, but still, she pulled her head up to look around.

Nothing. There was nothing there.

There must've been a mistake. It could've been the wrong mountain. Firey was rather vague in his directions. Maybe the flowers grew underground, or whatever.

She could see no other mountain other than this one.

Liy couldn't keep herself up. Half from the arduous climb, and half from the sheer emotional drop. 

"What are you doing?" Pen shook her, "don't tell me you're giving up, Liy!"

"Do you think.." Bottle hesitantly spoke, far from her usual upbeat attitude, "they might not be here?"

"This is the only mountain around," Pie said, checking the horizon.

Liy stood up, wobbling. 

"Did we fail?"

Their silence was enough of an answer. 

The way back home was painful and quiet. No one joked or sang dumb songs. Black Hole pulled the team upstream in their raft, and they walked like a funeral procession back to Goiky. Back to BFB.

Barely anyone was around. It was eerie. Maybe Tree was already dead.

They couldn't bear to imagine what he looked like.

A lone flame stood with his back faced to the team. Behind him was a white tent. Probably where Tree lay.

"Firey..." Liy approached him first, defeated. "We failed. We couldn't find what you needed."

She didn't dare look him in the eye. Liy held herself in high-esteem, but the shame was too much for her. The rest of Death P.A.C.T. backed her up.

"Pft. Of course you couldn't find it!"

"What?" Liy snapped up. Firey was grinning- smirking, even, with a glint in his eyes.

"You couldn't find it, because it doesn't exist!" he clarified.

"So..." Liy clenched her fists. "You just sent us on a wild goose chase!?" she screeched. Remote and Pie kept Liy back as she screamed. "What about Tree!? Wh-"

"What about me?"

Someone's arm lifted up the flap of the tent, and out stepped Tree. His posture was intact, and his bark was back to its regular color. The leaves he adorned were bright with a rich green once more, and barely looked patchy anymore. 

"Tree!" Pen cried, attacking his teammate with a crushing hug. "Oh my ink! You look so healthy!" Copying Pen, Bottle rushed up and squeezed Tree as well.

"Crushing...me..." Tree wheezed. Pen and Bottle let go immediately. 

"What's the meaning of this?" Remote asked.

"Yeah, what's the big idea?" Pillow chimed in on the confusion, "Is this just a practical joke?"

"Yes, actually!" Firey grinned wider. "I even got everyone else to play along."

 "I'm still mad at you," Liy glowered. Firey ducked behind Tree for protection. 

"What were you even pretending to be sick with anyway?" Pie asked. "It looked pretty real."

"Ligma."

"..what's Ligma?" 

"Ligma balls lmao"

Chapter Text

"Go!"

Shieldy and Shelly launched themselves from the starting line, the cheers of their friends and spectators fading behind them. Their feet kicked up small flurries of snow as they raced on the barely visible path, having been covered from last night's snowfall. Ghosts of their breath swirled in front of the racers, and dissipated even quicker.

They were lucky the forest was dense; though the open racetrack provided passage for wintery winds, the chill didn't deter the determined racers. Only one of them was going to win this race, and each was sure it would be them.

Shieldy snuck a glance at Shelly. She kind of shone in the sunlight, and bent forward slightly. Her light blue surface struck out against the rich evergreens, yet matched the grace and beauty of the snow she barely touched. Shieldy took a closer look at her eyes; narrowed against the wind in her face, but still sparkling with ambition, focus, and determination.

Shelly caught him looking. "Eyes on the path, not me," she smirked.

"Sorry, you're just nice to look at," Shieldy fired back.

"You're seriously flirting with me now?"

The pair had an infamous history of flirting with one another. Both of them claimed it as friendly banter, but many thought different of it. Nobody was really sure how it started; even Shieldy and Shelly were fuzzy on the details when asked about it, often saying it was just an off-handed comment made by Shieldy.

"Why not?" Shieldy winked, "we're alone, after all."

Shelly rolled her eyes. "You're not distracting me from the prize. I worked hard for this!"

Shieldy bumped into Shelly playfully, to which Shelly returned the push. They sped forward, keeping an even pace between them, none really pulling ahead of the other. Then it turned into a game of chase when Shelly gained some distance ahead, and Shieldy stretched his arms out to catch her. She laughed seeing Shieldy face plant into the snow after faking him out.

"Missed me!" she teased, her laughs dying down to giggle fits. Shelly opened her eyes right before a flying snowball hit her side. "Ow! Hey!"

"Eat your words!" Shieldy cackled, throwing another crude snowball. Shelly squealed and ran, with Shieldy following close behind, laughing.

Not too far down the path, a low rumble filled the air. Shelly halted in her tracks, drawing in a sharp breath.

"Shieldy, stop."

Shieldy, a ways back from where Shelly stood, stopped, narrowed eyes staring at Shelly for an answer. "What? What's happening?" he asked, a tinge of fear creeping into his voice.

The constant rumble was getting more deafening by the second, and Shelly turned too late. A massive wall of snow and ice was hurtling her way, and she was frozen in place, mesmerized by the oncoming death.

"Shelly, watch out!" Shieldy screamed, dashing to protect her. Facing Shelly with his back to the snow, Shieldy braced himself for the onslaught of the avalanche. Shelly hid and squeezed her eyes shut.

Thunderous but muffled, the snow toppled Shieldy over onto all fours, still hovering defensively over Shelly. Frigid flakes bit at his skin, and small ice chunks pelted his backside. The weight of the avalanche was like a two-ton weight, almost unbearable for Shieldy to take. His arms and legs shook like jelly, and he harshly chomped on his lip to resist screaming out in the burning pain. He refused to collapse, despite what seemed like the weight of the world pressing against him.

Finally, the rumbles died away. Shelly uncurled, almost falling over when she met no resistance on the other side. She seemed to be inside some kind of air pocket.

That's what she believed, until she looked up at Shieldy.

"Shieldy!" she gasped, "what-"

"You know I'd do anything for you," Shieldy breathed, mustering a cheeky grin at Shelly.

Despite the circumstances, Shelly couldn't help but grin a little back. Shieldy just had that effect on her. "Okay, we need to get out of here," she said, switching her focus to look for a way out. They were stuck under at least six feet of snow, and any wrong move might bury the both of them alive. Whatever they did, they'd have to do it fast; who knows how long Shieldy could keep the snow away?

"Hm," Shelly racked her brain, screaming at herself as her mind remained empty. She had to dig her way out, for sure, but as soon as she left the safety of Shieldy's cover..

An idea hit her then, and her face lit up. "Got an idea?" Shieldy asked, though he already knew the answer. He'd recognize those bright eyes anywhere.

"Yes, but we'll need to work in synchrony. Can you do that?"

Shieldy nodded to the best of his ability. "You can count on me, Shelly."

"We're going to dig our way out of here," she commanded, "I'm going to push the snow out of the way while you act as my cover. If this works like I think it will, it'll keep the snow from falling on us, and eventually, we can get out."

"Sounds like a plan," Shieldy said, admiration filling his gaze.

"We'll go in a straight line, I think that's our best bet." Shelly looked up at Shieldy. "And you have to stay slightly in front of me, so I hope you don't mind being cold for a while."

Shieldy responded by digging his three spikes into the snow in front of him. The instantaneous chill stung, but Shieldy silenced the pain. "Let's get to work."

They were under the avalanche for what seemed like hours; hours of inching forward at a snail's pace, hours of freezing air and burning pain, which eventually numbed down to nothing. It helped them push on, at the very least. Shelly's soft words of encouragement broke the silence every now and then, filling the small confines of their world at that point- a tiny air pocket that could collapse at any moment.

Shieldy had to admit, the experience was claustrophobic. But he had no other choice; both of their lives depended on him, and so help him if he'd let Shelly be crushed under the layers of white. He pushed on with an indomitable determination, as did Shelly, who worked as quickly as she could risk. Shieldy could be stubborn as a rock, but she knew he was suffering silently up there.

All she could hope to do was get them out as soon as possible. Shelly jabbed the next bit of snow with the tip of her shell and shoved it aside, clearing the rest with her body. It might have been wishful thinking, but the snow seemed like it was getting easier to clear, a sign that they were almost free.

They powered on, feeling the pressure of the snow lighten, until Shieldy moved forward, and was no longer met with snow. He drew in a quick breath, and Shelly broke through to the other side.

There were no cheers or whoops of joy; as soon as the pair broke free, they scrambled out, and collapsed side by side, taking in huge breaths of fresh, winter air. Every part of them was aching and throbbing with numb pain.

But they were free. Shieldy yelled triumphantly when he at last caught his breath, throwing his arms and legs up, and his limbs promptly dropped back to the ground.

"Everything hurts," he groaned.

"Mhm."

"I need to take..a fifteen hour nap."

Shelly giggled. "Same."

Shieldy sat up, looking towards her. "Hey Shelly?"

"Yeah?"

"Have I ever told you I love you?"

Shelly abruptly sat up, staring at Shieldy while his question was processing in her brain. "What?"

"Seeing you there, taking command of the entire situation," Shieldy breathed, "I really felt like I had to tell you. I love the way you do things. I love you."

Shelly flushed, getting hotter with each word. Ever since the beginning of Brawl of the Objects, she had harbored a crush on Shieldy; he was outgoing and confident, but also kind and caring. Eventually it turned into love, even for all his childish antics and mischief, she loved him.

"I feel the same.." she shyly replied, looking at the ground. A whoosh of air flew under her, wrapped in a surprise hug by Shieldy. She laughed as he spun her around, the both of them rejuvenated again.

"Hey!" Shieldy exclaimed, placing Shelly onto the ground, "what do you say we have our first date right now?"

"Right now?" Shelly replied more hesitantly. "Don't we have a race to finish..?"

"Everything will be fine; we'll even take a shortcut!" Shieldy claimed, running towards the frozen lake. Shelly followed, seeing what he was getting at.

Shieldy had stopped at the lake's edge. He and Shelly took a moment to take in the sun's glare on the lake, and the beauty of the pristine icy surface. It was almost as if the lake itself was sparkling.

"You know how to skate?" Shieldy asked his partner. Shelly shook her head. "That's okay, I'll show you!" He placed his hands on Shelly's sides and stepped onto the lake, the crunch and soft crackle of ice and snow following after. With ease, he glided across the glassy sheet of ice, in circles and figure eights, while Shelly laughed with the pureness of a child.

"Mind if I try something?" he grinned, a sparkle in his eyes. Shelly knew that look- he was going to do something cheeky- but gave him the go ahead. Shieldy's grin widened as he lifted Shelly off the ice and into the air above his head. She squealed and laughed, as did Shieldy, before taking note of his shaking arms, and put her back down.

"I want to try it on my own!" Shelly said, feeling more confident about being on the ice.

"Off you go, then!" Shieldy exclaimed, pushing him and Shelly apart. Shelly looked down at her feet, trying to figure out the footwork, before slipping and crashing onto her back.

Shieldy snapped his gaze up in alarm. "You okay?"

Shelly struggled as she tried to right herself. "Yeah, I-"

Crackle and pop. Shelly froze, terror stiffening her body. She didn't have to look down to know what was happening.

"Stay there!" Shieldy called to her, panicked. "I'm coming for you!"

She didn't have to be told twice. The web expanded underneath her feet with a grating crackle. Her own heart threatened to leap out of her chest.

The ice gave way. Then Shelly was sliding on the ice, away from the new hole.

"Shieldy!" she screamed, scrambling, but failing to make her way back. "No!" Tears welled up and fell from her eyes.

Shieldy overestimated his strength. Though he was full of life before, it was like the water sapped all of his will, the biting chill returning him to the numb throbbing he felt before. He barely had the energy to swim at all.

Still, he swum for his life. He couldn't leave Shelly behind; he could hear her, desperately calling for him. Yet the light grew farther as the last of his strength faded away. He just hoped Shelly would be okay in time, before letting the darkness take him.

And she was alone. Frozen still in time as she wailed in vain.

Chapter Text

Of course he took it! Pizza and Hot Dog are the only ones here who know I have gum, and Hot Dog would never take it without permission. I'll make sure he regrets it. Non-violently, of course. 

I storm up to Pizza's door, and rap on it like a woodpecker. He doesn't answer. The nerve of him! I raise my foot to knock again, but the door creaks open and Pizza's face is there in front of me.

"Hey-"

I push past him, squeezing myself between his body and the doorframe, and start pulling drawers open. Where did he hide it?

"Shelly, what are you doing?" His voice is behind me, watching as I searched, still with zero results.

"Don't play dumb, you know exactly what I'm doing!" I retort. It's not in the drawers. Maybe in the closet? I pull the door open; all his acting stuff is in here.

"Invasively rummaging through all my- Hey, don't touch that!" Pizza stood between me and his closet. "Seriously, what's up with you?"

I groan. "My gum? I know you have it. Give it up."

"Ohh, that," he smirks. I wish I could wipe it right off his face. He pulls open his nightstand drawer and the gum is there. Why didn't I check there instead?

"Haha, very funny," I roll my eyes, "now give it back."

Pizza takes a sliver package out of the pack. He wouldn't dare.

He stares at me, unfolds the foil and pops the stick of pink gum into his mouth.

"That's kind of rude," he says, the wet gum stretching between his teeth and gliding around his tongue. "What if I wanted some?"

The nerve of him! He didn't have to steal it to get some! He could've asked. "That's rich, coming from someone who'd steal gum just to get some."

"Well, if you want it back, come get it."

Come get it? Was that supposed to be suggestive? I heat up, narrowing my eyes and squishing my lips together.

From Pizza's lips, the gum expands into a pink bubble; then it pops, and the gum disappears inside his mouth again. He definitely said that to make me flustered.

What if I did get it though? If I could kiss him...I could get it back. And it'd be the perfect revenge. But do I dare do it, though? A chill spreads from my back. Pizza slips the slimy gum through his lips.

Yes.

I advance to where Pizza is sitting; the smug look on his face falters.

"Um-"

"Yeah," I cut in, "I'll come all right."

I close the distance between us, a buzzing feeling silencing all other thoughts. His lips are warm, oily, and kind of rigid; the mild spice of pepperoni fills the air. I step closer, now being in the space between his legs, and stare right into his wide eyes. His arms lift from his sides, and reach around my body, holding me and pulling me closer to him. They're hot compared to my body heat; the temperature sends chills throughout me.

The ground below me ceases to exist, as Pizza lifts me up and situates me on his lap instead. I wrap my legs around the lower part of his body in a straddle, and pull away from his lips to breathe. His spice lingers on my mouth; a slight burning, tingling sensation that had made its permanent impression.

The gum is inside his mouth. I need to go deeper. It's not like I could back out of this now anyway, but strangely, I..want more. Something more heated and passionate. Something spicy. My own breaths are deep and heavy in this haze. Salty sweat drips down my forehead.

Connecting with him again, I push a little on his torso, and he pushes back, reciprocating the kiss. His warm fingers trace and fill every shallow crevice and line, gliding over my skin and leaving cold tracks of where he was, until he came back again and filled the space with his soft touch. His lips encompass my own, the tiniest pinch on my bottom lip. I open myself to him, and he does the same.

Heat rushes to me as I explode with new warmth; his breath a mixture of spices, oil, and warm air. Everything is slick and wet, the sides of his mouth, the beginnings of his throat, the rigid top and folded bottom of his mouth; I gloss over hs teeth too, wet, like everything else.

Something cold brushes my tongue. The gum. I scoop it up, and haul it back into my own mouth, meeting him on the way out. I can't risk being caught with the gum, but I shudder as his saliva mixes in with mine, my tongue meeting his. I take a lick at his warm, spiced lips before securing the gum back in my own mouth.

But I don't want it to end now. His warm hands are still roaming my body. I'm still wrapped around him. We're still kissing. It doesn't have to end, right? There's a pang in between my legs, one that is strained and stressed, and the compelling urge to put my entire body weight on him is almost too much to bear.

A small moan leaves me instead, I pull myself closer and push a bit farther down onto the bed, opting for something more aggressive. I pull my mouth away a small distance, giving us room to breathe. Saliva connects our lips, and he meets my eyes.

Passion and lust for more is what I see. His whole face is flushed in red, and I can only assume I look the same. We meet again, colliding our tongues with each other, and I let pure, blissful sensation sweep me away from reality. He dominates, pushing his tongue on mine like a cat marking its territory, and I just let him.

We pull away again; both of us are drenched in sweat and attempting to fill ourselves with air. One look and we separate entirely, untangling ourselves from each other.

Although, a little more wouldn't have hurt. The loss of his touch is too cold.

"..oh my god," he breathes, "what just happened?"

There's gum inside my mouth; the real reason why I did that in the first place. I almost forgot it was there.

"I don't know..but thanks for the gum."

"Wh-" A shift in expression tells me he knows what I'm talking about.

"Shelly!"

Chapter Text

"Woi're pretty far oiut..shouldn't we goio back?" Bubble said, jogging up to keep pace with me.

"It's not far," I reply, "just trust me on this."

"O-Oikay then.." She sounded nervous. Where is the spot, I swear it's around here! I don't want to keep Bubble waiting, especially not when she's feeling so unsure.

This has to be perfect.

Purple sand shifts underneath my feet as I walk down the Yoyleland shore. The sun is going to set soon. The pink tree should be here somewhere..

"Fanny! Fanny, wait foir me!" Bubble calls out. I turn; Bubble is far behind me, sprinting to catch up. Was I really walking that fast?

Bubble, now back at my side, places her hands on her knees, and pants heavily. "Soirry.." she heaves, "foir..being soio slow.."

Slow? "No, no. I was going too fast." I apologize, nearly stumbling over my own words. Bubble looks up, and stands upright.

"I knoiw this must be spoical to yoiu," she points toward the sun, "boiut it's goina get doirk soon. The rest of oiur toim will woinder where we went."

"I know. Just.." I glance around, but there's no tree in sight. Maybe we're in the wrong spot. And Bubble's right. I won't sacrifice her sense of security because I want to show her a place I can't find. I'll have to show her another time.

And confess another time..if I can even work up the courage again.

"Okay. Let's go back."

We start back towards the competition grounds. Bubble is off looking into the distance, a hint of wonder reflected in her eyes. Despite myself, I smile, cherishing the ever so innocent look.

"Hoiy..whoit did yoiu soiy the ploice looked loike agoin?"

"Er-" I freeze. "There's a pink tree, next to the shore."

"Loike thoit?" she points.

Like what? I look to where her finger goes, and there's the pink tree, overlooking the shore. I can't believe it! How did I oversee that?

"Yes!" I shout. I run, but pause midway. God, I hate how I act sometimes.

"You..want to come? We can still go back, if you want," my voice trails away at the end.

Bubble looks at the ground. She probably wants to go back.

"It's fine, you know. We-"

"Noio!" she interjects, then clears her throat. "Oi-Oi mean..I'd loike to see the ploice."

Huh. I thought she'd still want to go back, but I won't complain. I walk up to the tree and sit down, leaning against its smooth bark. The sand is warm and wonderful on my legs, and the setting sun casts streaks of red and orange onto the crystal water.

It's one of the few calmer places in this world. Something that I don't entirely hate.

Bubble is at my side, staring out into the ocean with wide eyes. Her shine took on a glistening rainbow, making her more radiant than she already is. It only makes sense that I'd share the place I love with the person I love.

Love..it's still so strange to me. A lifetime of nitpicking every single flaw, and accepting everything is wholly worthy of hate in some way..and along comes Bubble, someone who has flaws, but I couldn't say to myself I hated it. I always thought love was this perfect delusion; that when someone fell in love, the other person was just absolutely perfect in every single way.

And that's false. There's not a single perfect thing or person in this world. Hate was the only thing that was real to me. I think I was mistaken. Maybe love is different than what I thought it was. So what is love?

Bubble would help me understand that..I think. She's always been kind to me, right? Even if she didn't feel the same way..why am I so anxious? Do I fear rejection? Was that part of love, too? What did I work up all this courage for, just to be afraid when it actually matters? It's so stupid. This is stupid.

But I have to tell her. Do I? Is it expected of me? It's so..uncharacteristic. Does love do that, too?

"Fanny?"

"Huh?"

"Oire you oikay? You kinda zoined oiut.." she speaks.

"Yeah, I- I'm okay."

For the love of fulcrum, why am I freezing up? The words are on the tip of my tongue, but they refuse to go anywhere!

"Bubble!"

"Y-yeah?"

"Uh-" I clear my throat. "Bubble, I- I really like you." I mutter, tensing under the heat generating inside me. But I did it. Not as relieving as I thought it would be.

"Well, I really loike you toio, Fanny!"

That reply was really casual..is that supposed to happen? "Do you even know what I'm talking about? It's..it's the..love, kind of like. Love." I glance at the ground. The sand shines with pink and blue. "I love you."

"Oh!" I don't want to look at her face right now. I thought it would be easier once I said it, but I feel like dying waiting for her answer. What is she going to say? What-

A pair of arms wrap around my base. Was that Bubble?

"I loive you toio," she replied, holding me closer to her. A sigh leaves me, and all the tension flushes out. My eyes close, and the slosh of waves fill my mind and warmth fills my heart. She's so close to me.

This is nice.

Chapter Text

There was a girl I knew.

I called her Miss Fish Lips.

And I called her this because

She pursed her lips when she concentrated

And she looked just like a fish.

 

Miss Fish Lips

Was a simple girl,

A basic girl, even.

Her eyes were always big and wide

And she looked just like a fish.

 

Miss Fish Lips

Had a lot of friends

And she talked with them a lot.

When she was happy, she bubbled and chatted,

And she looked just like a fish.

 

Miss Fish Lips

Would sometimes go outside

And lay flat on the ground.

Facing the sun, she spread her arms wide

And she looked just like a fish.

 

Miss Fish Lips

Dressed in colorful clothes

Like silver, orange, and green,

But no matter what she'd wear, I could stare

And she looked just like a fish.

 

Miss Fish Lips

Looked really sad one day

So I asked her what was wrong.

She looked at me, smiled,

And said her name is Sarah.

Chapter Text

"..yeah, I can't wait to get off here and finally rest. It's been exhausting."

Watery glanced at Firey, his head tilted back and half-lidded eyes gazing at the roof. The blue haired teen rolled her eyes and ruffled Firey's dark green beanie.

"Go to sleep then, stupid. I'm not carrying you out of this subway," she joked, before returning to her phone.

Firey scoffed and pulled his beanie back down. "Doctor said I need to stay awake, unfortunately. No sleeping for me until I'm in the hospital." He gripped the handle of his brown suitcase.

"Not even a power nap?"

"Nope."

Watery huffed, opting for the background conversations of the other subway riders to fill her head. A bit of eavsdropped conversation told her there was an unexpected and dreadful family gathering coming up for someone. It sounded terrible; she felt sorry for them.

"Hey, I'm really about to fall asleep over here," Firey piped up again. "Keep me awake."

"I'm sure a five minute nap won't kill you," Watery sighed. "Get some sleep. I'll wake you up when we're there."

Firey made a sound of acknowledgement, and pulled out his phone from his pocket.

"I'll just keep myself awake, then."

The subway train glided through the tunnels like scissors on paper, and the occasional blare of another train passed them by. Her friends weren't online anymore, so Watery resigned herself to staring into the dark subway tunnels. So much had changed in the past few months. Firey's leukemia relapse had taken all of them by surprise. Now it was endless medication, hospital visits, constant pity parties, and floods of gifts.

She wanted Firey to get better, she really did, but it was also so exhausting. There were things Watery had said in fits of anger that she never wished she had said, and some nights, she'd lay in bed and wonder if she cared as much as she thought she did. But there was nowhere she wouldn't go, and nothing she wouldn't do for Firey. She'd jump in front of a train if it meant Firey would be cancer-free.

Even if they were only half-siblings, Watery loved Firey so much they might as well been actual siblings. That's why she agreed to move to Toronto with him when he had to transfer hospitals. They depended on each other.

The lights of the subway tunnel winked in and out.

"We have arrived in Toronto!" the conductor's voice boomed over the PA system.

As the speakers squealed with instructions and commuters rose from their seats and shuffled to the doors, Watery roused herself, willing her eyes open. She yawned and grabbed her suitcase and duffel bag, and glanced towards Firey, asleep as she was.

"Firey, we're here," she nudged him. No response. Watery furrowed her brow, but refused to jump to conclusions just yet. She shook Firey with a little more force. "Firey? Come on, wake up." 

Nothing.

Watery stifled her breaths to contain her climbing heartbeat. One more try. She took two fingers and pressed them to Firey's neck, to where his pulse should've been beating.

Nothing.

Watery caught her breath in her throat. He was gone. Gone on her watch. It took everything she had to not break down in that subway. Scooping Firey into her arms, Watery left the two suitcases on the train. She'd retrieve them later.

Firey used to be so much heavier.

Holding Firey close to her, Watery stepped onto the platform and, through her tears, searched for a freckled young man with curly, periwinkle hair. Winner was to meet them at the stop. He'd also be the first Watery have to tell.

"Hey!" Winner exclaimed, arms waving and spread out for a hug. His cheerfulness dropped seeing Watery's broken expression, and his gaze was drawn to Firey. "Hey..what's wrong?"

Watery blubbered into a sobbing mess, and any attempted explanation was interrupted by a sniff or sob. Her words were incoherent and ran together. Eventually, she came to lay her forehead on Winner's shoulder, who hugged her and said she didn't have to tell. He could put the pieces together.

"He's..gone.." Watery choked out. "I-... I let him down.." she continued hiccuping. Winner closed his eyes. Firey was so young.

"I'm so sorry, Watery.." he whispered, and pulled out of the hug, urging Watery to hand Firey to him. "Do you have luggage in the subway? I'll call the hospital."

Chapter Text

Now would be a good time to start raining. That's how it always went in the movies. It rains, but the main character couldn't care less because they were too sad. Wet and cold, they'd sit outside feeling sorry for themselves, probably crying. But their tears were insignificant amongst the thousands of raindrops falling from the sky. No one would really notice. No one would really care.

Until of course, a certain umbrella shielded them from the onslaught of rain. Look up, and there was a friend, their best friend, come to save them from their gloom. Maybe they'd go to the friend's house, get dry and warm, have cups of hot chocolate or tea, and talk about life. Talk about why the main character feels so sad. Or maybe just hang out, have a good time together, and share some laughs and make memories.

But Scissors didn't have any friends. And it didn't rain in Dream World. Nothing happened in Dream World, really. The landscape was a vast white void, and the castle was rather big and empty. She was also surrounded by people she didn't like.

Actually, that wasn't true. Scissors did like someone. He just didn't like her back. He couldn't like her back. She was too cold and angry for anyone to love her properly. Besides, Rook was only kind to Scissors because of professional obligations, although he was sorely mistaken. Even so, Scissors appreciated the attention she received from him. It made her feel at least a little bit special.

Unfortunately for her, she had grown a bit too fond of Rook. It took years to build up her walls, only to have them fall apart like a house of cards. Now she didn't know what to do anymore. All her feelings were in disarray. It would be so much easier to ignore them and pretend her feelings didn't exist. After all, it's what she'd been doing her entire life.

Something was different about this time, though. It felt wrong to push Rook away. Of course it felt wrong. Scissors didn't want to push him away, but it was only to protect her. If she wasn't cared about, she wouldn't- couldn't- be hurt later. That was the entire point.

But it felt wrong. It was an unsettling feeling, deep inside Scissors. Did she really want this? Did she? It was completely platonic from Rook's side, so it's not like it mattered, anyway. It wasn't even real. What good would it do to express her feelings?

Did she want this though? What did she want? Securitymutual commitment, appreciation...she'd have to tear all her walls down. She'd have to make that leap. She'd have to risk falling down and hurting herself again. She had to put behind her image, everything she'd ever done, or told herself, or-

Scissors could feel it. Her eyes watering. Tears crawling down her cheeks. She was scared. Scared of abandonment. Scared of commitment. Scared of the change she would have to make. Why were feelings so complicated? It was so much easier when she had her walls.

But did she want that?

She really could use some rain.

Chapter Text

It's like Four wants to torture me.

Another day, another algebra lesson. This time, it's a partner project on real-life parabolas. Of course, Four picks our partners. He always does.

I could've been paired with anyone. Pencil, Bracelety- hell, even Roboty or David! Anyone else in this class I would've been fine working with! So of course Four picks the one I can't stand.

Stapy.

Why am I always with him? We don't work well together. We don't talk about how to do the project. The finished product always looks terrible because Stapy refuses to actually do anything properly. He's so annoying. And his handwriting is sloppy! 

But, what can I do. I just have to deal with it, unfortunately. I focus on coloring in the stone arch. It actually looks pretty good so far, but that's because Stapy hasn't touched it. We mutually agreed that we get one half of the paper.

"God, could you go any slower?" Stapy stupidly said. I don't look up.

"Sor-ry, I'm just putting actual effort into this. I don't suppose you'd know what hard work is."

He scoffed. "Work smarter, not harder. Why put so much effort into something that doesn't even matter? It's not like you can fail this class."

Stapy is so clueless. "Four appreciates it. If you do the work, he won't use his annoying screech. And I, for one, would like to still be able to hear after all of this is over."

"Whatever," Stapy sighs. "I'm done anyway, so just...go wild. I don't even care."

God. I raise my eyes to look at his work. It's even worse than I thought.

"Like hell you're done! I can barely read your handwriting! It looks like chicken scratch!" I shout.

"Um, my handwriting is perfectly fine?" he says. "It's yours that needs work. It's so...robot-like. Says a lot about you."

Was supposed to be an insult? "Same goes for you. You're a sloppy, lazy excuse of an object."

"Excuse me!?"

"Oh my tree, will you two shut up?" Pencil complains. "I'm trying to work!"

I sigh deeply. I'm tired of this. "Just...whatever. I'll do it myself."

Other than the background conversations of the other Exitors, the room is relatively quiet. I listen in on their ramblings and gossip as I work. Turns out Foldy made a new enemy, which I find hilarious. In fact, she's out for the whole team of Iance. 

And Bracelety's upset because her team got rid of her entire Ice Cube shrine. What a shame. I don't know what Bracelety sees in her, though. I mean, Ice Cube is kind of cool, but I wouldn't obsess over her the way Bracelety does.

Loser keeps rambling about holes and Gelatin. He also keeps talking about the LOL, whatever that is. I hope he hasn't gone crazy in that..thing of his. What even is that weird sphere? It looks like an onion, or a really round dumpling. How did he get in there, anyways? I could ask 8-Ball, he...probably knows.  

I glance up, and lock eyes with Stapy. His eyes are dark and deep, like a mysterious black sea. I could stare into them forever..- what the hell!? I scowl and tear away, heat rushing to my face. What was that!? 

"Jeez! Were you staring at me while I was working!? You creep!"

"What!?" he retorts, "I wasn't looking at you, I was just staring into the distance! You're the one who was looking at me all weird!"

"Ugh, whatever!" I can't believe it happened again! Every time I look at Stapy, something weird happens. My face heats up, my hands get sweaty, I start thinking weird- And then he looks at me and makes things worse! I'm always catching myself staring and I want to make it stop!

Then I find myself daydreaming or something and I start thinking about Stapy and just- I don't even want to think about it. God, it's so stupid. He's stupid. Stupid Stapy and his..dreamy eyes..- No! What's gotten into you, Liy? Stapy isn't dreamy or handsome in the slightest. His voice doesn't give you chills sometimes, or anything like that. You don't wish he smiled at you, or held your hand, or let you stroke your hand down his back...definitely not. 

I really need to find a way to stop this.

My cheek bursts with warmth, a gentle touch brushing my skin. It feels so nice, except..

I turn and look up, meeting eyes with Stapy, who is redder than usual. His gaze goes straight to my soul. I lean in. I can almost...

Goddammit!

"Get your..grubby hands off me!" I sputter, jerking my head away.

"My stapler instincts made me do that!" What a stupid excuse!

"Your stapler instincts should learn to give me my space!"

"You're one to talk! You were the one leaning in-"

"You started it, you-"

A desk slams. "Oh my tree! Trying to work, here!" 

I scowl. What the hell even happened? Was I about to kiss him? God, that's disgusting. 

What would happen if we did kiss, though...ugh. Stop thinking like that!

Stupid Stapy. Stupid, unnecessary feelings.

Chapter Text

I can't believe Liy's gone. Actually, wait, she's not gone, she's back. But she's not here, so that makes her gone...whatever. I still can't believe the viewers would choose her to come back to BFB. I hope Foldy will be okay.

I glance at her empty desk. Her papers are still inside in an organized chaos. They're mostly doodles of her teammates, drawn on the backs of our endless algebra worksheets, but I've seen her scribble all over her papers too. She crumples up and throws those ones away. All they are are black masses of nothing in particular. Probably angry scribbles.

Soon enough, someone's going to come and replace her. I wonder if I'll get used to it. The classroom keeps getting mysteriously bigger as more contestants get eliminated. I think it's around the halfway mark, now.

I wonder how she's doing... Liy... She's only one person, but the classroom seems so much emptier without her. She used to stare at me when I was working and say how I was doing everything wrong. Other times she'd just talk about her ambitions with Pencil, or rant about the things she hated. I could never mistake the passion in her voice or the fire in her eyes. It's like she could melt me with a single glare...it's almost enchanting, somehow...

Wait- enchanting? Liy ? She's not... her voice is like an angel's, though...

Oh, what the fulcrum. If my thoughts are going to wander to Liy, so be it. The locked door in the back of the room came into view. I still remember her giggle when Four left after the first rejoin, and she made a beeline for the door. Of course, I tried to stop her, but she just grabbed my hand and pulled me through the door with her. We didn't actually see anything because Four stopped us, but...

I rub my hand, and my fingers intertwine together. We actually held hands. She was cold, and kind of rough, but that moment she touched me still makes my face burst with heat and sends a chill down my spine. I...want her to touch me again. I want to feel her hand in mine. Is that wrong? I feel like that's wrong. It's most definitely wrong.

I mean...I hate her, right? It was just a one-time thing. What about all the times I caught myself staring, though? No, I was just...staring into space while conveniently looking at her. Not because I love her beautiful periwinkle blue or the intense way she glares at her work.

And sure, we kind of know each other better because of the time we spent in EXIT, but that doesn't mean I like her. I don't feel this way about Foldy, and we're best friends! What are the things I know about Liy? She's petty, she's a jerk, she's intense, adventurous, has a loud, contagious laugh, thinks horoscopes are garbage, loves abstract art, her favorite color is midnight blue- how do I even know those last few? Whatever. But I know so much more about Foldy, so why am I feeling this way?

Oh, for the love of fulcrum. No, I definitely don't like Liy. I'm just confused. This is probably just a phase because I got so used to having her right next to me all the time. That's all there is to i-

"Stapy!" Four growls at me. "Are you paying attention?"

I heat up, the eyes of everyone in EXIT on me. "Uh- Y-Yeah?"

"Hmph!" they say, but go back to teaching whatever it is we're learning this time. I try to focus on the lesson, but there's way too many equations on the board. I'm getting a headache, but I guess it's for the best. Anything to get my mind off of Liy.

Chapter Text

'You're so stupid, Rayla.'

The moonshadow elf sat on the small, grainy rock, lost in thought. She and Callum, after encountering Sol Regem, agreed to take night watches to keep an eye out for danger.

It was well into Callum's shift, but Rayla dared not wake him. Zym was sleeping as his side, and the small dragon would surely wake if Callum moved.

Plus, she wasn't feeling too sleepy. A moonshadow elf combined with things to think about and the possibility of danger never resulted in a good night's sleep.

She also just didn't want to wake Callum. The prince looked peaceful in his slumber, his sides rising and falling smoothly. He wore a slight smile on his face, back arching to perfectly match the walls of the small cave carved into the rock. A lock of brown hair fell over his eyes, and he bore no signs of stress on his fair skin.

With Callum's red scarf draped over Zym, and the sereneness of the prince, it was the most peaceful scene Rayla had seen all day.

Despite it, she tore her eyes away. She could hardly believe herself when she realized somehow- somehow- she had fallen for Callum. Rayla understood why, Callum was an admirable and caring person, but she didn't understand why. He was a human, and she, an elf. Needless to say, it couldn't work out.

It was utterly stupid; she knew that. After they returned Zym to his rightful home, they'd most likely part ways. After all, humans weren't allowed in Xadia.

Rayla made a mental note to prepare a plan for that.

She rested her elbows on her knees and supported her face with her hands, staring up at the starry sky, and sighed.

Just another thing she had to go and make more complicated for herself. As a trained assassin, she refused to kill. Then, she ran, with the two princes of Katolis and the dragon prince, on an insane quest to bring peace between their worlds. And after that, she developed feelings for Callum. Feelings she couldn't put away.

He was brave, though. And had great perseverance. He had a heart unlike any other human's, aside from Ezran, who was equally as sweet. Plus, he was stupid cute. They had come so far together, and forged their way through whatever obstacle they came across. Though Rayla lived in a world full of magic, Callum was unlike anything she ever knew.

To think she thought all humans were dragon-slaying monsters. Some of them were, yes, but Callum and Ezran were kinder and more trusting than any human has ever been to her. They overcame their differences and worked together. They put their faith in her over their longtime friends. Callum even helped Rayla save a dragon, even though he was initially opposed.

Callum was the one to help her understand there was more to some humans other than greed. He helped ease her fear during the boat ride. He pursued his own path of learning arcane magic, even though he was only human. She would sacrifice everything for him, for all he did for her.

Rayla turned her hand over, amused. It wasn't an understatement. She nearly lost a hand protecting the two brothers. The elf turned back to the sleeping Callum.

She had almost lost him, too.

The image of Callum's writhing, tortured face was burned into her memory. The sweat streaming from his forehead, the purple veins snaking out from his dark eyes, his shallow, ragged heaving- all of it. He was tossing and turning in his sleep, shaking and muttering nonsense.

It terrified Rayla. The slamming realization of possibly losing Callum to the dark magic sickness petrified her. He had miraculously pulled through in the end, but the thought still made her heartbeat race. What if she had really lost him? What if Callum had stopped moving? A limp, lifeless version of Callum floated into her head. No tortured breaths. No incoherent mumblings. No jokes or laughter or warm smiles. Just silence.

Rayla's gaze shot to Callum again. Still breathing. She exhaled, and released the tension in her muscles.

Of course, Rayla couldn't not care. It was too late to put herself at a distance. Not that she had a chance of resisting, anyways. But their journey would be over soon, and then what? Though the tensions between the Xadians and humans could not possibly be mended overnight, Rayla prayed she and Callum could be an exception. It was only a matter of time.

Chapter Text

Cheesy tapped his pencil on the table, staring blankly at the scrawls on his notebook. It was one of those days. He'd try to brainstorm new ideas for his comedy act, but his brain, much like his jokes, was dry. Really, Cheesy just found himself distracted most of the time.

Today, he decided to enlist Microphone's help.

"I can't," Cheesy huffed, throwing his arms up. "Well's dry, the hens have gone home- I got nothing!"

"Seriously?" Microphone looked up from her phone from her place on the floor. "You actually have no ideas?"

"Zero." Cheesy leaned back on the chair, propping his feet up on the desk.

Microphone leaned over, and peeked at Cheesy's brainstorming page. There were only various scribbles of random doodles. A flower here, a sad face there, and multiple Cheesys sitting around. She cringed. He really had run dry.

"Well, maybe you can recount funny life experiences," she suggested, "like Heart, or Burned Ham, or Laney."

"Tch...I could..." Cheesy let the chair fall to its original position and turned toward Microphone. "But I wanna innovate my own brand of comedy, y'know? Just because I'm a piece of cheese doesn't mean my integrity should have holes in it."

Microphone raised an eyebrow. "Was that supposed to be a joke?"

Cheesy nodded. "Wasn't funny, huh?" He sighed. "A swiss and a miss."

"Ha!" Microphone snickered. A spark of satisfaction fizzled inside Cheesy.

"Seriously though, I guess it's worth a try. Thanks for the help, Mic, I really appreciate the feedback!" Kneeslap. "I gained a lot from it!" Another kneeslap.

Microphone rolled her eyes. "Pff. Okay, the novelty's worn off. But if you don't mind, I'll just stay here a bit longer. It feels...nice to get away from everything." Cheesy noted the drop in tone, but despite his curiosity, didn't ask about the show's happenings. Microphone's face was pensive, absent-mindedly scrolling through her newsfeed.

It was time to change the topic.

There was something Cheesy wanted to ask. Now seemed like a good time. He drummed his fingers on the desk, reminding himself to keep it casual.

"So, ever thought of getting into a relationship?"

Microphone crackled slightly; it was her way of being embarrassed. "Uhh...whaaat do you mean?"

"Have you ever had your eye on someone? Have a crush, or whatever?" Cheesy elaborated. Microphone bit her finger with her lip. She admitted she was a bit of a romantic herself, but Inanimate Insanity was no place for romance- things were chaotic enough as it was.

At least, that's what she told herself. Sure, she had creeping feelings for a certain someone, but there was barely any time to really sort them out. She had a game show to win, after all. As per Taco's words, 'strategy has no room for unnecesary feelings'.

"No! Why?" she blurted as coolly as she could.

"Just curious," Cheesy said, returning to his doodling. The lack of a pun unsettled Microphone. Surely that question was going to lead up to a joke. Microphone thought no further of it, though. Maybe it really was Cheesy being curious, but she had no clue why it would be on her relationship status.

She supposed it didn't really matter. They had drifted apart, for obvious reasons. Both Cheesy and Microphone settled back into their own minds, their thoughts to keep them company.

Chapter Text

It was a particularly bad night out. The chilly air could attack any unsuspecting object, rattling them to their bones and sending them booking it home. Firey didn't really mind, though; he rarely got cold. It was just one of the perks of being a flame like himself.

Another perk was that he could burn. He could destroy anything, so long as it was flammable and not made of metal. Firey found this ability useful when he needed stress relief. He'd often go outside, almost always at night, and burn whatever he wanted, whether it be a single leaf or an entire tree. It could be his own bias, but the dancing, crackling flames had always attracted him.

There was just something beautiful in the wake of destruction. Seeing life shrivel up and turn dark under the light of a rising fire somehow put Firey at ease. Some things didn't turn black, but rather turned to ash. Blazes of fire, licking up at whatever organic materials it was fed, and burning, and existing. Paper was one of Firey's favorites. The fire nipped at its edges, making its course while the paper turned black and peeled at the battlefront. Most of it burned away into nothing. The ash and shining embers were all that was left.

Most people were unsettled when Firey described this. He had jokingly earned the title of a pyromaniac, but it was true. He loved fire. It lit up the sky and made burning rain, like miniature meteor showers. It cast warm orange glows and captured the light in everyone's eyes. It roared and boasted all sorts of whites and reds and yellows and oranges. All of life's problems burned away with the fire.

Tonight was one of those nights. Alone, Firey had gone out to collect whatever stray kindling he could find. Sticks, twigs, and leaves were the most common. He'd gather useless papers and if he was lucky, entire branches. Branches made for nice, long fires. Pin liked to grow smelly herbs. He'd sometimes take those, too.

Dragging a particularly large branch, Firey lugged the wood onto his constructed fire pit, surrounded by rocks and pebbles to keep the fire from growing out of control. Sticks and leaves covered the burnt earth. Firey sniffed his stolen herbs before spreading it around the pit.

Rosemary.

He tossed more sticks into the mess, and chucked in a log he found at the edge of the forest. His hands were red and aching, and the skin peeled, but Firey shook off the pain. It didn't matter.

One step at a time, Firey climbed his branch, and sat at the top. Fire spread out from him, like the ripple of a lake, and the crackle of a burning fire drowned out the insects of the night. The blaze crept down the branch, setting fire to the log, and then to the fire's base. Firey watched it all with wide eyes, as the flames rose higher and the embers floated away on the wind. Smoke formed a ceiling above him, and Firey laid down. The fire was stable.

In the middle of it all, Firey cleared his mind of everything but the pop and crackle of flames. His stress and problems all burned away, and nothing but ash remained. Acrid smoke, smelling of fresh barbecue and a smothering warmth, carried a hint of the cleansing, woodsy rosemary. Firey's eyes drooped.

"Hey."

With a start, Firey lurched up. His face twisted.

"Hey."

Leafy sat before the inferno, fists closed in her lap. She glowed orange in the light.

"Decided to burn it all, huh? Become an edgy loner, making barriers of fire?" she spat.

"Hmph." Firey glanced away. "I thought that was your thing. What are you doing here, anyway? Doesn't fire kill you?"

"Wow, something you actually bothered to remember." Leafy rolled her eyes. "You woke me up. Does my presence discomfort you, hm? Is your stupid little reputation suffering? I doubt it can go any lower than it is right now," she snarked.

Firey made a dramatic turn towards Leafy. "Actually, yes, I don't like that you're here. I was planning to have a stress-free night, and I would appreciate it if you left."

Leafy's gaze flickered to the fire. "...you call that a stress-reliever?"

"Just another thing you don't understand," Firey shrugged. Leafy glowered, but her gaze softened under some unknown revelation. She stared deep into the burning wood.

"I'll prove you wrong..." she muttered. Leafy grabbed a stick untouched by the flames and tossed it in. She laid down on her stomach, arms folded one on top of the other, and watched it burn. Firey huffed and closed his eyes once again.

Another stick was tossed into the fire.

Chapter Text

Movie night! Movie night!" I yell, barreling down the stairs. It's movie night, and my turn to pick the movies! I just love movie night with my team, we eat popcorn and candy and watch movies all night! We always have fun on movie night, but tonight is gonna be extra special! Oh, I can barely contain my excitement!

"Woah," Tree puts his arms out from the bottom of the stairs. I'm much taller than him from where I'm standing! "Not too quickly, Bottle. You could trip."

Oh, he's right! "Sorry Tree, I'm just so excited!"

"Blanket attack!" Pen shouts from upstairs.

"Wh-" is all Tree says, before he's covered in blankets. I laugh. Pen always does this!

"I'm gonna jump! Everyone, watch!"

"What do you mean, jump-"

Pen body slams into Tree; both of them crash to the ground. The blankets were there to cushion his fall!

"Pen you hooligan, get off!" Tree's muffled voice shouts from under Pen, but he's laughing too much and just hugging the blankets. I wanna hug Tree, too! Running up, I wrap my arms around the mass of blankets, giggling. It's super comfy!

"Guys, you're going to suffocate him," Black Hole says. Phooey. It was fun while it lasted! Pen and I roll off, and Tree tosses blankets left and right. His leaves are sticking everywhere! And his face is all dark green, too!

"You're blushhhhingggg!" I squeal. Tree mumbles something and drags the blankets to the living room. Right! Movie night! "Oh! Can I bring Bubble, too?"

Pillow pops her head in. "Of course! All lesbians are allowed!"

"What about guys?" Pen asks.

"Only girls!"

Pen pouts, sticking out his bottom lip like a baby. "Pillow was only kidding," Pie remarks. "Anyway, hurry up! Remote's getting impatient."

"Okay! Going!"

~☆~

"Thoinks for hoiving me!" Bubble chirps, doing a cute little bow. She's always so cute!

"No problem!" Pen exclaims, "Any girlfriend of Bottle's is a friend of ours!"

"Doi hoi!" she giggles, a blush forming at her cheeks. Grinning, I take her hand and drag her over to the nest of blankets.

"So, what kind of movies are we watching?" Remote asks.

"Rom-coms!"

The room fills with cheer. Tree groans, but I know he secretly likes them, too! Bubble is excited, too! I did specifically choose this type of movie, after all. It's her favorite!

I switch on the TV and cuddle close to Bubble. Her soapy skin is cool on my cheek, and I nuzzle into her. But I can't do it too much, or she'll pop! Something rustles beside me.

"Poipcorn?" Bubble holds out a golden-yellow piece of popcorn. Looks delicious! I close my mouth over it; the salt stings and the butter coats my mouth, but it's super good! I open my mouth for another. Bubble giggles, and pulls out another piece for me to eat! She's so sweet! I eat that one, too.

A lot of time passed. It must be suuuuper late. Even Black Hole and Remote are asleep! I tried really hard to stay awake, but I think I might've fallen asleep at some point...but I'm awake now, so it's okay! Bubble is leaning on me, also snoring, and our popcorn bucket is on the floor. Too bad I can't reach it from here.

Okay, time to do my thing! Where's the TV remote? I look around, trying not to move. It's on the table, and I think I can reach it! I stretch my arm as far as it can go, and grab it! Yay me! I switch to Bubble's favorite movie and skip ahead a little, all the way to her favorite part.

"Psst! Bubble! Wakey-wakey!" I whisper. I can't poke her like I poke everyone else to wake up, so I hope this works! "Bubbleeee! It's your favorite movie!" I shake her arm.

Her eyes flutter open like a butterfly. "Boittle? It's-" she yawns, "soio late..."

"Nooo, don't go back to sleeeep!" I whine. "You're too tired to watch your favorite part of your favorite movie?" That seemed to do the trick! Bubble stretches, and sits upright.

"Oikay, okay. But then Oi'm going to sleep," she grins. The girl comes around the tree, and the guy comes to her, flowers behind his back. I know this part by heart! I mimic the actions exactly.

"Bubble," I clear my throat. She looks at me curiously. I hold my hands out to her, but can't contain my smile. I can't help myself, I've been planning this for so long!

"There's no one I've met quite like you," I recite, "you're kind, and strong, and beautiful. You help me appreciate life by appreciating yours. There's no doubt about it, that I love you very much. You are my very special someone."

Her hands are clapsed together, with a tear in her eye? Oh no, was that bad? I didn't mean to make her c-

Arms wrap around me, and Bubble holds me as close as she can. Ohh, I love hugs! I throw my arms around her- but not too hard! I still wonder why she's crying.

"Oh, thoink you, Boittle! You're soio sweet..!" she sniffs.

"Of course, I love you! But why are you crying?"

"They're hoippy tears!" Happy tears? Well, I trust Bubble. You learn something new everyday!

"Can I have a kiss?" I ask. We break the hug, and Bubble holds my face with her soft hands. Our faces get closer until our lips touch, the sweet scent of clean soap filling the air. I trace a thumb over her side. Super silky and soapy as ever!

The soap is still on my lips when she pulls away. I giggle, and her giggle joins mine, with a soft blush. "Alroight, Oi'm going to sleep.." She snuggles close to me, and leaves one more soapy kiss on my cheek. "Goodnight Boittle...I loive you.." she mumbles.

I smile. She's the best. "I love you, too."

Chapter Text

Taco tried her best. She really did. She tried so hard, but everyone just treated her like a ghost. "Was that the wind?" was a common saying. She knew she deserved better. If her team wouldn't give her the respect she deserved, she'd find it elsewhere. Outside the team. Outside the show.

She just didn't want to be here. Her enthusiasm for the game? Gone. The possibility of making new friends? Gone. Her patience? Gone.

And Taco knew if she walked far enough, she'd eventually exit Bfb. At least, she hoped so. The show couldn't possibly extend that far. She shook her head of the thought.

Even if the show's boundaries went on forever, Taco could essentially just let herself disappear. She'd go back to her hometown and live with her family. They would understand why she left; they've always been supportive of her. Taco smiled. She was lucky like that.

Homesickness dragged at her heart. It had been a long time...what if they forgot about her? What if...they didn't care about her anymore? What if they got mad at her?

No. She couldn't let herself think like that. Taco would cross that bridge when she got to it. Besides, she was very adaptable. She'd find her place in the world regardless.

She hoped so, anyway.

Footsteps. Great. Taco's whole body sagged as she sighed. "What-" she turned around.

Lollipop. Even greater. At least it wasn't Book.

Taco and Lollipop faced off, remaining wordless. The tension between them could be cut by a knife. Lollipop's fingers twitched at her sides as she held Taco's stony gaze.

"Look, if you're not going to say anything, I'll just-"

"Wait."

What was Lollipop's problem? Taco stopped halfway into a turn, glancing at Lollipop's outstretched hand. "Yeah? What do you want to say?"

Lollipop cleared her throat, returning her hand to her side. "Don't...don't go."

How cliche. "That's nice, but I've made up my mind. If you guys are just going to pretend like I don't exist, I might as well leave."

A begrudging grunt from Lollipop. "The others are starting to mend their ways. Just give them time."

"What about you? Book? You saw how she freaked out, even though switching places was part of the challenge.." Taco grumbled.

"If you must know, I was the first one to-"

"I don't care if you were the first to do anything," Taco snapped. "Your effort is appreciated, but it's too little, too late, okay? You were part of it too, so you don't get to act like some sort of savior. I was fed up with being treated like garbage! Teammates don't do that to each other! Thanks for being sorry, but I'm done." She spat the last word, and turned with a huff.

God, that felt satisfying. And for the first time, Lollipop seemed utterly speechless. Maybe she could finally go.

"Ugh. I-...I'm.." Lollipop struggled. The words wouldn't leave her tongue, and she fumbled with her hands, distressed. "I-I'm s-" Lollipop groaned. It would've been funny, had the situation been different.

"I'm sorry," she finally said. "I just don't want you to leave."

That was new. "What do you mean? We barely even know each other.." The words stabbed Taco right back in her gut. She only knew Lollipop because Saw was friends with her. Outside of that, they rarely talked.

So what could Lollipop possibly be feeling?

The object in question gripped her arm, blushing. She was getting sticky from the heat. "You..inspire me. You've proven to be quite the doer, even if you are reckless. We most likely would've lost episode six, had it not been for your quick thinking. It wouldn't be the same without you."

Taco froze. Lollipop had never been that heartfelt before. Was that what was lying under her usual sour, snooty attitude? Sure, there were those eulogies, but this was..different.

Now she didn't know what to do again.

Should she give them another chance? It was risky. Who knows what Book would do if she saw this attempt at leaving as another "abandonment".

Taco glanced at Lollipop again, with her downcast gaze and tightly gripped arm.

Oh, what the heck.

"Yeah.." Taco trotted to Lollipop, playfully elbowing her. "I guess I'll come back with you. Where would you be without me, right?"

"Eliminiated," Lollipop snorted. Taco smiled. She hoped she made the right choice.

Chapter Text

"Psst! Tree!" Ruby hissed. Tree grumbled and rolled over in his bed, pulling on a blanket that wasn't there. Ruby spotted it on the floor.

She crossed her arms, pouting, and devising the best plan to wake Tree up.

She opted for pushing him off.

"Ah!" Tree grunted. Ruby held back a snicker. "For trunk's sake.." Tree spotted the gem standing over him. "Ruby! What- What are you doing here!? And how!?" he whisper-shouted. Couldn't risk waking the others up.

Ruby grinned, jerking her thumb towards the open window. Tree groaned. Of all the nights he wanted fresh air in his bedroom, Ruby decided to come and wake him up at ungodly hours. It wasn't even the first time, either.

He rose from the ground, wincing from the throbbing in his head. "So? What is it this time?"

"I'm hungry."

Tree narrowed his eyes. "Of all the things- You're hungry? Why not wake one of your own team members? Or better yet- get a snack from your team's kitchen? I'm sure you have plenty of those."

Ruby shrugged. "Meh. Didn't feel like it."

"Didn't-!?" Tree nearly shouted. He took a calming breath. "..did you just want to spend time with me?" Ruby eagerly nodded.

"That, and I'm also hungry."

Tree couldn't bring himself to resist. "Alright, fine." He felt around his nightstand for his phone, and shielded his eyes before the display could blind him. "I'll find a nice cafe place for us, and you can get your fill there."

"Yay!" Ruby squealed, and squeezed Tree. Tree's leaves turned a dark green- his own way of blushing- but he didn't push Ruby away. It was something he got used to, having a close bond with her.

Then again, he never saw her hug anyone else this way, either.

"By the way," Ruby chirped, "it's kinda chilly outside. Can I ride in your leaves?"

~☆~

Tree stood in front of the cafe, his passenger in tow. It was what could be considered an average place- a medium sized building with a fair upkeep, and two front windows revealing the inside. Fairy lights were strung on the walls and between the rafters, and the walls were of earthy tones with cream and pink accents.

"Admiring the pretty lights or something?" Ruby teased. "Come on, let's go in! Tally-ho! Onward! Hi-yah!"

Tree smiled and sighed, and opened the door to enter. Soft modern folk music swirled around his ears, and a few patrons conversated at booths and tables. A mural of the ocean shore spanned one of the walls.

A sweet sort of scent filled the air as Tree stepped inside. With Ruby still on his head, Tree moved towards the counter, ignoring the curious glances of other people. He had to admit though, they must've been a bit of a strange sight.

"Wow!" Ruby exclaimed. "I'll have three mini sandwiches, one.." Tree opted to zone out of the conversation. Ruby wold most definitely self-indulge, but he was sure his wallet could handle it. He took another look around the cafe, soaking in the relaxed atmosphere. Quiet, but not too quiet. He picked a good place.

Just another venue to add to his list. Tree had to admit, it was mostly because of Ruby he knew the good places in town. Movie theaters, ice rinks, restaurants, grocery stores...it was a new type of place every time. This cafe would be a nice setting for team meetings.

"And what would you like, sir?"

Tree flinched, but gathered his wits quickly. "Water, please."

"Bor-ing," Ruby commented. Tree shook his head and paid at the counter, took a number, and found a table to sit at.

"Off," he commanded. Ruby slid off and bounced into the seat, as did Tree.

"You wanna play I Spy while we wait?" Ruby suggested, smiling. Tree shrugged and nodded. He didn't have any other ideas. "Okay! I spy, with my little eye, something green!"

How predictable. "Is it me?"

"What! Lucky guess," she pouted. "Your turn!"

The pair took turns pointing out different items in the cafe to each other, from the glaringly obvious to the minisculely obscure. A certain round of I Spy prompted a story from Ruby, which she told in impressive detail.

"-and just like that! Smash! Everything started exploding!" she mimicked an explosion with her hands, "pwoosh! Fireworks everywhere! It was amazing! But yeah, that's why Lightning and Snowball aren't allowed at the carnival anymore."

Tree nodded intently, sipping on his water. "I'm surprised none of you went to jail, or at the very least, to court."

Ruby shrugged. "Who knows?" She picked the crumbs off of her plate and ate them.

"Miss, your assorted chocolates?"

Ruby squeaked. "Thank you!" She smacked her lips and popped a chocolate in her mouth the moment the tray was set down. Tree eyed the chocolates after tipping their waiter, trying to swallow his own sweet-loving urges.

Unfortunately, his face was all too readable.

"Want one?" Ruby smirked, holding a cherry-shaped chocolate out to Tree. "You know you want it~!" He shook his head.

"No thanks. And if I wanted chocolate, I would've bought some myse-hrrf!" Tree grunted, the cherry chocolate now in his mouth. Ruby giggled.

It wasn't like he could spit it back out. The sweet, milky taste was too good to resist, anyway. Tree bit into the chocolate, and a thick cherry-flavored syrup oozed into his mouth. He felt himself melt with its sweetness, wondering how he'd muster the self-control to not over-indulge himself again.

Ruby pushed the plate closer to Tree. All the chocolatey sweets were devoured with a rather undignified manner, but neither of them cared. Tree leaned back, wiping his fingers and mouth of chocolate stains with a napkin.

"Ruby, that's disgusting," Tree commented, watching Ruby lick her fingers.

"Says the one who was just stuffing his face full of chocolates."

"It wasn't-" Tree let go of his useless retort. "Look, if you want to ride me on the way back, you have to properly clean your fingers."

Ruby snatched a napkin from its holder and swiped over her fingers. Tree rolled his eyes, but smiled anyway. All part of her charm. Ruby hopped on Tree, holding on to his topmost branches, and out they went.

"Well, I'd say that was a great experience!" Ruby chirped. "It's nice to know you're not always super uptight."

"What are you talking about? I thought you already knew that," Tree replied.

"Eh." Ruby hung down in front of Tree's face. "Anyways, thanks! I really like spending time with you."

Tree smiled. "Yes, you've told me that already. You're pretty great, yourself."

"Awww!" Ruby cooed, ruffling Tree's leaves. "Showing your soft side, huh?"

"Stop that!" Tree laughed. Ruby's arms returned to dangling in the air.

"So, wanna hang out again tomorrow?"

"Mm," Tree nodded, "sure. Now get back on before you fall off."

Chapter Text

Taco sighed. How she longed to escape her gilded prison atop the magical tower, locked away from any object that came to rescue her. How tragic it was, that a free spirit such as herself was reduced to a mere damsel in distress. Only the scratches on the bedroom wall reminded her how long she had spent here, alone.

So alone, day in and day out. Like the sun that rose and fell from behind the looming mountains. Like that one odd grey flower amongst the sea of vibrancy. Like the lone tree with the long shadows. Like the rotting skeleton curled around the clearing. Like a cloud drifting across a clear sky. Like the silence that settled in the area so long ago. So, so alone.

Unfortunately for her, there was no escape from the small comforts of her small world. A small, small world she lived in, where people came in, and never came out. Still, there was no quite getting used to the stench of burning bodies. Apathy filled her pained heart; it was hardly a wonder why no one came around anymore. How tragic. How unfortunate.

How many flowers could she count today? The blue one growing apart from the others was new. How much moss was growing out of the tower's walls? How many pebbles were scattered on the ground? What did the clouds look like today? How many had died in their quest to rescue her? Taco recalled a taller knight, dressed in blues and whites. He was quite a charming fellow, but alas, now a charred fellow.

How much longer until she could escape? Maybe she'd just die here, and no one would ever know. It was fitting; forgotten in life, and forever gone in death. She'd have her last moments among the flowers, and a veil draped over her head with her arms crossed over her chest, holding close a few flowers of choice, and a tranquil smile donning her face.

Or the alternative, leave the godforesaken cage of hers as a spirit and haunt the lands for eternity. Appealing, but not the best choice in the long run. She'd much rather be alive.

"Oh, would any fair maidens care to bless me with a lovely face?" a strange voice called out. No, Taco wasn't speaking to herself. She clung to the windowsill and gazed out into the field below her. Yes, someone was there, wandering about like they were lost. The stranger caught her eye and opened their arms.

"Finally, I've found you!" they cheered. "The books were true, after all! How would I get up to see you?"

Yes, maybe now was the time to escape! That is, if the stranger had come prepared. Nevertheless, Taco sent her overgrown lettuce leaves tumbling down the walls, unfurling and rolling like the ocean's waves. The stranger grabbed on, and climbed to the best of their limited ability, while Taco hoisted them up, until the stranger fell through the open window.

How strange. She felt as if she knew this object. That two toned book cover boasting a pattern of blue and green split down the middle with a curved boundary seemed familiar. The object looked up, elbows on the cobble floor, and did a double take. They sputtered, their wide eyes narrowing into slits of disgust.

"It's you!?" they exclaimed at last. The stranger definitely knew Taco. They didn't seem to be on good terms, though.

"Yeah?" Taco replied, racking her brain for any memories of the object. None came up. "Do I know you?"

The object scoffed, stood up and crossed their arms. "Do I know you," they mocked. "Of course you don't know me, princess."

So the stranger had manners after all. It had been a long time since Taco was last called by her royal title, though she suspected it wasn't out of respect for her.

Looking closer, the object was hardly a knight in shining armor at all. No sword, no helmet, no armor- who was this mystery object? They had the look of a scholar, more than anything.

"I'm sorry? What's your name?" Taco asked in an attempt to be friendly.

"Book," they deadpanned. More like a she. Her voice was a bit male-like, but had the tones and pitch of a woman's. "I can't believe I came all the way here to rescue some mystery princess, lost to time itself- and it's you."

Lost to time? "What do you mean, 'lost to time'? What happened while I was gone?" Taco paused, before adding, "and why do you hate me so much?"

"How could you not-!?" Book yelled, but stopped herself. "Right. The magical barrier. I guess that one isn't completely your fault."

"Yeah, it's the thing preventing me from leaving this place?" Taco rolled her wrist. "The dragon died like, a year ago or something like that. Now, what's this about this whole lost to time thing?"

Book sat down, and motioned the princess to do the same.

"Listen...you've missing for four whole generations."

"Wh-What!?" Taco blurted. Four generations? How long was that? She looked at her hands, at her skin- she was still youthful. "So- my friends...my parents..."

"All dead."

Taco wanted to faint. Her head spun and her heart pounded in her ears. She was weak in her arms and legs, and numbly aware of her fingers gripping at her overgrown lettuce leaves.

"H...How..?"

"This barrier prevented you from aging quickly. How long have you been in here?"

How long? Taco struggled to recount her lonely birthdays. One with the mushy cake. One with her imaginary friends. One with the near-death experience. One completely alone.

"Four years?"

Book sighed and shook her head. "The kingdom is in ruin. People are dying everyday because of this tyrant ruler, who sees everyone as pawns in this..cruel, wicked game he plays!" Her voice broke. Book stifled a sob, wiping her eyes. "I thought...I thought finding the heir could fix all of this.."

She slammed her fist onto the cold, stone floor, and glared at Taco, pointing an accusatory finger at her. "But then I find it's you! You were the one who caused all of this to happen in the first place! You- abandoned your duties for a life of freedom! Funny how...how life works, huh?"

Taco had staggered away from Book and her outburst. This happened because of her? All she had wanted was to be free for a while. She swore she would come back..and never did. She didn't know where she was. It was dark. Everything suddenly went black and then she woke up here.

No, she couldn't justify herself this time. She should've stayed. Should've accepted the formalities. Should've been more reasonable. Should've some something- anything different. Anything that didn't lead her to be sitting on the verge of tears opposite of the crying Book. Taco noticed the scratches and scars on her arms and legs, and a small part of her cover was ripped.

Shame. As the heir, it was her responsibility to rule the kingdom after her father and mother. And she loved her kingdom, which was always so full of life, and bustling with activity. 'Rule with an open heart and open hand', she was told. She didn't want to rule anything. She saw with her own eyes how stressful it was to be in charge.

It was her responsibility back then, and it was her responsibility now. Maybe she could fix this. No- she would fix this. For objects like Book. For her father and mother. For all the objects she left behind.

"Book.." The words were thick on her tongue. She edged as close as she dared, stretching out a hand. "What do you say we go fix everything? Together?"

Book sniffed so loudly, it sounded more like a snort. "H-How can you say that when...you were the one-"

"I know." Taco's voice sunk. "That's why I have to fix it."

"..He's...powerful." Book sniffed, wiping her eyes again. "He obliterates a-anyone in an instant! ..do you have a plan?" Book gazed up at Taco. Tears still peeked out of her wide, pleading eyes.

"...no," Taco admitted, "but we can make one along the way." She marched toward the window, sucking in a deep breath of fresh air. She could do this. Taco threw her lettuce leaves down, and beckoned to Book. A crack of a smile appeared on Book's face, and she scaled back down the tower. Taco followed suit.

"So, how are you going to break the barrier?" Taco asked. Book held up her hand. A ring on her finger caught the light of the glade, making it shine like it couldn't in the tower.

"This is a ring enchanted with arcane magic," Book explained, pointing to the ring's jewel. Its surface swirled with energy. "It's capable of breaking any magical barrier."

Taco snorted. "Convenient. How'd you know to bring it?"

"Well.." Book rubbed her spine, "I've been here a few times. Studied the barrier, read more than a few books..."

"I'm glad you did."

Book beamed. The barrier loomed above the two, giving out the occasional crackle.

"Ready?"

Taco nodded. Book held her ring to the barrier's surface, and a blast emitted from the ring as it sucked the barrier's magic inside. Both objects had to shield their eyes from the light show, until the last sparkle dissipated.

All there was now was to go forward. Book and Taco took a step out of the glade. The difference was imminent. The air outside the once protective wall was more humid, and the grass was a few shades darker. But there was no time to dwell on it. They had a kingdom to save.

Chapter Text

"Yeah, go Flower! You can do it!" Bracelety screamed. Her support is appreciated, but my gardener, my arm aches. My muscles are basically screaming in pain, but I can't let Snowball beat me! Him and his stupid smirk! I dig my elbow deeper into the wood. Agh, I'm gonna get splinters at this rate!

Snowball grips my hand tighter. I'm going down! He's actually going to break my fingers! I inhale sharply, pushing my arm against the overwhelming pressure.

"Agh!" My arm collides with the table with a thump. No! I lost!? Snowball leans back in his seat, arms outstretched and hands behind his head. Urgh! How arrogant!

"What'd I tell you?" he smirks, "guys are stronger than girls. It's just a fact."

"Oh, what-ever!" I flip my not sore hand. Time to leave, I guess. I turn on my heels and walk away.

"Flower! Flower!"

Oh yeah, she's still here. I turn back around to face an ecstatic Bracelety. "Yeah?"

"You did great!" she screeches. "You're such an inspiration! You're still a winner in my eyes!"

"Hah, thanks. Hey, while you're here, can you get me some water? And a towel?"

"Anything for you!" She dashes off. I smile to myself. Bracelety's odd...but kinda charming, in her own way. Kinda like Ruby. It's weird though, I thought Ice Cube was the one she's obsessed with...I guess it doesn't matter.

I sit back down on the picnic table. Might as well, since I'm waiting. I wipe sweat off my face. I'll get Snowball back one day, but man, did he do a number on my arm. It's throbbing and feels like it's gonna fall off.

"I got your things!"

...that was quick.

Bracelety hands me the bottle and towel. I put the water aside and wipe down my face and petals; the towel is scratchy and probably wiped some pollen off. Whatever. I uncap the water and take a long, refreshing swig. Ah, I feel rejuvenated again! I dump the rest of the cool water on myself, and shake the excess off with a swish of my head.

"Wow! You're so beautiful, Flower!" Bracelety gawks. As she should! Finally, someone else gets it!

"Why, thank you!" I reply graciously. "What else do you have to say?"

Bracelety gasps and her eyes light up. "Well, you're strong, and tall, and graceful, and worthy of support! I love you, Flower!" she exclaims with the biggest grin on her face.

"That's the sweetest thing anyone's ever said to me!" I pat her head. "You know, you're-"

"Hey, Bracelety!" Donut calls. That was pretty rude of him, interrupting my conversation like that. "Barf Bag said she was looking for you!"

"Oh!" Bracelety frowns, but soon smiles again. "See you later!" She runs off and Donut approaches me a bit awkwardly.

"I see you've been talking to Bracelety!" he smiles. Well, not really, since he doesn't have a mouth? Just another reason why Donut is weird. "She's unique, huh?"

"Mhm." Maybe if I don't show interest, he'll go away.

Donut clears his throat. "You know, Bracelety's been talking about you quite a lot recently." Really? That's interesting.

"I thought she was all about Ice Cube, though?" I ask.

"Yeah, she was. But now all she does is talk about how great you are!"

"Well, I'm glad she's moved her attention to someone more worthwhile!" It's true, Ice Cube is bland. Plus, she doesn't think I'm pretty!

I catch Donut rolling his eyes. Rude. "That..wasn't the point. I just saw you and Bracelety having a nice conversation-"

"Which you so rudely interrupted, by the way."

"Oh." Donut flushes. "Sorry. But- I saw you guys talking, and I just want to say thank you. Ice Cube never talked to Bracelety, so having an actual relationship with her idol this time will be good for her!" He smiles. "So, thanks. I think you've made her really happy."

Huh. I never knew Ice Cube ignored Bracelety.. it sounds a little cruel, actually. Who wouldn't want someone idolizing them? But hearing that I made her happy makes me feel happy, for some reason. It feels nice.

"Hey, Donut."

"Hm?"

"You think I could be friends with her? With Bracelety?"

"Of course you could! I mean, you could tone it down on the narcissism," he mutters. Again with the rudeness, but I guess I can let it slide. "But I'm sure you two could be great friends!"

I nod. "Yeah. I think I'll try doing that."

Chapter Text

Woah! I wasn't here a second ago, but here I am now! I think...I was just born! Wow...I wonder where I am?

Opening my eyes is harddd. Pretty, sparkling clouds surround me. They're so shiny...I want to touch one! I move toward one, as fast as I can, but it just goes away! Where is it? Did it run away from me? Oh no..I'm not scary, am I? I can't see myself, so I don't know.

I move around some more. Everything I go towards goes away, and then I can't see it anymore! All of the sparklies disappear...I guess I am scary.

"I'm sorry, sparklies! Please come back!" I wail. "I promise I'm not scary!"

They don't come back. I think I scared them off for good.. Nothing is here except for the sparklies and the empty space surrounding them. And me, I guess.

I wander around some more. I guess I have to give up on making friends with the sparklies. I wonder if there are other objects out there? Maybe I should call them!

"Hello? Is anyone out there? Hellooo-"

"Woah, there kid. You'll suck up the entire universe at this rate."

Somebody else! "Hi! Uh- where are you?"

"Turn around slowly. You'll see me eventually," she says. She sounds like a she. I slowly turn, just as they say. There's a hole where the sparklies don't appear! Is that her?

"I think I found you? I can't...really see you." I mutter. She laughs.

"No problem there. I can barely see you, either."

"What's your name? Where are we? What's my name? Wh-"

"Ohh-kay, slow your roll, kid," she says. I think that means stop asking questions. She sighs. "We're in space."

I gasp. Space? "Wow, space! But what's that?"

"Well," she says, "space is...space. Everything in the universe is here. Space is where everything comes from, and where everything eventually ends."

"What does that mean?

"You were born recently, right?" I nod. "Where there is birth, there is also death. One day, everything here will stop existing, including you and me."

I shudder. I don't like death...not existing one day sounds really scary...

"I can tell you're scared. Don't worry, you won't die for a long time. You'll probably be one of the last remaining things in this universe," she says, laughing a little. I guess that's reassuring.

"What about the sparklies? Do they die, too?"

"Sparklies? You must mean the stars. And yes, they do die. In fact, we're actually made from massive stars, who died in a really big explosion!"

Stars? That's what they're called? And I'm..a dead star? "Is that why they're scared of me? Because...I'm dead?"

She chuckles again. "You have a wild imagination. It's been a while since I've met someone as young as you. No, you're not dead. And the stars aren't scared of you, you're just sucking them up."

"Huh?"

"We are black holes. We are super massive stars that died in a supernova explosion, and we are infinitely small and infinitely dense. If something gets too close, fwoop! It gets sucked in and can never come back out. Even light itself can't escape us, and it's the fastest thing in the universe."

"That sounds so scary!" I cry out. "I kill everything I touch? I don't want to kill anything!"

"Hey, hey, calm down. It's okay," she says soothingly. Her voice makes me feel a little better.. "As you get older, you'll be able to control most of your black hole powers. I can teach you."

I sniffle. "You'd do that?"

"Mhm."

~☆~

Mom teaches me a lot of things. She tells me about the big, wide universe and everything that lives in it. She tells me about life, but she says it isn't important to know about right now. Black holes don't get to experience a lot of life. She trains me to control my powers, and it's going really well! I have to use some force, and it gets tiring after a little bit, but I can do it!

"You're doing great, Black Hole," she says as I strain to keep away an asteroid. "Push yourself; I know you can do it."

It's so hard! I can see it inching, closer and closer. I don't want to kill anything that might be living on the asteroid! "Hgggnnnh!" I grunt. Fwoosh! Huh? What happened? The asteroid is gone..

"Oh...did I fail?"

"It got sucked in. Don't worry about it too much, we all make mistakes."

She sounds a little disappointed... Maybe I can try the orbiting thing again, but what to use it on..?

Oh! There's a planet right there! It's a pretty one too, it's green, blue, and brown and has wisps surrounding it. Hang on..are those voices coming from down there? They sound more like roars...kinda scary.

"Hey, Mom? I found a planet that makes noise!"

"Oh, did yo- woah!" she exclaims. Is that good or bad? "Okay, back up, Black Hole. That planet is special." I do as I'm told.

"How so? Because of the voices?"

"Partly. Remember when we talked about life?"

"Mhm."

"This planet has life on it. It's the only one I've seen so far." She gets a little closer. "It's beautiful..."

Life, huh? What's living on that planet? The blue things? The green? The brown? Or maybe it's whatever is making those roaring sounds! I want to see for myself!

"Hey, can I go down there? I want to see the life!"

"Sorry, Black Hole. You'll suck the planet up if you get too close, even if you try not to. We can't ever go down there."

What? That sucks...I can't ever see life? Well, I guess I can, from this distance...but I want to do more! I want to talk to other life and see how they live! But Mom's right. If anything gets too close to us, it'll get sucked up no matter what. I still wish I could go down there. Maybe one day, I'll get so strong that I can repel everything, and never kill anything again! Yeah...one day...

"Can you tell me more about life, then?"

"I'll try my best."

Chapter Text

There once was a shepherd's boy, a green lime flavored gelatin, who worked in a big green field near a small village, of which the field was full of rolling hills and green grass. And sheep. Lots, and lots of sheep.

His name was Gelatin, and he was quite the mischievous boy. He'd tell jokes, play pranks, and laugh at some of the villagers' misfortunes, but never meant any real harm. Each day, he'd carry out his duties as told, taking the sheep to graze all day in the fields. Each night, he would return the sheep to their owners, and start the cycle again in the morning.

Though the life of a shepherd's boy was relatively easy-going, there was one such character he was warned to avoid at all costs. Her name was Evil Leafy, described by many as a terrifying, monstrous, blood-red leaf, whom roamed the deep forests in search of lost travelers. The blood-curdling scream of Evil Leafy gave terrors for nights on end, and it was said that none who encounter her ever escaped her clutches.

T'was a bone-chilling tale for the young ears of Gelatin. As long as he stayed in the field though, he was safe. Gelatin's days mainly consisted of boredom and talking to the sheep. Though the sheep were good listeners, being sheep, they weren't the best at conversation. Loneliness was a common feeling for Gelatin. Most days, he wished there was someone to accompany him in his duties.

One day, however, an idea sparked inside Gelatin's head. What if he were to claim Evil Leafy's presence? Would that send the villagers running to his side? He figured it was worth a shot.

From the hill, Gelatin howled, "Evil Leafy! Evil Leafy is here, and she's killing the sheep!"

To his delight, a mob of villagers swarmed from downhill, and had gathered in front of him in a matter of minutes, all panting for breath. Quite angry at the apparent lack of emergency, the villagers left with a grumble.

"Don't yell 'Evil Leafy' when she isn't there!" scolded one of the villagers before leaving. Gelatin could only double over in laughter.

What fun! What delight! Gelatin was thinking to himself a few days later after his ingenious trick. Would the villagers come running if he called a second time? He giggled at the prospect.

"Help! Help!" he called from the top of the hill, "Evil Leafy is on the loose!"

Again, the villagers flocked to Gelatin, and fumed when there was no Evil Leafy to be found. They muttered amongst themselves as Gelatin howled with laughter, leaving him alone once more.

One evening, as the sun cast its glorious golden light on the grass and the moon faintly shone in the darkening sky, a shadow skirted about the forest. Pinpoint pupils darted left and right in its bulging, sunken eyes. The creature's claws left scars in the trees, and its feet tore up the earth. Fangs protruded out of its crooked smirk as it sniffed the air.

Sheep.

The blood-red leaf sprung from the underbrush and viciously mauled an unsuspecting sheep. In desperation, the poor ewe bleated one last cry before her wounds were too much. Gelatin jumped with a start.

"Evil Leafy! She's killing the sheep!" he cried, racing towards the village. Much to his dismay, no one paid him any mind, and his pleas were only met with mutters. Gelatin gave up, and ran for the pasture fields. He'd have to fend off Evil Leafy himself.

The hills were a silent massacre. Most of the sheep were gone, with no trace left behind. Not a drop of blood, nor a piece of bone. Evil Leafy had disappeared back into the forest. Gelatin dropped to his knees in defeat. If only he hadn't lied before, he could've prevented the tragedy.

Chapter Text

"Fries, Fries, look at this!" 

Fries turned around. "Hm- Woah! Pen, what are you doing up there!?" he shouted.

"I'm gonna-" Pen grunted, stretching his arm toward the plump, red apple. "Gonna get this apple for you!"

Fries ran up to the tree, his fries bouncing around in the box. He glared upwards at Pen with his hands on his hips. "Get down! You might fall!"

Pen inched farther out onto the branch, still swiping at the fruit. "Nono, I got it, Fries! Just give me a minute!" He knew he was tempting fate, but Pen gathered his courage and crawled farther out. The branch bowed slightly under the shift of his weight. 

"Listen, I know I said I wanted apples, but I could just go to the store and get them myself!" Fries shouted.

"Straight from the tree is better!"

Fries ran a hand down his face, pulling at his eyes. "Don't fall!"

Pen clutched at the branch, pressing his arms and legs against the grooves in the bark. He wasn't so sure of himself now, but he still had to get that apple! He snaked his arms along the branch, which bobbed with every movement he made. Pen's heart pounded against his chest.

He brought his legs behind him. Pen took another grab at the fruit; it was within his fingertips! Maybe he could try something a little daring. He clambered as far as he dared, and took the apple in his two, roughed up hands. Pen let go of the branch, hoping his weight would help sever the apple from the tree.

It didn't. 

Pen dangled from the tree helplessly, flailing his legs around in an attempt to loosen the fruit.

"Oh my tater- Pen!" Fries scolded.

"Um..oops? Please help me!" Pen yelled and squirmed.

Fries stood on his toes and reached up, and grabbed Pen's torso. He yanked, and snapped the apple off the tree. Pen fell into Fries's arms.

"Well well, what do we have here?" Pen joked, leaning close to Fries's face. Fries promptly dropped Pen.

"No. What in the tater were you thinking!? You could've broken something!" Fries yelled. Pen seemed to shrink, and held up the apple.

"Um- I got the apple for you?"

"I don't-" Fries stamped his foot. "I don't care about the apple! Why are you always putting yourself in danger!? How come you can't act like a responsible adult!?"

Pen pushed himself up. "Well maybe it's because I don't feel wanted by you! I have to get your attention somehow! Okay, I-" Pen paused for a moment, wiping his eyes. "I gave you your space, but you're always so distant, I- I feel like you don't love me." He sniffed. A thick silence hung between them.

"There." Pen's voice wobbled. "I said it."

He thought voicing his feelings would make him feel better. Instead, Pen was guilty. Fries definitely didn't like him now. Pen stared at the ground, pinching himself. But at least Fries knew how he felt, even if it was at the cost of their relationship. Keeping it inside was killing him. 

"I didn't know you felt that way," Fries muttered. "I'm...I'm sorry. I should've told you I'm not good at relationships."

More silence.

Fries sighed, and his shoulders drooped. "I don't think I'm right for you."

"Maybe..." Pen admitted. "So, is that it?"

"Yeah. I think it's for the best. You're a great guy, don't get me wrong, but I'm just not the right kind of person."

Pen nodded. "...So...see you around?"

"Sure. I'll see you around."

Chapter Text

Was Lollipop nervous?

A little. But she couldn't let that show. Match wasn't that intimidating. Was she pretty? Yes, but Lollipop told herself not to dwell on it. Lollipop was here to do one thing, and then she could explore the world of online dating, or whatever. The idea didn't appeal to her, but she lost the bet.

And being a woman of her word, Lollipop had to follow through.

"Ahem," Lollipop cleared her throat. Match turned around.

"Oh, like, hey Lollipop. What are you like, doing here?"

Lollipop blushed. This was already turning for the worst. "I lost a mindless bet to Taco, and she's making me set up an online dating profile. She said you could help me."

"Wow!" Match perked up. "That's like, my specialty! I can totally like, help you out! So, give me the situation. I'm guessing you know like, nothing about online dating."

"No." Lollipop and Match sat on the grass, and Lollipop typed in her password before handing it to Match. She turned it over in her hands and smiled.

"Cute phone!"

Lollipop nodded, smiling to herself. "Thanks... So, how does this work?"

"Well, first we like, choose a dating app. Any app in particular you like, want?"

The details were vague. "Make a dating profile, put yourself out there! It won't hurt!" Taco said. Lollipop still couldn't believe she agreed to this whole thing.

"Not really."

"Hm," Match shrugged. "ObjectDate is like, the best one out there. It's the one everybody like, uses."

"Everybody, huh?"

Match nodded. "Everybody. So like, while we wait for this to like, download, tell me about yourself. Your best qualities? Hobbies? What do you like, look for in a partner?"

"Er-" Lollipop straightened her posture. "I'm honest, an aspiring entrepreneur, dignified, and know my worth. I generally spend my time reading and selling my fork repellent. I admire those I can have intellectual conversations with, and whom respect my space."

Match typed away on the phone. "Uh huh. Just, like, saving all that into notes. The app's like, finished downloading by the way. Now we like, get into the, like, statistical stuff. Age?"

"Nineteen."

"Gender?"

"Female."

"Sexuality?"

"Lesbian."

Not missing a beat, Match typed the information in, humming to herself. Lollipop was a bit surprised.

"No remark on that?"

Match looked up. "Hm? Oh, not like, really. Girls are hot, no like, biggie."

Lollipop nodded and she relaxed. They continued entering the information in, and Lollipop was admittedly feeling more at ease than before. She supposed making an online profile wasn't that bad. Lollipop didn't believe in true love or anything like that- she outgrew that thought long ago- but maybe she could have fun.

"Okay! So like, all we have to do now is like, make a bio, add pictures, and you're all like, set!" Match squealed. "Here, you should do this part by yourself."

Confused, Lollipop took her phone back, staring at the blinking line on the blank page. "May I ask why?"

"It's like, more authentic when it comes from you," Match explained. "Short and quippy works best, though!"

"Mmph," Lollipop grunted. Quips were what she was infamously known for, but those were mainly at other peoples' expense. She had to write one for herself? None came to mind.

The cursor blinked incessantly. Something about intellect, maybe? 'Looking for an intellect such as myself..' Why was Lollipop struggling so much? She put a thumb and forefinger to her chin. 'DM me to know more?' No, too unoriginal, not to mention bland. 'No barf molecules allowed?' Lollipop snickered. Funny, but also childish. Then again, wasn't that the type of thing that worked?

Lollipop typed it in and showed it to Match. A giggle bubbled from her lips. "That like, works great! But like, say more about yourself! And make it interesting!"

Nodding, Lollipop brainstormed more to write. Most considered her intimidating, but she was a romantic. She was bold and honest. She gave endearing nicknames. Lollipop combined those features into one, concise paragraph.

And at the bottom, in parentheses, 'DM if you're interested in fork repellent.'

Match looked the paragraph over, nodding and smiling. "Pretty good for like, a first-timer! Now for like, the photoshoot!"

"Can't I just use old photos?" Lollipop asked.

"We can like, use a few old ones," Match muttered, switching to the camera app, "but new ones work better. Now," she flapped her hand, "lay on the ground, forefinger and thumb on your chin. Like you're thinking." Lollipop complied, posing as naturally as she could.

"Scratch that, rest your chin on your palm and curl your fingers."

Lollipop did as told, though not without a small eye roll. Match took the picture.

"Okay! Like, let's go to the benches and like, take a photo there!"

Lollipop took the initiative, sitting with one leg on the bench and the other dangling over it. She leaned back, resting an arm on the table and the other near her leg. Lollipop tilted her head up, giving a confident smirk. Match gave a thumbs-up of approval, and took a photo.

"That was like, great," Match commended, "now, let's see if you have any good photos. Action shots would like, be great."

There weren't many photos saved in Lollipop's phone, and even less of Lollipop herself. But the few she had worked perfectly; one of Lollipop laughing, one of her playing video games upside down(with Taco in the background), and one of her reading in a beanbag.

"Saw likes to take pictures of me," Lollipop explained to Match. "I don't know why, but they're quite nice, so I keep them."

"Well, tell Saw, like, thanks, because these like, work perfectly!" Match chirped, and added all five to Lollipop's profile. "I just have to, like, finalize a few things.." Match mumbled, her fingers flying over the keyboard. "And, like, done!"

Lollipop graciously took her phone back. "That was a pleasant experience." She rubbed the back of her stick where it met the candy. "Perhaps we can talk again soon?"

"Like, yeah! And hopefully really soon," Match winked, and skipped away. Lollipop stared after her, confused, until she looked down at her phone.

'Match has sent you a DM request!' the screen said. Lollipop smiled and laughed to herself, shaking her head. She accepted.

Chapter Text

For trunk's sake, my head is pounding. And I am extremely stiff. And the light piercing through my eyes is too bright.. I stretch, pulling my arms and legs out-

Clink! Clink!

What was that? My hands go to my eyes, rubbing them open and picking out any unwanted crusties. The world is more muted than I remember it. Don't panic, Tree. I look up; there's a hole up there which I could potentially escape from.

Wait. No, no. I remember now. Episode seven. I woke up and suddenly I was trapped inside Bottle. Right. How did I get in here in the first place? And how am I supposed to get out? Shattering Bottle is an option, but there's no way I'm letting myself or anyone else do that. It goes against our team's code.

It's so cramped in here, there's barely any room for my crown. My face is all squished in. I doubt I can shift around to find a comfortable position.

Bottle's face, I can see it from inside. It's strange, looking at her from inside herself. She looks like she's sleeping, but why is she sleeping outside? Should I wake her?

It's sunny. And warm. It must be so nice to really be outside right now, with the warm sun on my trunk and leaves...I miss it already. I suppose this is adequate, though. At least I can actually get some sun from inside here.

Jeez, this is actually making me hope Bottle shatters... What is wrong with me? I shouldn't be thinking that. I shouldn't-

"Woah! Hey, Tree! How are you doing?" Bottle chirps. Way to make me feel guilty with your positive attitude...

"I'm fine," I lie through my teeth, "I'm just feeling a little cramped. I'll manage. What are you doing, sleeping outside?"

"Oh, I just thought you'd like some fresh sun and air when you woke up!"

I attempt a smile. I wonder if she can see it. "Thanks. Do you know how I got in here?"

Bottle puts a hand on her cheek, thinking. "I dunno. One moment, we were trying to get the ball into The Losers' goal, and then the next, you were inside me!"

Great. "Oh. Well, I guess that doesn't matter."

Urgh, I can't even begin to stand up in here. I can move, but only barely. Hm, what if I'm trapped in here forever? Honestly, I doubt it, glass is easy to shatter- no, not this again. I can't just hope for someone to shatter Bottle. That's shameful.

I'm adaptable. I can adapt to this. It's fine. Maybe I'll just get used to this after a while. I can get used to this tiny space. I can get used to Bottle's extroverted personality. I can get used to not feeling comfortable. This is fine.

Still...I'm going to miss being outside. I'm going to miss soaking up the warmth of the sun. I'm going to miss the refreshing whistle of wind through my leaves. I'm going to miss standing in rain showers and letting the water rejuvenate me. I'm going to miss having solitary time. It's not relaxing when I'm cramped in a space that's barely big enough for me.

But I can't think about those things. I want to, but I can't think of getting out. To get out, someone has to shatter Bottle. And if Bottle is shattered on my watch-

"Tree?"

"Wh-" I almost snap. Aren't I being rude today. "Sorry. What is it?"

Bottle looks down, biting her fingers. I wonder what's on her mind? "I dunno.. I just felt really sad and anxious and scared all of a sudden. I don't know why."

"Do...you want to go into more detail?"

She shrugs. "It just felt like a wave of sadness. Suddenly, I was really unsure about everything and couldn't think properly." Her arms shoot out from her sides. "It felt like I was gonna shatter from all of those emotions! But I feel a little better talking about it with you, Tree."

"Well, I'm glad for that." I place a hand on her glass. "You've got nothing to be afraid of. It's probably just a feeling." It's strange that she just...suddenly felt that way. Bottle rarely bursts out in negative emotions like that, but she claims that she just felt sad all of a sudden. That in particular never happens.

"Thanks, Tree," she smiles. "I bet you never feel this way. You're always so confident and sure of yourself. I bet you have no insecurities whatsoever!"

I almost laugh. You'd be surprised, Bottle. Guess I can't tell her how I feel about this whole predicament. Not like I was planning to, anyway.

"Sure. Hopefully that feeling goes away soon."

Chapter Text

"Okay Slurpy, now's your chance! Tell her how you feel!"

Slurpy huffed. "Shelly, I.." she trailed off, and shut her eyes tightly, gritting her teeth. "No. You know what, Party Hat? No."

"What?" Shelly jerked upwards, eyebrows furrowed.

"What?" Party Hat exclaimed, his rise in voice crackling through the earpiece. "I thought you said you wanted this?"

Shelly moved closer to Slurpy, worried. "What's wrong, Slurpy?"

"Sorry Shelly, I'll explain later," Slurpy waved her hand. Her attention turned back to Party Hat. "I said I might have feelings for her, you were the one that jumped to conclusions!"

"B-But, the way you talked about it, I thought-"

"Yeah, you thought," she hissed, "but not everyone is denying their feelings or whatever!"

"Okay, okay, I can make it up to you!" Party Hat pleaded. "Who do you actually like, then?"

Slurpy sighed. She was tired of this. "You don't get it. I don't-"

"Um-" Shelly had backed away from the argument, but something didn't sit right with her. "Didn't you tell me you thought you liked Party Hat?"

"Why didn't you tell me?" Party Hat burst out. "I would've happily-"

"I didn't, because one, you like Shieldy, and two-" she put a hand to her forehead. "Stay in your room. I'll talk to you there."

Party Hat went silent, and the connection cut. Slurpy flopped onto the ground, taking deep breaths to slow her racing heartbeat. She hated this. Shelly's shadow blocked out the sun.

"Are- Are you okay?" she squeaked.

Slurpy took a moment to respond. "Been better. I should've known this was going to happen, anyway."

Shelly flushed, but couldn't bring herself to mention the elephant in the room. They'd talk about it later, when Slurpy wasn't already drained. "You should...probably go. I'll talk to you later."

"Yeah." Slurpy pushed herself upwards. "Talk to you later."

She hopped into the shared cabin and up to Party Hat's room. Her hand trembled, hesitating on the door handle. Might as well get it over with. She pushed down and entered. Party Hat jumped, and sat upright on the bed.

"...hey."

"Hey. So, about what ha-"

"I'm really sorry!" he cried out, "I didn't mean to miscommunicate! I-I just thought you were having trouble with your feelings, so I wanted to help you, and-"

"Party Hat, stop." Slurpy raised her voice. Party Hat fell silent. "You were just trying to help, I get it..and I should've told you from the beginning." She hopped closer. "I think I was just confused with how I felt. I was trying to convince myself I was normal, so...I kind of lied to myself."

"So, you don't have feelings for me, either?"

"No. And I've never felt that way about anyone, really."

Party Hat nodded, then looked up at Slurpy and cracked a smile. "Well," he hopped off the bed and bumped Slurpy friendlily, "that's okay if you don't like anyone romantically. It doesn't make you any less normal. And, hey, I'm glad you trust me enough to tell me. We're still friends, I hope?"

Slurpy nodded, smiling as well. "Of course."

Chapter Text

Bell floated her way downstairs, humming to herself. It really was a shame she was one of the only morning people on her team. Fries and Eraser always slept in. Foldy and Marker weren't morning people at all. And with Puffball and Yellow Face, they usually slept too late to greet the morning. 

So, the morning was a special little time, for Bell only. She'd go outside and soak up some sun, maybe spend some more time by herself, and then wake the rest of her teammates. It was peaceful. She'd sometimes share a morning with Foldy, Puffball, or even Fries; those days were also nice. But today, it looked like she would be by herself again.

"Hey, Bell," Eraser said from the bottom of the stairs.

Or not.

"Hey, Eraser!" Bell chirped, "what are you doing up so early? Not that I mind!"

He shrugged. "Thought I'd try out this whole morning thing for once." He sipped on a cup of coffee, and pursed his lips. "Not really liking it so far."

Bell giggled. "Don't worry, it gets better!" She turned to the window. It was still dark outside, but that was hardly a problem. First, she had to actually wake Eraser up. He couldn't fully enjoy the wonders of the morning if he was half-asleep.

"First order of business," Bell commanded, "put down that coffee! We're going outside!"

"Ohhh-kay," Eraser mumbled, setting his warm coffee on the table. Bell ushered him outside into the predawn night, where the stars and the moon still sparkled in the sky. Of course, Bell couldn't care less about the moon, but she found the stars quite nice. She pushed the door closed behind them.

"Now, take a deeeeeep breath," she instructed, "and let out all the sounds that are trapped in your mind."

In unison, Eraser and Bell filled themselves with the cool air, and-

"Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh!" Bell shrieked, screaming herself raw at the moon. Eraser's hands flew to his ears, wincing from the onslaught of noise.

"Ow, Bell! You're going to wake everyone up!" he complained. 

"But you're awake now, huh?" she hummed. Eraser rolled his eyes.

"Sure, sure. But is this what you do in the mornings?"

Bell swung a little. "Not all the time, but it's very stress-relieving! You wanna try?"

Eraser sighed, and breathed deeply. 

"Aaahhhhhh!" he screamed, flailing his arms about. 

"Be quiet! I'm trying to get my beauty sleep!" someone screeched. Eraser and Bell snickered.

"I admit, that was pretty cool," Eraser chuckled. "But now what?"

Bell rose, and perched herself atop the roof of Free Food's team house. "Now, we watch the sunrise! Come on!"

Eraser looked at Bell, then at the house.

"I can't climb that."

Bell pouted. There was a problem. The experience wasn't really complete without the full view of the sunrise. Of course, there was a solution, but Bell didn't really like it, considering what happened last time she let Eraser anywhere near her string.

She sighed. She had to do what she had to do, she supposed.

Bell floated back down to Eraser. "Okay then, get on. You can climb my string up to the roof- but only until there!" she warned. 

With an affirmative nod, Eraser grabbed hold of the string, and pulled himself up to the roof. He landed on its red shingles with a whump. Bell followed Eraser up, glad that he didn't violate her space again.

"And now," Bell faced east, "we wait."

Eraser sat beside her. "For the sunrise?"

"Mhm!"

"How long is that going to take?" Eraser asked, squinting towards the horizon. Light was beginning to show, but only a little bit.

"It won't take too long," Bell reassured. "The sun rises quicker than you think it does."

The two objects watched as the red sun peeked out from behind the skyline, bathing the world in light. The reds and orange drove away the darkness, and shone upon Bell and Eraser. Bell in particular reflected the sunrise well, her metalic surface gleaming with its colors.

Yellow followed behind the bold reds and oranges, and most of the nighttime stars had winked out. Clouds streaked pastel in the oncoming light, boasting pink highlights. Bell sighed deeply. At last, one of her favorite parts of the day.

"Isn't this nice?"

Eraser followed suit, smiling blissfully. 

"Yeah...this is pretty neat. Almost makes me want to become a morning person."

Bell huffed. "Almost?"

"What can I say?" Eraser shrugged. "I like sleeping. You should try sleeping in sometime, it's only fair." 

"Heh. Maybe I will," Bell smirked. She looked toward the light, and continued soaking in the sun's rays.

Chapter Text

Liy tumbles across the floor, colliding with a piece of sharp debris. Her vision wavers and her head throbs while the world spins. She curls her fingers, pressing them tight against her palm. She struggles to push herself up; every movement is another stab to her exhausted muscles- another burning sensation to add to her wounds. Even with her soul in another vessel, there's only so much her body can bear.

Leafy's cries, desperate and weak, still ring in the air. Liy grits her teeth and shoves herself upward, summoning a knife from her dress.

"Stay away from her!" she yells, hurling the knife toward the grotesque monster. The blade makes a clean slice through its arm, and Leafy falls toward the ground, but her flower-like skirt slows her down. She runs, almost stumbling over herself, for her staff, and snatches it off the ground.

"Liy!" she cries, rushing to her fallen friend. Leafy brushes Liy's periwinkle hair out of the latter's face as she struggles to stand up. "Don't. I'll take care of this," Leafy pleads. 

"No." Liy shakes her head, rising up and dusting off her white opera gloves. "We'll finish her together," she whispers, like a promise. Leafy nods, and they both turn to face the witch, whom is consuming all that lays in the labyrinth. In unison, they launch forward, grabbing a sticky piece of the color-shifting witch. 

The witch writhes, shooting out more tendrils to pluck at the two girls. Liy and Leafy bat back at the assault while struggling to reach the head. Pieces of tentacles fall to the floor, slowly squirming before coming to a halt. 

Leafy shoots up from her position, anchoring her staff into the witch's head. She pulls her staff into two pieces. Two swords emerge from the holes, perfectly sharp and serrated. Tendrils target her in her vulnerable moment, only to be sliced by Liy's throwing knives. 

With two clacks, Liy perches atop the witch's head, still fending of the onslaught of tendrils. She bares her teeth, cutting down three in a single shot. 

"Do it!" she yells to Leafy. Leafy nods, and launches herself upwards, letting her swords grow to a tremendous size.

"I'm sorry, Pencil."

Leafy screams, plunging her blades into what was once her friend. Light shoots out from the wounds, and a great burst of energy blasts the two girls away. The labyrinth dissipates around them, the abstract images fading until the empty classroom surrounded them again. A grief seed stood on the tiled floor, its black vessel perfectly balanced on its needle-like point.

Silence covers the room. Liy struggles, palms on the floor and her ponytail, loose from the battle before, hanging from the side of her head. Her metallic colored dress reflects the afternoon light streaming from the window. Despite what aching pains she bore, Liy pushes herself to her knees. Before her, Leafy clutches the grief seed to her chest, trying to stifle her sobs.

"P-Pencil..." she blubbers, tears streaming down her cheeks, "no..." 

Liy crawls toward her and takes Leafy into her arms, stroking her nearly bare back. Tears silently slip from her eyes. Leafy buries her head into Liy's shoulder and sobs wildly. She clutches at Liy's back, grief seed still in hand. Her own body hitches with every breath as she forces herself to calm down.

"What's going to happen now?" she whispers. "Pencil and Bracelety are both gone...will we share their fate, too?"

"I won't let it happen," Liy says. A pledge she can't keep forever. She stares at her soul gem, muddied from the magic usage. "The grief seed. You first."

Leafy nods, loosening her grip and letting go of Liy. She sniffs, and touches the seed to her emerald soul gem, watching as the corruption seeps into the black seed. Liy performs the same process, her own lilac soul gem becoming clean once more. Leafy sighs, hanging her head and her arms going slack. More tears well at her eyes.

"How do we keep fighting like this..? Liy, I-" Leafy hugs Liy again, holding her as tight as possible. She sniffs, closing her hands into loose fists. "I don't want to lose you, too."

Liy returns Leafy's embrace, resting her chin in the crook of Leafy's neck. "I'll always be here."

She goes down a rabbit hole of thoughts. After so many months of fighting witches, only for Pencil to turn into one herself. Then, killing poor Bracelety... Leafy and Liy had to stop Pencil before she killed anyone else. Just like that, half of their group was gone. Forever.

No more of Bracelety's constant obsessions or incessant cheering. No more of Pencil's sarcastic, witty humor. No more Girls' Night Out. No more joy in witch hunting. No more Pencil. No more Bracelety. Just like that. She and Leafy are on their own, with the danger of their duties only now truly coming into realization. One mistake, and it's all over.

Liy is the strong one in the group, aside from Pencil. She always gets the job done, and never lets the pain get in her way. She's the strong one. Now, she holds Leafy tighter, sniffling and sobbing. 

"I promise I'll never leave you alone."

Chapter Text

The bright afternoon sun shines down on the chattering, cheery carnival goers while pop music floats down from the loudspeakers. A ferris wheel touches the sky, and a roller coaster twists and turns. A carousel spins merrily, and another fifty foot carousel swings its riders around. Children, teens, adults alike holler with excitement. Small carnival games line the aisles, and a buttery, sweet aroma wafts through the air.

A group of six, Iance, enters the grounds. Ruby cheers, multicolored lights reflecting off of her. Most of the group stare in awe, thinking of all the fun they could have. 

"Come on, Ruby!" Flower gestures to the gem, "help me win some prizes!" 

"Will do!" Ruby skips, but halts in her tracks. "You wanna come with, Bubble?"

Bubble smiles apologetically. "Oh, soirry, but Oi'm going to help Fanny enjoy hoirself!" She wraps an arm around an annoyed Fanny, who scoffs and looks in the other direction. 

Ruby nods, skipping off with Flower while Bubble and Fanny head in another direction. Snowball and Lightning glance at each other.

"Well, that just leaves the two of us," Lightning mumbles. "What do you want to do first?"

"I heard there's always a strong man's game in places like these," Snowball runs off, "and I'm gonna go destroy it!"

"Hey!" Lightning dashes after him, "don't leave me alone!"

After a few minutes, Lightning and Snowball finally find the strong man's game, a tower with a bell on the top, and a lever on the bottom. The few people ahead of Snowball in the line couldn't hit the bell, but Snowball swaggers up to the front like he already knows the outcome.

"One ticket, sir," the carny says. Snowball rips a ticket off the roll and hands it to the carny. Lightning watches in amusement as Snowball lifts the mallet high over his head. Grunting, Snowball pummels the mallet into the lever and the puck shoots up and rings the bell. Lightning and the carny clap. 

"Great job! Want to take a prize?" the carny gestures to a few buckets of toys on the side. Snowball digs around, pursing his lips.

"Hmph, I don't play with children's toys! Lightning, do you want to pick one?" Snowball gives way for Lightning to rummage in the buckets. From it, he picks out a small pumpkin plush.

"Bye!" Lightning waves to the carny, who was busy with another customer. He turns to Snowball as they make their way around. "So, what's next? A ride? Maybe some food?"

Snowball smirks. "Roller coaster. The most dangerous one here. You up for it?"

"Yeah!"

On the roller coaster, however, Lightning trembles. 

"So, to clarify," he asks the attendant lowering the safety bar, "this is safe, right?" The attendant nods, and locks Lightning in place. Though he has no legs to secure him, the bar is tight on his body. Lightning grips the bar like his life depends on it. 

With a jolt, the cars roll forward, leaving the station and climbing up the first hill. Lightning risks a glance over the side- it's a long way to the ground. He swallows, anticipating the first drop that would make his stomach flip. The front car reaches the peak, and dips down slightly. The cars pause for a moment. Lightning holds his breath.

Rushing down and around the tracks, the cars speed on the rails, twisting and turning and going upside down- Lightning is tossed from side to side as he screams, and gets thrown back as the cars move up and down. The racing wind blasting against his face fills his ears and the ground appears and disappears from view, only remaining for a blurry second. His hands sweat from grasping the handlebar so tightly and almost threaten to let go. 

The cars round a corner and start to slow. Lightning's heart pounds in his chest as he takes deep, stuttering breaths. The cars roll back into the station and stop, and the attendants lift the safety bar. Lightning stumbles out, watching the legless bendy straw who sat beside him also struggle to hop, ultimately leaning on a laughing party hat. 

Lightning floats over to Snowball, who catches him midair.

"Don't tell me you're out of breath, Lightning- that was nothing!"

"Eugh," Lightning groans. "Just gimme a second."

Running down the exit with Lightning tucked in his arm, Snowball goes around visiting some other carnival booths. Soon enough, Lightning joins him, having recovered from his experience. They ride a few more rides and play carnival games, and Lightning laughs as Snowball rages from losing. It's well into the night, and the pair eat some snacks on a bench.

Lightning tears into his salty, buttery pretzel. "So, you think the others should get here soon?" 

"Yeah," Snowball nods. He looks to the distance, and something catches his eye. He turns back to Lightning, grinning mischievously. "Hey, I found something over there. Wanna go check it out?"

Lightning nods eagerly, wolfing down the rest of his pretzel and tossing the wrapper in a trash bin. Snowball is already sneaking behind a closed fireworks booth by the time Lightning is done, and the latter zips to his side. A pile of fireworks lies behind the large booth.

"Well, I don't know what else would be behind here," Lightning comments. Snowball picks a rocket up.

"You can light fires, right?"

"Uhh, yeah?" Lightning asks, becoming apprehensive. "Why do you ask?"

Snowball smirks, holding the rocket out to Lightning. "Light it up. Actually," he takes the rocket back, and lines up the fireworks. "Light them all up!" 

"I..." Lightning drags, "don't think that's a good idea."

"Don't tell me you're being a wimp!" Snowball accuses. Lightning raises his hands defensively.

"I'm not!"

"Then light 'em on fire!"

Reluctantly, Lightning approaches the lineup of fireworks, and carefully heats himself so that he sets the fuses on fire. He quickly retreats, and watches as the fuses whittle down.

The air explodes with sound and light, as the ground fireworks fizz and sparkle and the aerials shoot up and light up the night sky. Lightning and Snowball step out from behind the booth to view their handiwork as the rest of their team runs to them.

"Ohhh, don't tell me yoiu set thoise foireworks off!" Bubble exclaims. 

"We did. What of it?" Snowball stretches, glaring at Bubble.

A few officials run over. "Hey! Were you the ones who set off those fireworks?" a top hat demands.

"It was them!" Flower blurts, pointing to Lightning and Snowball. Lightning guiltily nods while Snowball glares at Flower.

The top hat sighs, pinching at his silk. "Well, you're lucky nothing was damaged, so there's no lawsuit needed. Still, I'm going to have to ask you two to leave now."

"Hmph. We were leaving anyway." Snowball turns and walks off. Lightning squeaks out a sorry before he and the rest of Iance follow him. 

"That turned out better than I thought it would," Lightning mutters. 

"I hate that you caused such a disturbance! Why would you do that?" Fanny spits. 

"Well- Snowball told me to!" Lightning explains, exasperated. 

"Because you're a wimp!"

"That's not even a good excuse!"

Bubble comes between Lightning and Snowball, raising her arms. "Okay, that's enoiugh! Loit's just- calm doiwn."

"You don't tell me to calm down!" Snowball shouts, popping Bubble. Ruby rolls her eyes.

"What a baby."

Snowball fumes, and stomps ahead of the rest of the group. Fanny scoffs and Flower sighs, holding her forehead. What a mess.

Chapter Text

The ceiling fan slowly rotated. The room was still. Fan and Suitcase laid on Fan's bed, doing absolutely nothing. Fan was about to fall asleep, really. Suitcase looked at her feet as she flicked them from side to side.

Boring wasn't exactly the right word for it. None of them were the best conversationalists, but that was okay. They felt comfortable in each other's company. It was nice to know they had someone to pull them out of a rabbit hole, should they enter one.

A sudden thought brought Fan back to the waking world.

"Hey, Suitcase."

"Hm?"

"You ever think about death? Like- permanent death?"

"Oh." Suitcase looked to the ceiling. "Hm...not..not really. Why do you ask?"

Fan shrugged. "I was just wondering what it would be like. I think I saw a ghost once, but I'm not really sure. Or, the alternative," he turned over, facing Suitcase, "we just...disappear."

"Both sound pretty scary," Suitcase said. "Which would you prefer?"

"Oh, well-"Fan fumbled, "jeez, um.." he pasued. "Turning into a ghost, I guess. I find some solace in knowing I can continue some sort of pseudo-life when I die forever; an empty consciousness is scary. Do I just, float around in blackness forever?"

Suitcase hummed. "It could be comforting. You wouldn't have to worry about anything or anyone anymore."

"I think that comes complimentary with being dead," Fan joked. Suitcase chuckled.

"Personally, I find the whole heaven hell thing to be a bit comforting. It's like a mix of being a ghost and the eternal blackness you mentioned." Suitcase gazed off into the distance. "Free of this world, but not completely by yourself...and I like to think I'm a good person."

"You are," Fan smiled. "Not everyone has the patience to listen to my nonsensical ramblings."

"I'm more of a listener anyways," Suitcase modestly countered. "I think you're a good person, too."

"Aw, you flatter me." Fan turned over, resting on his stomach. "Y'know, if we ever do die forever, we could make ghost vlogs or something."

The corner of Suitcase's mouth tipped up. "That'd be nice. What would we call it, though?"

"Hm.." Fan drew his thumb and forefinger below his mouth. "Something like..Life in the Afterlife, or...Life After Life..." He shrugged. "Name's a work in progress."

"Well, that's fine." Suitcase smiled. "We've got all our lives to figure it out, right?"

Fan laughed. "Good point. And hey, I'm really glad we're friends. It's nice to talk to you."

"Oh!" Suitcase blushed happily, "I'm glad too. But, I should probably get going," she said, jumping off the bed. "See you next week?"

"See you next week!" Fan waved. Suitcase waved too- with her foot- and softly closed the door behind her.

Chapter Text

Donut was too powerful. Way too powerful for his own good. Something must have happened, something must've snapped- because Donut would never cause so much destruction and death on his own.

Golf Ball said the factor of Four might've overwhelmed him, and that was the reason why he was rampaging. It made sense; everyone saw Donut deteriorating while he was the host. He always blamed it on the stress of being in charge of everything. He must've been too tired to fight Four for control of his mind, or something like that.

Now he was out of control, more than Four ever was. Trees were on fire and the earth was charred. The mutilated bodies of contestants laid scattered on the ground, broken nearly beyond recognition. Those who managed to escape Donut's wrath hid in fear.

No one actually knew whether to call him Donut or Four. It was Donut's body, but definitely not Donut's mind. Was it Four who was in charge? Most resorted to calling him Donut, even if it felt wrong.

It was especially wrong for Barf Bag, whose heart broke watching Donut turn into the monster he was, and not being able to do anything about it. Donut was a kind and rational person. He was loving and admirable. A leader and dear friend. Nothing like the one who laid waste to all they came across. That wasn't Donut.

She swore to herself she'd bring him back. If it was Four's power that corrupted him, or even if Four was the one responsible for everything, Donut was still there. She could bring him back by reminding him of himself, and convince him to fight back. It didn't matter if she was crazy, she'd do anything to get Donut back again.

Barf Bag crouched behind a rock, looking out over the wasteland. He was here. She'd just have to avoid getting killed, and get close enough to talk. Everything would be fine. Nothing to be afraid of-

"Please don't do this."

Gelatin. Barf Bag sighed, and turned to look at her broken friend. All she could feel was pity and sadness when she glanced at his sullen face. He had taken the situation as well as he could when Donut first went insane, but once the full realization had sunken in, he was far from the cheery, joke-making Gelatin she was used to.

He rarely talked, and his dark jokes were a thing of the past. Barf Bag believed he always knew what was happening with Donut, and just used his humor to cope. Even if it was insensitive, at least it kept Gelatin relatively happy. Now he sulked everywhere, distant and hopeless.

If she brought Donut back, maybe Gelatin would start to recover, too.

"I'm sorry, Gelatin. I can't wait any longer, I have to do this," she explained. Gelatin looked at the ground.

"Can't you wait until Golf Ball finds a way to take Four out? Please..." Gelatin stepped closer, dragging his feet. "I can't lose you, too. I don't want you to go. Please just wait for Golf Ball..."

"Gelatin..." Barf Bag held his shoulders, sliding her hands down his arms, and took his hands in her own, squeezing them tight. She kneeled down to look into his downcast eyes. "I'm going to get Donut back. I just..can't bear to see him like this any longer. You understand, don't you?"

Gelatin whimpered, but nodded. He sat down, hugging his knees.

"I'll wait here."

"Thank you," Barf Bag smiled. She gave him one last hug, and stepped out from behind the sheltered rock. No sight of Donut, but he would see her soon. The blackened grass crunched under her feet as she walked further out, eyes peeled for any movement.

Crunch, crunch. Donut stood at a distance, watching Barf Bag. He looked so normal at a glance, but his eyes had a piercing glare in them. It was like he was staring into Barf Bag's soul, criticizing and taking her apart piece by piece. He could be deciding on his next move, and could lunge at any second.

Barf Bag almost couldn't bring herself to look him in the eyes. She struggled to keep her head high, and tried to keep a smile on her face. She couldn't let herself be afraid.

"Donut!" she calmly approached him. "Hey...it's me, Barf Bag. You know me, don't you?"

Donut didn't change his stance. Barf Bag swallowed.

"You know, your friend! Officially unofficial co-leader of Team Ice Cube?" she reminded him. No change. "Um- You know, Gelatin, Naily, Bomby...we all miss you, you know."

They were face to face, remaining only a few feet apart. It almost looked like Donut was distressed.

"Our leader, the one we look to when things get bad...that's you, Donut." She clasped his hands limp by his sides. "And- I know you're still there, tired, but fighting for control, b-because that's what you always do, right? A-And you're responsible, and always try to do what's best, you're always helpful and kind.." she rambled. Barf Bag shook his hands.

"I believe in you. I know you can break free. Come back to being the Donut we know and love," she pleaded, tears pooling at her eyes. "...come back to being the Donut I know and love."

Despite her best efforts, the tears slipped down Barf Bag's cheeks. Donut squeezed his eyes shut, and breathed heavily. Barf Bag held her breath. Did she do it?

Arms wrapped around her, holding Barf Bag close. Donut sobbed, his speech incoherent. Barf Bag hugged him tight.

"I'm sorry," Donut choked out. "I'm s-so sorry...Barf Bag, I-I can't control myself...F-Four...he's out of control! I can't...I can't control him.." he dug his fingers into Barf Bag, crinkling her. "Please, I don't...want to hurt you."

"It's okay," Barf Bag soothed. "You're here. Golf Ball's working on something that'll extract Four from your body. Everything will be fine."

Donut shook his head and shuddered. "I'm sorry," his voice broke.

The last thing Barf Bag felt was the tearing of her paper.

Everything went black.

Chapter Text

"...and see here, I've totally upgraded my mind control device," Whipped Cream explained enthusiastically. "It has all these joysticks and buttons, and-" his face fell. "Paint, are you even listening to me?"

"Huh?" Paint turned around, surprised. "Oh, yeah, the mind control-"

"You're not listening!" Whipped Cream burst over Paint. "You never do!"

Despite the accusation, Paint remained cool. "No, I was listening, I just zoned out for a moment. You need to calm down."

Whipped Cream sighed dejectedly. "Look, you can just leave if you don't care about my inventions. It's fine."

"What?" Paint exclaimed. "I do care!"

"Oh really," Whipped Cream placed his invention on his work table, "because you never sound like you do!" He listed off on his fingers, "you're sarcastic, distant, monotonous, and you just look like you're thinking about something else half of the time when I'm talking to you! You never engage, and-"

Paint held his hands up. "Can you just chill out? You're never like this."

Whipped Cream clenched his fists. "I'm never like this!? What about you," he pointed at Paint, "huh!? You've always been sincere and really care about my inventions, but now you just don't!"

"I swear, I do care, a lot," Paint defended himself. "I just-"

"Yeah?" Whipped Cream spat. "You what?"

Paint sighed, hands dropping to his sides. "Listen, Whipped Cream, I'm really sorry for being rude, but if I tell you why..." he looked away, "you might not want to be my friend anymore."

All of Whipped Cream's anger faded away seeing and hearing Paint's remorse. He walked over and gave Paint a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "Well, you can tell me anyway. I'll hear you out."

Paint nodded. "See, I started acting like this because...because I have a crush on you, Whipped Cream."

Whipped Cream stopped himself before he could say anything.

"I know it's weird, but I thought that if I started acting like I don't have feelings for you, they'd go away!" Paint flung his arms up, and let them slap onto the ground. "It didn't work though. So...yeah..."

Both of them were red in the face.

"I, um-" Whipped Cream took a moment to compose himself. "I- I have a crush on you too, Paint!" the words barreled out of his mouth. Paint's eyes widened.

"W-Wait, really?"

"Yeah!" Whipped Cream cracked a grin. "I mean- that's why I got so worked up over your act, I-I thought you didn't care about me, but I was completely wrong!" he laughed. "Man, I feel relieved."

Paint chuckled. "Yeah, me too." He cleared his throat. "So, uh...what do you..what do you want to do now?"

Whipped Cream spread his arms. "Hug it out?"

They embraced tightly, letting the warmth and love flow into each other while the tension melted away. Whipped Cream planted a kiss on Paint's cheek, making the latter blush redder than before.

"So..." Paint held Whipped Cream at arm's length, "wanna date, or...?"

"Yes," Whipped Cream replied firmly.

"Tonight, seven?"

"Tonight, seven."

Chapter Text

Coiny was right there.

  He was right there.

  The flashing, screaming light from the strobes was blinding, cutting through the eternal darkness. Coiny wrestled with the metallic monster, screaming and kicking while turned away from the light like his life depended on it.

  Pin stood there, heavy. Why couldn't she move? Why...why couldn't she say anything? 

  His defiant cries rung through the air.

  "Coiny!"

  Light as air, she raced to his side, but never got any closer. Fist clenched, Coiny glanced into the light and screamed in pain and fury. He broke it- broke the light- and sent the creature reeling away into the night. Coiny fell limp into a puddle of oil.

  "No!" Pin cried. Slices cut into his body and bruises were scattered on his arms and legs, liquid oozing out of the wounds. Oil was splattered on his face. Barely breathing.

  "Don't leave me! Coiny, please!" she pleaded, hugging him close. If only she wasn't so useless! She'd give anything. Anything but this.

  His eyes slowly opened, blankly staring at Pin. She couldn't feel relief. 

  A cacophony of cries fills the dead space. A baby's cries. It echoed in her brain, in her ears... She gritted her teeth.

  "Stop it! Stop it!"

  Her eyes shot open. Another nightmare. She lay in a sticky puddle of ooze, unabsorbed by the dying grass. God- everything was dying. She shuddered, the weight of her belly pushing the breath out of her. 

  She had to stop thoughts like this. The nightmares- it wasn't good for the baby. Useless, useless, useless. Can't even control her own dreams. Can't even keep her team in a positive mindset, can't even be a strong leader, can't even stand up straight without her head spinning- what a pathetic person. 

  Pin grunted, pushing herself into a sitting position and leaned on a tree. She stroked her stomach and sighed.

  Useless thoughts. She couldn't think like that. 

  "Pin, you're awake!" Coiny whispered from the darkness.

  Coiny. Pin plastered on her best smile, even if she was weak.

  Oh, Coiny...

  "Hi, Coiny," she replied. Coiny sat beside her.

  "You feeling any better?" His tone dropped. "You passed out so suddenly.." Pin waved her hand dismissively. 

  "I'm okay. How about you?" She glanced at the cut on his head. "You..doing okay?"

  He smacked his lips. "Yeah, but I'm still super confused. No one is telling me why we're out here, or why all these strangers are on our team..and where's Spongy, Bomby, and-"

  "Please stop."

  Coiny shut up, staring in alarm at Pin's tired face. She was so drained, all the time, and far from her usual perky self. He sometimes doubted Pin was okay like she said she was, but she was Pin! And Pin could take care of herself.

  "Sorry," he apologized, shooting a sheepish grin. "But seriously, mind telling your fellow co-captain what's going on?"

  Pin sighed, sinking downwards. He was so oblivious. So unknowing.

  But then again, so was she.

  "I don't know what's happening either..." she muttered. "First the sun disappears, then these strobes come from nowhere and try to kill us... Now, we're running for our lives in total darkness with no sense of direction, a-and-!" Pin choked up.

  Coiny's blank stare. Total amnesia. The death and sheer mental trauma she and everyone else had gone through. Clock and his threats still taunted her. The child he didn't even know about. The weight she carried all by herself, without Coiny to lean on because he'd never look at her again if she told him.

  Why did it have to be Coiny? She needed him so much, it hurt. Pin could feel herself break when she looked at his innocent face. She'd never wish this on anyone else.

  But why Coiny?

  Why anything?

  "Woah, woah, hang on there, Pin," Coiny soothed. He reached out to her, but pulled away at the last second. "We're gonna get through this, you, me, the rest of W.O.A.H Bunch, wherever they are.." he mumbled the last bit. "Everything will be back to normal soon."

  Pin sniffed and rubbed her eyes. "H-How could you possibly say that? You don't...you don't know..."

  "Well," Coiny blushed, "we have you! I, uh, never told you this, but I think you're a great leader. And even if you're not feeling up to it, your partner in crime will lead for you! There's nothing to be afraid of, Pin." He smiled, true and genuine. "I promise."

  She cried harder. Those same words...it was torture. But she also felt the tiniest bit relieved. At least he still cared.

  "C-Can-" She sniffed. "Can you promise me something else?" Coiny nodded.

  "Promise...promise that you won't leave me. I-I know it sounds weird, but I...I really need your support," she admitted. She needed him more than anything.

  "I'm always here for you," Coiny reassured her. "Even when I get flung into the LOL one day, you'll be in my thougts."

  Pin cracked a smile and snorted. So close to normal. "Thank you."

Chapter Text

Trophy kicked a pebble, and it skittered out of her path.

'You should talk to Traffic Light! I know you two will get along!'

She wanted to believe that, but she and Traffic Light were on different teams. And Trophy was already preoccupied with the rather blunt threat from Shoe. Now she'd have to always be on her watch, anything could come up and sabotage her, even the smallest-

Trophy sighed. She couldn't afford to let herself be blindsided or distracted. Still, her situation was absolute torture.

Being a leader was hard.

'Don't be so nervous! I'm sure she'll like you.'

She hated how nervous she was. She and Traffic Light weren't exactly on the best of terms, but Trophy hoped for the best, even though she knew she'd probably get let down.

Where was Traffic Light, anyway? All her teammates said she went off somewhere, but never specified where. Traffic Light wasn't lost, was she?

Someone sniffled nearby. Crying? Trophy stopped, and tried to pinpoint where it was coming from.

The bushes nearby.

It kind of was an invasion of privacy. Still, they sounded really sad, and it was part of Trophy's job to help people.

"Hello-" she peeked in the bushes, and was taken aback.

"Traffic Light? What are you doing here?"

Traffic Light looked up, and promptly jerked away, hiding her teary face in her hands. "N-Nothing!" she lied through her teeth, "I just, wanted to be alone for a while, you know how it is.."

Her French accent was slipping terribly. She did that when she was nervous. Or rather- when she experienced any strong emotion, really.

Trophy pushed the bushes away and crouched besides Traffic Light, a disbelieving frown on her face. "I don't mean to pry, but it doesn't sound like you're okay. Wanna talk about it?"

Traffic Light looked at Trophy, then stared at the ground.

"Why would you care? Aren't you on the other team?"

The words were a spear through Trophy's heart. Sure they were on opposite sides of the game, but that didn't mean she couldn't be kind to whoever she wanted. She wanted to help, especially since it was Traffic Light. Trophy saw her as an admirable icon, headstrong and independent. It was...surreal to see her vulnerable like this.

"I just want to help..." Trophy reassured. Traffic Light gazed at Trophy for a long while, tears still shining in the corners of the former's eyes. She sighed, her body sinking slowly.

"I was just thinking about things...my..." she gulped. "My ex, mostly. Ugh, she was the worst."

"How so?"

Traffic Light brought her knees close to her chest and hugged them. "She abused me in ways I can't bring myself to talk about...I can't..." her voice broke, and new tears spilled down her cheeks. "I can't talk about it..."

"Just try," Trophy encouraged her. "You can tell me."

Traffic Light took a wobbly breath. She felt so pathetic, not being able to be strong enough for herself. Still, she liked having Trophy to confide in with. She was a natural leader. She'd know how to help her. She'd know how to fix her.

How pathetic.

"She...beat me.. I was never good enough for her. Everything was always my fault. She'd..." Traffic Light shuddered. "She'd tell me...how worthless I am, e-even after doing my best to do what she said! That someone like me didn't deserve to exist, and that she couldn't believe she was stuck with me...

"A-And she was so nice, too!" Traffic Light went on, "she'd defend me against other people, saying that she'd always protect me, and that she'd be broken if I ever left her, that I was unlike anyone else.." Her hands balled into fists, as she pressed her lips tightly together. "Then one day, she turns around and accuses me of being selfish and ungrateful, and..."

Traffic Light sighed, putting her face in her hands. She was so exhausted. Trophy reached out and placed a supportive hand on Traffic Light's back, looking down at the ground.

"I just couldn't help but think...what if she's right?"

Silence passed between them. Trophy clicked her tongue.

"You know..." she said quietly, "I had an ex-friend who acted like that."

Traffic Light looked up, struck by Trophy's bittersweet expression.

"I had quite a few bullies when I was younger, and she..." Trophy hesitated, before uttering the name like it was a terrible poison. "..Sharpie...stood up for me. I thought I could count on her, but I was wrong. And I doubt she was my friend to begin with. She bullied me too, and used all my secrets against me."

Trophy paused, and took a long breath before continuing. "Apparently I hadn't learned my lesson on trusting people yet. I thought my sister would help me, but I was wrong, too. She thought I was lying when I said I was depressed, and hated me for liking other girls."

Trophy gestured to herself, pointing specifically at a light yellow mark that Traffic Light hadn't noticed before. She probably wouldn't have seen it if she wasn't looking for it, and the mark itself was nearly invisible. As she looked more closely, there were more marks on Trophy's body. Her eyes widened, realizing what those marks probably were.

"Cuts. I'm over the cutting, but...it's still painful, emotionally." Trophy frowned. "Sharpie and my sister both betrayed me...and I hate traitors. They got what was coming to them."

"I had no idea..." Traffic Light whispered.

"It's fine, you couldn't have known." Trophy smiled, with that same bittersweet look. Traffic Light gathered her wits.

"So-" She paused abruptly, fumbling with her words. "You said...you like girls, right?"

Trophy tensed, apprehensive. "Yeah?"

"Ugh, this is going to sound stupid," Traffic Light mumbled, "but..I really like you, Trophy. Your leadership is admirable, you let nothing stand in your way, you're charismatic..." Her voice faded away with her burst of confidence. "I know this was probably not the best time. I'm sorry, I'll g-"

"Wait." Trophy grabbed Traffic Light's arm as she stood up. She rubbed the back of her neck. "I like you too...for pretty much the same reasons, ironically enough." Her expression turned more solemn. "But I understand if you don't want to rush into things too quickly."

Traffic Light nodded. As much as she loved Trophy, she was still afraid. But what could she say? All of her feelings were so contradictory.

"Tell you what," Trophy smiled, "how about a date, later today? Maybe we could start figuring things out then?"

Traffic Light beamed, grateful for the intervention. "Yeah, I'd like that."

Chapter Text

Clack, clack, clack. The sound of a busy typewriter filled the golden-lit room. The morning's sunlight filtered through a shuttered window, casting bands of yellow onto the khaki-colored wooden floor. A simple, single bed occupied one corner of the modest living space, and a simple kitchen was hidden behind the stair wall. Shelves of well-conditioned books lined up opposite of the bed, complete with a faded crimson reading chair.

Papers were strewn across the normally clutter-free floor, and would have to be picked up and put in their proper place later on. But, that was among the least of the inventor's concerns, as he clack, clack, clacked away at his typewriter.

A self-proclaimed inventor, that is. He had never quite invented anything just yet, but nonetheless was well-known in the moderately-sized town he lived in as an excellent repairman. He pushed his glasses up on his leafy face, narrowing his eyes as he proofread the report a third time over.

Perfect. If only his silly client would remember to simply change the oil and clean out the gunk in his typewriter(as the inventor had made a daily chore of), he wouldn't have to come back every few weeks. Then again, Tree suspected the typewriter breaking was an excuse to see him.

How charmingly stupid.

Having delicately ripped the report from the teeth of his typewriter, Tree clopped down the stairs into his workshop. His tools sat in their rightful places, carefully laid out on their mats. Boxes of assorted hardwares, all meticulously sorted by size and function, were shoved underneath tables and stacked in corners, each and every one labelled. The client's typewriter, worn from use, sat atop the workbench, waiting to be picked up.

Tree expected his client to come for his typewriter in the late evening, as he usually did. Then he'd make a whole fuss of treating Tree to dinner for fixing his typewriter. It was a very predictable, see-through routine, although Tree admitted it was amusing to see how hard he tried. Maybe he'd even agree today.

But in the moment, it seemed as if no one was coming. No matter. Tree could use this time to perfect his debut into the world of invention. He left the report by the typewriter, and pulled out his masterpiece from underneath a cloth. Dust swirled into the air from the disturbance.

Time passed by quickly. Tree was combing through his boxes when the familiar twist of the doorknob sounded. A glass bottle opened the door wide, with a just as wide smile on her face.

"Good morning, Tree!" she chirped. Bottle was another one of Tree's regulars; she was quite ditzy, and would often accidentally break things. But more recently, her visits became less of asking Tree to fix something, and more of wanting to help Tree in his work. Tree didn't mind, for the most part. She was good company, and Tree found joy in teaching Bottle the workings of engineering.

"Good morning, Bottle," Tree smiled up at her, "what brings you here today?"

Bottle closed the door behind her. "Just checking in!" Her eyes were drawn to the invention on the table, lit up by the window above it. "Hey, your invention thing! You're working on it today?"

"Yes," Tree stood up, having found a sizable plate of metal. "I've got no clients today, just waiting for someone to pick up their typewriter."

Bottle peered at the invention with great interest. "What's it do again? Ooh, could I help?"

"It's a sorting machine," Tree explained, "and no, you can't help. This is my own personal project. You're welcome to watch, however."

Bottle nodded, having taken no offense. She watched with interest as Tree welded the metal to the machine, covering its inner workings. Sparks flew from the metal, like a continuous miniature firework. What was left behind was a seamless union of the metal plate and machine. No one would've been able to tell the difference.

Tree was the type of person to immerse himself in his work. He was very disciplined, and hardly allowed himself to be distracted. And although Tree was a problem solver, he also tended to be a one-track mind. He'd become so focused on one thing, everything else ceased to exist.

"Tree, be careful of your hand!" Bottle warned. Just in time, Tree jerked his free hand away from the welder.

"Ah," Tree spoke, still moving the welder along the metal plate, "I suppose this is why I have you to help me."

Bottle nodded, delighted to have been of assistance. It wasn't the first time she steered Tree away from having an accident, either.

And so the pair continued their work. They worked until the early afternoon, at which point Tree offered Bottle to go out to lunch with him. She happily accepted.

Chapter Text

"How do you propose to your best friend?"

Slurpy sat across the table from Shieldy, clearly tired and over the conversation. Still, she wanted to be supportive. Her forearm fell on the table's wooden surface, and a sharp exhale hit her wrist.

"Just tell him. Same advice I've given you for four years now," Slurpy replied. Shieldy huffed, unimpressed.

"Funny," he groaned. "But it has to be special! I really think he's the one! What am I supposed to say, 'hey Party Hat, will you marry me?' out of nowhere!?" Shieldy gestured with his arms wildly.

"Isn't that why you ordered a custom cake?" Slurpy sighed.

Shieldy grumbled. "Yeah, but that's a bit cliché now that I think about it..."

"Look," Slurpy scooted her chair closer to Shieldy, "you're overthinking it. Party Hat doesn't need a flamboyant display of affection. He'll be happy as long as he sees that you mean it."

Shieldy slumped his shoulders and nodded. "Yeah. Right. Guess I'm becoming a nervous old man like Hot Dog." Shieldy cracked a smile and Slurpy rolled her eyes.

"He's not that old."

"Sure seems like it."

They both snickered- very much against Slurpy's better nature, but it helped relieve some of the tension in the room. Shieldy sighed, and leaned back against his chair. He'd have to remember to thank Slurpy again once he proposed. Even with her blunt advice, it did help that Slurpy usually kept a level head. No one ever thought that Shieldy, of all objects, would become a nervous wreck when it came to love.

And he wasn't. He had no problem saying 'I love you', and he had no problem being loved or loving others. He's done that his entire life. But Party Hat was his best friend, and Shieldy guessed he was nervous because he was serious this time. It was the first time he's ever thought of marriage. On the surface, there was hardly a difference; Shieldy would gladly spend his entire life with Party Hat anyway.

Was marriage really that difficult? Shieldy remembered play-marrying a friend of his when he was a child. It was innocent fun. But Shieldy's mind arguably grew with age, and he was more or less more mature than when BOTO ended. Now his actions were more...consequential. He never thought Party Hat could hate him until their first real fight.

Shieldy hated conflict and fighting. And when he and Party Hat had their first major disagreement, they didn't speak to each other for a day. They were too ashamed to say sorry.

Maybe he was scared it would happen again.

Slurpy's phone buzzed from across the table. She and Shieldy perked up.

"Did Chocolatey text you?" Shieldy asked as Slurpy reached out for her phone and flipped it over.

"Yeah," Slurpy exhaled as she typed a response. "She's on her way now."

Shieldy nodded, and felt his heartbeat pick up. The time was coming soon. He was nervous all over again, but Shieldy stopped himself from plunging into the dark hole of negative thoughts. It was going to be fine.

Shieldy took a deep breath.

Whatever happened, it was going to be fine. He had to believe.

"Pizza and Hot Dog wish you luck," Slurpy read.

"Tell them they suck for not being here."

Slurpy rolled her eyes in disapproval, but passed the message anyway. All there was to do now was wait for Chocolatey to return with the cake, and then Shelly would bring Party Hat to the cabin. Shieldy ran his fingers over the velvety black box sitting next to him.

Almost time.

Loud knocks came from the door. Both Shieldy and Slurpy rushed to greet Chocolatey, who held a cake box in her arms. Vanilla funfetti cake, topped with fruits and chocolate bits, and written in frosting, 'Marry me?'. Party Hat loved fruits in his cake, and he also loved funfetti cake. It was the best of both worlds.

"Wait wait wait, lemme see," Shieldy insisted as Chocolatey placed the cake on the table.

"I didn't eat any of it, I swear," Chocolatey joked, and she raised her hands with a one-sided grin. Slurpy joined the two, typing on her phone, as Shieldy carefully opened the box.

Shieldy's eyes widened in horror. The silence caught Chocolatey's and Slurpy's attention, and they grimaced at the misspelling of 'Marry me?', turned into 'Merry me?'.

"How-" Shieldy's voice was strained. "How does that even happen!?"

"They must've heard you wrong," Slurpy offered. Chocolatey groaned, slapping her hand to her face and pulling at her cheeks.

"You've got to be kidding me. There's time to fix it, right?"

Slurpy bit the inside of her lip. "I already told Shelly to come back with Party Hat..."

"Wonderful," Chocolatey hissed under her breath. Shieldy worriedly pressed his lips together, and tapped his foot on the floor.

"It's fine, it's fine," Shieldy rushed out. "We just have to deal with it. Um- how far away are Shelly and Party Hat again?"

"About a fifteen minute walk," Slurpy answered.

"You sure you don't want to try and fix it?" Chocolatey eyed the cake.

"We don't have any frosting or whatever," Shieldy replied. Slurpy closed the cake box.

"The frosting isn't that important," she stated. "Shieldy, are you ready?"

Shieldy nodded. "I think so."

For the next fourteen minutes, the trio waited for Shelly and Party Hat to return. Shieldy practiced what he wanted to say in his head, and Chocolatey and Slurpy offered him their encouragement. Shieldy anxiously glanced at the ticking clock.

Twelve minutes.

Ten minutes.

Six minutes.

Three minutes.

Two minutes.

One minute.

There was a knock on the door. Shieldy's mind spun wildly, and his hands and feet went cold. He yelled at himself to get it together, fingers tightened around the ring box. His lines, his lines! Was he ready? He had suddenly forgotten everything. Shieldy felt his own mind leave himself, as he watched Chocolatey rush to the door.

He wasn't ready.

"Hi Chocolatey!" The three objects exchanged hellos, and Shelly leaned over to look at Slurpy and Shieldy.

"Oh! Hey Party Hat, come to the kitchen, there's a surprise for you," Chocolatey giggled. Party Hat followed with raised eyebrows, and said hello to Slurpy and Shieldy on his way in. His eyes shone once his gaze landed on the cake.

"You shouldn't have!" he gasped, "it isn't even my birthday!"

"Wait 'til you see what it says!" Chocolatey's excitement bubbled up in her voice. Shelly, Slurpy, and Shieldy looked on in suspense as Chocolatey unboxed the cake.

"Merry me? What does that even-"

"Uh- Party Hat!" Shieldy spoke up. Party Hat's attention swiftly switched to Shieldy, who stood up and hid the ring box behind his back. "It- It means that you're the love of my life, and my very best friend. I want to spend forever with you." Shieldy felt himself clam up, and he took out the ring box a bit too early in his speech.

Rolling with the punches, Shieldy knelt down on one knee and opened the box. Seated neatly inside was a glimmering engagement ring. Party Hat held his breath; tears brimmed at his eyes.

"Will you marry me?"

"Yes!" Party Hat squeaked, "oh my streamers, yes!" He threw himself onto Shieldy in a hug, and Shieldy wrapped his arms around his husband to-be. Shelly and Chocolatey squealed at the group's success, but it was like everything around the two lovers ceased to exist as they shared a passionate kiss.

Chapter Text

'It's almost time for me to leave Goiky.'

The raining winds fight against my umbrella. My shoes and socks are soaking wet and the grass squelches under my feet. Rain covers the trees and gray sky in a dull haze. Everything beyond my sight is hidden in the obscure fog, revealing itself as I run.

He did say he would leave. I just didn't think it would be this soon. I should've come out sooner, instead of sleeping all day. I should've talked to him sooner. I should've known. He had all his stuff packed the other day.

Maybe I can still say goodbye.

Please don't be gone just yet...

Everyday I spent here was worth it because of you.'

I should've hung out with him more. Of course he was free to leave, and I wouldn't stop him. He was always wanting to live his own life. He did things his way. But I should've been more of a friend. I can't believe what I thought of him when he first moved in.

Disgraceful.

His house is nearby. I can't see past the cliff, but his house is on the top. We sat there, with our legs hanging over the edge, eating the cherries from the trees I planted and watched the rolling waves. We talked about our favorite superheroes and tried to throw the cherry seeds into the ocean. It was fun.

Sheets of heavy rain bombard my umbrella like bullets. The ground slips underneath me; I'm freefalling, but I catch myself in time. The pounding in my chest beats harder and faster. That was scary.

I peek over the top of the cliff, and I hope his iron fence is still there...

It's not.

'Thank you for everything.'

Standing in front of the empty, dirt lot, desolate in the rain with the cold biting at my skin through wet clothes- it feels like a dramatic scene from some TV show or movie. My breath is so ragged; bumping each time I breathe, as my heart slows in my chest. My grip on the umbrella handle tightens.

The small garden of cosmos we planted is untouched. He said his fence was too mean looking. I planned to grow cosmos nearby and replant the garden around his fence. The flowers sway in tune with the wind, battered under the force of the rain.

I should've done something. He's gone now. I wasn't there for him on his last day here. Tears blur my vision. My arm goes up to wipe them away.

It doesn't help. My arm is already wet.

I didn't say my final goodbye. I couldn't...

I couldn't say goodbye.

'Your pal, Filbert.'

Chapter Text

The doorbell rang; a resounding chime was heard by everyone in the cabin.

  "It's here! It's here it's here it's here!" Foldy wasted no time bursting out of her room, much to the confusion of Stapy. She barreled down the stairs and nearly crashed into the door, but her excitement wasn't tainted. Foldy eagerly peeked through the glass, and squealed when she saw the package laying on the porch. "Fries! Fries, Marker, where are you; open the door!" she yelled.

  Fries walked downstairs, his mouth tugged into a slight frown. He unlocked the door for Foldy, who snatched the package and promptly sat back down on the bottom step. "What's this about?" Fries asked, as Foldy tore the package open with her feet. At this point, the rest of Free Food made their appearances, drawn by Foldy's shouts.

  "Wait for it..." Foldy dug inside the package and held her breath. Finally, she found the precious tickets inside, and showed them off to her teammates with a wide grin. "We're going to Disneyland!"

  The team exploded into shouts all at once. 

  "Disneyland!"

  "Disneyland?"

  "Where did you even get those!?"

  "DISNEYLAND!"

  "When are we going?"

  "What about Didney Worl?"

  "YAYYY!!"

 "Okay, that's enough!" Fries shouted over the commotion. "Foldy, how did you get these?"

  Foldy plastered on a sheepish grin. "I totally didn't get them from a scalper or anything."

  Fries narrowed his eyes.

  "Relax, I bought these from the official website," Foldy snickered. "I just thought we deserve a break, y'know? We leave tomorrow, by the way."

  "Tomorrow?!" some of Free Food yelled.

  "This is so last minute!" Bell whined.

  "It's Disneyland; it doesn't matter!" Stapy said. 

  After packing what little the team needed, they continued on with the rest of their day and turned in an early night. Even night owls such as Marker, Stapy, and Foldy went to bed early so they wouldn't miss their flight to California. The next morning was still a bustle, as per the usual Free Food style, which was to attempt, and then messily succeed. Still, the team caught their flight in time. Barely.

  Fries leaned against his seat and sighed in frustration. "I can't believe you almost made us miss our flight, Eraser."

  "It wasn't all me," Eraser defended himself, "Marker was the one who got us lost!"

  "But I still got us here, didn't I?" Marker drawled out his words in his usual accent. Fries rolled his eyes and mumbled to himself.

  Once the plane was well into the air, Stapy took another look outside the window. He was awed by the sheer height and view, even if said view was an endless landscape of clouds and sky. Foldy glanced at him and smiled. 

  "Enjoying the window seat?"

  Stapy faced Foldy."Yeah! Thanks for giving it to me, by the way." He grinned, and turned back to the window. "This is pretty neat for my first time flying."

  "Didn't we ride airplanes in that one challenge?" Marker asked. 

  "I think we spent at least half of that challenge falling," Foldy sighed.

  "It doesn't really count, anyway," Stapy waved his hand dismissively. "Those planes were literally made out of paper."

  The plane landed a few hours later. Fries rented a car and from there, the team drove to the Disneyland Hotel. The hotel had much to offer: movies, character meet and greets, buffets and exquisite restaurants, and even waterslides, but eventually all of Free Food had to settle down because again, they had to wake up early tomorrow.

~☆~

  "Ding ding ding! Everybody, get up!" Bell chirped. Groans met her peppiness. Bell pouted. "Come on, we have to get up early if we want to go to Disneyland! Eraser, can you get the door for me?"

  Eraser fell out of bed and trudged to the connecting door whilst dragging his feet. He opened the door for Bell and walked to the bathroom to wake himself up. Bell repeated her wake-up call in the other room and soon enough, everyone was awake and more or less raring to go.

  "We're having breakfast at one of the Disneyland restaurants," Fries said, "so let's not waste any more time."

  "Seriously?" Eraser complained.

  "It'll be open by the time we get there," Fries explained. The group set off, and sure enough, Fries was right. Disneyland was already open. They skipped past the growing ticket line and entered the park. Fries handed out a few maps and led the team to the nearest breakfast serving restaurant.

  After that, it was essentially a free for all.

  "Stapy, Eraser, and I have the maps," Fries passed out the maps accordingly, "so try not to get lost, don't spend too much, and meet back at the entrance when the park closes."

  "Wait," Marker interjected, "why don't I get a map?"

  "Because I can't trust you with a map, Marker."

  Marker lowered his head dejectedly. Foldy gave him a reassuring pat on the back. "You and Stapy can alternate!" she proposed. Marker's eyes lit up at the prospect, and immediately led Foldy and Stapy off to Frontierland.

  "Come on, Fries!" Puffball called, already having drifted away from the group. "There's no time to waste!"

  Fries waved a swift goodbye to Bell, Eraser, and Yellow Face, and ran to catch up with Puffball. The remaining trio exchanged glances in a brief moment of silence.

  "Let's go to Galaxy's Edge!" Yellow Face suggested.

 "Sure thing!"

  "Oh, I love Star Wars!"

  Towering spires of rock and Star Wars inspired architecture greeted the three as they approached Galaxy's Edge. They passed under a large, white stone arch, with brown weather stains and four faded flags. Bell marveled at the domed buildings and rock walls that surrounded them. 

  "Everything looks so authentic!" she gawked. "This is so cool!"

  "Right?" Eraser nodded. "But come on, me and Yellow Face already decided what we're gonna do, so hurry up!"

  "Okay, okay!" Bell grumbled. "What are we doing, anyway?"

  "Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run," Yellow Face answered. "It's gonna be so cool!" He spazzed more than he usually did; it was how Yellow Face expressed excitement. 

  After a long while of waiting in line, the trio found themselves in the Millennium Falcon's crew cabin with three other objects.

  "Must be great to have arms," Yellow Face said. "Bell and I are engineers while you get to be a pilot!"

  "Not like I can do anything about it," Eraser mumbled. The door to the cockpit opened. "Come on, let's go!"

  The six objects settled into their respective seats, Eraser specifically drummed his fingers against the steering handles as anticipation bubbled in his chest. He looked to his left, a propeller hat- who looked younger than him- sat in the other pilot's seat. The propeller hat returned Eraser's glance and flashed an excited smile. 

  Not soon enough, the instructor's voice stopped, and the objects were launched into hyper speed, and whoops of enthusiasm rose from them. Bell and her soap bar partner fired at incoming enemy ships and asteroids. Yellow Face covered any damage made to the ship with the baseball bat across from him. 

  "Go up! Oh my gosh!"

  "Asteroid on your-"

  "Got it!"

  "What the heck, I can't do anything!"

  Red lights flashed in the cockpit. Eraser and the propeller hat veered left- and then right- and in any which way they thought they needed to go. Bell mashed buttons and fired at anything she saw.

  "Die, you rebel scum! Oh wait, that's us."

  "We're gonna die- we're gonna die!"

  "What are you doing!?"

  "I'm doing my best, for the love of-"

  "Right, right! Go right!"

  "AAAA-"

  The ride halted and powered down, darkness overtaking the cockpit again. The instructor's voice boomed over the speakers.

  "Did we lose?" the soap bar asked.

  "Yeah."

  Eraser groaned. "Dang it!"

  "It was fun!" the propeller hat grinned as the six walked out of the ride and into daylight. "Soap Bar, Baseball Bat, what are we doing next?" The three objects' voices melted into the crowd as they walked away.

  "Hey, what are we doing next?" Yellow Face asked, leaning over to look at the map. Eraser mulled over their options.

  "Well, there is another ride we could go on..."

~☆~

  "I won!"

  "That's so unfair!" Stapy groaned, "I clearly hit the most targets!"

  Foldy smiled sympathetically. "No, it was Marker."

  "Ha!"

  "Sorry, Stapy."

  Stapy huffed. "Whatever- but I get the map now. It's only fair."

  Marker pouted. "What? I just got it!"

  "Give it to me!"

  Foldy sighed as her friends argued over the map. Maybe she should've kept it, tucked in between her folds. "Let- Let Stapy have the map, it's his turn to choose."

  Marker frowned, but handed over the map in a sweeping gesture. Stapy plucked the map from Marker's hands and pointed at a ride.

  "A roller coaster?" Foldy was hesitant to agree. "I was hoping you'd choose something more relaxing..."

  "We can go on a relaxing ride later!" Stapy grinned. "But Disneyland is for thrills and fun, and what better than a roller coaster called 'Big Thunder Mountain Railroad'? It just screams exciting!"

  "It sounds really fun!" Marker interjected, the past argument already put behind him.

  "Hmm..." Foldy stared intensely at the map. "Okay, fine," she grinned. Stapy pumped his fist.

  "I knew you'd come around! It should be somewhere over this way," Stapy said, and lead the trio around to the waiting line. Their faces fell at the sheer length of it.

  "...well," Foldy sighed, resigned, "it's Disneyland. What else did we expect?"

  Stapy smiled tightly at her joke as Marker ran up to the end of the line, and waved for Foldy and Stapy to follow him. He stirred up a conversation as his friends joined him, with the hope that it would help pass the time.

  And pass the time it did. They laughed at a story Stapy told as their turn to enter the ride neared. Foldy and Stapy claimed seats in the front car, while Marker was going to be behind them. They watched as the train-like roller coaster cars left the station.

  After that, they would be next.

  Three minutes later, the cars pulled back into the station, and the objects previously on the ride chattered as they left. Foldy, Stapy, and Marker eagerly slid into their seats, buckled in, and waited for the attendants to lower the safety bar.

  "-and it's always like: 'I will show you the world'," Stapy sung in a mock deep voice. Foldy and Marker laughed.

  "Shining, shimmering, splendid," Foldy sung, and held out the last note before she broke down in giggles.

  "Don't you dare close your eyes-"

  A pre-recorded message played over the speakers, and though the trio tried to listen, they could only hear the last sentence before the cars jolted and moved along the tracks. The cars entered a dark cavern and puttered along, until a light appeared from around the corner. The cavern was vast and lit with a blue light. Numerous stalactites hung from the ceiling, both clustered in groups and scattered across the roof. Foldy awed at its beauty.

The train approached the growing light as the rock walls became clearer. Water fell from above on opposite sides of the cars as they moved into daylight again. Walls of canyon rock and small, green trees surrounded them.

  Foldy, Stapy, and Marker screamed as the cars picked up the speed, and plunged into rapid turns. The scenery flashed before them as they raced along the tracks. Something chittered and howled from above; and everything went black. The cars crashed around in the darkness, and their vision was flooded with light again.

  Slowly, the cars rattled up the wooden tracks. They passed under a wooden tower-like structure and climbed uphill. The riders were pushed back in their seats, and Stapy glanced over the side, trying not to stir the knot in his stomach.

  "Hey, are those turtles?"

  "Actually, they're tortoises," Marker said.

  "Whatever." 

  Rock structures covered the landscape, and trees stretched to the close horizon. Foldy glanced at a sign at the crest of the hill, as the rocks around the train narrowed into a small canyon again.

  'Danger! Blasting area ahead'

  A goat bleated on a rock to their right. Crates of what Foldy could only assume were explosives laid on either side.

  The train leaned into another turn and dashed along the track. The riders screamed as the cars coasted over a bump and they were thrown to the side in a tight turn. Darkness covered them in an instant; light returned just as quickly. Another turn threw the riders to the left, and they entered another cave.

  Fires bathed the walls in red light as the rattle of the train echoed off the walls. Black wires lined the cave walls and Foldy's eyes widened when red sparks ran along their length. They sparked and fizzed and moved up towards the ceiling. A clearly fake explosion went off above them, and it somehow put Foldy in a strange state of ease.

  The cavern walls were sunk in with crater-like holes, and daylight shone once again. The train dipped down and zipped off again, and the air was filled with hollers. Over a rocky ridge, Stapy saw the station. They veered to the right, as fast as ever. Trees with drooping leaves passed by, and it was dark for a moment. The train slowed slightly.

  Another dip, and the train raced along, going left and right. Model houses zoomed by, and the whoops died down into excited chattering as the train slowed for the last time, and rolled into the station. They jolted to a stop, and the attendants came to lift the safety bars.

  "Wasn't that great?!" Stapy turned to Foldy, just catching his breath. Foldy nodded earnestly. They stepped out of the car, Marker following shortly afterwards. Foldy and Marker staggered for a bit, but regained their footing and followed Stapy down the exit.

  "It was so cool!" Marker exclaimed. "There was a goat, and tortoises-" Stapy pulled a slight grimace at the mention of tortoises. "-and then there were explosions, like pshhh!" Marker mimicked an explosion with his hands.

  "I know!" Foldy joined in, "it was so thrilling! But can we go on the ride I want to go on now?"

  Marker looked down, his lips puckered. "Could we stop for a snack, first?"

  "We'll go on your ride next, I promise," Stapy reassured a dejected Foldy. She gave him a small smile and nodded.

  "Sure. I'm kinda hungry, too."

~☆~

  Fries watched as Puffball hovered near a trash can with her mouth scrunched up. She gulped and flew back to Fries.

  "I'm okay."

  "I told you all those snacks were a bad idea," Fries muttered. Puffball rolled her eyes. "I'll just, hold on to these, I guess."

  "Thanks."

  They walked along the path and made light conversation. Puffball bit off a small piece of churro, and Fries glanced at her with slight disapproval.

  "How about we just take it easy with the rides. Do you want to go see another show or something?"

  "Eh...hand me the map."

  Fries reached around in his fries pocket. Unfortunately, it was the only place he could store the map. He motioned for Puffball to hold what she could, and Fries opened the slightly stained map. Puffball hovered closely, and peered at the attractions.

  "How about Storybook Land Canal Boats?"

  "Are you kidding? Isn't that ride for little kids?"

  Puffball pursed her lips. "Disneyland brings out the child in me. And you were the one who wanted to take it easy."

  Fries resigned himself. "Right...okay then, let's go."

  It didn't take too long to find the ride, and fortunately for Fries and Puffball, the line wasn't a terribly long wait. They eased into the boat single file, and the boat swayed under Fries's feet. A neat flower display laid on an island, with the words 'STORYBOOK LAND' spelled out with yellow flowers on a red flower background. 

  Once all of the passengers had sat down, their tour guide gave her opening speech. Puffball's gaze couldn't stay in one place. The boat's paint was a simple light blue, complemented with reds and yellows. The water wasn't crystal clear, but Puffball could still see her reflection, which rippled as the boat bobbed in place. Not too far ahead was Monstro, its mouth agape, ready to swallow up the riders.

  The boat moved, and Puffball's giddy anticipation grew. Some riders squealed as the boat passed through Monstro's jaws, and they sailed through the whale's dark, red throat. 

  As they came out the other side, the riders, Fries and Puffball included, marveled at the model houses and tiny trees. Fries stared as closely as he could, and admired the small details.

  "...one house made of straw, one house made of sticks, and one house made of guaranteed wolf-proof bricks."

  Their attention turned to a peninsula of sorts, which held the houses of the three little pigs from the children's tale. Fries smiled to himself. The miniature size of everything was rather cute.

  They sailed under a bridge, and were met with the small village from Ribbon in Wonderland. Puffball pointed out the familiar rabbit hole to Fries. They passed London Park, where Pan took the children to Neverland. 

  And in front of them, was the city of Agrabah, with its white walls and golden towers. It sat in a specialized area of sand, with desert trees and red rocks.

  "Jasmine's always been my favorite Disney princess," Puffball whispered.

  "Really?"

  "Mhm. She's independent and knows what she wants. She takes her own destiny into her hands."

  "Oh. That's- that's nice."

  They passed some floral arches, as music kicked in. Puffball smiled. She knew this song by heart.

  "Ahead of us, we have the magical, mystical Cave of Wonders. Everybody say 'oooh'!"

  "Oooh!" the passengers echoed. Some laughed at the silliness.

  "Say 'ahhhh'!"

  "Ahhhh!"

  The sounds bounced back off the cave walls as the boat entered the Cave of Wonders. The water's surface rippled on the walls. 

  "In the Cave of Wonders, rests the Genie's Lamp," the guide went on, as a golden lamp, sat on a raised rock, lit up. Sparkle sound effects echoed in the cave. "Legend has it that whoever rubs the lamp will be granted three wishes. Of course, there's an alternate way. Let's all think really hard, and make a wish!"

  Puffball scrunched her eyes shut, and nudged for Fries to do the same. Just to humor her, he closed his eyes, but made no wish.

  Soon, the boat sailed out of the Cave of Wonders, and the tour continued. They were surrounded by a great deal of trees, now. To the right was Snowflake's cottage, where she lived with the seven dwarf hats. To their left was Slipper's grand castle, sat on a small mountain. Fries looked closely, and saw the pumpkin carriage their guide had detailed.

  They sailed under yet another bridge, and passed by Agrabah again. Fries and Puffball gazed at the extensive flower display, based on a giant's quilt, neatly sorted into groups. Though none of them knew what Lullaby Land was, the display was humbly incredible. 

  The boat took them though Toad Hall, and then to Arendelle, with a background of frozen mountains. Puffball spotted a pair of ducks that swam by. They passed the woodworker's village, where he created a wooden puppet named Woody. 

  "And on the left, you'll see Bucket's Trading Post! Ooh, and sauna! Everybody say yoo-hoo!"

  "Yoo-hoo!"

  The yoo-hoos still bubbled up from a group of friends on the boat as they passed under another bridge. In an area surrounded by cliffs, was Buckle's castle, along with his storm-wrecked ship. Across from the castle, hidden by a waterfall, was Trident's kingdom. Colorful seaweed hung from the cave's ceiling.

  The boat turned a corner, and the dock appeared.

  "Well friends, that does it for our tour of Storybook Land. I hope you enjoyed, and that you'll dive into the magic with us again!" the guide said. The boat came to a stop. "We'll all stand up on the count of three."

  Everyone followed the guide's instructions, and stood on her count. The riders dispersed, and Puffball floated beside Fries as he adjusted to standing on solid ground. 

  "See? That was a fun ride!"

  "Yeah, sure, whatever. By the way, we still have a few more hours left. Got anything you wanna do?"

  Puffball and Fries agreed that they'd make their way back to the entrance through Tomorrowland, and do what they could along the way. They took the Submarine Voyage and Astro Orbiter. They rode on Space Mountain, the monorail, took a spin in Autopia, and visited the Star Wars Launch Bay. Sometime in between, they had a late dinner, and before they knew it, they were walking back to the hotel with the rest of their team.

  "Some day, huh?" Stapy sighed. 

  "You can say that again," Eraser said, as he held onto three lightsabers, "but my legs are killing me!"

  "But it was fun, right?" Foldy called out from the rear of the group.

  "We should do this again!" Yellow Face, who wore the trademark mouse ears, chimed in.

  Foldy puffed. "I wish! I barely managed to scrape enough money together for the tickets in the first place!"

  "Speaking of which," Bell, who also had mouse ears, said, "how did you get the money, anyway?"

  "Oh, you know...odds and ends, and...stuff," Foldy mumbled. "Anyway, I'd call this getaway a total success!"

  "Total success!" Marker and Stapy echoed.

  "Hey, we're here," Fries gestured to the hotel. "I'm going to clean up and go straight to sleep, so don't talk so loud."

  "Yes, sir!" Eraser joked. The rest of the team chuckled as Fries rolled his eyes and opened the door. The other seven followed, as they chatted and laughed about their day.

Chapter Text

Silver bites his inner lip. He's trembling. Not outright shaking, but if he holds his hand to his face, his fingers twitch and shudder. Why is he acting this way? There isn't anything to be afraid of.

No. A lot can happen in two hundred years. And maybe this isn't even the right place. Maybe he isn't even here, or isn't the person Silver knows, or maybe he was already dead-

Two hundred years. It's a long time, and...maybe he completely forgot about Silver. Or maybe a time paradox happened and they never met. Time paradoxes are such fickle things. Silver rubs his fingers together, clenching his fist and stretching his fingers.

He has to know. It's been so long. As apprehensive as he is, he...he has to at least know. Silver swallows and reaches for the door handle. The metal is smooth, and...pretty warm. It is sunny today, after all.

Silver slips inside and a wave of cool air washes over him. The inside is more modern than he expected. Smooth wooden floors and comfy-looking furniture. Painted walls with lovely, colorful murals. Cat stuff everywhere. People talking and laughing in another room. The homey atmosphere reassures Silver.

He follows the voices. Everything is well lit up, and...cats! Cats are meowing, too! Although Silver isn't surprised, but the meowing...it's a pleasant sound.

It doesn't take Silver long to find the voices. Around the corner is a large room with double glass doors. Many mobians are inside, chatting, laughing, playing with cats...Silver's heart melts at the sight. Everyone is so happy here!

He walks inside; some mobians turn their heads and greet him. Silver waves and returns the hellos, now a bit overwhelmed by the crowd.

"Erm- Does anyone know where I can find Shadow? I mean- Shadow the Hedgehog?"

"He'll be in the back," a mint green owl answers. Silver nods and smiles.

"Thank you!"

Worry bubbles its way to the front of Silver's mind as he weaves through the mobians and cats. Shadow...Silver talked to him last week, but technically, it's been two hundred years since Shadow last saw Silver. What does Shadow even look like? How would he act? Would Silver even recognize him?

And then, Silver stops.

Shadow is right there. He's talking to a young deer mobian and his parents, as he holds a grey tabby in his hands. Shadow's quills have a looser style to them, small quill bunches sticking out from his regular six-point quill-do. His gloves and shoes are more sleek and futuristic, though they still have their same colors. And he's grown out his chest fur, too. It reaches his shoulders, just grazing their tips.

But Silver can't help staring at Shadow's eyes...they're softer somehow. They're warm and relaxed. His posture, his smile...everything about Shadow is just softer. Shadow hands the tabby to the deer. His eyes widen, but he still takes the cat, putting one hand under the front legs, and one under the back legs.

"Pull him close to you," Shadow says, "and wrap your arm around his midsection."

The deer does as told, and looks to Shadow, who smiles.

"Good."

The deer glances at his parents with excitement, and they give him an encouraging smile. They thank Shadow, and walk away.

And Shadow's eyes meet Silver's.

"Don't think I didn't notice you, Silver," Shadow says, walking up to him. "I-"

"Shadow!" Silver grins, his nervous energy bursting through the surface. "It- It's been so long! We have so much to catch up on!"

"I agree, but in a more private area. Wait for me by the door." Shadow smirks. "You can pet the cats if you want to."

Silver nods, and strides towards the door. He sits in a nearby chair as he watches Shadow talk to a bear, most likely an assistant. Silver reaches his hand out to pet a passing blue-gray cat, but the cat walks just out of his reach. He slumps back in his chair, slightly crushed.

Footsteps approach him and Silver sits upright. In one hand, Shadow holds a green Chaos Emerald. His other hand extends towards Silver.

"Where are we going?" Silver asks, grasping Shadow's hand to pull himself up.

"A small mountain overlooking the city. It's nice and quiet up there," Shadow smiles. "Chaos Control."

White light transports the hedgehogs to a place outside the city. Silver blinks, and glances around. They're standing on the side of a green mountain, overlooking the city just as Shadow said. A couple of trees grow scattered around them, and the air is fresh and ever-so-slightly chilled. Silver looks out to the city in front, with towering skyscrapers, buildings, and extensive parks. Surrounding the city are many neighborhoods, and past that is just...green.

Silver sighs breathlessly. "Wow...this is..."

"It's great, I know." Shadow sat down on the grass below them. Silver followed suit, sitting down on a flat rock. "So...where do you want to start?"

"Er-" Silver pauses. There's so much to know. Where would they even begin? How could they begin to begin? Endless possibilities of thoughts and topics, and they all run through Silver's brain at the same time, overwhelming him again.

"I think..." Silver says, "I got one. What have you been doing, since I left?"

It's a simple question. Maybe too simple. But it's a starting point.

"Two hundred years is a lot of time to cover," Shadow huffed. Yet, he still smiles. "Not much changed. We still fought the Doctor, and whatever evil that tried to destroy or take over the world. I still went on G.U.N missions."

"Is that still around, by the way?"

"Yes. But I've since retired."

"Really?" Silver fully turns to Shadow. "I thought you liked that job."

"I guess. But I wanted to do something else with my life. So I quit, and started investing in my hobbies."

"Like?"

Shadow turns over a pebble in his hand. "I read more. Traveled. Volunteered when I could...a lot of everything, really. I hung out with Sonic and his friends more..." Shadow smiles. "Opened up a bit...it made me happy."

Silver smiles at Shadow's sentiment. It's odd, seeing Shadow so open like this. But it's a nice change of pace from the Shadow two hundred years ago. But Silver's face falls. Sonic, Tails, Amy, Knuckles...Blaze and Espio... they weren't immortal like Shadow. They've been long since dead by now.

Still, Silver needs to ask.

"And..." he fiddles with his fingers. "What about everybody else?"

"I'd wager about the same. They grew up and matured. They led fulfilling lives."

"Did...did you ever see Blaze again?"

"Yes. She came around from time to time to help save the world, and vice versa." Shadow smiles tightly. "She missed you. And...everyone else, actually. They all missed you."

Silver nods, his heart weighing heavy in his chest.

"A lot changed when the Doctor died," Shadow continues. "Suddenly, we all had so much more free time. Rouge suggested we start a band. It never turned out to be something big, but it was something we enjoyed. And she starred in a few TV shows, too.

"Tails went on to become one of the best inventors this world has ever seen. Amy started her own small business, selling baked goods, with tarot readings on the side."

Silver raises an eyebrow quizzically. Shadow snorts.

"Odd combination, I know. But it worked for her."

"And everyone else? Cream? The Chaotix? Knuckles? Sonic?"

"Cream became a schoolteacher. The Chaotix...never really changed. Their agency is still around today, led by Vector's great, great grandchildren."

Silver nearly jumps of his seat. "Vector had children!?"

"A lot of them had children," Shadow smirks. "And Sonic married Amy."

"What!?"

Shadow laughs. "You seem surprised."

"Well I mean- We're talking about Sonic, here! The guy that never slows down? And I thought he said he'd never be caught dead in a relationship?"

"He was fifteen. But eventually he stopped running from his feelings, he and Amy got married, they had kids, and grew old together."

"That's..." Silver smiles, "really sweet, actually. Wh- What about you? Did you...ever marry?"

"No," Shadow shakes his head, "but I...did date, for a while. It wasn't really for me."

"Oh. Uh- I'm sorry."

"There's nothing to be sorry about. But thank you."

Silver nods, gazing back out at the city. He breathes in deeply, closing his eyes. The air brushes against his fur and ruffles his chest fur. It flows through his quills and and offers cleanliness.

The air is fresh, and the sky is blue. The grass is green, and the people are flourishing and happy.

"So...this is really it? This is the future?"

"Your future, Silver. Congratulations."

He did it.

Silver's vision grows blurry as his chest tightens. Tears well up in his eyes and he bites his inner lip, trying to stifle his sniffles. He wipes and rubs at his eyes, spreading the tears onto his muzzle.

He really did it. He saved his world. Finally.

"Y- You know, Shadow," Silver sniffs, "when I first came here, I... I couldn't believe my eyes. There was no fire, no- no demon monsters, no overlords, n-nothing of the sort! Just...people. Enjoying their lives, walking down the street...and everything was so beautiful. Just how I imagined the future would be."

"Do you know what this city is, Silver?"

Silver looks at Shadow. "Hope City...right? That's what I've been told."

"I always thought it was a cheesy name," Shadow snorts. "But yes. Right over where Crisis City would be."

Silver smiles. "I think that's a good omen."

"And as long as there are good people in this world..." Shadow's voice softens. "As long as people are willing to protect this planet...and as long as I'm here, the world will be safe."

"Yeah..." Silver looks back to the bustling city, where people live in peace. The people he fought to protect for so long. And the blue sky with the sparse clouds, the green grass, trees, flowers, and all the animals that live on the planet...he fought to protect those too.

And he would always fight. For those who came before him, those with him, and those who would come after. He would protect it until his dying breath.

"Everything's gonna be okay."

Chapter Text

Dear Mic's Diary,

I'm really conflicted. I've already gone so far down this path, and I know I'll succeed. As long as I'm on the offensive, nothing will stop me. But what Knife said...bothered me. Who's this Pickle person? I have a feeling whatever happened between him and Taco wasn't good. But I have no reason to not trust Taco. She's my friend. Knife is just biased...I think.

And I guess he has a right to be? But Taco is a better person now, I don't know why he doesn't see that. I just wish I wasn't stuck in this position. It'd be so much easier if-

Microphone paused. There were footsteps behind her. She shut her diary and whipped around. Knife was behind her.

"Are you trying to peek in my diary!?"

"Wh- No. Stop freaking out."

Microphone turned in her seat to fully face Knife, her arms secure around her diary. Knife stood straight, and his blade glinted in the sunlight. His arms were crossed, and his face was slightly shadowed, but she could still recognize his sharp eyes that pierced her heart, and his slight uneven frown that was admittedly really cute-

'Dang it, Mic! Focus!'

"What are you doing here, anyway?" Microphone asked. A small hope rose in her chest. "Oh! Did you-"

"No."

Her shoulders slumped. So much for that.

"I just noticed you were absent."

"Oh, so you're stalking me?" Microphone felt the cringe as soon as the words left her mouth. "Bad joke. Sorry."

Knife sighed. Probably reminded him of Cheesy.

"I just wanted to talk to you again. About this whole...Taco situation."

Microphone placed her diary in her lap, with her hands folded on the cover. "I- Well, okay..." she mumbled and pressed her lips together, her eyes on the grass. Taco was probably listening. She had to look as inconspicuous as possible.

"Taco is using you-"

"This again?"

"Let. Me finish," Knife gritted his teeth. Microphone nodded rapidly. "She's never told you what happened in season one, right?"

"No- But I know what she did! And I'm telling you, she's changing- I'm seeing it for myself!"

Knife's expression didn't change. "You don't know the whole story. Throughout the whole season, she allied herself with a friend of mine, Pickle. They were like two peas in a pod, until she revealed her true self. She used him to further her position in the game. She never cared for him in the first place."

"Mic, end the conversation."

Microphone drew a sharp breath. Both from Knife's revelation and Taco's sudden voice.

'She acted like this in the mine, too.'

"Pickle was heartbroken." Knife took a few steps closer to Microphone. "And Taco is as every bit manipulative and conniving as she was then. Whatever she said or promised, she will betray you."

"End it!"

"Trust me," Microphone whispered, and turned down her gain. Knife furrowed his brows.

The pieces were coming together. Honestly, Microphone surprised herself with how easily she connected the dots. Taco was obviously talking about Pickle when she reached for that portal. She doesn't like talking about what happened because it hurts her, too.

Which left Microphone with a conclusion she believed beyond a shadow of a doubt.

"I know that Taco regrets what she did; she just doesn't want to admit it," she said. "Taco is my friend, and she won't betray me."

Knife sighed. "She's really got you going, doesn't she. I don't want you to get hurt like Pickle did. Don't say I didn't warn ya."

Microphone's heart fluttered. Did he really just say that? Did he really mean it?

"I mean- If you really don't want to hurt me, join...join me!" she burst without restriction, "because...I don't want to be against you. And we'll be unstoppable!" Microphone held her breath, anxious for his response.

Knife took a while to say anything.

Eventually, he huffed.

"I'll win this game on my own terms," he said. "And if we're to face each other in the final two, I won't hold back. Don't go getting yourself eliminated."

Knife turned away from a deflated Microphone. He looked over his shoulder.

"Be careful, Mic."

"Yeah..." Microphone muttered.

'The final two, huh?'

"Hey!"

Knife turned his head.

Microphone smirked. "I won't hold back, either."

Chapter Text

Man, I'm tired. Maybe Lobo's right; I do run around too much. But who else is gonna water the flowers and sell the fruits and keep the economy flowing? Maybe I'll ask Curly or Snake to help me out tomorrow or something...I don't know. 

  At least it's always nice in The Roost. And K.K. Slider's playing today, too! The warm aroma of freshly roasted beans fills the air, and soft jazz plays from the radio. K.K. Slider sits on his high stool on the platform, plucking at his guitar while Brewster cleans cups behind the counter. The closed space makes this feel...comfortable, and secure. Almost like a secret, just for me.

  Of course, that's not how it is. Far from it. But it was a nice thought.

  "Hello," Brewster's voice makes my head turn, "how are the gyroids?"

  "They're fine!" 

  Brewster nods. "Fine, yes..."

  K.K. Slider looks up as I approach. His smile is mellow; just the surface of his never-ending maturity and coolness!

  "Hey. Nice to see you again. Don't tell anyone, but I'm taking requests. So if you got a favorite oldie you wanna hear, go ahead and belt it out. Or if you want, tell me how you're feeling, and I'll pick a song for ya."

  "Well..." Hm. How am I feeling right now? "Pretty good, I guess. Got anything upbeat?"

  "Sure do. Go ahead an' take a seat."

  Nice! Pulling up my usual chair, I take a seat and smile at K.K. Slider, drumming my fingers in wait. I wonder what song he'll sing? Brewster turns the radio off and dims the lights.

  "Here's an upbeat tune for ya. It's called K.K. Parade."

  K.K Parade? It sounds familiar...

  He sings the first few notes, rising in pitch. Of course. I know where I heard this before.

  Roald used to play this all the time in his house.

  My heart is heavy with a...strange feeling. It feels like a mixture of sadness, and...what else? Regret, maybe? Longing? Reminisce?

  Yeah, I think that's it. My heart's heavy with memories. Roald and I were this close! Like best buddies! Impromptu fashion shows and wading in the ocean...fishing for trash and jamming out to his songs...drawing pictures in the dirt and playing hide and seek... god, I miss it. I miss him.

  Always so full of energy and weird like me. He was up for basically anything and just...loved doing things. I miss that.

  I'm tearing up. Tears stinging in my eyes and threatening to fall. I must look pretty strange right now. It's such a happy song...and maybe that's why I'm smiling. This song carries bittersweet memories. And knowing K.K. Slider, he'll let me keep a copy of it. Kinda like having a piece of Roald with me.

  K.K. Slider holds out a particularly long note, and finishes the song. The lights come back. 

  "Thanks for listening. Check it out- I slipped a copy of K.K. Parade in your pockets. Just put it in your place and you can jam out to my tunes anytime. Peace."

  My hand goes to my pocket. There's a disc in there, unsurprisingly. Still, how does he always do that? I smile to myself.

  My cup of coffee can wait. I still want to just sit here, and stew in my emotions for a bit. It's nice listening to that song again. And Roald may have left, but we're still friends. Maybe I'll see him in the city one day, or he'll move back to town. Unlikely, but I can dream.

  And Roald's out there living his best life. Making new friends, trying new things, and exploring the world. My heart's a bit lighter in my chest.

  Guess it's about time to get back to work. There's still flowers to water and fruits to pick. Can't be sad forever. Wiping the tears from my eyes, I get up and push in my chair. Time for that coffee.

Chapter Text

"H-Hey, Cigarette?"

  "Hm?" Cigarette turned around. Shoe stood there, and his gaze was flighty. He kept trying to make eye contact, but tore his gaze away not a second later. It was unlike him. "You...look pretty nervous."

  "Oh...you noticed?" Shoe chuckled awkwardly. "Yeah, I look like a mess right now."

  "Well, there's no need to be nervous," Cigarette smiled, "you can tell me anything."

  Shoe nodded. "Well then, I guess... We've been friends for a few months now, haven't we? And you've helped me become a better person and learn how to make friends, but you've always been my first and closest friend. You mean everything to me!"

  Cigarette blushed. "O-Oh, really? Well...thank you..." 

  "Yeah..." Shoe stepped a little closer. "But then, I started feeling things for you, and I got scared! Because...because I was so worried that if you didn't feel the same way, I would lose you and be alone again..."

  "Feelings?" Cigarette interjected. "You mean like...love?"

  Shoe pursed his lips. "Yeah... You don't...have to accept or anything. Y-You know what," Shoe turned around, "I'll just leave..."

  "Shoe, wait!"

  Cigarette had shouted without really thinking. Shoe faced her with big, hopeful eyes.

  "...yeah?"

  Cigarette didn't have feelings for Shoe. Shoe was a great friend and all, and was becoming a better person. Cigarette trusted him enough to tell him she was transgender, and he accepted her. Despite the years trapped in the strange bouncy castle of losers, Cigarette and Shoe made many nice memories together.

  But Shoe was only a close friend. Nothing more.

  Still, Shoe was lonely. Despite having made up with most of the other contestants, Shoe didn't talk to anyone but Cigarette. She sensed that she was the only one who was willing to put the past behind her. And if she were to reject Shoe now...

  "I- Yeah! Let's be in a relationship!" Cigarette plastered on a grin. She just couldn't hurt Shoe like that. And maybe she'd grow feelings for him throughout the relationship!

  And if she didn't...she would have to cross that bridge when she got to it. Unease grew in her stomach.

  It still felt wrong.

  "R-Really!?" Shoe grinned ear to ear. "You don't know how much this means to me, Cigarette! Thank you!" He kissed Cigarette on the cheek and her face went hot. 

  "Y-Yeah... you're welcome?"

  Shoe snickered and nuzzled up to Cigarette, whose feelings were a mess of relief and guilt.

~☆~ 

  It was a clear night, and the stars twinkled down from above. Two months had passed since Shoe's confession, and he and Cigarette laid closely together and gazed at the dark sky.

  "It's actually really easy when you know what you're looking for. Those three stars are his belt."

  "Ehh..." Cigarette squinted her eyes. "I still don't see it."

  Shoe laughed. "You're so silly, Cigarette."

  Cigarette had to admit, nights like these were really nice. It was just her and Shoe, who she felt was the only one who really understood her. She felt as if they were cut from the same cloth- and Cigarette had to admit, she was a bit of a hypocrite. She was awfully standoffish with strangers and acquaintances, but didn't make any effort to change herself.

  Friends didn't come easy, either. And her identity was sometimes a cause for conflict. It was difficult having the stature and voice of a female, but the rough personality of a male. Comments along the lines of 'you sure don't act like a girl' were all too common.

  She frowned. "Hey, Shoe? I gotta vent for a bit."

  "You can tell me anything."

  Cigarette took a deep breath in, and light smoke trailed out. "Ehh, I was just thinking some stuff...about who I am. People judge me way too quickly. They see me and either think I'm some girly wimp or a stupid tough guy, and I'm just..." Cigarette sighed, "really tired of it. I wish people wouldn't make stupid assumptions all the time."

  "You're not...talking about people like me, are you?" 

  "Well-" Cigarette caught herself before saying too much. "I mean, in the beginning, yeah, but you've changed now. I know you accept me."

  "And I do," Shoe said, and kissed Cigarette's cheek. "But those other people sound like real meanies."

  Cigarette cracked a smile. "Yeah, they are."

  "You shouldn't care about those people. You're too good for them."

  "I know." Cigarette's voice dropped to a low whisper. "But it still kinda hurts."

  Silence passed. Cigarette didn't feel any better, but at least it was off her chest. At least Shoe listened.

  "Hey, Cigarette?"

  "Hm?"

  "What do you think about running away together? Away from everyone who judges us. We can be happy together, just you and me."

  Cigarette hesitated before answering. "You serious? I mean- it'd be nice, but-" she laughed awkwardly, "do you even have a plan?"

  "We'll make it up as we go." Shoe's eyes twinkled with enthusiasm. "And we'll go anywhere! Think about it, Cigarette!" Shoe turned to face her. "Away from all the- the naysayers and the people who hurt you. It'll be an adventure, just like you've always wanted, with the person you love the most. Doesn't that sound amazing?"

  "It really does, but that's not a plan," Cigarette countered. "It doesn't sound all that stable. Where would we live? How do we get the funds for this? There's too many open ends, and... it doesn't make me feel secure."

  "It'll be like a giant camping trip! You've always wanted to go camping, haven't you? We'll sleep under the stars and eventually land at a house by a lake, and we'll live there, together! We'll get jobs, and sure, it'll be hard, but we'll have each other, and that's all that matters!"

  "But it's not-!" Cigarette stopped herself when she realized her voice was raised. "Sorry. It's just not secure enough. I can't-"

  "Not enough?"

  Her poor word choice speared Cigarette back in her heart. "I- That's not what I meant, Shoe. I just can't follow through if I don't know how we do this in the first place!"

  "So you think the money is the problem?"

  Cigarette nodded. "Yeah."

  "Then..." Shoe's eyes lit up again. "It's a stretch, but...what if we steal the prize?"

  "Are you-!?" Cigarette stopped herself again. "We can't do that!" she hissed, "what if we get caught? I don't want to go to jail!"

  "Cigarette, listen to me." Shoe cupped Cigarette's cheek in his foot. "You trust me, right? You love me, right? I wouldn't be saying all of this if I didn't love you. In fact- I'll do it by myself if I have to. Just for you."

  "Don't- Don't say that. I trust and love you, but you can't do that!" Guilt and shame filled Cigarette's head. "I don't want you to get caught because of me."

  "Then do it with me, because I can't do it without you. This is for our happiness- your happiness! So? What do you say?"

  Cigarette couldn't answer immediately. It was a massive leap of faith- something she had never quite trusted anyone with. But if this worked like Shoe said, she'd be living her best life. It was like one of those cheesy romantic movies.

  She mentally scoffed at the irony. She hated those movies.

  But with Shoe by her side, she could do anything. He was ultra-smart, and capable of anything he put his mind to.

  "Cigarette...I only need you. I need you, more than ever."

  He needed her. That's the only thing he ever asked of her. He had no one else but her. And she couldn't very well just leave him.

  And they'd be happy together. That's all Cigarette could've wanted.

  "I'm in."

  She really did love him.

~☆~

  "So, a little birdie told me that on the day of the finale, everyone will be gathered at the competition grounds."

  "We're finally gonna be let out of this dump? Sweet relief!" Cigarette bounced on the floor. Shoe beamed at her.

  "Yep! Anyway, I was thinking we-"

  "Hey, Cigarette?" a third voice butted in. Shoe and Cigarette looked up to see Hammer. "I gotta borrow you for a sec."

  "Can it wait? I'm kinda in the middle of something."

  Hammer glanced at Shoe. "No. It's really important."

  "Okay, fine," Cigarette sighed as she stood up. "Sorry, Shoe. Be back soon!"

  "Don't take too long!" Shoe called out after the pair as they bounced to a more private area of the bouncy castle. He shot a glare after Hammer.

  Hammer sighed as he sat down next to Cigarette. "I'm gonna get straight to the point. You can't trust Shoe."

  For a moment, Cigarette was speechless. "...Seriously? That's what you wanted to tell me?"

  "Hear me out!" Hammer whispered. His eyes darted to Shoe, who Hammer swore was watching them. "And keep your voice down. I wanted to say something sooner, but you looked happy with him, so I didn't say anything. But I heard it from everyone on Team Cool, and you're in danger-"

  "How am I in danger? I'm already eliminated."

  "Just-!" Hammer put his finger over his lips. "I don't know how, but it's all because of Shoe. He's the one who's been making the team lose!"

  "What!?" Cigarette hissed, "that's stupid! He wouldn't do that! Besides, he-"

  "He made a robot and replaced Banana!"

  "And where's your proof!?"

  Hammer gripped his head. "Ask anyone on Team Cool! You can't trust Shoe, okay? You have to believe me!"

  "And why should I trust you!? After everything you said about me!"

  "For the last time, I have no idea what you're talking about! Didn't you say you were willing to put it behind you?"

  "You know what," Cigarette turned away, "I'm done listening to you, jerk. I was right the first time, you just want to tear me apart!"

  Hammer clenched his fists in frustration. "Fine then! Don't say I didn't warn you," he said in a low voice. Wardrobe walked over to Hammer while Cigarette stomped over to Shoe. Smoke billowed out of her.

  "What happened?" Shoe asked as Cigarette sat down again, "did he say something mean?"

  "Said some stuff about you being a danger to me," Cigarette scoffed. "He's probably just judging you."

  "Okay," Shoe nodded. He frowned. "Sorry I caused you trouble. You fought with Hammer because of me... Why can't everyone just get along?"

  Cigarette sighed. "It's not your fault at all! And I don't care what Hammer thinks, anway. And hey," she nudged him, "all the more reason for us to get out of here, right?"

  Shoe smiled. "Yeah! So, back to what I was saying before..."

~☆~

  The day of the finale had finally arrived. Excitement swirled about the air, and all of the eliminated contestants cheered for their favorite finalist as they sat on bleachers. All eyes were on the final two.

  Meanwhile, Cigarette and Shoe hid behind a bush, close to the briefcase where the million dollars were stashed. Shoe could almost taste it, the victory he was robbed of from the very beginning. 

  But he wasn't sure if it was adrenaline, or apprehension. 

  He couldn't back down now. This was his moment.

  "You know the plan, right?" he whispered to Cigarette. She nodded, with a twinkle in her eyes.

  "I wait for your signal, grab the case, and get out. We got this in the bag!"

  "Right. But be careful," he found himself warning her. Did that just come out of his mouth?

  "You too," she said, and kissed his cheek. "Good luck." 

  With that, Cigarette ran off. Shoe watched after her, and fear knotted his stomach. What was he feeling? His plan was foolproof, there was no way Cigarette could mess it up!

  But what if she did? What if she got caught, and got in trouble? Shoe shook his head and muttered under his breath. It didn't matter. He'd use the distraction and make away with the million anyway.

  Then he would leave Cigarette to deal with the consequences. Why did that sound wrong to him? This was always his plan. He didn't love her. She was just a mindless, witless pawn in his game. A pawn that continously went to all lengths to serve him, and keep him company, and wasted her time trying to make him a 'better' person.

  She was stupid. And she had played his game perfectly. Why didn't he feel joy?

  There was no way he cared about her, right? The months they had spent together in their fake relationship meant nothing to Shoe. 

  Shoe looked down at the smoke bomb. When he left her, what would he do with the money? He'd get rich, sure, but he honestly forgot what life felt like without Cigarette by his side. What was all the money for? What was he trying to accomplish? It meant nothing without...

  ...without Cigarette. 

  He was going to hurt her. How bad was it going to be? And Shoe felt hurt, too.

  Empathy? Was that empathy he felt? 

  Oh god.

  He couldn't let this happen.

  "Cigarette!" he hissed, and jogged to where Cigarette was hiding. "Cigarette! We can't do this, I'm calling it off."

  "Where have you been?! And- don't we need this money?"

  "Uh-" Shoe paused. They did need the million. The house by the lake, nearby a nice town where they could start fresh. That's the future Shoe wanted, for himself and Cigarette. "Right, sorry. Take it and let's go!"

  Cigarette nodded, gripped the handle of the briefcase in her mouth, and pulled.

  The briefcase scraped the platform it laid on with a terrible sound. Microphone immediately looked to his side and saw Cigarette.

  Shoe's heart stopped in his chest. He forgot the smoke bomb.

  "What do you think you're doing!?" he yelled. His voice stopped the spectators and finalists in their tracks, and they turned to look at Cigarette, who was the only one visible to everyone. Her breath was ragged, as she could only stare back with wide, guilty eyes.

  Her gaze locked with Hammer. He was grim, yet...sympathetic.

  "I'm calling the police," Microphone said, and grabbed the briefcase out of Cigarette's mouth. She winced, her teeth stung from the force. "Somebody, hold her down!"

  "Wait!" Shoe found his voice as Trophy started to move. "Don't arrest her! Arrest me! I was the one behind this!"

  "You!" Trophy spat. The rest of Team Cool regarded Shoe with disgust. "You dragged an innocent person into your revenge game, too!? Especially Cigarette! I thought you two hated each other!"

  "He told me all about it while we were eliminated. Shoe just wanted us to be happy!" Cigarette spat back. "People like you only make him feel more lonely! It's not his fault!"

  "Wh-" Trophy stared at Cigarette, dumbfounded. She glanced at Tulip, who looked just as confused as her. "I have no idea what you're talking about. He's a villain, Cigarette! He was the traitor who made us lose every challenge!"

  "You're lying! Stop-"

  "He was the one who got you eliminated! He replaced your drawing with a crappy one, just so you'd lose!" Trophy screeched, then turned, fuming, to Shoe. "You lied to her, didn't you? Tell her the truth, Shoe!"

  Tulip and Hearty brought Trophy's arms down. Trophy panted, her glare still set on Shoe. Cigarette's gaze also landed on Shoe- who looked awfully guilty- and her faith in him wavered.

  "...Shoe?"

  He only stared at the ground. No matter how much he didn't want to be in this mess, he was the one who made it. It was definitely karma.

  "I...I'm sorry, Cigarette. Trophy's right. I was the one who messed up your drawing, and the team."

  "Well- I don't care about that anymore. The drawing doesn't matter, so-"

  "That's not all!" Shoe burst out. "I- Cigarette, I used you! I wanted the money to myself, and- and I made this whole plan, and I tricked you! But I realized you don't deserve that! And...I'm sorry."

  Shoe was met with silence: the worst answer. Then he noticed the tears in Cigarette's eyes.

  "So...it- it was all a lie? Y-You don't...love me?"

  "I..." Shoe didn't know how to respond. And he didn't get the chance to. The police came in, and Microphone gestured to Shoe and Cigarette while he explained the situation. The two were swiftly leg-cuffed and escorted to the police car.

  "...it doesn't matter, anyways," Cigarette said lowly. "We're done."

  Shoe bobbed his head. His heart ached, but he knew he deserved it. He deserved whatever was coming to him.

Chapter Text

  "Wow, you actually quit?"

  "I did! And honestly, I don't think I've ever felt better!"

  Soap rested her hand on Microphone's shoulder as she grinned. "Well, I'm glad! Show them who's boss!" Soap punched the air and Microphone laughed.

  "I'm glad, too. I feel so relieved now," Microphone sighed, and flopped onto Soap's bed. "It's like a huuuuge weight has been lifted from my chest, y'know?"

  "I know exactly how that feels," Soap plopped down next to Microphone, "I'm glad you've found your peace. Now get ready for the dramas of Hotel OJ life."

  "No," Microphone said sarcastically, "you're kidding? Not after that mess."

  Soap nodded. "Oh yeah. Tales of unrequited love and bitter tension between old rivals," Soap clenched her fists and brought them to her chest. "Conflict and passion intertwine! Oh, it's too much for a girl to bear!" she cried out, and raised a hand to her head dramatically. Microphone pfted and rolled her eyes.

  "Oh, how will I ever manage?"

  "In all seriousness," Soap sat back up, "it isn't all that bad. I'm sure you'll be fine."

  Microphone cracked a smile. "Thanks. Although, I'm a bit nervous that I'm sharing a room with Test Tube..." she fiddled with her fingers. 

Soap stared at Microphone incredulously. "Seriously?! OJ couldn't put you with anyone else?"

  "Noo..." Microphone dragged out the 'o', and clicked her tongue. 

  "Well..." Soap pursed her lips, "who knows? Maybe it'll give you the chance to settle your differences!"

  Microphone chuckled. "Yeah, maybe. She'll get over it. I hope."

  "She's a nice person. I'm sure she will."

  "Ha, you should see her when she's angry. It's kinda scary, honestly."

  "Maybe I should game with her sometime, then," Soap looked into the distance, "see that anger for myself."

  Microphone snorted. "Good luck."

  From there, the conversation jumped from topic to topic, further away from Inanimate Insanity. It wasn't visible, but Microphone couldn't help but feel a little guilty. Soap always told her to listen to her heart. And she did- eventually. But she wasted so much time.

  And Microphone felt she let Soap down, in that manner. And maybe Soap might not have even remembered, but Microphone sure did. And she needed to know how Soap felt. She needed advice and closure. Or maybe she just wanted some comforting words.

  "Soap? Sorry to jump topics here, but, remember what you told me? You know, when you were eliminated?"

  "To 'listen to your heart'?" Soap nodded. "Yeah, what of it?"

  "Well, uh-" Microphone scratched the back of her head. "I didn't exactly quit because I didn't want to do the show anymore. I mean- I didn't want to do it anymore, but that wasn't the whole reason."

  "Ohh-kay? Continue."

  "You see... my head and my heart were telling me different things. The voice...in my head...knew how to play. And it told me to do terrible things that I didn't want to do! But it was the only way to...survive, right? Or at least..." Microphone sighed, "I thought it was. And I had enough of it. It never felt like real victory, because...I- I hurt... a lot of people. And I never wanted that. So I quit."

  Soap was near speechless. "O-Oh... well, you did what was right in the end, didn't you? We all make mistakes, Mic, but what matters is that we try to fix them!"

  "I guess you're right... but I just wasted so much of my time doing these things that kept me up at night! I wish I listened to my heart sooner," Microphone groaned. "I literally did the exact opposite thing you told me to do," she looked up at Soap, "I...pretty much failed you."

  "Hey! Don't you dare say that." Soap crossed her arms. "What matters to me is that you're here, being who you are, rather than out there," she pointed to the window, "being someone you're not. The Mic I know is no failure, and what you did for yourself proves it."

  "But-"

  "Abuh buh buh!" Soap wagged her finger, "no buts! In fact-" Soap slapped Microphone. "Pull yourself together, woman!"

  Microphone winced and rubbed her cheek as Soap looked at her with an almost smug expression. "Well? That's what you said to me, remember?"

  "Yeah," Microphone grimaced, "I remember."

  "Good!" Soap jumped off the bed. "So, are you gonna sit here feeling sorry for yourself, or are you going to do something about it?"

  Microphone smiled and slid off the bed as well. "I say...start by apologizing to the people I hurt. Starting with Test Tube."

  "That's the spirit! Let's go!" Soap started towards the door, but Microphone put a hand on her shoulder. 

  "Actually, I wanted to say thank you, firstly. You're a great friend, Soap."

  Soap beamed. "Aw, thank you! Now," she grabbed Microphone's arm, "let's go!"

Chapter Text

Liy collapsed to the ground and laid there. She wasn't unconscious or anything, just immensely sore from everything she had done today. First, it was Pillow who shook her awake at three in the morning to tell her about her crazy conspiracy theories. It was five when she was done, so Liy had an early start to her day. 

  Then on her wake up walk, she had to save Firey from accidentally falling into water. Everything after that was just a mess of preventing death after death. It was a very death-prone day, apparently. And Liy had just completed an excruciating rescue mission. Gelatin and Naily had somehow gotten themselves stuck on a cliff doing shenanigans, and Liy's arms burned from climbing.

  'And it's only four p.m.!'

  She just wanted to go to sleep. A little outdoor nap couldn't hurt. Liy breathed in deeply, and the short grass scratched at her face.

  A familiar 'click-thump' approached her, louder and louder each time. Liy sighed irritability. 

  "Go. Away."

  "Oh, guess you're not dead," Stapy shrugged, "shame."

  Liy didn't bother flipping over to face him. "Four would just bring me back, idiot. What are you doing here, anyway?"

  "I saw you lying on the ground like you were dead and wanted to see."

  "I'm flattered," Liy groaned. "Now go away. I'm sleeping."

  "But it's four in the afternoon? You're kidding, right?" Stapy hopped around Liy to face her, and cringed at her tired face and baggy eyes. "Oh. Yikes. You look like a disaster."

  Liy looked up at Stapy and squinted her eyes. His eyes were scrunched up and his mouth pulled into a grimace. The metal pusher glinted in the light. He looked...concerned? Or maybe disturbed. Possibly both.

  "I've been running around all week. Barely any sleep. Super tired. Now shoo."

  Stapy frowned. "At least don't sleep on the ground? I know you don't have standards, but this is just really low."

  "I'm literally too tired to move," Liy deadpanned. "Besides, why do you care? Thought you hated me or something."

  "Well-" Stapy hesitated, "Obviously, yeah, but have you seen yourself? Even I'd feel bad just leaving you here."

  "It's not your business." Liy closed her eyes. "Now go away, 'kay? Let me sleep if you care about me."

  Stapy sighed. There wasn't any use arguing with a tired- and possibly delirious- person. Especially Liy. Fighting with her was basically arguing in circles. He'd get her team to carry her to bed.

  With that, he went off to find a member of Death P.A.C.T..

~☆~

 

  'Are you okay?'

 

  'Yeah.'

 

  'Hang on to me.'

 

  A lion crept around the corner. It had a lovely woven carpet hanging from its back, with simple purple and red patterns, outlined with bright gold. And it felt safe. Liy climbed up and hugged the lion's neck, and her partner climbed up after her. With a graceful leap, they were soaring, and climbed higher into the sky. Above the trees and buildings, and cars, and lights. They flew all the way to the endless ocean, with the sky and clouds above them.

 

  Liy was weightless. It was almost like she was holding on to nothing. And she could only gaze as the air got colder, with her arms wrapped around the lion's fur.

 

  'I'll catch you if you fall. I'm here for you.'

 

  She leaned back into her companion. Her lifeline. He saved her. His thumb stroked her side, and Liy closed her eyes and smiled. Her head was empty, but he was warm. Warmer than anything she ever knew. She could see his warm smile and eyes, full of his love and concern. Those very same, soft eyes...

 

  Liy cracked her eyes open in the darkness. Where was she? Her bed? And why was she here? What time was it? She knew she had a clock somewhere, and her hand slid across her bedside table until she found it. Liy held it up in front of her face and squinted past the blue light.

 

  'Four o' three? Are you serious?'

 

  She put the clock back and turned over. She didn't want to get up just yet. Her questions would have to be answered later.

 

  But what was that weird dream? Did it mean anything, or was it just a dream?

 

  The first thing that came to her mind was Stapy...for some reason. Liy furrowed her eyebrows. The other person in the dream...couldn't be Stapy, right? There was just no way. Stapy didn't make her feel that way. No way. She didn't even like him.

 

  Liy turned to the ceiling. But there was something about that prospect that was...exciting? Comforting? To be held by him and looked at with soft eyes? To be cared about, and be able to show her vulnerabilities?


  Heat rushed to her face, and it was all too hot.

  'Oh, hell no.'

~☆~


  It wasn't even four a.m. the next day. It was four a.m. the day after that. Liy didn't remember getting up, but she apparently did, just to get something to eat, and then promptly returned to bed. She felt very well-rested, though. The rest of her team all said she was a disaster when she came in.

  And apparently Stapy had come in to check on her. Liy thought it would be courteous to tell him she was okay.

  'And maybe sort out these stupid feelings, too.'

  The thought of Stapy drove a mad blush to her face. Why these weird feelings all of a sudden? Her hands warmed up and she was uncomfortably hot. Was it a side effect of the delirium? Whatever the reason, she couldn't bear to think of it. Thinking of Stapy was a waste of time and energy.

  Liy eventually spotted him by Foldy's side. They talked and laughed as they always did. 

  "Stapy. I need to talk to you."

  "Uh-" Stapy's eyes flitted from Liy to Foldy. He couldn't even give an answer before Foldy protested.

  "What for? What's going on here?"

  Liy frowned. "None of your business. Stay out of it, Foldy."

  "Uh, no? Whatever business you have with Stapy, you have with me."

  "Wait, Foldy," Stapy put his hands up. "Liy's right for once. This is between me and her. Sorry."

  Foldy didn't look reassured, but her unsure eyes and tightened lips showed conflict. She eventually gave in. "Okay... but try not to take too long."

  Stapy nodded, and hopped away to catch up to Liy. They stopped once Liy was certain they were out of earshot.

  "So? What do you want?"

  She was with him. Alone. That feeling, deep within her stomach and chest, flared up again. Her gut felt heavy, twisted into knots, and she was certain she glowed with heat. It was like a fever. But she couldn't think about that now.

  Liy put her fists on her hips. "An explanation? What were you doing, 'checking on me'?"

  "A thank you would've been nice," Stapy grumbled. "Look, I just got worried. You seriously looked like you were dead."

  "Whatever. Just stay away from me and stay out of my business."

  Stapy glared at her. "What the fulcrum is your problem? I worry for your well-being, and I'm the bad guy?"

Liy flinched. "Well- But you hate me! I-Is this blackmail?"

  "What?! No! I really did get worried! And-" Stapy stopped himself, and somehow turned even redder. He glanced away. "I'm not... sure if I hate you anymore."

  "....what."

  "Don- Don't get the wrong idea or anything," Stapy pinched at his lip, "it's just seeing you vulnerable like that makes me... wait, no, that sounds wrong..." he mumbled. "I just, maybe realized you're not a bad person."

  Liy was speechless. Somehow she felt even hotter than before. And tense. Tense, and hot, and she fumbled over her words.

  "U-Um..." She struggled to find words. "Okay? Th-thanks?"

  Stapy's face changed. He had the same expression from the last time she saw him; the very last thing she saw before going to sleep. 

  Almost the same one from her dream.

  "You okay? Your face is really red..." Stapy reached out to Liy.

  "Don't touch me!" Liy turned and swiped his hand away. She wasn't usually so sensitive. Being around Stapy was incredibly bad for her.

  And she knew why. It was intuition. She just knew

  But she couldn't admit it. It wasn't possible. She had to be wrong, because if she wasn't...why? And how? There were too many questions, and for once, Liy didn't want answers to any of them.

  "Sorry. Jeez."

  But her curiosity pulled her like a magnet. Unknown territory excited her, and she couldn't ignore her instincts. Liy knew the questions, and a few answers. Where would it take her? What would happen if she just went for it?

  "...hey, Stapy?"

  "Wh- Yeah?"

  "I've been having weird feelings around you. I think I even dreamed about you. And hearing you say you were worried about me..." Liy paused. Her confidence fizzled at that point. She definitely couldn't say something cheesy like 'made my heart soar' or something. And she couldn't reveal her exact feelings. It made her nervous. "I want to make sure this feeling is real, y'know?"

  It was Stapy's turn to be speechless. Liy didn't sound like herself- not to mention the complete 180 in her demeanor. 

  "Are you- asking...me out on a date?"

  He cringed immediately. 

  "No! What the flip is wrong with you!?" Liy returned to her usual self instantly. "It's just an invitation to hang out, or something like that."

  "Well then don't word it like that! Don't say things like 'weird feelings', you're giving me the wrong idea!"

  "Okay- whatever! Just-" Liy turned away. "Talk. Later. Okay?"

  "Ohhhkay. See ya, I guess." Stapy turned and hopped away. 

  Liy turned to watch him go. The feeling, stronger than before, appeared out of nowhere and crawled its way up her arms and to her face. Goosebumps and red cheeks.

  She really hoped her intuition was right.

Chapter Text

One deep breath in. Shoulders coiled back, chest puffed out- the warm, heavenly aromas of fresh baked bread. The cooking fire still blazing in the back, the poker and oven spatula cooling against the brick wall. A flour-stained apron, and flour still sticking to his hands, with its faint, starchy smell.

  A loaf of bread, fresh from the bread oven, sits on a wooden table, still smoking from the heat. The smoke drifts out towards the window, carrying with it the essence of the bakery itself. 

  It was the scent of home and security. Like a big, warm hug, or the touch of a soft, old blanket. The wooden walls are embedded with it, even when the fires are long dead. 

  Outside the window, people bustle about. Carts rattle on the cobblestone roads, and children horse around with each other. Ladies talk of their husbands and the latest news, and the men joke as they go to work. The morning sun casts long shadows on the ground, offering plenty of shade on the street.

  The baker holds the warm bread in his hands like he would a baby bird. His palms lay flat, and his thumbs brush the bread's top. He backs out of the bakery, and sets a brisk pace to the forge, which is just next door. The air around the forge is always warm, with the scent of manly smoke.

  A loud clang rings in the baker's ears, but he's used to it. Still, the sound of metal against metal rattles in his head and teeth. 

  He walks in and makes his presence known with a friendly shout. The blacksmith turns and smiles, his complexion dark by nature, and from the sweltering fires he works in front of all day. His body is muscular, but not bulging. Large enough to feel the sharp contours, but not so large that he looks threatening. He always has a shine to his skin.

  And despite the harsh nature of his occupation, the blacksmith's dark chocolate eyes are gentle; reassuring. They're like a promise to protect those who are close to him. An understanding that the natural is beautiful, and to live in harmony with it is the peak of mankind. The balance of life itself hangs in his eyes.

  His dreads are always done in a short ponytail, which leaves his sharp head shape very exposed. His stance is straight and tall, but it sometimes slips in casual life. He strides to the baker, his calloused hands held out.

  For a moment, their hands touch, as they always do during their exchange. The baker is careful to look just below the blacksmith's eyes, as to not freeze up under his gaze. For a pair of hands so scarred and rough, with tough skin built from years of smithing, hands with the texture of rocky cliffs, his touch is gentle.

  Like a butterfly landing on his fingertips, the baker takes the moment to soak in the beauty of it. Out of all people, the butterfly chooses him to land on. Though his hands are still dirty with flour and bread dough, the butterfly lingers on him, in a moment of pure wonder.

  And he sinks when it's over. The blacksmith's fingers brush the baker's in goodbye, and the blacksmith graciously thanks him. They pass their time with short conversation between bites of soft bread, before starting their work day.

  The next morning, before dawn even breaks, the blacksmith enters the bakery. In his hands is a small dagger, hiding in its sheath. His skin shines, and the ponytail is rather loose. He hands it to the baker in a ceremonious fashion, telling him it's for protection. 

  With trembling hands, the baker scoops the dagger up, afraid to ruin something so perfect. Silently, the dagger slides out of its sheath, and the moonlight gives it a slight glint.

  Even in the darkness, the intricacy is clear. With ornate patterns of flowers and leaves, teardrops and flames, it's so much more complicated and beautiful than anything the baker's seen. It's so much more complicated and beautiful than anything the blacksmith has ever made.

  Their eyes drift to each other. Both brown, one darker than the other. And in that instant, they know their feelings for one another. The reason why the dagger was made. The reason for the daily gift of freshly baked bread. The reason for their lingering touches and the heavy air when they part.

  The blacksmith lifts the baker's chin smoothly, slowly. He leans in, and the baker meets him halfway. They step closer together and embrace, safe in each other's arms. Only their lips meet, but it lingers like sweet chocolate. It feels safe. It feels like love.

  Though time passes, and the townsfolk wonder why the men haven't found wives, their relationship remains secret. Sacred to only them. Neither of them mind; content with what they have, and content with each other. And in the end, it's the only thing that matters to them.

Chapter Text

"I'm just saying, I have no idea what you see in him," Casey shrugs. "He's such a stick in the mud."

"He's nice! You should get to know him better. I think you two could be good friends!" I say. There's also the fact that you annoy him a lot, but I can't say that to your face!

"Whatever." Casey twirls her ponytail. "Where is he, anyway? I wanna go home, already. Can't we leave without him?"

He is awfully late... "I'm sure he just got hung up somewhere," I tug on my backpack strap, "he'll be here soon."

"Eh," is Casey's only response. I really don't want to keep her waiting...but I don't want to leave without Snowglobe, either. Maybe just ten more minutes... My backpack slides off my shoulders, and I take out my phone. It's only two-fourty... My shoulders drop in a soundless sigh.

"I'm here! Sorry, Popcorn!" That's him! My head snaps up, and Snowglobe stops right in front of me. Quickly, I put my phone back in, zip up my backpack and stand up, putting it back on my shoulders.

"About time!" Casey huffs.

"I just got stuck at my locker, jeez."

Not again! "It happens all the time, don't worry! Let's just go home."

"Then let's go!" Casey says, turning on her heel. I follow her, and- "Wait a minute!"

"What is it?" 

"What?"

Casey taps her cheek- and she groans loudly, slapping her hand on her forehead and sliding it upward. "My magic wand! I left it in the prop room!"

"Your what?"

Oh, the magic wand for the upcoming play! She must need it for practice.

"My wand! For the play? C'mon," she power walks back into the school, "let's go get it."

No choice but to follow along. I jog after her- is Snowglobe behind me? My head whips back- he's following, but just walking behind us, annoyed. I don't like that look...

"Masky! Masky, are you- Hey, I need the prop room key!" Casey hollers. Masky's saying something, but I don't know what it is... "My wand's in there! Thanks!"

Snowglobe stops right behind me. Heat blasts my body. I'm probably blushing...oh no. Think of something else, think of something else!

"C-Casey? Did- Did you find it?"

"No!" Her voice sounds far away... "Can you help me look? And Snowglobe, too!"

Snowglobe sighs. "Of course she can't find it. Let's go, then." He drops his backpack outside and walks into the room, and I do the same. It's actually a bit nerve-wracking, I've never been in here before. 

Casey is inside, digging through a box. This place was probably neater before she came in. Snowglobe opens another box, and he looks almost confused?

"So, what exactly are we looking for?"

"Magic wand. Kinda looks like a stick."

"Right," he huffs, and opens another box. I should help him.

I put my hands on the box. "Let's look together!" Our hands are really close...

"Good idea," he says, and smiles down at me. It's such a gentle smile! I wish he smiled like that more often. My mouth smiles on its own will.

Okay- I can't think about that now! I have to help Casey! I grab a few boxes, and then some more, and sift through them.

Hats, cloaks, swords- I hope those aren't real-, all kinds of costumes and accessories are here! But no magic wand, and my arms are getting tired. Snowglobe looks like he's about ready to quit.

"Obviously this isn't working," Casey shoves a box to the side, "I'm gonna ask Masky if she's seen it. Stay right here!" 

She leaves before I can say anything, and closes the door behind her. Snowglobe groans- I glance over, and he slides to the floor.

"It can't be that hard to find a magic wand."

"I mean, it's a small wand," my finger goes to my curls, "and Casey is kinda forgetful."

"Right. But somehow she remembers a small favor I owe her from six months ago."

I giggle. "She's just that kind of person." 

The space next to Snowglobe is empty... I could probably sit next to him if I wanted to. But I can't, that's too embarrassing! But standing here is really awkward, too! He wouldn't mind if I sat next to him, right? But Snowglobe likes his space, so it's probably best not to...

"Popcorn? Why don't you sit down- you've been looking pretty hard."

Oh. 

Nodding, I slide down next to him and tug on my skirt. I can't be looking indecent. The room falls silent. 

Oh. Oh no. I'm in a room alone with Snowglobe, sitting right next to him! And we're not even talking- it's so awkward! Does he even want to talk? I sneak a glance at him, with his perfectly tousled hair that he keeps in the best condition, icy blue hoodie that's faded from use, lovely brown eyes...

He's staring at me! I've been staring at him! Oh my gosh! 

My gaze shoots to the other side. "Sorry!" I blubber out. That was terrible!

"I-It's fine."

More silence. This is the worst! I can't believe I was staring at him like that...he must think I'm weird... that would be so bad! Rrgh!

Okay, positive...positive thoughts, Popcorn. He'll forget about it...maybe... it's not like it's the first time something like that has happened. Right? It's totally fine. Absolutely, positively, fine.

"It's been too long," Snowglobe gets up, "what the heck, Casey?"

I get up and follow him. He's right, it has been quite a while...also, I really want to get out of this situation...

"What the-!? It's locked!"

"Locked!?" Why would it be locked? Who locked it?! Are we going to be stuck here until morning!? 

Snowglobe bangs on the door. "Casey! Masky! Hello!? Casey, if you did this on purpose, I swear!"

"She- She probably just locked it out of habit! She'll be back!" My heart thumps in my ears. Casey says the prop room is always locked to prevent stealing, so it's just habit. She wouldn't lock us in here on purpose, and there's no way she'd leave without us. She's probably still looking for her wand.

Did she do it on purpose? She knows how I feel about Snowglobe, and now we're in a locked room together... 

Oh no. Was this her plan all this time!? Casey, why!?

"I can't believe this... Hey, is anyone there!?" Snowglobe bangs on the door some more. No one is answering. We're not gonna be trapped here, are we? I'm usually home by now... Mom and Dad are gonna be so worried! And I can't even call anyone, my phone's in my backpack!

"Snowglobe, can you call anyone?"

"My phone's in my backpack...and I'm guessing yours is, too?"

I nod. We really are stuck here! How long will it take until Casey comes back for us? How long are we gonna be trapped here? How-

"Popcorn, are you okay?" Snowglobe sits beside me. I must've sat down at some point.

"Not...not really... I just wanna go home..." My vision blurs and my eyes sting. Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry... Not in front of Snowglobe!

"Someone has to come for us eventually. Casey, or Masky...maybe even the janitor or something. It's gonna be fine."

Or maybe Casey is just outside, waiting for something to happen. But I can't make a move! Or maybe she really did forget we were here?

Snowglobe's right. Someone will come in here eventually, we just...need to wait. Yeah. It's gonna be fine.

"You're right... Thanks, Snowglobe."

"No problem. Hey, uh-" Snowglobe looks away for a moment. "You can...rest on my shoulder...i-if you want to."

I can what? Rest on...his shoulder? My stomach is tightening with butterflies..! Never thought it would happen like this...

"If that's okay with you..."

"Yeah. I'll wake you up if someone comes in."

"Okay then..." I scoot closer to him. Am I really gonna do it? Goosebumps shoot up my skin when we touch. Ah! I'm so nervous...

Carefully, I put my head on his shoulder. His hoodie is always soft...almost feels like a pillow. And his hair is touching my forehead! I've never been so close to him before, but it's so nice... I guess this is one good thing that came out of this. My eyes close.

I wouldn't mind being like this for a bit...

 

 

"Popcorn. Hey, wake up."

What? Huh? My eyes struggle open. How long has it been?

"Snowglobe? Is someone here?"

"Hey, sleepyhead!" Casey! ...my head is still on Snowglobe's shoulder!

I shoot up. Casey is squatting down, with a sheepish grin.

"Sorry I left you two here! I totally forgot you came with me, and was halfway home before I even remembered! Got my wand, though!"

"Called it."

"You be quiet!"

"Okay, please don't fight! Let's just," I stand up, "go home."

"Agreed." Snowglobe gets up and walks out. "I'll just be going ahead."

Casey taps my shoulder. "What happened here, anyway? You sleeping on his shoulder?"

"I just got tired, and he gave me permission! Don't make a big deal out of it, okay?"

We walk out of the room together and I grab my bag, placing it on my shoulders. Casey has her chin in her hand and hums.

"I dunno...maybe he said that 'cause he likes you? Hmmmm?" she leans in. No way! I push her away and laugh.

"He was just being thoughtful, nothing to it!"

"If ya say so. Let's go catch up!" she runs ahead. I run after her.

Right, because there's no way Snowglobe likes me back.

...is there?

Chapter Text

 Even on a clear day, the sky still had its pinkish tint. It was probably something in the air. But the remaining fourteen BFB contestants didn't seem to mind anymore. In fact, they had all adapted well to their new environment. Most of them could hop over the rock columns with ease, while others preferred to stay where they were.

  Life was essentially normal. Everyone missed the friends they left behind, but they all knew they'd reunite eventually. So for now, they focused on being friendly to each other. At least- as friendly as they could be in a competition. Eventually, they'd have to work against each other.

  But for now, life was peaceful.

  "-and then I died!" Gelatin said. He smiled and put his hands on his hips, as if he were proud of it.

  "Huh!" Firey snorted, "that wouldn't have happened to me!"

  "Well, whatever. Anyway, wh-"

  "Hi friendos!" Four jumped in. Gelatin and Firey flinched back, startled. "What are you two talking about?"

  "Oh, just catching up on things!" Gelatin replied with a wave of his hand.

  "Can I join?"

  Firey shifted a bit awkwardly. "Uh- no offense, Four, but we barely know you."

  "Oh." Four deflated, literally. Their nubs drooped down, and they sulked away. "I guess I'm not needed. I'll just be over here, then." They let out an incredibly drawn out sigh, and slumped against a pillar.

  Firey and Gelatin watched Four be miserable. It wasn't even the first time, either. Four's behavior had become increasingly clingy to their contestants: they always looked to spend time with them, and jumped in on conversations that clearly didn't involve them. Four even went as far as to cry out when someone had to leave them.

  Their behavior left the contestants a bit dumbfounded. None of them really knew what to do. Obviously the answer was to reassure Four, but the idea of a personal relationship with their host was off-putting to most of the contestants. Everyone did try to help Four in their own way- but it still felt strange.

  The only one with a pre-established relationship with Four was Leafy. Apparently they had become something close to friends in the EXIT. But Leafy wasn't there at the moment. 

  "We can finish catching up later," Gelatin waved. "I'll go check up on Four."

  "Yeah," Firey walked off, "see you later."

  Gelatin smiled- though Firey couldn't see it- and slid up to Four.

  "Heyyyy, Four. Wanna hang out?"

  Four wasn't responsive. Usually, they'd perk right back up like nothing ever happened. But Four had this blank, distant look in their eyes. They were almost like a statue.

  "Four? You okay, man?"

  "I want X back," they whined. "He left me all alone, and now I feel so lonely."

  Right. It was only natural to assume Four was acting the way they were because of the whole fiasco with Two. Still, everyone saw how Four pushed X away from them. As much as they felt bad for Four, many of the contestants couldn't help but think Four's situation was their own doing.

  Of course, none of them wanted to say it to their face.

  "But you have us!"

  "You guys don't even like me," Four slid down completely. "You're always having fun without me!"

  "I'm here though, aren't I?"

  Four grunted in response. "You're gonna go away too. Just like X and everyone else did!"

  Gelatin felt a retaliation bubble in his throat, but swallowed it and continued calmly. He had to be the mature one in this situation.

  "No, Four. I appreciate all the hard work you've done- so I'll stay by your side!"

  Four finally looked up at Gelatin. They hesitated for a bit, as they contemplated whether to trust Gelatin or not. After all, Gelatin was rude to them during the last elimination. Plus, he was annoying in general.

  "If you say so."

  An ambiguous response- but at least it was a start.

  "It's a promise, Four!" Gelatin held out his pinky. Four stared at the gesture blankly.

  "What are you doing?"

  "It's a pinky promise! You take your finger like this," he waved his pinky, "and we wrap 'em around each other! And you can never break a pinky promise!"

  Four copied Gelatin's gesture. They bent their pinky a few times, and wrapped it around Gelatin's. Four felt a bit of happiness, from the sheer childishness and from the making of a new friend.

  Gelatin was one of the contestants who wasn't weirded out at the prospect of befriending Four. He wasn't picky with his friends. And Gelatin had to admit, Four was cool when they weren't killing people. So he really did intend to keep his promise. Being lonely was the worst, and he knew that.

  Whether Four actually trusted him or not, Gelatin didn't really mind. All he was focused on was to be the best friend ever.

  "Now!" Gelatin unwrapped their fingers, "as friends, what do you say we spend the rest of today hanging out?"

  "Do I! Let's go hang out over there!" Four grabbed Gelatin's arm and ran off to finally have some fun.

Chapter Text

  "-and that's what you missed," I explain to the little gray zigzag. She bites the tip of her finger between her lips.

  "Wow, I can't believe Loser got eliminEIGHTed!" she yells. Her continuation of hollering the word 'eight' still boggles me. Clearly, she is not completely cured of whatever disease she contracted. Still, I suppose it can't be helped.

  "By the way Lollipop, where's Taco? I kinda want to talk to her."

  "Taco? She's gone somewhere over there," I gesture. Saw nods and waves, walking off.

  "Okay, thanks! Now where do I put this..." she inspects the drink in her hand. For her sake, I hope she finds some sort of trash can nearby. There's possibly one near the bathrooms, I believe.

  And now, with no one to talk to, I find myself alone again. But it's quite alright, silence is, more often than not, preferable to screaming every other hour of the day. Those kinds of people are exhausting to be around.

  What's this? My feet have carried me to this old tree. It looks as if it could topple over at any moment. And the wood looks absolutely horrid. Is it rotting? All of its leaves have fallen, and branches are laying haphazardly across the ground. What a sorry sight.

  Though I suppose there is good reason for being here. In its final days, this tree is quite unique. Death is a grotesque thing– I wouldn't like to experience it again– but supposedly it makes life all the more beautiful.

  Hm. I guess there is some truth to that quote I found on Objectbook after all.

  But surely one good push, or a bit of a breeze would do this tree in for good. Then I'll have to absolutely stay away from this area. It'll have a terrible stench.

  You've caught my eye, tree. An impressive feat for something so disgusting. Although, you don't have much time left. Your leaning, bent form is something to behold, though.

  A crack splits the air.

  "Lollipop look out!"

  A figure crashes into me and I slam into the ground. Headache pain. For the love of- it hurts! My hand flies to my head and I gingerly feel around...thank goodness, nothing's broken.

  "Ah! Oh my S.A.P, ow... Hey, Lollipop– uh– you...you okay?"

  Barf molecules?

  It really is her. Looks like the tree fell over, and she...pushed me out of the way? How curious for someone with such slow reflexes.

  "Yes, I'm fine. But what are you doing here? Don't you have slow reflexes?"

  "Gee, a thank you would've been nice."

  "I'm just saying, the barf molecules in your brain–"

  "My brain isn't infected with barf molecules!" she growls and stands up, much like a feral animal. "And I just saved your life! Don't you have any gratitude?"

  I suppose I can spare her a thank you. "Fine. Oh, thank you so very much for saving my life, Barf Bag. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

  "Could've done without the blatant sarcasm."

  "But really, you said it yourself. You have slow reflexes."

  She sits back down. "I guess it's become habit to...jump into danger? Or- save people from danger. Yeah. I mean, my team can get pretty rowdy at times, ha."

  Wait, what am I doing? Am I actually having a semi-intellectual conversation with Barf Bag, of all objects? Her barf molecules wouldn't allow it! In fact, I'm certain her new reckless streak just proves how empty-headed she is.

  "While I'm here, I um...want to talk to you. About something."

  "And what might that be?"

  "Okay, just," she puts her hands up, "hear me out, okay? I know we kinda hate each other and all, but I've been doing some thinking, and...you know, maybe this whole thing, between us, is childish."

  Childish? Me?

  "W-"

  "Wait wait wait!" she flails her arms around. How rude. "Let me finish! I just want a fresh start for us. I'm smarter than you think, but I can't prove anything if you keep thinking I'm stupid!"

  "But why? Why the sudden urge to 'prove yourself'? Is this an ulterior motive I'm sensing?"

  "What? No, it's nothing like that! I just want things to change. I'm tired of being so negative around you, and I don't like having enemies."

  Exactly who does she think I am? Plus, that arm fluttering earlier proves her real attitude. She'll have to try harder than that.

  "You do realize it'll take more than a simple conversation to change my attitude, right?"

  She sighs. "Thought as much. But in the meantime, can you at least try to be nicer to me?"

  Be nicer? Barf Bag here isn't exactly asking for much, and she's practically begging on her hands and knees. Though, that arm fluttering leaves some room for doubt. But, it wouldn't exactly hurt...and I almost feel sorry for her.

  "It's a deal."

Chapter Text

Rejoin. Rejoin. Rejoin.

  All that's been on Leaf's mind the past week was the rejoin. He couldn't help it. Two years had passed– two years since he'd last seen his best friend. Two years without Phone and her intelligence, without her to calm him down when he got mad, without her to talk to and be himself with.

  Sure, he had Baseball, Dynamite, and Soap Bottle. Maybe Taoism too, but he was a little iffy on that. But his friendship with Phone was just different. She was his first friend, even if he was irritated by her know-it-all attitude at first. As kind as Leaf could be, he also had an aggressive streak. Almost like a delinquent.

  But Phone...didn't care about that. She hardly cared for other people's opinions. She was headstrong, and steadfast to her principles. And Leaf eventually discovered that. They found things in each other that other people normally didn't have the patience to find.

  In their own, stupidly cliché way, they were against the world, and only had each other. That's what they felt like, anyway. Of course Leaf and Phone had turned down their strong attitudes since then, but their initial connection still remained.

  And Phone was gone. His support. Taken away from him for one mistake. His resentment towards the game threatened to boil over again. He'd heard time and time again, 'the viewers are ruthless, so you better not screw up', and he tried. He tried so hard to stay in the game that he even sacrificed his own personality, in favor of someone much nicer than him. A pushover, even. Someone claimed to have survived to the final two, with just her niceness going for her.

  It was the worst mistake of his life. Even Phone had to lecture him about it, and she made sure the lesson was ground into his brain. Every time he got hate mail for being a 'Leafy rip-off', it just made him feel all the more hurt. And angry.

  Anger got Phone eliminated. She was always a perfectionist, who found her solace in patterns and calculations. She prided herself on her intelligence, and her greatest wish was to be an educator. Her intelligence made her the best. A winner.

  Something just snapped in her. The snowman that she had put hard work into, to assure that it would win, failed. She lost. It was like a blow to her pride itself. 

  Despite her actions, Phone was a fan favorite. The viewers would give her a second chance. She had to come back. She had to.

  She had to.

  And as Leaf walked up to the infamous metal box, the one that held all the eliminated contestants, dread weighed heavy on him like a stone in his stomach. He sat on the bench, and anxiously clenched and unclenched his sweaty hands, as each contestant's name was listed off. 

  Until, it was just Sponge and Phone. Leaf swore he was about to faint. If there was a god, he prayed, used every prayer and wish-making technique he knew. Even the childish 'Starlight, Starbright' nursery rhyme he heard the Cherries use one night.

  He didn't care if it worked poorly for them. Anything was fair game at this point.

  "And the one who will rejoin...the contestant with the most votes...isssssss....drumroll please!"

  "Just hurry up already!" Soap Bottle, Leaf, and Yang all shouted. Microphone glared at them.

  "Well if you insist on being so rude, then maybe I won't say who rejoins!"

  "I don't really care-"

  "Yang! Shh!"

  Silent tension covered the area for a brief moment. Microphone sighed.

  "Thank you. Now, the person who rejoins Object Oppose, with 107 votes is...Phone!" Leaf gasped with delight. "Sponge comes in second with 77 votes. Flat Screen, bring her out!"

  With the push of a button, Phone teleported in front of the other contestants, a dazed look on her face. It didn't last for long.

  "Wh- Oh my gosh! I rejoined!?"

  "Phone!" Leaf cried out. He leaped from his seat and hugged Phone with all his might. Finally! He'd never let her go again. His best friend. His best supporter. All his anxieties melted away, and all that was important was Phone, and...how utterly glad he felt to be with her again.

  It was indescribable. Tears fell from Leaf's eyes, out of his control, with no way to stop them. He focused on the smoothness of her back, and how cool she was to the touch. Like diving into a swimming pool during a hot summer. Falling onto a soft bed after a long day. Familiarity. Comfort. Safety.

  "Leaf?"

  He hugged her tighter still. God, he missed her so much.

Chapter Text

Pink clouds stretch towards the horizon. And the ground is...bouncy? I don't think clouds are bouncy. What- Where am I? What am I doing here?

  "Oh, you're here! OwO"

  What.

  An orange...with wings? Wings. They fly down to me and take my hand.

  "Are you an angel? Am. Am I dead?"

  "You're so silly, owo! I'm just taking you to meet our master!"

  Our? Master? What in the pin factory is going on here? How did I get here in the first place? There's just so many questions!

  "Wait. Who is 'our'? And this master of yours?"

  "Us!" a chorus of voices sings out. Objects of all kinds surrounds me. Where did they come from?

  "Um–"

  Two O-shaped eyes and a W-shaped mouth appear on all of them. I...don't understand anything that's going on here. They're all staring at me so intently...am I supposed to do something? My chest is all twisty. They don't look hostile, but my gut says otherwise.

  They all turn back to normal. Thank goodness. That was pretty freaky. But what was that all about?

  "Come with us!"

  "O–Okay..?"

  I really don't think I have a choice here. My feet move of their own will and follow the strange angels. I wish they'd move out of the way though, I can hardly see in front of me!

  They fly away. Weird. Did they read my thoughts or something?

  A large dog sits on a throne. Their fur is a milky cream color, and they look just like a cloud. I think I could just melt under its stare.

  "Um...hello?"

  The dog opens its mouth and a low bark blasts my ears. Ow! I'm on my knees, trying my hardest to block out the sound but it does absolutely nothing.

  Panting. The dog is panting? Its bark still echoes in my ears as I struggle to stand up. My legs are even shaking!

  "Hewwo!! OwO"

  What–

  "Welcome to my realm! I am god here!"

  I–

  "You're pwobably really confused D:" How is it saying that with its mouth– "but no worries! Your master will take care of everything for you! OwO"

  "Wait! Stop!" I hold my hands up, "I don't think I'm supposed to be here. Sorry, but I think I'll just leave–"

  "No!! You can't! >:("

  Their voice freezes me in my tracks. "Why not?"

  "You can't leave here! :) You'll stay with me forever, Pin!"

  Wait, what? I didn't ask for this!

  Wings beat in unison. I look up. The objects...they're closing in on me! Wait, no! I don't want to be here! Why do I feel glued to the ground? Come on, move!

  "Come on, Pin! Pin! Pin!

 

 

  "Pin! Pin! Wake up!"

  Coiny? My eyes shoot open. It is him! Oh, thank goodness. Cake and Needle, too! Am I...laying on sand right now?

  I push myself up- oh! Ow, my head! What happened to me? My hand goes to my head, and the pain bites back. Is that a bruise?

  "Pin! Oh, thank goodness you're okay!" Leafy cries out. She's standing next to a net...a volleyball net, actually. A volleyball net? Sand? Were we playing volleyball?

  "How are you feeling?" Needle asks.

  "Okay, I guess? My head kinda hurts." I stop myself before I can touch the spot again. That'll just make it hurt more. But whatever happened to that dog? Was it a dream?

  "You did get knocked out pretty hard," Cake says.

  "Knocked out?"

  "I'm sorry!" Leafy says. The sand is kicked up and she's in front of me. "We were just playing volleyball, and I hit the ball too hard and it hit you!"

  "Right on the noggin, too," Coiny chimes in.

  "We all got really worried, but at least you're okay now! " Eggy says. Firey nods.

  "You are feeling okay, right? Maybe you should sit out for a while."

  "Hey, hey! No influencing members of our team!" Coiny shoots him down. Firey slaps his hand on his chest.

  "I would never!"

  Huh. I guess that was all a dream...thank goodness.

  "Yeah, I'm okay! Now let's get back to playing!"

Chapter Text

  "Beer, wait! Wait!"

  "No, Trowel I...I think I need some space. I still need to think about it."

  Trowel crossed his arms. "That's what you've been saying for the past week! I need you to answer me right now!"

  Beer shrunk back. He didn't want to look scared, but Trowel was scary whenever he got mad. And Beer was so fragile. It was a method of defense.

  "I really don't have an answer yet. Be patient with me!"

  "But you know I hate waiting. We kissed. You agreed to it. So why is it so hard?"

  "I wasn't thinking straight! Can't we just forget it happened?"

  This only made Trowel angrier. "I know you were feeling the same thing I was feeling! You didn't push me away or anything- and you were the one who put your tongue in my mouth!" Beer flinched. "So no! I certainly won't forget it! But if you're so insistent to run away-"

  "Trowel, stop!"

  Beer's voice had changed. His cry was nothing like the Beer who always sounded drunk. It was raw, clear, and full of pain. It left Trowel speechless. What was he doing? Beer was his best friend. His newfound love, even. Why would he yell at him?

  "I'm sorry, but I still have to think about it. I really need to think about this one. It's not something I want to rush into, you know?"

  Of course. And it didn't change how Trowel felt; he still wanted to be with Beer. To kiss him again and let their hands roam over each other...to have their lips, tongues, and every part of them connect, sloppy but heated with passion. But he had to consider Beer's feelings. Trowel was a friend, first.

  "Okay. I understand. But I want you to know," Trowel stepped closer, and kissed Beer's forehead. The coolness of the glass chilled his lips, followed by the slight buzz of alcohol. His heart quickened at the sensation, but he forced down the urge to do more. "I love you, okay? What happened between us was not a mistake."

  Beer nodded. "...okay."

Chapter Text

Splash!

  In the dead of night, water sprays outward and rains back into the lake. Ripples shift the moon's reflection and flee to the lakebed.

  Suitcase jolts upward. What was that?

  Like a trance, she stands up and walks to the lake. With every step she takes, her apprehension grows, the knot in her chest tightening and the gaping, empty pit in her stomach growing wider. She's aware of her own heavy breathing. It's not safe here. It's dangerous. She's in danger.

  But the lake calls to her, and she goes to it, like a stupid dog, every time. She heard something this, she heard something that. She always hears something. But when the sand crunches under her feet, she stops and watches the ripples gliding toward her.

  She really did hear something this time.

  Ripples could only mean one thing. Something is in the water. What could've fallen in, so far into the lake? A stone, or something? Or maybe it was just the wind. Nothing really out of the ordinary.

  "What are you doing here?"

  Knife. Suitcase continues to stare out at the water.

  "I heard something. Something fell into the lake."

  Knife squints his eyes. He draws a sharp breath. "Not something," panic sets in his voice, "someone!"

  Suitcase sees it immediately. Bubbles, right on the lake's surface. Oh god.

  "Wh- We have to save them!" Suitcase rushes into the lake and flinches at the sting of cold water, tingling at her legs. She shivers, forcing herself to wade deeper. Water laps at her bare leather. "C-Come on!"

  Knife sprints and dives into the water. Suitcase gulps in air, and dives down after him. A firm hand– Knife– grabs her handle and drags her along with him. Suitcase kicks her legs, trying her hardest not to be a burden. Water streams past, and she hardly knows what's around her.

  Why is someone in the lake? What happened? And– last time she was in this lake, she...

  Water stops rushing past and Suitcase, to the best of her ability, opens her eyes. It stings, but she's able to see a blurry version of Knife, trying to drag...

  Nickel!

  Suitcase gasps– and regrets it instantly. She hurries to the surface, the moonlight from above casting heavenly rays into the lake. Suitcase swims toward the light, the surface waves getting so close...

  She breaks the surface and heaves, and chokes and spits out the water she swallowed. What's Nickel, of all objects, doing in the middle of the lake!? How did he get there?

  And his face...his face didn't look like it belonged to him. He was panicked. Scared. He was thrashing about in slow motion. Suitcase didn't think he was even capable of showing those emotions. Which is a rude thing on her part, but given–

  No! What is she doing? Knife needs her down there! And Nickel...

  Maybe Nickel needs her too.

  Suitcase breathes in and dives, her movements sharp as scissors. Again, the water is a painful sting in her eyes, and her legs are starting to ache, but she can't just give up. The thought is etched into her mind, the mantra burned into her brain.

  For once in her life, Nickel actually needs her.

  And the things he did were unforgivable. Suitcase could never be able to put into words just how much he hurt her. He never trusted her, never worked with her– he never did anything a friend was supposed to do. It was never personal.

  But Suitcase wouldn't stand idly by to let him die. She's not that kind of person. Maybe it was just never meant to work out. They're polar opposites.

  Suitcase swims down to the bottom, and pushes Nickel along the sandy floor with all her might. Knife leaves to get air– she left him alone here for far too long.

  Nickel isn't supposed to be this heavy. Is he?

  The maze challenge. Nickel stood on her to get to Microphone's eye level, and while he was extra weight on her head, he wasn't what Suitcase would call heavy. He isn't waterlogged, either. Metal doesn't get waterlogged. But she swears she can see a coating of sorts, thick around his edges.

  Whatever the reason, it doesn't matter. Suitcase is set on saving Nickel from a watery grave. Sand drifts by her face. It feels like forever, and Suitcase spares a glance at the shore.

  So close. They're so close.

  She's hurting. Her muscles cry out with every movement, every step she takes brings her burning pain and aches. Every part of her is heavy with water; water that's seeped through the slightest of cracks and filled the empty space inside her. Her head pounds, and the world flashes around her. It's an all around headache, with the pressure building up and closing in on her. It's painful. It's nauseating. She's lightheaded and floating away with no anchor to hold her to the world. She's the trash in the trash compactor and expanding with the universe simultaneously. And she's floating away, higher and higher.

  And Balloon... he's calling her name...

  Suitcase coughs and hacks. The forest fire in her throat flames out of her mouth, and she vomits up water, crying and wheezing. She squeaks like a puppy in pain, and her wheezing turns into weak coughing and ragged breathing. Her head is spinning– and her mind returns just enough to register the throbbing, hammering pain in her head.

  Doubling over, Suitcase shatters under the pain shooting through her body. Her breath hitches and she shivers, legs trembling and lips quivering. But her breath is getting a bit steadier, and her mind slows down. The world is coming back into focus; the wet grass, the cool night air...what happened to her? Why is she here?

  "You okay?" someone speaks up from beside her. She struggles to place the voice, and draws a blank. She turns to see Knife, who looks at her like she almost died.

  That's exactly what happened. She almost drowned, and Knife pulled her out. 

  "I think so...thank you...for saving me." Every mouth movement feels foreign. Her tongue is numb; she could accidentally bite it at any moment. Suitcase glances back at her almost-grave. The lake...

  The lake...

  Nickel.

  "Nickel!" she cries out, "is he still down there!? We–" Suitcase dashes to the edge, the water nipping at her feet. "We have to–! Nickel! Knife, we–"

  "Suitcase." He says it like a warning. Knife gets up and walks to her side, regret trying to take a bite out of his heart. "You do realize, right? No normal object can hold their breath for that long."

  Suitcase remains quiet. She just stares out, letting the shock run its course. 

  Nickel's dead. Just like Balloon. Just like all the other victims. All of them...just gone, for an indefinite amount of time. But the shock won't let her cry. She stands there, almost forgetting physical sensation, and then a biting wind slaps at her cold spots. The night is silent.

  "Do you think he killed himself?"

  The words just spill out. She almost wants to take them back, but she knows there's no point in that.

  And if he did...could it be her fault?

  "I don't think so."

  "So...the one behind the Hotel OJ murders?"

  Knife nods. A moving figure in the distance catches his attention. Microphone is walking along the lakeside. "I'm going to ask Mic if she knows anything."

  He walks off before Suitcase can even suggest going with him. She closes her mouth and she glances at the lake again.

  She should get Nickel's body. It's the least she can do for him.

Chapter Text

A pink paper boat glides along the water, sending ripples and small waves in its wake. It rides the gust of wind, floating to whichever destination it may, until it bumps into a red paper boat. The boats drift away from each other, like a long, hesitant goodbye.

  The sight makes Flyswat almost melancholic. That boat, created only a few moments ago, just needed a little boost to get out into the pond. And when it finally found another, they were forced apart. There's a pit in his stomach, and an unspoken weight on his chest as he gazes at the drifting boat, halfway between the shore and the other group of boats.

  Those boats stick together. They always have their friends and are a pretty bright bunch, lighting the world wherever they went, and leaving waves in their wake. Waves that the little pink boat could only hope to simply feel, because he's too slow and shy to say anything.

  So he watches from a distance, with only the effects of happiness, as the waves push him farther away. They're way out of his league anyway, so he couldn't possibly bother them. 

  The red boat gave him a chance. It was so coincidental, a miracle, almost. A simple meeting, maybe even organized by the cosmos themselves, but he didn't really believe in that. It was pure, incredible chance. Chance that he met someone as friendly, outgoing, and goofy as him.

  Of course, as he returns to the shore, he really didn't deserve someone as amazing as him. He can't bring himself to do anything, he's too much of a coward. A scaredy-cat. It's his fault everything fell apart and honestly wouldn't put it past him if he forgot.

  And so he's alone like he always has been, except there's so much more to lose. And yet he still does nothing, with that pit of empty in his stomach and the strangling strain in his heart. It's like all his heartache concentrated into this poison that leaves a person hollow, and he's suffocating in it. Drowning, in his own loneliness, and self-loathing, and insecurity, and-

  "Flyswat! Answer me!"

  Flyswat remembers how to breathe again. He's shaking, and...there are tears, stinging his eyes and clinging onto his wire mesh. He's curled up on the wet grass and gripping his head so tightly, he can't tell if the pounding is from the death grip or his massive headache. The incessant beating of his heart blasts in his ears and aching chest. 

  His eyes snap up too quickly. Paper Airplane blurs and his headache grips him tighter. He can hardly tell the difference when it goes away, but Paper Airplane is shouting his name from the abyss and he comes back down to reality. There's terror in Paper Airplane's eyes, scrunched up with high eyebrows.

  "Dude, are you okay? You just started breathing super heavily out of nowhere, a-and then you curled up into a ball and started crying- I- I had no idea what to do! Are you-"

  "I'm okay," Flyswat deflects, "I just...had a moment. Sorry."

  "You sure you're okay? Do you need anything?"

  Flyswat shakes his head. "I'm fine."

  Paper Airplane hums with uncertainty, and turns back to his unfinished boat. "If you...say so?" He makes a few more precise folds, and holds the finished boat up to Flyswat. "You wanna put this one in?"

  Despite his trembling, Flyswat manages to scoop up the yellow boat in his hands. Its edges are sharp and well-defined, made with the craftsmanship of a master origami folder. The paper is still crisp.

  Flyswat gets on his stomach and lowers his hands into the water. Goosebumps seize him at its coolness. The boat bobs, and Flyswat blows on the boat, sending it on its way.

  He sighs and sits back. "I feel better now, don't worry about me." 

  Paper Airplane cracks a small smile, a bit more trusting of those words. "Okay...but if you need to get something off your chest, you can tell me."

  "Of course. Thanks, PA."

  There's so much to talk about. He wants to ask if he remembers anything from childhood. More specifically, if he remembers a small, awkward boy who stuttered over his words and apologized for everything. 

  He wants to ask about the boy who followed Paper Airplane around like a clingy puppy, because he had no other friends. He wants to ask about teaching that boy how to get out of his comfort zone. He wants to ask about the boy who became friends with him, moved, and despite promising to, never talked to him again.

  Most importantly, he wants to ask how he felt about that boy. How he felt when that boy stuck to him like his life depended on it. How he felt when that boy smiled or laughed. How he felt when that boy didn't call or text or write.

  He wants to know if he loved him. If Paper Airplane...loves him. If he means as much to Paper Airplane as Paper Airplane means to him. 

  But he can never bring it up. The thought of it makes his muscles seize and his heart pound. Maybe in the future, when he's more confident in himself, because Paper Airplane doesn't deserve someone as pathetic as him.

  So he'll just watch as Paper Airplane folds his boats, with the amount of precision and care of someone with a life on the line. And he'll watch as the boats drift into the water, mingling with other patterned or colorful boats.

  And he'll watch his little pink boat, still too shy to join the rest. In his own time, he'll find some way to speak up.

Chapter Text

"Hey, Hammer! What'cha doin' there?"

  Hammer looks up from the giant folding table. "Trying to complete this puzzle. It's kind of my new hobby."

  "Sweet." Potato sits down and stares at the various piles of color-coded puzzle pieces. In the center of the table is the frame of the puzzle, fit together like...a puzzle. The box sits on the side of the table, facing Hammer. But the thing that amazes him though, is how small all the pieces are. There's at least a thousand of them. "Why so many pieces? Looks very puzzling," he snickers.

  Hammer barely acknowledges the pun. "Well, smaller puzzles are too easy for me. I like a challenge," he says, flipping the box to face Potato. His eyes widen. There's four thousand pieces.

  Potato purses his lips and blows out air. "You look like you got your work cut out for ya. Can I help?"

  "Sure. I hope you don't mind working upside-down, though. Also- please don't force pieces that clearly don't fit together."

  "Yes, sir!" Potato does a two-finger salute, and looks at the box art. The puzzle's a painting-esque picture of a large cottage, mostly hidden by trees with red, orange, and yellow leaves. Wildflowers of blues and purples are growing nearby, and green bushes hang over the creek with mallard ducks passing underneath an arched, stone bridge. Green trees reach for the blue sky, which is clear, with the exception of a large, white, wispy cloud.

  Potato reaches for the pile which he can only assume are the sky pieces. They're all relatively the same shade of blue, except for a few pieces with darker blue lines, and white pieces which are obviously the cloud. 

  Hammer is already into his own world of work. He's done the part of the creek leading to the bridge, and has bridge pieces laying in that general area, sub-organized into the parts of the bridge, light and dark areas, and individual colors. It's impressive, but it makes Potato's head spin. How does Hammer manage all of that?

  He dismisses the thought and focuses on his own section. He takes a piece and tries to fit it to a slot, rotating it one, two, three times before moving on to the next one.

  "So, you said this is a hobby? How many of these have you done?"

  Hammer doesn't even look up. "Three. They take a long time to do."

  "Cool. Where are they?" 

  "They're framed in my room."

  Potato stops what he's doing. "You frame 'em? Aren't puzzles meant to be done like, lots of times?"

  "Maybe one hundred to two hundred piece puzzles, sure, but we're talking about the thousands. One puzzle takes me months to do."

  "Months!? Man, that must be so boring."

  "Not really." Hammer fits another piece in, and a slight smile flashes across his face. "It's stimulating, and satisfying to see the whole picture come together."

  "True, true," Potato pinches his cheek, "but you don't do them alone, right?"

  "Actually, I do. I mean, people help me sometimes, but then they decide they have better things to do," Hammer snorts. "Not that I mind. I'm sure everyone has their own thing."

  Potato nods. "Okay, I respect that. But doesn't it get boring by yourself all the time?"

  "Well, I'm not the most talkative person, anyway. And I think a lot, so I don't mind."

   "Ohhhh-kay."

  Click. Potato gives a slight jolt as his finger presses down on a puzzle piece, snapping it into place. His face lights up.

  "Hey! I got my first piece in! It just clicked!"

  Hammer finally looks up. "Wait, your first piece?" He stares at Potato's pieces, scattered all over his side of the table. "That method will take you forever. And your pieces are so messy!"

  "I mean, it's how I do things? I'm a super messy person," Potato snickers, "but it works!"

  Hammer grunts and looks back down. "I guess so...if it works for you, I don't see why not."

  Potato repeatedly smacks the table. "Dude, you are so chill. We should hang out more."

  "Well, I'll be doing the same thing tomorrow, same time. You're welcome to join me."

  "Epic."

  They continue on, Potato doing most of the talking while Hammer works and listens. One joke catches Hammer off guard and he laughs so hard, he nearly falls over.

  And the day goes on, just like that.

Chapter Text

It's the heaviest snowfall of the year. Mid-winter, late January, and earlier today it was a gentle swirl of snowflakes under a light gray blanket of clouds.

  Of course, overcast skies are always an omen of bad weather. Sometime during the mid-afternoon, snow and hail pelted down, and all the contestants fled to their team houses. Even now, near midnight, the storm is unrelenting. Snow continues to assault Trophy's frosted window as she watches the blizzard.

  Trophy still has trouble sleeping. How can she when a traitorous fiend is out to get her? When at any moment, she could be playing into the hands of the mastermind? When any member of her team could be an unwitting imposter?

  But the snow is, surprisingly, helping to soothe her thoughts. If she just focuses on the endless flurry, she doesn't have to think about anything else. Just the snow, and how beautiful it is in this moment.

  A dark figure in the distance catches Trophy's attention. She'd dismiss it as a figment of her imagination, a shadow cast by some object, but it's moving.

  And it just fell over.

  Trophy's out the door in a heartbeat, nearly tripping in the sinking snow, cold whipping at her face and stinging her arms and legs, and she bounds to the fallen object, wrapping an arm around them and helping them up.

  "Hey! Are you okay?"

  "Ngh..."

  They trudge back to the house. It's somehow farther away.

  "I'm gonna get you warm, okay? Just hang in there."

  Trophy doesn't know who she's helping until they get inside and she turns on the light. Traffic Light shivers, sending goosebumps down Trophy's body. She lets Traffic Light down on a chair.

  "Be right back. We have spare blankets!" Trophy calls out, sprinting upstairs. A moment later, she's dowstairs again, draping a thick blanket around Traffic Light's shoulders. Traffic Light pulls it tighter around herself, arms trembling.

  "...thank you," she mutters, her lips quivering as she speaks.

  "What were you doing out there? It's freezing!" Trophy jumps straight into interrogation, pacing around Traffic Light. She shrinks into the chair, pulling her legs up and wrapping the blanket even tighter. Trophy stops pacing.

  It's not an interrogation. Traffic Light's scared, and Trophy isn't making it any better. She bites her inner lip.

  "I'm sorry. You're safe here, okay? Just...why were you outside?"

  "I... I don't know. I just wanted to get out and..." she shakes her head, "I don't know. Walk, I guess?"

  Trophy tentatively nods. "Okay? Well, there's no way you're going back out there. You can stay the night, b–"

  "O-Oh! Are you sure?"

  "Yeah, it's cool. Anyways, we don't exactly have spare mattresses, so–"

  "It's alright, I can just sleep on the floor–"

  "No! You sleep on my bed, it's warmer."

  "It's your bed!"

  It's a stalemate; an argument that'll just go in circles. Trophy is silent, thinking of a solution.

  "Okay...what if we just sleep in the same bed? If you're okay with it."

  Traffic Light sputters. "I couldn't possibly...no, no I'll just sleep on the floor. It's okay, really."

  "There's enough space! We'll just sleep on opposite ends."

  Traffic Light's eyes are heavy all of a sudden. She's too tired to keep going back and forth.

  "Sure."

  Trophy sighs and smiles, turning off the light, heading upstairs and gesturing for Traffic Light to do the same. They lay on the bed and Trophy closes her eyes. It's about time she went off to sleep.

  Sometime during the night, a scream erupts.

  Trophy jerks up. Ignoring the pounding in her head, she looks towards the scream. Toward Traffic Light. She's holding her head, knees pressing against her chest. Her breath is uneven, rattling up and down in heavy gasps. In the next bed, Tulip is still asleep.

  "What happened?"

  Traffic Light shuts up, but stifled sniffles still escape through her nose. "N-Nothing. I'm okay, it was just...ah, a nightmare. Yes. I'm sorry."

  "You sure? You don't look okay."

  "I– Okay, maybe I'm...not okay." It surprises Traffic Light too. She usually just keeps it to herself, ad everyone eventually stops bothering her about it. But it just spills out without thought.

  She mentally kicks herself. Now Trophy will just worry about her.

  "It was about my parents. Adoptive. I was just...never good enough for them, I guess. My art was useless to them." She curls up even tighter. "I'm not even that good at art anyway."

  Why is she saying all of this? For pity? Attention?

  Weak. Useless. 

  "Oh..."

  Traffic Light nods. "I was miserable! I hate them! And they still control me...I'm under their control," she shivers, "no matter what I do, it's all...it's all their doing...I'm not in control of myself..."

  Trophy is speechless. She doesn't know what to do, or how to even begin. But she moves closer, and her hand automatically goes up to stroke Traffic Light's back. 

  "I'm sorry...I didn't know..."

  "It's okay," Traffic Light wipes her eyes, "You couldn't have known. Just forget about it, okay? I'm okay now."

  Trophy's gut wrenches itself. She's obviously lying. But what can she do? She's out of her depth, out of her knowledge; she doesn't know what to say or how to say it. They sit in silence, as Trophy struggles for the words. She can't just leave Traffic Light like this.

  "I can't just forget about that," Trophy shakes her head like she's confirming it with herself, "so...I'll try to help you. As best as I can. I promise."

  "You can't help me. Promises are useless."

  She almost wants to retort. She bites her tongue and swallows her pride. "Have you seen a professional? A therapist?"

  "Once. Didn't help."

  "Well...maybe you should try again."

  Traffic Light knits her eyebrows. "I said it didn't help! Nothing will help me!"

  "But it's worth trying, isn't it? You can't expect to get better if you don't do anything about it!"

  "Maybe I don't deserve to get better!"

  Trophy stares at Traffic Light, her mouth slightly open. Traffic Light squishes her mouth shut. They stand off, not knowing what to say, or how to cross the sudden chasm between them. It's too big for words to bridge.

  Traffic Light swivels away from Trophy. "I'll just go–"

  "Wait!" Trophy grabs Traffic Light's arm, "I– I really want you to get better. You don't deserve to feel this way, so...unsure of yourself all the time. But please promise me you'll try. You can't give up so easily."

  And Traffic Light wants to believe her. She wants to be told she'll be okay, and truly believe in it. But she can't. She can't bring herself to do that again. 

  Can she? With Trophy clinging onto her arm, staring at her, pleading to stay...with her? Her desperate eyes make Traffic Light weak. She wants to believe. In Trophy's words, and maybe...in herself. For the first time, Traffic Light sees the tiniest spark of hope.

  She sits back down. "...okay. I...I can try again."

  Trophy hugs her. "Thank you."

  Traffic Light doesn't say anything. 'You're welcome' sounds too...self-absorbed. Inappropriate. She just nods and hopes her feelings carry through.

  Trophy lays down beside Traffic Light. "I'll bring you to a therapist in the morning. Get some sleep for now, okay?"

  "Yeah...okay." Traffic Light pulls the blanket over her, bringing her knees to her chest.

  The snow continues to fall outside, a thick, white layer over the earth. The snowflakes fall in a hurry, but soon enough, will stop as the clouds become empty. In the morning, a path will have to be cleared to get out of the house.

Chapter Text

Microphone finds herself being a lot more nervous nowadays. She can't remember if she's always been this way, or if it's because of the show, and what she's doing, and Knife who knows what she's up to and it's really putting a lot of pressure on her–

  But putting all of her impending doom aside, Microphone tries to focus on who's in front of her. It's...intuition, almost. Or maybe instinct, but she felt like she needs to be here. Because...she needs her.

  It's stupid, she knows. But it was so strong, Microphone thought she might've died if she didn't follow her gut. Lo and behold, Taco was there, sitting on the stump and staring at her scarred arm. She's quiet, almost radiating loneliness. Her eyes have this blank, dark look to them, the kind of eyes that make people ask 'are you okay?'.

  Is she okay?

  She jumps up, a criminal caught red-handed. "Mic," she breathes. For a moment, her persona drops.

  "You're...here." She clears her throat. "Is there something you wish to discuss?"

   "Uh– Yeah, actually, I–"

   Taco peers behind Microphone. "And you weren't followed?"

  Shoot. "Um!" Microphone whips her head around and turns up her gain. No one is there. "I don't...think so."

  "Hm." Not disbelief or satisfaction. Just acknowledgment. "Anyhow...you may speak."

  "Um." Microphone can't get the image out of her head. Taco being lonely. The blankness in her eyes. Her loneliness. Her scars.

  Are you okay?

  "Well? I don't have all d-"

  "Are you okay?"

  The words fall from Taco's tongue. She stares with her mouth half-open.

  "...pardon?"

  "Well I, I just saw you sitting there, and I thought you...er, looked lonely. So...yeah."

  "I'm doing just fine. It was merely a moment of contemplative thought."

  "And what was this 'contemplative thought'?"

  Taco swallows her retort. It would only make Microphone more curious. Isn't she quite nosy today.

  "Past reflections. Digging up memories that might serve useful to us."

  Microphone cranes her neck, trying to catch a glimpse of the scarred arm Taco unknowingly hid behind her back.

  "Memories like what happened to your arm..?"

  "Oh, I'm sure you'd love to learn more about that."

  She knows she overstepping her boundaries. And if Microphone's being honest, she has no idea why. The words come out without even thinking about it. But she's always been curious about the burns on Taco's arm. Specifically, her left arm.

  The soulmate arm.

  Taco always dodges the topic when Microphone brings it up, changing the subject so quickly Microphone has no time to counter, or more recently, 'you should get going. Don't want to arouse suspicion, do we?'. Microphone finds it a bit irritating.

  "Actually, yes! You're always so mysterious about it. Don't I have a right to know? Because, we're partners?"

  "There's nothing of value to be gained from it."

  "Don't you trust me?" Microphone puts her hands over her chest. Taco reaching for the portal plays in slow motion in her mind. "Did something happen, Taco? We can talk about it! Did something happen to your soul-"

  "Enough. Honestly, Microphone, soulmates?" she spits the word like venom, "there's no such thing."

  "Well then why is your arm all burned like that? It's too much of a coincidence."

  Taco turns away, keeping her arm out of sight. "It was an accident. That's all. And you're being quite loud, so I suggest you go before-"

  "No! Why are you changing the subject? You can't just leave me hanging like that!" Microphone storms around the stump and grips Taco by the shell. "Tell me what's going on!"

  "Nothing," Taco tries to shove Microphone off, "is 'going on', so drop it. And get off of me!"

  Microphone's eyes drop to Taco's arm. The burns are old and completely healed over, leaving her skin a reddish gray underneath. The words are clear:

  'Stop! What do you want?'

  Those were her words.

  Taco rips herself from Microphone's grip and snatches her arm away. She's trembling. Microphone doesn't know if it's from anger or sadness.

  "Well...there are the fruits of your brutish behavior. Are you happy?"

  Microphone looks at her arm.

  'Dear Mic's Diary,'

  The moment Taco said those words to her so long ago...frankly, Microphone didn't want to believe it. First of all, what kind of soulmate reads her personal diary as their first words to her? Secondly, it was Taco. Taco, who fooled everybody around her to steal the prize at the last second. Taco, who betrayed everyone who trusted her. Taco, who never cares about who she hurts.

  And Microphone is supposed to believe she is her soulmate?

  But the more Microphone came to know Taco, overcoming obstacles together, winning challenges, being a team, the more Microphone thought it was true. They work well together. Even if Taco doesn't make the best choices, she's slowly coming around. And Microphone is proud to be a part of it. Isn't that what soulmates do?

  "I think we're soulmates."

  "What."

  "Really! Look–" she thrusts her arm at Taco, "look at my arm! They're the first words you said to me! A-And those are the first words I said to you! So we're soulmates! I mean, I didn't want to believe it at first, but-"

  "We aren't soulmates."

  "But the writing–!"

  Taco rounds on Microphone. "Listen, you can go on about soulmate this, soulmate that, but how can you know if I won't be the only one to read your diary aloud? It's circumstantial, unreliable, and frankly, quite childish. I simply don't believe in it."

  "But you have to admit, this," she points to her arm, "this can't just be a coincidence!"

  "I can admit it is a coincidence! Microphone, imagine you have matching writing with two other people. Are they both your soulmates, then?"

  Microphone falters. "Well, no, you can't have two soulmates–"

  "Precisely! Then which is it?"

  All arguments leave her. Microphone fumbles for words.

  "Uh– Listen to your heart?"

  "Ugh."

  She can feel the disgust in Taco's voice.

  Intuition. Something clicks inside her head.

  "What, don't tell me it happened to you?"

  "Nonsense! It was a hypothetical situation. Anyway, if you're done talking about soulmates and whatnot, I suggest you leave."

  "S– So you're just gonna ignore we have matching soulmate writing–"

  "I told you, I don't believe in soulmates. Only fools get their hopes up when they coincidentally have their first words to each other on their arms. It's a big world, and I like to keep my options open, anyway."

  Microphone lifts herself up. "Okay, I...guess. Good talk?"

  "Just get out of here already."

  As Microphone pushes her way through the bushes, she thinks back to Taco, and how lonely she looked. How quick she was to shut Microphone down. It's not much of a surprise Taco doesn't believe in soulmates, despite the obvious evidence, but she seems to downright hate the idea of having one.

  She still didn't say anything about the burns. There's no way it was just an accident. Microphone grits her teeth, wishing she pushed the subject further. Wishing she just pressed Taco more about it, instead of just giving up.

  The 'hypothetical' situation Taco was talking about...was she really referring to herself? Matching soulmate writing among three or more people is rare, but not impossible. Microphone finds it hard to believe Taco would do something so brash over a soulmate, but who was she to talk? Microphone cried when she found out the very first thing her soulmate would do was read her diary.

  Maybe Taco was really hurt. Maybe her 'soulmate' wasn't really her soulmate. But Microphone is sure she and Taco are. It's definitely strange, but it's too much of a coincidence. And the more she thinks about it, the more she wants it to happen. 

  Microphone wouldn't turn down the chance to get to know Taco better, outside of the show, where her cunning and wit would be more charming instead of villainous. And she's always wanted a chaotic girlfriend. Plus, Taco is extremely short. She'd have to pick her up just to kiss her.

  She almost laughs at the sudden blush on her face. But like Taco said, she doesn't believe in soulmates. 

  But if Taco would be on board to be lovers, without any soulmate complications...Microphone would be happy with that as well. 

Chapter Text

Life is fragile. Shieldy knows this much. He lives life for the fun of it, almost too carefree and happy. Dangerous stunts aren't a problem. Spontaneous decisions make up his daily life.

  Yet deep down, in the back of his mind, he knows life is fragile. He knows someone could get hurt. He knows consequences exist. But that underlying thought shouldn't stop him from living the way he wants to. He's still a kid, just wanting to have fun.

  But as Party Hat lies in the hospital bed, breathing silently, Shieldy is again reminded of how fragile everything is. How fragile Party Hat is. How anything that happened to Party Hat would have a devastating effect on their baby.

  For nine months, everyone was extra careful around Party Hat. Recovery is a miracle. It's why Shieldy can afford to be so reckless in the first place. But an unborn baby isn't valid for recovery.

  Party Hat being made out of paper made it even worse. Everything was suddenly dangerous, and Shieldy couldn't deal with it for a while. It was...frustrating. Party Hat is his first choice to do stupid things with. He spent a lot of time pestering other people to hang out with him.

  And it still got worse. Party Hat had to be hospitalized early into the pregnancy because moving around hurt him. The baby's weight put too much pressure on his fragile body. He's been bedridden for nearly five months.

  Shieldy remembers his shouts of pain whenever he got up. He remembers his labored face and heavy breathing. He remembers Party Hat insisting he's fine, before Shelly convinced him to go to a hospital.

  He's grateful Shelly was willing to be their at-home doctor, even while she had a job. She worked like a true professional, and being able to monitor Party Hat every day helped them catch problems early, or eased the parents' minds to know another day had gone by without trouble. He has to thank her again.

  Shieldy stares. It's not as sad now, Party Hat is sleeping normally, and not hooked up to four different machines. The bump isn't that big on his body, but Shieldy can't be fooled. It's nearly time.

  In a few days, maybe a week, Party Hat would finally go into labor. Shieldy's been struggling with this thought for some time. It's going to be the most dangerous part of the pregnancy. Party Hat could easily tear, easily die, and their daughter would never see daylight.

  At the same time, it's their daughter. First-time parenting is really a wonder. He can't help the surge of protectiveness when he thinks about her. He and Party Hat will teach her everything they know. How to be kind, how to enjoy life, how to make the most out of everything...and the list goes on and on.

  But Shieldy worries. He worries that he'll never get to see her open her eyes. That it'll put too much strain on Party Hat. That she might grow up with the wrong people. He doesn't think he's worried so much in his entire life.

  Seeing Party Hat is helping him, though. After nine months of struggle, more so than Shieldy has dealt with, he's still able to sleep peacefully. In truth, Party Hat is the strongest person Shieldy knows. Having such a fragile body is certainly the work of irony.

  He's selfless. A great companion. Compassionate. Loyal. He knows how to have fun. He doesn't let things get him down for long. He's clever and witty. Resourceful. Shieldy could never ask for a better best friend or lover.

  And watching Party Hat like this soothes Shieldy. Because whatever happens, they can handle it. If Party Hat can be so calm and peaceful, so can Shieldy.

  He's sure Party Hat is worrying as much as he is, he's just better at keeping it under control. Enough to not be constantly whining, but still leaving room for openness and vulnerability.

  Shieldy leans over to kiss Party Hat's forehead, and eases back down to lay his head on the edge of the bed. With his arms folded in front of him, Shieldy closes his eyes and sleeps.

Chapter Text

"–Then he threw the ball, literally to the other side of the field and Sapphire caught it ."

  "Wow, sounds like real talented people over there."

  I can't help bouncing in the bed. "I know! Everyone's really awesome here! Gosh, I can only hope to be as cool as them."

  Nickel leans in closer to the camera. "What are you talking about? You're already cool." Aww.

  "Thanks, dude. But I mean– I don't mean to deflect or anything, but y'know, everyone here has like, a special talent, and I'm just...I dunno, trying to be a better leader?"

  "That's valid too."

  "I know it is! But it just gets hard when you're surrounded by so many cool people." And it's not like they shun me or anything, either. Thank goodness they're so accepting of some normal guy like me.

  "Ha. Can't relate."

  I laugh. I've missed your witty remarks. "Funny. Hey, how's- How's Hotel OJ?"

  "Living like a bum in his mom's basement," the camera flips and- oh. Oh my god, the room's a mess! And how many empty water bottles are in here?

  "What!? What happened here?"

  "Eh, dunno. Told you, like a bum living in his mom's basement." 

  But that's not like you at all! What happened, Nickel?

  "Dude, are you okay? I mean– you're not the neatest person, but this is...concerning."

  The camera flips back to his face. "I'm fine. Balloon's making sure I don't die or something...you should thank him when you get back."

  And openly praising Balloon? Without sarcasm? "What do you mean by that?"

  "Eh. He just keeps the room from being a complete mess. Reminds me to get up sometimes. Roommate stuff. It's really pitiful, he actually thinks he has to 'take care of me'," he rolls his eyes, "Feh."

  What do I even say to that? What can I- Come on Baseball, think!

  "O– Oh. You– That doesn't sound very okay to me."

  Wow. Wonderful.

  "Yeah, it's actually pretty depressing. But I've managed worse, so it's whatever."

  But this isn't okay? Something's obviously wrong here.

  "Is something up? You can always talk to me."

  "I'm just tired I guess. Haven't been sleeping much."

  "Is that it?"

  "Pretty much."

  Is it though? But I shouldn't be grilling him too much, it'll probably make him feel pressured. But it's my duty– no, not duty. I'm not obligated to that. It's because I care about him. I should make sure he's okay because I care, not because I feel like I have to.

  Still, it'll make him uncomfortable. But I have to say something, I can't just be quiet about it. Should I say something? Maybe it can wait until I get back...

  No. I need to ask now.

  "You sure? Because it really doesn't look that way."

  He...looks tired. And sad? How did I just notice that? God, I'm terrible. But it's... it's okay, I make mistakes. Can't notice everything the first time.

  "...is there anyone with you?"

  There's no one here but me. "No. No one's here. Talk to me."

  Nickel faceplants into his bed. I'll wait for him. He's still learning to be more open. 

  "This is gonna sound really stupid. And cheesy." He's muffled, but still hearable.

  "Your feelings aren't stupid-"

  "Don't patronize me." Oh.

  He faces me again, but isn't making eye contact. Must be a really big deal...

  "Hey. Can you look at me?"

  "I'd rather not."

  Come on, we've been over this! "Nickel-"

  "Stop-!" his raised voice freezes and he takes a breath. "Stop with the couples therapy bullcrap. Just talk to me normally."

  I think the couples therapy is working great! What's he talking about?

  "Okay? But I'd still appreciate it if you'd look at me."

  "I really can't. It..." Nickel pauses and his mouth tightens, "...it makes me uncomfortable." Oh. Is that how you've always felt about it? Why didn't you say anything?

  "I'm sorry. You don't have to. Just talk."

  Nickel stays quiet. His eyes dart around, but he still doesn't look at me. What are you thinking, Nickel? Just talk to me, please.

  He sighs. "Look, I'm just gonna get straight to the point. I miss you. Like, way more than I should. Not even a week after you left, I fell apart. It's stupid, I know. I guess I'm the overly dependent one, huh? Haha."

  Oh...Nickel...

  "I...I had no idea... I'm sorry if I made you feel lonely..."

  "Don't apologize. It's my fault, really. I'm the reason why we're doing this whole distancing thing, right?"

  You're not! I just felt like I needed some time for personal growth, and our counselor said it was best if we spent some time apart anyways. Any dependencies or unhappiness would be made clear, so it's not anyone's fault.

  So maybe I did feel a bit too dependent on you...and confused on whether you were good for me or not... But that's not really on you! Is it?

  "It's not your fault either! This is supposed to be a time of self-reflection for both of us. It's not anyone's fault."

  "Yeah...sure. I guess."

  That doesn't sound reassuring. Do you really think it's your fault?

  "Is...there anything else you wanna get off your chest?"

  "Nah. I don't want to make this depressing, you know? I think it's about time I go, anyways."

  Are you still hiding something?

  "Oh, okay then. And– Hey, before you go, thanks for being open. I know it's hard for you."

  He rolls his eyes. "Again with the patronizing. But, yeah whatever, you're welcome. And actually, I...B-Baseball."

  "Yeah?"

  "I, uh-" he swallows, "know that I want what's best for you. Whatever 'what's best for you' is. So...yeah."

  "Oh, I...thanks." What's that supposed to mean? "The same goes for you. You deserve the best. I love you, Nickel."

  "Love you too. Call me whenever." He looks at me and smiles tightly. "...see ya."

  And he ends the call.

Chapter Text

  "Tacooooooo," Microwave whines, throwing back her head, "why'd you bring me out here? I wanna be inside."

  Taco turns to face Microwave, an incredulous look on her face. "Because being outside is fun? It's sunny out, and you just wanna stay inside?"

  "It's so hot out here! Air conditioning is so much better."

  Taco pushes her way through the underbrush. "We're in a forest, it's cool enough."

  Microwave, at Taco's heel, resists the urge to jump when the plants brush against her. She rubs her arms. "Also there are bugs out here? What about things like poison ivy?"

  "I don't," Taco puts her thumb and forefinger to her chin, "think poison ivy grows around here. Come on, where's your adventure spirit?" she raises her eyebrows.

  "Back home," Microwave mutters. Taco snickers.

  "Lighten up! Can't I take you out on a fun date?"

  Microwave's idea of fun is cuddling together and watching a movie, or having pillow fights in the dark. Fun is lying in bed, browsing the Internet and laughing at funny cat videos. "I think our ideas of fun are very different."

  "Sure, but you gotta be at least a little active. Who knows what you can find outside?"

  "Mosquitoes and too-hot weather?" Microwave snorts, "no thanks."

  Taco falls in step beside Microwave. "But you can get some sun, exercise," she nudges Microwave, "c'mon, give it a chance."

  "Fine, fine," Microwave waves Taco off, "but I'm totally staying home tomorrow."

  "Really? I was planning on bringing you to hang out with my friends, but- woah!" Taco stumbles and rolls down a slope and Microwave yelps, fists clenched and eyes wide. Coming to a stop near a tree, Taco groans.

  "I'm okay!" she calls out, and tries to roll over on her back. Pain shoots up her leg and she hisses, wrenching her eyes shut. Microwave picks her way down the slope, tense and anxious. Her heart stops each time she makes a little slip.

  "Wait! I'm coming, Taco!"

  She makes a small jump to the forest floor and jogs to Taco, her heart pounding. Taco's bleeding leg catches her eye. "Your leg! Oh my gosh, i-is it broken?"

  Taco wobbles, trying to stabilize herself on her elbows, and looks down at her limp leg. "I...I don't think so. But it might be twisted or something." She barely moves her leg up before having to drop it. "Hss-! Ow."

  "We gotta get you back to contestant grounds! Sit on my head! I'll take you back."

  Taco doesn't feel the need to suggest leaning on Microwave and walking back. Microwave's idea is faster, anyway. She struggles into a sitting position, biting her lip as her leg stings with each movement. Microwave grasps Taco's sides and lifts her, placing Taco on her head with the care of a mother putting her child to sleep.

  And she runs. She isn't the most athletic person, but following the trail of trampled grass and with her iron will, she makes it back to contestant grounds. It's only after she sets Taco down on a bench that she registers her legs are burning and stinging, almost ready to give out. She's heaving and her hands are shaking.

  "O...Okay wait," she breathes deeply, trying to control her heartbeat, "let me get a towel from the bathrooms."

  "Don't push yourself," Taco calls out after her. She taps her fingers on the bench and cringes when she looks at her leg. The deep red blood, freshly dried, surrounds the wound and runs down to her swollen ankle. Specks of dirt litter her leg from lying on the forest floor. She brushes some of the dirt off her shell. 

  Microwave runs out of the bathrooms with a few damp paper towels and makes a beeline for Taco.

  "Okay, this is gonna sting, so...sorry."

  "Yeah, I know. It's okay."

  Microwave goes over the non-injured area first, wiping the blood from the bottom up, and around the cut. Taco flinches as Microwave goes ever-so-carefully over the wound, biting her lip while Microwave mutters 'sorry' over and over.

  "We need to get you to a doctor or something," Microwave eyes Taco's swollen ankle as she throws away the paper towels. "Are there even any doctors around here?"

  "I don't think so. Oh!" Taco snaps her fingers, "we can just do kill-recover! Always works."

  Microwave jolts. "What!? Um, no? That's not-"

  "Why not?" Taco shrugs, "it's quicker than waiting a few months for this to heal."

  "But I don't want you to, you know, die!"

  "O-kay, we'll do it your way," Taco groans. Microwave hoists Taco onto her head again.

  "I'll ask around first. I literally do not know any doctors."

  "Fair enough." Taco suddenly smiles and pats Microwave's head. "Onward, my steed!"

  "Oh, you are hilarious," Microwave rolls her eyes. Taco cracks up and she does too.

Chapter Text

"Is this a good idea?" Bomby taps his fingers together, looking down at the shorter Naily striding beside him.

  "Of course!" Naily's eyes flick up to meet Bomby's, "Grassy is green, right? And I'm pretty sure he's around Gelatin's age. So it all works out!"

  "But we're on different teams!"

  Naily runs up to Grassy, who stands next to his teammates. "Don't worry about it, I'm sure I'll nail it! Hey, Grassy!"

  Grassy turns and waves, wiggling his blades. "I'm Grassy!"

  Bomby catches up with Naily as she speaks. "You wanna hang out later? I think we can really nail it as friends!"

  This catches Golf Ball's attention. She whips around and steps in front of Grassy. "No thanks. We aren't interested in conversing with members of other teams."

  "But Grassy wants to make friends!"

  "Maybe lighten it up a bit, Golf Ball?" Basketball chimes in to their defense, "I know you're upset about Blocky leaving, but-"

  "Who said I was upset!?" Golf Ball spits. Naily and Bomby watch with wide eyes at the exchange. "Him leaving only increased my chances of winning! There's nothing to be upset about."

  Basketball and Tennis Ball exchange doubtful glances, but don't try to refute her claims. "Okay? But at least let Grassy talk with other people?"

  "Grassy wants the freedom to make his own choices."

  "Absolutely no-"

  "Golf Ball, you're being irrational." Tennis Ball flinches under the glare Golf Ball shoots at him. "Think it over for a little bit! I think Grassy should be able to make friends outside of the team."

  "Yeah!" Robot Flower pipes up, "stop thinking that you're the boss of us!"

  "But I am the boss of you! I'm your leader!"

  Naily backs away as they argue, suddenly feeling extremely out of place. "I think we'll just go...talk to you later?"

  Grassy nods, giving them a thumbs up. Naily smiles, and she and Bomby slink away unnoticed. Her smile drops once they're far enough.

  "Well that was a bust!" she whines. "Golf Ball is so lame!"

  "I told you," Bomby shrugs. Naily pouts, huffing.

  "Whatever. Let's go talk to Cake next, I'm sure his team is a lot less uptight."

  Bomby wants to speak up, but the words catch in his throat. He opens his mouth and says nothing, watching as Naily powerwalks farther and farther away from him. A feeling he can't begin to describe gathers in his chest. Dread? Despair? All he knows is that it feels incredibly lonely. 

  Naily's just been strange. Aloof. More zoned out than usual. She acts like herself, nail puns and all, but something about it seems off. She's more forceful and aggressive. She snaps easily. And she's always been a bit on the offensive, but that's only in competitions. Never to her friends.

  Never to Bomby.

  The memory replays in his head again. Naily looking down at the grass, an empty look in her eyes and a frown on her face. Bomby asks her what's wrong and she explodes at him. She yells at him to mind his own business and to leave her alone. He's never felt so small in his entire life. The cake he has lays ruined in the grass, pink frosting splattered over the ground. She stalks away.

  Betrayed isn't exactly the right word to describe how Bomby felt. He wasn't really sure himself. It was fear. Hurt. Crushing sadness. Isolation. He's always been the sensitive type, and he hates how one bad experience caused a seed of distrust to grow inside him, for Naily, of all people. His best friend.

  She apologized a few hours later. Of course, Bomby forgave her; she was just having a bad day. But the feeling, the detachment and fear, remained. It remained when Naily got more reckless with her shenanigans. It remained when Barf Bag and Donut confronted her about her dangerous endeavors, and she exploded at them the way she exploded at Bomby. It remained when Naily decided she wanted to look for new friends.

  There was just something unnatural about it. Naily was unwaveringly persistent when Bomby asked what she was doing, and he only came along because he wanted to keep an eye on her. She was way too forceful, like it was something she desperately needed. Especially considering her recent state of mind, Bomby wonders if he should've stopped her first.

  "Hey, what are you doing all the way back there? Come on!"

  Bomby hadn't realized he slowed down to a snail's pace. He jogs back to Naily, sharp-faced and tapping her foot.

  "I can't find Cake anywhere. We should probably look for someone else."

  Bomby doesn't consider himself a confrontational person. For a bomb, he's pretty timid, usually waiting for something around him to happen. Donut had pulled him aside a few days ago, asking him, 'can you talk to Naily for me? She won't listen to me or Barf Bag.' And honestly, Bomby can't believe he didn't think of it earlier.

  'I think she's lonely. She probably misses Gelatin and is too proud to admit it, or maybe she doesn't want to. I don't know, but can you please talk to her before she does something too reckless? Barfy and I are really worried, and I'm sure you are too.'

  Standing in front of Naily now, Bomby wants to speak up, wants to ask Naily what's wrong and to just help her. But the words get stuck every time. He doesn't want to get yelled at again. As cowardly as it is, he's hanging on to the hope that the problem will resolve itself.

  But he probably couldn't live with himself if he doesn't ask. He doesn't want to see her fall apart like this.

  "Naily," he forces out.

  "What?"

  "Is this about Gelatin?"

  He could've said it any other way and it would be a million times better. But it's direct, at the very least, and Naily freezes. She bites her lip and stands straight, trying to be taller. Narrowing her eyes, she squares off against Bomby, squishing her lips shut and holding her head high. Heavy silence weighs on the both of them, every second bogged down with tension.

  The façade falls apart. Naily sniffs and tears drip from her eyes. She chokes back a sob and crumples to the ground, and Bomby dashes to hug her.

  "I miss him," she blubbers, "I just really miss him..." She buries her face into Bomby's arms and sobs, hiccuping and sniffling and all. Bomby doesn't say anything. He doesn't know what to say anyways, but he lets Naily cry out all of her pent up tears.

  Naily hiccups. "I've been a real jerk, haven't I..."

  "It's okay," Bomby soothes her, patting her back, "we all miss him."

  Naily whimpers and nods, and says nothing else.

Chapter Text

Halo hovers at a distance. She feels almost out of her own body, aware of every breath, her chest forcibly rising and falling. A storm of thoughts rush around her head as she fights to compose herself, every breath a strain. She pulls at her fingers and bites her inner lip.

  'One...step...'

  Shaking, Halo flutters to the ground and puts one foot forward. The thoughts get louder as she moves. 

  'This is a mistake. This is a mistake. What are you doing? They're not going to forgive you. Just stop trying. Stop it.'

  'Please forgive me.'

  They're familiar with the sound of beating wings. Glue and Disco Ball's conversation stops cold, and Glue moves between Halo and Disco Ball, glaring at the much shorter Halo with steely eyes. She shrinks under his hostile stare.

  "What do you want."

  "I-" Halo squeezes her arm, digging her nails into her skin. "I know...I-I did a lot of bad things in the past. I know I didn't," her gaze darts to Disco Ball, "treat you well. A-And you didn't deserve that. I wanted to say I'm sorry. I'm...I'm not the same person anymore, I swear."

  Glue scowls. "So?"

  A beat of silence.

  "What do you mean?" Halo's gaze snaps up. Glue's arms are crossed over his chest, regarding Halso as if she's a job half done. A sloppy work, done for the sake of getting it out of the way. Disco Ball hides himself further.

  "So what if you've changed? Doesn't change what you did. What, you expect us to just forgive you like that?" His eyes narrow into pointed slits. "Everything just goes back to being fine and dandy, best friends forever?"

  "That's not-! No, that isn't what I'm saying! I just wanted to say that I'm changing, and I'm sorry-"

  "And look! You've already done that. Now get out of here, I don't want to look at you."

  Halo gasps. She glances around Glue. "Disco Ball? Are you-"

  "Hey!" Glue snaps, "don't you dare talk to him!"

  "I can talk to whoever I want!"

  "Don't talk to me," Disco Ball spits. "I don't care if you've changed. Just don't talk to me ever again."

  "B-But Disco Ball!" Halo spreads her arms, "I've changed, I swear! We don't have to get back together or anything, I'm just sorry!"

  "He said he doesn't want to talk to you! Don't you get it? We don't want anything to do with you, and we don't care if you're sorry or not!"

  "Please!" Halo cries out, "I'm sorry! I've changed! What will it take for you to believe me!?"

  "Stop it!" Disco Ball growls, swinging around Glue and coming dangerously close to Halo, "just- Stop trying! I can't trust you! Do you even know what you did to me!? I suffered so much because of you, and now you just want me to forgive you!?"

  Halo slaps her hand to her chest. "I've suffered too! It's not my fault!"

  "Yes it is! You shouldn't have pushed that onto me!"

  "So what am I supposed to do, bottle my emotions up!? You can't ask me to do that! You're just as bad!" Halo shakes with tears in her eyes. Her voice quivers. "I'm- I'm trying so hard to change. An-And you're not listening to anything I say!"

  "I don't want to listen! Y-You just- You always do that! You blame me, and I don't want to feel like that ever again! You make me scared!"

  "I'm not blaming you, I-"

  "I can't say anything around you without you blaming me somehow! I'm sick of you! I'm sick of feeling guilty all the time!" Disco Ball's voice falls apart, and even though he tries to hide it, he can't speak another word without a sob choking his throat. Glue gently rests his hand on Disco Ball's head, and turns to glare at Halo.

  "This is what I'm talking about! You're blaming-"

  "I'm! Not! Blaming anyone!" she shrieks. "I've been abused too! You're not giving me a chance!"

  Glue scoffs. "He's given you plenty of chances. But here you are, still trying to pit the blame on anyone but you! Get over yourself! You're the one who's driving everyone away from you!"

  "Why don't you get it!? I've really changed this time-"

  "Clearly you haven't! All you do is whine and mope around, saying 'I'm sorry I was a bad person, please like me'!" Glue fakes a high-pitched voice, "but you never do anything! You're pathetic!"

  "I'm pathetic!? Look at you! You're so biased against me, you're not giving me a chance to explain, o-or-"

  "Leave us alone!"

  "You've explained enough! I don't need any more of your lame excuses to know that you can never change! What you're saying now proves it!"

  "You keep treating me like a monster!" 

  "Because you are!"

  "I'm just trying to defend myself! I know I've done bad things, but I'm not that person anymore; I've changed!"

  "You keep saying that, but I see nothing! You keep trying to guilt trip Disco Ball, and you keep using your abuse as an excuse for your behavior! You're an emotionally manipulative piece of trash!"

  Halo chokes up. "Just...give me one more chance! I will do anything, anything! Please!"

  "You don't get any more chances! Stop being such a try hard, it's pitiful! You're not-"

  "Hey!" Dragonfruit stomps between Halo and Glue, putting her arms out, "what's going on here? Making girls cry again, Glue?"

  Glue rolls his eyes. "Now's not the time for that! Look Dragonfruit, this doesn't involve you, so just leave."

  Dragonfruit crosses her arms. "I think this does involve me! Disco Ball, what's going on here?"

  "Nothing," he deadpans, "it doesn't matter and it doesn't concern you."

  Dragonfruit huffs and turns around. "Halo? What's happening? Are you okay?"

  "I'm..." Halo hesitates to answer like she's tongue-tied. Dragonfruit's presence so suddenly released the tension, she needs a while to catch up. "I'm just...trying to change..."

  "Don't listen to her. She's spouting nonsense."

  Halo snaps. "I'm trying! I'm trying so hard, okay! They're not listening to me!"

  "Wait, wait!" Dragonfruit puts her hands up, "slow down, okay? Glue? Care to explain yourself?"

  "Hey, I'm not the bad guy here! If you knew what she did to Disco Ball, you wouldn't forgive her, either." 

  "He keeps putting me down! I did bad things, but I'm changing, they just won't believe me! They're not giving me a chance!"

  "Is that what's happening?"

  "It's not like that!"

  "Then what? Can you stop being so vague and tell me? Because right now, it doesn't look good for you."

  Glue glances at Disco Ball, who gives Glue a small nod. 

  "Halo's an abuser. She abused Disco Ball, manipulated him so badly and broke his self-confidence!"

  "It's not-!"

  "Shut up, Halo! You don't get to speak!" Glue barks. Dragonfruit glares at him disapprovingly, but lets him continue. "She hurt him! Made him believe he was worth nothing! She almost killed him! And now she just walks up to us and asks for forgiveness and another chance! Dragonfruit, do you think that's okay? Do you!?"

  "It's not all my fault!" Halo cries, "I-I didn't know any better! It was wrong of me, I know, but I'm trying so hard to move past it!"

  "Monsters don't get forgiveness."

  "I'm not a monster! She shrieks, "I'm not..." She crumples to the ground, sobbing in her hands. Dragonfruit kneels and wraps her arms around Halo. She glares at a wide-eyed Glue.

  "Maybe she's done bad things, but haven't we all!? And she's not the one calling people monsters!"

  "Dragonfruit, you don't understand! She abused Disco Ball! You can't just forgive that because she starts some waterworks! Seriously!"

  "I'm not saying it's okay! I'm not stupid, Glue! But at least she's trying! And as long as she's trying to be a better person, I'll help her!"

  "You're..." Glue briefly puts his head in his hands, "you're seriously- Dragonfruit, you're so naive. You don't know Halo like me and Disco Ball do. For all you know, this could be a play to use you, too!"

  "How dare you! She's here, crying her eyes out, and you have the nerve to say something like that!? Maybe I don't know her, but you clearly don't! You... You promised me you'd be kind and forgiving...so I guess you can't change, either."

  Glue sucks in a breath. "Dragonfruit...you don't mean that, right? Th-This is different! I've never abused someone before, but Halo-"

  "It doesn't matter!" Dragonfruit helps Halo stand up. Her gaze is cast to the ground, wings drooping. "I'll give Halo her second chance. She doesn't need your opinion, and neither do I!"

  "You're making a mistake. If she hurts you-"

  "I can handle myself," Dragonfruit spits. "C'mon Halo, let's get out of here." She turns around with Halo and leaves Glue and Disco Ball behind.

  After they get a ways away, Halo finds her voice again. "Thank you... I couldn't have gotten out of there on my own..."

  "Not a problem. I hate people like that. Everyone deserves a second chance, and he was just..." she grunts, stomping the ground, "being so rude to you, ya know?"

  "Glue, he was your friend, right? You had to yell at him because of me..."

  Dragonfruit sighs. "Yeah, but I just couldn't leave you there. Glue isn't always the nicest person, but he went too far, calling you a monster like that. Seriously! No one deserves that!"

  Halo nods and sighs. Dragonfruit nudges her.

  "You're not a monster, okay? Abuse..." she frowns, "abuse is...i-it's a terrible thing to do, and I don't know what would make you do that-"

  "It's not my fault! I was abused as a child...I-I didn't want to, bu-but it just came so easily to me and I couldn't stop it...! I didn't know better, I swear!"

  "Hey, chill out. I believe you. You're trying to change, right? You're trying your absolute hardest?"

  She nods frantically. "Yes!"

  "Then as long as you're doing that, I'll support you. If you want to be a better person, you'll need support. I'll be there for you, got that?"

  "Yes..." Halo sniffs, "thank you...it means the world to me. I'll do my best."

  "That's what I like to hear! Now come on, new friend!" Dragonfruit grabs Halo's hand, "let's go cheer you up! How do you feel about sledding? I know it's like, the middle of summer, but that's never stopped me!"

  Halo smiles and lets Dragonfruit drag her along, just listening to her talk. With Dragonfruit's help, maybe she can actually prove herself. If everyone in the world is against her, at least she'll have Dragonfruit. Someone to fight for. Someone who believes in her.

  And for now, that's all Halo can ask for.

Chapter Text

"Didn't think you were the type to care about appearance," Cologne remarks as Tart fusses over his crooked tie. She rolls her eyes and undoes the bowtie completely.

  "Well, looking good is important," she gestures to the flower by her lemon, "especially on dates like these. You have to be at your best."

  "But why do I have to look good? It's your date."

  Tart ties the bowtie back on and puffs it up. "You're here to make me look good, obviously. Besides, you're pretty much a shut-in anyway, I figured this would be good for you."

  Cologne groans. "Right."

  "It's not that bad," Tart backs up and sits on a picnic bench, "Holly's bringing a plus one as well, so you won't be third wheeling too much."

  Cologne snaps to attention. "There's someone else coming? Who?"

  Tart shrugs. "Dunno. We both agreed to bring someone else so it wouldn't get too awkward or boring. Though, I don't get how anything with Holly can be boring."

  "Save the sap for when the date actually starts?" Cologne huffs, "there go my plans for just slipping away unnoticed."

  "First of all, rude. And second, you can still do that. No one's really gonna stop you."

  "I guess. But this is also a nice distraction from the competition. Maybe I'll just wander around or something, I don't know."

  Tart laughs. "And what, go brood off by yourself?"

  "Gkh! It's not- I don't brood, I think."

  "Isn't that the same thing?"

  "No, it's not!" Cologne plops on the opposite bench. "You know what, I'm not going to bother reasoning with you."

  "Ha," Tart snorts, but her smirk falls immediately. Cologne frowns.

  "You okay?"

  "Eh. I guess I'm a bit nervous."

  "Hm," Cologne looks up at the night sky, "it is getting a bit late. You think she stood you up?"

  "She wouldn't!" Tart slams the table. She sighs and sits back down. "Sorry. I guess I'm just...worried it won't go well? So uncharacteristic of me," she pouts.

  Cologne taps the wood and Tart looks up at him. "Well, that's fine. I mean, you can't always be sure of yourself all the time."

  Tart smirks. "Even you?"

  Cologne rolls his eyes. "I'm the plus one here, not you. I'm just saying you don't always have to be so self-assured. In fact, Holly might appreciate some vulnerability."

  "You think?" Tart sits up straight.

  "Yeah. Can't be too cocky on a date, right? Show her you're willing to...be personal. That's what relationships are all about."

  Tart is quiet for a moment. Then she cackles. "I can't believe I'm getting relationship advice from you of all people. Thanks, that...really did help me feel better."

  "You're welcome, I guess," Cologne smiles. He spots a figure approaching and perks up. "Hey, is that..?"

  "Sorry I'm late!" Holly yells and waves, holding two covered plates with one hand and a large bag that hangs from her arm. Tart turns around and rushes over to help.

  "Holly! You're here!" Tart eyes the plate as she takes one from Holly. "What is this?"

  "Dinner! I thought it'd be nice if I cooked something! I'm a very good cook, you know. And this way, we can have a nice romantic dinner under the stars!"

  "Wow, you really didn't have to do that. What did you even cook?"

  Tart and Holly's conversation falls deaf on Cologne's ears. He stares dead ahead.

  Glowing Heart.

  Her pale pink glow illuminates the night around her. Like Holly, she carries two covered plates, secured in her arms. 

  And she's staring at Cologne, the two caught in each other's gazes. He tears his eyes away and assumes a neutral face. Glowing Heart looks down and follows Tart and Holly to the picnic table.

  "I cook best to music! I like dancing as I cook, it really gives you a feel of the rhythm!"

  "Not the most conventional, but it sounds pretty fun."

  Holly nods. "Yeah! Oh, hi Cologne!"

  "Hey."

  Tart frowns as she places the dish on the table. "You okay? You sound like you don't wanna be here."

  Cologne grumbles. "Actually," he gets up, "you're right. Sorry Tart, I just need to be alone right now."

  "Sure. I think I can manage, anyway. See you around."

  "Aw, it would've been cool to have you here. Oh well. Bye Cologne!" Holly waves.

  Glowing Heart opens her mouth to say something, but the words get stuck as she watches Cologne stalk off towards the lake. She sighs as she puts her plates down.

  The water is calm, mirroring the moon and stars on the lake's wavering surface. Clear and quiet. Cologne sits down and, after staring at the undisturbed lake for a while, puts his feet in the cool water. Ripples glide and fan out, distorting the night sky. He kicks at the water, sending small splashes up and raining down.

  Glowing Heart. She's all he can think about. It annoys him to no end. He doesn't necessarily hate her- aside from dropping him on his spray nozzle, but he's moved past that- it's just that their temporary partnership has come to an end. Her flying abilities are invaluable, but Glowing Heart herself is unreliable.

  It happened so quickly, the cord wrapping around his leg, dragging him down while Diamond ran closer and Glowing Heart struggled to free him. He slipped, but Glowing Heart caught him in time. Then a shock, more painful than anything he's ever experienced, rattled him, coursed throughout his entire body, seized his arms and legs and tore apart his body to the point he was sure he would shatter from the heat.

  He screamed. But Glowing Heart's shriek was louder. It pierced his ears and he hears it even now in his chest. It makes him feel like he's in danger all over again. Like Glowing Heart is in danger. His first thought then was 'oh god, is she okay?'

  He resented her for a solid hour. Maybe more, maybe less. Nothing is supposed to touch his spray nozzle, and she let him down. She made him lose. But it's useless to dwell on feelings like hatred, so he just let it go. Of course, he can't simply trust her like that anymore. So he made it clear it was over between them.

  And it was unnecessarily cold of him, sure, but he did what he had to do. She wouldn't take it any other way.

  At the very least, she tried to hang on the first time. She was quick to react when he slipped from her grasp, so maybe if she was that quick when he was falling-

  Wait.

  Cologne slaps his forehead. She grabbed his nozzle- how did he not notice until now? And he just let her do that? But it doesn't matter now. There's no point bringing it up, so he sighs and lets it go. Cologne kicks at the water again.

  Despite all of it, he feels...guilt. It's not like he hasn't done this before, taking advantage of situations or people for his own benefit, but Glowing Heart is...different, somehow. He never really thought about it until he decided to give her the silent treatment. He finds himself wishing he had said something to reassure her; something to see that smile of hers. Something that wasn't so cold and distant.

  Cologne's never been the type to make friends. He's friendly, but he never feels any particular attachment to anyone. So why Glowing Heart? Why does he feel so bad? Maybe it's because of her innocence, like a wide-eyed doe, and he wants to protect it.

  But that can't be it. It might be part of it, as cheesy as it is, but it's definitely not the whole reason. So what is it? It hurts Cologne's brain if he thinks about it for too long, because he just doesn't know. It's like an answer just out of his reach, something that he knows but can't explain. It'd be better if he just forgets about it. Glowing Heart can't always be relied on, and Cologne doesn't want to risk being put up for elimination again.

  He kicks up the water. The stars blink in and out with the ripples.

  "Cologne?"

  Of course it's the one person he doesn't want to see. He almost says something, but catches himself and continues to stare at the water. Glowing Heart's wavering reflection floats next to his, her gaze flitting from the ground to him.

  "It's, um...it's a really nice night out today...don't you think?"

  Guilt tears up his insides, suddenly ten times bigger than it usually is. He looks away from the lake.

  "You know...when we were performing those plays, I thought you did a really good job. You're a great actor!"

  He refuses to react. She'll stop trying eventually. Glowing Heart is quiet for a while.

  She sighs. "Are you mad at me? You know, for dropping you on your nozzle? I'm sorry...if only I had been quicker, or held on tighter...but I'll do better next time..!"

  Next time... She really wants them to work together again? He bites his tongue and holds it down. The words would burst out otherwise.

  "I guess you're really mad if you won't talk to me...I understand. I'll just...go, then." 

  Cologne swears there's a break in her voice. He glances back at their reflections, just in time to see Glowing Heart turn to leave, her hand clasping her arm.

  "Wait."

  Dammit.

  "Y-Yes?" Glowing Heart zips back to her place beside Cologne as he asks himself a million times why he let himself slip. But it isn't like he can ignore her now.

  "Listen, I'm...I'm not mad at you, okay? It's in the past."

  "Oh, thank goodness! I don't know what I'd do if you were mad at me."

  "Yeah... I've just been doing some thinking, and decided it's better for me to work alone. That's all."

  "So-" Glowing Heart hesitates. "Okay, I understand...but we can still be friends, can't we?"

  "Yeah, sure."

  It's really a half-truth. Cologne doesn't think of people as friends, and Glowing Heart isn't an exception. Still, he feels terrible over one measly half-lie. 

  Friends...could they be friends? Real friends, in this zero-sum competition where only one person can emerge as the winner? This is Cologne's kind of game; it's really no different to how he normally lives. It's a game he's confident he'll win.

  As long as he plays the game. As long as he knows how to take advantage of any given situation. As long as people like Glowing Heart doesn't distract him. As long as his goal remains singular, and his priorities are straight, he will never lose.

  This is the first time Cologne's been so uncertain of his decisions. He wants to know Glowing Heart better. He likes her.

  In a friendly, platonic, curious kind of way. Definitely not anything more than that. She's just interesting to him. Interesting enough that he accidentally got attached to her.

  "That's good... You don't mind if I sit here, right? I wouldn't want to intrude on Holly and Tart's date, I'd just be a third wheel."

  "Go ahead. I don't mind."

  The urge to say more fills his head. To say sorry, to catch up, to sort out his feelings that make no sense to him- anything but sitting in awkward silence. It's all so new, the thoughts swirling in his head as he watches Glowing Heart out of the corner of his eye, hovering besides him and staring at her reflection. 

  Cologne wonders what she's thinking about.

  He won't say anything. Not without figuring out why or what this feeling is, because it could hurt him in the long run. If he just applies some rational thought and reason, surely he'll figure out what it all means. He always does.

Chapter Text

"I think it's really nice out today," Rusted Shield smiles, "wanna go for a walk?"

  "Mm. Not really."

  Rusted Shield pouts. "Come on! Do you have any reason not to?"

  Sticker's eyes meet hers for a split second. "No, I just don't want to."

  "Ugh," she throws her head back, "come on! It'll be fun! We can see the butterflies, and the flowers, climb a hill and enjoy the view," she pulls on Sticker's arm, "and it'll be a nice time, just the two of us."

  "Okay," Sticker heaves himself up, "fine. Let's go, then."

  Rusted Shield giggles, and they walk side by side up a gently sloping hill. A few bees buzz around a nearby patch of white flowers. The chatter of other contestants fades away as the pair walk farther up the hill.

  "It's nice up here, right? Just, the nature, all around us?"

  Sticker looks up at the clear sky, then out at the expanse of crisp grass surrounding them. Somewhere past that is the ocean that isolates their island. Rocks and trees dot the landscape, and untrimmed bushes litter the ground.

  "Sure. It's not like I see this everyday or something."

  "Hey, don't be so negative! There's always something new to see."

  "It's an island," Sticker rolls his eyes, "I know you're a newcomer and all, but eventually you'll see everything there is to see here."

  "Not true! Oh, come on, let's get to the top and I'll show you what I mean!" Rusted Shield races ahead of Sticker, who sighs and quickens his pace to a jog.

  Rusted Shield reaches the hill's crest long before Sticker does. She takes a deep breath, trying to absorb life itself within her. It's cool and fresh, with a hint of salt. 

  "So you dragged me out here to show me this? I've been up here before," Sticker says as he comes up behind Rusted Shield.

  "I told you, there's always something new to see!" Rusted Shield points at a few boats gliding in the ocean, tiny from where she and Sticker are standing. "Look at those boats down there!"

  "And? Boats come in and out of the harbor all the time."

  Rusted Shield turns back to Sticker. "But it's still cool to see them out here, right? All of the objects down there, just doing their own thing...you can see the entire city from here!"

  Sticker watches Rusted Shield as she surveys the land with bright eyes. Objects like her seem to find something enjoyable in anything they find. It's tiring, but she doesn't seem to mind him.

  He can admit it's nice to have a little distraction from everyday life. Rusted Shield has a contagious energy that makes him glad to be with her. Of course, she could stand to tone it down sometimes.

  It's peaceful. Being away from everyone else, taking in the scenery...Sticker smiles to himself; just enough to break off from his usual frown. 

  "...I guess so, yeah. Makes you realize how small you are compared to all of this."

  "Or glad that we can be a part of it. Every big thing is made out of smaller parts." Rusted Shield smiles tenderly. "I like to think we're all part of lots of things, even if we don't realize it. Helps me feel less alone."

  Sticker hasn't noticed Rusted Shield's hand in his until now.

  "And I'm just really glad to be with you, y'know? I'm glad I get to be part of your life."

  "Why?" Sticker turns away to hide his blush. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm not an optimistic person."

  "Does that have to matter? I like you for being you. You're not a grump, you're a realist, and someone who gets things done!" She giggles. "And you like me for being myself too, right?"

  "I, uh- Yeah?" Sticker fixes his gaze to the ground. "I don't know what you're getting at."

  "Ah nevermind, it doesn't really matter. Also, do you mind if I...keep holding your hand? I uh, kinda did it on impulse, but it feels really nice..."

  "I don't mind..." Sticker mutters. He doesn't feel the need to object or raise questions, as strange as the situation is. It just feels nice. Right, almost. Her hand is warm in his.

  He glances at Rusted Shield for a moment. She's still looking out at the city, thinking about who knows what. 

  A small breeze brushes against his face. The ocean glitters under the sunlight. Even from their height, the landscape stretches on endlessly.

  Once again, he's glad he let Rusted Shield drag him out here.

Chapter Text

Of course it's raining. Why wouldn't it be? Lollipop keeps her eyes forward as the windshield wipers swing back and forth. Rain pelts the windows like bullets, and the gray sky makes it nearly impossible to see.

  Lollipop has no idea how long she's been driving. All she has are hazy landmarks to judge where she is. She'll find where she's going eventually, though.

  It's strange. Never has Lollipop imagined she'd be driving during mid-afternoon in the rain, in a tacky van no less, to say her final goodbyes to someone she cares very much for.

  She huffs. Her situation is straight out of those old, romantic movies, so old that it shows in black and white. But there's nothing really wrong with that, so why does it matter?

  The grass turns to ash beneath the van. She's close now. Lollipop has yet to actually figure out a way to find her former teammate, but surely she's taking shelter underneath a roof somewhere. The bathrooms would be a good place to start.

  Well, they're not the bathrooms anymore. Two turned them into some kind of hotel-like building. Regardless, a building makes a far better shelter from the rain, so Lollipop keeps driving, flicking her eyes to the side every now and then.

  A tall, gray building comes into view. Lollipop pulls over near its entrance and opens the door. She takes out a gray umbrella, unfurling and resting it on her shoulder. The rain is much louder outside the van. Lollipop speedwalks to the front door and knocks.

  "It's open!" Coiny's voice comes from inside. Lollipop pushes the door open, and a few heads turn to look at her.

  "Lolly?" Eggy rushes up as Lollipop sets her umbrella down, "what are you doing here? Aren't you on Four's show?"

  "Been a while, Lollipop!" Basketball chirps, "how's everyone else doing?"

  "Nice to see you again."

  "Is this part of a challenge?"

  "What's with that scribble?"

  "Don't tell me! Did you get eliminated?"

  "That's stupid! If she was eliminated, why would she be here?"

  "If you would please," Lollipop spreads her arms, forcing the gathered objects to back up, "give me some space. I came here looking for Book. Is she around?"

  "She's upstairs...somewhere," Pen points, "I'll go get her!" He dashes up the stairs, disappearing behind a wall.

  "Really though Lollipop, how is everyone? It's been a while since we heard from Blocky, and I'm a little nervous."

  "He's been eliminated for a while," Lollipop explains. Basketball's face falls at the news.

  "Oh... Well, it happens to everyone at some point, right?"

  "Except the winner," Pie points out.

  "Well duh, obviously."

  Lollipop scans the room. "What about all of you? Looks like you have it well made in this luxurious high-rise."

  "Yeah, Two's powers are incredible!" Cake grins, "definitely beats sleeping out in the open!"

  Fries leans against a counter. "They're taking an awfully long time to get the competition started, though. I'm starting to think they don't know what they're doing."

  "I'm sure they're doing their best," Foldy counters, "with X gone, Two has to do everything by themself!"

  "Well maybe they shouldn't have hosted if they don't even know-"

  "I got Book!" Pen waves from the stairs. The objects surrounding Lollipop break away as Book jogs up to meet her.

  "Er-" she stares at the marker on Lollipop's face. "What...?"

  "All part of a challenge. It's nothing to worry yourself with."

  "Oh. Alright, uh," Book purses her lips, "you wanted to talk?"

  Lollipop turns around and rests her arm across Book's shoulders. "Yes, but I'd prefer if we talked somewhere more private. You don't mind, do you?"

  "Not at all!"

  Lollipop grabs her umbrella and they dash under the rain to the van. Book clambers in with Lollipop right behind her, slamming the door closed. Book shuffles over to the passenger seat and sits down, sighing as her eyes scan the interior.

  "Been a while since I've been in here," she muses. "Brings up...memories."

  "Of being blinded by these tacky lights?" Lollipop pores over the dashboard and groans. "Is there any way to turn these off?"

  "I don't think so," Book laughs awkwardly. "You get used to it after a while, though."

  "My poor eyes are being assaulted. Even after hours of being in here, I still can't get used to it."

  "Hours?" Book glances at the ground. "You drove hours to get here, just to talk to me?"

  "I've been subjected to hours of grating singing in here, too. Do you know Ruby? She insisted that she, Leafy, and I should spend hours bonding over sing-a-longs." Lollipop shudders. "It was absolutely terrible."

  "She's my friend, actually. I'm sure she didn't mean any harm; Ruby's not the type of person to do those sorts of things willingly."

  "You severely underestimate her. She's a madwoman. But enough about her," Lollipop rests her arm on the passenger seat, leaning closer to Book, "tell me about you."

  Book flushes from her closeness. "M-Me? I-I mean, I haven't been up to much...a long time's passed, but nothing eventful has really happened, you know? Uh- Wh-What about you? And Taco? Teardrop?"

  "Everyone's fine. Teardrop and I have made an alliance with Gelatin, and it's going splendidly. Although, our fishy friend has been eliminated for some time now."

  "Oh! That's, uh...unfortunate... So she's in the EXIT with Dora?"

  "Hardly. She's in the BRB."

  "The-" Book's eyes dart back and forth. "The BRB?"

  "The Big Rotating Building. Apparently the EXIT is full."

  "Huh. Well, I hope she's okay up there. It doesn't really sound like a pleasant experience..." 

  "It's a building, with cages for the eliminated contestants." Lollipop twirls her finger. "It just spins around, all day long. Quite the excessive punishment, but regardless, I believe she's holding her own."

  "It sounds awful! But you're right, she's a really strong person. Especially after, well...you know..."

  Book suddenly finds Lollipop's steady stare to be too much for her. She squeezes her hands to keep herself grounded.

  "Well, I'm...glad I made up with her when I did."

  Lollipop raises an eyebrow. "And I assume you've talked to everyone else, too?"

  "Of course! I mean, some of them are a little hesitant to forgive me, but I think that's well deserved. I said a lot of awful things..."

  "That you did. But the effort does count for something."

  Book smiles. "Yeah, I guess. And thanks for not giving me false sympathy...I can always," she blushes, "count on you to be honest with me. I wish I listened to you sooner."

  "Mmmmhm. And...?"

  She giggles. "I'm sorry I didn't. I never apologized to you either, huh?"

  "Nope. But I'll take your apology now. Consider yourself forgiven."

  "That's a relief," Book glances up and meets Lollipop's eyes, still fixated on her. Her head is tilted slightly to the side, with a fond smile on her face.

  Rain patters against the window, and the flashing lights bathe Lollipop in a golden glow. The van settles in a comfortable warmth, the heater humming in the background. 

  Book's hands are sweaty and the leather seat is sticky. They're in their own world, entranced by each other's gazes. If Book dares to move– if she looks away for even a split second– the spell will break.

  She studies Lollipop's face: the round outline of her head, her rich purple color, and the bold marker scribbled across her face, sophisticated and artistic despite its nature. The intensity of her eyes keeps Book in place. She doesn't want to look away.

  Lollipop leans in closer, so close that her warm breath touches Book's lips. So close that Book catches the faint scent of grape in the air. So close that electricity seems to sparkle in Lollipop's eyes.

  So close that Book can close the distance with a swift movement. Her breath gets stuck in her throat as she breathes a bit more laboriously. She gulps it down. 

  Her eyes refocus to Lollipop's lips, then back to her eyes. Lollipop does the same, with a more thoughtful expression. As if she's asking Book for permission.

  Or maybe daring her to make a move.

  Slowly, gingerly, Book leans forward, her gaze darting from Lollipop's lips to her eyes. She doesn't move away. Their lips brush against each other.

  The tense spell shatters into millions of glittering pieces as Book pushes her lips onto Lollipop's. Surges of sensation wash over Book, her face bursting with heat and the sheer adrenaline flooding her body like water released from the floodgates. Her lips are sweet and taste like candy.

  Lollipop's sweetness lingers when Book pulls away. The kiss is short, and not at all dramatic, but Book still takes several seconds to pull herself together. Her hand came to rest on Lollipop's cheek in the middle of it.

  "I-I uh- Wow, I- Lollipop-"

  "Yes?"

  Book titters. "I wasn't, uh- I didn't know you- I-I need to pull myself together..."

  "I drove all the way here to see you. Just you. It was a very abrupt decision on my part, but I have a hunch, you see, that maybe I'll be eliminated next episode." Lollipop smiles. "So I just had to see you."

  "Really? That's why?" 

  "Mhm. I wanted to look at you, to hear your voice again. It's been much too long. But in the end, I got more than what I came for."

  "Th-That's really sweet of you...er- no pun intended." Book grins. "I missed you, too."

  Lollipop kisses Book again. "I'm quite hesitant to hit the road again. Stay with me a little while?"

  Book takes her hands into Lollipop's. "Of course!"

Chapter Text

'There was a...a voice in my head!'

  Ironically enough, Suitcase couldn't get it out of her head. She was so upfront about it. Did everyone else think she was overexaggerating? Being paranoid? Faking it? 

  They didn't seem to disregard it. Baseball was in disbelief. Knife looked more surprised than anything. Lightbulb was just upset. Test Tube was mad for some reason. Something about aliens, and stealing, and all sorts of things Suitcase didn't want to process. It was just too much. She was just too caught up in her own problems.

  Voices and visions. Visions and voices. They knocked around in her empty head and created this echo, some ringing sound she couldn't shake off.

  She couldn't expect anyone to really understand. Even in Microphone's case, it's different from what she experienced. Those voices never really told her what to do, they were just...there. She barely understood it herself.

  That's why she had to at least confront Microphone about it. Maybe she'd offer her some insight as to what she could do.

  Suitcase didn't actually plan it, though. She saw Microphone walking around the hotel. Her feet brought her right over.

  "Mic?"

  "Oh hey Suitcase! What's up?"

  "The voice you were talking about...during the elimination?"

  Microphone's hand instantly moves to her arm. "Uh- Yeah? What about it?"

  "You said...it told you what to do. How to move forward. And that you couldn't hear yourself. How...did that make you feel?"

  "How did I feel?" Microphone relaxed the grip on her arm. "Well...I mean at first it was...reassuring, you know? I had something telling me what to do, how- how to win, and it felt...good...coming out on top, having a solid plan, being seen...I was pretty set.

  "But eventually it went too far, and I didn't want that. But it was kind of scary...I started being doubtful and feeling this immense guilt," she squeezed her hands into fists, "so I shut it out. It wasn't easy, but if I ever wanted to be okay with myself, it was something I had to do."

  She smiled. "I wouldn't forgive myself, otherwise."

  "I see..." Suitcase looked at the ground. It was so similar...yet, not really.

  It was when they went too far with Balloon, that's when she decided it was enough. But it didn't stop there. She just traded one guilt for another. She thought they were her friends. It wasn't as if she could flip a switch and magically stop caring.

  How did Microphone manage to do it?

  "How?"

  "Huh?"

  "You must've trusted that voice...if you ignored your own judgements in favor of it...to the point you didn't know how to trust yourself..." Suitcase looked up. "Right?"

  "R-Right. I did."

  "And yet, you sound so at ease. Don't you think you could've done better? Don't you feel any guilt?"

  "Of course I do! I wanted to wait a little longer, I wanted a better solution to what happened!" Microphone hesitated and shook her head. "But I couldn't go on doing the things I was doing. I had to do it. I left a few loose ends, sure...but life isn't one big, tidy ribbon, you know?"

  "I wish it was..." Suitcase mumbled.

  Microphone went down on her knee. "Is something bothering you? You can talk to me if you want to, you know."

  The voices. Her hallucinations. Her guilt. Regret. Paranoia.

  Usually she'd jump at the chance to express it, but this time, it was like glue kept her from speaking. She couldn't even move.

  She must've looked bug-eyed. Haunted. Microphone reached her hand out.

  "Suitcase? Hey, are you okay?"

  She didn't know how to respond. She was frozen. Microphone's face distorted and purple veins shrouded her vision. Her eyes bulged as they darted right. The ground fell around her. Out. She wanted to get out. Microphone's grip was like cold steel, like death on her skin.

  Death. She was going to die. Microphone was killing her. The abyss grew bigger around her as the ground rumbled. Her legs shook underneath her and her heart wanted to burst out of her chest. Voices screamed in her head.

  She was going to die. She was going to die. She was going to die. She was going to–

  Microphone shook her vigorously.

  "Suitcase!" her screams rang in Suitcase's ears, "wake up! Hey!"

  "Here! I'm here!" she blurted. Microphone sighed.

  "Whew...thought I lost you there, haha...okay, glad you're okay." Her relief turned into concern. "You...are okay, right?"

  Suitcase nodded without thinking twice. She forced her breathing to come slowly.

  "I-I'm alright..."

  Why did she react so violently? Was she...not ready? She talked to Baseball before, and she was fine.

  Then again, it hadn't been such a detailed conversation, either. She's never talked about her feelings the way she just did. He never asked.

  "Mic?"

  "Yeah?"

  "Could we...talk later? If that's okay..."

  "Of course! What time?"

  Suitcase looked up at Hotel OJ. "Tomorrow morning? Your room?"

  "Yeah! You'll...be okay until then?"

  Suitcase nodded.

  "Alright, I'll see you then." Microphone smiled, got up and walked off, waving goodbye.

  Microphone could help her understand. Probably. She would at least know better than everyone else. That is, if Suitcase could even talk without breaking down.

  She didn't want to be stuck feeling this way. So at the very least, talking to Microphone was a good step forward.

Chapter Text

It was early morning, when a contestant's findings
Brought to the rest of them very good tidings.
"It snowed, it snowed!" Cake cheered with delight.
And indeed, the land was covered in a snowy sheet of white.
The rooftops and trees, all in a frosty hold
Framed the landscape as a beauty to behold.
Especially to Two, who nearly couldn't believe their eyes.
The snow, the cold, it was all a surprise.

They couldn't help but shiver, their breath came out as a puff.
"What's the meaning of this? What is this stuff?" 

"It's snow!" Bottle chirped, and pushed her way out,
Jumping and cheering, dancing about.
She sported boots and mittens, a scarf and wooly cap,
Looking skyward, she gave a happy clap.

"Wait for me!" Pen called, and also pushed Two
To join Bottle in her frolicking, too.

Most of the objects had gathered around
To join their friends on the snowy ground.
But Two, however, was still at a loss.
And being left out made them very cross.

"But what is snow? I've never seen it!"
The contestants turned at this sudden fit.
They realized, there might not have been snow where Two came from,
So they'd have to teach him, however cumbersome.

"Snow is basically frozen rain,
But having to clear it is a real pain."

"But playing in the snow is also really fun!
So I don't really mind, for one."

"Conditions have to be just right, so we don't see it a lot.
Usually the weather is just too hot."

Two understood now, but questions came again,
"What's so special about snow, then?"

"Because," Pillow said, "it means we're in for a good Christmas season!"
What is Christmas? Such a strange reason.
Another part of Earth culture, Two supposed.
And Earth culture was fascinating, so deeper they nosed.

Later that day, Two saw
Donut and Barf Bag, near the high-rise wall
Hanging up lights, and balls, and things of the sort
With Puffball helping them, because they were too short.

"What's going on here? What's with the decoration?
Is this for the Christmas celebration?"

"Yes, it is!" Barf Bag said with a smile.
"It's hard work, but it'll all be worthwhile
When the lights, inside and out, and even in the night
Our Christmas spirit will shine super bright!"

"Hard work, you say? I can help with that!"
And Two activated their powers at the drop of a hat,
Lining tinsel and ornaments along the windowsills,
Lights, garlands, and all those fancy Christmas frills.

"Hey," Donut grinned, "that looks pretty good!
But there's other people who need help, if you would.
We'll take it from here, so don't worry about us,
All the others are probably making a bigger fuss."

And so, in the high-rise Two went
When all of a sudden, they caught a heavenly scent.
It came from the kitchen; they peeked inside.
And the sight of it all made their eyes wide!
Casseroles, cakes, cookies on cooling racks!
Salads, cheese platters, and all kinds of snacks!
Two hadn't seen so much food before,
And yet everyone seemed to be making more!

"What's up, Two?" Coiny called,
A serving cart full of goodies he hauled.
"Come on in! Don't just stand at the door!
We could use a hand, there's always room for more!"

And lend a hand Two did, using their powers
To make the piles of food into towers!
They could cook with the point of a finger; zap!
And create stunning displays; snap!
Then when all the cooking was said and done,
Everyone went out for some wintery fun.

Snowmen and snowball fights!
Throwing snowballs at each other when they entered each other's sights!
Off of steep hills they sled,
Tears of laughter they shed,
Even as they rolled off
Into deep, snowy troughs!

And Two simply had the time of their life,
The competition forgotten, and all of their strife
Gone in the midst of all their Christmas cheer,
No wonder why the objects held the holiday so dear.

Two asked, "What other Christmas things do you all do?"
For with every activity, their Christmas love grew and grew.

Then along came Tree, with presents in his arms
Wrapped with neat ribbons and patterned stars.
Two rushed over, absolutely in awe
Of the various little boxes that they saw.

They pointed at the boxes. "What are these for?
Stacking? Decoration? Or something more?"

"They're presents, Two," he explained.
"And for every one of my teammates, a gift is contained.
Give people presents, people give presents to you.
And you just hope you get a good one, too."

"It's more about the giving!" Bell shouted, "don't forget!"
"If it's not something you like, there's still no reason to be upset!"

"That's not what I meant..." Tree muttered.
And quickly he went, inside he scuttered.

And then that night, when all were asleep,
Two was awake, they couldn't sleep a peep.
They had fun all day, but they still wanted more.
So they sneaked out of their room, and out the front door.

Snowflakes were falling, straight from the sky.
The night was dark and the moon was high.
They used their powers, and kicked up a storm,
And when it was over, their own Christmas they did form.

They moved the trees to make a small forest of pine
And topped the trees with decorations so fine.
A star on each tree stood proud and erect,
And Two was sure their setup was correct. 
Yet, they were unsatisfied, so they made a few amends
And conjured up little snowman friends.
But they were unmoving, not at all lively or warm.
Two sat down, their head aswarm.

There were decorations and light!
Ornaments that lit up the night!
They hummed to themself a little tune,
Maybe the noise would cure their plight soon.

But that didn't work, so Two threw a snowball at a snowman's head.
It wasn't met with a hearty shriek, its head fell off instead.

They just couldn't shake their lonely feeling.
What was the answer to the problem of which they were dealing?

They didn't understand; their Christmas was correct!
So why did it feel so defect?
They were missing something, but what?
And that's when their big realization struck.

Maybe Christmas fun wasn't in the decoration.
No, the fun they had had a different formation.
They were spending time with their contestants, it was true.
Perhaps that's why Two felt so blue.

They were lonely, that was all.
Without a friend around, they felt so small.
And Two had been alone before,
But this loneliness was something more.

They had friends now, without a doubt.
That was what Christmas was all about.
Not making things look pretty and nice,
But having friends around to turn up the spice.

As if like magic, a few contestants came to their aid.
"Two! What's...this thing you made?"

Two shrugged off their concerns, having found their cure,
"Nothing, it's nothing. But let's have Christmas fun tomorrow, for sure!"

Chapter Text

Leafy snuggled closer to her girlfriend, cozy with the blue blanket wrapped around her as the steady fire crackled in the fireplace. The two young ladies and their surroundings bathed in an orange glow, the cold outside far away as they nestled in their own little world.

  It was close to midnight; Leafy and Lollipop were the only two awake. Leafy sighed deeply, felt around for Lollipop's hand and squeezed it firmly. Lollipop's gaze shifted from the fire to Leafy, and turned over her hand so their fingers could intertwine. Her cold hand sent a little shiver throughout Leafy's body.

  She wanted to thank Lollipop, for getting up at such an unreasonable hour just to keep her company, but the silence was heavenly. Maybe her physical affections would be enough. She moved her head to rest on Lollipop's shoulder and brought her legs closer to her body, unwittingly letting out a small whine.

  Lollipop smiled, amused but affectionate, and gave Leafy a kiss on her forehead. Leafy smiled too, and her mouth moved on its own.

  "Thanks for keeping me company," she whispered, "it means a lot."

  "Of course. How could I not?"

  Bittersweetness clogged up Leafy's heart. She loved Lollipop. She knew that. It was just hard sometimes. Those words of reassurance could hardly break through her fears.

  Fear.

  She couldn't have another episode. Not now. She clung to Lollipop like a lifeline. She hated that she couldn't let go.

  Leafy could see it, hear it, feel it; Lollipop's little remarks on how she always clinged to her, her little eye-roll when Leafy just had to insist she follow her: Lollipop was fed up, she knew it. Fed up with having to deal with clingy Leafy all the time.

  Clingy Leafy.

  Unstable Leafy.

  Desperate Leafy.

  Miserable Leafy.

  If she kept it up, Lollipop would leave her. She would. She'd have no problem with it. She was so annoyed already.

  Empty promises were all those words could be. That's why Leafy had to be around. To be prepared to help. To be nice to everyone. To prove herself. So people wouldn't leave her. She's too nice to leave behind.

  Right. That's right. She's nice. She's a good person. A great person. The nicest person around. She deserved good things, like love and friendship.

  Love. She loved Lollipop. Lollipop loved her. It was going to stay that way for as long as Leafy could help it. She wouldn't let Lollipop forget her.

  Being tossed away and forgotten...was the worst thing she could imagine.

  "Leafy? Leafy, where has your mind gone off to?" Lollipop gently shook her.

  "I'm here, Lolli! Uh- were you worried about me?"

  "You suddenly stopped responding to me. Did you fall asleep with your eyes open, somehow?"

  Leafy's eyes traveled from Lollipop's body to her face, and then locked with her eyes, outlined with orange.

  Orange. Orange. Leafy seized with uncontrollable fear.

  "Y-You love me, don't you, Lollipop?"

  "Yes," Lollipop nodded, her expression a little skeptical.

  "Then prove it! Right now!"

  "Where is this attitude suddenly coming from? I think you should rest." Lollipop studied Leafy's wide eyes and the way she clung to Lollipop's arm, her hands pressed into her skin.

  It was the kind of behavior she'd expect from someone fearing for their life. But Leafy was safe here.

  "You're avoiding the question! Y-You don't...you don't..."

  Lollipop swooped in and kissed Leafy. They held it for a few seconds, then Lollipop pulled away and held Leafy by her shoulders.

  "I'm not leaving you. You need to trust me."

  Leafy would if she could. She wanted to. It was just hard.

  "Okay..." Her head drooped. After the fear came shame. Lollipop lifted Leafy's chin with her fingers.

  "You can't expect me to solve your problems for you. I'll help, but there's only so much I can do."

  Lollipop may not have fully understood, but she was supportive. It made Leafy want to be better. Through all her breakdowns and fear, all she wanted was to be good enough.

  Not just good enough for other people. Good enough for herself. It was a rough, winding road, but Leafy had to convince herself it was worth it.

  "I'll do my best, Lollipop. I'll try."

  "You promise?" Lollipop lightly tickled Leafy's cheek.

  "Yes," Leafy giggled, "I promise."

  "That's what I like to hear," she cooed. She kissed Leafy again, deeper and more passionately. Lollipop teased her tongue and flicked it between Leafy's lips.

  Leafy opened her mouth to return herself fully, but yawned instead.

  "Oh. Sorry, I guess I'm tired..."

  "That's fine." Lollipop pulled up the blanket that had fallen down earlier. "We'll continue this later. You can sleep with me."

  "Really?" Leafy got up to let Lollipop readjust herself. She laid her head on the couch's armrest and held the blanket open.

  "Just lay on top of me. I'll be fine, just don't move around too much."

  Leafy smiled and climbed onto the couch, her head on Lollipop's chest. Lollipop let the blanket fall on them, and stroked Leafy's hair until they both fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Senior year is finally over. High school is finally over. What a hell of a ride.

  But...I guess there's something bittersweet about it. Like suddenly being free after dragging around a heavy ball and chain. It feels so foreign and light. I'm glad it's over, but it'll take some getting used to.

  Rain patters against the window. Lovely weather for the last day of school. Though, it isn't really the last day of school; it's three months of summer, and then into college and back to the grind.

  But that shouldn't mean I can't enjoy it while it lasts. There's no rush, no pressure: I just have to be who I am. I'd much rather spend time with Balloon and Lightbulb, and Test Tube really is coming around. It's so much easier being friends with them than being popular.

  Being popular...turned me into a monster. The people that didn't make it out of high school, Taco, Trophy, Knife...it wasn't a nightmare. They still haunt me in my dreams. I played a hand in their deaths. It's no different than if I killed them myself. 

  And Fan...I wish things with him went differently. He did things I can't really forgive, but that doesn't mean it's entirely his fault. He had a tough life, so he had to be tougher. It broke him. No one deserves to live like that. ...I wish people were nicer. Then tragedies like that could be avoided.

  A tragedy. Is that really what I think of Fan? That's so disrespectful to him. I loved him. I...still do, I guess. 

  He made me smile, made me laugh, made me want to fight for something. And if he stuck around, I could've helped him see that not everyone in the world is against him. I could've helped him. Healed him.

  Although, it really wouldn't be that easy. He'd have to come to that realization himself. But still, I could've done more for him. He should've had so much more life. Everyone should've had more life.

  I'm not...trying to make excuses for myself, right? One of the last things Fan told me was to make things better. Because I beat him, because I resisted until the end, I have the strength to make the world a slightly better place. Starting with myself, and then passing kindness on to other people.

  I didn't feel strong in that moment. But laying here, in bed, I really do have the confidence to be more of myself. To let others know that being dorky, or nerdy, and even weak and vulnerable is okay. To choose to grow and learn instead of shrinking back and bottling the trauma.

  It's not that easy. Nothing ever is. But if everyone makes a little effort, to support each other and themselves, then things would be better. It starts with small steps.

  That's Fan's legacy. That's the message I carry in his name. The world he could've lived in, where he could've been supported and understood...I'll make sure it happens. He would've loved that.

  I roll over and pull the blanket up. It's been a long year. I deserve a little rest.

Chapter Text

She felt like she was going to die.

Well, obviously she wasn't going to, but how else could she describe her skyrocketing heartbeat? Something inside her might as well instantaneously combust.

2DS was never someone to exaggerate much, so just this one time should be okay. She flapped her hands near her face in an attempt to cool down.

She was going to faint, or something. Then again, fainting felt a bit too much, too dramatic. Surely she wasn't going to pull theatrics like that? Was it appropriate?

'2DS, come on! Don't lose your head! You have a challenge to do!'

"2DS? You okay?"

"Huh?" She turned to face Marker. "Yeah, yeah! J-Just a little distracted, is all. Foldy just died so violently, y'know?"

"It was an accident!" Fries called out from a distance.

"Well, Four can recover her later, so it's fine!" Marker grinned and tapped his head.

"Y-Yeah! You're right." 2DS glanced over at X's tower; particularly at the basket that hovered near it. "But with Foldy gone, how are we going to get a basket to X? No one else can get up there..."

Marker's eyes widened. 2DS looked at him curiously.

"Uh, turn around..."

A mass of pink glared at her.

"Aaaaaah!"

Her arms flailed in front of her, and she fell flat on the grass. She put a hand to her pounding heart.

"Go Puffball, get the basket!"

Her savior. Puffball became much less angry and flew up to deliver X's basket. 2DS sighed in relief as a shadow hopped over her.

"You okay?" Yellow Face smiled down at her. She couldn't help the stupid grin that spread across her face.

"Y-Yes!" She got up and dusted her legs off. Her cheeks burned with the familiar heat. "Thank you!"

"No problem!" He winked at her, and a giggle bubbled out of her mouth.
2DS looked at the rest of her teammates, praising a radiant Puffball.

"Thanks for winning the challenge!" she waved at her, "sorry if I offended you earlier!"

"It's okay," Puffball smiled. 2DS sighed, grateful for the forgiveness.

Yellow Face still stood beside her, smiling as always. Her mind went back to that warm fuzziness.

"Great job, Puffball!"

He was always so positive and supportive of his friends. Vibrant, creative, fun, kind... She had to stop herself from letting out a dreamy sigh. That would've been embarrassing. She turned away, her face burning red.

Well, the challenge was over. She could rest easy now.

Except, not really. She couldn't get his smile out of her head. His friendly little wink drove her crazy inside.

How long could she keep it up? She was good at hiding it- at least, she hoped so- but how long could she really hide it? She was bound to say or do something stupid eventually, and then what?

Her head was abuzz with dozens of outcomes. Or maybe not dozens- at the very least, quite a few.

She pinched her cheek.

What she wanted most was for him to accept someone like her. Someone...not as vibrant, fun, or creative. Kind? Sure, but anyone could be kind. She was rather basic, she found.

And she was okay with that. Not everyone could be special, but just this once, she wanted to be special for him.

If only she was worth noticing...

"2DS! Hey!"

"Waugh-h- hey!"

She turned around to see Yellow Face smiling at her. She cleared her throat.

"I noticed you standing here by yourself, staring off into the distance. You okay?"

"Yes! I'm- I-I'm alright!" She bit the inside of her lip to prevent the stupid grin trying to break out.

"Cool! Hey, I'm putting together a get-together for us Free Foodies, to get to know each other better! You want in?"

"H-Huh? As in, do I want to participate, or..?"

"You wanna help me set up?" He grinned.

The air around her raised by at least a degree. "M-Me!? A-Absolutely, but...uh, I mean- Wouldn't, uh...Fries be more suitable for something like this? He's definitely more responsible than I am."

"Maybe, but you're the more fun-loving type, and this get-together should be fun! We'll work well together!"

She nearly swooned on the spot. He needed her for something? That only she could do? It was almost as if he read her mind.

Or, not really. Surely someone else could fill her role, but she didn't want to think about that now. If Yellow Face was asking for her, she'd gladly oblige.

"Yeah! Sure!" she beamed, "let's do it! I really wanted to get to know you more, anyways!"

That last part slipped out by accident.

"Then this is the perfect time! Come on, we have a lot to do!" He hopped away excitedly, and 2DS followed in joyful strides.

"So, whatddya wanna know?"

"Well..." 2DS was brimming with smiles. "How do you have so much energy all the time? I really wish I could be like that."

"Oh, that's an easy one! You see..."

This is what she wanted. Quality time with Yellow Face, and admiring him even more for his talents. It meant everything to her.

Though, it wouldn't have happened if he didn't reach out first. She was grateful for that.

So maybe she was worth noticing after all.

Chapter Text

The scene was like something out of a movie.

Bright blue skies with wispy white clouds. Emerald green grass that glistened in the sun's ever-generous warmth with vibrant flowers in bloom, both blending in and popping out against the fields that waved in the light breeze. Butterflies and bees flitted and buzzed about. The chirps of birds came from invisible sources.

A nearby tree provided shade over a red and white checkered picnic blanket, with enough room between its leaves to let dappled light shine through. A few other trees dotted the landscape, leading to a forest line not far from the picnic area.

It was essentially the middle of nowhere. But right now, it was paradise for the trio under the tree.

"We met up oirlier to toik about another trip to the beach, and Oi'd loike you two to come as well!"

"Is that really okay?" Cake grinned, "I'd love to, but I wouldn't wanna impose or anything."

"Oioh! Yoi're right, Oi should've asked." Bubble shook her head. "Loiter, then."

"I hate the beach," Fanny grumbled. "Sand, especially. It's coarse, and rough, and irritating, and it gets everywhere and always messes me up."

"Oh, Fanny's right, the beach probably isn't a good idea for her. Sand and water aren't good for you, right?"

Fanny nodded.

"You too. You shouldn't be near water, either."

"Oh... Yeah, it wouldn't be good if I got splashed with water."

"Hmm, yoi're right," Bubble sighed. "Soirry, Oi forgot."

"It's alright, everybody forgets things sometimes," Cake smiled. Bubble smiled, and reached for another mini sandwich.

"Anyone woint anoither sandwich?"

"Ooh! Yes, please!" Cake opened his mouth expectantly. Bubble giggled and placed the sandwich inside.

"Fanny, do you woint one too?" she offered a sandwich to her.

"No thanks." Fanny averted her eyes, embarrassed. "I'm full."

"Really?" Cake swallowed his sandwich. "I didn't think I saw you eating anything..." 

"Hmph."

"Fanny, are you embarrassed?" Bubble tilted her head. "You don't hoive to be, there's noio one around."

"I can feed myself," Fanny muttered.

"Oi never said you coidn't! Oi just wointed to do soimething noice for you. Eating with feet is hard, roight?"

"I'm used to it."

Cake nervously smiled at Fanny. "Come on Fanny, this is supposed to be a cute date! You can be cute for a little bit, can't you?"

"Huh?" Fanny sat up straighter, and her blades spun automatically. "Ngh. I don't really...d-don't say things like that."

"O-Oh, did I go too far?"

"It's fine."

"Fanny, it moight sound selfish, but...ploise let me do this foir you. Oi just really woint to."

Fanny looked up. Bubble avoided eye contact.

"...give that sandwich here."

Bubble extended her hand back out towards Fanny. Fanny sighed quietly, leaned foward, and took the sandwich in her teeth. 

Bubble smiled fondly. "Thoink you."

"That wasn't so bad, right?"

"I guess not. I just prefer doing things myself."

Bubble continued to smile fondly at Fanny- and at Cake, too. She was filled to the brim with love for the both of them. There wasn't a way she could possibly put it into words, but she didn't need to. All she had to do was feel.

"It's really, really nice out today." Cake smiled up at the sky. 

"Well, you coin't hoive a poicnic in the rain!"

"It's way too bright, though."

"Oh, you wanna sit in the shade? We can make room."

"Sure."

Bubble and Cake scooted over, and Fanny sat beside them. They were a bit close together, but none of them minded too much.

"Y'know what," Cake closed his eyes blissfully, a light blush on his face. "I think we can stay like this for a while."

"Yeah...thois is really noice." Bubble leaned back a little. She glanced at Fanny, who gazed at Cake with fond eyes.

Fanny looked up at Bubble, obviously noticing her stare. She didn't look away. 

She smiled a soft, loving smile.

Bubble let herself relax. For now, all was right with the world.

Chapter Text

"Pen."

"Yes?"

"No."

"Yes."

Tree facepalms.

"I'm all for team bonding, but this isn't the way I want to do it."

"Well I agree with it," Liy smiles at Pen. "It's a great idea!"

Pen smugly turns to Tree. "Seeee? That's two to one, bucko."

"Hey, what're you guys talking about?" Bottle jumps in.

"Talking about ways to get to know each other better!" Pen grins. "And we've decided on a nice game of Truth or Dare!"

"Oh, I love that game!" Bottle cheers.

"You have the approval of one other person, nothing's been decided yet."

"Hey Bottle, do you want to play Truth or Dare?"

"Yeah!"

Again, Pen smugly turns to Tree, exaggerating the swing of his body.

"Make that two people."

"Ugh." Tree facepalms again.

"I'll grab the rest of the team and see what they think of it," Liy says as she skips off. Soon, all of Death P.A.C.T. is sitting in the living room, listening to Pen's proposal.

"It'll be a family-friendly game of Truth or Dare. No shenanigans, nothing like that. It'll just be team bonding time!"

"I mean, I'm down," Black Hole nods.

"Sounds like a good idea to me," Pie gives her thumbs up.

"I've never played Truth or Dare, but it sounds fun," Remote says.

"Mhm!" Pillow smiles.

"Great! It's settled then." Liy puts her hands on her hips proudly. "Tonight, we'll have a great team bonding session!"

"Whoop whoop!" Pen hypes her up, followed by Pillow, Bottle, and Remote. Liy grins.

She especially wants to get closer with Remote tonight.

It's 8PM. Liy sets up the living room as best she can, stripping the beds of their pillows and blankets, throwing them down onto the wooden floor. She goes to arrange them in a circle, slyly putting her pillow next to Remote's. It's a sneaky trick, but it wouldn't hurt anybody, so it'll be fine.

"Setting up?" Pen pops into the living room.

"Yeah. Figure we shouldn't start too late."

"Agreed. Hey, you want me to get snacks or something?"

"Oh, perfect! Yeah, you go do that. You know what everyone likes, right?"

"Welll...sorta?" he shrugs. Liy stops what she's doing and looks at him. "I know Bottle likes sweet things, and Black Hole doesn't really have a sense of taste, but that's about it."

"Pie likes salty foods, but not too salty. Tree has a particular liking for cheese and crackers, but also has a bit of a sweet tooth. Pillow has a taste for weird food combinations, and Remote likes hard candy, and anything she can crunch."

Pen blinks. "You sure know a lot. When did they tell you this?"

Liy shrugs. "Oh, you know, I just ask and they tell me...eventually."

"Well, I won't question it too much," Pen smiles. "So...things like pretzels, chips, candy, popcorn?"

"Yep!"

"Gotcha, gotcha." He clicks and throws a finger gun her way. "I'll be back with the goods!"

Liy watches as he runs to the kitchen, probably to check their snack stock. A few minutes later, the front door opens and slams shut.

Liy smiles to herself, grateful for the help.

Thirty minutes later, everyone is sitting in the living room, getting comfy. Liy notices not everyone sits the same way: Tree and Black Hole sit upright with their legs crossed, Pen and Pillow lay on their backs, Pie and Bottle lay on their pillows, and Remote politely sits on her legs.

As Liy's eyes linger on Remote a bit too long to be just a glance, Remote catches her gaze. They avert their eyes, both blushing with embarrassment and smiling at the ground.

"This is a lot of snacks," Black Hole comments.

"Yep! Totally worth it though."

"How much money did you blow on this?"

"Like, twenty dollars. No worries. Anyways!" Pen clapped his hands together. "I'd like to go first, if that's cool with you guys."

Various sounds of approval go up in the room.

"Cool, cool," he grins. "Tree! Truth or dare?"

"Oh, goodness." Tree pinches the bridge of his nose. "Truth."

"What's the most stereotypical Australian thing that you do?"

"Stereotypes? None that I can really think of off the top of my head." Tree put his thumb and index finger to his chin. "I suppose it's speaking the occasional Australian slang? You probably wouldn't know I'm Australian if not for my accent."

"Slang? Like 'g'day, mate'?" Pillow rolls  over.

"No- Well, yes, but not like that. Words like 'brekkie' and 'bludger'."

"What's a brekkie?" Bottle asks.

"It just means breakfast. Also, 'g'day mate' isn't usually said together like that, it's pretty old fashioned."

"Wait, then how come you never say slang around us?"

"Because you'd hardly understand it."

"Is that a challenge?" Pen scoffs. "Say a sentence with as much Australian slang as you can, right now!"

"You can't dare me to do that."

"Hey, Tree!" Liy grins, "Truth or dare?"

"No."

The topic drops after a few turns, and the game continues as normal. Liy drinks in the lively atmosphere, with her friends talking and laughing around her, having a good time, eating snacks, and getting closer as a group.

She looks at Remote, discussing with Pillow, Bottle, Pen, and Black Hole about his lack of taste. Her eyes seem to sparkle with intrigue.

"It's possible to be born without something like that?"

"Yes, but it's not like I don't have a sense of taste. It's just dulled."

"That must suck!"

"I suppose, but I don't have anything to compare it to. It's normal for me."

"Do you wish you could taste better?"

She and Remote are the same, she's sure. Curious spirits with a thirst for knowledge. She's fantasized about traveling the world, learning all there is to know about the mysteries of the universe.

And she can't help the ecstasy and warmth in her gut when she dreams of traveling with Remote. She's the only person she'd need to bring along, to share their knowledge and excitement.

Somewhere along the way, they'd become the best of friends and lovers. Every aspect of Remote- her wants, dreams, and desires- Liy wants to know it all, and share every part of herself in return. It's the kind of relationship she never knew she wanted until now.

Liy's used to being alone. But with Remote, she doesn't have to be. She doesn't want to be.

"Liy! You daydreaming over there?"

"Huh? What? Is it my turn?"

"Yeah!"

"Ah, my bad," she grins sheepishly. "Uh....Remote, truth or dare?"

"Truth!"

She leans on her arm, closer to Remote. Her heart speeds up. "So...if you could go anywhere, with anyone, where would you go, and with who?"

"Ooh, deep stuff!" Pillow looks between the two of them.

"Hmm...I haven't really thought about that." Remote rests her chin on her fist. "I want to go to new places and learn new things. So I'd go anywhere, really. And..."

Remote blushes, and looks Liy in the eye.

"I'd really like to go with you."

"Aww!" Bottle squeals, "that's so cute!"

"That's a good answer," Black Hole nods.

"Black Hole, are you dense?" Pen elbows him lightly, and whispers in his ear.

"Oh. Still a good answer."

It's the lightest she's ever been. Liy beams, and can't stop herself from smiling. She moves her hand to touch Remote's.

"Well, I'm always free after the competition!" she grins. "We're gonna go everywhere."

Remote smiles. "Uh- Liy, truth or dare?"

"Dare!"

"Oh- I, uh-" Remote stutters. Liy tilts her head.

"Was I supposed to pick truth?"

"Uhhhhh.... I....dare you to date me?"

Pen's suppressed laughter floats into her ear.

"Pen. Shush."

"Yes!" Liy grins ear to ear, and childish giggles bubble from her mouth. She leans in closer and pecks a kiss on Remote's lips. They both giggle like little girls, but neither of them care how they sounded.

"How cute!" Bottle claps her hands together. "Congratulations!"

"Let's go lesbians!" Pillow whoops.

The game continues as normal. Liy's and Remote's hands remain touching for as long as they can.

Chapter Text

It's been going on for what? Weeks, is it? Guarana forgets; he's been in limbo ever since he realized Graffiti has a crush on him.

It's not even subtle, either. He sees the way Graffiti is quick to want to impress him. He sees how his eyes turn to x's whenever they see each other. He notices Graffiti's attempts to hold his hand whenever they're walking together. It's so obvious.

And...kind of endearing, really. Graffiti's nervous under all that confidence. He's willing to put himself out there, but not all the way. He's waiting for Guarana's response. Waiting for a reaction.

Which brings Guarana to why he's sitting alone under a tree in the forest. He needs space to think. Not that he already spent the past few weeks ruminating on it already.

He needs to be...alone. Maybe. He's actually not entirely sure if being alone is the best idea. The instant he came here and sat down, he was already missing Graffiti. Which is a sign that he should accept his advances?

Graffiti's important to him, he doesn't doubt that. But just because he misses him doesn't mean he's ready for that kind of thing. It's frustrating. He's used to jumping into things headfirst.

'I like to think I know what I'm doing, but...'

He glances at the pebble-lined pond he and OSO Novel talked by before. The water is still. A few leaves and lily pads float on its surface.

'What would you do, OSO Novel? I'm sure you know what's going to happen.'

Of course, he can't just ask her. That would be unfair. He has to make his own decisions. Would this kind of thing even appear in her pages? It's technically not part of the show, although future episodes would be a tell...

He shakes his head. His thoughts are wandering too much. Back to the main question.

What should he do?

And what's the best way to approach the problem? To think about it, or just make a decision? This doesn't feel like something he should just do impulsively. It requires careful thought.

It's not how he usually does things, but he has to step out of his comfort zone sometime. Still, the more he thinks about it, the more frustrated he gets. All his thoughts seem to go in circles. He can't focus on a single thing. He's not really thinking about it, he's just...

...making excuses.

Guarana slumps in defeat. That's it. How is it that he's incapable of making a decision here? Sitting down to think about it was a mistake, after all. There's nowhere to run off to. He has to make a decision.

The thought of leaving Graffiti hanging in the unknown of his feelings makes him sick. He can't do that to him. So he has to think of something.

But what? What does he even feel? Graffiti's a close friend, but is it just that? Would turning him down make him lose interest in their friendship altogether? Does he love him? Does he?

Guarana presses his fingers against his head. It hurts. He doesn't want to think about it anymore. Thinking things completely through has never been his style.

He sits up straight, closes his eyes, and focuses on his breathing. He needs to turn his brain off for a bit. In and out. That's all he needs.

In...

And out.

A minute of this passes by. His head hurts much less, and his thoughts are clearer.

It might not be the best idea, but he has to use his instinct for this one. He'll make a decision and stick with it, even if doubts come later. The gut is right nine out of ten times.

'Now...do I love Graffiti?'

'Yes.'

It surprises him a little. The answer came quickly, like it was blurted from the back of his mind.

But there's no time to think. He has to find Graffiti.

Guarana runs out of the forest and back into the open grass, keeping an eye out for Graffiti's telltale yellow and black colors. It's easy to spot him in a crowd, he stands out no matter what he does.

"Guarana! Hey, I've been looking for you! Where you been?" Graffiti calls. Guarana skids to a stop in front of him. Graffiti's eyes blink in and out of x shapes.

"Had to be by myself for a while. I was thinking about something."

"Oh. Thinking about what?"

"You."

"Huh!?" Both of his eyes turn into x's, and stay like that. A blush overtakes half of his face. Guarana's heart flutters. Everything feels different now, in a good way.

"You...have a crush on me, right?" Guarana takes both of Graffiti's hands into his.

Graffiti looks down, then back up at Guarana. "Y-Yes! Do you...?"

"Yes."

Graffiti squeaks, then goes speechless. He leans forward a bit.

Then laughs. "Oh! Oh, that's- I- I really wanna kiss you, but I can't see right now."

Guarana chuckles and leans forward, pressing his face to Graffiti's lips. He smells like spray paint.

Graffiti pulls away after a while, and giggles some more. "Hey, uh- I'm gonna be like this for a while. Can you keep holding my hand?"

"Sure thing." Guarana beams from the inside. Suddenly, the weight of making the decision didn't matter so much anymore.

Chapter Text

Yarn stares anxiously at her phone.

'Wanna go to the beach today?'

Her trembling finger hovers over the send icon. Her forehead beads with sweat and her breath sticks in her throat. She gulps.

'It's just a friendly little message. He won't think it's weird or anything. You've gone to the beach plenty of times before! It's fine! It's not weird at all!'

She told Diamond she was going to do it. She was going to ask Hot Sauce out. Diamond was even nice enough to give her a pep talk and everything! She had felt so confident in the moment, but now...

'Come on, Yarn! What would Diamond say? Uh...just go for it! Stop being a wimp!'

She glares at the send icon, glowing blue in her face.

'Just do it already!'

She winces, shuts her eyes, and jabs at the screen. She peeks at her phone after a few seconds.

The message is sent.

"Okay! Okay okay okay. Good job, Yarn."

Now all she has to do is wait.

And wait...

And wait.

She waters her plants and takes a walk. She doodles a bit. She reads some of her favorite fairytales.

All while checking her phone every minute.

Still no reply.

But not left on read either, so that's a good sign.

Yarn groans. Time seems to have slowed down for her. She's exhausted from her heart bunching together in anticipation of a message, and then nothing happening. Maybe this was a mistake. She lays on her couch, aimlessly kicking her feet in the air.

He's probably busy, is all. Busy cleaning, or getting groceries, or hanging out with other people...maybe he's already taking some time at the beach? So asking him about going to the beach is weird...is it too late to delete her message?

Ping!

Yarn jolts and snaps up her phone, staring wide-eyed at the screen.

'Sure! For a walk or to chill?'

Butterflies flutter up a storm in her stomach. She smiles as her fingers fly across the keyboard.

'To chill! Beach towels, umbrella, and a cooler with snacks! I can bring those, so don't worry about it :)'

'Okay, wanr me to come over to help?'

'*want lol'

Yarn giggles. He's always so thoughtful.

'Yes please! Thank you!'

'Alright! I'll be over in 5-10 minutes :)'

'Kay, see you then!'

She resists the urge to put a heart at the end, and squeals to herself. She did it! She asked him out!

Sort of. Asking him to go to the beach is only half of it. But the small victories count! Yarn jumps up from the couch and nearly floats around her house getting ready.

There's a knock on her door.

"Coming!" Yarn scurries to the front and opens the door, facing a smiling Hot Sauce, with a medium sized red wagon behind him.

He waves at her. "Hey!"

Her heart soars. "H-Hey! I have everything here, I'll just...get that."

"Here, let me help."

As the pair carries the beach supplies to the wagon, Yarn notices an air pump and a deflated floatie already inside.

"Oh, you brought the floatie?"

"Yeah! In case you want to get in the water, you can use this." He smiles warmly at her.

Yarn blushes and keeps her eyes on the old wagon. "Thanks."

They arrange everything inside the wagon, and set off. Hot Sauce takes the wagon, and Yarn takes the cooler.

Yarn breathes in, already smelling the ocean salt in the air. A warm breeze brushes through the fairly busy street under the blazing afternoon sun.

She glances up at Hot Sauce, walking beside her with an amiable smile on his face. The sunlight shines brightly off his glass, bathing him in an angelic aura.

Or maybe that's just her. Yarn's smile widens, and she stares at the sidewalk to avoid weirding him out. Hot Sauce is just...perfect. Goofy, respectful, kind...she's lucky to have him as a friend.

And maybe today they could be something more? She wants to hope so. He had to have seen something in her all those years ago. Something special in her lack of strength, courage, and general lack of any unique qualities.

But she's not that girl anymore! She's grown more confident. More self-assured. She's much different from the scaredy-cat in the dark forest.

And she hopes Hot Sauce feels the same way.

The constant grind of concrete on wheels turns into rattling as the road transitions into wooden boardwalk. Yarn holds out her free hand, and the beach grass tickles her palm. Ocean waves crash distantly in the background.

Yarn and Hot Sauce step onto the hot sand, but it's not hot enough to make either of them recoil. The warm grains stick to the soles of their feet, and settle in the space between their toes.

"Oh! The sand's nice and warm today!"

"Yep. Where do you wanna set up?"

The beach isn't so busy today. They pick an empty spot and take their time setting up- neither of them are in a rush. Yarn lays out two beach towels and Hot Sauce props up a colorful beach umbrella, dragging the cooler and wagon underneath it.

Yarn lays back on the beach towel and sighs. She always makes a point of enjoying the sun whenever she goes outside, but today seems more refreshing, somehow.

Hot Sauce lays beside her on the other beach towel and smiles. "Anything you want to do, or..?"

"N-Not right now. I just wanna lay here for a bit."

"Cool, cool."

Background noise fills the silence between them. Children laugh as they play in the sand and surf, the occasional seagull calls out to its fellow birds, and the waves crash and roll in the water before spilling onto the shore. The sun beams down on them without a cloud in the sky.

Beach vendors are busy up on the boardwalk. Someone's collecting seashells hidden in the wet sand. A group of objects laugh as they chase the seagulls standing in the tide. Sandcastles are being built further from the water. Some older objects hop across the bigger rock formations leading further out into the ocean, where the waves are louder and the salty spray is merciless.

It's the benefits of living so close to the ocean, especially in a less densely populated area. It's familiar: warm weather and beach trips, the smiling faces of friendly neighbors, and the easygoing nature of everyday life. It's safe. Secure. Comforting.

Yarn's still scared, in her opinion. She probably always will be. She's scared of being alone, of monsters, of the dark...those will probably never go away.

And then when Hot Sauce became her friend, it was like a candle was lit. Her own light in the darkness. Everything became a little less scary.

He never forced her to be less scared. He never pushed, judged, or yelled. He let her grow. Encouraged her. He inspired her to be stronger, and also reassured her he accepted the scared little girl she was. It was exactly the kind of love she needed. The kind she still needs.

In truth, she doesn't want anything to change. Under the afternoon sun, laying on the beach next to her best friend...that's all she wants. Change...is another thing that's scary to her.

When she realized her feelings for the first time, there was dread. Dread that everything would change after she had finally found a friend. But it didn't.

Of course, harboring feelings and expressing them outright are two entirely different things. Yarn's gone over this exact decision dozens and dozens of times.

Let everything be the same? Or...chance it? Because she's probably going to explode if things stay like this.

She said she would. It's just scary.

That doesn't mean it has to stop her.

"H-Hot Sauce?" Her voice comes out as a soft whisper.

Hot Sauce turns to her. "What's up?"

"I-I wanted to...a-ask you something!"

His eyebrows furrow. "Sure, but...are you okay?"

"Yes! Yes, I..." Yarn clears her throat and turns towards Hot Sauce. Face to face, laying across from one another...it's suddenly hotter than it was before.

"I-I really..! I really like you! An-And I was wondering if...if..."

Her voice loses strength, and she covers her burning red face with her hands. "I-I'm sorry..."

"No, no! Don't be!" Hot Sauce gently pulls a hand away from her face. "You want to...date? G-Go...on a date?"

He laughs awkwardly, and rubs the back of his neck with his other hand. "I've uh...felt the same way for a while, actually...can you believe it? Haha..."

Yarn nearly forgets how to breathe. "I-! Yes! Uh, um....n-now?"

"Well- Do you want to?"

"Uh..." Yarn feels a strong compulsion to stay here. "Maybe not now? Could we keep laying here instead?"

"Yeah! Of course!" Hot Sauce nods. He notices his hand still holding onto her wrist. His hand moves carefully, until his fingers intertwine with hers in a soft grip. Yarn scoots a bit closer to Hot Sauce, and they smile warmly at each other.

The sun shines brightly in the sky as the day in Seaside Village moves onward.

Chapter Text

Two taps on the door.

"Liy?" a soft voice calls from the other side.

"Leafy? That you? Come in." Liy groans, sniffing in an attempt to clear her voice.

It doesn't work.

Leafy pokes her head in, and swiftly puts the supplies she brought onto a desk. She pushes the door and it clicks shut.

"Feeling any better?"

Liy snatches another tissue from the bedside table. "Nope."

Leafy takes a few more tissue boxes and adds them to the table. "Allergy medicine not working?"

"Still feeling like crap."

"Hey!" Leafy pouts and puts her hands on her hips. "Watch your language!"

"Sor-ry," Liy rolls her eyes. Leafy sighs and goes back to her supplies box. Liy looks over.

"What's with all that stuff? Seriously Leafy, this is nothing."

"I take everyone's health very seriously!" Leafy grabs a glass cup with an orange packet and a spoon inside it, and a bottle of water. "Especially yours!"

"I'm not even part of your team, this is stupid."

Leafy opens her mouth, and promptly snaps it shut. She takes a breath.

"I just care about everyone! Why does it matter if we're on different teams? Besides, isn't taking care of people part of preventing death?"

"Did Black Hole tell you to say that?"

"No!" Leafy takes out the packet and spoon, and pours water into the cup. "I thought of that myself."

Liy sits up, and stares at Leafy pouring powder into the water. She pats the packet, making sure no powder goes to waste.

"What is that?"

"Vitamin C drink. It's good for you!" Leafy stirs the mixture with the spoon.

"I mean, I could've just had some orange juice..."

Leafy brings the yellow-orange drink to Liy. "But this is better! And I made it specially for you!"

"Right, and then I'll become dependent on over the counter vitamins and big pharma will profit off my suffering."

Leafy frowns. "Come on, just drink it."

Liy takes the cup from Leafy and stares at the still swirling powder. She smells it before the drink reaches her lips; it's citrusy like an orange, and it pops in her mouth like a milder version of pop rocks.

The orange scent hangs around even after she finishes and hands the cup back to Leafy. "Thanks."

"Of course!" A significantly cheerier Leafy sets the cup near her supplies, and she tosses the empty packet into the small trash bin full of tissues. She stares at the orange king atop the tissue mountain.

"Do you need me to empty this?"

"Eh...I'll just push it down, it'll be fine."

Liy sneezes, and blows into her tissue.

"Gah! This sucks. I hate this."

Leafy kneels beside the bed and puts her hand on top of Liy's. "Do you need anything? How do you feel?"

Liy goes red and jerks her hand away. "Don't just do that! You don't know if this is contagious!"

"I don't think allergies are contagious..." Leafy takes another look at Liy's face, and bounces back in alarm. "Is that a sudden fever!?"

"No, it's from you touching me! You can't just...do that."

"Oh...I'm sorry. What can I do?"

"It's fine, it's fine." Liy waves her hand dismissively. "I'll be fine." She honks into her tissue again, groans, and tosses it into the bin.

"You can tell Tree this is all his fault, though."

"It's not his fault!" Leafy cracks a small smile, grateful for the topic change.

"Is so. It's spring, and you know how trees get in spring."

"There are other trees outside, you know."

"Yeah, but only one of them is around me most of the time."

"Mmmhm," Leafy nods, and looks back in her supplies box. "Oh, I did bring a spare plastic bag! I'll change the trash."

Liy watches as Leafy goes through the mundane task with a smile on her face. She even taps the bow to make it rounder.

"Do you actually like taking out the trash?"

Leafy looks up. "Sure, why not?"

"No way." Liy keeps watching as Leafy moves around the room. "Has to be some deeper reason. No one likes taking out the trash."

"Well..." Leafy clicks her tongue and smiles back up at Liy. "I like taking care of you."

"Hnn!" Liy slides under her dark blue blanket, hiding her red face. "Totally not creepy."

"You don't appreciate me?" Leafy's voice comes from right outside the blanket.

"No, don't get the wrong idea! Saying it like that just makes it sound weird."

"But it's true! And how else am I supposed to say it?"

Liy touches her face to make sure it isn't too warm, and pokes back out of the blanket. "Just, not like that. It just sounds creepy and obsessive."

"I'm not obsessive!" Leafy crosses her arms. 

Liy lays down on the pillow. "Well, that's just how I'd say it. Except I wouldn't. You get it. What's next, then? Gonna serve me a bowl of good ol' chicken noodle soup?"

Leafy perks up. "Do you want me to?"

"No! Don't do that, jeez!"

"Oh. Okay then."

"Seriously Leafy, you can go. I just need to sleep and I'll be fine."

Leafy leans over the bed. "Really? You know what they say the best medicine is, right?"

"If you say love and or laughter, I'm gonna throw up."

"Technically, it's lots of rest and a healthy diet. And good exercise."

Leafy smiles, and kisses Liy's forehead. Liy jerks the blanket up to her eyes.

"Geez!"

"Live, laugh, love, Liy."

"You're killing me."

With a grin, Leafy packs up the spoon, cup, and bag. "I'll take care of these and be back in about an hour. Get well soon!"

"Yep. Thanks, bye," Liy drawls, and Leafy closes the door.

The warmth of Leafy's visit lingers in the air, and Liy lets that warmth settle in her heart and lull her to sleep.

Chapter Text

There's a lot that Binder appreciates about living outside civilization. He has space to work, space to breathe, space to think... He has time to slow down and focus on the things important to him. The clutter of the city's hustle doesn't exist out in the open.

No streetlights, no car horns, no distractions. The late-night darkness spans across his side of the earth and out into the vast ocean of space and stars. Each one twinkles like the light of a tiny ship, far off into the distance. From the big, blue hotshots to the smaller, red tugboats, Binder holds them all in his vision, each pattern identifiable within seconds.

As easy as it is to see the sky as a 2D canvas, Binder knows it's not like that at all. He's seeing 2.6 million light years away, into the past. And that's only the surface. There's so much he can't see, so much he'll never be able to know. Out there, there's so much space, space that goes on infinitely, indefinitely, and imperceptibly. It'll go on for as long as he lives, and billions of years after that.

He holds his breath, brushing at the rough grass beneath him. His fingers touch the cold dirt, turning over clumps of it, and its grains stick to his fingertips. Binder takes a slow breath of fresh night air and rolls his fingers together, noting the slight sweat and stick of his own body as the dirt falls back to the earth in a light shower.

Another light catches his eye, moving closer to him. He squints in its growing brightness, and a pair of feet stops beside his head. 

"Binder? What are you doing up so late?"

Binder tries to look up, but the light hurts his eyes. Still, he can recognize the beige cylindrical base. "I'm just stargazing."

Lamp looks to the night sky.

"...can I join you?"

"Sure!"

Lamp drops to one leg, then the other. He settles with his knees to his chest beside Binder, and looks up again.

For some reason, it slipped his mind. With his light on, he can't see the night sky all too well. The starlight pales in comparison to the brightness of his bulb. 

He doesn't say a word about it.

Binder does.

"You can't see the stars too well with that light on, right?"

"Huh? Well..." Lamp shifts in his seat and sucks in his lip. "No...I can't."

"That's what I thought. It's like the sun, outshining the other stars during the day." Binder smiles at him. "Turn it off. You'll be okay."

Lamp's heart turns to stone and sinks into his gut. A chill penetrates his body. His gaze fixes onto the darkness, kept at bay only by his light. The edge of the night pulses, ready to consume him the moment he goes out. He reminds himself to breathe, the air heavy and weighing on his chest.

The only protest coming out of his mouth is a squeak. A cut off word, then nothing more.

A firm hand clasps onto his base. Two pats.

"Nothing bad is gonna happen. Darkness won't hurt you."

He can't believe that. The darkness inches closer, breaking his barrier of light and creeping like a predator. It slithers toward him, pitch black and ready to bite.

"I'm going to turn it off, and nothing bad will happen, okay? Take it easy..." Binder's hand reaches for his switch, and he's too petrified to do anything about it. He senses Binder's hand, moving slowly to his switch.

Click.

He plunges into darkness; it stings his eyes and overtakes him completely. A gasp sticks to his throat and his skin tingles with goosebumps.

"It's alright Lamp, you're fine. See? Everything's fine."

He swears there are monsters waiting to grab him. Slinking in the darkness, circling about with fangs and claws. They could be anywhere. They could be anything.

"Lamp? Why don't you look at the sky? Look up!"

His head snaps up.

And everything melts away.

Thousands of pinpricks of light sparkle at him on a backdrop of midnight blue, green, and yellow. A glowing white and purple river of stars extends from horizon to horizon, its shores fading into the night sky. In the middle of the river, a dark streak follows its path.

His eyes wander to the silhouettes of trees reaching for the stars, perfectly shadowed in the brilliance of the sky above. He stretches his leg starward, blocking a few stars out. If he tried hard enough, maybe he could grab some.

"Nothing like the city, or even your average neighborhood, right?" Binder grins. "There's no light pollution out here. The sky's clear as day, which is kinda ironic."

Lamp glances at Binder, then points up at the starry river. "What's that?"

"That's the Milky Way! You know we're located on one of the outer arms of our galaxy, right? The arms form because of overdensities in its gravitational rotation, meaning that stars and gas are drawn to these areas. That's the leading theory, anyway."

"Wow," Lamp nods.

"Did you know we can see 2.6 million light years into space with the naked eye? And because it takes that time for light to reach our eyes, we're actually seeing 2.6 million light years into the past! One of the furthest things we can see with the eye, the Andromeda Galaxy over there, we're actually seeing how it was 2.25 million years ago!

"It looks really small from here, but it's actually a bit more than two times the size of our galaxy! But, our galaxy has more mass. Oh! And did you know..."

Eventually, Lamp's eyes tear themselves away from the stars in the sky, and focus on the stars in Binder's eyes. He points out every constellation, and explains the stars with a fast voice and fervent hand gestures. Lamp basks in his energy, as if he were the sun itself, glowing under the starlight.

Binder only ever uses one hand. The other remains around his base, holding him close and keeping him safe. Lamp probably won't be able to keep up with the jetstream of facts, but the comfort of Binder's voice is enough for him. His passion seems to replace his need to breathe, and the stars in his eyes grow brighter with each word.

"Aside from all the factual stuff, you wanna know something cool I was told?"

Silence. Lamp blinks.

"Sure!"

Binder looks back to the night sky.

"Everything in the universe has the same origin. From gas coming together and stars fusing the elements, until billions of years later, we were born. We're all made of star stuff. Whenever I feel a little lonely, I think about that and remember...I'm not. There's a little bit of us in everything. Technically, it's not wrong. I know it doesn't sound very scientific, but..." Binder shrugs.

"It makes sense to me."

Lamp looks back at the stars. Part of him is there, up in the night sky. The stardust courses through his veins, and he swears he's glowing as well. He closes his eyes, and feels a connection to everything around him. It fills him with warmth and kinship.

"Yeah...it makes sense to me, too."

He's not alone. It sweeps him with relief, that he's part of everything, and everything is part of him. It's not necessarily what he wants to be, but it's a start. He's not alone. That's enough for now.

Binder, sitting next to him with his arm around his base, is also part of him. Always has been. The whole leader position scared him, but now...Binder's less intimidating. Deep inside Lamp, admiration and friendship sparks in his heart.

"I'll remember that. Thanks, Binder."

Chapter Text

With shaking breaths, Coney sighs and smiles weakly, her head falling back on the white pillow. Toothy laughs to himself quietly, shaking off the last of the tension. With one hand already intertwined with hers, Toothy clasps the back of Coney's hand with the other.

"I'm so proud of you," he whispers. Coney doesn't open her eyes, but her smile gets a bit brighter. Toothy strokes her blond hair, wet from the physical labor, and smiles fondly at the brave woman before him.

The atmosphere is hardly quiet. A baby's wail fills the room as nurses use the bulb syringe and soft tissues to clean her up.

"We'll cut the cord now, is that okay?"

"Mhm," Coney nods.

"You did great, Coney. She looks very healthy." The labor nurse smiles and lays her hand on Coney's. Coney turns to Toothy with a grin.

"Told you."

Toothy can only smile, and he steals a glance at the few baby nurses in the room. Coney follows his gaze.

"Can I hold her now?"

"Of course!" A curly, dark haired woman cradles the newborn, and gently delivers her into Coney's arms. Toothy leans in for a better look.

The love that washes over them in that instant is overwhelming, relieving, and fulfilling. Like their souls found new meaning, swelling from the sheer light that radiates from their child. Their daughter.

It's almost too good to be true. Their hearts, their smiles, their eyes- all wide open, embracing the life and love born from them. She's the embodiment of both, in a far greater amount than either parent could describe. They didn't have to. They both feel it.

Coney touches the baby to her own skin, relishing in the rawness of the sensation. Warm to the touch, her daughter's pinkish skin against her light coppery arms and chest, akin to a soft healing spell all across her body. She can't stop herself from grinning, softening from the sound of her heartbeat against hers.

"Hi," she whispers. "It's me, your mom!'

"And your dad!" Toothy adds with an equally soft voice. Their daughter, her cries having quieted a bit after being set on Coney's body, looks at the sources of the two voices. Toothy gasps.

"She's got my eyes! Look at how blue they are!"

"Mhm," Coney nods, moving as little as possible while trying to bring her eyes to her daughter's. "She's beautiful."

The unseverable connection of motherhood fills every vein in her body, and settles deep within every bone. She absorbs every fine detail: her fat fingers and toes, her rosy, chubby cheeks, the barely present copper of her skin, and her bright blue eyes that drives away all the darkness in the world.

"She's gonna be the most beautiful girl in the world," Toothy coos. "You really outdid yourself this time."

"Yeah I did," Coney grins.

One of the baby nurses comes up to Coney.

"Could we take her for the Apgar test for a moment? And if you're up for it, try breastfeeding when we give her back?"

"Absolutely." Coney slips her daughter into the nurse's arms, and she takes the baby to the other nurses as Toothy and Coney keep a close eye.

"You need anything to eat, Coney? You must be feeling exhausted," the labor nurse prompts.

"Yeah. Some toast sounds good right about now." Coney grins up at Toothy, who returns the cheeky grin.

"Best I can do is a sandwich, I think."

"Anything's good, really." Coney grips Toothy's hand one more time before he stands up.

"Oh, Toothy? Hey."

"Hm?" He looks down at Coney, smiling at him with big eyes.

"We're parents," she squeals softly. Toothy grins, kneels down and clasps her hand again.

"And we're gonna be the best gosh darn parents, too." He kisses her hand, and leaves to buy that sandwich.

Chapter Text

Traffic Light sighs.

With a smooth stroke of her hand, the finely tipped brush paints the canvas, leaving an emerald green trail in its wake. Stroke after stroke, the canvas populates with blades of grass.

She dips her brush into the water glass, already milky blue from decorating the previously blank canvas with a blue sky and wispy clouds. Green paint swirls into the mix, and Traffic Light lifts her brush to dry it off properly before using it again.

The simplistic painting stares her in the face. Plain blue sky, plain white clouds, one-tone green grass, and splotches of blank canvas. She frowns. It's basic. Amateur.

And unfinished.

'Art takes time. Be patient with yourself.'

She dips her brush into a lighter, brighter green, and takes to the canvas again.

A few yards in front of Traffic Light, Trophy picks flowers. It's awfully girly of her, she knows, but she wanted to accompany Traffic Light, and knows her annoyance to people who stare over her shoulder.

And, a bouquet is a nice thing to give. Traffic Light loves pretty things.

She hums her favorite song, too soft for anyone but her to hear. They're not in a crazy flower field with colors from everywhere on the color spectrum, but it's colorful enough. Lots of yellows, some reds, some whites...a few blues, too. And plenty of tall grass. It scratches at her legs and face.

The sun hot on her back, she wipes some sweat off her forehead, shaking it onto the earth below. It's plenty bright today; the grass is nearly golden in the sunlight, and the flowers all reach for the sun. Trophy glances at the bundle of flowers in her hand.

She'd managed to pick out a few purple ones as well. The bundle is beautiful, she'll admit. She also plucked a few of the long grass blades to even out the flower composition.

It's something Traffic Light says. Art needs balance to look good. Too much of one or another thing might feel nice, but overall, art gets ruined if there's excess of one thing.

Trophy knows nothing about art, or composition, or any other art terms Traffic Light references. But, she does know a thing or two about balance. It's the key to being happy and fulfilled. The key to not feeling burnout. The key to satisfaction. It's how she can be focused and fun. It's how Traffic Light can be ambitious and relaxed.

That's how it's been lately. Trophy's learned to pick up small differences in people's behavior. Traffic Light is less harsh on herself. Trophy isn't as strict on her teammates. Of course she still has her suspicions, but it also doesn't help if she's too busy accusing everyone to actually figure the truth out.

That's what balance is.

The green amongst the other colors has a natural feeling to it. Trophy supposes it's because that's how it is in nature, anyway. The flower display is a bit easier on the eyes with the earthy green as a neutral color, and the colors themselves become more meaningful.

Trophy has an idea, and snickers to herself. It's childish, but maybe it'll give Traffic Light a smile.

She raises her arm over her head, and drops the bundle into her cup. A grass blade droops down in front of her vision. There's nothing she can use to see her reflection, so she uses her hands to feel around, making sure the flowers don't fall out.

It seems secure enough.

The flowers bounce and shake in her cup as she pushes the tall grass to the side, walking back towards where she knows Traffic Light is. Some grass is slightly flattened from when she pushed it away before. She can barely see through the tips of the blades.

The rustle is what announces her presence.

"Oh, Trophy! You're back!" Traffic Light smiles, but doesn't look away from her canvas. "You didn't get lost, right?"

"I can see just fine in there! How's your painting?"

"Well enough."

In addition to the various shades of green on the canvas, thin golden highlights mark the sun's touch. A few flowers poke through the front, colored with reds, yellows, whites, and blues. The sky seems to stretch deep into the canvas.

"Can I see?"

"Ah....alright. It's not really done, though."

Confident enough that Traffic Light will notice her crown of flowers eventually, Trophy steps around besides Traffic Light. Her eyes soak up the warmth and natural state of the painting. It's as if she's back in that field, the golden sun on her face and the waving grass brushing her legs and body.

"What's this thing poking me?" Traffic Light mutters.

She looks up at Trophy.

And she stifles a laugh, her hand flying to her mouth. Trophy grins, ear to ear.

"You like it?"

Traffic Light laughs more openly. "Yes! It's very interesting!"

She takes a closer look at Trophy, and her grin softens into a warm smile.

"And beautiful. You look beautiful."

"Al-right," Trophy groans, "don't make me blush."

"Oh, I wish I could paint you right now. That looks perfect!" Traffic Light dejectedly gazes back at her art supplies. "But I only brought one canvas..."

"Well, let's go get another one! And besides, it's way too hot out here, anyway."

"You're okay with being like that for a few more hours?"

"Mhm!" Trophy is already packing some of the art supplies into the bag. "It'll be a nice memory. And you always paint me really well."

Traffic Light smiles again, blushing slightly. "You're a great subject."

"Of course I am," Trophy jokes, and she laughs. She takes the painting from the easel and hands it to Traffic Light. "You wanna hold this? I'll carry everything else."

"Oh, yes, give me a second."

Traffic Light cleans her brushes, then takes the water glass and empties it into the earth. She dries the glass and the brushes, and takes the canvas from Trophy. Trophy, in turn, takes the glass and brushes and puts them in the proper place inside the bag.

"Thank you."

"No problem! Still got a hand free?"

Traffic Light extends her free hand out, and Trophy gladly holds it, smiling at Traffic Light. Together, they walk back down the path to home.

Chapter Text

Oreo must be pretty tired if he's sleeping like this. My thumb passes over his forehead, tracing the rough lines of his body. I can't believe he just conked out on my lap. We were just chatting when he decided he wanted to close his eyes for a bit, and made a big show of stretching out and laying his head on my lap, smiling that dumb, goofy smile of his.

'It's pretty comfortable here. I might just go to sleep!'

'Yeah? What am I supposed to do if that happens?'

'Well, the rules of dating say if your partner falls asleep on you, you're not allowed to move until they wake up.'

I laugh. 'Who's gonna arrest me if I do? Police Hat?'

He laughs with me. 'Maybe.'

Now look where we are. Oreo, asleep on my lap, and me not having moved for ten minutes.

Police Hat came by earlier looking for him, but turned out the lights and left when he saw Oreo sleeping. I half expected him to say something about PDA being against the law, but he just smiled a little, said he'd talk to Oreo later, turned off the lights, and left.

I'm pretty sure I know what that smile was for. He's a lot better at reading people than I am, and he's known Oreo for longer. It makes sense that he figured out what he did way before I could even put words to it.

'Hey, Pudding Cup.'

'Yeah?'

'Have you noticed anything different about Oreo?'

'Uh...sorta? He acts differently, for sure, but I don't really know how to describe it.'

'Yeah... I'm pretty sure it's about Watermelon.'

'Really? I thought he was over that.'

'No, no, not like that. You remember the incident with the bomb, right?'

'Yep.'

'And all the other times she threatened to break up with him or wasn't really being a good person to him?'

'Hm....now that you mention it, yeah. He did tell me a bit about those.'

'I think it's still affecting him. I don't know if he's ever told you, but Oreo has had some self esteem issues in the past.'

'Self esteem issues? You sure?'

'He told me the reason he wanted a girlfriend was because he wanted someone to help him feel better about himself. And he used to come to me saying that nothing he did seemed to impress you. He was pretty distressed about that.'

'Oh. ...So, what does this have to do with Watermelon?'

'She was leading him on with her fake love, and he believed it. As long as Oreo loved her, she could make him do anything. Make sense?'

'I...guess? I don't really know why he'd do such extreme things like blow up a room for love, though.'

'He was desperate. Like I said, he'd do anything. Have you noticed he's, well, more clingy? Eager to please? Says sorry a lot?'

'I mean, he's always been like that. But he does say sorry over pretty much everything. He can hardly take a joke nowadays.'

Police Hat sighed and put a hand over his face. I wasn't getting it at all.

'Okay, just- He's scared you won't love him anymore if he messes up. I know you're used to being mean to him, but he can't take jokes like that lightly anymore. Watermelon messed him up. Badly. There's no way to say this without sounding cheesy, but he needs you to love him properly.'

'What makes you think I can do that? I can't be all mushy like he is.'

'I know, I know, but you need to at least show him you care about him. You're in a relationship with him, aren't you?'

'That doesn't mean I know how to do relationship stuff!'

'But you're not Watermelon, so that's a start. You can't be indifferent towards him. He needs to know you actually love him, you can't just assume he knows. I know it's not what you're used to, but you need to help him get more confidence in himself again.'

'Why can't you do that? He's your friend, too!'

'I've been doing that! But it'd help if you could actually encourage him, too!'

It didn't take a genius to notice the conversation was turning into an argument. We were both quiet for a moment.

'Just...please be nice to him. Right now, you're the only one who can help him feel better about himself. It doesn't have to be over the top or anything, just- words of affirmation, compliments...anything to let him know you love him.'

It took me a while to answer. He was asking for something that sounded so simple, but the idea of conventional affection was...a little intimidating.

'...I can try.'

I'll bet good money that Watermelon's never done anything like this for Oreo. Never talked with him, never checked how he was doing, never just sat down with him...I guess I'm following through well enough. And if that smile means what I think it means, Police Hat probably thinks the same.

It was hard at first. Biting my tongue isn't easy, especially at a classic dimwit like Oreo. Old habits do die hard.

What's weird is that I didn't mind too much, once I got used to it. Of course I wasn't always mean to Oreo before, but I was definitely more restrictive with how I expressed myself. But whenever I'd compliment him, or let him hug me, or hold my hand...he always had this beaming grin on his face, like it's the best thing that anyone's ever done for him.

His smile is contagious. In fact, just smiling at him seems to make him happier. It makes me happy, too. He's gotten better at taking 'mean' jokes, as well. I can call him an idiot and he'll laugh it off with me. It's starting to feel a lot like the good old days, before Watermelon messed everything up.

Watermelon...

Oreo's still sleeping peacefully on my lap, one hand loosely holding his other arm. He's smiling a bit in his sleep. How does he do that? Right now, he looks so...innocent. Normal. Like some psycho didn't severely manipulate him for several months.

Why couldn't she just have played fairly? Why did she have to drag Oreo into her mess? I guess he was an 'easy target', but that doesn't make it any better.

There's a bitter taste in my mouth. Thinking about what she did, how she played Oreo, and by extension, me and Police Hat...she turned us against each other. That's not cool. My free hand balls up. It makes me so angry...

After I talked with Police Hat, I did start noticing the changes in Oreo's behavior. There's really no nice words for it. It was just...pathetic. He'd follow me everywhere and ask for my approval on everything. He was constantly asking if there was anything he could do for me and said sorry whenever I tried to make a sarcastic joke.

It was rough when he was fresh out of the relationship, and I wasn't really helping, either. He was like a completely different person; nothing like the Oreo I was friends with way back when.

'Pudding Cup?'

'Hm? Oh hey, Oreo. Nice to see you again after...seven minutes.'

'Sorry. I just....wanted to check up on you. See how you're doing.'

'I'm no different than I was seven minutes ago.'

'Oh. ...Anything I can do for you? Get you some water, or-'

'Dude, if I wanted water, I would get it myself. I'm fine.'

He was just standing in the doorway, his eyes darting around like he was nervous or something. It was pretty weird to me back then.

'Right. Sorry.'

'...You know you don't have to stand there, right? Go bother Police Hat, or something.'

'...I'm sorry.'

I looked up as he turned around to leave. Something about him just radiated dejection. The words 'I'm sorry' weren't ones that he often said, and especially not with that tone. It rubbed me the wrong way.

'Jeez, you don't need to apologize for everything. Take it easy, dude.'

'Oh. Sor- Wait, no...uh...see you later?'

'Sure. See ya.'

He hung around for another few seconds or so, and then left. I couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong with him.

It's insane to think one person could do all that. Police Hat told me about those self esteem issues, but he always seemed to be confident. Stupid, but confident. Then he was saying sorry every other sentence and not talking as much as he used to.

I guess the whole thing with Watermelon made it bad enough to be obvious.

...he didn't deserve to have that happen to him. Oreo's an idiot who can't take a hint, but he's one of the most genuine people I know. It's so wrong. It's so...god, it's so frustrating! I want to punch her so badly. I hate...

I hate seeing him like this. I hate seeing him apologize for every little thing. I hate seeing him so dispirited. He's coming back, little by little, but it's just...

God, I'm so cheesy. I miss him, and I missed the way he used to be before Watermelon messed him up. I took him for granted, and now look where we are. Man, I'm stupid.

He's still sleeping. Still with his eyes gently closed, face to the ceiling, and a relaxed smile on his face. My fingers hover over his mouth. His breath is warm. I wonder if he's dreaming.

...When's the last time I saw him so relaxed? So comfortable with being himself? It can't have been too long, but it feels like it's been forever since I've seen a smile like that. There's the loud, extroverted, goofy idiot Oreo, and then there's....

This.

The Oreo that needs someone to love him. It's hard not to see that now. The way he talks, acts...it's all to impress someone. It used to be for Watermelon.

But before her, it used to be for...me. And now, it still is for me.

...Oreo really is something else.

And I guess I can't blame past me for not really realizing it...but I also want to punch her. Just a little. For...pretty much everything.

I don't remember when I realized I...had feelings for him. Gah. Why does thinking about it still make me embarrassed? I don't think it was really a moment of realization, I just...felt it, one day.

It was when we uncovered Watermelon's plan. I snapped at her. Nearly killed her, too. Pretty strange since I hated Oreo's guts up until that point. Now though, I think it's because I might've just bottled up my feelings for that entire time? And then they just blew up.

Even then, I was still denying it. Hard. But I do strongly remember being willing to fistfight anyone for Oreo's sake.

I think...it wasn't until he said he wanted to date me that I could admit it to myself.

...but I still can't admit it to him.

God, I'm such a loser. I can make the gestures, talk to him, do hand holding and other couple stuff, but I can't say 'I love you' to his face. My mouth gets stuck, my face heats up too much, and suddenly, I can't speak. Which is really stupid because it's probably the one thing Oreo needs that I haven't given him.

We're laying on the ground, not doing anything. Just looking at the sky and holding hands. It's nice.

'Pudding Cup?'

'Yeah?'

He looked at me with probably one of the warmest smiles I've ever seen. Not sure if I'm remembering it correctly, but I swear his eyes were shining.

'I love you.'

I wanted to say it back. I wanted to smile back and tell him how goddamn much I love him.

'...thanks.'

His smile went away.

'I'm sorry, was that too sudden!? Pudding Cup, I'm sorry, I-'

'No, it's not your fault. Don't apologize. That's...that's on me. ...Sorry.'

'...oh. O...kay then.'

And we went back to acting like nothing happened. The silence was a bit too much.

The verbal affirmation. Has Watermelon ever told him she loved him? Even if it was fake, has she? Why am I worrying about that; of course she hasn't. Right?

Why can't I just tell him? It's not supposed to be that hard- Oreo does it all the time- but I just...can't, for some reason. Despite what he's been through, and despite what I've put him through, he can still love me.

I just want to do the same for him.

...what if I say it, really quietly? He won't hear me, so it'll be practice. It could work.

This is so stupid.

He's still sleeping. My hand goes to his chest, his heart beating rhythmically under my palm. Or is that just my own?

Face is heating up. That's definitely my heartbeat. At least, the one that's going a mile a minute. My mouth's dry. Why is this so difficult? Breathe, Pudding Cup!

It might be better if I don't look at him.

My eyes squeeze shut. That's...slightly better. Three words. That's it. That's all I have to say.

"...I love you."

...holy hell. I spontaneously break out into a wide grin. My skin's tingly. Heart's still racing. The hell is this sudden urge to kiss him?

It's relieving. And exciting. And a little tense? Is this adrenaline? It can't be. I almost want to squeal like a little girl. Almost. Why is it so intense? My face is still red hot. Why do I want to do it again?

I'm getting too excited. Need to calm down.

My eyes shut, by force. Breathe. Normally.

That was...an experience.

Next time I'm saying that, I'm saying it to his face. It's what he deserves. Not pity, not indifference, and not a half-assed 'thanks'.

Just...love.

Because I love him.

Chapter Text

"How does that feel?"

Caramel Cube's fingers don't leave the patch bandage as she looks to Plasma Ball. Partly because she wants to offer some comfort to her teammate, and partly because she's a bit afraid to let go. Her fingertips graze the orange patch, over the cracks she knows run under it. 

"I'm okay. Doesn't hurt as much as dying." Plasma Ball reaches up to touch the patch, but her hand freezes in place. She sighs and her hand drops to the cushion.

"Still, glass doesn't heal by itself. It'd probably be better if I die and come back to life."

"I don't want to see you die!"

"Then don't watch?" Plasma Ball raises an eyebrow. Caramel Cube scoffs and shakes her head.

"That's not the point."

"Then what is?"

Caramel Cube waves around her free hand. "Not dying? We'll ask Gold Ingot if he has a way to weld you back together or something. I just don't want you to be in pain."

"Mmph." Plasma Ball crosses her arms and averts her gaze. "Alright, fine. Let's go then."

She pushes herself up- only to fall back down again.

"Ow! Augh, why?" she hisses, reaching for the patch again. Caramel Cube holds her arm in place, having let go of the patch when Plasma Ball tried to stand.

"Try not to touch it; the patch is covering it anyway." Caramel Cube lets go of Plasma Ball's arm, and she lowers it to the cushion again.

"This stupid injury caused the headache, I bet." She closes her eyes and sighs. "Guess I'm not moving."

"Do you want a painkiller?"

"No, no. If I just stay still, it doesn't hurt so much."

Caramel Cube nods. "If you say so. I'll get Gold Ingot for you."

"No, it's," Plasma Ball breathes, "it's fine. I'm sure the pain'll go away eventually."

"It's still better to fix you up."

"Not right now. I actually..." she clicks her tongue, "need your help with something. I need to see if I still work."

"Huh?" Caramel Cube raises an eyebrow. It's the first time she's heard of something like this.

Plasma Ball reaches behind her, and flicks a switch on her base. Caramel Cube watches, curious, but a little worried.

"I need you to, uh....touch me." Plasma Ball gestures to her glass head. "Anywhere here."

Caramel Cube gives her a quick once over. Did she hear that correctly?

"This isn't gonna hurt you, right?"

"It shouldn't."

Shouldn't. It still might. Caramel Cube presses her lips together, and slowly, carefully, reaches for Plasma Ball's cheek.

Her fingertips connect with the smooth glass. Five red strings of energy connect with her fingers, and Caramel Cube's eyes go wide as electricity sends goosebumps down her skin. The strings come from the coil centered in the glass dome, moving like waves towards her. She tingles with electricity; not enough to shock her, but enough to keep her touch there, entranced. A sharp staticky scent fills the air, like metal on her tongue.

"Alright, still working." Plasma Ball mutters. She glances up at Caramel's wide eyes, and smirks slightly. "Yeah, that's a thing I can do."

Caramel Cube's gaze breaks away from the dancing red strings of energy. "Since when?"

"Since forever. Being a plasma ball, you know. I'm filled with electricity."

Her eyes seem to be sparkling more than usual. She's proud of this. Caramel Cube lowers her palm onto the glass, and three more strings connect with her hand. 

"That's really cool."

"Yeah. I didn't really have a reason to show it off, but now you know."

With her hand still on the glass, Caramel Cube grins at Plasma Ball. She glows with electricity, and Plasma Ball returns the grin.

Or maybe it's something else.

She tingles with energy, like the electricity jumpstarted her heart. Warmth flows through her body from her fingertips, caught in the dance of the red strings, and the electricity in Plasma Ball's eyes. She's glowing; beaming. Absolutely radiant. Sparking with an energy that drives life into Caramel Cube's actions and words.

Caramel Cube pulls herself out of her trance. She just noticed how weird it is to be caressing Plasma Ball's cheek like this. Her fingers curl back, and the red strings vanish.

She clears her throat.

"So...are you feeling any better?"

Her skin still tingles, wanting warmth and electricity coursing through it again. She swallows the urge to reach out and touch Plasma Ball.

"Yeah, I uh- I'll be okay now." Plasma Ball nods, reaching around her to flick the switch off. Her hands are unsteady. 

Cautiously, she lifts herself from the cushion. Sharp pain ricochets in her head, but she grits her teeth and bears it. Though a little wobbly, she stands on two feet.

Caramel Cube doesn't hesitate to hold her steady.

"I got you."

Plasma Ball smiles, but doesn't quite meet Caramel Cube's warm gaze. "Thanks. Alright, let's go fix my head."

Caramel Cube adjusts herself so that Plasma Ball can lean on her. To her slight surprise, Plasma Ball doesn't resist or protest.

"Yeah. Let's go."

Chapter Text

  Pencil never really liked boys.

  Her friends teased that she was stuck in her cootie phase. Her parents said she'd have to grow up eventually. And Pencil never cared to fit in with her female peers when they gushed over their crushes, but she sometimes wondered if there was something wrong with her.

  "Hey Pence-Pence, I think he likes you," Match whispered, poking and pointing at a boy, who immediately averted his gaze.

  "Who, Pen? Ew. No way."

  "Oh, come on, he's kinda cute. You should totally talk to him!"

  "Ehhhh....I don't really like him, though."

  "C'mon Pence-Pence, please? At least ask him what Eraser thinks of me? Eraser's cute."

  "Okay, I'll do it for you," Pencil agreed half-heartedly. She liked Eraser less than Pen, but she couldn't say no to her bestie.

  As she grew older, her feelings didn't change. She seemed to be the only one in her friend group without a crush on some hot celebrity or the 'boy next door'.

  Match was the opposite. She'd fawn over movie stars, singers, models, and her long-standing crush, Eraser. As good BFFs do, Pencil would listen as Match talked and talked, but there was always this feeling of discomfort in her stomach.

  Maybe it was because she didn't like boys. Pencil'd much rather talk about something else.

  "You should've seen Eraser today! He was like, stuffing his face which is totally, like, gross. I think it's because of like, that Blocky guy. He's like, such a jerk to everyone and a bad influence."

  "Guys are just like that: they're gross."

  "Okay well like, not always! Eraser would totally treat me like a queen. And Pen is like, nice. He still like, has a crush on you, you know."

  Pencil grimaced and stopped drawing. "I know. It's kinda creepy."

  "No Pence-Pence, it's cute! I wish I had someone who's liked me since they were little. It's so like, romantic! You really should like, give him a chance."

  "He's not my type."

  Match rolled her eyes. "Every guy is like, not your type. You have to like, like someone!"

  "Sorry Match, I just don't. Always been like that."

  "But Pence-Penceeeeee," Match whined, "you're gonna be like, all alone! And it's gonna be like, so sad!"

  "I won't be alone, I have you! We're BFFs, aren't we?" Pencil looked up at Match, a tinge of anxiousness hanging on her question. 

  "Well like, yeah, obvs! Don't worry Pence-Pence, you can like, live with me so you won't be like, alone." Match grinned down at Pencil.

  Pencil committed it to memory: Match's perfect smile and shining eyes, the gentle lean of her body and her graceful crossed legs. She abandoned her old drawing and sketched Match instead, and the dark lines permanently etched into the paper.

  "Omg, that's so like, good! You're such a great artist, Pence-Pence."

  Pencil beamed. "Hah, thanks Match."

  This was what she preferred. Just her and Match, hanging out. She'd never feel lonely as long as Match was there, even if she was a bit boy crazy. They were BFFs, and nothing would ever change that. 

  So it scared Pencil when Match started to have other priorities. They started hanging out less and less. Pencil saw Match with Eraser more often, obviously trying to get his attention.

  It worked. Match skipped up to Pencil one day and announced she and Eraser were officially dating.

  Pencil tried to be happy for her. She really did.

  But she just felt dread. It was that same discomfort she felt whenever Match would talk about boys, but increased tenfold. In that instant, a gaping hole separated the two of them, and Match was happy being on the other side. They had a special connection. They were BFFs, and Pencil thought that meant they'd be together forever. She couldn't imagine anyone else in that special spot in her heart.

  And just like that, their friendship was in jeopardy.

  Pencil plastered on a smile and said congratulations. It was the least he could do. But a true BFF would be genuinely happy. A true BFF wouldn't be so jealous.

  "Congrats, Match. Just don't forget about me, y'know?"

  "Of course not, we're like, BFFs! But like, give me and Eraser time to like, be together too."

  "Right. Of course."

  Match didn't keep that promise. Days would go by and they wouldn't talk at all. Pencil hated Eraser for taking her away. She'd get mad at Match too, but it wouldn't be for long. She just couldn't.

  Despite having other friends, Pencil only had one BFF. There was only one Match. She felt isolated. Abandoned. With any other person, Pencil would confront them and give them a piece of her mind, but she couldn't risk losing Match. Besides, she looked happy. Pencil didn't want to take that away from her.

  She thought she might understand better if she gave boys a chance. Maybe this was completely normal.

  "Hey, Pen."

  "Huh- Oh! What's up?"

  "You've had a crush on me since...since we were kids, right?"

  "Uh-" Pen went a bit red. "I mean, yeah? Kinda..."

  Pencil took a steadying breath. "Well...yes. Let's go out. ...Yeah."

  Pen blinked once. Twice.

  "...are you sure? You don't really sound like-"

  "Seriously, Pen? Yes, I'm sure," Pencil barked. She couldn't give herself the chance to back out.

  "Okay! Okay, uh. Sure! Yeah. Cool."

  Pen patted his knees.

  "You wanna...sit next to me? We can draw together...or something."

  Long silences. Weird hand-holding sessions. Accidental eye contact. Pencil could tell Pen was trying his best, and he was a genuinely good guy. But there was no appeal in the relationship; it just made Pencil miss Match more. They were so close, it was as if they could read each other's minds. She and Pen however, were on completely different wavelengths. The only times when it wasn't awkward for the both of them was when they forgot they were supposed to be dating.

  But, the relationship did help Pencil realize something. Pen approached her about a month later, a little bashful.

  "Hey...Pencil."

  "Yeah?"

  "So...I've been doing some thinking. And I know we're not like- no offense- but we're not really uh..." Pen rolled his fingers, "the best couple."

  "No kidding," Pencil said flatly.

  "Okay! Okay cool, you feel the same way. I was just thinking it'd be best if we, y'know...broke up...?"

  Pencil sighed with relief. "Oh, thank god. Yeah, I don't actually like you like that."

  "Kinda got that feeling, yeah." Pen sat down, a respectful distance away from Pencil. "It's okay, though. I kinda lied too; I stopped having a crush on you a few years ago."

  Pencil stared at him. "Really?"

  "Yeah. I think it was more like...I dunno. Maybe it was 'cause we're a pen and pencil, I thought we were meant to be together?" Pen laughed awkwardly. "It's kinda stupid. But like, one day I just stopped having feelings for you. It was kinda weird."

  He took a steadying breath. "And, uh...I started having feelings for guys. Yeah. I'm gay. Thought you should know."

  "Oh. Yeah, that's cool. Good for you."

  Pen relaxed. "Phew! That was good to get off my chest. Thanks." He looked at Pencil curiously. "So then, why'd you want to date me if you didn't even like me?"

  "Oh, that, yeah. You know how Match is dating Eraser, right?"

  "Yeah?"

  "So...I don't really like guys. Never had a crush on one before. But Match is the complete opposite, and I thought if I tried it, maybe I'd change my mind? Obviously it didn't work."

  "Same here, actually. I thought getting with you would make me not like guys anymore. But honestly, I think that's more set in stone now. All this time, I was thinking 'man, I wish I could be with Eraser instead'."

  "Eraser, huh?" Pencil smirked.

  "WELL-" Pen strained, red in the face. "I mean- yeah. But like, he's dating someone else- what's more, your best friend- so like-! What can I do, y'know?"

  "Honestly, that's fine. I don't think they're good for each other, anyway."

  "For real? I thought you'd be on Match's side."

  "I am. She's miles above Eraser's league."

  "Rude." But Pen was smiling. "Thanks for being so chill about this, by the way. We can still be friends if you want."

  "Yeah, sure. You're one of the better guys I know."

  "I'll take that as a compliment."

  A lot of what Pen said resonated with Pencil. She was reminded of the times Match would come to her complaining about something Eraser did. Without fail, Pencil would think 'I'd treat her better than that'. That feeling grew stronger while she was with Pen.

  She passed it off as a platonic thought, but now she was reconsidering. Maybe the reason she never liked guys was because she liked girls. It did cross her mind a few times, but hearing that Pen went through a similar experience strengthened the possibility. 

  And it made sense. It made complete sense. Her friendship with Match was always more special than her other friendships. Pencil always chalked it down to because they're BFFs, but that special connection was something more, now. Pencil was sure of it.

  Match and Eraser broke up a few days later. Pen gathered his nerve to confess and Eraser accepted. 

  Pencil was more concerned with Match. The latter lay slumped against Pencil's shoulder as she lamented.

  "The thing is, Pence-Pence...I don't think it was even like, gonna work out. I thought it would be great, but it, like, wasn't."

  "That's what happens sometimes, Match. Sorry about that."

  "At least I can count on you, Pence-Pence. You've always been there for me."

  Pencil's heart swelled hearing that, but she had to focus on being a good BFF first and foremost. Their special connection meant they'd lend their hearts to each other, even after rough times. And reinforced with Pencil's love, she wanted to be sure she and Match could endure it all. This certainly wasn't the first, nor the last time their relationship would be strained.

  Whether Match ever returned her feelings or not, Pencil would always be her BFF. And nothing would ever change that.

Chapter Text

  "Hey."

  "Oh...Pizza?"

  "Yeah. Did you find anything out yet?"

  "Not yet. ...Sorry."

  Pizza sighed, pinching the space between his eyes. "Shelly, come on. We're supposed to be finding out what's with Hot Dog, and since I can't be there, you have to get the truth out of him."

  "I know, I know. But I can't force it out of him, okay? He needs time."

  "We've given him time!" Shelly winced at the way Pizza raised his voice. "But obviously your way isn't working. It'd be better to confront him directly."

  "I don't want to scare him."

  "And he can't keep getting away with this! Hot Dog's not a secretive person. You know what that means? He could be in danger, or making some terrible mistake- and you're just dragging it out when we could've known by now!"

  "Hey! I want to figure out the truth too, but Hot Dog will tell us when he's ready. I want him to know we won't judge him and we'll support him through whatever he's going through. Your way will scare him."

  "But he knows he can trust us! We're his friends!"

  Shelly took a deep breath, giving Pizza time to cool down and for her to choose her words carefully. She knew they both felt the same way about this. Pizza knew that, too.

  "I wish he did. But we have to understand that for some reason, he feels like he can't. I feel frustrated too, but you know what he's like. We can't force him."

  Pizza's end was silent.

  "I know it hurts," Shelly continued, "a-and I'm not his best friend, you are. S-So...I'm sorry you have to...go through me..."

  "Woah, woah, okay Shelly, don't cry. I'm sorry for putting so much pressure on you, I'm just-"

  "I know." Shelly sniffed, taking a few deep- yet shaky- breaths in an attempt to regain her composure. "I-It's okay. I know."

  Before Pizza teamed up with Shelly to investigate Hot Dog secrets, he didn't think much of her outside seeing her as the meek girl she usually presents herself as. But when she asserted herself as his partner, he saw a fire in her eyes- an indomitable determination to find the truth. And listening to her now, even her words of reassurance carried a heavy sorrow. Sorrow that her friend would hide secrets from her; sorrow that he was carrying his burden alone.

  Despite their conflicting approaches, Pizza appreciated how she could feel so deeply, acting as a temper to his impatience. She reminded him of Hot Dog, in that way. 

  Which is why he couldn't let this go. Early on in their friendship, Hot Dog kept a few inconsequential secrets from him, out of fear of being judged. It was understandable. But Shelly was kinder than he was, so for Hot Dog to actively be hurting her like this...

  "You're right, Hot Dog doesn't do well with pressure, but at least give him a little push. Let him know he can't dodge the question forever. It's not okay for him to be doing this. To either of us."

  "Right- Ah, sorry, it's getting a little loud here. Give me a second."

  Pizza could also hear some extra voices coming in from Shelly's end. "What's going on over there?"

  Shelly softly closed a door behind her, muffling the voices. "It's Party Hat and Slurpy. They're just talking."

  They were not just talking.

  "Party Hat, could you listen to me for one minute-"

  "I already told you! We're doing this my way. Fastest way to get challenges done!"

  "No, it's not. You get challenges done by having a plan, not charging into it blindly and hoping it works!"

  "What if my plan is charging in and getting it done?"

  "That's not-" Slurpy breathed through gritted teeth. "That's not what I meant and you know it. You can't be so reckless."

  "What's it to you?" Party Hat snapped, "why do you care what I do?"

  Slurpy's heart stopped for a moment. What kind of a question was that?

  "Because we're teammates? Because we're friends? You don't listen to me, but are you even listening to yourself right now?"

  Party Hat's eyes went wide.

  "Oh, streamers- I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that. It's just...been a little stressful lately."

  Slurpy was more concerned than offended at his snappy attitude. Of course it's been stressful for him; he's the team leader, and they were about to lose two members in a row. It would soon be three if they weren't careful. Obviously it wasn't an excuse to completely disregard her, but her worry for Party Hat's well-being won out.

  "I know. Which is why I'm asking you to slow down, for your own good. You'll wear yourself out like this." Slurpy paused, debating whether to add something more. She averted her eyes. "...I really am worried." 

  Party Hat looked up at Slurpy, mustering his best smile. "Well, I'll be okay. And hey, if we lose again, I'll take all the responsibility. Don't worry about it."

  "That's-" Slurpy refrained from saying 'stupid'. "That's ridiculous. Don't do this by yourself. We're a team; let your teammates help you."

  His heart swelled with appreciation for everything that Slurpy was: steadfast, thoughtful, and true- and Party Hat really did want to accept her help and finally bridge the gap between them.

  But he couldn't. He could sense it; if they lost again, Slurpy would be the next to go. He knew how these shows worked. So in order to prevent that, Party Hat planned to take the fall. He wasn't sure if he could handle the sight of her frozen in a container.

  He had to believe in what he was doing.

  "Thanks Slurpy, but I know what I'm doing. I appreciate it, though."

  Slurpy was unconvinced. Annoyed, even. Party Hat steeled his resolve. This would be best in the long term. He had to believe that. He wouldn't lose Slurpy to the viewers.

  "Right. Of course you do."

  She didn't feel very appreciated. Even if she loved him, her patience could only go so far. Whether it was Party Hat's arrogance or pride that kept him away- she didn't know, and he wouldn't tell her.

  This just wasn't Party Hat. At least, she had to believe it wasn't.

  "Hey Shieldy, Shelly, Boombox!" Party Hat called out, "I'm calling a team meeting!"

Chapter Text

  Paintbrush saw yellow everywhere they looked.

  It was in the golden rays of the rising sun. It was in their bristles they combed to a sheen every morning. It was in the zesty lemons that grew near the hotel. It was in the fine sand of Baxter's crabitat.

  Yellow was the taste of freshly baked oatmeal raisin cookies. Yellow was the feeling of relaxing on a slow afternoon. Yellow was the sound of her laughter. Yellow was the smoky smell of static and electricity.

  Every chance they got, Paintbrush would paint yellow. Glowing city lights under a moon made of cheese, newborn chicks rustling in stacks of hay, sunflowers in wheat fields baked under the summer sun.

  They'd paint their room yellow if they could. OJ said no, so they took a big canvas, stuck it to the wall, and painted it to their heart's delight. A pretty bright idea, if they did say so themself.

  And of course it all came back to Lightbulb. Of course it did. The bright light of their own life.

  It was an inexplicable feeling, and yet Paintbrush understood it very well. It was the way Lightbulb attracted moths in the middle of the night. It was the way she let them fly around her face, counting and naming them before letting them go. As Test Tube said, the light wasn't good for nocturnal insects.

  At first, they tried to put a name to it. Respect, friendship, partners, love. All of them were true, but none were complete. So they stopped trying. Not everything had to have a rhyme or reason, and this was one of those things. Lightbulb was one of those things.

  Paintbrush just let it be. It was always difficult for them to let go, but they found it felt more natural that way. As natural as the flow of the brush as it swirled and danced on their canvas. They often painted with purpose; every stroke planned and thought out perfectly. But on their wall canvas, the spirit of spontaneity often overtook them.

  Stars in the middle of day. Ships floating in the sky. Nonsensical swirls and shapes wherever they felt like it. They drew their friends in random places. They weren't sure how they'd feel about it later, but in the moment, it was refreshing. They just let themselves go.

  Yellow was the color of freedom and life. And soon, their entire canvas shone with it.

  They let out a deep sigh of satisfaction and wiped their brow. 

  ...Just one more thing.

  Paintbrush took up their palette again and painted a little Lightbulb next to their bed. They cleaned their brushes and lay down for a well-deserved nap, looking at their newest creation for a moment longer. There was a certain wholeness within the chaos; a perfect blend of order and nonsense. It just made sense.

  Though she wasn't quite real, painted Lightbulb's radiant smile still put Paintbrush at ease before they closed their eyes and dreamed yellow dreams.

Chapter Text

  Gentle waves lapped at Flower's feet as she sat on the shore, staring into the endless horizon. The ocean breeze lifted her petals, and she rested her arms on her knees, laying her face in the crook of her elbow. 

  The sunset looked lovely today. Maybe she should base a new fashion line around the times of the day. It certainly would be beautiful.

  "Hey, Flower!" Ruby called out from behind her. Flower turned and waved, watching with a smile as Ruby sat down beside her. Ruby mimicked Flower's pose, crossing her arms over her knees. 

  "Whatcha doing out here?"

  Flower shrugged. "Nothing, really. I just wanted to come back here."

  "Okay, cool. I'll stay here with you." Ruby flicked her feet up and down, sending the saltwater flying.

  "Splish, splish!"

  Flower smiled fondly. In reality, she came to the beach to do a little self-reflecting. It was still a vivid memory in her mind; coming onto the beach to have a farewell party for Firey and Leafy, listening to Gelatin's comic, being invited to things, being called a friend...

  ...and looking at all her friends, smiling and chatting, and knowing she was part of it. It was almost unbelievable.

  She owed a lot of it to Ruby. First, for noticing her, and second, for helping her realize depending solely on her beauty to be liked was...kind of ridiculous. She still cringed thinking about how she disgustingly contorted herself in order to be "beautiful". In hindsight, Ruby was probably messing with her.

  She didn't really hold it against Ruby. Not too much, anyway.

  "Hey, how are your fashion things coming along?"

  "Pretty good! I think the BFB finale ended up being a really big promo for the steakhouse and fashion store. It's been really busy lately," Flower sighed. "I love the business and all, but a girl's gotta have her beauty break time."

  "I totally get it. Like, if I work for too long, I start losing my shine. So it's a good thing I don't do that!"

  Flower snickered. "I've actually been trying to find inspiration for a new fashion line. Thinking about using the times of day." She looked out into the horizon again, the dipping sun saturating the ocean with pink and red and orange and yellow. "I think I could make a whole closet with sunset colors. It's so beautiful."

  "You're pretty beautiful, too."

  Flower's gaze snapped back to Ruby- who looked a little sheepish, her eyes darting from Flower to the sand and back again- and for a moment, Flower lost herself in how Ruby dazzled with the world around her. Blue, purple, orange, and yellow reflected off her perfectly cut edges, giving Ruby an irresistible iridescence.

  "So are you."

  They locked gazes, ever so slightly leaning toward each other, their fingertips almost touching. The gentle crash of ocean waves around their feet was the only indication of time passing.

  "So, like...do you wanna..."

  Flower held Ruby's cheek in her hand and caressed her glassy surface. They leaned in until their lips connected, and held that way for a few sweet seconds. The setting sun bathed the pair in a golden glow as they kissed, until they opened their eyes again.

  "...wow."

  "You're a really good kisser."

  "Th-Thanks? You too..." She didn't pay mind to it before, but now that the moment was over, Flower was well aware of her racing heart and the nervous sweat on her forehead. "So...do you wanna...date? Or something?"

  "Yeah!" Ruby beamed up at Flower, "that'd be really cool."

  Flower realized since after the finale, she had been brimming with love. Love for herself, for her friends, and for Ruby. And for all the love she gave out, she was confident she'd get love in return. What felt impossible before came naturally now, and Flower was glad for it. 

  These warm thoughts and feelings gave Flower a sense of peace as she intertwined fingers with Ruby, her heart now steady and full, and the couple watched the receding sunlight and the stars poke holes in the night sky.

Chapter Text

Shelly couldn't sleep.

  The incessant rain was like bullets pounding on her window; shots in the dark that were blocked by a little pane of glass. The trees bent to the howling wind, scraping their branches against the walls while the cabin creaked and shook with each crack and boom of thunder.

   Lightning split the sky and the world flashed before her eyes. She retreated farther into her blanket, away from the fingers clawing at her window and away from the unrelenting darkness that flooded back after each lightning strike. Unceasing, the torrential downpour surrounded her as the crash of thunder shook her to the core.

  She couldn't bear to stand up and turn on a light. She'd fall over before even taking a step, and the shadows that erupted from the bursts of light would consume her whole. She had to toughen up and deal with it, just like everyone else.

  Curled up in the center of the bed with the blanket draped over her, Shelly hid from the storm. Even so, the sounds pierced through her protection like a gunshot as she attempted to bury herself inside the mattress.

  She let out a surprised squeak when the door opened.

  "Shelly?" It was Shieldy. "Do you mind?"

  "M...Mind what?" She uncurled, listening to him close the door and pitter-patter towards her. He lifted the blanket, but his face was covered by darkness.

  "I don't like thunderstorms...and I know you don't either, so I was wondering if I could stay here?"

  "Oh! O-Okay, sure." Shelly moved over, and Shieldy immediately scrambled into the bed, covering himself with the blanket as well. "I just uh...thought Party Hat would be your first choice."

  "Well, I didn't want to leave you alone..."

  Shelly flushed a little. "Th-Thanks..."

  Light flashed behind her, and the thunder came a moment later. Shieldy yelped and Shelly flinched. For all his recklessness, she didn't expect there to be a moment when she'd see him so afraid.

  Though, she had a few guesses on why.

  "So...I guess you know how lightning is attracted to metal, right?"

  "Mhm." She thought she saw him nod. "I, uh...got hit by lightning once. It wasn't fun."

  Shelly winced. "Oh...I'm sorry that happened."

  "Mm...what about you?"

  "Huh?"

  "How come you're scared of thunderstorms?"

  "Oh, it's..." She could barely hear herself over the rain. "It's not as bad as you, I just think they're loud, and dark, and....scary. Usually I just curl up and sing to myself, it helps me calm down."

  "...could you sing right now?"

  "Yeah..! Yeah, I could do that."

  Shieldy shifted to a more comfortable position, half his face buried in the cool mattress. His eye trained on Shelly as he tried to ignore the flashes of lightning beyond the blanket. Her singing filled their small blanket fort like soothing waves of warm water; like a gentle spell lulling him to sleep.

  He closed his eyes as a soft smile lifted his face. Even the thunder seemed to make way for Shelly's voice, dying down to low rumbles. Shelly herself felt calmer as safe memories from the song enveloped her, and she took a deep breath once she finished.

  "Your singing is beautiful."

  "A-Ah! Th-Thank you..." The peaceful feeling didn't last long; not because of the ongoing storm, but because she realized it was getting hot under the blanket. She hadn't processed that she and Shieldy were in the same bed, together, until just now. She was already blushing from his compliment, nevermind how Shieldy naturally attracted warmth.

  She laid down and poked her head out of the blanket, the cooler air of the room fresh on her face. Shieldy did the same.

  "What's it called?"

  Shelly pushed away her embarrassment. "The song? It's called Seashells' Lullaby; my mom used to sing it for me when I was a kid." She smiled at the memory. "It always makes me feel safe."

  "That's really nice."

  Lightning lit up Shieldy's face- Shelly saw his smile for a split-second before his eyes shrunk as he retreated into the blanket again. 

  "Are you okay?"

  Thunder rumbled in the distance as Shieldy poked his head out again. "Yeah...I'm still kinda scared."

  Shieldy was more scared of lightning than thunder- it made sense. It was only because they came as a pair that he feared both. The reverse was true for Shelly.

  "Well, what makes you feel safe?"

  "Um...usually, Party Hat gives me one of his plushies to hug. That helps a lot."

  "Oh. You can, uh, hug me...if you want to..."

  What was she thinking.

  Shieldy wrapped his arms around Shelly and pulled her close to him. She squeaked at the sudden movement.

  "Huh? Shelly, are you okay?"

  "Y-Yeah, that was just...really sudden." She breathed as quietly and slowly as possible so that Shieldy might not hear her racing heartbeat. She closed her eyes; his warmth reminded her of the beach, buried in the sun-baked sand. The thought calmed her instantly- and surprised her a bit.

  Shieldy wasn't always the safest person to be around; he had a reckless streak and never thought things through. Yet here, in the middle of a storm, she felt safe with him. She fluttered her eyes open, enough to catch a flash of light as shadows sprung to life. Shieldy didn't flinch this time.

  Wherever this feeling came from, Shelly didn't mind it. After the initial pull, his hold became much more relaxed, as if all he needed was someone close to him. Shelly closed her eyes again, glad that he didn't seem afraid anymore. She wasn't afraid, either.

  "Hey, Shelly?"

  "Yeah?"

  "Thanks for letting me be here."

  They were talking in whispers, on the verge of sleep. It was almost as if they were partners, and in a way, they were. The competition had let them grow closer in silent ways, standing near each other and working together. This kind of closeness felt natural- it just wasn't apparent until then.

  "Of course." Shelly nuzzled a little closer into Shieldy. "Goodnight."

  "G'night, Shelly."