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More than a Hug

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It was no surprise to you that the Elsen were very cuddly creatures. Not only that, but they were very squishy, too. You absolutely loved hugging the cute little guys! Who wouldn’t? They were warm, soft, and sweet.

The first time you had hugged an Elsen was after Dedan had finished yelling at the one. You and your beloved Batter had stepped out of the barn before you found yourself rushing over to the pitiful thing. How could you not? The poor guy looked like he was about to cry.

You were quick to scoop him into your arms. “Hush now. He’s just a mean old man. You did nothing wrong.”

He accepted your hug and buried his face into the crook of your neck. You hear him sniffle a little bit. “Th-thank you…hhh…you’re too kind.”

“You’re welcome,” you mumbled, hugging him a little tighter. You heard your Puppet awkwardly shuffle around, causing a deep chuckle to emanate from your chest. A few seconds later, you set him down onto the ground. The little Elsen had a slight blush on his cheeks.

“Miss, th-thank you and your…uh…friend here for purifying the barns. Even if it didn’t get noticed by the Inspector, we appreciate it…” he teeters off when he notices Batter glaring at him. You smack the Batter’s shoulder and smile down at the Elsen.

“You’re very welcome! Take care of yourself, alright? I think it’s about time we got a move on.” Batter remains silent as you bid the Elsen goodbye.

“I will! Good luck with…whatever you’re doing!” the Elsen wishes before the Batter grabs your hand and drags you behind him.

“Thank you!” you yell, waving at him before turning back to your Puppet.

“Dude, chill. You can let me go now,” you comment. He reluctantly releases his grip on you.

“What was that about?” he demands, looking anywhere but at you.

“He was about to cry, Batter! He was scared! I couldn’t just leave him like that!” you retort, rolling your eyes.

“He would have gotten over it.”

You sigh. “Sometimes a little kindness goes a long way, Batter.”

The second time you were cuddly with an Elsen is when you and Batter got stuck in the shopping mall maze. Batter was getting extremely frustrated and you just wanted to get the hell out of that blue hellhole.

So, when you and Batter found a lone Elsen who had claimed to be lost, you declared it was time to take a break.

“I’m lost,” the Elsen said, “I could make a fire with the boxes...to ward off the ghosts...but...that would be too dangerous.”

You immediately began to answer, but Batter pulled you back outside for a moment.

“Don’t answer him.”

You roll your eyes, growing annoyed. He couldn’t just boss you around like that. “He’s lost, Batter. We need to help him get out of here!”

“He can find his way out by himself.”

“Batter. He’s scared. Can’t we bring him with us? It’s only temporary. I can do all the talking, too!” you push, trying to decipher how he’s feeling.
Batter frowns at your words, and not for the first time, you wish you could see his eyes. “He might attract a Spectre.”

And it was then and there you knew there was something else wrong. Throughout all of your travels, Batter had strived to attract Spectres so he could Purify them. Hell, he’d even shouted out to them in the smoke mines! So why was he so worried about attracting them now? Especially since they were much weaker here, too?

“Since when are you worried about attracting Spectres?” you grill, folding your arms and narrowing your eyes.

He doesn’t answer for a moment, clearly caught off guard. Shaking your head, you look back up at him. “Look, what’s up with you, man? This isn’t like you.”

“I don’t want him to come with us,” he answers. You don’t buy it, but at the same time you know he’s not going to crack just yet.

With a sigh, you say: “I don’t think that’s all, but I know you won’t tell me. Can’t he just come with us? Who knows, he might be of help!”

He remains silent for a few more moments, then: “Fine.”

You grin before darting back into the room. The Elsen looks up at you hopefully.

“Come on, we can help you get out,” you coo, smiling.

“Wh-what about the ghosts?” he asks.

“We can protect you from them. Trust me,” you answer before offering your hand to him. He takes it gratefully before you pull him up.

“Thank you very much, ma’am,” he replies. You hear the Batter scoff quietly from behind you.

“You’re welcome,” you respond.

“Let’s go,” comes Batter’s voice as he nearly stomps out of the room. You roll your ryes. So much for taking a break.

“Ignore him. He’s always grumpy,” you inform, taking his small hand and pulling him behind you.

During your trek through the exasperating maze, you noticed Batter was considerably quieter and tenser. Eventually, you had decided that he would tell you about whatever was bothering whenever it suited him. He seemed to be angry too, if the way he was taking out whatever monstrosity showed itself. It was almost like he didn’t want to listen to you but did anyway. His stubbornness grew to the point where you just allowed him to do whatever he wanted with the battles, so you could comfort the Elsen.

And when, finally, you five reached the Judge, the Elsen quickly thanked you and scampered off while Batter spoke to the Judge. You waved at the unfortunate Elsen before turning back to the conversation at hand.

“Is not this publicity so effective and efficient whilst defying the basics of consumer marketing?” the Judge says once he sees you. The two of them are facing some kind of advertisement painted on the wall.

“For silkier hair: the meat fountains of Alma,” Batter reads, clearly unamused.

“Oh, you can read? Anyway, I am glad to have found you. Maybe you can help me unravel the mystery that fate has placed before me,” the Judge comments. He glances up at you and smiles before trotting over to you. You sit down cross-legged against the wall before he crawls onto your lap. Smiling, you pet his soft fur.

“It turns out that my brother has been living in this area for many years. He has a special affinity for colors of the cool kind. Unfortunately, I have so far failed to cross his path. I have tried to betake myself to the roof of the library, where he resides. However, I found the door closed. Even the long hours of intensive, repeated meowing and compulsive scratching did not do a thing.”

“Aw, I’m sorry Judge. Is there anything we can do to help?” you question, scratching him behind his ear. He mewls in response, flipping over onto his back in a silent request for tummy rubs.

“My request is as follows: if at the bend of a corridor you happen to see Valerie, give him my greetings.”

You nod. “Will do.”

“Okay,” The Batter agrees. “Puppeteer, I’m going to go speak to Zacharie for a moment. Do you mind waiting here while I do so?”

You’re mildly surprised, but you agree anyway. “Uh, no, go ahead.”

“Thank you.” He saunters away, trusty bat in hand with Alpha and Omega following him.

You blink. “That was weird.”

“Eccentric of the Batter indeed,” agrees The Judge, “what do you think is amiss?”

“He’s been acting very…out of character lately,” you muse, “I’m not entirely sure what’s going on.” Is he mad at you? Should you be doing something differently? If so, then why isn’t he just talking to you about it? “I wonder if he’s mad at me.”

“I highly doubt that. Your beloved Puppet could never be angry with you for long,” The Judge responds.

You shake your head, causing the Judge to glance up at you. “I don’t know, Judge. If I did something wrong, he just…he needs to speak up. I guess I should ask him about that, huh?”

The Judge nods. “If you truly believe so, then communication is the sole solution.”

“Alright, then,” you sigh, sifting your fingers through his soft fur.

A few minutes later, Batter reappears in the room, the Add Ons at his side. It was then you realized he didn’t buy anything because you were the one holding the credits.

“You good?” you question as the Judge reluctantly slides off of your lap.

“Yes. We should go,” he answers, although you catch a glimpse of his cheeks, which are…wait, is he blushing? You wonder what the odd merchant had said this time around.

Before you left, however, you approached the masked merchant standing idly behind the counter.

“Ah, buenos dias, dearest Puppeteer. How could I be of assistance?”

“Could I see what you have on you?” you ask. He chuckles.

“Of course, belle femme,” he replies, showing you his wares. You’d grown used to the odd nicknames he gave you.

You ended buying a few Fortune Tickets and some meat, placing all purchased items in your inventory before bidding Zacharie goodbye. Before you can move away, however, the merchant catches your hand in his. You freeze, watching as he lifts his mask ever-so-slightly before he brings the back of your hand to his lips.

“It’s always a pleasure to serve this little ragtag team of yours. Sois prudente, jolie fille.” Releasing your hand, he chuckles at your shocked expression, smirking as he glances at your stunned Puppet.

“Th-thank you,” you stutter before Batter places his hand behind your back and pushes you out of the door.

Once you’re outside, you blink a few times before you’re able to speak again. “Dude. What. The. Fuck?”

Batter shakes his head, probably both at your choice of language and recent events. “Language. I don’t know why he’s…” he sighs.

“He’s so weird. Wait…aren’t you fluent in French? What did he say?” you question.

Batter huffs. “The first nickname was ‘beautiful woman’. The second one was ‘Be safe, pretty girl’.”

Your cheeks grow even redder upon hearing the translation. “W-what? Really?”

He nods, remaining silent as the two of you continue to the park.

“Puppeteer…” he starts, voice soft.

“Yeah?” you ask, looking up at him. He avoids your gaze blatantly.

“I…” he trails off before continuing, “I think we should rest in Zone 0 before going to the park.”

You nod, the exhaustion of getting through the maze catching up with you. “Agreed.”

Once you two have reached the abandoned Zone, Batter hurriedly guides you past Zacharie, despite his greeting, and ushers to the upper levels.

“Which floor would you like to stay on?” he questions.

“Here’s fine,” you respond, sliding onto the floor. He hesitates before sitting next to you and dropping his bat onto the floor. You lean your head on his shoulder, causing him to tense up a bit before relaxing.

You hear him sigh again. “I’ve upset you, haven’t I?” His voice sounds uncharacteristically sullen for a man as stoic as he usually is.

“Kind of. I just wish you would talk to me. What’s going on with you, Batter? You’ve been acting weird lately.”

He heaves yet another sigh as you straighten your neck and shift. Batter looks up at you while you move. You end up straddling him with your hands on his shoulders. He stiffens at your gentle touches. From this angle, you can finally see his eyes.

You can’t tell exactly what color his eyes are, so you reach up before grasping the brim of his hat. He catches your wrist gently before you can pull it off all the way.

“Do you mind?” you whisper. “I really want to see your eyes.”

His grip on your wrist loosens before he removes it completely. “Go ahead.”

You smile at him in a silent thank-you before you remove it.

His eyes are a pretty shade of amber. They hold a kind of exhaustion that could only be obtained by fighting for something one couldn’t accomplish.

“Your eyes are beautiful,” you comment, smiling, “why didn’t you want me to see them?”

He bites his lip for a moment before looking away. “I am not entirely sure. I guess I just…don’t want you to see my…my real ones.”

“Your real ones?” you question, tilting your head slightly.

“Yes,” he confirms, placing a hand on your cheek. “I don’t want to scare you.”

“You won’t, Batter. Will you show me, please?” you ask, enjoying the feeling of his hands.

“Very well,” he says, “will you close your eyes for a moment?”

You obey quietly, pressing a hand against his. His hands are much bigger than yours as well as drier and calloused from using his bat so much.

“You may open your eyes now.”

Upon opening them, you find that his amber orbs have been replaced with four eyes. The irises are a deep shade of burgundy while the rest of the eye is a pretty crimson color.

“Whoa,” you breathe, removing your hand in order to trace the skin around his eyes. Even though it’s definitely unnatural for a human, he still looks handsome. “Those are even cooler!”

“You think so?” he questions, still unsure.

“Yes. I mean…I’ve never met anyone with red eyes before. I…I think they look even better than your other ones,” you confess, smiling shyly at him.

He studies your face for a moment before a teensy little smile lights up his face. “Thank you, Puppeteer. Thank you.”

You chuckle. “That’s what you get for having a pretty face. Now,” you lean back a little. “What’s been going on with you?”

His little blush is back, which almost makes you giggle. “Well…it has to do with what I talked to Zacharie about earlier.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I…whenever I saw you hugging the Elsen or just…being affectionate with someone else, it made me angry. I wasn’t sure what exactly why I was; after all, you were just trying to be comforting. I knew Zacharie would have an answer, and he did. He informed me that…I should tell you. I wasn’t sure how. Eventually, he told me that…I was…jealous.”

You chuckle. “If you wanted a hug you should’ve just asked,” you respond, wrapping your arms around his neck and pulling yourself to him. Burying your face into the crook of his neck, you smile as you feel him return it with a relieved smile. He loosely wraps his strong arms around your waist, pulling you closer to him.

You note that he smells like…bubblegum? Not just any bubblegum, but the kind that’s sort of stringy? Like the baseball gum. You chuckle, inhaling his scent.

Suddenly, he slides his hands up to your neck and he gently pushes you back a little bit, rubbing the tips of his thumbs over your jawline. You move your hands to his chest, right over his heart. It steadily beat beneath your fingertips. After that, your gaze sinks down to see his lips: they’re dry and chapped, but still so, so kissable.

The Batter releases a grunt before he pulls you forward, and your lips collide. He’s gentle and slow at first, testing the waters. When the two of you break apart for a moment, you go in for another one again; this time around, it gets a little more heated.

His hands slide back down to your waist, where he pulls your torso to his. You find your hands tangled in his ivory white hair. You feel him running his hands along your curves, to the small of your back, then retreating to your waist again.

You’re pulled back by the need for air. As you gaze into his red eyes, you recollect just why you love this man. He had protected you, tried to help you when no one else would. Even when he did get a little snappy, it was because he wasn’t exactly sure what to make of both the situation and his own feelings. It was there when you were looking at him, you realized he felt the same way.

He breathes your name, brushing a hand against your cheek again. You can tell he’s at a lost for words.

“I had a feeling you wanted more than a hug.”