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An acquaintance in need is a friend indeed

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"Husker, my closest, most wonderful friend in all of Hell!"

Husk gritted his teeth with a heavy sigh, and resisted the urge to bang his head against his bar counter. That many epithets could only mean that his ridiculous, pompous fri- acquaintance wanted something from him and wouldn't accept 'no' for an answer. Not that Alastor ever really accepted a 'no', but sometimes things were slightly more negotiable and some of his own wishes got taken into account to a small extent. But never when that much faux affection was heaped on him.

Well, at least he liked to think the affections were faked, what with the Radio Demon being a fucking lunatic of the highest order. Husk did occasionally wonder if he should take the repeated use of the word 'friend' at face value after all these years, but that thought opened him up to vulnerabilities of his own that he would much rather bury even deeper into the ground than his own rotting corpse had been. He was way too old and jaded to willingly give a flying fuck anymore.

"What the fuck do you want now?" he asked with a semi-resigned voice, putting down the rug he had been polishing his counter with. As it was still daytime, he didn't have any customers that were actually worth his attention, so at the very least Alastor's timing was decent enough for once.

The widely grinning red traffic light of a person appeared next to him and pulled him into a snug one-armed hug. "Ahh, such good manners as per usual! I like that about you."

Sure he did. Husk peeled himself away from the grabby hands, ears laid back in annoyance. "Get to the point so we can get this shit over with."

Alastor laughed in response, which made Husk pause. Something about it was… off. He may not like Alastor – or so he told himself and would vehemently maintain to anyone who asked – but he had the displeasure to know the guy relatively well. So, he noticed these things. Any random demon facing Alastor for the first time, or even dealing with him on an occasional basis, typically didn't see any nuances to the guy's constant laughter; too busy being freaked out by it. But there were nuances.

And this laugh, right here, was suspect.

"Very well, my friend; since you insist", Alastor said, drew a finger idly over the counter, and then pretended to inspect said finger for any dirt. Rude. "I was wondering if you would have the time to take a small break? Maybe thirty or forty minutes, at the most."

That... actually sounded like a genuine request, rather than a thinly veiled command. Husk's eyes narrowed as he stared at the aloof-looking figure, who had now turned around to inspect the liquor bottles on the nearest shelf. Alastor was humming to himself, acting as though everything was perfectly fine and dandy, and to any onlookers it would look exactly like that.

Husk wasn't fooled. He might have been had he been in a grouchier mood or had that laugh earlier not tipped him off, but as it was he was hearing loud warning bells in his head. He hadn't yet connected the dots, but something about this situation was familiar.

He didn't think he should deny Alastor what he wanted right then. Or even stall.

"It is pretty dead around here, and that's something considering we're in Hell", he said, putting in as much reluctance as he could muster; he had a reputation to keep, just as much as Alastor did.

Said demon whipped around instantly, smile even wider than before. Even more off than before. "Excellent! Come then, let us adjourn to my room!"

Before he could get a word in edgewise, he was spirited away.

A plaque with the word 'closed!' appeared on the counter with a puff of red smoke, and the liquor cabinet locked itself in their wake.

-----

Husk found himself in Alastor's weirdass half-swamp room that he had had the displeasure of seeing once before, when his fri- acquaintance had insisted on giving him a tour. It was half a normal, if needlessly dapper and freakishly clean room, and half an actual swamp. A couple of decades back he would have been weirded out, but he had seen Alastor's other dwellings before and this was comparably tame. At least this swamp didn't stink like the other one; he suspected it was because there weren't any dead bodies buried in the bog holes. Yet.

More disconcerting was the fact that he was in Alastor's bed, laying in the other demon's lap like a common house cat, and his hat was clearly missing since Alastor was running his hands through the fur on his head and over his ears.

Husk almost got up in outrage. Almost started shouting at Alastor for presuming he could just do shit like this without even asking. Almost dug his claws into the infuriating demon's thighs. But he didn't.

Because this wasn't the first time this had happened.

No, this was now the fourth time in their almost forty-year acquaintance.

The first time had been a combination of a one-sided shouting match and a wrestling match. They had just met and Alastor had gotten touch-happy simply because Husk was a giant winged cat. Of course Husk hadn't been about to let that shit fly, but unfortunately Alastor was much more powerful than him and eventually had his way. It had been humiliating and hadn't kicked their friendship off to a good start. ...Acquaintanceship, damn it! Regardless, Alastor hadn't casually gone that far again afterwards; keeping his touchy-feely tendencies to brief fur-ruffles and side-hugs, like he did with everyone else. Thankfully.

The second time was very different, and happened a decade later. Alastor had showed up to the casino Husk had been at, completely out of nowhere, and whisked him off to his place without further ado. There, just like now, he had simply assumed this position without any warnings or asking for a permission. Husk had gotten started with a temper tantrum, but Alastor had dug his suddenly much sharper claws into Husk's skin quite painfully and, with a positively deadly tone of voice, told him to stay still. Husk had instantly known better than to argue and had quietly acquiesced. As they settled down, he had noted that Alastor's hands were shaking and his breath was ragged whenever he exhaled. And it's not like any if them even needed to breathe down here. Needless to say, Husk had been very still and very quiet for the whole encounter. He never found out what had happened to render Alastor into that state, but it had taken the Radio Demon a better part of an hour to calm down, and afterwards he had simply sent Husk away with no explanation or a thank you. Husk hadn't stayed at the casino for long afterwards; he had needed a strong drink or ten.

The third time happened a few years ago. Once again, Alastor showed up unannounced. He was all smiles and laughter like usual, but there was an odd tinnitus in Husk's sensitive ears that tipped him off to realize something wasn't quite right. When he asked if Alastor was alright, the other demon froze in place and went all radio dial eyes on him, which made the subtle noise worse. And then Husk was whisked away and frantically petted while a loud white noise played in the background. Again, it had taken almost an hour before Alastor got a grip, but that time he had thanked Husk before sending him away. No explanation then, either.

So this time, despite it having been years once again, Husk knew what was up. Well, he knew what to expect anyway; he doubted Alastor would open up to him any more than he had the previous times.

Husk shifted carefully to make himself comfortable without alarming Alastor, and folded his wings neatly. He listened carefully, but failed to hear any concerning noises. Alastor's carefully, mechanically moving hands were steady and kept a constant rhythm and pressure. But, despite it seeming like nothing was horribly wrong this time, he didn't presume this was any less dire than before.

A moment later there was a loud mic-drop sound and Alastor's hand twitched, twisting his fur painfully, and then the status quo returned like nothing had happened. Yep, Husk would definitely never think all was fine when this shit was going on.

Gloved, thin hands kept running through his fur, smoothing over his ears, easing any tangles from his scruff.

He waited for a good fifteen minutes to pass without an incident before he dared to speak, and he kept his voice very low and calm. "Hey… I just wanted to say that you've made progress. This time you asked. Kind of."

Alastor didn't reply or show in any manner that he had even heard him. He just kept petting Husk's fur like a damned robot.

It was still better than having a negative reaction, which he had half-feared.

Husk bit his lip, still indecisive if he should say his next piece. It was… so mushy. So open. So close to acknowledging that maybe acquaintances wasn't the correct word to describe them. Possibly even dangerous to say right this moment, with Alastor clearly on the edge.

He had been avoiding letting Alastor in for almost forty years, despite the other demon's constant presence in his afterlife. Despite Alastor calling him a friend, a good friend, a close friend, sometimes even his best friend. Despite all the touchy-feely nonsense from Alastor's part whenever they were in the same room. It was difficult to shake the status quo now. Husk didn't like change.

But maybe it was the high time.

"You know", he found himself saying, before he had quite realized he had made up his mind. "You don't need to… wait until it gets this bad. Whatever it is. I'm not volunteering to be your nightly plush toy, but if this calms you down or comforts you or whatever, then I don't mind doing this every now and then. You don't need to be right on the brink to have this."

Silence.

More robotic petting.

Then arms slowly looped around his chest and pulled his upper half up, and Alastor's face was pressed against his scruff. He could feel a heavy exhale through Alastor's creepy grin, and then the red light shining from his eyes went dark, presumably because Alastor close them.

Husk smiled to himself, secure in the knowledge that nobody could see it. "You're welcome. Now put me down and scratch between my shoulder blades, you big wuss."

He may or may not have been purring a moment later, but one thing was for sure: he hadn't initially been thrilled to turn into a giant cat in his afterlife, but he no longer minded his form that much. Not since his friend liked it so much.