The Power of a Hug
Gerald didn’t like taking bets. He didn’t like gambling in general. But somehow, in some way, he had lost a bet to Cass and now the eccentric bar-keep had announced the way to repay him was for him to hug five different people.
Yes, that was right.
“Yup, five different people,” Cass reiterated with that broad, far too amused grin of his. “Here in this bar. Right now.”
Gerald ran a hand over his face roughly. He hadn’t a clue why Cass would ‘request’ such a thing, but he bet the opportunistic bar-keep had other wagers riding on this. Several of them probably. For whatever reason.
“Five people who are trust-worthy and familiar,” Shiki added with a protective tinge to his voice.
Gerald turned to look at him to find Shiki eying the other patrons of the bar with a sense of suspicion. He didn’t see why, though. No one barely acquainted with him would want to hug him or take advantage of the situation. Still, he had to admit that his protectiveness was endearing, so he wasn’t going to comment on it.
“What if I fail this…thing?” Gerald questioned as he turned his attention back to Cass.
“You’ll have to work behind the bar for a week,” Cass said with a grin. “For free, of course! Haw haw haw!”
Gerald rolled his eyes. He couldn’t say that was surprising at all. Free labour and the possibility to use him in the form of more bets, no doubt. That man was always scheming and plotting something. Well, it was probably just his subtle (perhaps desperate) way to keep Gerald involved with the bar as he had all but given up drinking alcohol, after all.
“Don’t you worry, Gerry,” Shiki said as he slipped an arm around Gerald’s waist and tugged his toward him and against his side. “We’ll find you the four perfect candidates.”
“Four?” Gerald questioned with a raised eyebrow. “Wasn’t it five?”
Shiki abruptly turned him around to face him before he enveloped him into a tight hug. Gerald uttered a soft “oof!” sound as he fell against Shiki’s chest with his chin on his shoulder. Shiki slipped an arm around his shoulders while the other rested across the small of his back, and he held him against him for a few moments.
He then leaned back with his hands on Gerald’s shoulders and grinned at him. “There’s one hug,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Cass conceded from the bar as he idly picked up a glass to clean. “But yer still got four more. Better hurry.”
Gerald was inwardly surprised that Cass didn’t demand that it was Gerald who was to initiate the hugs, but was grateful for it nonetheless.
“Simmons!” Shiki suddenly called out across the bar. “Come over here and give Gerry a hug!”
Gerald winced at the volume of Shiki’s voice. He, however, felt his brow furrow when he heard the sound of footsteps rapidly approaching in his direction. He turned in time to get a mere glimpse of Simmons before he staggered backwards when Simmons barrelled into him. His arms flung around his back and shoulders, and he hugged him tightly.
Despite the initial barrelling into him, Gerald was able to stay upright and felt the air rush from his lungs when Simmons gave him a tight squeeze. Not tight enough to hurt him; the boy did understand some of his strength. But definitely a squeeze that took his breath away for a moment.
Finally, Simmons released his hold on him and stepped back. And gave him that large, goofy smile of his before he turned to look at his dad. “How was that? Was that ok?”
Shiki smiled just as broadly as he slapped Simmons lightly on the back. “That was perfect! Good job!”
Simmons’ smile became endearing after that. And, surprisingly, he didn’t ask why Shiki had requested him to cross the bar to hug Gerald out of the blue.
“Oh, are we hugging the gruff but cuddly teddy-bear~?”
Gerald furrowed his brow as he turned around. His gaze immediately collided with that of Cedric. The silver-haired troubadour sat at the table, his hands folded under his chin, a light flush to his cheeks, and an amused look in his eyes.
Before Gerald could ask him what he meant by teddy-bear when Shiki laughed aloud again and placed a hand on Gerald’s shoulders.
“That’s right. Poor Gerald lost a bet,” Shiki explained. “So for a limited time only, Gerry here is open for free hugs. But only those who are worthy.”
Cedric smiled and tilted his head to the side. “Oh, you’re the gatekeeper? Very good! How many people are expected to be granted this privilege?”
“Five, but we’re down to three,” Shiki replied before Gerald had the chance to. His grin unexpectedly widened and he equally unexpectedly nudged Gerald toward the clearly tipsy troubadour. “And you get to be number three!”
Shockingly, in Gerald’s opinion at least, Cedric jumped to his feet and clapped his hands once cheerfully in front of him. “Yay~!” he said.
Before Gerald could wonder how much to drink Cedric had, the troubadour had eagerly pushed himself into his arms. He nuzzled his nose into the chest of his coat as he arms folded across his back.
Gerald stood stock still as Cedric continued to happily nuzzle his face into his chest.
“He’s so fluffy!” Cedric voice was muffled, but the words were quite clear and Gerald wasn’t all that sure what he meant.
Shiki, on the other hand, just laughed boisterously. “Well, that’s three down. Two more to go!”
“Oh? What’s going on here then?”
At the sound of a familiar voice (and with a sudden squeal of delight), Cedric abruptly removed himself from Gerald’s arms and stepped back. “Lynus, love,” he all but cooed as he stumbled over to said orange-haired medic.
Lynus barely batted an eyelash when Cedric abruptly flung his arms around his neck in an exuberant and drunken hug. He simply smiled as he patted Cedric on the back. His hand did linger for a moment, no doubt assessing how much alcohol Cedric had consumed. But his smile didn’t falter, so he didn’t appear worried.
“Dear Gerald lost a bet to Cass,” Shiki explained. “Terrible man is making him hug five different people. My poor husband could be traumatised.”
“But Shiki is rightfully playing gate-keeper,” Cedric added as he pulled away from Lynus and smiled at him. “Like a good husband should.”
“Oh, I’m a wonderful husband, aren’t I, Ceddy?”
“Absolutely delightful, Shi~”
Gerald sighed and rolled his eyes while Lynus simply nodded his head. His gaze did hold a sense of amusement, however. “Unusual punishment, indeed,” Lynus said with a chuckle. “How much more does he have to go?”
“Just two more,” Shiki immediately replied before he grinned that notorious grin of his and planted his hands on his hips. “You could make that one.”
Gerald was honestly surprised by that, as was Lynus himself. He wasn’t as close to Lynus as Shiki or Simmons was. And, well, he and his guild had made the gentle medic worried about their health more than once, so that was also kinda awkward. He was about to chide Shiki for putting people on the spot like that, making them uncomfortable when Lynus unexpectedly chuckled.
“Of course,” Lynus said as he shifted his medical bag from his shoulder and handed it to Cedric to hold.
He then cross the distance between them and Gerald felt himself stare at the medic with a slightly awkward and confused expression.
Again, Lynus chuckled. But it wasn’t a mocking one. It was actually quite calming. “Axel is at the inn at the moment, so don’t you worry about invoking his protectiveness,” he teased, making light of the situation.
Despite his awkwardness, Gerald felt a small smile make its way upon his lips and he opened his arms slightly to allow Lynus to take a step closer and lean against his chest while his own arm slipped around to touch his back.
As Lynus rested his cheek against Gerald’s chest, Gerald draped his arms around him in return. However, he couldn’t help but allow a slight frown to tug at his lips for a split second before he pushed it aside. Lynus was a lot more…fragile than he had anticipated. Small. As if he could be easily broken. He probably weighed as much as he looked, and he certainly didn’t look that heavy.
He…probably wasn’t very good at looking after himself, was he? Kinda like what Gerald used to be like…
After a quick squeeze with his arms, Lynus made the motion to step back, so Gerald loosened his arms.
“You’re looking much better these days, Gerald,” Lynus said softly with a smile as he stepped back from.
Gerald blinked before he unexpectedly felt his cheeks heat up slightly. “Uh, yeah…”
“Dad! I found Rahas!” Simmons suddenly announced loudly from somewhere behind him.
With his brow furrowing in confusion once more, Gerald looked over in the direction Simmons’ voice came from. And his frown deepened when he saw that Simmons had Rahas by the wrist and was pulling him along. Rahas, for his part, wasn’t struggling against Simmons’ hold. He wasn’t even pulling at his hand around his wrist.
He looked as confused as shit, though.
“What the hell is going on here?” Rahas asked as he looked around at everyone with a suspicious gaze.
“We’re hugging Gerald,” Shiki immediately replied, which made Gerald slap his forehead in exasperation. “And you’re number five. So hop to!”
Rahas narrowed his gaze but looked even more bewildered. “You’re doing what now?”
Before Rahas could ask any more questions or get to the stage of just bristling and storming off in confusion, Shiki reached toward him. Grabbing him by the scruff of his jacket, he…practically threw him at Gerald.
Gerald felt his breath leave him suddenly when Rahas’ forehead collided in the very centre of his chest. Out of pure instinct, he wrapped his arms around Rahas’ shoulders and back as he stumbled backwards. Rahas seemed to act out of instinct, too, when his own arms reached out to wrap around his waist.
“Shiki!” Gerald chided. “Don’t go throwing people around like that!”
Shiki just threw his head back on a laugh. “And that’s number five!”
Gerald was fairly certainly having someone thrown at him and they landing into his chest wasn’t considered a hug. But before he could point that out Simmons abruptly sprung forward with his arms outstretched. And he wrapped them around both Gerald and Rahas, who of which was starting to gather his wits.
“Gerry is fun to hug!” Simmons said cheerfully.
“He sure is!” Shiki immediately replied before he came up behind Gerald and flung his arms around the three of them.
“What the fuck?!” Rahas finally shrieked as he fought and struggled against them, literally kicking out with his legs as he tugged and pulled at their arms. “Seriously, what the ever loving fuck?!”
Gerald could only sigh with exasperation. Honestly, kid, he didn’t know either…
But…he was happy nonetheless.