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EXPERIMENT 76844537: SUBJECT 47426

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Zedaph whispers to you: heeyyyyy come to my base :D
Zedaph whispers to you: pls pls pls ty
Zedaph whispers to you: i can give u cords if u need em

From what Grian had been hearing of Zed this season, these messages were creating nearly the same amount of anxiety Grian felt when Mumbo actually showed up on time for a meeting.

Something funky was up, and there was a good chance Grian was about to the center of it all.

Regardless, Grian had been meaning to see Zed’s new base for a while now, and this was as good of an opportunity as anything else. He left a note at the front of his alley to let Boatem know where he was before taking off, and in less than ten minutes, he was standing in front of the place Zed called home, straightening his ruffled feathers as an excuse to not head in yet.

Does he want me to let him know I’m here? Grian thought to himself, his lips thinning as he stared at the entrance. Sure, Zed invited him, but it was rude to just plop yourself down on someone’s stuff without warning. Maybe he should check in and make sure he was actually the one Zed wanted to PM. All the Hermits had moments of accidentally clicking the wrong name without realizing-

Suddenly, the door was slammed open by a wide-eyed and excited Zed, causing Grian to nearly jump out of his jumper. Zed sported a toothy grin and even kept the expression while he grabbed Grian by the collar and dragged him inside, “Oh, it’s so good to see you! Thanks for taking time out of your day, I promise it’ll be worth it!”

Grian let it happen, but only really because his brain was lagging about ten seconds behind. The clang of the door was still reverberating in the walls of his mind like the vibrations of a gong, “Y-Yeah, of course.”

With a blink, Grian noticed they were downstairs and that Zed was on the other side of the room, rummaging through a chest in the hopes of finding something. Watching him, Grian awkwardly stood in the middle of the area, unsure of where he could walk or what he could touch. As much as he wanted to press random buttons like always, he figured he should hold back considering it probably wasn’t just connected to regular redstone; it was connected to Zedaph redstone, and Grian wasn’t sure what kind of theme the guy was going for this season.

Grian would greatly appreciate living to see tomorrow, is what he was saying.

So in the middle of the room he stood, twiddling his thumbs as he looked around making hums of varying pitches. On one wall were multiple stacks of different colored wool, each one a different height in no particular pattern. Below him was making squeaking noises, and when he looked down between his feet, he spotted a rather plump endermite making its way around the maze it appeared to be in. It was at this moment Grian realized that what he was standing on was a giant maze with a glass ceiling.

“AHA! Found it!” Zedaph exclaimed, stopping Grian from examining the rest of the room. Zedaph proceeded to valiantly pull a book out from the chest along with a decently sized feather and ink before rushing over to Grian’s side to stand in front of him, holding the objects out in between them.

It took Grian far too long to realize that he was supposed to take the writing materials, and even once he eventually grabbed them, he did slowly, like he was bracing for when something inevitably went wrong. He gave Zed an inquisitive eyebrow tilt, one that said ‘is this what you want me to do?’

Zed, practically shaking out of his coat, smiled from ear to ear in response. ‘Yes, perfect, keep doing that.’

Still slightly reluctant, Grian went to open the book to see if anything was inside. As his eyes trailed over the pages, he only managed to become more confused. The book was filled with T-charts, the left sides being all the Hermits’ names and the right sides being blank with only the title of the column labeled Description. Each page had around three to four Hermits, and Grian made sure to check that it really was every single one of them.

All except for him, which… “Okay, what?

Zedaph began to giggle, totally enamored with how perplexed he was making his friend, “I need you to do me a big favor. And it has to do with this teeny little book I’ve started for you.”

Closing the cover, Grian deposited the materials into his inventory so he could cross his arms, “I figured, but that’s still not answering my question of what the hell is happening?

Finally, Zedaph answered him by shooting his arms straight out, imitating a similar shape to the T-charts and emphasizing just how pumped he was about whatever it was he had planned, “I need you to go around to each Hermit and ask them to hug you!”

Grian blinked.

And then stood there flabbergasted, unable to make any noise except a few vaguely choking-sounding ones. He cleared his throat, giving Zedaph the most shocked expression he could muster, “Wait, you’re serious about this. You actually want me to go around and ask others for hugs.

Zedaph nodded as he turned around and walked over to one of his other containers, Grian hot on his heels wanting to hear the most comprehensive explanation as to why this was so important, “Gotta keep every little detail about this server in written form! I wanna make sure I don’t accidentally make something that could exclude a Hermit because of certain things, so if you can get those descriptions for me, that would be amazing!”

Grian was slightly more back in reality, but he would be lying if he said his ears weren't still ringing somewhat from how hard he was blown away, “Yes, okay, that makes sense, but why not just measure them? Or even if hugs were the way to do this, why is it me that has to do it? I’m sure Tango would get it done even quicker than I would-”

“Nope! Gotta be you!” Zedaph interrupted with a clap, turning around to face Grian again with a cheeky grin. “Oh, and one of the stipulations is that you can’t tell them it's an experiment or that you’re recording it for data, otherwise, you’re free to do whatever as long as you hit everyone by the end of the week!”

Grian opened his mouth to vehemently object but clicked it shut with a concerned look. He tilted his head slightly to aim his ear in a specific direction, “Is that noise supposed to be happening?”

Zed opened his mouth and froze as well, but instead of clicking his shut, he kept it open as his pupils shrunk in fear. Ah, so that hissing noise coming from the walls wasn’t supposed to be happening, good to know. Zedaph ran off and pulled out a pick, immediately tearing inside his base to find the cause of the noise, leaving Grian in the dust and unable to continue fighting the idea of being the guinea pig for this latest test of his.

Grian reached his hand out, part of him knowing the gesture was fruitless, “Hey! I wasn’t done… talking about this...” Sagging so his chin flopped against his chest, Grian let out a sigh. When Zed wanted something specific to happen, he would get it done no matter what. It was probably better for Grian to do what was asked of him than it was to oppose and have it come back to bite him in the ass.

Besides, it was just hugging, right? That wasn’t anything special.


Grian flew back to his base in a sort of dazed state of mind.

Okay, logically, hitting everyone in Boatem first would be the easiest since they’re right next to me and-

Aaaaaaaah, why was he actually creating a serious strategy for this?! It was hugging! Hugging he was technically forced into doing! That week-long mental breakdown of his must have really done a number on him if he’s reached this kind of point in his life.

He landed haphazardly outside his alley; it wasn’t a crash landing, but he’s definitely had more graceful landings in the past.

He knew this because Impulse, who was working on adding diamonds to his hourglass, saw Grian come in and practically trip over his own two feet. It caught Impulse’s attention to the point that the guy rushed to place his last block before covering the hole in the glass and making his way over to Grian, “Woah, you okay there? That seemed kinda fast.”

Grian shook his head, “Yeah, I’m fine. Just… a lot on my mind.”

Impulse patiently crossed his arms, “You were just at Zed’s place, right? The guy recently invited me there just to make me take part in a maze that didn’t have an exit, and how much time it took me to learn that was the case was data he was looking for. He put you through the wringer as well I’m assuming?”

“I guess you could say that,” Grian said with a fond eye roll. Before Impulse could respond further, Grian blurted out a question, “Do you mind giving me a hug?”

Impulse blinked in genuine shock, “Oh. I mean, sure, but is there any special reason you want one?”

Grian opened his mouth to give a reason why, but his mind drew a blank due to his brain being overloaded by all the things he could have possibly said. Zed told me to hug all the Hermits, and I could just tell you this but he told me I couldn’t and I wanna be a good friend and play by his rules however I might as well since he would be none the wiser then again one of you guys could tell him once I’m done so-

Impulse watched the gears in his friend’s mind turn and clang. A thousand thoughts could be seen flying around behind Grian’s eyes to the point he presumably couldn’t pick one. It was at this moment a soft grin spread on Impulse’s face, him thinking he caught onto the reason Grian was acting this way, “Ah, I see. C’mere buddy.”

Before Grian could ask what in the world Impulse was assuming, a pair of big, beefy arms wrapped their way around his shoulders. Grian froze momentarily, unsure of how to accept the hug now that it was actually happening, but eventually relaxed into the hold and wrapped his arms back around his friend. He came to the realization just how big Impulse was when he noticed he could barely reach his hands to touch his fingertips together on Impulse’s back.

The embrace had a sort of nice humming warmth to it, like the steam that came off a hot spring. Impulse tended to keep his skin smooth, so the arm hair that tickled the back of Grian’s neck was almost so small it could be missed entirely if he wanted to ignore it. While Impulse was on the muscle-ly side of things, life compensated for it by making him- not short per se, but definitely not as tall as he could be. People like Xisuma, Mumbo, and Doc still had a couple of inches on him, but that didn’t change the fact that he could still, albeit narrowly, place his chin on top of Grian’s head.

Grian found a small blush overtaking his cheeks, and in response, smushed his face further into Impulse’s shirt to try and hide it. Impulse gently rubbed his back in response, and the two stood there in that blissful moment for a few seconds, enjoying the contact and listening to the wind rustling the grass around them to create small whistling noises in the air.

Eventually, Grian was the one to break the hold. It was only fair he stopped the show when he was the one that started it. He awkwardly cleared his throat, “Thank you.”

Impulse simply smiled, patting Grian on the shoulder a few times to quell whatever anxiety that seemed to be left inside him, “No problem, dude. Don’t feel afraid to ask for what you need.”

Wait, what was that supposed to mean-

But Grian couldn’t verbalize his confusion, as Impulse was already elytra-ing away to continue working on his factory. Grian stood there watching him get smaller and smaller in the sky before he was completely out of sight. Grian reached a hand forward, for some reason, as if he tried hard enough he could pluck Impulse back.

That was… that was nice.

Maybe Grian could forgive Zed for this whole shindig.


Later that day, Grian found himself flying around randomly out of boredom.

He didn’t feel like building, but the rest of Boatem did, so while they worked on their own things, he was left by his lonesome self to find something to do. He was flying over one of the server’s forests when an absolute groan of exasperated agony came from below, nearly making him fall out of the sky in shock. Well, there was only one person who could create a bellow that loud naturally, and she just so happened to place her base in a forest.

Immediately heading downward, Grian landed in a clear opening free of trees before placing his hand perpendicularly on his forehead to search for the creator of the noise. It took him a few seconds, but eventually, his eyes landed on a disgruntled Gem. She was huffing in anger so hard that the condensation that came out of her nose looked like steam. At her feet was a shattered axe.

Taking a deep breath, Grian knew he had to approach carefully, “Hello there, GeminiTay! Can I step closer to you or will my abdomen meet the fury of your frustrated hooves?”

She jutted her head to look at Grian with a glare. Once she registered what she was looking at, her fists unclenched and a much more positive emotion was adorned on her face. It was still a little strained with hidden annoyance, however, “Hey Grian! And yeah, come on over, this will probably be easier with a second opinion.”

The grass crunched underneath his feet as he made his way to Gem’s side, placing his hands on his hips in an inquisitive way, “So fair lady, what’s bothering you on this fine day?”

Gem found it in herself to giggle at Grian’s words, but a sign proceeded to escape her anyway, “It’s just certainly been a week for me. First I go mining and run into a lava pocket, losing half my stuff, I’ve been having a fox problem involving my berries getting constantly stolen which I can’t fix because I refuse to kill them, and just now, my enchanted axe broke because I didn’t realize how worn down it had become! I’m just uuuuugggghgghhhh.”

Grian gave her a sympathetic smile, “Geez, sounds like the world is out to get you. Sorry I can’t help with the gear stuff, but if you want, I’ve been meaning to get rid of some bones in my chests. We can set up a time to meet and get you a bunch of wolves. The foxes will get scared off by them, so your berries are safe and you don’t need to kill or hurt the foxes to keep them that way.”

Gem’s eyes widened exponentially, a gleeful smile spreading across her face like a crack in concrete, “Really? Oh Grian, thank you so much! You don’t need to join me if you don’t want to, the wolf idea is more than enough help, but I won’t stop you if you’re looking for something to do. Man, I could just hug you right now!”

Grian froze for a blink’s worth of time. His fingers started to fidget, nervous with the fact that an opportunity was created perfectly for him, “I mean, can you? Hug me?”

Gem stared at him, an unreadable expression on her face, before spectacularly breaking the silence.

“Oh, gladly!” Gem proclaimed before reaching forward and trapping Grian’s arms at his sides, absolutely squeezing the everloving life out of him. He was picked clear off the ground, which was ironic considering Gem was maybe one of the only Hermits shorter than him. He was pretty sure he could hear his back get snapped in half at some point, but he couldn’t exactly tell. The blood rushing to his head was already loud enough as it was.

It was over as quickly as it started. Gem soon dropped Grian back onto the sweet flat surface of the biome, watching him stumble and desperately try to re-expand his lungs again while she clenched her hands into fists and placed them on her hips. She seemingly didn’t notice the fact that she nearly split his spine in two if her carefree grin was any indication.

Grian eventually relented to setting his hands on his knees, standing in a bent position as his body recovered. His word was coated in wheezes, “Thanks.

Gem succinctly nodded once, “Of course, buddy! You don’t need to answer if you don’t want to, but can I ask why you requested a hug?”

Once Grian felt like his bones weren’t dust, he stood up straight with a sigh, “I mean, I’m planning on asking a couple other people today as well for… reasons. Kinda just crossing off names in a list sort of. I might hit up either Stress or False next since-”

Gem gasped, striking fear into Grian’s heart, but before he could tell her some kind of white lie so she didn’t nearly kill him again, she was gripping his wrist in her hand and dragging him over to her stables, “Ooh, I know False is home! Here, let me take you over there so you can get it done!”

Uh, thank you, but this isn’t really necessary, is what Grian would say if he wasn't being shoved onto the back of a horse and didn’t need to hold on for dear life when Gem whipped the reins, racing Moose forward. It definitely took longer than a few seconds to get to False’s place, but with the way Grian was halfway to dissociating, it certainly felt as short as that.

“We’re here!” Gem said proudly, hopping off her animal buddy and running up to False’s door. Grian was shaken out of his jumbled thoughts when the noise of it being aggressively opened and shut over and over again hit his ears. He blinked when Gem started yelling, “Faaaaaalse! Faaaalse I’m back again and I’m back with a surprise! Faaaaalse-”

Grian hopped off Moose at the speed of lightning, rushing over to aggressively yet softly pull Gem away from False’s house, “Are you crazy?! If I had personally decided to bother her with this, then I would come over and gently knock on her door, not sound the freaking alarms!”

He shut up at the noise of the door opening again despite both of them being too far away to do so. Out stepped False from her house, who seemed completely unperturbed by the ruckus, “Oh, hello Gem, hello Grian, what brings you over here?”

Gem was already speaking for him, “Grian wants a hug from you!”

False raised her eyebrows as she watched Grian make insistent shushing noises as well as place a hand over Gem’s mouth. He turned to look at False with a nervous grin and laugh, but she cut him off before he could say anything, “Sure.”

Grian made a choking noise, freezing to the point that Gem could step out of his grasp and watch him voice his reaction from a good foot away, “I mean, thank you, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Or if it makes you uncomfortable.”

False made her way down her steps with a shrug, “Eh, I’m not the biggest touchy-feely person at heart, but I don’t mind either. Here.”

Her comment about her not being touchy-feely made sense when her arms snaked their way around Grian. They were somewhat stilted, not used to giving more comforting touches compared to some of the other Hermits. She seemed to lock in place once she thought she was in the right position for hugging, not really understanding that a hug was supposed to be malleable in case one party was uncomfortable.

But Grian could still feel her trying, and that was enough for him to start up his stupid blushing predicament yet again. The fact that she was putting in the effort even though she knew she wasn’t the best specifically for Grian’s sake, well… he had no choice but to reciprocate the hold in thanks. He rubbed his nose against her shoulder a little bit before stepping out of the embrace. He had more than enough information to go off of now.

“Thanks, False,” Grian cleared his throat. “Hope you have a good rest of your week.”

False nodded with a small grin before turning around to go back into her base, “Same to you, Gri.”

Both Grian and Gem watched False in silence as she reached her door and shut it while on the inside. Grian let out a relieved sigh, happy that went as well as it could have and maybe even better. Gem held her hands together behind her waist, swirling her hips in an infinity shape as an attempt to get residue energy out of her body, “Sooooo you want a ride back to Boatem?”

Grian tensed up and chuckled as he got his wings back out, “Uh, thanks for the offer, but I’m good! Let me know if you need my help with the wolves or notokaybyyyyee!”

He was too far away in the air to hear if she verbally responded to his departure. He wasn’t sure where he was heading next, but he knew that he had more confidence in finishing this arbitrary list Zed made for him, that’s for sure.


Grian was not procrastinating on his Hug Every Hermit activity.

He really wasn’t. He caught wind of Ren and Doc’s shop being completed and wanted to check it out. His friends were amazing builders, and he hadn’t heard what kind of aesthetic they were going for this season. Now that it was finally done, he just couldn’t wait to fly over and find out himself. He landed on the beach nearby and felt stars form in his eyes at the sight of their massive build.

It was a giant mechanical crab of sorts, made out of deepslate bricks and accented with oxidized copper blocks. A couple of sea lanterns were strewn about on the ground beneath it to light the place up, and Grian found himself unable to look away or even close his mouth. Based on their stunning creation, Grian could tell that Doc and Ren were blowing it out of the park like always.

Speaking of Ren and Doc, a wispy voice spoke right next to him, “Oh, hello there.”

Grian snapped his head to the side to face none other than Mister Doc, whose sudden closeness caused Grian to practically leap out of his pants. Grian looked down next to Doc’s legs to see a boat carrying… a goat? Didn’t they already have like two of those?

“Um, Earth to Grian? Are you okay?” Doc waved a hand in front of Grian’s face, trying to grab his attention.

Blinking a few times, Grian swiftly brought himself back to the real world with a smile, “Holy cow, Doc, your guys’ place is amazing!”

Now it was Doc’s turn to blink before a grin overtook his face, “Ah, thank you. Ren and I have finally been able to put the finishing touches on everything and open business. Have you had a chance to see our copper Nether portal? It took me quite a few hours to make.”

Grian didn’t think his jaw could physically widen any more than it already was, but he has been getting proven wrong a lot recently, “Wait, the portal frame is made out of copper? Not obsidian?” When Doc gave him a nod, he continued to exclaim excitedly, “Wow, those hours must have been excrutiating. My condolences for whatever sanity left you while getting that to work.”

Doc let out a laugh, leaning over to break the boat carrying the goat he was looking over before tying the animal to a random fence post so it didn’t skitter away while he talked to Grian, “So, is that all you came over for today, to see the place? Or is there something else that caught your interest?”

Hmm, that part… was harder to explain. Well, it wasn’t hard in the physical sense; Grian just had to ask one question. But the emotional part of everything still hadn’t gotten any easier from yesterday...

Grian noticed Doc was confused about him spacing out again, and in a panic, he ripped the metaphorical bandaid off, “Can I get a hug?”

Doc’s eyes widened just a smidge. He looked around the area as if he were checking to make sure no one was watching before turning back to Grian with an expression that screamed he had something up his short, white sleeves, “Of course. Do you mind holding your arms straight out first? You’re going to need it.”

After a slight hesitation, Grian held his arms in the position that was asked of him and braced for whatever was about to happen. Seriously, what was Doc doing? Grian didn’t think he needed to be prepared for a simple hug, yet-

Suddenly, a giant mass was perching itself on his shoulders, and if it weren’t for his wings jutting backward and splaying themselves to help balance him out, he definitely would have been flattened into a little bird pancake on the ground. He kept his nose against the thing trying to squash him in question but moved his eyes upward to stare at the rather bold eyebrow raise Doc was giving him.

So that’s what was happening. Doc was electing to not use his human arms for this.

“Do you-” Grian spit tiny strands of green hair out of his mouth with a ‘ppbbtt’ noise. “Do you find this particularly amusing?”

Doc’s human arms were crossed at his chest with a rather devious grin stretching across his face, “Yes. Quite a bit, in fact.”

With a huff, Grian shoved his face back into Doc’s creeper chest. If this was the hand he was dealt then he was going to play the game and win. As he nuzzled the furry surface, he… found himself liking it. The embrace was like being able to hug a giant guard dog. It was soft, fuzzy, and even felt safe in certain aspects. He could honestly stand there for a long ass time just basking in the feeling of Doc being comfortable enough to share his less than human parts with Grian like this.

And it was here when Grian noticed he was losing the ability to breathe, so he proceeded to aggressively smack the side of Doc to let the centaur know of his predicament. For a second, he worried Doc wouldn’t get the message, or even ignore it altogether, but Grian's worry was unfounded when Doc sprang off of him and placed human arms onto his shoulders so the sudden jarring didn’t throw him to the ground.

When Grian finally looked back up into Doc’s face, he noticed the man’s smile was less mischievous and instead more warm, “You okay? I do realize I’m on the heavier side, and I tend to not hug with my creeper limbs that often, so I don’t really know if dismounting like that hurts or not.”

Grian detested the way his face heated up at the genuine concern once more, absolutely doing everything in his power to ignore it and take attention away from the fact he was turning pink as a poppy,” Aha, yes, I’m fine. Thank you for technically doing what I asked.”

Doc smirked even more, but before he could continue the conversation, a different third voice came from their sides, causing them to rapidly turn their heads to watch Ren rush over, “Woah woah woah! What’s with the big display of love and care, big guy? And more importantly, why am I not a part of it myself?”

Doc rolled his eyes before setting his cybernetic hand on Grian’s shoulder with a pat, “Grian over here asked me for a hug and I complied. Stop being dramatic.”

Ren feigned offense with an overblown gasp, his own hands slapping his chest as if he had been told his mother died, “Exactly, Doc! A little lady by the name of Falsie has told me that G over here is getting max amounts of love from everyone but me! That needs to be rectified immediately!”

So much for the ‘being able to ignore his blushing cheeks’ thing. Ren always had the ability to make things ten times bigger than they originally were. While Grian usually found it to be a positive attribute of Ren’s, right now, he preferred keeping everything on the down-low so he didn’t become some kind of bumbling buffoon, “I mean, I was going to ask you at some point, but only if you wanted to. Don’t feel pressured or- or bad that I haven’t gotten around to you, I just-”

“Hey, tell that brain of yours to pump the breaks, yeah?” Ren turned to give Grian a casual smile. Ever since their Expedition, Grian noticed Ren was more on top of toning down his exuberant persona when it seemed like Grian was getting overwhelmed, “Giving my pals a Patented Ren Hug is no biggie, and you’re definitely not an exception.

Once again, Grian found himself between a pair of arms, and despite them being mostly human, they were covered in equal amounts of hair as Doc’s creeper half was. It gave Ren more of a scratchy feeling than a fuzzy one, but not in a bad way. Through the hair on his head, Grian could feel Ren’s beard itch at his scalp.

He was about to drift off into a comfortable headspace when he noticed a certain spot in the air being tousled. Peering out from the hold, Grian looked downward to see Ren’s tail frantically swishing back and forth. The fact that Ren himself hadn’t realized what he was doing caused Grian to snicker into the man’s shoulder.

Ren leaned out of the hug confused, “Wait, what’s so funny?”

Grian placed a hand over his own mouth, shaking his head at the fact that this was actually happening, “Nothing, I just didn’t realize how excited you were about this.”

Ren blinked, still unable to understand what had Grian giggling like a teenage schoolgirl, before finally realizing that a certain body part was acting without his consent. When the tail swung up, he used one of his hands to grab it and turned back to Grian with a nervous grin, “Well, I think that concludes this little showcase of our wonderful affection skills. It was great seeing you again, G-Man, but Doc and I are busy, busy men. We gotta get cracking on our to-do list before it gets dark. Toodles, and be sure to let me know if you hug anybody else!”

The two walked off to supposedly get back to work, Doc turning around to give Grian a wave goodbye, which the shorter man returned wholeheartedly. Now it was just Grian basking in the salty sea air, the breeze ruffling his hair in a calming motion.

He stared out at the ocean for a little bit before stretching his feathers and taking off back to his base, sated with what he accomplished.


“You look tired, kid.”

Grian was taking a break at one of BDub’s pathway shops for no reason in particular. He was lost in his thoughts, wondering what project he should start once he was done with Zed’s little experiment when that voice came up to him and spoke. He looked up into the eyes of TFC who had out a handful of diamonds, probably here to buy some things from the very same shop Grian was sitting on.

Grian reassured the older man, “Ah, don’t worry, just thinking hard. I’m not sure if I should work on the mountain of my base or if I should make another building inside next. Decisions are tough.”

TFC gave a hearty chuckle as he sat down next to Grian, holding his items in his lap as he stared out over the world in front of them, “Come on now, you’re still young. I’m sure those brain juices will kick in eventually.”

Grian hummed, still deep in his mind. It was right there, right on the edges of his brain, and he worried if he didn’t keep thinking about it the solution would disappear forever. TFC was patient, curious about what Grian was going to end up choosing. Grian started speaking to the open air, “If I finish the outer part, everyone else can start connecting the things they’re supposed to build.”

TFC nodded, despite understanding that he wasn’t necessarily being directly spoken to, “That does sound true.”

Grian was waving his hands around, pointing at random spots in the air and flexing his fingers to try and help his brain picture things better, “But I have a really cool design right now in my head for the next building, and I could draw it, but drawing usually means a few details get lost in translation and I don’t want that to happen.”

“Your builds are pretty amazing, I can see why you don’t wanna lose anything from conception to completion,” TFC was watching Grian’s hands as they fluttered about, mesmerized by how the younger Hermit could seemingly create vivid imagery out of thin air.

Grian’s eyebrows kept raising and raising until a determined look caused his brow to furrow. He fisted one of his hands and smacked it into his other palm, content with what he came up with, “I know, I’ll work on the building first, but if I get stuck I can work on the outside as a way to work through whatever is confusing me, and then when I figure it out, I can go back and touch up the building!”

TFC patted him on the back, “See, I knew you would get there eventually.”

Grian shot up to be standing, valiantly placing his hands on his hips with a deep inhale followed by a large exhale. He heard the noises of TFC struggling to get back up as well and only felt minor amounts of guilt for leaving the guy hanging. Grian gently yanked TFC up, and once the older man was at his full height, Grian found himself throwing his arms around his shoulders.

The man’s beard felt like plushie stuffing between them, “Thanks so much for rubber-ducky-ing for me, TFC. I thought I would never solve that problem.”

TFC chuckled again, pulling Grian in close, “Of course, let me know if you ever need a wall to talk to again. I’ve been finding myself to be quite good at it.”

Grian let out a little noise when his feet dropped to the ground after slithering out of the hug. Damn, was he really that short TFC so tall Grian could dangle off of him like some kind of tiny bat? He was even more shocked that he wasn’t aware he was being held up by TFC, that the man could have let go at any point and dropped Grian like a sack of potatoes if he got tired of supporting him.

Mmmmmmm nope, Grian was not going to blush over the hidden meaning there. He’d already been blushing way too much recently and he was too tired to do so tonight anyway. The hug was nice, it was sweet of TFC to let Grian indulge in the affection, and that was the end of that.

As TFC went inside to purchase whatever it was he wanted, Grian took off with a goodbye wave to head to his base for sleep. Halfway through his flight, it occurred to him that a hug took place in the middle of their conversation. Not only that, it did so without either of them losing focus of what was being said or drawing attention toward the action.



Okay, so, Grian technically knew that he should be the one to ask for a hug, but in his defense, it was never outright stated that he couldn’t offer one.

Besides, Zed said he needed to hit everyone by the end of the week, and Grian didn’t want to ask someone having a rough time of it to give him comfort when they needed it more. So even if he was breaking some kind of unspoken rule, Zed would just need to compromise.

(Also he kind of already maybe did the whole ‘hugged first’ thing with TFC, and he couldn’t exactly take it back, soooo-)

Now he was here, after gathering a couple of dispensers full of XP bottles and flying over to Jevin’s place. Jevin seemed to be extra tired recently, and Grian wanted to do something for him. Grian wasn’t sure what was exactly troubling him, but everyone always got cheered up by a major level boost free of charge. The plan was foolproof.

Knocking on Jevin’s door, Grian stood still until it was opened, a playful smile immediately adorning his face, “Heelllooooo Jevin! I have a surprise for you!”

Jevin blinked, not fully processing what was happening in front of him, “Is it a nice one or a Grian one?”

“Yes,” Grian stated while strutting inside to place down his dispensers. As he set everything up, he watched Jevin move rather slowly out of the corner of his eye. Er, the guy tended to be on the slower side because of his slime traits, but this was… lethargic on a whole new level. He even rubbed one of his eyes like he just woke up or something.

Maybe Grian should talk with X about this, it didn’t seem like a Hermit’s normal kind of exhaustion.

But that could be solved later. Right now, Grian finished placing the lever to turn everything on and fully intended to use it, “Alright! If you don’t mind standing right here in the middle for me...”

Jevin watched Grian pat one of the dispensers, clearly motioning him to stand in between all of them. He relented with a sigh, figuring that if he did need to respawn, they were at least at his base, “I swear if there’s Curse of Binding in there…”

Grian shook his head as Jevin got situated. He immediately turned the dispensers on and grinned at Jevin’s flinch when the guy was suddenly blasted with a bunch of XP orbs.

Jevin took a second to un-tense, but when he did, his eyes widened in disbelief, “Woah, how many levels is this going to be, dude?”

Grian suavely crossed his arms, “A couple dozen at least, maybe even more, I’m not sure. You’ll just have to sit and wait patiently.”

Jevin examined himself as the dispensers kept working, the twinkling of the XP being the only other noise next to the constant clicking of the machinery. Suddenly, a genuine grin appeared on his face. He spoke without looking at Grian, “Damn, thanks for this. I got pretty low recently because my attention is elsewhere, so this helps out a lot. Do you need me to give anything back for it?”

Grian firmly shook his head, “Nope, this is a good ol’ fashioned gift from yours truly!”

Jevin watched his hand as he rotated it, fixated on the way the orbs hovered frantically around the limb. Grian felt his shoulders sag with satisfaction at what he achieved. He began to head out- since he did a good enough job cheering Jevin up, offering a hug might seem overkill at best- when Jevin suddenly called out to him, “Hey, dude?”

Grian turned back, unsure of what else Jevin needed before suddenly being covered in something warm and wet. He blinked once, and when he noticed how the action made his eyelashes wet as well, that’s when he realized it was because Jevin was hugging him. Hm, so much for planning the hug for later.

Squeezing the slime back, Grian tried taking in as many details as possible. You would think holding a slime would entail someone getting cold, but since Jevin was a hybrid, he was able to retain body heat because of his more human attributes. Outside of that, though, it was pretty much the same as hugging a regular slime. It was a rather quaggy sort of hold, the wetness sticking to you like watered-down glue. It wasn’t uncomfortable, however, it was more like a reassurance. I’m here and I’m sticking with you no matter what.

Grian noticed that his vision was getting blurry due to a lack of oxygen, but he wasn’t sure why. Jevin wasn’t holding him anywhere near as tightly as Gem did, and he couldn’t even come close to Doc’s weight category, so why would Grian be losing air…?

Oh, wait, Jevin was made of liquid. Humans couldn’t really breathe liquid, and Grian had his nose in Jevin’s collarbone for quite a bit there-

Jumping out of the hug, Grian aggressively cleared his throat free of residue slime and absorbed the sweet sweet relief of air entering his lungs. Jevin was patting him on the back the entire time with an apologetic look, “Sorry buddy, forgot about my more fluid-y parts for a second.”

Grian waved him off, “Eh, that’s not your fault. If anything, you need to apologize for giving such good hugs to that point that people aren’t aware they can drown in them.”

Jevin rolled his eyes, finally sending Grian off with a goodbye.

Leaving the slime behind, Grian smiled contently because of their interaction. He just made sure to make note of Jevin’s uncharacteristic dullness to bring up with someone later.


“GRIAN!” a voice yelled from the front of his alley.

Instead of freezing in worry or running in terror, Grian immediately began to laugh in the way that involved bending over and holding onto your midsection. He was still doing so when none other than Mumbo Jumbo made his way inside covered in tiny cactus needles, some even residing within his mustache. Grian wiped a tear from his eye when his tall friend reached his side, “Hey Mumbo, I see you’ve finally found my surprise?”

Mumbo huffed and crossed his arms, something like annoyance mixed with endearment on his face as he spoke, “I don’t know, you tell me! It’ll take me ages to get these all out, you know.” He put the back of one of his hands against his forehead, “How can I possibly work on my CEO duties if I’m stuck over here painstakingly taking needle after needle out of myself!”

Grian playfully gasped, “Well, we can’t have that!” And promptly pulled out a bucket of water. Before Mumbo could process what Grian was going for, he was drenched in about two gallons of water. At least he was no longer being pricked by needles, he guessed.

Mumbo just stared at Grian, the corners of his lips being tugged ever so slightly upward, “I’m glad to see you’re getting back into your natural swing of things, even if it’s at my expense.”

Grian blinked, pulling his bucket close out of uncertainty, “What does that mean?”

Mumbo gave him a giant reassuring smile. The CEO readjusted his sleeves as he explained, “Grian, I don’t think you’ve set up any kind of prank or joke within the past few weeks. We were getting worried you wouldn’t ever do it again.”

Grian wasn’t exactly sure what to say to that. He resorted to clearing his throat and pulling out his wings, “Ah, well, I just haven’t been coming up with anything all too creative, you know? Now then, let me just…”

Winding his wings back, he blasted Mumbo with a large gust of wind, the man’s suit flapping due to the force. Grian did it once more for good measure before tucking his feathery limbs away, satisfied that his friend was decently dried off. Mumbo shook himself like a wet dog for a second before looking around his body, making sure he was relatively dry, “Thank you, Grian. Don’t think this absolves you of a return prank, though.”

Grian gave his friend a quiet smile, “Didn’t think it would.” For a brief second, it looked like Mumbo was turning to leave Grian alone to keep working on whatever it was he needed to do. So like a proper adult, Grian blurted out, “Do you mind giving me a quick hug?”

Mumbo froze, followed by mischievously smirking, “Really? After stabbing me with dozens of little pricks and also getting me absolutely soaked?”

Grian felt his hands start to fidget, “I mean, that’s fair. You don’t have to if-”

“No, wait, I’m still bad at this,” Mumbo quickly got out. He sighed while facepalming before looking back at Grian with a small grin, “Of course you can get a hug.”

True to his statement, Mumbo leaned over to wrap his best friend within his arms. He quite literally needed to bend to be able to reach Grian’s shoulders, which was either really funny or really sad depending on how tall you were. Hugging Mumbo back, Grian thought over their life together and realized that despite being rather close, the two never really hugged that often. Sure, there was the occasional pat on the back, and it’s not like they genuinely never hugged, but it was definitely an amount less than what people probably assumed based on their friendship.

A quiet thump thump thump hit his ears, and Grian realized that he didn’t need to do any sort of adjusting to be able to place the side of his head on Mumbo’s chest. The heartbeat was secure and steady, a reminder of the core of their relationship. Mumbo’s chin dug into the top of his head, and part of him only resented the height as it prevented him from feeling Mumbo's mustache on his forehead. Grian figured that if this hug was similar to what it was like for the sun to consume half the universe, then he didn’t mind the idea of the impending heat death of all that was both living and nonliving.

“Now then,” Mumbo leaned out of the hold, keeping his hands on Grian’s shoulders. “Was that what you were expecting?”

Grian opened his mouth to give his answer when the sound of something rapidly approaching got louder and louder, followed by him physically getting hit by the thing in question. Whatever it was slammed into his side and caused them to tumble to a few feet. Mumbo even jumped back a little bit to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.

Once his head stopped ringing, Grian turned up to see Pearl sprawled out on top of him. Her face was split by a manic grin of sorts, “Gri, how dare you?”

Grian would probably freak out at that question if he wasn’t confused out of his marbles, “Um, what.”

Pearl rolled her eyes, pulling him up so they were both in a kneeling position, “Impulse tells me you’re going around and getting hugs from everyone, and you haven’t even come around to me? I should have been first on your list, you knucklehead!”

Of course, that’s what this was about, “Pearl…”

But it wasn’t genuine offense she was exuding, it was just her being her regular dramatic self, “We need to fix this straight away!”

And with that, Grian was being squeezed in her arms. Despite her being younger, she managed to grow taller than him by a few inches. That didn’t change the fact that the hold still held a sort of childish glee to it, but not in a bad way. It was sprinkles on ice cream, pointing at stars in the night sky excitedly, staying up late to tell each other scary stories with the promise to protect each other if those stories came true. Pearl hadn’t changed much since EVO outside of the obvious physical things like age, and her hugs were always a good reminder that not everything from that period of Grian’s life was terrible.

Squeezing her right back, Grian nuzzled his face into her shoulder like he had been doing a lot with the other Hermits. He also listened to the calming thump thump thump that came from inside her chest. It was quicker than Mumbo’s, which did a good job of summarizing her peppy personality. Her hoodie was somewhat itchy, signifying that she probably needed to clean it sooner rather than later. When he remembered Mumbo was in the area, most likely watching their display of affection, Grian leaned out of it, “Thanks, Pearl.”

Pearl gave him one singular nod before standing and pulling him to be standing with her, “Of course! Next time, I won’t be so nice if you forget how I should obviously be the priority for this kind of stuff.”

Grian fondly shook his head, “Duly noted.”

She waved the two men goodbye and they to her as well. Once she was gone, Mumbo leaned over to somewhat whisper into his ear, “You got quite the loyal relationship there with Pearl, don’t you?”

Grian kept staring at the outside world, a strange sort of prideful emotion welling within his chest, “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”


Grian was finally making his way over to Cub to ask him if he was okay in joining Grian’s long list of Hermits Hoo (who) Hugged Him when his face suddenly became acquainted with a hard and hairy surface. Ouch, leave it to the one time Grian decided to actually walk somewhere with the path instead of flying to be when another person was riding their horse on it.

He was going to ignore the fact that he could have avoided the thing if he just paid attention-

“Oh dear me, are you alright, Grian?” The rider finally spoke, and Grian snapped his head up to look into the eyes of Xisuma, who was on the verge of hopping off Ray to check up on him.

Nodding his head, Grian stood up, albeit a little shakily, to prove that he wasn’t actually hurt, “Yes, I’m good. Don’t feel bad, I should have been watching where I was going.”

Xisuma hummed, already realizing there may be something more going on here, “Ah, getting lost in thought, are we? “

Grian huffed, “I guess you could say that.”

The Admin nodded, “I feel that. I’m busy heading off to Tango’s place to try his new game, so I’m not all that focused either. If you don’t mind me asking, what has you in such a similar rush?”

Oh boy, Grian had two options here: either tell the truth or lie. The latter also had multiple options of either ‘be good at it’ or ‘be absolutely horrific at it’, and since Grian had a habit of following the more ‘horrific’ one, he relented to just saying what he was really doing, “I’m just making my way over to Cub’s to ask him for… a hug…”

Wait a minute, talk about confidence. A few days ago, Grian would have struggled to get through that entire sentence, but now he was able to get through so much of it that he didn’t realize what he was admitting to until the end. Like receiving hugs was something that was simply natural for him at this point.

Xisuma, who was ever patient, took the news in stride, “That’s great to hear, hugs are always nice. And while Cub is quite good at the action, I must say… I’m curious why you’re going all this way? I’m sure your neighbors would be more than willing to help you out.”

Grian took one of his hands to rub his other arm that was hanging at his side while looking at the ground to avoid eye contact with his Admin, “Just… just expanding my horizons. I’ve gotten everyone in Boatem, and now I need to reach out even further.”

Xisuma absorbed the information. The air was quiet around them until he nodded a second time and hopped off his horse, “Well, why didn’t you say so!”

Grian blinked as Xisuma suddenly started walking toward him, but Grian jumping back and holding up his hands in a defensive pose stopped the Admin in his tracks. A grin spread across Grian’s face, but it was more skittish than anything else, “Woah, hey, what’s happening now?”

Xisuma tilted his head as if he were a confused puppy, “I mean, you said you want to expand your horizons, right? I don’t think you’ve gotten around to me yet, and I figured I could help you get a head start since we're here together.”

“Yeah, yeah, I haven’t!” Grian chuckled, quickly explaining what was on his mind, “But… I’ve already gotten a couple of hugs from you. Quite recently in fact, so, like, I didn’t want to grab anymore and take your time away, right?”

Xisuma froze yet again. It was noticeably crisper than the first time. Grian felt a ball of anxiety form in his gut, but it dissipated as soon as Xisuma gave him a sad yet hopeful look, “Gri, hugs aren’t a finite resource. You could have hugged me twenty times yesterday and I still would be standing here, more than ready to give you another if that was what you wanted.”

Ah, that’s… Grian found himself standing as straight as a board, not even trying to hide how his face became as red as his sweater. He probably couldn’t have even if he tried, “O-Oh, that makes sense. If you’re that dead set on hugging me, then, by all means, my arms are open.”

Xisuma, satisfied with that answer, looked at Grian with a proud expression before closing the distance between them. Grian wrapped his arms around his Admin, immediately shoving his face into the man’s shoulder and holding on tight. The hold wasn’t any different compared to their previous ones, but now that Grian wasn’t either coming off a panic attack or right smack dab in the middle passing out, he could appreciate it more.

The noises X’s armor made filled his ears- the little hisses of steam and whirring of electronics- and he felt that they were just as comforting as something like Jevin’s slime or Doc’s fur or even Mumbo and Pearl’s heartbeats. Xisuma was still pretty big and tall, but not so much as to prevent Grian from being able to reach around the Admin’s back and grip his hands together. And perhaps this was presumptuous of him, but because of his previous experiences with Xisuma’s hug, Grian just… he wasn’t sure how to explain it. There was just something special about this embrace that none of the others could match.

A particularly hard puff of wind blew through the area, causing Ray to whinny and impatiently stamp the ground a couple of times. The two men hugging took that as their sign to stop. They split, X patting Grian on the shoulder before getting over to his horse to calm the animal down and begin riding it once more.

“I hope that was what you were looking for,” X said while back on top of Ray. One hand was holding the reins while the other was giving Grian a wave goodbye, “Give Cub a hello for me, will you?”

Grian coughed a little bit, covering it up by giving Xisuma a wide grin and a thumbs up, “Yep, that was perfect. And I’ll pass the message to Cub no problem.”

The two finished their interaction with a mutual nod. They rotated to face their respective directions, but Grian kept his footsteps slow on purpose so he could listen to X race away, the horse’s thuds against the dirt road somehow more prevalent in Grian’s mind than it probably should have been. Grian looked back to watch Xisuma disappear out of sight, and once the Admin did so, Grian turned his head down to stare at his hands.

Maybe… Maybe this kind of stuff really was as easy as it seemed.


Slowly but surely, Grian made his way around to all of the Hermits.

Each one, even the ones that were confused for a second on why Grian was asking for a hug out of the blue, agreed to the action easily. They all wrapped and squeezed and grasped and held Grian for varying lengths of time, giving him plenty of things to write down in the little journal he was given to record what he learned.

Now he was back at Zed’s place, a book full of notes and a chest full of anxiety. Sure, he did what the guy asked of him, but did he do it right? Did he get enough detail to satisfy what Zed was looking for? Did he get too much?

Thankfully, Zed wasn’t there to burst his eardrums, so Grian could calmly open the door to walk inside. Clicking it shut behind him, Grian heard Zed singing downstairs, which only caused him to swallow nervously. Oh boy, this was really happening, wasn’t it?

“Hey, Zed?” Grian called out as he made his way down the stairs, causing the singing to abruptly stop. “I finished the thing you wanted me to do!”

He was roughly halfway down when footsteps thundered out, a slightly disheveled Zed appearing at the bottom and breathing heavily. His smile was wide, “Fantastic! Meet me down at my desk and we’ll go over the data together!”

Zed’s voice trailed off as he ran out of Grian’s sight, leaving Grian to follow him as if he were a child coming to talk to their parents about the vase they broke despite really not wanting to have that conversation. It was here when Grian realized he was being a baby and sped up, rushing to stand in front of Zed.

Zed was suavely leaning on the edge of his desk, his hands behind him and flat against the tabletop, “Well, let’s see what you got for me.”

Blinking once, Grian made note that he, unfortunately, couldn’t simply project his notes into Zed’s brain. With familiar reluctance to the day Zed first invited him, he took the completed book from his inventory and held it straight out in front of him. He kept his head downward, unable to make eye contact all of a sudden.

Zed’s wild smile was now more of a gentle upturn of his lips. He was careful to grab the book from Grian in a way as to not startle the man. As soon as the journal was in Zed’s grip and no one else's, he opened the object with zero hesitation.

He quickly absorbed the words Grian wrote down with growing giddiness, feeling each illustration Grian created with his aptly described chicken scratch in great detail. There were scribbles and grooves and very noticeably erased words, which Zed felt some kind of pride well within him toward. He could see just how seriously Grian took on this challenge, and that’s exactly what he wanted from the man.

—BDouble100: average height leads to a pretty average
hug (please don’t let him see that i called him short)
—Cubfan135: toned body, all muscle. nothing special
per se, but really, that’s what makes it special
—Docm77: like a dog who doesn’t realize it’s too big
to be a lapdog. warm, furry, the paws make it unique
but make sure you have adequate support or you will
be crushed like a little bug
—Ethoslab: im honestly surprised i managed to catch him
to ask. secure and steady, but also a short duration. still
pretty solid regardless
—FalseSymmetry: wouldn’t suggest her hugs if you’re in
need of some quick comfort. she still makes an attempt,
though, which is what gives it charm
—GeminiTay: energetic, good for a fun surprise, not
suggested for the weak and flabby spined
—GoodTimesWithScar: friend-shaped :D
—Hypnotizd: blink and you’ll miss it. it’s like a burst of
adrenaline, very quick but lots of energy
—iJevin: falling asleep in the tub vibes. it’s comforting, it’s
relaxing, but don’t do it for too long or you might slip and
suffocate in liquid
—ImpulseSV: like you’re sitting in the middle of a sauna. it
just wraps around you, hiding you from the world with a
promise of never letting go
—Iskall85: right in the middle of impulse and tfc. i wanna
steal his puffy vest at some point
—JoeHills: he’s certainly A Guy
—Keralis: kind of a mixture between a hug you would get
from your dad and a hug you would get from your uncle
as well as a hug you would get from your brother. does this
even make sense?
—Mumbo Jumbo: you will always be the shorter one. once
you accept that fact it's rather interesting to feel a feeling
similar to being swallowed whole. i mean this affectionately
—PearlescentMoon: be sure to wear level III protection
gear, otherwise, very fun
—Rendog: like eating cotton candy. very joyful, burst of
energy, have an opportunity to laugh if you make his tail
wag without him realizing
—StressMonster101: motherly vibes. gentle but has the ability
to be stern when needed
—TangoTek: pure fire, but not in the temperate kind of way.
intense, full of fury, good for grounding if you need to be
brought back down to reality
—TinFoilChef: if impulse’s is like a sauna, this one is a
campfire. full of wisdom, very gentle, try to avoid the beard
though. the hair is like glitter- will show up in random places
after the encounter
—VintageBeef: lots of squish to it, backed by firm muscles.
make sure to ask that he takes off his bloody apron first
unless you don’t really care
—Welsknight: expected the armor to be a hindrance, but it
actually fit nicely. gave the hug a snug feeling to it
—xBCrafted: sheep in wolf’s clothing. looks rough but is
actually very soft, be prepared to get chest-bumped first
—Xisumavoid: nice warm big safe.
—ZombieCleo: cold, but not off-putting. like a cool breeze
hitting your skin on a hot day

“Yes, this is perfect! Thank you so much for doing this, Grian. Now,” Zed threw his hands into the air and subsequently threw the book across the room into a corner containing a pool of lava. The book made sizzling noises as it burned away, “let’s finish up the list, shall we?”

Grian’s mouth hung open, shock being the only emotion adorned on his face. Did that just- Zed really-

He wasn’t even able to blink before Zed was suddenly jumping on top of him, wrapping a pair of arms around his shoulders and holding on tight.

Standing in the embrace, Grian thought back over the past few days. He thought of Zed’s weird and oddly specific rules, thought of people’s reactions to the request to hug him, as well as those that seemed to have some sort of quiet understanding toward Grian’s nervous behavior. With a sigh, he hugged Zed right back with a tired smile, “You didn’t actually need data, did you.”

Zed hummed, “Nope.”

Grian shoved his face further into his friend’s collar bone, “You just wanted me to get hugged.”

Zed responded by lightly scratching the back of his neck, “Pretty much.”

Grian sighed again, not able to come up with any other kind of reaction. He just couldn’t believe he fell for it for this long, “Ah, yeah, that’ll do it.”

Zed giggled, and that was the last noise either of them made for a good amount of time. They didn’t need to talk, the hug they were sharing was more than enough to speak for them. It could have been seconds, it could have been minutes, it could have even been hours for all they knew. What they did know was that Zed's plan played out exactly how he wanted it to, and that was more than enough for now.

The two did need to split eventually, however, which Zed was the one to initiate, leaving one of his hands on Grian’s shoulder to keep the man looking at him.

“So, as for my actual experiment...” Zed began with a cheeky smile.

He promptly burst into laughter so hard he bent over and slapped his knees when Grian fled up the stairs in terror. He didn’t actually have anything else for Grian, but damn if it wasn’t funny anyway. Grian probably wouldn’t be coming back to his base any time soon, but that was okay; Zed didn’t have to worry about him pressing random buttons or flicking random levers the less he was here, so it was a win-win situation.

Zed loved the guy, but some things of his needed to fucking stop.