Eat the dirt
Part one


The rose garden in the Golden Land was unusually subdued. It had once been a place filled with life; the roses blooming beautifully, golden butterflies flitting from flower to flower, whilst the scent of tea and the noisy chatter from witches' tea parties drifted through the air.

But the golden roses weren't so beautiful, or so golden, anymore.

Beato's tender magic had allowed them to flourish- but now, without their lady to protect them, they had begun to wilt. It was a slow and steady process, but it was now clear eventual decay was inevitable. There was no salvaging them. Small insects had begun to gnaw at the leaves, the roots were shrivelling and turning to dust and they were no longer to support themselves proudly, so their heads were bowed as though in humiliation.

The roses were turning grey.

The slightest breath of air sent more petals drifting through the air. They were soon scattered against the cold, hard soil or the dying grass.

It was just another reminder of Beato's pitiful state.

Beato couldn't tend to this garden anymore.

This garden was her perfect world, her paradise, her dream… but what dreams could a dead girl have?

Beatrice couldn't hold tea parties here anymore. She couldn't sit in her Golden Land and bicker with Gaap about new fashion trends; wail and pout and whine as Virgilia tried to coax her into eating a little mackerel stew; sketch pictures of new magical friends for the Mariage Sorcière with Maria; or sit and sip black tea and 'delicately' eat Ronove's delicious pastries and cookies.

Well… Beato tried to be 'delicate', but she- despite being a thousand year old witch- hadn't quite mastered that elusive art yet. She had an unfortunate habit of stuffing Ronove's cookies into her mouth as though each bite would be her last, until her lips were covered in crumbs and her cheeks bulged like a hamster's.

Then again, that was Beato all over.

She was always full of so much life and energy- and her secret garden in the Golden Land had reflected that.

It had been beautiful.

But it wasn't anymore.

If Beato was here, it would be different…

But she wasn't.

It was just another painful reminder that she wasn't.

Battler hated this maudlin, melancholic atmosphere. The Golden Land had reflected Beato's personality- and, now she was gone, it had begun to fall apart. Beato might have created this universe… but there was no trace of Beato left anymore.

Battler really, really hated it.

And yet, despite that… he felt the closest to Beato here. The Golden Land was Beato's world, and her own private retreat, where she had passed so many of her days with her friends- and Battler was sure those happy memories were still helping to support this place, just a little.

Battler felt the closest to Beato here.

Being here was, at the same time, very painful… but very comforting.

Battler would still come and sit under the arbor, and drink his tea, and look about his surroundings; all the while trying to pretend the roses were still golden, the butterflies still flickered in the air, and the breeze smelt of tea and pastries instead of decay and rot.

He'd perhaps been fantasizing a little too much lately… but there was nothing wrong with that… was there?

His own life was so miserable and joyless at the moment it made far more sense to deceive himself into experiencing some form of happiness; even if that happiness was a lie.

A soft question soon interrupted Battler's maudlin thoughts; "Would you care for some more tea, Lord Battler?"

Battler didn't answer.

It had gone over his head completely. It was doubtful Battler was aware he was sharing somebody else's company at all; let alone that this other person was talking to him.

Instead of responding, the territory lord continued to stare blankly at his fingertips spread out on the tabletop; using his free hand used to prop up his head. If he didn't have anything supporting his head, he was sure it would have fallen against the table with an ungainly bump.

His whole body felt so heavy. It took too much effort to even move the tips of his fingers.

It was a struggle just keeping his eyes open.

This must have been what she felt like in the last game.

Just… tired.

Exhausted.

Battler wasn't suffering from a physical pain or affliction; nothing of the sort. This wasn't anything like the times he'd been tortured by those damn ass nee-chans, or even when Beato had fed him to the goats during the second game.

It might have sounded melodramatic… but this was a pain, or, no… maybe, a sickness of the heart- and was slowly draining all of Battler's energy.

Just as the Golden Land was falling into a state of disrepair… so was Battler.

And magic couldn't even hope to fix this.

'Come, try and remember what form you once had… I'm sure it was very beautiful… …'

Magic might have been incredible… but a spell like that could only piece fragments of a broken vase back together, or re-knit bone and muscle so the fingers could bend once more, the heart could beat and the eyelids could flutter open.

Endless magic couldn't save Battler.

It hadn't been able to save Beato.

Beato was a 'thousand year old witch'- or maybe just a lonely maid nursing a broken promise and an unachievable dream… but not even Beato, with her demon friends and her array of fearsome magic, could find a way to tear out the roots of love that twisted the shape of her heart.

She hadn't been able to bring her prince back.

And so the princess turned into a witch… and her dainty fingers soon became stained bright red with blood.

'Magic' was only an illusion, after all. The killer was definitely a human. Beato's tale was definitely solvable.

Battler had solved it.

And now, he wished he hadn't.

If he allowed himself to believe in magic beyond Purgatorio, maybe he could hold onto the hope that a witch really had committed those horrible crimes.

Maybe he could have fooled himself into believing this wasn't his fault.

But it was.

Beato had told him.

"Because of your sin, people die."

Why hadn't Battler listened to her? Why hadn't he accepted the witch? In some cases, the truth was too painful to learn… and he hadn't gained anything from it when he finally understood.

He discovered it too late.

He could never apologize for his sin now.

How could one ever hope to gain the forgiveness of a corpse lying, dead-eyed, in a casket; covered with golden roses?

The 'Beato' Battler had revived, using his skills as a territory lord and a few ancient tomes of old magic, was nothing like the original at all. Her appearance was exactly the same- but that only made Battler feel worse.

She was so shy, so soft, so sweet and innocent, just like a young child.

Just like Shannon was, before he broke her heart.

She was the Beato before the white pony and the promise and the letter he wrote but forgot to send; the telephone calls he thought of making, but always decided against; the promises of happily ever after a skinny twelve-year-old with stupid hair could never hope to fulfil.

The new Beatrice was the hopeful, wide-eyed, innocent girl… before he broke her heart.

When 'Beatrice' looked up at him, love bubbling in her eyes and shining across her face, it stung.

She should have hated him.

Battler would have been happy if she hated him.

She should have cackled at him; hit him with her pipe; fed him to the goats; abused him and teased him and mocked him again and again, because that was Beato and that was what Beato did- and that was Battler deserved.

But this chick-Beatrice did none of those things.

She couldn't- because she wasn't Beatrice.

And she never would be.

She would never be the girl Battler had to apologize to… and she would never be the woman Battler had begun to love.

Magic had been unable to provide this tale with a happy ending… so, maybe it was useless.

Yeah. It really was… … all useless…

"Lord Battler? More tea… …?"

Battler was finally pulled out his thoughts by a quiet voice; polite, and maybe filled with… compassion?

It was Ronove.

Battler didn't know how long the demon butler had been calling his name. Perhaps it was quite a while. Ronove must have become accustomed to it by now, though. Battler was starting to develop a bad habit of drifting off into thought; sometimes mid-way through conversation.

But, just because Ronove was slowly becoming accustomed to it, it didn't mean he was comfortable with it.

"Ah, um… sorry… I was kind of spacing out there, ihihi. S-sorry…"

And yet, despite this false bravado, Battler could not look Ronove in the eye. Battler simply couldn't look at Ronove; not when the demon butler was acting so uncharacteristically concerned. The shift in Ronove's nature, from being mischievous and teasing to genuinely sympathetic, was just further proof to Battler that his own behavior had changed so radically.

Ha… he knew he was screwed, when even demons thought he was too pitiable to laugh at.

"That's quite alright. I imagine you're under a lot of stress; trying to create the next game to please Miss Erika and Lady Bernkastel. It's only natural you would be lost in thought. Milady was frequently the same when she crafted her own games."

"Eh? Beato was?" Battler raised a brow; a very small smile rising to his lips. "Did she get really flustered if she couldn't sort her storyline straight and got writer's block? Did she throw huge temper tantrums and bully those poor ass nee-chans?"

Perhaps it should have been depressing discussing Beato- and, in a way, it was… but at least this conversation reminded him that cackling, ill-tempered witch had once existed.

At least it proved… she wasn't a delusion…

"Ah, you do have quite an advanced understanding of Milady's character," said Ronove, returning Battler's smile with one of his own. "She is quite childish… so when she found errors in her narrative, or couldn't decide on which roles to assign certain pieces, her temper could be quite formidable indeed. Miss Virgilia and I had to rescue the seven sisters from time to time, when Milady grew so bad-tempered she used them as bowling pins, pin cushions or stress balls, pu ku ku~"

"Ihihi, how terrible~ That sounds exactly like that horrible witch. Well~" Battler grinned; leaning back in his chair. "With me as territory lord, I guarantee that the ass nee-chans won't be treated so shamefully! As a man, I simply can't allow cute girls to be abused!"

"My, my, how admirable. I'm sure the seven sisters will be very happy."

"Yeah, I bet~ Ahaha, having a harem of scantily-clad girls will be so fuuuun- but it'd just be a pain if they all hated me! I'll be super kind to them so they all love me, and then they'll be slaves who have to what~e~ver depraved thing I want, ihihi! I'm using all my intelligence here, right? Heh. Maybe they'll be so grateful at my generosity they'll give me an all-body massage! I can't wait!"

"Aha… what a… noble goal," said Ronove; laughing a little at Battler's perverse daydreams. "However, I'm not sure Miss Lucifer would enjoy doing that…"

"Nah. She just acts stubborn, but I know she loves me really. It's impossible not to! Everybody does!"

"Well, quite. And I assure you, Lord Battler… … even if the seven sisters refuse, I would be more than happy to massage you in their place, pu ku ku~"

Battler's smile froze.

His left eye twitched slightly.

Ronove… was getting pretty close there- and he didn't like the eerie smile on his face…

"A-aha, hey, wait… I-I think I'll pass on that offer. It wouldn't be the same with a guy. S-something like a massage needs to be done by a team of sexy girls!"

"Suit yourself. I'm just trying to be helpful~"

"Y-yeah… I bet you are… …"

"And, speaking of being helpful…" The teasing smile was now replaced with a more polite, cordial one (i.e. it was a smile that didn't make Battler's skin crawl). "I have asked you this several times before, but I believe you weren't paying attention. Would you like any more tea, Lord Battler? I'm sure your old cup must be stone cold by now."

Was it really? Hadn't Ronove refilled it only a few minutes ago?

Battler took the willow-patterned cup gingerly. Then, he frowned- evidently shocked.

It was just like Ronove said. The cup was completely cold. Not a trace of warmth remained. The half-drunk dregs of tea had even lost their tantalizing aroma, and now looked thoroughly unappetizing.

How much time had passed?

It must have been quite a lot, for his tea to get that cold…

But… Battler didn't know.

He didn't know how long he'd been lost inside his own head.

Had he been sat there, eyes empty, unmoving, like that strange stuffed vulture his grandma used to own, for… a matter of hours?

No wonder Ronove looked so worried.

"Ah, yeah," Battler replied, trying to stifle his surprise, "I'd love some more tea, thanks."

"Certainly, Lord Battler."

"Oh, and, please don't call me 'Lord' anymore. It's kind of embarrassing. I don't think a grand title like that really suits me, you know?"

"…Mm. I think you might be right there, pu ku ku~"

"H-hey!" Battler pouted; arms folded. "Well, y-you weren't meant to say it! That's so rude! Geez!"

"Oh?~ Did I really something offensive? Surely not! You must have misheard me."

"Ihihi… Yeah, right… y-you damn bastard…"

Battler watched as Ronove summoned the teapot with a few golden butterflies. It was a trick Battler had witnessed so many times it was hardly worth noting anymore- but he still found it interesting.

Ronove used magic more artfully than Beato, thought Battler with a sad smile. Ronove's movements were far more elegant, practised and well-rehearsed, and he used less butterflies whilst summoning things to create a more tasteful effect.

Beato, despite her intricate hairstyle and dress, had never been the most refined or lady-like of people. She abused magic to create any number of disgusting deaths, and her laugh had been high-pitched; sometimes bordering on manic, at other times crossing the border between 'sanity' and 'insanity' altogether and tearing it apart in her wake.

But, even so, Battler still missed her… …

He wanted that cackling witch back.

She could hurl abuse at him, or torture him, or laugh in his face, or call him a liar… but he would accept it. He deserved it.

Now that Battler understood the reasoning behind Beato's behavior- or her 'heart', if you will- he couldn't bring himself to hate her. He only despised himself.

Conversing like this with Ronove was fine. Battler truly enjoyed spending time in the other demon's company, and sometimes Ronove's light-hearted comments were able to make him smile, or laugh, or just forget how miserable he was.

But Ronove wasn't Beatrice.

Nobody could replace Beatrice. Not even that girl who called herself 'Beatrice', but wasn't really- even though she looked so similar… a-and would be so easy to manipulate… …

Surely, she would anything her father asked, wouldn't she? She'd do anything… because she trusted him… …

It would be a lie if Battler said he had never considered asking the chick Beato to do certain things for him forbidden for a girl who called him 'father'; just like it would be a lie to say Battler had never sat up at night, tortured by the thoughts of those cruel words, those narrowed eyes, that teasing smirk, as Beatrice the Golden Witch whispered into his ear or nagged at his lips with hers'…

Battler couldn't help it.

He just wanted to be close to Beato again. He wanted to hold her in his arms, that sadistic, childish, immature, cruel, heart-broken and lonely and incredibly precious GoldenWitch, and kiss her as if she was a princess and he was a prince.

He wanted to apologize.

He... was in love her.

Now he thought about it, he'd always had a bit of a crush on her; right from the moment when they met at the family conference, and she was the clumsy maid who forgot her keys all the time, and Battler had helped her find them once so she wouldn't get scolded by Aunt Natsuhi.

How long ago had that been?

Maybe… fourteen, thirteen years?

That was the first time they'd had a real conversation- and it all started to develop from there.

He… really had cared about her.

And he still did.

And that tentative, nervous, childish crush Battler had nursed was now evolving into something a lot more complicated.

Love.

He wanted to take Beato in his arms, and kiss her pale skin, and take the bobby pins out of her golden hair, and slide her heavy dress down off her shoulders (he was sure all that material must have been annoying to wear, anyway)… … and show her just how much he loved her.

But the chick Beatrice was not that Beato.

Battler knew he couldn't have that kind of relationship with a girl who called him 'father'. Even if she would have been willing (she'd do anything to please her 'father') she wouldn't understand, and it would only leave a bitter aftertaste for Battler later.

When he thought about commanding that young girl in such a way, like she was some kind of sex toy instead of a human… it made him feel sick.

He couldn't help his thoughts, he couldn't; trying was useless, it was all useless…

But he always felt disgusted with himself afterwards.

Maybe that was why he was spending so much time with Ronove. The demon butler was nothing like Beato, so Battler felt safe in his company. When Battler was with Ronove, talking and smiling and occasionally drinking cups of tea or eating cookies (Battler would accept Ronove's because there was no love attached; but he couldn't bear to touch the cookies she had made), he could forget Beatrice.

He could forget, and be happy.

At least, for a few moments.

But, when Battler really thought about it… wasn't he using Ronove as a method to forget his own sadness? And, when he thought of it that way… wasn't that a little selfish?

Was he… being selfish?

"Battler?"

Again, Battler was brought back from his daydreams with a rather painful bump. Ronove was looking into his eyes worriedly; a fresh cup of tea proffered in one gloved hand- and Beato's butler was actually getting pretty close there, standing by his side like that…

W-when had he gotten that close?

Why… did he look so worried?

It must be because you're acting so pathetic.

Battler cringed at this thought; face turning light pink from embarrassment. W-why was he having thoughts about Beato like that now, anyway?

Those weren't the sort of thoughts that should have been running around his head whilst in the company of other people; especially not that damn demon butler…

What Battler had jokingly said to Aunt Eva during the first game had been true, after all.

"Ah, I'm sorry~ Please don't tell anybody my head's constantly filled with so much dirty stuff, okaaay? Ihihi~"

Battler sighed.

F-fuck… I-I really am… that useless…

He couldn't stop his fingers from trembling. His body still felt heavy, as if he wasn't entirely in control of it- but he couldn't keep Ronove waiting, holding that cup of tea for him to take until it went cold. I-if he remained motionless, Ronove would begin to suspect something was wrong (as if he didn't suspect it already), and that could lead to questions, and questions would unearth feelings… and Battler would be damned before he discussed his feelings with anybody.

He felt embarrassed and sentimental and stupid enough for having such a dorky fantasy; he didn't want another person to know and judge him, either.

"O-oh, sorry, ihihi… M-man, I'm really not all there right now. It's the stress of making a new game board, guess it's finally got to me despite my youth?" Battler babbled. He tried to sound natural, but he couldn't; it was almost impossible- and his face was still suspiciously flushed, but he couldn't hide that either.

"Battler…? Are you alright?" asked Ronove gently. "I understand being a game master is a very difficult challenge, but… is the stress the only thing bothering you? I don't want to pry into your personal matters, but you're… starting to worry me."

"Y-yeah, um… the stress is the only thing. That's all."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. I'm fine, really…"

Inwardly, Battler kicked himself. He'd been playing that damn game with red and blue truth with Beato three times now, trying to pick out lies in Beato's narration and find the real culprit- so why was he such a bad liar himself? It was obvious, from the misplaced stutter in his voice, that he was lying; even an idiot could have seen that.

And Ronove certainly wasn't an idiot.

Ronove also had the added advantage of being somebody who cared about Battler a great deal. Battler wasn't sure why this was. It might have been because he was now Ronove's 'Master', in a sense- or maybe it was because they frequently talked together… so maybe they could have been considered 'friends'.

That was why Ronove cared.

So Ronove, being both quite intelligent and genuinely concerned over Battler's welfare, was able to catch that feeble lie incredibly easily.

"Creating a new game can be very hard work," said Ronove, voice soft and soothing. "This is your first time doing it… and you're up against a fearsome opponent, no less. But, please don't worry about it so much. I have confidence in you."

"Heh. And what are you basing that confidence on?"

"Well…~ I am sure you will succeed- both at creating this game, and resurrecting Milady. You're stubborn, so I can hardly see you backing down from a challenge~ If nothing else… I'm sure you won't give up. It's a very admirable quality, really… and I am sure, if Milady was here, she would feel the same. You're not the only one who misses her, you know."

"Ha… aha…" Battler sighed. "Was I really that obvious?"

"Mm. Well, just a little," said Ronove, with a soft laugh.

"Tch… Great."

"But, please don't worry, Battler. I, too, feel grief over Milady's fate... But I have such a large amount of faith in you I'll try not to be upset- because I am sure you'll be able to revive her."

And then, Ronove smiled.

It was such a warm, understanding smile that Battler felt his heart- twisted though it was- flutter slightly. Nobody had smiled at Battler like that in such a long time. If Beato were here, she would have cackled and hit Battler upside the head, calling him useless, pathetic, a miserable human who couldn't solve the simplest of riddles. And maybe Battler thought that of himself, as well.

But Ronove didn't.

The confidence Ronove showed in him… really did make Battler feel better.

"Sure, sure," Battler muttered- trying to quell his blush through sheer willpower. "Whatever you say. It's not like I was going to give up anyway, I-I… I… a-aaa…"

But Battler's voice soon cut off; replaced, at the end, with a startled gasp.

His eyes widened slightly.

Battler had reached out to take the cup of tea Ronove was still offering him- but his fingers were still trembling; mind more focused on blonde hair and blue eyes than the Darjeeling in the cup; and, well… maybe it was only inevitable he would drop it.

Battler had never been the most careful person to begin with, anyway. He'd fallen down the stairs more than once when he was a child, and Battler distinctly remembered Jessica almost rupturing something through laughter when he split his dinner down his front then fell off his chair during one family conference.

It was actually more surprising he hadn't spilt Ronove's tea down his front before now, when he thought about it.

The teacup fell to the floor, as per the laws of gravity. It shattered upon impact; the myriad of jagged-edged pieces forming a strange pattern that looked eerily like 'Woman With a Flower' by Picasso.

However, Battler was a little too concerned with the scaling hot liquid soaking his pants to pay much heed to that- so the strange little miracle went unnoticed and uncommented on.

Lady Bernkastel would have been quite disappointed.

Battler supposed it was a good thing that the tea was still hot. It meant that this time, unlike the last, he hadn't departed from the land of living long enough for it become undrinkable. But, sadly, Battler really couldn't see this in a positive light.

Not when it was burning his skin.

It was strange how human beings reacted to pain. Battler was sure dropping tea on himself was at least two hundred times less painful than being fed alive to those goat butlers- but that didn't really mean anything.

This still hurt.

It hurt quite a bit.

Argh… W-why was he such an idiot? If Jessica was here, she'd be laughing at him- Battler knew it.

Beatrice would've found it funny as well; Battler knew she would. In fact, Beato was the kind of woman who'd pour tea over his head herself, just for fun.

Beato would definitely do something like that, because she had a warped sense of humor- but maybe she had a right to be a little warped, given everything she had been through…

Everything Battler had put her through… …

"H-huh… …?"

Suddenly, a tremor ran through Battler's body, as something clicked into place in his brain. The hot tea had scrambled Battler's pain receptors until it felt like he was being pricked repeatedly with sharp pins- but there was another pressure on his right thigh now; a gentle one.

It was Ronove- and he was trying to wipe the spilt tea off Battler's clothes.

Battler's eyes widened. He opened his mouth, but his words caught in his throat, and he had to stutter a little before he could get them out.

Ronove was touching him- and, though it was very soft, h-his hands were…

T-they were getting dangerously close to his crotch…

Nobody had touched Battler that intimately in ages; nobody, except Battler himself, when he sat in his white-washed room and imagined he was with one of the ass nee-chans, o-or bunny girls, or sometimes even Beato (although that was a dangerous line of fantasy to go down).

Battler bit his lower lip. If he didn't, he was sure he'd moan… a-and that would be incredibly embarrassing; especially when Ronove was a guy

O-oh fuck, Ronove was another guy- a-and he was, he was… H-his fingers were skirting round anything too sensitive; and he cleaning the spilt tea very gently- but those touches only made Battler feel even more eerily aroused. The pinpricks of the hot tea seeping through his clothes was still there, but now it was coupled with Ronove's caring touch, which created a conflicting mish-mash of sensations that made Battler shiver.

If he let his eyelids flutter shut, he could almost imagine the person teasing him cruelly like this was Beato herself; whispering into his ear 'are you having fun yet, Battleeeer?~ I won't touch any~thing~ unless you tell me you want iiiit, kyahahahaaa~'

Y-yeah, that'd be the kind of thing Beato would say; i-it'd be the sort of thing she'd say if she wasn't dead, and the person touching Battler wasn't Ronove, b-but…

A-aah… W-when Battler thought of Beato, he just…

He just…

"A-aa…"

Damn.

Damn damn damn.

Battler's cheeks were turning bright red, and his breathing was ragged, forced and heavy- a-and, fuck, h-he was starting to get aroused; he was getting hard, j-just from a little contact like this, and, a-and… …

He had to stop this.

He had to.

Battler's relationship with Ronove was one of the few things in Purgatorio that Battler could still truly enjoy.

That, and the taste of Ronove's tea and cookies.

Their relationship was a simple one; a vague 'friendship' based on teasing each other back and forth- and Battler had found, to his surprise, he was able to joke with Ronove as easily as if the demon butler had been one of his friends from school.

Though Battler was loathe to admit it, his friendship with Ronove meant quite a lot to him He didn't want to fuck that up- especially not now.

Not when Beato was dead, Lady Bernkastel was threatening to devour the game board containing Battler's family, and Battler had never felt so miserably, pathetically alone and friendless.

Battler didn't want his relationship with Ronove, whatever it was, to become strained and awkward from something like this- he didn't want that all; h-he at least wanted this to not fall to pieces- but it would, it was going to, because he couldn't control his own body, and he couldn't stop thinking about her.

Damn…

This was even worse than the time Battler had watched a movie with his family, and there was a really attractive blonde actress in it, and Battler couldn't control his thoughts properly so… … well, the end result was pretty embarrassing. Battler hadn't been able to look at that damn old bastard for ages afterwards, who'd taken great delight in making jokes about it.

What would Ronove do when he noticed?

Battler couldn't let him notice… …

F-fuck…

Hand trembling badly, torn between leaning into Ronove's touch or pushing him away entirely, Battler reached forwards- and clasped his fingers tightly round Ronove's wrist.

He tried to sound commanding- but it was useless; it was all useless.

"W-what the hell are you doing…?"

His voice was strained, and it cracked at the start; breaking just like the teacup had moments earlier. It was instantly obvious something was definitely wrong- and Ronove had grasped that, too, given the look he gave Battler.

"I'm just trying to clean up the spilt tea?" Ronove said; his voice more a question than an answer. "Forgive me, I'm sure you're capable of cleaning yourself, but… despite that, you didn't make any attempt to do so. I was worried you would get scalded if you didn't clean the tea, hence my current behavior. I'm sorry if it was inappropriate…?"

"H-hn? Y-you mean, that was… ah…"

Battler's face turned an even deeper shade of red. So, he'd been thrown into this situation because of his own stupidity- and Ronove, despite his occasional flirtatious comments, hadn't meant anything by this?

So, Battler was getting aroused by a mere act of kindness… that wasn't supposed to mean anything else at all.

Well, good; Battler was glad it wasn't supposed to be anything else. Purgatorio was complicated enough as it was, with its layers of meta and blue-haired loli detectives, without starting a weird BL storyline like this.

Battler really didn't need something like this to worry about as well.

But, truthfully… the light, intimate touch hadn't been unwelcome; it hadn't at all. Maybe Battler had just been happy somebody was showing him some kindness; but it was more than that, wasn't it? I-it must have been, if the memory of those fingertips tracking across his skin still brought a blush to his cheeks.

He hadn't reacted like that because the person touching him had been Ronove, though.

The whole time, Battler had been imagining it was Beato.

When he opened his eyes, to see not Beato but her butler looking at him worriedly, it felt like Battler's blood had frozen to ice, and his heart had stopped beating.

It was still Ronove.

It wasn't what Battler wanted.

But, his body had reacted against his will all the same… … because he was pathetic.

"Battler, are you alright? You're looking quite- a-aah…? Battler…?"

Battler was sure his face was bright red by now.

Battler got to his feet hastily; knocking the chair over in one clumsy movement as he did so. It was lucky he didn't fall over. "I-it's nothing; it's nothing, seriously…"

"But-"

"J-just… leave me alone, okay? J-just... t-this doesn't mean anything! It's not because of you, o-or because you were touching me, so just… j-just… … a-aah…"

Well, that was a less than adequate 'explanation' that served to clarify nothing save Battler's own obvious guilt. No wonder Ronove looked shocked; rather more like a deer in the headlights than he had ever appeared before.

Maybe, if Battler had been feeling less hideously embarrassed, he would have found Ronove's surprise amusing.

But, Battler really had no right to laugh at others.

Not when he knew how pathetic he looked; trembling, with a red face, and an obvious bulge in the front of his pants.

Battler really didn't know what else to do.

He didn't really have any other option.

So he left.