Every year since he’d rose to become Gym Leader, Raihan organized what he lovingly called The Big Losers Party in his suite at the Rose. It was usually populated by the occasional trainer that got through the challenge – there had been years, like the year before, where no one had gotten through, and so the whole Championship tournament had been a Gym Leader brawl, much to the delight of some of their sponsors – who happened to be old enough to get gloriously drunk with their idols… and well, said idols.
It was a bit of toothless fun, after the carnage they had all unleashed on each other in the stadium. Sure, the first iteration of the party hadn’t exactly been awash with booze, if nothing else because Raihan had been fifteen at the time and there was something so profoundly disapproving in the way Kabu had looked at him when he’d tried to steal a sip of something he shouldn’t, that Raihan hadn’t been able to bring himself to do it until he was old enough to buy his own damn booze with a straight face. But at fifteen he’d already had three defeats too many at Leon’s hands in the Championship’s finals and being chosen to represent Hammerlocke and protect its Vault was not enough to take off the sting that his first year as Gym Leader had been punctuated with another loss to his rival. He’d looked at his fellow Gym Leaders, plucked courage out of thin air, and asked them to hang out and mope with him. He’d made a point to not invite Leon, because of course Leon was not a loser and he had no business watching Raihan lick his wounds and compare bruises in his pride with his fellows.
Leon hadn’t even been mad about it, really. He’d smiled at Raihan about it and moved right on with his photoshoots and promotional appearances and exhibition matches and all those glittering things he did that slowly accrued dozens of logos on his uniform, to the point he’d added a cape to hold all of them. Leon got his trophy, Raihan got his party, and about a week later they’d meet somewhere nice for dinner after a press conference and very pointedly not talk about it.
It became tradition, the same way Leon’s victory became inevitable in the eyes of the region, year after year after year, until without noticing almost a whole decade had passed. There were kids signing up for the challenge who had been born after Leon became Champion. And every year, Raihan would host his party and drink away anything too sharp to be good sportsmanship. He would remind himself he really liked his fellow Gym Leaders, not merely respected their skill.
Raihan paid for everything and posted nothing online except the traditional group selfie at the beginning of the night, long before anyone did or said anything dumb or embarrassing. Very often, karaoke was involved. Three years prior, Opal had started a rather damning game of strip poker that had been so rigged they hadn’t been able to call her out on it. It was, then, very well accepted, that whatever happened at The Big Losers Party stayed there. Forever.
This year, Raihan had made preparations to celebrate Piers’ retirement, but wasn’t expecting any new faces to show up. After all, the only four who’d managed to get through the challenge and join the finals were Leon’s little brother and his friend, the boy from Nessa’s Stadium and… well, the very reason that Piers was retiring. Opal hadn’t bothered to show up at all, Bea wasn’t old enough to attend, Gordie had decided to answer his phone and was stuck trying not to have a meltdown and yell at his mum across the line somewhere in the hotel’s lobby… It seemed like it was going to be the usual collection of stories and drinking and plans for the next year.
…except for the bit where Leon had finally met his match in the pitch and he was very much not Champion anymore, dethroned not by Raihan or even his brother, but his brother’s mousy best friend, who was quiet and kind and apparently badass enough to tame a dragon made of sheer poison and hate, and then use it to put Leon’s team through its paces. Raihan had wished her good luck, because she’d trounced him, twice, but had figured deep down she’d lose and perhaps she would end up becoming Galar’s first ever Poison Gym Leader. Instead, she’d become Galar’s first ever Poison Champion, and he wasn’t angry so much as shellshocked.
Raihan found himself going through the motions – herding people back to the Rose, riding on the euphoria as Galar realized history had been made that day, for the second time in less than a week, even – and then saw Leon standing in the lobby, watching his brother and the brand new Champion walking towards the elevators with a look on his face best described as confused yet proud constipation. He looked ridiculous without the cape, Raihan thought, halfway between naked and not wholly there, considering he’d ended up wrapping it around the new Champion in the heat of the moment, even though it was far too big for a girl that small.
And then Raihan realized that Leon was no longer Champion, which meant he was, for the first time in history, qualified to receive an invitation to the party.
“Yo,” Raihan said, approaching cautiously, “Mr. Ex-Champion.”
Leon startled before he turned to face Raihan but didn’t bristle even though Raihan’s tone was more on the taunting side than anything. Realistically, Raihan didn’t expect him to. Leon was the kind of person who wouldn’t hold a grudge, he didn’t think. But then, they’d just lost faith in one of the pillars of their community, so perhaps Raihan could be excused from being wary about how Leon was taking his defeat. In the fantasies Raihan was not about to admit he’d ever had; Leon was always gracious about the astounding asskicking Raihan would give him. Perhaps a bit more than just suitably impressed, even.
Leon laughed sheepishly, tugging his hat a bit down, as if to hide his face.
“Ah, is it time already?” He asked, though his lips were stubbornly stuck on a smile, as beamy an expression as if he’d actually won. “For the mocking?”
“Nah,” he said, and then threw an arm around Leon’s shoulders, tugging him close. “But I’m tempted to make you foot the bill tonight. Upstaging Piers at his own retirement party, Lee? That’s cold.”
Leon blinked, momentarily distracted enough that he followed Raihan’s lead without thinking, heading towards a different set of elevators than the ones he’d just seen his brother and the Champion disappear into, scant minutes prior. Raihan’s party was a tradition, by this point, expected by its venue and ready to be catered to. After all, the Rose cared about its guests’ comfort and they wouldn’t let Raihan host his party in a regular room anymore, not since the unfortunate incident a couple years back with the accidental not-fire that nonetheless ended up with Nessa’s dreadnaw using surf. Indoors.
“Piers is retiring?” Leon asked, blinking up at Raihan with genuine surprise, and then frowned. “What party?”
“The Big Losers Party, mate,” Raihan said, giving him the flash-a-fang grin that usually got him at least 50K likes in the first ten minutes, whenever he posted pictures of it online. “No bigger loser than you tonight, I reckon.”
Leon blinked again and then wrapped an arm around Raihan’s waist, laughing as he tugged his hat with the other hand and completely covered his face.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Raihan didn’t tell him that being right was kind of a trademark of his by now, mostly because he was busy basking on how well Leon fit under his arm, tucked up against his side like that as they stepped into the elevator. Alas, the ride was not eternal, and when the ding echoed, announcing they’d reached their floor, Raihan pushed Leon ahead of him, one hand firmly on the center of his back and proper distance kept again.
Wouldn’t want to make it weird or anything.
When Raihan was ten, he’d snuck out of his foster home to face the Gym Challenge the first time, with only a trapinch to his name. About twenty minutes into his first determined trek into the wild area, he’d stumbled into Piers, his zigzagoon and their pot of stew. Raihan remembered trying to be clever, and failing miserably, but Piers hadn’t been mad. He’d offered Raihan a seat and a bowl, and then called him an idiot for his lack of provisions to brave the trip to Motostoke. Raihan hadn’t pointed out the fact he didn’t have enough money for the train ride, or better supplies, but Piers hadn’t made him say it, either. He’d just sighed and called him names, and sort of assumed Raihan would be sticking around for the rest of the challenge. Which he had.
They’d been friends since then, really.
“You’re a spineless twit,” Piers deadpanned into his beer, watching Raihan watch Leon, who had passed out sometime after two and had ended up sprawled against Raihan’s side, drooling a massive spot all over Raihan’s thigh. “Yearly reminder and all.”
“You can eat my entire ass, Piers,” Raihan muttered under his breath, then reached out to clink his beer with his on reflex. “So what’s next? Gonna find a damp, dark cave and hibernate for a decade?”
“Focus on my music,” Piers said, shrugging. “Got enough one-offs to maybe put together a whole album. See if I can find a record label that’s interested in it.”
“Should be easy now,” Raihan pointed out, “with Rose gone.”
Raihan wasn’t really broken up about it, really. He’d never liked Rose personally, not since he’d found out that Piers – and Spikemuth as a whole – had been blacklisted by Macro Cosmo after Piers refused to move his Stadium to the designated power spot further south. Sure, Rose was an institution in Galar, and Raihan’s job as Gym Leader and guardian of the Vault meant he was in constant contact with him and many of his various companies – hell, the power plant was his primary sponsor – but it was just a necessary evil to do his job, as far as Raihan was concerned. He’d have cut ties with him, much the same way Piers had, but Piers had kicked him – actually kicked him, the noodle-legged ass – and told him to stop being stupid.
Well, Rose was gone now. Or would be. There was no plausible deniability this time, no matter how much he owned of Galar’s… everything. He’d broadcasted his intentions live on region-wide TV, there was no escaping judgment for that. Though what was going to happen to Macro Cosmo was anyone’s guess, really.
That was going to be a nightmare, Raihan reckoned, but a nightmare better left for future Raihan to worry about, considering how pleasantly drunk present Raihan was at the moment.
“Maybe,” Piers said, swirling his drink pensively, “maybe not. At least Spikemuth is in good hands now.”
“See, the self-deprecating bullshit would be a lot more believable,” Raihan said, squinting at him, “if I didn’t own the three dragons you handily knocked out that last match.”
“Still lost, didn’t I?” But Piers was smiling, that little twitch of lips of his that he only ever gave Raihan or Marnie, full of taunting fondness.
“Yeah, but I’m definitely not someone who’d hold that against you,” Raihan pointed out. “It really was a good match, Piers. I’ll miss facing you in the field, you know?”
“You’ll be fine.” Piers’ smile widened into a smirk, taunting and terrible. “Between my sis and the Champion, I’m sure the future of your big losers party is secure.”
“Can we not? Just one goddamn night?” Raihan whined, shaking his head. “I’m trying to be nice to you, you ass.”
“Can’t be nice,” Piers deadpanned, chucking his empty beer can across the room and at the small pile around the basket in the corner. “I’m allergic.”
“Get out of here,” Raihan snorted, considering how much Piers cared about… well. Everything.
“I really should,” Piers sighed, watching as across the room, Nessa threw her hands up in the air with a little shriek of defeat, “there’s a pile of Yell grunts sobbing in the lobby and I should probably get them out of there before they get arrested.” He snorted. “Please, don’t stand up,” he added, clearly amused by Raihan’s predicament.
Raihan ignored the wave of heat settling on the bridge of his nose and the back of his neck.
“Are we still on for our camping trip?” He asked, valiantly ignoring the comment, or the way Leon nuzzled further into his lap.
He didn’t have to ask, not really. But it was either an inane question like that, or risk whatever Piers was thinking about saying, given the look on his face. As it was, the now cheerfully – for Piers, anyway – ex-Gym Leader snorted and made a point to roll his eyes right where Raihan could see him.
“Sure, I’ll schedule the world tour around it.”
He offered Raihan a hand and shook it firmly.
“Jackass,” Raihan said, profoundly affectionate.
“Moron,” Piers replied, shaking his head. “Literally just tell him, Raihan.”
“Of course,” Raihan said, though he had absolutely no intention of doing anything of the sort. “See you around, Piers.”
Piers waved at him and wandered over to where Kabu, in Opal’s absence, was busy fleecing Gordie, Milo and Nessa in a game of dice that was apparently popular in his home region, to offer his own curt goodbyes. Raihan watched him go, and then sighed. Sure, he’d promised Piers he’d tell Leon all about his feelings, once Leon wasn’t Champion anymore.
But Raihan had always assumed that would be because he’d be the one to dethrone him.
And he hadn’t been.
So maybe it didn’t count.
In the morning – well, afternoon – Raihan found himself sitting across Leon, eating breakfast out of a tray and trying his best to not think about anything dumb. Everyone else had left, at some point, walking – or stumbling – back to their own rooms, to spend the day nursing their own hangovers, moral and otherwise. But Leon had stayed right where he’d passed out, curled up on a bed with his head firmly placed in Raihan’s lap. Sleep had been scarce for Raihan, obviously. But now it was a bright new day, and they’d ordered enough room service to feed themselves and their entire teams – which were scattered around the floor, chilling out – and the silence was comfortable in a way that was probably going to drive Raihan insane.
“So,” he asked, when he couldn’t take it anymore, “what are you going to do now?”
Leon seemed surprised by the question, but then he smiled. One of those goofy, idiot smiles of his that lit up an entire room and made Raihan wish he was wearing sunglasses. He looked… happy. Relieved, even. Sure, Raihan hadn’t exactly expected him to be bitter about his defeat – Leon was so much better than that, obviously – but he wouldn’t have expected him to be happy about it.
“I have no idea,” he said, with an edge of near childish delight. “And it feels wonderful.” Then he laughed. “I mean, I should probably find some clothes, but that’s… future Leon’s problem.”
Raihan missed the chance to smile back at him and tease him about stealing the phrase from him – it always amused him to watch interviews after he got a chance to hang out with Leon, and hear bits and pieces of himself come out of his mouth, a firm reminder that Leon cared about their friendship at least half as much as Raihan did – mostly because he was too busy frowning at him.
“Why would you need to find clothes?” He blurted out, and immediately knew it was the wrong thing to say, when Leon winced.
Too late to take it back, now, and pretend he’d said nothing.
“Can’t exactly go out there still wearing the whole Champion getup, can I?” Leon tried to laugh it off, but it was awkward. He never sounded awkward in public, Raihan reckoned, only when Raihan fucked up things, somehow. “I mean, it’ll give people the wrong idea.”
“So wear something else, then,” Raihan said, mouth still working faster than his brain could stop it, blurting every dumb thing that crossed his mind.
“I mean, I would,” Leon said, clearing his throat, “if I owned anything else right now.”
“I wasn’t actually expecting to lose,” Leon pointed out, almost defensively. “And it’s been legitimately crazy, since Chairman Rose… stepped down,” he added, rather diplomatically. “I just… procrastinated.”
Raihan stopped staring and started frowning.
“…are you trying to tell me that if I were to go rummage about in your luggage all I’d find are spare Champion uniforms?”
“Luggage isn’t the word I’d use,” he said, carefully poking about his plate with his fork, rather than meet Raihan’s frown head on. “It makes it sound cumbersome. The chairman always said, travel light and you’ll never be delayed.”
Raihan didn’t tell him the chairman could go suck on something phallic. Raihan sighed in a frankly Piers-worthy fashion and shook his head.
“Alright, alright,” he said, reaching out to grab his rotom phone so he could tickle its face and browse his contacts. “You’re not allowed to say I never do nice things for you, though.”
“Of course you do nice things for me, Rai, you got me breakfast this morning and didn’t throw my drunken ass out into the hallway last night,” he said, making a point to count with his fingers. Then he made a noise of surprise and nearly fell off the bed, flailing backwards, when Raihan’s rotom flew right into his face and started snapping pictures. “Raihan!”
Leon wasn’t, strictly speaking, wearing anything more substantial than the white leggings from his uniform, which wasn’t exactly his ideal for a photoshoot.
“Shush,” Raihan snorted, “so what do you think?” He added, back to the phone call Leon hadn’t realized he’d started at some point. “Good enough challenge?”
“He’ll do, I guess,” came the despairing quip, before the call ended with a solemn click.
“…Rai?” Leon asked, wary.
Raihan grinned, fangs and all.
When Raihan inherited Hammerlocke, the scandal had rocked Galar to its foundations. A nameless orphan coming out of nowhere to take over the most prestigious and historically significant post among the Gym Leaders had basically everyone with a pulse and access to the internet screaming out their feelings about it. He was too young. He was too weak. He was too… not good enough.
He hadn’t really cared.
He still super didn’t, really.
But then they’d shifted to question his mentor, argue she’d been the one who’d gone wrong, in choosing him, and then he’d really cared. Because she was a cranky, ruthless, frankly evil witch who deeply delighted in all the terrible hoops she made him jump through, primarily for her amusement, but she had been a fantastic Gym Leader. She had been more than good enough. She had been the best. And if she’d trusted him with her Stadium and her duraludon, Raihan would make damn sure to show he more than deserve it.
He might not be Champion of Galar – yet, always, ominous, hanging in the background, yet – but he was the best Gym Leader in Galar.
Around the time he’d decided to show the world exactly how good he was at his job, he’d met a young man from Kalos, with big dreams and ideas about fashion, who’d come to Hammerlocke to get himself a dragon companion to define his brand. Raihan had initially dismissed him, much the same way he dismissed most of the requests that came to the Stadium, regarding hopeful prospects looking to get themselves one of Galar’s prized dragons as part of their teams. Wild dragons were in decline all over the region, and had been for almost a century, so the sensible thing had been done, and catching them or in any way threatening their habitat had been heavily criminalized. If anyone in Galar wanted a dragon in their team, they had to come to Hammerlocke Stadium, pass the Gym Leader’s rigorous vetting process and, if successful, wait their turn to have one bred specially for them.
Raihan certainly enjoyed fighting much more than the breeding duties as Gym Leader, but he nonetheless took them seriously.
The young man from Kalos had faced Raihan’s trials and failed them thoroughly, and so Raihan had sent him away, emptyhanded. A year later, when the scandal about Raihan had been finally obscured by the scandal about Piers inheriting Spikemuth Stadium after his mum died – never let it be said Raihan didn’t know or appreciate the many ways Piers had saved his ass over the years – the young man returned, better prepared this time. Raihan was a sucker for hard work and people who committed to their dreams, so after faring so much better on the trial the second time, the young man was placed on the waiting list. A year after that, Raihan plopped a baby deino in his arms and sent him on his way with the best wishes.
That young man was Henri Levy, chief designer, conceptual artist and owner of what would become three of Galar’s most well-known fashion brands: DENSOKU, Celebrity and Jetsetter. All three, some of Raihan’s more vocal sponsors.
He was also the person who fell upon Raihan’s suite and more specifically, Leon, like a swarm of angry yanmegas, along with his dozen assistants and their three million racks of clothes.
“Rai?” Leon asked plaintively, lying on the floor exactly at ground zero of what could be best described as a fashion explosion.
“Mmm?” Raihan replied, sitting on the same corner of the bed from where he’d witnessed the entire tornado touchdown, slurping noisily out of a frappuccino cup.
“Please never be nice to me again,” Leon whined, hiding his face under his hat, the only true survivor of the whole ordeal.
Every year, at the end of summer, Raihan and Piers took two whole weeks off and pissed off into the vast wilderness that was the Lake of Outrage.
Strictly speaking, this wasn’t time off for Raihan, considering the Lake of Outrage was the largest dragon habitat in Galar so it was kind of his job to make sure it was doing alright. He dropped by every other weekend, just to make sure dens and nests were undisturbed and no one got the bright idea to bypass the ban on catching dragons or some other nonsense. It was just that, in the summer, instead of making the rounds and just going home, he setup camp and let his team stretch out and do their thing. He’d always been told that one couldn’t just… go and stay in the Lake of Outrage alone, because it would be dangerous, so, the very first year, he’d invited Piers along. And then the year after that, and the one after that, on and on, until it was as traditional as The Big Losers Party, even if Piers complained about the sun and the sandstorms – the most fucking gorgeous sandstorms in the entirety of Galar, those – and every little thing he could think of, because Piers considered bitching the central core of his personality.
Still, it was nice, sitting around the fire, listening to Piers strum his guitar while the sky lit up with a million stars that were never visible from Hammerlocke.
“And if you’d only tell him how you feel,” Piers sang, apparently the acoustic version of the song that had spearheaded his very first record deal. He paused and stared at Raihan until Raihan looked at him, and then he rolled his eyes with a flourish. “You fucking useless coward,” he deadpanned, and then went back to the song, as Raihan cracked a laugh. “ Maybe it wouldn’t be just in your head!”
“Eat the whole of my ass, Piers.”
“When I left, he was in your bed,” Piers pointed out, putting down the guitar to properly stare at Raihan with all due exasperation. “His head was in your lap, Raihan. He was wearing leggings and a hat. How the hell did you screw that up?”
“I wasn’t just gonna feel him up or something weird,” Raihan snapped back, defensive, and immediately felt the squelchy weight of goodra crawling up to slump on his shoulders and try to soothe his temper.
“Obviously,” Piers snorted, “but you could have had a conversation in the morning.”
“Which we did, thanks,” Raihan snarled petulantly, and got himself a chirring goodra nuzzling up against his face for his trouble. Raihan raised a hand to pet her face reassuringly. “We had a lovely breakfast and then he mentioned he needed clothes, so I helped with that, and then we amicably parted ways. Because we’re friends. And rivals.”
“But not lovers,” Piers retorted mercilessly. “Because you’re a coward.”
“Or,” Raihan snapped, “hear me out, maybe because he just doesn’t like me that way!” He threw his arms up in the air. “Because that’s a thing, Piers! That could happen! You don’t know!”
“I mean, we would, if you grew a spine and asked him out,” Piers deadpanned right back. “But you won’t. ‘cause you’re a coward.”
“Don’t you have a song to practice,” Raihan hissed at him, face flushed – the bits that weren’t covered in goo, at least. “Or something?”
“I do, actually,” Piers snickered. “Got a new single coming out, along with the tour. It’s called Hit Himself In Confusion. I’m sure it’s gonna be a crowd pleaser.”
It was a lovely song, honestly. Raihan was sure it was going to debut into the top 5, just like all of Piers’ singles had.
It was just unfortunate that he was never going to be able to hear it without feeling the irrational urge to strangle his best friend and feed him to a haxorus. Possibly Leon’s haxorus at that. It hadn’t been a picky eater as an axew, from what Raihan remembered. And Leon was a friend – only a friend! – so he would probably do Raihan a favor without asking too many questions.
Then again, Marnie would be sad.
Across the fire, Piers sang and played his music and continued to give Raihan murder-inducing judging looks. Like always, there was a sizable crowd of noivern in the periphery, for lack of better wording, charmed by Piers’ music in a way that Raihan had long given up trying to explain to anyone who didn’t know how fundamentally meanspirited the damn things could be, when they flock around Piers and playfully chirred bits and pieces of his songs back at him for his trouble.
So all in all, everything was just the way it had always been, and apparently the way it was always going to be.
Raihan hadn’t sat down more than ten minutes in the nice reception hall for the power plant, when Leon came to meet him, waving enthusiastically as always. He stood up, grinning at his friend, but before Leon reached him, his phone started buzzing and he excused himself to take the call. He watched as Leon’s face froze in surprise, even though he recovered quickly and laughed, assuring whoever he was speaking with that there was no problem.
“What,” Raihan asked, as soon as he hung up.
Leon was no longer Champion, but he was now the designated successor for Chairman Rose for reasons that, honestly, Raihan didn’t really understand and wasn’t all that interested in. But even his new role – and the endless headliners that came with it, which Raihan read because he kept up with the news, not because he was a stalker or something – didn’t change their standing arrangement to meet every quarter. They had always squeezed a dinner or a lunch somewhere in the schedule, while Leon, then Champion, now apparently Chairman or Chairman-in-training or Chairman-hopeful or whatever the right term was, went about figuring out budgets and priorities and a whole lot of boring things that Macro Cosmo needed to deal with, to better support the League. Raihan couldn’t quite remember when that had started, really, but it became a nice habit for him to agonize about during the interim months, often with Piers’ deadpan commentary to go with it.
“It’s okay, apparently they accidentally scheduled my reservation for next week,” Leon replied, shaking his head. “So… maybe raincheck on this? I need to find a hotel room for the night, but I’ll make it up to you.” He laughed sheepishly. “At least Gloria’s reservations were okay, and she’s not flying in until the day after tomorrow anyway.”
Raihan gave him a slightly skeptical look and chose not to ask for clarification on the method of transport behind that statement, because he liked sleeping at night and not spending that time staring at the ceiling as he contemplated the fact their reigning Champion liked treating the monstrous dragon of poison and hate that had nearly destroyed the world as freaking taxi service.
“I’m pretty sure if you called the hotel management, they’d sort it out for you,” he said, eyebrows arched curiously. “You’re not Champion anymore, Lee, but it’s not like you’re no one all of a sudden.”
“Yeah, but I could get someone fired for that,” Leon said, shrugging awkwardly. “It’s not a big deal. I just… have to find somewhere to crash for the next few days and maybe try not to get lost on the way back to the Stadium.”
Raihan realized the stupidity he was about to commit far too late to stop himself.
“Or,” he said, reaching out to shove Leon’s arm playfully, “you could let your dashing rival bear the great burden of putting a roof over your hat and let you peruse my outrageously comprehensive take out menu. Bonus round, I’ll even get your hopeless ass to work on time come morning, too.”
Leon tugged his hat down, half obscuring his face.
“I…” He began, as Raihan braced for the inevitable polite but firm rejection. “That sounds great, Rai,” Leon said instead, seemingly slumping a bit in relief. “But are you sure it’s not too much trouble?”
“Nah,” Raihan replied, barely managing to keep ridiculous, unnecessary glee from his voice as he leaned back on his seat. “That’s what friends are for, Lee.”
Because they were friends, of course. Rivals, first and foremost, always, but they’d known each other for too long and their rivalry was always fierce but amicable at the end of the day. It wasn’t like with Piers, of course, Raihan thought with a bit of self-deprecation, who was less of a friend and more of a brother at this point: phone calls and texts and photos and an eternal string of snarky quips wound up in a conversation that seemed to have been going on for a decade now. He didn’t know Leon nearly as well, nor he presumed to be so close to him… but they’d been rivals for ages now, and they’d worked together in some capacity within the League for another small eternity. They had drinks and dinners and lunches together, and last time they’d met Leon had woken up in Raihan’s bed and not been immediately distressed by that.
So yes, friends.
Raihan refused to contemplate the ridiculous knot stuck somewhere under his sternum when Leon beamed brightly at him.
“Thanks, Rai,” he said, with the same grace he used to receive his trophy at the end of each Championship tournament. “You’re the best.”
“I try,” Raihan replied, because he did, while inwardly promising himself a very cathartic scream into a pillow once Leon’s business trip was over.
Technically speaking, Raihan lived less than ten meters away from the Hammerlocke Stadium.
His house was out of the way of the busy streets that surrounded the front of the Stadium, instead tucked away right behind it, inside a very small alleyway that connected Raihan’s house with a larger street full of shops and cafes that was still significantly more lowkey than the main street. One could, if so inclined, hoist themselves up the tall backyard wall and, provided one knew how to land without breaking every bone in their legs, casually land in the Stadium’s employee smoking area. Raihan could neither confirm nor deny doing that whenever he slept in and didn’t have time to run around the Stadium to enter through the main door. He could also not say with any certainty if it was precisely the ability to do that what had convinced to end up buying the house, once he realized he was going to stay in Hammerlocke forever.
It was a nice house, though.
Raihan would call it quaint, if forced to describe it. Piers called it a pretentious hipster nightmare with dragon window decals on top, but Piers was a goddamn asshole who knew nothing of anything ever, so Raihan very pointedly didn’t ask for his opinion. Ever. Especially not on dragon window decals.
“Don’t mind the mess,” Raihan said, stepping back to let Leon in first, and then closed the door behind himself, throwing the keys into a nice crystal bowl that Opal had given him for his birthday a few years prior. Raihan was almost sure all of Opal’s gifts were actually just her attempts at spring cleaning, but he knew better than to say so out loud. “Just… make yourself at home.”
He chose to let Leon get his bearings – and not stand there and fret about every little twitch in Leon’s expression, wondering what he thought of Raihan’s home – and instead continued with his routine as usual: crossing the small foyer and into the living room to fling the glass doors wide open into the sizable patch of grass that was the actual reason Raihan had decided to buy the house in the first place. He stretched at the doorway, fingers easily touching the ceiling as he did, and then reached out for the pokeballs hooked on his belt and released his team out into the garden to let them stretch themselves and settle in for the night.
“You can let your guys stretch out too, if you want,” Raihan said, risking to look around and see what Leon’s face looked like, “reckon they must be bored as hell in their balls since you took over the desk job, huh?”
“Two hours,” Leon said, one eyebrow arched. He chuckled wryly when Raihan blinked at him. “You gave me an axew and a dreepy and told me I needed to give them two hours of my undivided attention, every day.” He laughed. “Each!”
“Well, you should,” Raihan replied, shrugging. “Bored dragons are destructive dragons.”
“They are,” Leon chuckled and walked over to release his own team with a content little smile. “Mind, the Chairman didn’t… mind it, as much, but now that he’s gone and it’s just me versus the board? They don’t get why I need six hours for my pokemon every day. I’m not Champion anymore, but it’s like they expect me to quit training all together and just… take the desk job.”
“It’s been hard, huh,” Raihan said, a little lamely, because that was the kind of dumb overstatement that he often found himself making in Leon’s presence. “Here, let me show you your room and then you can tell me what you’re in the mood for, for dinner.”
“Thank you,” Leon said, beaming again like a goddamn beacon guiding ships to shore, “really, Rai. You’re a life saver.”
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Raihan insisted, purposely looking away from such blinding light. “I mean, Piers complains that my guestroom is intolerable, but that’s just Piers being Piers. I think.” Leon stopped midway up the stairs, but started walking up them again, when Raihan realized he wasn’t following anymore. “Okay, full disclosure, my guest room is actually my study, but there’s nothing wrong with the bed, I promise. Piers just has a pathological need to bitch relentlessly about everything.”
“I’m sure it’s perfect,” Leon replied, almost placating. He licked his lips. “I didn’t know you and Piers were so close.”
“I don’t know if close is the right word for it,” Raihan snorted. “Or maybe it is,” he went on, opening the door to let Leon inside, “because I’m this close,” he gestured, holding his thumb and his index finger almost close enough to touch, “to yeeting his smug ass face into the nearest river sometimes.”
“Oh,” Leon said, clearly not sure if Raihan meant what he’d said or not.
“We’re close like you and Sonia are close, yeah? Or your baby brother and the champ,” he explained with a little shrug. “You know, Gym Challenge mates.”
“Oh,” Leon said, again, holding onto his luggage – he had luggage now, and clothes that weren’t a uniform and definitely screamed Henri, too, which filled Raihan with an aimless, wordless feeling he didn’t know what to name – and then shrugged. “I didn’t know,” he added, ducking his head in embarrassment, “I don’t… I don’t remember ever fighting Piers before he became Gym Leader. Or after.” He frowned. “I don’t think I ever had a single exhibition match with him either.”
“’course you didn’t,” Raihan laughed, clearing up the desk in the room to make sure Leon had enough space. “Before he inherited, the lazy ass couldn’t be bothered to actually finish the Gym Challenge. Made it all the way to his mum, and then stopped after she chewed him up and spat him out on the first attempt. Then… y’know, he had to inherit, but there was the whole thing with Rose.”
“What thing with Rose?”
Raihan looked up at the sharpness of Leon’s tone. Before, whenever the ex-Chairman was mentioned, Leon was apologetic, almost… regretfully fond of him. He did not sound like that at all, then.
“Spikemuth doesn’t have a dynamaxing power spot in it, but it’s as ancestral as Hammerlocke or Turffield, as far as seats of the Gym Challenge go, so he couldn’t just… move the Stadium. Not without the approval of the Gym Leader.” Raihan shrugged and turned back to the mess of papers and cables scattered around his laptop, set on tiding it up. “Piers’ mum told Rose she’d die before she let him move her stadium. Then she did die, and when Piers inherited, all he knew for sure about being a Gym Leader, was that his mum had promised to sic a pack of feral linoone on Rose if he ever set foot on Spikemuth again.”
Raihan sighed and reached out for one of the few picture frames he kept on his desk, of Piers and himself, around the time of their first Gym Challenge, and Piers’ mum ruffling their hair and grinning wider than the two of them combined. He smiled at it for a moment, before he offered it to Leon, so he could take a look.
“So Rose came in, all charming and personable and told Piers the future of Spikemuth depended on him moving to a new Stadium forty miles south, in the middle of nowhere, and just… abandon Spikemuth proper for good. Called the project Neo Spikemuth or something stupid like that.” He rolled his eyes. “Piers told him exactly where he could stuff his project, so Rose blacklisted him.”
Raihan chuckled bitterly when he heard Leon inhale sharply, as the implications sank in. No one could sponsor Piers without risking their entire business going under once Rose found out and pulled all support from under them. And of course, Rose had made every effort he could to keep Piers alienated from all official League events, including opening ceremonies, exhibition matches and the like.
“Rai, I had no idea-“
“I know you didn’t,” Raihan sighed, taking the picture back from Leon and placing it on the desk. “Honestly, he didn’t want anyone to know. I found out by accident, and when I told him it was bullshit and that I was going on strike to support Spikemuth he kicked me in the ankles ‘cause he’s too short to do anything else, except maybe headbutt my solar plexus.” Raihan laughed fondly, but it was also… resigned. Maybe a little bitter. “He said I was responsible for upholding the legacy I had inherited alongside my title, just like he did, and we had to do it our own way.” Leon was still looking at him with an expression Raihan had only ever seen in the heat of battle, serious and withdrawn, contemplating what the next move was to completely outdo his opponent. Raihan looked away. “Look, it worked out in the end, anyway. He outlasted Rose. Now he’s back to doing what he really wanted to do all his life and his sister is in charge of the Gym and doing a fantastic job, and we have someone honorable finally cleaning up after Rose’s bullshit.”
“Raihan,” Leon said, and despite the fact he was wearing something decidedly less flashy than his old Champion uniform, never mind the cape, he looked as fierce and ready to fight as he’d always looked, standing across the field in one of their matches. “I’m-“
“Aaah, forget about it, Lee,” Raihan said, reaching out to squeeze one of Leon’s shoulders reassuringly. “It’s okay! Let’s go downstairs and see what we can order for dinner.” When Leon remained where he was, feet firmly planted as if he were right in the middle of a stadium, Raihan looped a friendly arm around his neck and tugged him along, almost like a half-hug. “I’d offer to cook for you, but I don’t actually want you dead, so you’ll just have to trust me that I’m putting all my heart into it when I’m paying with my phone.”
For a moment, Raihan wondered if Leon was going to pull back and refuse to drop the subject. He wondered what he’d do, and what new stupid things his mouth was going to blather on uncontrollably if pressed. He never knew when to shut the hell up, when Leon was around. It was embarrassing, really.
“You keep posting pictures of the rainbow pasta,” Leon said, almost sheepish, just as he slid under Raihan’s arm and allowed himself to be tugged away from the room, “and you keep not saying what it is… so maybe we could order that?”
“Chairman Leon!” Raihan jeered, smile full of teeth, tugging him closer and reaching with his free hand to tug at Leon’s hat, “are you a stalker? Is this a confession?”
Leon laughed, and shoved him off playfully.
“No!” He stomped down the stairs, and stopped at the last step, before he looked up at Raihan. “…okay, maybe a little.” Raihan ignored the way his heart tripped over itself and ended up lodged up his throat. “Your rotom takes really good pictures.”
Raihan threw his arms up in the air dramatically.
“Betrayal! Outrage!” He said, looking away. “I’m gonna hang out with flygon now, who loves for me, and not how many megapixels I can afford.”
Leon laughed at his antics, though, the same full, energized laugh as always, and the sound was good enough for Raihan to forget about all the stupid things he’d said or done all day.
It was fine.
Raihan had been busy trying to contain erratic dynamaxing pokemon, when the battle against The Darkest Day was raging on above his Stadium. So he’d never gotten a really good look at the thing, before.
It certainly made an impression as it landed into the field, its skeletal body unfurling with a roar as it settled enough to allow its rider to slide off its back.
“So,” Raihan said, hands stuck in the pockets of his hoodie, “not only did you manage to tame the doom dragon of poison and hate, you’re actually using it as a taxi now.” He made a point to pat Leon’s back placatingly as he flashed the young Champion a fanged grin. “Mate, you’ve been thoroughly out staged.”
“Well, he hates being stuck inside a pokeball,” Gloria said, almost sheepish, but dutifully turned around to give said doom dragon of poison and hate head scritches, because apparently that was a thing that it liked. “And the only corviknight I know that likes flying alongside him is Hop’s, so…” She shrugged at Raihan just as dramatically and gave Leon a taunting look. “It just be that way sometimes.”
“Gloria,” Leon said, in the pained tones of a mentor trying desperately not to laugh, “that’s still not an acceptable Champion catch-phrase.”
“I know, I know,” she sighed, and then shrugged before leaning over to mock-whisper at Raihan, “but it really just be that way sometimes.”
“I feel you,” Raihan teased, grinning back at her. “But you gotta let Leon have a Chairman time, after all.”
“Okay, okay, that’s enough you two,” Leon said, clapping like a schoolteacher trying to make a rowdy classroom settle down. “You’re getting along dangerously well.”
“Alright,” Gloria agreed, waving her hands lightly. “Raihan, do you mind if Nat stays here and takes a nap? He’s basically an overgrown purrloin, he just wants to sunbathe all day.”
“Sure,” Raihan said, “I’ll just make sure to let everyone know to give… you nicknamed the doom dragon of poison and hate Nat.”
Gloria beamed at him, as innocently as she had, right after she was done destroying his team with a merciless application of venoshock and toxic spikes.
“Today’s just gonna be amazing, isn’t it?” Raihan asked no one in particular, but couldn’t help but bask in the obvious pride and excitement that Leon had about his successor, for all he chided her gently in places.
It just be that way sometimes… indeed.
“But why do you let them bully you?” Raihan asked, somewhere around two in the morning and well into his ninth beer can of the night, sprawled as long as he was on the couch, watching Leon pace erratically around the room.
“Because it’s the board!” Leon ranted on, throwing his hands up in the air. “That’s what they do, honestly. They’re a bunch of extremely rich twits with zero connection to reality, and believe me, I am keenly aware of how ironic it is for me to say that!”
“But they work for you now,” Raihan insisted, trying to roll around so he could properly follow Leon’s circuit around the small table in the center of the living room, where at some point they’d started to pile up their cans for no other reason that every drunk person always reached that point instinctively somewhere after half past stupid o’clock.
“What?” Leon stopped abruptly, swayed dangerously in place, and then turned to frown at Raihan. “Of course they don’t, Rai. Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said? They’re the board! They own Macro Cosmo’s entire conglomerate.”
“In theory, yeah,” Raihan agreed, and regretted nodding when he almost slipped off the couch on inertia. “But you just said Rose rewrote your contracts at some point, so as Champion, you were only paid in shares of Macro Cosmo, so he could overrule the board whenever he wanted.”
“Well, yes,” Leon scowled, “but I’m not Champion anymore.”
“Right,” Raihan said, and nodded again, because he was too drunk to not be stupid. “But Rose bequeathed his entire share portfolio on you, before he got arrested, and everyone decided to let it stand for the sake of avoiding a disastrous PR nightmare, right?”
“You don’t have to remind me,” Leon grumbled, digging his hands into his hair and ruffling it in frustration.
“Kinda have to, Lee,” Raihan insisted, “because don’t Rose’s portfolio and your own as ex-Champion, together, mean you have controlling shares of the entire conglomerate?”
Leon was silent for a long moment.
“Oh,” he said, as he gingerly allowed himself to sit down on the floor. “ Oh.”
“Mhm,” Raihan purred, rather pleased with himself and how smart he was.
“Holy shit, Rai,” Leon whispered, “you’re right.”
“It’s my thing, Lee,” Raihan slurred almost chirpily. “Being right and the best, that’s me.” He stretched a leg and nudged Leon’s shoulder with his foot and somehow managed not to roll off the couch in the process. “They can’t bully you, the work for you.”
“They work for me,” Leon repeated, staring blankly at his hands.
Raihan didn’t remember what else they talked about, as the night progressed, but he did wake up with a passed-out Leon sprawled all over him, like a living blanket. Raihan decided he was entirely too hungover to deal with that, and forced himself to go back to sleep so he could let Leon wake up first and decide what to do.
It was less awkward that way, obviously.
“You gave him keys to your house.”
Raihan buried his face into the cushions of his couch, mostly because he wanted to die, not because he was weird and trying to catch a sniff of the last remnants of Leon’s cologne in it or something creepy like that. Obviously.
“Shut up, Piers.”
Piers lowered the picture – Leon, Raihan and Gloria, pulling Leon’s old Charizard pose to commemorate the successful end of Leon’s visit to Hammerlocke, with Nat, former destroyer of worlds and devourer of all, sprawled shamelessly upside down, snoring away his cares in the background – and looked down at Raihan with enough disdain it was like a physical weight on his shoulders.
“You gave him keys to your house,” Piers insisted, before putting the frame back on the small table, where all of Raihan’s pictures had miraculously migrated to, after Leon gave him that one as a thank you gift for letting him stay. “You are the most useless sack of stupid I have ever met in my entire life.”
“He’s my friend!” Raihan whined, voice muffled into the fabric as he pulled another cushion and covered his head with it, willing himself to merge into the couch like goodra often did into the little kiddie pool he kept for her out in the garden. “Just. A good friend.”
“I can see that,” Piers snickered, utterly meanspirited, “what with you not fucking him on your couch and all.”
“Friends don’t fuck their friends on their couch, Piers,” Raihan hissed at him, even though he knew exactly what he was about to walk into, as this was by then a well-choreographed disaster of a conversation.
“I mean,” Piers said, coming to sit on the armrest of the couch, smugness dripping off his voice, “there was that one time we-“
“We did, Piers,” Raihan snarled, one eye peering over his arm to fix his friend with his best withering glare. “And immediately afterwards you decided you never wanted to have sex with any human being ever again.”
Piers snickered, again.
Raihan considered reaching out and strangling him, also again.
“I know you need to be the absolute center of attention basically always,” Piers said, in that same patient older brother tone he used whenever Marnie threw a tantrum, “but my asexuality has pretty much nothing to do with how bad you are at sex, Raihan.”
“I am fucking amazing at sex,” Raihan hissed, taking a swipe at Piers that Piers, predictably, dodged. “Eat my entire ass, Piers.”
“Second verse, same as the first,” Piers snickered, “still not my thing, Raihan. Want me to call Leon and ask if he’s interested, though?”
“Don’t you have a concert to rehearse for? A region-wide tour to open?”
Piers did the absolute worst thing he could do, like the impossibly annoying asshole he was: he reached a hand and patted Raihan’s head.
“But we’re friends, Raihan,” he said, pulling his hand back just in the nick of time, dodging Raihan’s attempt to bite him. “If I’m not here to call you a goddamn cowardly idiot, who will?”
Raihan melted back into the couch, and went back to doing the sensible, mature thing: pile cushions over his head and avoid thinking about what Leon might do, now that he had keys to Raihan’s home.
“I hate you, so much.”
Piers, because he was literally the worst human being on the whole wide world, laughed.
New Year came and went.
At some point during his second quarter as no-longer-Champion-but-actually-Chairman-lite, Leon got himself a rotom phone like a civilized person. According to him, it was a necessity born primarily out of the endless ribbing that came from the Champion and his brother. Raihan didn’t know how Leon had gone so long without one, since the thought of not having his own floating somewhere within arm reach was distressing enough. Maybe, he’d teased him upon hearing the news, now he’d have no excuse to get lost, what with the talking GPS. Leon had sent him a selfie for that, sticking his tongue out at him childishly, rather than type out a reply.
They talked a lot more often, as a result.
It was an unending nightmare of anxiety, as far as Raihan was concerned, and he wanted it to never end. Leon followed basically none of the well-established, well-known social rules of texting. He used full sentences and precise punctuation and a combination of emojis that practically required a degree in digital cryptography to understand. He sent the weirdest, most out of context pictures and selfies, and he had a terrible habit of sending Raihan opening sentences and then not reply back for hours. It was maddening.
Still, they talked more.
They had been friends, before. Good ones, in Raihan’s humble opinion. They had their quarterly lunches or dinners and they talked about battles and pokemon and the League. Raihan had never met anyone in his life who was as excited and committed to pokemon battles as he was, before he issued his first public challenge to dethrone Leon and Leon had actually come find him to formally accept his rivalry intentions. When Leon confided in him that he was looking to include dragons in his roster, Raihan had put him through the trials and then agonized for months on which of the baby dragons in his care was best suited for Leon to raise. They talked dragons and pokemon and challengers and just how much they enjoyed their battles. Raihan was sure the main reason he’d never grown bitter, despite the endless string of defeats at Leon’s hands, was because Leon would sit with him across a table and gush for hours about those battles and how hard Raihan made him work for that victory.
It was a solid base to build a friendship, dragons and battles and their lifelong – Raihan hoped – rivalry. But now there was so much more to it.
He’d never known that Leon was a sucker for a good pun, for example. Or that he liked tea, more than coffee. Or that he’d been using the same corviknight taxi to ferry him around Galar for the past nine years, and that he was the official namesake and godfather of the driver’s now four-year-old son. Or that he had never seen a milotic in the wild.
Leon shared things easily, with that offhand clumsiness of his that often left Raihan reeling about implications and occasionally inhaling a drink in surprise. Of course, the only thing he could do was share right back, often thoughtlessly and with a minute freak out after every single reply.
Still, if it was only texting and the occasional selfie, Raihan would be fine.
“Did you know there’s literally no reason why ultraballs are black and yellow other than the lead designer being an umbreon fan?”
The problem was that Leon called, sometimes, and rotom would just answer him, the wispy little traitor, so Raihan would find himself bombarded by a conversation without appropriate preparation.
“Huh,” Raihan said, blinking up at his rotom, “that actually makes a lot of sense.” Then he remembered what he was doing, when a fully grown, grumpy kommo-o huffed at him. “Oh crap.”
“It’s bonkers,” Leon went on, utterly unaware of the precarious mess Raihan was stuck in, trying to take a batch of eggs away from a nest, right under said nest’s guardian’s nose. “We could have custom colored ultraballs, Rai.”
“Baby, that’s wonderful,” Raihan blurted out without thinking, keeping steady eye contact with the increasingly irritated kommo-o, “but I’m gonna have to call you back when I’m not about to get a hyper beam to the face.”
Rotom, mercifully, ended the call at that point. Didn’t connect Leon’s incoming calls either, until Raihan had walked out of the enclosure for the last time, and the full clutch of eggs was safe and sound in their individual incubators.
“Hi,” Raihan said, once he was sitting down and finished with a much-needed energy drink for the nerves, “sorry about that. What were you saying about ultraballs?”
“Actually, can we talk about the hyper beam first?” Leon replied, sounding concerned.
“It’s fine, I was just… y’know, taking eggs out of a nest and staring down a kommo-o while I was doing it.”
There was a pause.
“You were taking eggs out of a kommo-o’s nest?!”
“Yup,” Raihan laughed, fueled by that little bit of panic that always came with facing an almost, not quite, not-fully kinda-feral brooding kommo-o. “And I didn’t even die!”
“I thought half of your job existed because that’s illegal to do,” Leon said, somewhere between skeptical and accusatory.
“In the wild, yeah, natural selection and all that,” Raihan replied, throwing the empty energy drink can away and then walking over to the mini fridge tucked in a corner to get another. “But you kinda have to, when you’re breeding them. I say this with all the love of my heart, Lee, but dragons are pretty freaking stupid when it comes to caring for their nests.” Leon choked on a laugh, and Raihan basked on the sound almost too long for comfort. “Seriously, step on their own eggs levels of stupid. Incubators were invented for a reason, y’know?”
“Huh,” Leon said, and Raihan could just picture the look on his face, the little nose twitch he did when he figured out something new. “I guess I never really thought about what it meant for you to actually breed dragons like that.”
“I mean, truth be told, yeah, we take care of the eggs and the hatchlings, but they’re dragons, Lee. Dragons are just gonna do whatever they want.” Raihan plopped back down on a bench and shrugged at his phone, even though he knew Leon couldn’t actually see him. “All I really do is get along well enough with the breeding group that they’ll let me in and take the eggs, when they’re done laying, and just… taking care about whatever comes out of those eggs.” He snorted. “Did I tell you about the year that I got eight salandits out of a clutch of nine eggs? I don’t even want to know how or when or why that happened. ‘cause, you know. I like sleeping at night.”
“What did you even do with them?” Leon sounded morbidly fascinated.
“Same thing I do for everything that ends up hatching under my roof?” He made an effort to sound vaguely offended, as if Leon doubting his good actions hurt him deeply. “Made sure they were healthy and then found them a good home. Honestly, what kind of monster do you take me for, Lee?”
“The brooding kind,” Leon deadpanned, and then burst out laughing. “Get it? Cause like, brooding dragons? And, baby. Babies. You know.”
Raihan buried his face in his hands.
“I will hang up, Lee.”
Leon laughed, because he knew as well as Raihan did, that he wouldn’t.
“You look like shit,” Raihan said, when he opened the door and found Piers standing there, looking somewhere between manic and hungover.
“You’re going to feed me,” Piers said, shoving past Raihan into the living room, and making a bee line for the couch. “And you’re going to get me enough beer I forget today even happened.”
Given that today had been Darkest Day Remix: Electric Boogaloo, powered by the two pretenders to the throne and all the glorious, sticky complications that implied… yeah. Raihan wasn’t sure there was actually enough beer in the whole world.
“She made you ride on the doom dragon, didn’t she,” Raihan said, not asked, and snickered as Piers raised a hand and telegraphed his feelings on the matter succinctly.
“This is why I don’t do nice things for people,” Piers grumbled bitterly, “I’m retired, Raihan! I’m free! But sure, Milo comes in and asks for a no dynamax exhibition match, and like the sucker I am, I say yes. And there I was, at ground freaking zero.”
“Don’t buy it, mate,” Raihan snorted, “Milo was there, and he didn’t jump at the chance of riding the doom dragon. Admit it, you just wanted to be the big damn hero.”
“Pff, no,” Piers retorted, rolling his eyes. “I was making sure my sister’s girlfriend didn’t get herself killed somehow.” He paused. “Also, please stop talking about riding doom dragons, it sounds like you’re talking about your dick.”
“My entire ass, Piers, eat it,” Raihan snarked back with a snarl, then immediately went to sit on the half of the couch that Piers’ short ass couldn’t cover. “Marnie and Gloria are dating?”
“Eventually,” Piers sighed, folding his arms over his face. “I’m sure they’ll figure it out and feel just as silly as you and Leon will, once you stop dancing around the issue and just get a fucking room already.”
“See, just for that we’re eating sushi, you jerk,” Raihan snapped, nostrils flaring as he ignored Piers’ weak attempts to kick his thigh. “Piers.”
Piers peered at him from behind his hands, considering the shift in Raihan’s tone.
Raihan reached out to poke an ankle.
“Are you alright?”
Piers actually took a moment to think about it.
“I’ll… be.” He sighed. “I just need to not exist for a while.”
“I can work with that,” Raihan replied, snickering.
He didn’t actually order sushi, after all. Piers was gracious enough not to mention it.
Their previous not-scheduled get together had been derailed by the whole dynamaxing disaster – the one not caused by the Champion’s spoiled pet of a legendary, anyway – so Leon had stayed in a hotel room when he’d come after, to help sort out the fallout from that. Raihan hadn’t said anything about it, and figured it was for the best considering Piers stayed in his guest room for three solid months after that, and only left to record the entire album he’d composed in Raihan’s garden.
This time, Raihan’s house was entirely empty – cavernously so, sometimes, far too empty for his own thoughts to not echo if spoken out loud – but he knew better than to say anything, when he picked up Leon at his hotel the night before and took him to a new restaurant in the main street specializing on Kanto cuisine.
It was fine.
“Piers won’t fight me.”
Raihan blinked at the weirdly petulant tilt to Leon’s voice.
“I mean, it’s Piers, I think he’s got enough on his plate trying to fight his own hair, Lee,” he snarked, looking sideways down at the massive pout on Leon’s mouth.
“He was in Wyndon for a concert,” Leon said, leaning on the railing, watching Gloria and Hop chat excitedly with Raihan’s Gym Trainers, showing off the supremely relaxed doom dragon of poison and hate that, despite all odds, really was a purrloin in spirit. “And I invited him out for lunch, to catch up and just… check on him. He seemed weirded out by that.”
“See, that’s the problem,” Raihan replied, chuckling wryly. “You were nice to him. Piers assumes anyone who’s nice to him wants to screw him over. I bet you didn’t even call him names once.”
“You’re joking,” Leon said, though he didn’t sound exactly sure of himself.
“Half and half,” Raihan laughed, “don’t take it personally. He’s not exactly a social butterfly, y’know. And… let’s be honest, Lee, you’re kind of a lot.”
Raihan regretted the playful jab immediately, given the kicked yamper look Leon gave him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He asked, looking up at Raihan under the edge of his hat, seemingly turning small all of a sudden.
“Hey, hey,” Raihan replied, raising his hands placatingly. “It means you’re social, Lee. Friendly! You like chatting up people and making friends.”
“And that’s a bad thing?”
“No!” Raihan shrugged. “No, it’s just… y’know. Not a Piers thing.” He tilted his head to the side. “Why do you want to fight him anyway? He’s retired and very obnoxiously loud about the fact.”
Leon pursed his lips and looked away for a moment. Raihan wondered if he was upset, truly, and then Leon sighed and answered in a surprisingly soft tone.
“He’s your… friend,” he said, almost childishly. And then he shrugged. “He’s Gloria’s friend too, kind of,” he added, in a louder, more confident tone. “I just… I just want to know he’s doing okay, I guess.”
Raihan watched him for a moment, frowning, and then looked at his rotom phone, squinting at the time and doing the math in his head.
“C’mon,” he said abruptly, reaching a hand to grab one of Leon’s wrists. “Let’s go.”
“What?” Leon asked, but let himself be led a good three feet towards the nearest exit. “Rai, we’ve got a meeting in twenty minutes.”
Technically, Leon had a meeting in twenty minutes, with the governing body of the power plant that still lived under Raihan’s Stadium. Raihan was keenly aware he was merely invited as a courtesy. He also knew it was just a waste of two hours, talking about how everything was exactly the same was it had been the quarter prior, only peppered with nicer graphics to make it look like they had improved somehow. It was inane.
“So?” Raihan said, eyebrows arched. “I bet you’ve never missed a meeting in your life, huh.”
“Of course not!” Leon flushed, tugging at his wrist but not really hard enough to escape Raihan’s grip. “That’d be… unprofessional,” he added, though the phrase sounded rehearsed, like something he’d been told over and over again and then became kind of thoughtlessly true in his head.
“Screw that,” Raihan insisted, “c’mon, Chairman, you can be truant one day and the world won’t end.”
For a moment there, Raihan almost pulled away and let go of Leon’s wrist. But then Leon smiled, that mischievous tilt of lips he used whenever he did something clever and Raihan was left reeling after one of his dragons got solidly taken out. He was then tempted to do something even more reckless and ridiculous like tilt his head and lean in and maybe kiss Leon for it. He didn’t. Obviously.
But he did grin back, when Leon tugged his hat down to hide his face.
“Alright, alright, but just today!”
Raihan knew exactly what to do.
Spikemuth was the kind of place Leon should never be allowed to roam in, unsupervised. The streets were narrow and twisty and there was a defiantly erratic hand in the layout, with diagonal and curved streets all over the place, as if someone had purposely chosen to design the city as a protest against the orderly grid that all other major settlements in Galar had been built in. Raihan would not be surprised to learn that was true, either. Then again, Spikemuth was the kind of place that had literally built domes over its streets to keep sunlight out, just to make a statement.
Raihan chose not to tell Leon that he didn’t really know how to navigate the place from memory: most of the time he just followed the sound of Piers’ gigs and let the crowd lead the way.
Spikemuth had been a sore sight, while Leon had still been Champion, even if they’d never admit it.
There were crowds, now, like there had been way back, when Raihan had first visited the city as part of his first ever Gym Challenge. He knew Leon wouldn’t understand why that significant, but there was something profoundly comforting for Raihan, to see the neon lights shining bright and little clusters of people coming and going, loud and unrepentant and no longer pushed to the sidelines like they’d been before. The pink and black and spikey look was as ubiquitous as ever, and there was a sizable contingent of storefronts now cheerfully selling merch for Piers’ latest album and Marnie’s Gym Leader look, with equal fervor.
Raihan told himself he was keeping an arm around Leon’s shoulders just to make sure he didn’t lose the wayward former Champion in the crowd. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact Leon still fit really nicely under his arm, tucked against his side, or that he was enjoying that in anyway.
Of course not.
Eventually, they found themselves spilling out into the fence-ringed plaza that served both as Piers’ favorite concert venue and Marnie’s official stadium. In the stage at the back, Piers was busy rehearsing, voice finding a chorus in the excited sea of people who clustered close to the stage and happily jeered and sang back at him. Crucially, not all of them were members of Team Yell. It was well known Piers kept his practice schedule and saw no reason to keep the sessions private. He’d told Raihan someone had gotten the bright idea to try and charge a ticket to enter the plaza and Team Yell had cheerfully beaten the tar out of them until it became crystal clear that kind of thing was not allowed in Spikemuth. He didn’t mind if the people who came to listen to the rehearsals stuck around the town and had lunch or bought jewelry or any number of things now available on the streets again.
They settled in the sidelines to watch Piers’ rehearsal, close enough to listen clearly, but not enough to get swept away by the mob-turned-mosh pit of fans screaming back at him along the chorus of each song.
“This is a new low for you, Raihan,” Piers said, when he finished a set and left the stage to zero in on them in a way that let Raihan know the choice of songs in the last leg of that set had not been coincidence, either. “You take your boyfriend out on a date and you’re too cheap to even buy him tickets to an actual concert?”
Leon made a choking noise in the back of his throat at the jab and immediately started to cough up a lung.
“Eat my entire—you know the rest,” Raihan snarled on reflex, face flushed.
“A-ha,” Piers purred back, smug and annoying as only he could be, simultaneously shoving a water bottle in Leon’s face without bothering to look at him. “You know how I feel about that.”
“So does the entirety of Galar at this point,” Raihan said, shaking his head. “Also, my ‘boyfriend’,” he went on, making finger quotes in the air around the world, “wants to kick your teeth in.”
“No, I don’t!” Leon squeaked, voice cracking somewhere between choked and flustered “I’m not—what I mean—hi.”
He hung his head, pulling at his hat to hide his face.
“Hi,” Piers drawled, one eyebrow arched. “Kick in my teeth, huh?”
“No, no, no,” Leon insisted, waving his hands placatingly, “he’s joking! I think. I was just-“
“Maybe you need your teeth kicked in?” Piers asked, leering slightly. “Because I-“
“Keep forgetting you don’t call the shots here anymore,” Marnie interrupted, walking up behind Piers to wrap an arm around his waist and seamlessly tuck herself under his arm. “Team Yell is forbidden from starting random fights with people anymore.”
“Tch,” Piers scoffed, rolling his eyes even as he tugged Marnie close to his side. “Going mad with power, huh.”
Marnie shrugged and caught sight of Raihan’s grin. As always, she gave him a perfectly innocent look, the sort that always ended with Raihan giving her whatever she wanted and Piers bitching at him about spoiling his sister rotten.
“Now, on the other hand, Spikemuth would be delighted to host an exhibition match,” she added, eyebrows arched and expression perfectly blank. “Good for PR, and all.”
“That would be lovely!” Leon said, jumping at the chance because he was an idiot who didn’t know that you should never accept friendly battle offers from dark-type users unless you wanted your teeth to get literally kicked in. “I’d be delighted, Marnie, if-“
“As will be Raihan, for sure,” Marnie went on, not bothering to look at him. “A single round of doubles should be good enough, right?” She smiled, just the tiniest sliver, which Raihan knew from experience was entirely too cute for how evil it usually was. “A former Gym leader and a former Champion, and their Gym Leader partners… it should be interesting, and you’re always talking about how not enough people see the importance of doubles, right, Raihan?”
“About the same as Piers does about people using dynamaxing as a crutch,” Raihan agreed, resigned to his fate. “Winner pays for lunch, how about that?”
Given the way Piers laughed, Raihan knew he understood his implicit resignation for the upcoming defeat.
“Alright, you!” Piers yelled suddenly, turning to the crowd still lingering about, “out of the way! Gym business incoming!”
In fifteen minutes flat, the plaza had emptied in such a way that the official stadium space was cleared out while the crowd had rearranged itself in the sidelines, and was quickly growing. An announcer appeared literally out of nowhere, and after a moment of consideration, Raihan let his rotom phone loose, and started live streaming the whole encounter.
It wasn’t a fair fight, not by a long shot.
He and Leon were not particularly well versed as double partners, and they had little chance to prepare or coordinate some kind of joint strategy to take down Piers and Marnie, who, Raihan knew, were really good doubles partners, considering that’s how Piers had taught Marnie the basics of pokemon battles when she was little. He’d also misread Marnie entirely, thinking his flygon would be a good enough counter to her morpeko at least half the time, and instead found himself at the mercy of her grimmsnarl, all the time. Leon had defied tradition and attempted to get the upper hand by being unpredictable and using rhyperior instead of charizard, probably expecting Piers to be thrown by the typing and get blindsided by megahorn. Except it hadn’t been enough to one-shot Piers’ obstagoon, which Raihan knew from experience was tankier and way more resilient than one would expect, and also knew counter, which was definitely enough to take out rhyperior in one shot after a single megahorn.
Despite the loss, Raihan was reasonably certain his ulterior motive had been suitably fulfilled, as Leon went on the expected gushing tirade about it and Piers was put in the precarious position of receiving such earnest praise, while Marnie stoically navigated the streets and led them all to dinner. Which she paid for, and then politely excused herself from, when Piers started goading Leon to stay for a round of drinks or two, since he’d been a good sport about the whole thing.
A drink with dessert stretched into drinks at Piers’ favorite karaoke bar in town, which of course ended up with Raihan witnessing Leon and Piers slurring a very loud duet interpretation of Piers’ first single If Only You’d Tell Him and trying not to die into his beer. It got to the point extreme measures had to be taken, like pulling up his hood and tugging at the strings until his face was hidden from the world, lest anyone saw how brightly he was blushing. It was one thing to know Piers was essentially building a music empire on the sad wasteland that was Raihan’s sex life. It was another entirely to have Leon be the one performing those songs, blissfully unaware of what they meant.
“You’re an idiot,” Piers pointed out, following Raihan out of to the corviknight taxi spot outside the city gates, hands in the pockets of his pants and steps slightly uneven. “Just so you know.”
“I know,” Raihan said, carrying Leon sprawled on his back, hands holding onto Leon’s knees, while Leon’s arms and his head were thrown bonelessly over Raihan’s shoulders, as he cheerfully hummed a tune under his breath, “trust me.”
“The greatest idiot,” Piers insisted, holding open the door while Raihan shifted Leon about and got him sitting on the inside of the cab without banging his head on anything. “If you’d just literally just tell him, Raihan-“
“Night, Piers!” Raihan said loudly, closing the door almost on Piers’ face.
“Bye, Piers!” Leon said, launching himself forward and not falling face first into the floor because Raihan caught him in time. He shifted until he was halfway on Raihan’s lap, halfway pressed against the window. “I love your songs! Do you know? Because I do. They’re so good.”
“I know,” Piers said, eyebrows arched in amusement. His eyes glinted at the prospect of Raihan’s suffering. “And if you’d only tell him,“ he began singing, infuriatingly smug.
“How you feel!” Leon chirped back, slightly offkey. “ Maybe it wouldn’t be just in your head”
The ride back to Hammerlocke was a trial, if nothing else because now Raihan had to live with the knowledge of how well Leon fit in his lap, slurring out Piers’ passive aggressive bullshit into his chest.
So there was that.
Sometime after the double battle against Piers and Marnie – which had caused a scandal all over social media, Leon losing at anything pokemon related – and with the Gym Challenge season fast approaching, Raihan found himself falling into a routine, as Leon’s calls became more predictable, slotted into specific gaps in his schedule. It was nice. Torturous as always, sure, but nice.
“I told him applins weren’t actually regulated, per se, it’s the orchards used to evolve them, but he insisted he felt weird just going out and getting one, like he was abusing a loophole or something,” Raihan sighed, sitting on a stool in front of the small counter in his kitchen where he ate pretty much always, because there was no point in eating in the dining room, if it was only him and three or four boxes or takeout. Besides, he had a nice view of the garden and his pokemon chilling about, so that was nice, too. “So I guess I’m breeding applins, now, because Milo is too much of a goody two shoes to go out his backyard and… y’know. Catch one.”
“That sounds like Milo alright,” Leon chuckled, “he’s always been very… rules oriented. Makes working with him very easy, too.”
“Speak for yourself, Chairman,” Raihan snorted. “I now have to go get an applin, raise it into a flapple or an appletun, introduce it to my breeding cluster, and then basically pray that one of my clutches will eventually hatch an applin to give him.” He sighed. “Because Milo doesn’t want to break a rule, that’s not even actually a rule.”
Leon chuckled, across the line, and Raihan basked in the sound. It was worth getting dramatic about things, if only because it made Leon laugh to varying degrees, and with the stress mounting as he prepared to lead his very first Gym Challenge as Chairman of Macro Cosmo and Head of the League, his amusement became rarer and rarer by the day.
“I mean, you could have said no,” Leon pointed out, “and you didn’t! That’s really nice of you, Rai.”
“What can I say,” Raihan sighed, “I’m a sucker for lost causes, huh.”
There was a moment of silence, as he heard Leon shuffle papers around his desk. Raihan reached out to grab the half empty can of soda that came with his dinner, and gave Leon time to sort out his thoughts. He got quiet, sometimes, while they were taking, right before he launched into a different topic. But it wasn’t like Raihan had anything more pressing to do – Leon’s new schedule to call him was very consciously not conflicting with Raihan’s Gym duties, including the part where he took eggs out of their nest while the parents watched, so that was a plus – and the conversations were, admittedly – and guiltily – the highlight of his days.
“Am I a fuckup?” Raihan choked on his drink, spat it clear across the table and collapsed into a coughing fit. “Rai?” Leon’s voice asked, clearly alarmed, as Raihan’s rotom phone circled his head worriedly. “Are you okay?”
“Yes!” Raihan rasped, clutching at his own throat. “Sorry, caught me off there, Lee.”
“Oh,” Leon sounded strangely quiet, somewhat deflated. “I’m sorry, you don’t have to answer that.”
“You’re not a fuckup, Lee,” Raihan insisted, leaning in to stare at his rotom as if Leon could see him.
“I mean, I get lost in a straight corridor, Rai,” Leon replied, laughing, but there was a hollow ring to it. “And… I guess I didn’t realize how isolated from real life I was, spending so much time stuck in the whole Champion bubble, until it stopped, y’know? I’ve spent more time with my taxi driver than my actual brother. Or my family in general. And I knew there were going to be sacrifices, right? There’s a price to pay, to be the best. But-“
“Lee,” Raihan said, frowning.
“…it just never occurred to me I could just stop.”
Raihan frowned at his phone, debated internally for a moment and then grabbed a napkin to rub all over his face and make sure it was clean before he poked the corner of rotom’s mouth and turned on video.
“You’re not a fuckup, Lee,” Raihan said, staring down intently at his rotom. He waited and waited, but Leon never turned on video on his side, so he swallowed a shrug and offered a small smile. “Look, you took a really shitty situation with Rose and all his stupid nonsense, and you’ve been trying to make it better. You’ve been working hard on turning Macro Cosmos around and making sure it’s doing the best for Galar. When Rose got arrested, everything could have gone to shit, Leon, and you didn’t let it. You stepped up the plate and started to fix things.”
“But I didn’t have a choice, Rai,” Leon replied, sounding very, very small. “You make it sound so noble and… I’m not.” He laughed, a little wet around the edges. “I never had a choice, you know? The moment I became Champion, Rose just… took over. It didn’t matter if I was tired or homesick or actually ill or anything. I was the Champion, and it was my responsibility to be the best, always. And I just took it for granted that’s how it was supposed to be. I got used to it. The hotel hopping, the skipping family days, the idea that I didn’t get off days. I didn’t really think about it, I just… grew into it.” He paused. “I’ve been trying really hard to not do to Gloria any of the things that Rose did to me that I hated, but she’s made me realize that even the things I didn’t hate where fucked up, too. And I am too much of a fuckup to realize it on my own.”
“Gloria just told me she’s stepping down as Champion, at the end of the next Gym Challenge,” Leon whispered, “regardless of whether she wins or loses against a challenger.” He sniffled suspiciously. “And she was really nice about it, when she told me. That she hasn’t spent a solid week home since her own Gym Challenge started, and how she misses her mom and the fact she has two legendaries to look after, too.” Leon swallowed hard. “But she also said she didn’t want to be me, and… yeah, when I think about it, I don’t think I want to be me either. Who would?”
“I think a lot of people want to be you,” Raihan said, after taking a deep breath, and folding his arms on the counter and offering a wry smile as he was keenly aware shutting off video would be a bad idea now. “They just don’t know what it means to be you. I didn’t know what it means to be you, and I like to think we’re close-“
“Of course we’re close,” Leon interrupted, earnest as anything. “Rai, you’re my best friend in the whole world and the greatest rival anyone could ask for.”
“Thanks, Lee,” Raihan chuckled. “But my point is, maybe you felt like you didn’t have a choice, when Rose got arrested and everyone just assumed, you’d take over, right? But you do have a choice. And you have a choice to not be whatever it is you are today that you don’t want to be. You can stop. You can do whatever makes you happy, you don’t owe anyone anything.” Raihan grinned. “And no, you’re not a fuckup. Even if you get lost in a straight corridor.” He winked. “It’s kidna cute, actually.”
“Oh,” Leon said, voice oddly breathy, which Raihan took to mean he’d overstepped like an idiot, but before he could apologize, Leon continued. “Thank you, Rai. You’re the best.”
“It’s what I do, Lee.” Raihan smiled. “Are you gonna be okay?”
“I’ll try,” Leon sighed. “I’m sorry, Rai. For just… throwing all of that at you. I’m just-“
“Hey, what I’m here for if not motivate you to be better, right?” Raihan laughed. “And hey, if it all fails, you still have keys to my place. Come hide in my guestroom until it all stops mattering, right?”
Raihan promised himself a beer once they hung up and Leon didn’t have to see him trying to claw his own eyes out at how stupid he was.
It was fine.
Apparently Raihan was the only person who’d gotten the heads up, about the Champion’s impending resignation. What he hadn’t gotten, though, was the heads up about Leon’s. Together, they made the week after the Championship Tournament into a nightmare of screaming speculation and dumb social media hot takes that were giving Raihan flashbacks to his first days as Gym Leader.
Raihan figured the best thing he could do was wait for it all to die down, so he instead focused on other things. Important things. Like digging out a pond in the backyard and pretending that made sense at all, instead of being just an outlet for all the extra nervous energy that kept him pacing up and down the stairs every so often.
“You could go down there,” Piers pointed out, sitting in the shade of a large umbrella, slurping his drink with a straw, because of course he’d come in to watch Raihan be stupid as soon as Raihan posted a selfie with a shovel, and made a production out of it. “Y’know. To Postwick. Check on him and see how he’s doing.”
Piers just was that kind of an ass, of course.
“He’s spending time with his family,” Raihan replied, giving Piers a suitably dirty look. “He doesn’t need me there making things weird like some kind of needy dumb stalker.”
“Oh so you’re trying the long-distance thing, then.”
Raihan considered throwing a shovel-full of dirt at him, for his trouble.
“Eat my ass, Piers,” he said instead, digging a bit more forcefully than strictly necessary. “He’s… got a lot to deal with right now, he doesn’t need my bullshit making everything weird.”
“So you’re just going to stay here, dig out a pond for some reason, and make everything weird that way,” Piers summarized, clearly skeptical.
“Maybe I just like landscaping!” Raihan snarled, knee-deep in a rather pitiful looking hole with dubious aspirations to become a pond. “Maybe this is a new hobby I wanna take up on. Why can’t you be supportive for once in your life, Piers?”
Piers stared down his nose at him, and the fact he had a piña colada in one hand, frilly paper umbrella and all, did nothing to lessen the effect of that stare.
Raihan swallowed hard and then let out a defeated sigh, head hanging low.
“…his parents have a pond in their backyard, and he’s been talking nonstop about how much fun he’s been having with it—” Piers burst out cackling like a goddamn mightyena. “Shut up!”
“I’m going to tell him, Raihan,” Piers said, once he stopped wheezing. “I swear I will. I will march up his front door, ring the doorbell and tell him to come here and fucking save me from how stupid you are.”
“You wouldn’t,” Raihan hissed, bristling in a panic.
Piers sighed so loudly, it seemed like his entire body slumped with the motion.
“No, I wouldn’t,” he said, swirling his drink pensively. “Even though I really should.” He arched an eyebrow disdainfully. “Did you know I had to explain to him that we’re not dating?”
Raihan missed his step, slipped and sprawled into the mound of dirt he’d piled at the edge of his would-be pond.
“I don’t know how you managed to fuck up so badly that he ended up thinking that,” he said, rolling his eyes with a flourish. “But I had to explain to him that we are not, in fact, a thing. I also had to explain to him that his brother is not dating his rival, on account of her dating my sister. Which they are, by the way. Dating, I mean. Officially and stuff.” He rolled his eyes, again. “So congratu-fucking-lations, Raihan. My sixteen-year-old sister managed to do in one year, what you haven’t been able to figure out in a goddamn decade. Color me impressed.”
Raihan contemplated the wholly reasonable course of action, which was, of course, to jump into the hole he’d spent all morning digging, lie down on it, and politely ask Piers to bury him in place so no one had to deal with the abject failure that was his love life.
A month after the end of the Gym Challenge, with summer just starting, Raihan opened the door one morning and found Leon standing awkwardly on the steps, one suitcase and a wary look on his face.
“Hi, Rai,” Leon said, holding his hat in his hands and nervously scrunching it up as he stood in place, weight shifting from one foot to the other.
“Hi, Lee,” Raihan replied, blinking in surprise, because he was fairly sure Leon had not actually knocked the door. “What are you doing here?” He asked, and as always, immediately regretted it, when Leon winced. “I mean, it’s good to see you, always. I just… wasn’t expecting to see you,” he finished, rather lamely.
Leon laughed, an awkward rasp in the back of his throat, and offered a small shrug.
“I mean, it took me a while to find my way here, but I’ve been multitasking and trying not to talk myself out of asking, so…” He licked his lips and looked up at Raihan rather hopefully. “I was… wondering if you’d mind, if I stayed here a while. I mean, I know you gave me the keys and told me I was welcome anytime, but… I don’t want to assume or anything. And it’s okay! If you mind, I mean. I know I’m… a lot, and you’re really busy with the Gym and the Vault and stuff. I just… I figured I’d ask.”
“Sure,” Raihan said, which was mercifully a bit less embarrassing than the initial please stay forever that had almost crawled up his throat on reflex. He grinned at the tentative smile Leon gave him. “Lee, I gave you those keys for a reason, you’re always welcome here. However long you need, it’s fine.”
The hug caught him by surprise. Raihan swayed slightly as Leon attached himself to him, arms wrapped up tight around his back and face buried into his chest. It took him a second, hands hovering awkwardly, before he swallowed hard and wrapped is arms around Leon, returning the hold.
Alas, it couldn’t just stretch wonderfully into forever, and the moment was eventually ruined by Raihan’s stomach rumbling rather loudly, considering he’d been on his way to hunt down breakfast.
“I was going to say I’d pay rent,” Leon said, laughing as he stepped back, blinking up at Raihan with a grin. “But I can also pay you in food.”
“Oh no,” Raihan gasped, mock-shocked, “it’s super effective!”
Leon beamed, that same bright smile of his that Raihan swore could illuminate the entirety of Galar for a year, if only someone tried to harness its power.
“It’s a deal then,” he said, and Raihan didn’t lean in and kiss him right there and there because he was a goddamn fucking idiot.
“It’s a deal, Lee.”
Piers was never going to let him hear the end of it.
Living with Leon was an unmitigated nightmare.
He woke up ungodly early every morning, and there was always coffee and breakfast waiting for Raihan downstairs, whenever he crawled out of bed. He went on errands every other morning, until he got too lost to find his way home, and then he often texted or called Raihan to come fish him out of whatever obscure corner of Hammerlocke he’d ended up stuck in. He dutifully took over babysitting duty whenever Raihan had baby dragons to look after, or otherwise spoiled his and Raihan’s pokemon rotten without a second thought. And yes, he enjoyed sitting at the edge of the pond that Raihan had eventually finished setting up, and kicked his bare feet on the water, whenever it got too hot to wear pants. Every inch of Raihan’s house had a thin patina of Leon on it, either his books or the smell of his cologne or the aroma of whatever he was cooking now or the sound of his voice echoing from the garden.
Raihan wanted to die, it was great.
When the time came for his yearly camping trip with Piers, Leon had promised to not burn the house down and assured him he had everything under control. Raihan believed him enough to leave two angry jangmo-os and a nibble-happy axew under his care. It wasn’t, he told himself, that big of a deal. Leon was a dragon trainer himself and he’d raised baby dragons before. And he seemingly loved baby dragons apparently. It would be fine.
It was fine.
“I have two terabytes of video, of him playing with baby dragon pokemon, Piers,” Raihan said, lying next to him as they stared at the stars in the sky. “Just… end me, now. End my suffering.”
“Instructions unclear,” Piers snorted, arms folded behind his head, “do I kill you or do I call him and tell him how you feel?”
“I think I’m going to do it,” Raihan whispered, and then swallowed hard. “I think I’m actually gonna do it this time. I just… he sings your awful fucking songs while he does chores around the house and he wears his hair up in a messy bun when he’s doing dishes and he just cooks, every day, and I just can’t, okay? I thought I could, but I can’t. I gotta tell him, I’m going to die otherwise.”
“I mean, I’ve just been telling you to do that for years now,” Piers snorted unkindly, “you’ll excuse me if I don’t exactly believe you until you actually do it.”
“I’m gonna do it,” Raihan insisted, “I have to.”
If all he had to contend with was Piers’ skepticism, he would have been fine.
But then the hydreigon attacked.
It wasn’t the worst camping trip in history, of course – that privilege still was reserved for the year Piers accidentally pissed off the entire noivern population in the Lake of Outrage and their trip had been cut short by a rather frantic retreat to avoid getting torn to pieces. This wasn’t that… of course not, but it was one hell of a start for their week.
Particularly when Piers’ reaction was a choked oh shit and an instinctive pokeball throw.
“Did you just-“ Raihan spluttered, as they watched the little ball wobble in place.
“It’s a third stage dragon at full health, Raihan,” Piers snapped, “of course I’m not going to catch it, it’s just a distraction…” Of course, he trailed off as the ball finally stopped and the light indicator went off, signaling a successful catch. “Aw, fuck.”
“You can’t just catch wild dragons, Piers!” Raihan snapped, reaching out to grab him and shake him in place. “That’s illegal, you idiot!”
“I’m not going to keep it!” Piers snapped back, feet dangling in the air. “I’ll just release it, okay?”
“Good fucking luck with that,” Raihan snarled, and then let him drop back to the ground. “Why do you think we screen potential trainers so hard? You can’t release dragons once you catch them, they just refuse to go.”
“…huh,” Piers said, reaching down to grab the pokeball, “that actually makes a lot of sense.”
“I know right?” Raihan muttered sarcastically, “I do things for a reason, who knew!”
“Get off that high mudsdale, Raihan,” Piers snorted, “we were just discussing how bad you are at doing what you’re supposed to do.”
Raihan supposed – internally, to himself only – that Piers’ accidental capture was a blessing in disguise. Sure, he was going to have to lie on official records to hide the fact they’d done the one thing no one was allowed to do in the Lake of Outrage, and the rest of the trip devolved into a crash course on dragon rearing to help Piers wear down the worst of his new hydreigon. But at least that meant Raihan didn’t have much time to think about Leon, back home, and Piers certainly didn’t have time to compose a new song or berate him endlessly about the disaster that was his love life.
Silver linings and all that.
The house was not on fire, when he got home. All baby pokemon were happy and well looked-after. Leon still woke up before six in the morning and hummed Piers’ latest single as he slid down the handrail on the stairs. Still, Raihan had a plan. A good one! He had reservations to a really good restaurant up in Wyndon, Henri was providing the clothes for the occasion and Milo had hooked him up with the best florist in Turffield as a preemptive thank you for that applin Raihan was still trying to breed for him. He only got one shot at it, so it had to be perfect, every detail calculated and accounted for.
Just a few days more, and then… it would be time to face the music.
But in the meantime, he told himself there was nothing creepy in basking in the sight of Leon, messy bun and everything, cooking breakfast in the morning. The man baked muffins, for fuck’s sake. Raihan was only human.
“I’m in love with you.”
Raihan inhaled his muffin, poured boiling coffee down his pants with his flailing and then unceremoniously fell off the stool.
“Rai!” Leon dove in to help him upright and also possibly get him to stop coughing up a lung. “I’m so sorry, I was just-“
Leon flushed and fiddled with a spatula.
“Look, I’ve been thinking about it for a long while, and, it’s really dishonest of me to not tell you how I feel,” he said, licking his lips and studiously not looking at Raihan in the eye. “It’s okay if you don’t feel that way, please don’t think you have to… humor me or my feelings. It’s just… you’re my best friend and my greatest rival and I really do love you. It’s… cowardly of me, to pretend I don’t and… I understand if you don’t feel that way. I just… I need you to know. That’s all.”
“It’s okay if you don’t feel that way,” Leon insisted, hands clutching onto that spatula like a shield that would protect him from the world. “I can deal with my feelings on my own, and if… hell, if you think I should move out, I will. I just… Mum said honesty was the best policy, but I was just procrastinating on it, and then I realized I was being cowardly about it. So!” He offered a very shaky smile. “Yeah. I love you.”
Leon swallowed hard when Raihan reached out to hold his face in his hands. There was a moment of hesitation, a slight pause as Raihan gathered aplomb, and then he leaned in and kissed him, just a brush of lips. The spatula clattered loudly on the floor, between them.
“Yeah?” Raihan asked, pulling back enough to watch Leon’s face get warmer and warmer by the second. “Lee?”
Leon swallowed hard.
The next kiss was nowhere near as tentative, for sure.
Later, much later, closer to noon than morning, Raihan laid as long as he was on his bed, one hand absently playing with the tips of Leon’s hair, as Leon melted comfortably against his chest, basking in the moment.
“You asked your mum on advice for this,” Raihan pointed out, more amused than anything. Leon flushed and curled up slightly, burying his face into Raihan’s chest. “Lee.”
“Look, I was under a lot of stress, fighting off an identity crisis and probably having something of a meltdown,” he whined, sneaking his arms around Raihan to cling properly. “I had a bit of a cry in the kitchen, so Mum made me tea and told me to move in with you.”
“Seriously?” Raihan asked, nudging Leon up slightly so he would face him.
Leon shrugged and refused to look at him in the eye.
“She said living with you would let me know if it was just a crush or something else,” he admitted, licking his lips, which were still sporting the imprint of Raihan’s teeth on them. “And it did, so there!” He swallowed hard. “I want us to work out, Rai.”
“I mean, how couldn’t we, Lee,” Raihan teased, leaning in to press his lips to the corner of Leon’s jaw. “We’re the best at everything. It’s our thing.”
The way Leon smiled, Raihan actually believed it.
Leon’s new pet project, a post Gym Challenge League of sorts, to formally phase out the figure of a Champion for the region, was the kind of ambitious thing only Leon could, not only come up with, but deliver on. After months of fretting about it and bouncing ideas off Raihan – among other things, ahem – the great day had come. Leon fussed about his clothes until Raihan pulled him up for a kiss and refused to let go until Leon’s knees were buckling slightly. Then he turned him around and shoved him out into the spotlights with a smirk, and made sure to leer appropriately every single time Leon caught his eye in the crowd.
Gloria and Hop served as the central act, with a six on six exhibition match that ended with Hop pulling a win after his dubwool was the last one standing, albeit barely. The audience was almost as excited about that, as they were about the whole new album Piers premiered in the opening ceremony.
After the concert, there were battles held in each floor of the newly christened Battle Tower, with Leon running up and down the entire building, keeping an eye on things. Raihan kept to the sidelines, offering the occasional hug, water bottle or chance to sit and recharge for a few minutes, but otherwise let Leon take center stage. It was a resounding success, any way one cared to look at it. Participants were pumped from all the different battles, the audience was enthralled, and Leon was beaming like a miniature sun liable to blind any who looked at him without proper eye protection.
“Had enough warmup for today?” Raihan asked, long after everyone had left, and he found Leon standing in on the upper most field, staring up at the sky. “Up for one last round with your rival?”
“Single or doubles?” Leon asked, looking at Raihan over his shoulder, confident but serene.
“Oho, cocky,” Raihan taunted, walking up to the center of the field with his hands in his pockets, “you’re gonna teach me doubles now?”
“Show you what I’ve learned, more like,” Leon shot back, ultraball already at hand. “I heard the Hammerlocke Gym Leader is pretty ruthless when it comes to doubles!”
Raihan grinned, fangs in full display.
“I heard he’s looking for a partner,” he said, pulling a ball from his belt, “won’t settle for anything less than the best.”
Leon’s eyes gleamed as he released his pokemon with due flair.
“I guess he can stop looking now.”
Raihan laughed, well aware the actual result of the battle was pretty meaningless at that point.
“I guess he can!”
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to give it his all, every time, all the time.
You could say it was his thing.