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Raihan does not love him. This he knows. 

 

He could catalogue the reasons, use up half the pages in one of his songbooks scribbling evidence and anecdotes til his fingers are sore, but what’s the use? If he cared, it’d only be funny to him. 

 

Raihan does not love him, and Piers knows because he barely has time to catch his breath before the mattress creaks with the sudden absence of Raihan’s weight.

 

Piers sits up. Finds Raihan’s hoodie on the ground beside him and tosses it over. Watches as the corner of his mouth lifts a little—the closest thing to a thank you he’s going to get. 

 

Raihan dresses; Piers watches. Any bodily confidence he’d gained in the heat of intimacy is evaporating, and even though Raihan’s preoccupied with tying his shoe, Piers pulls the covers up to his chest. “I can walk you out if y’like.”

 

“S’alright,” Raihan says, too quickly. Piers almost laughs. Not like he expected him to take him up on that offer, anyway. 

 

Raihan stands, and Piers takes in the view of him. He looks much taller, towering above him like this. The room is dark, but the neon glow of Spikemuth streets push past Piers’s blinds and cast Raihan in soft pink light. He’s got his hands in his pockets, fully dressed, fully composed. 

 

Piers knows, were he to look at himself, he’d see a mess. He’s already dreading the time he’ll spend brushing knots from his hair where Raihan had tangled his fingers.

 

“That was good,” Raihan says, and it seems sincere enough. 

 

Piers nods, because he’s right. But it’s not like him to accept praise. “Y’know you can leave without complimentin’ me.”

 

A deep, hearty breath escapes Raihan, and whether it’s humor or exasperation is anybody’s guess. Piers elects not to push it, and then Raihan is gone, and the posters hanging on the door are fluttering with the motion of his exit.

 

\\

 

Piers knows that it’s not he who Raihan loves, and he couldn’t be more okay with that. 

 

He wonders which of the clues ultimately led him to figure this out. 

 

Could’ve been that Raihan insisted on keeping the lights off, whichever of their rooms they were in that night. Not like it mattered all that much when he closed his eyes anyway. Must make it all the easier to picture someone else.

 

Could’ve been Raihan’s obsession with Piers’s hair. Piers used to think it was romantic, the way Raihan would go straight for his ponytail while they ground their hips together, tongues pressed to teeth. He’d pull out Piers’s hair and let it flow freely across his back, tangle his long fingers through it, ball it up in his fist and pull hard enough to make Piers choke on his own breath. What an idiot he‘d been to think he was anything more than a placeholder.

 

Piers knows what tipped him off, and it didn’t happen in either of their bedrooms. It happened, in fact, in Wyndon, where Piers had sat in the locker room during the ongoing tournament. 

 

“They’re something, huh,” Kabu had said, and cocked his head up at the monitor. The battle had just ended—Champion has bested Dragon Tamer, as usual—and Raihan strode to shake Leon’s hand. Even through the screen, Piers could almost sense the electricity in Raihan’s eyes when they met Leon’s.

 

Aqua meets gold. Insatiable meets unbeatable. 

 

They embraced. The ground shook with the crowd’s roar. Piers willed himself to look away.

 

\\

 

“Arceus, fuck!” is all Raihan has to say from his position between Piers’s legs.

 

Piers huffs. His mattress is shit. The high-pitched creaking is enough to give anyone a headache—he’s gotta focus on that so he doesn’t finish. Not before Raihan. “What, that’s the best you can do?”

 

That hits its mark. Raihan surges forward, pushing deeper, and Piers’s moan is cut short by a hand clamping over his mouth. It’s both satisfying and degrading, but he’s not in the headspace to think much about it. It’s easier to take it this way, silent. Doesn’t have to think too much about saying something within Raihan’s perfect fantasy.

 

Raihan digs his teeth into Piers’s shoulder when he comes. Piers digs his nails across Raihan’s skin.

 

They lapse into familiarity. Tense, heavy silence. Tissues are exchanged. Breathing slows. 

 

Raihan is the first to speak. “Damn it, Piers.” He’s grinning. 

 

Piers is a little taken aback. He’s not sure why. Later, he’ll write it off as being unused to his name coming from Raihan’s mouth. “Don’t be fallin’ in love with me now, you gotta get outta here before Marnie gets back.”

 

Raihan laughs. Must be because the idea of anyone loving him is so outrageous it’s funny, Piers thinks. Such a thing could only make sense as a joke.

 

“Brat,” Raihan says, with no bite. Ironic.

 

“Narcissus,” Piers counters. This is playful. This is fine. He starts gathering his hair to put back up into a ponytail. “Get outta here.”

 

As if he has to ask; Raihan’s already dressing. “Yeah, yeah, I’m on it.” There’s a pause while he shrugs on his jacket.

 

“Y’sure you don’t want me to walk you out?” Piers says, because it’s later in the night than usual, and there’s something he’s been wondering.

 

Raihan’s eyes twitch—a moment of hesitation, the smallest fraction of a second that gives Piers his answer. That Raihan’s uncomfortable in Spikemuth, that he for just one second feared his safety enough to even consider Piers’s offer.

 

It feels like a stone is dropped in his stomach. He wants to spit in Raihan’s face for assuming the city’s desperation makes its people a threat.

 

Ignorant. Ignorant. Ignorant.

 

And Raihan is oblivious, smiling and saying “No, I think I can handle myself,” because even though he’s scared of getting brutally mugged by some rogue Team Yell, that is a much better fate than the embarrassing act of being seen with Piers, or worse yet, photographed.

 

Piers knows all of this with absolute certainty. “Right then. Off you go.”

 

\\

 

He learned a while ago not to ask Raihan to go to his shows. Soon after that he stopped looking for him in the crowd. No use searchin’ for something you won’t find.

 

Piers isn’t too bothered by it. His fans—and he hates calling them that, but what else can he say—worship him, chanting his name and shaking the floor and making him feel as welcome as he needs to.

 

And it’s cliché, but singing is therapeutic. Combine that with stomping around the stage and it’s pure ecstasy. He’s strategic; the songs he plays onstage are always vague enough to be relatable, but with as much vulnerability as he can manage without the press going haywire with rumors about his personal life. The deeper songs stay on paper. He almost regrets that the show’s over so soon, but

 

Piers doesn’t do encores.

 

As soon as he closes the dressing room door, his ears are ringing. It’s not irritating, though, and when he deposits himself in front of the mirror he’s smiling. 

 

The eyeliner he’d put on is smudged to hell, but he likes it that way. Marnie had earlier tried to peddle him some of her 24-hour ultra-hold makeup and he’d gratefully refused, citing the satisfaction in seeing your work undone by the strength of pure emotion and effort. She’d shrugged and told him where to find it anyway. 

 

Great kid. She’s already a better gym leader than he ever was.

 

He finds wipes under loose pages of sheet music and gets to work swiping away the grey-black smudges around his eyes. These he actually had taken from Marnie, with her permission, of course. Much more convenient than scrubbing his face in the shower later on.

 

When his Rotom buzzes with a notification, he jumps, almost poking himself in the eye. Incensed, he whips around to check it.

 

Why is fucking Raihan of all people calling him right now?

 

“Ignore,” he says to Rotom, who dutifully obeys. Piers turns back to the mirror. Was that too harsh? Maybe he should’ve picked up, just to see what Raihan wanted. 

 

As if he ever has to wonder what Raihan wants from him. 

 

But Raihan is Raihan, and calls again almost immediately. Piers waves Rotom to answer.

 

“What.”

 

Raihan laughs, and it’s a little muffled through the speaker, but Piers would recognize that sound anywhere. “C’mon, don’t be like that, I was gonna ask you to come over.”

 

Piers’s eyes roll almost involuntarily. “Y’know I just did a show?”

 

“Yeah, all your fans are posting pictures from it.” Raihan’s voice drops low. “You looked good.”

 

Piers can picture it. Raihan in bed, doing his once-a-minute scroll through his social feed, his finger pausing when he sees black and white and pink in a photo that could only be of Piers. He wonders how the photos looked—had his makeup already been streaked across his bottom lids? Was he gripping the microphone like a lifeline, eyes screwed shut in focus?

 

He wonders how long Raihan had looked. Did he stop to let a flashback from one of their nights overtake him? Had Raihan’s hand wandered lower as he thought about—

 

Arceus, Piers. Cut that shit out.

 

“Come over,” Raihan says again, and his voice is still deep, and it’s doing something to Piers that he doesn’t want to ignore.

 

“I’m so fuckin’ exhausted,” he says, because it’s true. His legs are aching from these god-awful knee high boots that look so good at just the noble sacrifice of his circulation.

 

“That’s not a no.”

 

“Raihan.”

 

“Piers.”

 

He looks at himself in the mirror. He’s not going. He’s not going.

 

Yet somehow twenty minutes later he’s standing outside of Raihan’s door, fist raised to knock.

 

Which uninterested phrase should he greet Raihan with? He’s leaning towards “let’s get this over with” when the door opens and all he manages is a yelp in surprise. Real cool, Piers.

 

“Hey,” Raihan says. Piers wonders how he can sound so casual for someone who must’ve been waiting at the door for at least a few minutes. It’s almost flattering. “Come in.”

 

Piers does. The place is almost exactly as he remembers it, as homey as one can get with threatening Hammerlocke architecture. Figures that he’d live right above the gym, with the biggest floor plan and the best view he could get. Raihan watches Piers take the place in. In typical Raihan fashion, he’s wearing only a pair of sweatpants. Even in the low lighting, the muscles of his bare chest are practically shining. Piers sucks in a breath through his teeth.

 

“Mm.” Raihan reaches behind Piers to lock the door. They’re awful close now, but it must not be enough for Raihan, who takes it upon himself to hook a finger in Piers’s choker and tug just a little.

 

They’re eye-to-eye now, or at least as close as they can get with almost a foot of height between them. Piers feels everything all at once: Raihan’s piercing stare, the tension where his choker meets the back of his neck, and something else entirely that’s much lower.

 

Then Raihan smiles and there’s his tooth, his fang peeking out and pressing into his lip and Piers wants to beg him to get on with it, for fuck’s sake, he’s not sure how much longer he can take this. 

 

“How was the concert?” Raihan asks, but he’s not looking at Piers anymore. His head dips lower; lips and tongue meet Piers’s neck in a slow, deliberate stroke.

 

And he sighs because he can’t fucking help himself. “You don’t care about any o’that.”

 

Raihan doesn’t answer him; just presses his teeth into Piers’s shoulder and he’s putty. There’s a hand on his waist, another in his hair. He’s being picked up, carried.

 

And it feels good to be taken care of.

 

Maybe this is all he’s destined to be, a puddle melting in Raihan’s hands, scooping himself off the floor and making himself whole just to do the whole damn thing again.

 

\\

 

He’s smoking on Raihan’s balcony. Surprising himself because he never stays this long after they’re done.

 

Isn’t sure why he froze up, why he needs this minute.

 

He does know why he’s out of Raihan’s room, and it’s because he can’t stand the goddamn full-ceiling mirror. He’s sure Raihan must think it’s hot to get to watch himself railing whomever’s in his bed that night while it happens, but Piers just thinks it’s suffocating. He looks wherever else he can.

 

Raihan steps out with him. Piers busies himself with taking a drag. The wind in Hammerlocke is warm tonight, and the cobblestone streets are dark. Sometimes, when Piers wakes up in his own bed, he can’t tell whether it’s night or day from what he can see out the window. He can’t imagine that ever being a problem here.

 

“Those things will kill you,” Raihan says, and Piers smiles and blows smoke into his face. He doesn’t so much as wince. “You alright?”

 

Piers feels his shoulder lift in a half-shrug. “Sure. You?”

 

Raihan doesn’t answer. Not completely. “It seems like there’s something bothering you.”

 

There is. He’s not used to Raihan being as gentle as he was tonight. He’s not used to kisses pressed against bites in his skin, or being stripped of his clothes so gently and carefully. He’s not used to Raihan saying his name.

 

“Piers?”

 

“I don’t know how long you want this to keep goin’ on.” He presses the butt of his cigarette into the wire railing, then lets it fall. He watches it tumble until his eyes lose it in the dark. Anything to avoid meeting Raihan’s eye, because he can feel the heat of his gaze.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Damn him for sounding like he wants to care. Like he’s worried or something.

 

“I don’t think it’s me you want,” Piers continues, and the words suddenly come all at once. “It’s like, when I’m here it’s somethin’, an’ when I’m not, we’re runnin’ from it. You oughta just tell me that.”

 

Raihan’s completely still. “Tell you what?”

 

Piers turns to face him, and maybe that’s a mistake, because by now he can read Raihan like a book. There’s confusion there, but shame, too, like he’s just been caught doing something real awful.

 

And it isn’t awful, because Piers wasn’t supposed to feel like this. If he can’t handle a fling then he’s the real fool here. He’s not sure if it’s exhaustion that’s making him spill his guts or if he’s just fed up. 

 

It’s not with Raihan, he reminds himself. He’s fed up with himself. 

 

“That you’re just waiting for Leon,” Piers says, and the air is thick with his accusation.

 

Raihan‘s head falls, and Piers is stupid enough to think, for just a second, that maybe he was mistaken. But then,

 

“I’m not sure what I want.”

 

And that isn’t a no, so Piers knows well enough to put on a smile and play his part. “Aw, c’mon, you should tell him. You two can have yourselves a good ol’ champion time.”

 

He catches Raihan’s eyes lighting up before his gaze is turned to the floor. “Alright, quit it with that.” He seems relieved. Probably that Piers isn’t being a piss baby about Raihan being in love with someone else.

 

“I’m gonna go,” Piers says, distancing himself from the cool metal of the railing. He’s ready to book it home. If Marnie’s already gone to sleep she won’t chide him for smelling like smoke. 

 

“I haven’t been fair to you,” Raihan says, so quickly that Piers almost misses it. “I do need to figure some shit out. With how I feel and all.”

 

Piers feels like his feet are made of lead. “Okay.”

 

And as almost soon as Raihan had crossed the line into deep, reflective territory, he’s back out of it and flashing one of his signature grins. “I’ll see ya, Piers. Thanks for tonight.”

 

\\

 

It’s a long two weeks without hearing from Raihan.

 

Even that isn’t exactly true, because Piers still knows almost his every move. Perks of actually checking his social feed every once in a while to see pics of whatever Raihan’s up to: often with his Pokémon, usually shirtless, occasionally a colorful, decorative curry pic.

 

Raihan doesn’t call him in the dead of night, and that’s just fine. He‘s figuring shit out.

 

Piers won’t admit he misses those calls. Serves him right for throwing such a fit the last time he was there. He should feel better for standing up for himself or whatever the fuck that was, but now he just feels alone.

 

He fills the time. Takes Marnie camping in the wild area so she can train up her party. Talks with his merch designer about new Team Yell stuff to sell at shows. Writes new music—a song about a narcissist that will never see the neon lights of the Spikemuth stage.

 

He thinks about inviting Raihan to battle, because that had been how this whole mess started anyway. No Dynamaxing, just like he’d promised. Piers had lost, just barely, and Raihan had laughed and offered to take him out for a drink. The night ended with bruised knees and bitten-red lips.

 

“You gotta show tomorrow?” Marnie asks him. The television had cut to commercial, but Piers wasn’t trying to pay attention anyway.

 

“Yeah. You comin?” His fingers curl into the fur of the sleeping zigzagoon on his lap.

 

It’s a dumb question, and she treats it like so with a huff. “Duh. M’not too busy for you yet.”

 

It makes him happy that they’ve both fallen into their rhythm this way. Marnie seems happy to have something of her own, her gym, her challenge. Needless to say, Piers feels freer now that it’s just his music he has to worry about.

 

He reaches forward for the remote, eliciting a frustrated growl from his newly-awakened lap pokémon. “I’m goin’ to bed.”

 

Marnie frowns when he clicks off the TV, but there’s no bitterness to it. “See ya tomorrow.”

 

\\

 

She does. Right before the last song in his set, he sees her in the back row, bopping along to the music with some of the other kids she did the gym challenge with. Cute, that they’re all still hanging around each other. 

 

Piers hops stage right for a couple seconds to grab a sip of water, and the crowd even hypes him up for that. He’s grinning, shaking his head, and then throwing the water onto the front row. Another roar of approval.

 

Arceus, how did this ever take second place to battling? 

 

“Alright, alright,” he says once he’s stepped back up to the mic. “I’ve got one more song for ya. Hope y’like it.”

 

Of course they do; it’s his magnum opus, a song that spent half a year at the number one spot. As soon as the first chord hits there’s screaming and singing and jumping and Piers is in love with this feeling.

 

His knuckles are white as he grips the mic stand and pulls it in for a dip. The floor is rumbling. He can just barely hear himself over the pounding speakers, but they electrify him. He’s on fire. 

 

And he looks up, past the black and white and pink and towards the edge of the street and flubs a couple words, because

 

what the fuck is Raihan doing here?

 

It’s a quick recovery. Piers looks away and continues best he can, but that image is still burnt into his mind, Raihan’s tall figure against the wall, hands in his pockets, hood pulled over his hair.

 

He doesn’t dare look again. Not til the song is over and cheering rings in his ears and Raihan is still there, hands raised in applause. 

 

Piers feels simultaneously godly and cripplingly insecure. How long had Raihan been there? Had he liked what he saw? Why had he come to this show, after making a point to miss the others?

 

The lights onstage cut, and the cheers turn into cooing, begging Piers for more. It’s a fun little ritual for everyone involved, because

 

Piers doesn’t do encores.

 

“Wait,” he says into the microphone, surprising himself a little. He stands for a couple seconds, steadying himself on his feet. The lights come back on, halfway and then all at once. He looks at Raihan once more, and his mouth is parted in shock. Piers swallows. “I do have one more thing.”

 

He’s fully aware of a few truths. First, that he must sing a cappella, as there’s no music prepared for songs that aren’t in his usual set. Second, that his fans have gone so quiet it’s almost eerie.

 

These two things create a silence that’s awful and so, so, loud that Piers is struck with an uncontrollable desire to fill it the only way he knows how.

 

He sings.

 

He sings the song for and about and to Raihan, though no one else would catch the hints he’s hurling so desperately across the stage. He sings a line about his blinds casting pink shadows on a scratched-up flesh canvas. His eyes are closed; he can’t find it in himself to open them.

 

It’s a different experience entirely to be distinctly aware of his own voice sans accompaniment. He’s nervous, and isn’t keeping tempo as well as he should, so he speeds through the verse and bridge and a couple rounds of the chorus and suddenly he’s done and met, once again, with silence. 

 

And then a roaring beyond anything close to what he’s heard tonight, and fans are banging the stage with their hands and whooping outright and Piers can’t get off the stage fast enough because he knows what’s next here. 

 

His legs carry him to the dressing room and he can feel himself grinning when as crashes through the door because Raihan’s here. He came. And he has no doubt that he’ll follow him in, because there’s no fucking way he just came for the music.

 

Of course he’ll be let back here; he’s Galar royalty. Piers wonders how it will go. If Raihan will pick him up and set him atop the vanity counter, pull at his hair til it’s loose in his hands. Run his hands along his ribs, his chest, his face like he can’t get enough. 

 

There’s a knock. Piers doesn’t have to say anything, because Raihan enters anyway. The door is closed behind him. They’re staring each other down, and Raihan has an expression that Piers hasn’t seen before. Sheepish. 

 

He’s not in his element. This is Piers’s.

 

“Hi,” Piers says.

 

“Hi.” Raihan smiles, but there’s tenseness in his shoulders. “That was really good. You were.”

 

Now it’s Piers’s turn to be sheepish. “It’s all I‘m doin’ now, I’d hope so.”

 

A beat. Then, “I’ve been thinking about what you said.”

 

Piers feels anticipation itching at his bones. “Yeah, I figured that’s why I didn’t hear from you.”

 

“Sorry about that.” Raihan itches the back of his neck. “I, uh. I told Leon.”

 

“What?” It’s incredulous and loud and almost rude but Piers can’t stop himself from saying it.

 

“Yeah, just like you told me to. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it either.” He’s grinning now, fang on full display, and Piers wonders how any person could be so aloof. “He was really good about it. I mean, we’re giving things a shot right now. It’s going really well.”

 

Piers’s heart is beating in his ears. “I’m happy for you,” he says, and doesn’t care that he couldn’t sound any less convincing. He feels like he’s been punched.

 

Raihan shrugs. “I felt like I’d tell you, y’know, in person before it hits the news. So it’s not weird.”

 

Piers doesn’t know what to say. 

 

I appreciate the decency of your going off the radar for two weeks before dropping this bomb.

Thanks for dumping me in person.

I can’t believe Leon’s with you.

 

“So it’s not weird,” Piers echoes. Because this isn’t weird.

 

“And I wanted to thank you,” Raihan says, taking a step forward, “for helping me make that happen.” His hand is on Piers’s cheek, pushing his hair to the side, and Raihan plants a gentle kiss to his forehead. 

 

It’s grossly intimate and so far from everything he knows about Raihan. Piers hates it. He needs him out of here. “Yeah, okay. I’ve gotta wrap up in here, so-“

 

“Of course.” Raihan backs up, hands raised in surrender. “I’ll see ya, Piers.” 

 

As soon as he hears the door close, Piers crumbles to the ground. 

 

Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic.

 

Pathetic to think Raihan was here for any reason other than to kick him to the curb in favor of something better. Pathetic to sing a whole fucking song about it and expect him to hear anything that wasn’t bubblegum nonsense. What did he expect, anyway? He did this to himself. 

 

He rises, unwilling to cry. There will be other times, when a picture of Raihan and Leon crosses his social feed and the sight of the two of them laughing, foreheads pressed together, will boil his stomach. There will be another when Piers doesn’t turn the TV off fast enough to miss the kiss between the two of them after their battle, lips chapped from the sandstorm but smiling like that’s the last damn thing in Galar to concern themselves with.

 

For now, Piers must go home. 

 

A reporter catches him on his way out; they always do. 

 

“Piers!” she shouts, and though he doesn’t turn, she continues. “That was groundbreaking. Can we start expecting encores at your future shows?”

 

He waits til the camera must be focused, and the microphone steadies in front of his lips. 

 

And Piers smiles.

 

“Never.”