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everybody says that nothing ever lasts forever, so I'm hanging on tight trying to keep it all tied together

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Raihan hates getting sick.

He hates lying in bed, stuck inside his bones, unable to really rest and take it easy because he can’t stop thinking about all the things he could be doing instead. He hates knowing staying in bed is the best he can do, for himself and those around him, sleep it off and be back on his feet in a day or two. But knowing something and knowing something are two very different things, and he always ends up telling himself he’s going to take this chance to finally put a decent dent into his reading list, to be productive in his leisure, and then he feels guilty because he can’t stop thinking about down time as off time. It’s worst this time around, though. Because he doesn’t actually have much to do, not the usual way – articles to write and budgets to review and performance checks and an endless parade of meetings – and he’s supposed to be spending time with Leon and his family.

He really, really likes Leon’s family.

He expected to, of course. Leon is his favorite person in the world, and the people who shaped him as a child and taught him all the important things – the really important things, Raihan knows, are all the things you learn before you’re ten, like be strong and don’t do harm – were always people he was going to like. The real question was if they were going to like him back. The tiny, terrified kernel of panic forever stuck in the back of his throat, that had sat there for months, because Leon’s mum definitely wanted him to visit, but never said anything about Leon’s dad or Leon’s Nan or even Leon’s brother. Raihan can muster straight up arrogance in front of a camera or in a stadium, growl and bare his teeth and make a dragon out of himself, at the drop of a hat. But that’s because he knows the people who follow him on social media purposefully put him and his borderline comical shenanigans there on purpose. They want to see him growl and bare his teeth and declare that The Great Raihan will see you now! when a new season of the Gym Challenge starts. It’s part of the fun. He’s built his image around the notion that he doesn’t care if people don’t want to root for him, they will because he’s the greatest. And at this point no one remembers that when he started that, really no one was rooting for him and there were swarms of online petitions to get him removed from Hammerlocke, countless interviews aiming to show him as a dumb kid in way over his head and even the occasional mob with signs protesting right outside the Gym.

Raihan is an expert at manufacturing confidence, but that’s when it’s a matter of survival. When it’s something as inconsequential as his job – Hammerlocke is not inconsequential, Hammerlocke is his life and his duty and his everything, but that was before Leon walked gracelessly into his life and became the most important thing, golden eyes and creepy non sequiturs and all. Raihan has made peace with this, ever since he had the revelation: they were in Kalos and Leon was crushing every trainer, Champion or Gym Leader alike, that stepped up to fight him, but then at the end of each fight, after the required handshake and good-natured laugh, Leon would turn to him, find him in the sidelines and smile. Like a sunflora chasing after the sun, hopeful and borderline shy. It hurt to breathe, when he did that. It was wonderful. And it made Raihan realize he was perfectly content to spend the rest of his life like this: sitting in the sidelines and watching Leon do whatever it was that he’d put in his mind to do, battling or caring for dragons or cooking things that left a lingering scent all over the house. That, Raihan had decided, was what happiness felt like, and he would endeavor to do anything necessary so it wouldn’t be taken away from him.

He’s made a good impression, so far. He thinks. Leon’s mum keeps him in her kitchen and is determined to get him to make something before the trip is done, utterly unwilling to accept the reality Raihan made peace with when was fifteen and staring at his own empty kitchen with sudden dread: he can’t cook worth shit. He’d tried to fry and egg once and the curtains had needed to be replaced in the aftermath. Takeout exists for a reason and that reason is to feed people like Raihan, who can barely be trusted to boil water and only occasionally. But Leon’s mum is nice and kind and so very convinced she can help that… well, he can’t say no.

Leon’s dad is another thing entirely. Suspicious, in a way Raihan hadn’t been expecting, but they’d seen eye to eye eventually. Sort of. Maybe. He’d been surprised when Raihan promised he’d choose Leon over everything else, but then he’d… settled into frowns and not throwing him into a sea of wooloo, never to be seen again. It’s fine. Probably. For all he knows, he’s thrilled to have him around. Probably not, but he can hope. Optimism has never hurt anyone.

Leon’s Nan is absolutely, bone-chillingly terrifying but that comes with the territory, he supposes, and he’d been as sturdily prepared for it as he could be, upon meeting her. It hadn’t been enough, obviously, but he’s made peace with the fact he tried his best.

But now all that good will might be wasted, because he’s sick and he’s made Leon miss the New Year’s celebration, because Leon is Leon and he refused to leave Raihan sick and alone in a strange house. And the house is strange, to him, full of trinkets and pictures and a million little stories implied in the details all around. It reminds him uncomfortably of the old house, his mum’s, and all the little bits and pieces of stories he’s never known, because the people who bought them and brought them home, who thought they should be preserved, they’re no longer there to share. There’s pictures and mementos and a whole history in the house, even if the house is not old – it’s as old as Leon, Leon’s dad explained to him, as he made him try to survive trial by wooloo the other day, built from scratch when they moved in and bought the farm, finished barely three days before Leon was born.

It’s a lovely house.

It’s a lovely family.

“Rai?”

Leon looks odd in the doorway, light from the hallway turning the tips of his hair into a faint halo, but eyes bright, always. Almost glowing. He’s got striking eyes, Raihan has noticed, true golden, with a glimmer of something eerie when he forgets himself. Raihan always gets the feeling he’s supposed to be creeped out – sometimes, just sometimes, he is unnerved, at least, when Leon stares into the distance and starts making quips about morbid tidbits of Hammerlocke’s history that Raihan learned in dry books and articles, never with the viscerally vivid certainty coloring Leon’s voice – but most of the time he’s not. Not really. He hasn’t been truly creeped out since he stumbled on the realization Leon doesn’t show that, to anyone. That it’s a privilege, a sign of trust. Maybe he’s silly for thinking that, for not having a conversation about it, up front, but Leon is surprisingly skittish about what Raihan has come to term the ghost thing. He’s caught Leon looking at him, sometimes, bracing, waiting, and he doesn’t quite know what to do with that knowledge, besides swallow down misplaced anger and maybe go out on a run, sometimes. It’s not about him, anyway. It’s not his place to pry. He just tries his best to make sure Leon can relax like that, to be worthy of that trust.

Sometimes, Raihan realizes with something that almost reaches self-awareness, he treats Leon not unlike the dragons he’s responsible for, but the similarities are not entirely lost on him: Leon is fierce and proud and fundamentally benign unless outright provoked. A little weird, in places. Eccentric, maybe. But there isn’t a day Raihan doesn’t wake up tangled up in sheets that smell faintly of tea tree oil, that he doesn’t catch a stray long strand of purple hair on his pillow, and he doesn’t feel lucky.

“I made tea,” Leon says, walking into the room with a tray that includes a lot more than just a cup of tea: two cups of tea, in fact, and a glass of water, and a little plate with the soft, chewy butter cookies Leon’s mum made a few days back, that Raihan has become unbearably addicted to by now. “I mean, I made you nice tea and tea that’ll clear up your lungs, hopefully.” Leon explained, setting the tray on the nightstand and coming to sit on the edge of the bed, expression wry. “It tastes awful, sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Raihan croaks, hiss of a cough threatening somewhere in the back of his throat, and melts into the bed further when Leon presses a nice, cold hand against his face. “Really.”

“It’s not,” Leon insists, chuckling. “It really works, though. So that makes the awful worth it. Do you think you can try?”

Right before Leon pressed his fingers – cool, soothing fingers – against Raihan’s face, Raihan was almost anxiously awake, itching to move or do something. But now it’s like the bed is sucking him in, and the thought of sitting up enough to chug back the tea Leon made seems like an almost insurmountable task to get through. Still, he should try. He gets as far as half up when Leon presses the mug into his hands and the smell hits him. It’s… a strong smell, but Raihan can’t for the life of him even try to explain what it smells like, only that he’s suddenly not so sure about tasting it.

“What’s in this again?” He asks, blinking at the dark liquid, innocently tea-like for all it smells very much not.

Leon snorts.

“…you’re better off not knowing,” he says, wincing, “at least not until after you’ve seen it work. Best just to chug it in one go, if you can.”

Raihan looks up at him, waits until he’s sure Leon is looking at him, and then sighs dramatically.

“The things I do for love,” he whines mockingly, and grins when it makes Leon laugh.

Then he throws the entire contents of the mug back in one gulp, which he instantly regrets, the moment it hits his tongue and the taste. Oh, sweet Arceus. The horrid, awful taste. Like old socks and something rancid. Raihan doesn’t spit it right out because the ghost of Mrs. Fairweather would haunt him til his dying day for the rudeness of it, so he swallows desperately, eyes full of tears as the tea hits his stomach like a hot, pungent ball of gross.

“I know,” Leon says, sympathetically, one hand rubbing circles over Raihan’s back while Raihan scrapes his tongue against his teeth, trying to get the godawful taste off. “I know, I’m sorry. I made lemongrass tea, though! To take the aftertaste away.”

“That was, quite possibly, the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth,” Raihan replies, squinting at his boyfriend and his seemingly innocent mug of tea, so deceptively similar-looking to the utter monstrosity Raihan can still feel warm in his belly.

“Probably,” Leon chirps back in amusement, eyebrows arched, “but I bet you didn’t even notice you can breathe again.”

Raihan stops.

Stares.

Takes an exaggerated breath, but the threat of a cough, always rasping in the back of his throat til then, is completely gone.

He blinks and repeats the exercise, but he can feel air flow easily and without a hitch all the way down his lungs.

“Huh,” he says, taking the mug and braving a cautious sip that yields hot but very much palatable tea.

“Told you,” Leon says, flashing a small victory sign. “Nan’s recipes work best.”

The bed is at least a foot too small for him. There’s a frigid blizzard howling outside. He’s stuck inside his own head, drowning in his own thoughts and all the nonsense that comes with being sick. But even so.

Even so.

Raihan curls up against Leon’s side, careful of his mug, sipping at it slowly to make it last, basking in the way it warms his hands like Leon’s arm around his shoulders warms his back.

It’s still somehow the best New Years he’s ever had, as far back as he can remember.