This evening, Kabu holds his tea using his left hand.
He savors the delicate scent carried on the steam before tipping the cup and taking a quiet sip. It's been a long time since he was able to enjoy an evening like this. His front porch is set up for relaxing, with comfortable chairs and tiny tables, and no railings to block the view.
His house casts a shadow over the well-kept front lawn as the sun sinks lower and lower, and he's in good company as he watches the shade slowly make its way across the street.
The neighborhood is quiet, save for the buzzing of bugs, with a fading warmth in the humid air that makes the tea's heat more valuable every time he takes a sip. Contrary to many people's expectations, the "ever-burning" Kabu runs quite cold when not surrounded by his Pokémon and the heat of battle. Warm drinks help, as does the presence of the one special person who can make his blood heat with just a glance.
He remembers the first time he caught that stray ember. It stuck to him, clung to his skin, not going cold even as days turned to weeks turned to months. He did his best to dismiss it, thinking that warmth should not be for him, but not even a disciplined man such as he can smother something once it's being actively fanned by another party. By now, their relationship has grown far beyond anything he could have hoped for, and settled into something grand, stable, and lasting.
He takes another sip, and smiles into his cup.
"Thinkin' about the past?"
Kabu sets his cup aside and settles back in his chair. "Is that a wild guess, or did I give something away?"
His boyfriend raises their joined hands between them. "Your grip loosens when you're reminiscing."
"Ah. My apologies." That problem is easily resolved.
Piers chuckles and raises his own cup with his free right hand, a tiny cheers. "'S alright. I don't mind hangin' on a little harder."
"Tenacious thing," he affectionately says.
"You know it." Piers gives his hand a squeeze, firm in his grip while simultaneously handling the teacup so delicately, pinky up in a mockery of good manners.
It's always nice to see his dear so relaxed. It took many months before Piers became comfortable leaving Spikemuth to visit Motostoke for longer than a day, but not much time after that to start seeing Kabu's house as a second home. The young man was starved for peace once he got his first taste of it, and Kabu's more than happy to be his sanctuary. He of all people understands the need to step down from one's passions and relax, recharge, until it's time to go full throttle once more. He has several methods for doing so, and cycles between them as the mood strikes. Reading, playing with his team in the back or front yard, or sitting out on the porch with a cup of tea, as he's doing now. Each are enjoyable activities on their own, but having someone at his side makes them twice as fulfilling.
That someone didn't always understand the value of slowing down to rest. Back when Kabu first became aware of how Piers lived his life, he was astounded at how many years the man was able to sustain such a stressful lifestyle without burning out. Juggling his job as a gym leader alongside being a guardian for his younger sister, on top of volunteering around his town to help anyone who needed an extra hand, and pushing a musical hobby as high as he could send it?
Young people these days have so much energy. More than they should be asked to spend. Piers' race to exhaustion and Kabu's attempts at finding the right reins to pull was the source of a lot of struggle and growth when they were first navigating each other.
By now, they know how to work as a team. When to push, and when to cease. He gave the worn-thin man a place for peace, showed him how to slow down and breathe without feeling the guilt of not constantly pushing himself harder.
In return, Piers showed him how much potential he has left untapped. How much brighter he can burn. The young man is an inspiration no matter how much he might fuss and deny it.
When they're together, the pendulum swings wide. The bob heats white-hot on one peak of the swing, and on the other... there's this. Sitting together, holding hands and drinking tea in the cooling afternoon.
Piers always finishes his first. His cup clinks on the tiny plate it matches with, and a wicker chair creaks. Kabu sets his own cup aside for safety's sake and makes room by spreading his legs, just in time for Piers to plop down on the porch between them, facing out at the shaded yard. Their hands only separate once Piers is settled, but they're not without touch for long. Kabu rests his freed hand on top of the silky head between his knees.
He continues sipping his tea, one-handedly stroking Piers' hair all the while.
"If I didn't know better, I'd think I was petting an Obstagoon." He draws a finger down a boundary of black and white. How Piers maintains such a mane will always be a mystery to him. Not once in his life has Kabu ever grown his hair longer than it is now.
Piers leans back against the bottom of the chair. "Want me to drool all over your lap and scratch up the nice furniture to complete the illusion?"
Such a snarky thing.
"I'm afraid Growlithe had you beaten there years ago."
"Right, right," Piers sighs, the pout evident in his voice. "S'ppose I'll save my dirty mouth for when we're indoors."
Kabu tightens his grip in Piers' hair, marginally. "That's more like it."
The sun has set low enough that the shadow of his home has reached across the street. The houses on the other side are all faced with orange, the last show of vibrance before the late evening gains that unique, summer-blue hue.
"Funny to think that your pokemon weren't always so well behaved. They're practically model citizens."
"They've mellowed out with time and experience. Much like myself." He sighs and gathers Piers' bangs to pull back over his head, combing through the feathery strands and enjoying their softness. The humidity of the evening has fluffed them up quite a bit.
"Alright, you've been hintin' for ages that you used to be some kind of vagrant youth. I know you've got that wild ink and all, but I just can't see it."
He presses his lips in amusement and takes a prolonged sip of his tea, followed by a sigh of satisfaction. To Piers' merit, the boy hardly squirms in his impatience.
"I would have given you a run for your money," he lightly says.
"You're pullin' me leg."
"On the contrary." He wraps his hand around the base of the ponytail and gives it a firm tug. Piers laughs at the unspoken joke and tips his head back until he's gazing up from upside-down. Kabu lowers his teacup just enough to meet his gaze over the rim of it.
"D'you think I'll mellow out with time 'n experience too?"
He sets his tea aside and considers the man before him. No scowl or tense jaw, eyes clear and bright, trusting enough to sit with his back shown. So different from how he was when they first became properly acquainted.
Kabu smiles and brushes Piers' bangs aside.
"Only the same way I have."
"I quite like the sound of that. You've still got all your passions, still goin' strong. Dunno what I'd do if I ever lost my spark for music..." Piers reaches up and takes his hand, tugging it down until he can lean his hollow cheek against it and rub against the knuckles.
"There's nothing wrong with finding new callings throughout your life. It's rare that someone discovers a lifelong passion while they're still young. I consider myself lucky in that regard." He turns his wrist within Piers' grasp, and strokes his jaw. "So don't worry. If you do find yourself turning away from music, I'll support you. But I'd be very surprised if your passion for it faded. I think you're one of those lucky few who found their calling young."
Piers contemplates that, and Kabu finds contentment in the silence. He knows Piers always considers what he says with utmost seriousness, which is heartening, because Kabu always means every word he says. Being taken seriously is a commodity that gets rarer and rarer the older he gets.
"Lucky me, huh... Thanks." His hand is squeezed, and Piers' voice turns sly. "Pretty sure you've got a callin' for droppin' bits of wisdom like pennies out a pocket hole."
"That, my dear, does come with age."
Piers chuffs and nuzzles into his hand. "And from anyone else it'd be annoyin'."
No one who takes their first look at Piers would ever guess how affectionate he can be. He has the prickliest aesthetic in Galar and a reputation that precedes him; an inaccurate reputation, one that Kabu bristles to hear and is quick to correct whenever he hears people speaking ill of the misunderstood dark type trainer, but it's one he can understand the reasoning behind. Only a few people are privy to just how gentle and vulnerable Piers can be. Not many are given the chance to see, and not many are willing to believe it possible at all.
And here Piers is, sitting with his back turned, lax and practically purring between Kabu's legs. If Piers were shorter, or if Kabu were taller, there's no doubt that a curled-up-in-lap arrangement would replace their current favored positions.
"I consider myself lucky to be within your good graces," he softly says, and rubs his thumb along a pale cheek.
"Luck again? Nah..." Piers presses a kiss to his calloused palm. "You earned it, love."
Kabu pulls his tea close and takes a grounding sip. While he doesn't consider it embarrassing to have a visible blush, he does value his own composure.
Said composure becomes harder to maintain when lips trail higher up his palm and graze against his inner wrist. There's an old burn scar there, usually hidden by his dynamax band and the sleeve of his compression shirt, and it's Piers' favorite place to kiss.
His tea is too cold to continue enjoying... No matter. The cooling air isn't affecting him anymore. He sets the cup aside for good, and his left hand is free at last. He assigns it to petting duty.
He draws his thumb around the shell of Piers' ear and ends with a nudge against the pierced lobe. A simple silver stud, a gift from him. And above that, a few little rings, also from him, that he gives a few light taps with his fingernail.
Kabu prefers quality time over anything else, but he quickly found that Piers has a uniquely endearing reaction to receiving gifts. One that quickly became addicting. He considers himself rather well off thanks to his lifelong frugality, only spending large amounts of money when targeting quality and longevity, or to provide well for his pokemon. There's plenty to spare for spoiling someone he cares about.
It's a worthy investment.
It started with flowers and nice dinners, traditional romantic fare, but he knew he could be more creative in his subtle quest to see more of that expression Piers makes when presented with a genuine present. The initial shock, the fumbled words, the shy smiles when pressed to take it... like flipping a switch to the demure. And the simple delight in those bright eyes... addicting.
And, well... the thank-yous applied to his cheek are pleasant as well.
Piers has an array of piercings that he swaps out in the day-to-day, and by now Kabu thinks he's found at least one thing for all of them. Simple, sturdy, silver things, to replace the cheap jewelry Piers had before. Visibly, there's hardly a difference, but Kabu takes satisfaction in seeing the glint and shine of true quality adorning his beloved, especially on the spots typically hidden from the public eye.
Newly-bought gifts aren't the only thing he can use to make Piers happy. It brings a different kind of warmth to see Piers in things Kabu already owns. He's donated several shirts to the cause, and at least one pair of his oldest pajama pants whose drawstring is barely enough to hang on Piers' skinny hips. They end far above his ankles. It's adorable. And he thinks he has one of Piers' tank tops somewhere, thrust upon him one day "just to see what it would look like." It's still in his laundry basket, waiting to be cleaned, as it wasn't long before it got dirty from the exertion that began not long after Piers got his eyeful.
It brings Kabu joy to take care of his beloved in as many different ways as he can.
Truly, he considers himself lucky.
"If you don't wish for me to speak of luck, I'll say instead that I'm honored." He brushes his knuckles up the back of a pale neck. "I recognize the value of what you give me."
The attention and care, the vulnerability. The inspiration to push himself further than he could ever go alone. Making him feel like he can conquer anything. And the love, there's so much love Piers gives him. So much of it that they share.
"Like I'm not the one who really won here." Piers smiles against his wrist and takes the opportunity to lightly graze his teeth against the scar. "Took bloody ages to drum up the courage to ask you out. And you thought I was havin' you on at first."
He clears his throat in embarrassment. He doesn't think that'll ever fade, not for this memory.
Piers had approached him after an exhibition match and asked him to dinner, and he said yes, thinking that the normally-antisocial gym leader was trying to branch out socially and chose him as the safest option to be friendly to first. It was flattering in the moment, especially when Piers looked so relieved when he said yes. Dinner was pleasant, and he got to know the young man in ways he didn't expect.
He remembers the unexpected surge of attraction that he did his best to tamp down because of how inappropriate it was, when Piers was only wanting to have a friendly outing.
And then Piers tried to pay for dinner.
Imagine Kabu's surprise when he learned it was a date all along. Imagine his further surprise when he learned that Piers hoped for a second one.
"I never expected that you might be interested in me. You were... out of my league, in multiple senses."
Young, talented, driven, and, as he could admit in the privacy of his own guilty mind, mesmerizingly attractive. Much more than an older man like himself could hope to catch. Certainly more than is—was, appropriate for him to want. Not that it stopped them in the end.
They've been over this before, many times, and by now it's more of an inside joke than anything either of them are still insecure about.
The disbelieving sound vibrating against his wrist twitches his lip. "I was out of your league? Nah, mate, I've told you a thousand times, everyone would throw themselves at your feet if they thought they had a chance. You're bloody amazin'. I can name half a dozen people off the top of my head who've had crushes on ya."
"Please, spare me."
He already knows. He might have been slow on the uptake of Piers' genuine interest and intent to pursue him, but he'd be a blind fool to not notice the little ways people trip up around him sometimes. He merely pretends not to notice, to save them the embarrassment and allow them to preserve their dignity.
Funnily enough, Piers was able to hide his attraction completely. Something about wanting to ensure that his romantic intent was undoubtable. To prove that his mind wasn't clouded by lust and that yes, he really wanted to be in a serious relationship with Kabu.
It's not something Piers has to hide anymore.
"Alright, I'll keep their secrets. Long as you don't want me keepin' mine." Piers drops his wrist and twists around to give him a smirk. "They're already a lost cause... I'd like to think you know full well what you do to me."
They stare at each other for a long moment, neither backing down behind their respective expressions. Kabu straight-faced, Piers with smirk and smolder.
It's Kabu who breaks the standoff first. "You are doing a very good job at making me want to kiss you right now."
The blush that creeps over Piers' face suits him. Pink always was his color. Kabu chuckles his victory and pats his partner's head.
"Switch off," Piers mumbles. "It's your turn."
"Like you ain't eager for it already, I can see it on yer face. Up with you."
He laughs and frees Piers to stand up. They trade spots, with Piers sliding into his chair as soon as it's free, and him lowering to sit on the porch between a pair of knobbly knees. He has to force himself to not sit with his legs folded directly beneath him, and adopts a more casual posture, which to him, is merely sitting with his legs crossed, hands resting on his knees.
"There we are..." The wicker chair creaks, the legs around him close slightly, and long fingers sink into his hair.
They stroke and tug in a rhythm that's gentle, yet firm, and Kabu closes his eyes. Before Piers, he didn't know just how much he enjoys having his hair played with. He'd happily sit here for hours if he didn't want to indulge his boyfriend just as much. So, they take regular turns.
Piers' legs close around his shoulders and the fingers carding through his hair pause. Kabu doesn't have to open his eyes to sense the person strolling past his front yard; he can hear their quick-paced footsteps on the sidewalk. Judging by the gait, it's a neighbor. The nosiest one in the neighborhood.
"That's right, keep walkin'..." Piers mutters, and paws through his hair almost possessively. The footsteps quicken.
Kabu cares little about what his neighbors see happen within the open privacy of his own front porch. He's lived here long enough and witnessed enough about each of them to have no fear of their gossip. What's the phrase... mutually assured destruction? He's safe from any whispers or gossip. It's Piers he used to worry about; key phrase being 'used to.'
"I think by now you've intimidated them enough into minding their own business."
"They were askin' fer it by shovin' their nose practically into our space. I was in the right to tell 'em off."
"Normally I don't condone such things..."
Piers laughs and tousles his hair. "You loved it."
It was quite the scolding. Magnificent to behold. Usually Kabu throws a disapproving glare at those spewing vulgar language, but every so often, even he can appreciate the effectiveness of a colorful reprimand.
And he admits, he enjoys it when Piers gets protective of their relationship. More than he probably should.
"Oi, show me your fuckin' tickets if you wanna hang around and ogle two blokes havin' a cuppa. Don't got any? Didn't pay to watch? Then push your eyes back inna yer head before they pop right out and fall over our fence, 'cause we ain't gonna pick 'em up for ya. You can bugger right off." Piers thrusts a middle finger into the air and tilts his head further back into Kabu's lap, the absolute antithesis of shame.
He stays silent. Unable to express disappointment that does not exist, and swept up in the bold new fluttering around his chest.
There's much Piers feels insecure about. Their relationship is not one of them. Piers displays nothing but fierce pride over it. Kabu takes great comfort in that confidence, knowing that his boyfriend is willing to show teeth and fight for the right to be with him, even if he needs to show those teeth to Kabu himself sometimes.
"You're the envy of the neighborhood, trust me."
Piers snorts and plucks at his sideburns, fanning them up to stick out as much as they can. "Was more interested in your specific opinion."
He pretends to mull it over. He has what he wants to say already on his tongue, and doesn't mind making Piers wait for it. "You do very inspiring things with that mouth of yours, and I appreciate it very much."
The hands in his hair pause mid-tug. "My mouth's inspirational, you say?"
"Very. I'm continually impressed by the things it can do." He smirks to himself, and says the magic words. "Isn't that right, my pretty bird?"
His head is tugged back, and bangs tickle his forehead. Hungry eyes stare down at him. In the dusk the effect is striking. "Think I can inspire somethin' in you right now?"
Kabu reaches up and caresses his beloved's cheek. "That's more up to you than it to me, isn't it?"
Cold hands hold his face and he's gifted with a wide and pretty upside-down smile. "You old tease, just say you want some head and I'll be on my knees in a second. Not out here, of course."
He chuckles, chest warm with affection. "Have I taught you nothing about the value of taking things slowly?"
"But it's so fun to see how long you can't last." Piers rolls his tongue between his teeth until a silver ball is set between them, presented like a pearl. Kabu bought it for him just last week.
Kabu's smile fades, replaced with a more contemplative look. They have had a relaxing enough evening already.
"Sir yes sir!"
Their teacups sit outside without them, abandoned to watch the procession of dark evening in their stead.