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Burn Your Fingers

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It wasn’t a habit.

No it definitely wasn’t a habit. It was just a little thing he did here and there when he was stressed. Just a small stress-reliever that he didn’t have the urge to do often, only when he was stressed. Which was most of the time but that doesn’t mean it was a habit. He had habits like biting his nails to where it hurt and drinking coffee at absurd hours of the morning so he wouldn’t have to sleep. Sleep wastes time and he needs all the time he can get to work on whatever research he was currently working on.

Hop had bad habits, but smoking wasn’t a habit. It was just a thing that he did sometimes. A thing that calmed him down. A thing that no one saw, except for maybe his dubwool but he wouldn’t tell.

Swirling smoke, the burn of the cigarette when it got too close to his fingers, the smell of ash, it was intoxicating. It wasn’t a habit. It was not a habit.

Maybe if he said it enough, he would believe himself.

His favorite spot to smoke where he knew no one would find him was the abandoned farm fields in the southernmost part of Postwick. No one ever went down there because they thought it was haunted or because they thought it was dangerous structurally. Hop didn’t know, he just knew he would be alone every time he made his way down to the farm.

There was a spot on the roof of the old wooloo barn at the edge of the abandoned farm that was his favorite. High enough to be a little bit dangerous, low enough to climb up by himself. He didn’t bring any one of his pokemon when he knew he would be on the roof. Or his phone for that matter. It was his escape from his life.

With Victor being the new Champion, Hop was the only teenager left in Postwick. He started going back to school in Wedgehurst after his failure at the Champion Cup because Sonia suggested he go to university once he was ready. Hammerlocke University required a high school diploma. Thankfully, Hop was smart so he wasn’t placed in a class younger than him when he returned. He was actually one year ahead of where he should be at his age.

School wasn’t nice, but it never really was. Before the gym challenge, he at least had Victor to help defend against bullies. He still has Vic but it feels like he has to split his attention with all of Galar. Galar needed their champion, more than Hop needed his Victor so he never mentioned the bullying to the champion when he asked about school.

No, Victor wasn’t his. He was his own person, he had meaning in his life, he was happy and confident and strong and everything Hop wasn't. Hop was just a sorry excuse for an optimist and an all around failure. Even with his horrible personality and lack of anything interesting, he was still his own person and couldn't rely on Vic for every little thing that went wrong in his life.
So he sat on the metal roof of an abandoned barn, at age sixteen, at 2:16 am, smoking a cigarette, alone, and a total failure.

The silence was loud but it was nice when he wanted his mind to shut up. The wind blowing past, the smoke dancing around him, the rustle of the overgrown grass, the flap of wings, the-- wait.

The flap of wings? That wasn’t right, no one ever came out here. This was Hop’s space, hidden from the rest of the world. Why did it sound like something was flying towards him?

“Hop.”

Ah, because someone had been flying towards him. Probably the worst person to catch him here other than maybe Victor or his mum. Another perfect person that Hop attached himself to like the parasite he was. Standing in his shadow, wanting to be everything he was, but always falling short by a mile.

“You’re gonna burn your fingers.”

Oh, yeah. He was. He should probably just get rid of the whole cigarette, especially now that he had caught him red handed.

Hop flicked the rest of the ash off the cigarette and put it out on the roof.

“So,” the former champion began. “You gonna explain yourself or am I gonna have to drag the answers out of you?”

Arceus, he could be annoying sometimes. It’s not like he cared while he was champion, why does he always act like he does now. He comes to Postwick every two weeks to check in on Hop and their mum and their grandparent ever since he was dethroned. Hop still couldn't figure out why. He wasn’t even in Postwick most days, he was in Wedgehurst for school and for work. He also slept in the lab often during the week because it was convenient, only heading out to Postwick for a smoke or for some weekends.

“Great answer.” Oh right, Lee had asked him a question.

“I mean what’s there to explain? You caught me smoking one cigarette, who’s to say it wasn’t my first one. I should be asking you questions like why you’re here.”

“Who’s to say? Hop, when did you get that pack?”

“Today.”

“So you just proved yourself wrong. Half the pack’s gone kiddo. Why?”

Shit, he did have a point. When did he smoke so many? He was telling the truth when he said he had bought them today. A headache was forming behind his eyes. “You never answered my question.”

“Victor mentioned you hadn’t answered his messages today and I had to have a meeting with Sonia today. I just asked where you went when we finished so I could let you know he’s worried before heading back to Hammerlocke. Your turn to answer my question”

Hammerlocke? Why was he in Hammerlocke? Leon lived in Wyndon and for all Hop knew, he hadn’t moved anytime recently. And why was Victor worried for him? He’d gone a day without texting him before due to lab work. What made today any different?

“Hop.”

Right. They're having a conversation about him smoking.

“Dunno.”

Real smooth Hop. Definitely not concerning in the slightest. Idiot.

“Okay. How about this question; when did you pick up this habit?”

It wasn’t a habit.

“It’s not a habit.”

“Answer the question Hop.”

“Don’t remember. Maybe after the Champion Cup. Dunno.”

“Okay. I can work with that.”

Work with what?

“Y’know Hop, I’m not as innocent as you might think. You want to know what I used to do?”

“Hm?”

“I used to drink cough syrup.”

“I mean you talk a lot around a lot of people so that’s not surprising that you would get a co-”

“I didn’t have a cough.”

“Oh.”

Why did he bring that up. It wasn’t like he was suicidal. Was Lee suicidal? Maybe he should talk to Raihan about that, he’d know what to do. And Sonia too, she’ll be a big help. How had he not realized his older brother wasn’t happy? He needed a cigarette.

Then there was a hand on his wrist.

“Hopscotch, you need to stop.”

Yeah, probably. He could stop easily. It wasn’t a habit. If it wasn’t a habit, why did his stomach drop when Lee said those four words? No, it was not a habit.

“Yeah.”

“Good. I’m going to take these from you, yeah?”

Hop nodded. His eyes started to water. Why was he fucking crying over half a pack of cigarettes? It was just cigarettes. If he really needed them he could buy more. He didn’t need them though. It wasn’t a habit. The tears felt dangerously close to falling.

“You know I’m doing this because I love you kiddo.”

Hope nodded again.

“I don’t want to go to your funeral.”

Ouch.

“What if I don’t want to go to your funeral?”

“Lucky you, I don’t plan on having a funeral anytime soon. I like my life and everyone in it. And you shouldn’t be planning on an early funeral either.”

Hop didn’t want to die. He wasn’t suicidal. Smoking was something where he could cease to exist to the world. Smoking was something that he could just watch and smell and listen and feel and taste without being so overwhelmed with everything else in life.

“I’m not.”

“Then you should avoid getting lung cancer too.”
Yeah okay that’s fair.

“Raihan used to smoke too.”

“Oh.”

“He quit before I became champion but I still worried. He had asthma, doesn’t like people knowing so don’t tell him I told you.”

“I won’t.”

“I know you won’t.” Lee paused for a moment before continuing. “When I found out, I didn’t say anything. Sure I knew it was dangerous, but Rai’s older than me so I let him. He had a really bad asthma attack a couple months after that. He was in the hospital for a bit, scared the shit outta me. I begged him to quit but I think he was scared out of it before I said anything. There’s still a pack in his dresser at home but he doesn’t smoke.”

Lee turned to look at him with those big, golden eyes.

“It's a nasty habit, Hopscotch. I know you don’t have asthma but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Promise me you’ll try quitting?”

Maybe it was a habit. When that happened, Hop had no idea. Now Lee knew, will he tell? He’ll tell Victor and he’d be disappointed. He’d probably also be mad at Hop. A mad Vic is never fun because then he’d cry and when Vic cries, Hop cries, and then Vic goes to comfort Hop when it should be the other way around. Hop isn’t a very good friend he was realizing. Maybe once Vic figures out that he’s a smoker, he’ll finally give up on Hop.

What if Lee tells their mum? Would she care at all? Nan used to smoke but stopped when Lee mentioned he didn’t like the smell. She just chews gum all the time now which is nice because she smells minty. But what would mum think? Her second, pitiful child has taken up a disgusting habit. It’s not like she has any pictures of him or talks much to him about anything deeper than small talks, hell, she didn’t even congratulate him after the gym challenge. He came home and she acted as nothing had changed. Like he just came home from school instead of a year long journey through all of Galar. She did cry when Lee lost. Maybe she wouldn’t care, it’s not like he ever mattered to her. Her stupid, failure son. Her unloveable and annoying and selfis-

“-op. Hop. Hop. Kiddo! You gotta breathe.”

Tears now streaming down his cheeks. When did he start hyperventilating? It was probably his mind wandering too far. Focus on Lee. His hands trapped under Lee’s, keeping them in place on his older brother’s chest. He was exaggerating his breathing helping to slow down Hop’s.

“Does that happen often?”

“Dunno.”

“Can I ask what triggered it?”

“You--you won’t tell, right?”

Lee looked so concerned for him.

“Hop. You have to tell someone about this. The-the panic attacks. The smoking. Whatever else you're dealing with. People are worried about you. Victor, Raihan, Sonia, Me, Mum, and so many others. Whatever’s going on with you, you need to let it out. If you don't want me to,” the former champion paused in contemplation. “I won’t tell anyone but, you need help. Tell Victor, tell Sonia, tell Me for Arceus sake! And if you don’t in two weeks, I have no choice but to tell someone. Is that a deal?”

“Okay.”

“Okay. Good. I don’t want to catch you out here again Hopscotch. I’m throwing these away when I get to Hammerlocke and I’ll call everyday to hear about how you are. Okay? And maybe text Vic back before he shows up here too.”

“Yeah, I will. Lee?”

“Hop?”

“Do I smell like smoke?”

Lee chuckled. “A bit. Nothing a little flight on Char won’t fix.”

It’s been awhile since Lee let him fly with him.

“And kid.”

“Yes?”

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Lee.”

At 3:09 am, Hop realized that maybe it was a habit. Maybe Lee was right and maybe he needed help. Help with the stress, help with the bad habits, help with the noise in his head, help with a lot of things. But Lee isn’t leaving him so it can't be as bad as burnt fingers at two in the morning on the roof of an abandoned barn.