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            The sun finishes setting and the sky is already dark when they get back to Kanazumi City.

            True to self, instead of taking them to a Pokémon Center, Daigo-san has the jet land on the roof of a huge hotel building. While he goes ahead and takes care of the rooms arrangement, Alan and Manon come face to face with the first idiosyncrasies of living accommodations in Hoenn: no shoes inside, not negotiable. Even Harimaron is handed a pair of tiny slippers, identical to theirs, which he shows off proudly and Manon compliments him about. Manon, for her part, manages to make all of five steps in hers before she trips.

            (Finally, some normality today).

            "They only have two free rooms left," Daigo-san announces when they (slowly) make their way to the reception desk. "I'm sorry, Alan, I hope you don't mind sharing a double? A lady should have her own room," he adds with a pleasant smile at Manon.

            She grins and coos, flattered. "See, Alan, how charming Daigo-san is? You should be nicer to me."

            Alan doesn't protest, because Daigo-san went and paid for everything and this hotel looks much more expensive than anything Alan could afford, let alone for two people; but he frowns. The Champion usually couldn't be more of a picture-perfect gentleman if he tried, but that, that sounded like trying just a little too hard.

            "I'm told the restaurant is open but we should hurry to have time for dinner," Daigo-san continues. "I don't know about you two, but I'm starving!" His smile shows shiny, perfectly white teeth.

            Manon's stomach growls on cue. She laughs and scratches the back of her head, embarrassed, but the Champion and his social graces just chuckle kindly and take them to the hotel restaurant.

            It's fancy, and Daigo-san manages to never commit the indelicacy of actually mentioning money or the fact that he's insultingly rich while still making it clear that he'll pay for their meals and encouraging them to get whatever they'd like — so, while Alan can't bring himself to ask for more than a salad, Manon foregoes the main dishes entirely and orders three desserts instead. Alan sighs, embarrassed, but Daigo-san only smiles and orders a dessert too after his steak. Alan catches him glancing longingly through the wine list, but he hands it back to the waiter without a word; perhaps Manon's child-like enthusiasm and the fact that they asked for a high chair for Harimaron to sit in make him feel like it would be too inappropriately adult for the setting.

            The entire situation still feels oddly family-like: Alan and Daigo-san, the two grown-ups, looking bemusedly at the little ones devouring their ice cream and cake. Manon starts dozing off in the middle of her last treat (some Hinbass-shaped Hoenn specialty Daigo-san recommended). Alan tries to elbow her awake, and she jumps in her seat before glaring at him; so much for discretion.

            "Well, what a day! Let's just call it a night, hmm?" the Champion suggests diplomatically. There's amusement in his voice, but no malice. "Oh, before I forget," he adds as they rise, "this hotel offers a Pokémon-healing service. They'll take care of our Pokémon overnight and let them rest — there's a nice inner garden for them and everything. Metagross definitely needs this much."

            Alan's right hand twitches for Lizardon's Monster Ball instinctively. They hate spending the night separated if they can help it; it's lucky Manon likes sleeping outside as well, because they never stay at Pokémon Centers overnight unless absolutely necessary. But it's true the hit Lizardon took was serious — his flame is all right now, of course, Alan took care of him in the aircraft as best he could. But a blast from a legendary Pokémon isn't something that'll heal in just one night with only a little medicine and rest in his Monster Ball. Lizardon needs better, deserves better. He hates every second of it, but he nods slowly, admits: "Lizardon too."

            Manon looks vaguely uncomfortable at the idea, too; she glances down at Harimaron, who immediately jumps from his high chair to her shoulder, hands her his slippers, and nudges her cheek with his nose. She brightens and translates happily, "No need for us, Hari-san'll just sleep with me."

            Alan reminds himself that Lizardon needs the healing care anyway, before he can consider too long the possibility of asking the hotel staff what's the maximum allowed size for Pokémon to sleep in rooms.

            "That should be fine," Daigo-san accepts easily, grinning back. "Good night to the two of you, then."

            "Err," Manon goes, and ruffles through her pockets to fish out her keycard and squint at it. "Yes! Good night!" she catches herself, pumping her fist energetically, the rest of her body language screaming distress and the failing attempt at convincing herself that she'll do fine.

            Alan knows she got quite far and dealt pretty well on her own before they met. Sometimes, though, it's hard to believe. Often. He's pretty sure Harimaron is the biggest reason she managed, but the Pokémon looks slightly panicked as well for once. "I'll help you find your room," he sighs, and is rewarded with two happy squeals and another hug around his waist, which, okay, he can't help but smile at, too. "What number is it?"

            "158," she reads out loud.

            "That shouldn't be hard."

            "Then, Alan," Daigo offers, "do you want me to bring Lizardon to the healing desk?"

            Alan hesitates.

            Handing over Lizardon's Monster Ball is like tearing apart one of his own limbs. This is why they still dislike resorting to Pokémon Centers every time they have to, and putting him in the care of professionals is one thing — entrusting him to an acquaintance is yet something else.

            But of all people, the Champion must know what it's like, to separate from his partner.

            "Please take good care of him," he whispers.

            Daigo-san closes his hand on the Monster Ball, face appropriately serious, which eases Alan's not-completely-irrational worry a little. "Count on me," he says. "Here is your keycard, then. See you later."

 

 

 

            So apparently Hoenn hotels count the ground floor as the first floor and hate the number four, so Manon's room is not on the first floor, fifth corridor, eighth room, but on the ground floor, fourth corridor, fourth room on the left, as they find out through much trial, error, and gesticulating at each other. Just to be sure, Alan stays to check that her keycard does open the door and everything's fine.

            Manon has been fighting her embarrassment by channeling it into annoyance in that ridiculous endearing way of hers; her cheeks are puffed out so big by now that she looks like a Harysen. "That was way too hard," she mumbles.

            "Rima," Harimaron sighs in resignation.

            "I didn't think it'd be this complicated," Alan concedes stiffly. "But I'm sure you could have done that on your own. You're getting good at finding your way."

            She sticks her tongue out. "If you're talking about me following you guys this afternoon, I'm not apologizing!"

            "Yeah," Alan admits readily, calmly. "I'm not complaining about that. I was lucky you did it."

            She blinks, then crosses her arms proudly. "That's right."

            "Thank you for everything. You'll get better and better at doing things your own way, I'm sure."

            "Huh." She and Harimaron squint up at him, eyes narrowed, the picture of suspiciousness times two. "... Well, that's nice to hear, but it feels weird coming from you."

            Alan pokes her brow with a knuckle, teasing, and she yelps and grabs her forehead. "You just said I should be nicer like the Champion."

            "Yeah, but it's weird that you'd actually do it! Are you sure you're okay?"

            "I'm fine."

            "You're not sick?"

            "No. You, be careful not to get sick tonight."

            She peers at him a little more, her earnest eyes full of concern, but eventually she grins. "I'll be fine, I have Hari-san with me. He can fight off anything, from a legendary Pokémon's Ice Beam to the regular cold! Right?" She turns her head and raises one hand for him to high-five, which he happily obliges to.

            "Rimarima!" he boasts, clearly meaning, You bet, count on me!

            Alan smiles.

            "Yeah. You've got each other." They'll be just fine. "Well, good night."

            "Hm-hm!" She reaches up on tiptoes, and he finds himself leaning down on reflex, like it's normal, not even wondering what for even though he doesn't understand what she's doing until her lips are on his cheek. She rolls back on her heels, cheeks a happy pink and grin brazen, and Harimaron mockingly leans up to give Alan a peck too. "See ya!"

            He shakes his head, but smiles, and waits until she's closed the door and he's heard the sound of the lock (and then, a noise that's most likely her tripping on her way to the bed and crashing on the mattress).

            Now, to confront the Champion.

            Daigo-san has to have guessed that Manon and Alan usually share a room in Pokémon Centers anyway, when they don't sleep on the road. It was polite of him to offer to share rather than just taking one room to himself, yes, but it wasn't the most straightforward option at all, and it hasn't escaped Alan's notice that, in plain and simply disposing of Manon and Harimaron by putting them in another room, the Champion has isolated him.

            It could just be coincidence, of course, but Alan can think of a small number of reasons why he might well have just been smoothly and effectively ambushed.

            He finds the room (fifth floor, there was no fourth one.) and knocks in signal before scanning his keycard.

            "Oh, here you are," Daigo-san's voice floats to him while he closes the door. "I was getting worried. Did you find Manon-kun's room all right?"

            "Yeah, it was just harder than we expected." He counts while he takes off his slippers: one, two, three seconds.

            "Would you let me look at your shoulder, now?"

            Like clockwork.

            When will people listen to him?

            "Like I said," he mutters, turning around resignedly to face the Champion of Hoenn's fleeting smile and steely pale gaze, "it's really nothing."

            Daigo-san cocks his head but doesn't even bat an eye. He's sitting on the double bed, with one leg crossed over his knee and his chin in his hand, pointedly expectant and business-like even in his socks. "You abseiled off the jet, putting your entire weight on it," he deadpans. "And then you fell on it, and promptly fainted."

            Alan can recognize an unwinnable battle when he sees one, and this is only the fourth one today.

            He sighs and throws his waist-pack on the couch, since there's only one bed and he's obviously leaving it to the Champion; but as he's about to sit down, Daigo says, "Don't be ridiculous," and pats the mattress beside him, brief and peremptory. Alan takes off his scarf and jacket and drops them on the armrest, but Daigo-san's eyebrow keeps rising, so eventually — sighing again to make his opinion clear — he complies and walks over to him. He almost trips, not used to the way his own socks rub on the strange matted floor. Hoenn is weird and he misses his boots.

            "Much better," Daigo comments as Alan sits down next to him, almost cheerily, like Daigo's the one indulging him.

            Alan needs his help taking off his top and undershirt, which have tighter sleeves and require him to move his shoulder more. He doesn't look at it.

            — Which is why he doesn't see the Champion's fingers coming before they poke at it, and in his surprise he can't refrain from startling and wincing.

            "Alan, this definitely needs taking care of," Daigo-san whispers. "And your back —"

            "I'm fine," he tries again, but an index finger flies to his lips and he shuts up, following the conditioned childish reflex.

            "I have no doubt you can manage," Daigo-san says, looking him straight in the eye. "But there is no need for you to. I will not think any less of you for admitting you have been hurt and accepting help — and this stands for anything, all right? You need to learn to ask for help. Besides," he smiles slightly again, and his entire face changes again, slipping from intimidatingly serious to reassuringly warm, "we wouldn't want to make Manon worry about you even more, would we?"

            Alan underestimated him again.

            He looks away before he manages to say, almost pleading, "Please, don't say anything to Manon."

            Daigo-san smiles again and takes his finger back. "Oh, I wasn't planning on it."

            Alan breathes out. "Thank you."

            Daigo apparently takes this as a sign of giving in (perhaps it is) and disappears into the en-suite bathroom. Alan rubs at his bare shoulder while he's gone. It's an ugly shade of purple, and slightly swollen. He can picture Manon's face if she were to see this.

            He's made her cry enough today.

            He doesn't regret getting injured, though. Better his shoulder than hers, or than Harimaron — even with his protective shell, the Pokémon is so small, if he had been hit by even one of the chunks of stone from the crumbling ruins, or worse, a hit from Kyogre or Groudon, they'd be spending the night in the lobby of a Pokémon Center rather than a fancy hotel and none of them would be getting any sleep. Lucky he has quick reflexes.

            Alan's hands are shaking a little.

            He'll never admit it to Manon, but yes, he was scared, too.

            The Champion comes back into the room with the first-aid kit and makes a stop at... what turns out to be a mini-bar set into a wall, to collect a glass of ice cubes from what Alan is pretty sure is a champagne bucket. Then he sits down next to Alan on the mattress again, sets the box in his lap, and pulls a handkerchief from his breast pocket.

            Alan knows now exactly why he looks this rich, but seriously. He's lived almost his entire life in one of the most elegant and luxurious cities in the world and worked for the last few years for the two most reputed labs in Kalos, and even he wants to say this is a bit too much.

            "I meant to thank you for Lizardon, too," he says instead, while watching the Champion of Hoenn wrap a handful of ice cubes in his handkerchief. "For having Metagross catch him, back when we were just battling Rayquaza."

            Daigo-san smiles again, full-on polite and pleasant heir-to-a-successful-corporation gentleman. Alan can't read this. "Please, don't mention it," he replies, and applies his makeshift ice pocket to Alan's shoulder blade. The cold against his skin gets a small shudder out of him, like a hiccup. "It was only natural. The two of you were protecting us all." Daigo-san shifts the handkerchief-wrapped ice a little higher up Alan's shoulder. The fabric slides smoothly against his bare skin; it's too cold and drenched for Alan to be sure, but he thinks it might be silk. "I'm just glad the two of you came out of this afternoon in one piece. That was really reckless, jumping off the jet like that."

            "I had to help him," Alan starts loudly, clutching his right hand on his Mega Ring thoughtlessly.

            "Of course. I'm just saying — you weren't awake to see it, but with Manon running out after you, Metagross had a hard time protecting everyone at once as well as the megalith. Honestly, we were lucky things worked out in the end."

            Alan breathes out but has to nod at that, reluctantly. Daigo-san holds the pocket to his shoulder for a few minutes of silence, and just as it occurs to Alan to hold it himself, the Champion slides the ice a little down his biceps.

            He shivers again.

            "Does it still hurt?"

            "No."

            "Alan."

            "... Only when there's pressure on it. A little higher."

            Daigo-san smiles again, patient, and shifts the silk-wrapped ice pack accordingly. His other hand prods at Alan's shoulder blade again, cautiously, but clearly on a mission. "And here?"

            Alan concedes, "A little."

            Daigo hums pensively. The ice has already melted against Alan's fevered skin; he gets up again to wring out the water from his handkerchief, then wipes Alan's drenched skin before putting some new cubes in it.

            "You're still burning up. I think I should apply some anti-inflammatory gel, to be safe."

            Alan grunts in assent automatically, and shudders again.

            Daigo applies one more dosing of ice, then towels off the meltwater that has dripped down Alan's arm and torso, still chattering the whole time: "Manon is such a nice girl" (he should see her when she's pissed), "I didn't even know the Fleurdelys labs were researching Mega Evolution, we should establish communication" (yes, the director would definitely appreciate that), "Fleurdelys-san said you work for him? You don't seem like a scientist" (he isn't really one these days), "I'm surprised he didn't have you come back with him and the megalith" (Alan's pretty much a free agent), "Your Lizardon is so well-trained, you two obviously make a very good pair. How long have you been together?" (except Alan and Lizardon are nowhere near the level of the Champion and his Mega Metagross; they have so much room to become even stronger), "So you go around challenging strong trainers who have mastered Mega Evolution?" (he still has a lot to learn), "Oh, you haven't been travelling with Manon all that long?" (it's mostly Manon who's been travelling with him), "So how are you finding Hoenn so far?" (legendary Pokémon wrecking havoc aside, it seems nice enough, but Alan's not sure he'll ever get used to the shoes thing), "... How about having a shower after this?" (uhm, is Alan dirty? Is this a Hoenn thing too?) — and so on. It's only when he starts spreading the gel that he finally falls silent again, working quietly with both hands, easing the substance into Alan's skin.

            "Sorry for making you do all this," Alan mutters, trying not to sound uncomfortable or embarrassed. "It's really not necessary. I know you're a busy man," he cracks.

            The Champion shakes his head, without stopping his ministrations. "Don't be silly. I'm the one who offered to look after you. Had to fight you for it, really," he reminds him with a snide smile.

            "It doesn't hurt anymore," Alan mentions, cautiously. "The ice managed to numb it."

            Daigo's hands trail to a stop, one lying on Alan's biceps, the other near his neck. Then, slowly, he starts rubbing again, small circles from the tips of his fingers. It's different, somehow; the pressure is firmer. Outside of the numbed area, Alan's skin is still sensitive, and his nerves are probably making it even worse.

            He's been on edge what feels like non-stop for the last thirty-six hours. Between getting through customs, the cramped seventeen-hour flight and the constant worrying over Manon (from the crazy amount of occasions there are to lose someone in an airport, to, well, this afternoon), and then fighting jet lag all through the rollercoaster of the day, running into the director — never mind the regional Champion — and then the entire chain of incidents with three of Hoenn's mythical Pokémon, the fact that none of them is quite sure exactly what happened today or why and their alarming lack of understanding of the megalith still— Alan hasn't been able to allow himself to relax for a minute since they left Kalos, and tomorrow's not going to be any fun either (though hopefully it won't involve near-destruction of the world again).

            Daigo-san's thumb rolls against a muscle and Alan's entire arm and torso twitch and shiver.

            "Can you feel that?"

            "Yes."

            "Does it feel good?"

            Alan blinks and it occurs to him, finally, that Daigo-san's smile is a little sly, his eyes a little dark, his left index finger tracing Alan's collarbone away from the bruise. The Champion tilts his head, looking up at him with this smile still unwavering, awaiting a response.

            Oh.

            That's where this was going. This is something Alan can read.

            (And that explains why Daigo-san was so insistent on doing this on the bed when there was a couch right there.)

            Well.

            Alan still can't be quite sure what to anticipate, exactly, what Daigo-san's aiming at or expecting him to do, but he... can't say he's opposed to finding out, actually. If this is a test, if it's an ambush again, if Daigo-san's got some plan or some thing he wants from him other than just — wherever exactly this is going, it's not like Alan can go wrong or do anything inappropriate so long as he's just following the Champion's lead.

            For now, it's only one question, anyway; and it has an objective answer, one that Alan doesn't mind giving.

            He swallows and says, "Yes."

            Alan hasn't received any new instructions since they left the ruins, but if they still apply... this is, he supposes, one way to keep the Champion close.

            "Good," Daigo-san comments, without breaking eye contact. His voice has gone one tone lower, near a whisper again, but still lilting, clear as a spring day.

            Alan looks away, licking his lips distractedly.

            "Is your mouth dry? Would you like something to drink?"

            "Ah, thank you."

            The Champion of Hoenn smiles again as he stands up once more, the corners of his eyes crinkling, like nothing could please him more than to wait on Alan. Or play his nurse.

            He puts some more ice in the glass of water and watches Alan drink it, silently, without blinking. Alan is acutely conscious of every bob of his own Adam's apple, and wipes his lips with his arm before remembering he's not wearing any sleeves.

            Daigo-san reaches out for the empty cup, so Alan hands it back, and even now the gesture could have been innocuous, if Daigo-san had made any effort to not let his fingers brush Alan's. Instead, they close around them, linger, slip under Alan's hold, the two thick metallic rings around his fingers pushing Alan's apart and clinking against the glass, and all the while his eyes don't stray for a second away from Alan's throat.

            "All right," Daigo-san says, as calm and casual but still not even blinking, his pupils fully dilated, "let's wrap you up."

            Alan can't help swallowing again.

            This is even more intimate somehow than his running his hands all over Alan's skin was; or perhaps it's only that Alan is aware of it now. Daigo-san turns and rolls the gauze snug and tight around his shoulder, like swaddling a baby or a Kurumiru. After the cold and the slick of the ice and the gel, it feels warm again, safe.

            And then, when he's done, he leans down and puts his lips to Alan's shoulder, so light that Alan doesn't actually feel it, through the thickness of the bandages and the numbness of his skin. He only feels the slightest bit of pressure when Daigo-san tilts his head and lets the side of it rest on Alan's shoulder, carefully, and catches his eyes again, all smiles, smiles, smiles.

            "You're very admirable, Alan," he whispers. It's so warm that Alan almost blushes from it, even after all this. Perhaps he does flush, because Daigo-san chuckles, before running the fingers of his left hand from his biceps down his arm, sneaking under the Mega Ring. "Strong, passionate. Caring, too. It's wonderful, how you try to protect Manon. But you don't have to always be the one doing the protecting. It's all right to be less than the absolute strongest from time to time." Easy for him to say, Alan thinks, hotly, he doesn't have to prove anything to anyone — but the Champion's tone is earnest. He's still smiling, still staring Alan in the eyes, while Alan's gaze keeps flicking to where Daigo's index finger wraps around his bracelet, the metal rings on his own knuckles clicking against it. The sight is dizzying for some reason.

            "That was just water, right?" Alan asks, maybe more dryly than strictly necessary. He's pretty sure it was, but. In case.

            "Of course!" Daigo-san is laughing a little, his dark eyes sparkling.

            Alan purses his lips, considering. Daigo's fingers slip under the band of his glove, and they're still cool from the ice and the gel, but the spot where they press down against his pulse point feels like a pool of heat, slowly spreading up his forearm. It's not unpleasant; it wouldn't be unpleasant, to fall into bed with Daigo-san, who's slightly smug and annoying but patient and attentive, whom he still can't quite figure out yet can't help but like at little. And he certainly could use letting off some steam and tension after today, before tomorrow; it would feel good and he'd feel better afterwards. Maybe it's not the best of reasons, but it's not like they need more, and he has no reason not to, either. Alan is not against this.

            Slowly, he nods, and says, "All right, then."

            With a smile dripping with implications, Daigo-san slides the Mega Ring off his wrist and this is when Alan feels naked, vulnerable. He can't remember the last time he took it off.

            He watches the Champion stand up and lay his Mega Ring on the nightstand, then, very deliberately, slip his stickpin out of his collar and lay it down pointedly in the middle of the ring — Alan almost laughs, does crack a smile in response to the absolutely smug turn of Daigo-san's lips, but he's flushed, his mouth dry again. He has to swallow again by the time the Champion comes back to stand in front of him, hands at his collar, untying his cravat.

            "Let me," Alan mutters, reaching up, but Daigo's knuckles softly push his left arm back — careful of his shoulder.

            "Tss, tss," he warns quietly. "Don't hurt it again."

            Alan breathes out, like another long shudder, and raises only his right arm back up. Daigo smiles.

            It's a lot slower with only one hand, even though it's his dominant one. But Daigo-san is nothing but patience; he treads his fingers in Alan's hair, slowly, playfully, as Alan goes through the layers of his clothes. The jacket is shrugged off his lithe shoulders easily (falling in a crumpled mess on the floor and that can't be good for it, but the Champion doesn't seem to care in the slightest, which honestly figures); the tailored waistcoat requires more time for Alan to peel off him, polished steel clasp by clasp, and then he reaches the dress shirt and starts working his way, one-handed, down the long line of thin silver buttons.

            Daigo-san's stomach jumps under his fingers; Alan hears a short breath, a chuckle perhaps, looks up to see a twinkle in those darkened eyes, a smile (surprise?).

            "What?" he mutters.

            "Nothing. You're more forward than I expected." Alan leans back to stare up at his face for a moment, his hand stopping on the middle button. "Yes?"

            "I'm being forward? You got me shirtless twenty minutes ago," Alan deadpans, scowling. "This is only fair."

            Daigo-san laughs for real this time, which Alan can feel, rumbling under his palm. "True!" He looks even younger, Alan thinks, and strangely thin, with the two layers off. He's lean, but not as tall as his proportions make him appear, his shoulders aren't very wide for an apparent adult. Without his suit and the Keystone, with his open collar and his almost adolescent built, he seems suddenly nearly frail, defenseless, which really aren't words Alan could have ever imagined using for a Champion.

            Alan finds himself fidgeting with the hem of the shirt. "Is it a problem?" he asks, quietly, cautiously.

            One of the hands in his hair slides down his skull and traces the shell of his ear. The other grasps his fingers and leads them down along his torso to the next button.

            "On the contrary."

            And Alan's been undressing him for the last few minutes, but it's the calm heat in that voice and that smile that makes him flush again. His breath is short by the time he undoes the last button.

            He pulls away the flaps of the shirt like curtains and presses his face to the plane of Daigo's stomach, breathing fast against his skin and mouthing against the warmth of it, his cheeks burning like his shoulder earlier and his head spinning. Daigo's hand cradles his jaw and gently tilts his chin up to make Alan look up at him. His thumb strokes Alan's lips, softly; Alan doesn't even think before nibbling on it.

            "Alan," he whispers, something in his voice like awe, and ain't that something.

            "Is this okay?" Alan breathes against his finger. "For the Champion to do with some stranger? I'm —"

            "Alan," Daigo repeats, cutting him off with a hint of a laugh in his voice, but not annoyed or dismissive, just fond again, tender even. Never breaking eye contact, he slowly kneels down, his eyes locking Alan's in place until they're face to face, the Champion of Hoenn on his knees in front of him, between his legs. He lays his free hand on Alan's right thigh, firmly, purposely, but not squeezing it, not invading, still a gesture that Alan could stop, could swat away, if he wanted to. "Alan," he whispers, "I'm the one who should be asking. Let me take care of you. Please?"

            His gaze is earnest, eager; Alan has to avert his. The Champion's hand is warm and heavy even through the fabric of his pants, and then he starts rubbing his thumb slowly on the inside of Alan's thigh and Alan is having trouble breathing normally, has to swallow again.

            "Alan? Is that okay with you?"

            "You could get anyone you want," he says, because he may not have thought about this before he realized it was happening but he's not blind. Daigo-san is good-looking, as well as rich and powerful; he must be drowning in invitations.

            "Surely not anyone," Daigo-san objects, reasonably. "But, point conceded." He smiles and leans closer, his forehead touching Alan's, and Alan shrinks on himself, looking down, at his hands fisted on the sheets on either side of him, at the hand coaxing his thigh. "So what does that tell you?" Daigo-san breathes.

            Alan knows he's attractive. He's been told. He's been complimented before, he's been confessed to, he's been propositioned. But he's never had the Champion of Hoenn kneel before him, lean into him, and whisper against his cheek, "I want you, Alan."

            He nods, shakily, his forehead bumping lightly against Daigo's brow, his nose brushing his chin. He smells cologne, something heady and intoxicating, probably from a small bottle more expensive than a three-course dinner in Miare City's best restaurant. Alan's eyelids are closed tight by the time Daigo-san tips his face up again and leans in.

            And then does nothing.

            "Alan," he breathes again. Alan feels it on his lips.

            He opens his eyes again, unsure. "... Yes?"

            "You're not trying to repay me, right?"

            "... What?"

            He can barely distinguish Daigo's face from this up close, but he thinks the turn of his mouth is serious, his eyes hard. "For Lizardon, for Manon, for your shoulder, for the meal and rooms, whichever. You know I'm not asking you to pay me back for any of that, right? Not in any way and certainly not like this. This is not about that. I won't kick you out if you don't want me to kiss you."

            "No — I mean, yes, I know."

            "You're sure you really want me to kiss you?" he says, just like that, still as grave and inscrutable as his Pokémon looks and Alan can't believe he's keeping a straight face while asking this in so many words.

            "What does it look like?!" Alan bristles.

            "I need you to say it."

            For the love of— "Yes," he hisses.

            Daigo-san's face shifts again, seems to light up from the inside, his features melting into something unbearably fond, and he whispers, "I'm glad," and swoops in.

            Daigo-san kisses him slowly, gradually — only a caress of lips at first, light, delicate. Not teasing: courting, still courting. "Good," he whispers against Alan's lower lip before catching it between his teeth and nipping gently at it, "good," making Alan feel like a preteen doing this for the first time all over again even as his every move is precise and controlled, nothing like messy adolescent first times at all. His arms snake down Alan's shoulders, around his torso, delicately, encasing him, holding him. Alan is being handled, he's aware, like a toy, but a cherished one, and it's actually enjoyable, this mixture of being lost and cajoled into confidence, coddled like a child and acknowledged as remarkable at the same time; he kisses back.

            Daigo eases his lips open, then, and keeps kissing him steady and leisurely, stroking his jaw and moving into his mouth like invading territory until Alan is dizzy again and not quite sure if he's been remembering to breathe.

            Carefully, holding him under the ribcage and lowering him slowly so that his left shoulder doesn't hit the mattress first, Daigo-san pushes him backwards to lie on his back and climbs over his body on all fours like a Kaenjishi, all in one smooth move, and Alan, slightly out of breath, takes note again to never underestimate a Champion.

            "Fast," he pants.

            Daigo-san smiles down at him, this very self-satisfied smile, and practically sings, "Can't handle it? Want me to slow down?" before ducking back down.

            "As if," Alan groans, and braces himself on his right elbow to rise just a little, meet him halfway.

            The kiss is immediately deeper, this time, and Alan needs to shift in order to hold himself up; his hips tilt up, not entirely accidentally. Daigo-san hums quietly in his mouth. He breaks off the kiss, pecks Alan's lips one more time, and leans back, sitting square on his hips — Alan breathes in sharply so as not to hiss, and this brings the fleeting, eerie smile back on the corner of Daigo-san's mouth. But his eyes are intense, focused; he's staring at Alan like he did this morning, across the improvised battlefield: the Champion figuring out his angle of attack.

            Alan smiles, too. Comfortable warmth is spreading from his throat and blooming up to his cheeks. "Planning your next move?"

            "Yes." His hands trail down Alan's torso, languidly, tracing abdominals, his thick rings grazing Alan's skin, making Alan shiver and his stomach stutter and flutter under his fingertips. "I am thinking," he whispers, "that I would like to have you on your stomach."

            Uhm.

            "Uhm," Alan goes, tensing.

            "I'm good at giving massages," Daigo continues smoothly, "and with how your back looks, I'm sure you could use one. Unwind a little. You look so high-strung, I've been wondering all day when you were going to snap."

            "Oh. Oh, that's — not necessary..."

            "I know it's not," Daigo-san states, amiable as usual, and also toying with the band of Alan's pants, between his own thighs. "Would you like it?"

            Alan's first reflex is to say no, again, because he wouldn't ask for one, is still not comfortable with asking people for favors other than battles. But it's a rhetorical question at best, like so many before, and Daigo-san's hands did feel good on his shoulder earlier and — well, Alan can't say he's against this idea, either. "Do what you like," he sighs as a last resort.

            "Really?" Daigo-san lays his hands flat on Alan's stomach, his rings making contact again and, yes, that is definitely an interesting sensation. "You don't look that thrilled."

            "No, that was... I thought you meant something else," Alan admits under his breath, sort of a little distracted by the fingers and their heavy rings crawling up his torso again.

            "Well, to be perfectly honest, that was the next step of the plan."

            Alan's hips jerk up and his hand flies to his own mouth, smothering — he doesn't know what sound, just that it would have been mortifying. He never deals well with flat honesty. His ears are ringing as though Daigo had just spat out some horrifying profanity, his face is on fire and his stomach nothing but a tight knot from embarrassment, sheer disbelief, anxiety — but he's growing hard, stupidly and suddenly.

            "Is that too much?" Daigo-san asks, concerned, almost candid, like he's not sitting on Alan's nascent erection. He's not even blushing or averting his eyes — he gazes straight at Alan, all his attention still on him, sharp and pointed like his Metagross's claws.

            Is this what they teach children in business? To make outrageous demands brazenly with an angelic face and batting eyelashes?

            "It's — I barely know you," Alan splutters. "We met this morning." Other people than Alan would probably be objecting to being half-naked and straddled, to be honest.

            "True. But I've gotten to know you enough to know I really like you."

            Sure, right, he really seemed very taken with Alan this afternoon in the jet — but his hands are making their way up as he speaks, and to reach higher he tilts his hips forwards again and the friction cuts Alan's retort short and sharp; his own hands jerk up, grab onto Daigo's thighs.

            "What, do I meet the requirements?" Alan finally mutters. "Do you go that far that fast with many people? Champion," he adds, biting on the end of the last syllable as Daigo-san's right hand reaches his left nipple and twists it between two fingers.

            "My title really has nothing to do with it," Daigo-san protests, with a slight pout, and lets go. "At least, I hope. I haven't even had it all that long. Are you saying you're only going along with this because I'm the Champion?"

            His moue is bratty, facetious, but his eyes are sharp and intent as ever, belying the humor. He may need to say this like a joke, but it's not, Alan realizes with sudden clarity. It's really not.

            He could have figured this out himself earlier, probably — Daigo-san swipes his thumb over Alan's skin, soothing — though he really can't be blamed for the slight — runs the nail of his thumb sharp across the nub of flesh — delays in his cognitive functions, right now. But, right — the Champion of Hoenn and heir to the Devon Corporation is probably drowning in invitations, but how many can he trust enough to take up on the offer? How do you form any sort of relationship, with that kind of power imbalance hanging over your head?

            You ask a lot and explicitly, apparently.

            "No," Alan whispers, because it's mostly true, true enough for Daigo-san to not worry about it. It's not in the way he's thinking of, anyway, this much is for sure — Daigo-san smiles flatly and runs his nail back, harsh, and Alan bites down on his own lip.

            There's a part of his mind that never shuts down, no matter what's going on around him, a leftover of his days as a lab assistant that never stops working, examining, analyzing; and that part remembers that Daigo-san hadn't said. He was challenged by some demanding foreigner with no badges, and rather than using his title to politely decline, he said nothing, and accepted.

            It was kind of a bastard move of him, but Alan can see where he's coming from. The simpler alternative to double-checking everything: say nothing at all. Alan isn't unfamiliar with that.

            Then Daigo-san scrapes his nail against his skin again and Alan has to grab his hand and pull it away — one of the rings catches on his nipple on the way and he shudders again, brief and hard — before he can continue, panting. "You're. Really forward," he gibes, still, because his brain is still reeling a little from — well, everything the Champion has done or said in the last ten minutes, honestly, "and presuming a lot, but. You're not forcing me."

            Daigo smiles and turns his hand over in Alan's hold, squeezes, softly, swiping his thumb over Alan's knuckles.

            "And," Alan breathes, slowly, trying to get the rhythm of his pulse back under control, "I'm not forcing myself."

            "I'm glad to hear that," Daigo-san murmurs again, his voice low, smiling. "I apologize for asking, that was inappropriate of me." His eyes are still fixed onto Alan's, holding Alan's in place, focused; but soft, now — his entire face, soft, soft, his soft smile still there. "But I really had to ask."

            Alan breaks the eye contact, breathes in; his stomach rises, pushing against Daigo-san's weight pinning him in place, and, yeah, he's not growing any less hard. "I... didn't say it was too much," he mutters.

            He doesn't watch while Daigo-san, slowly, brings his gloved hand up to his mouth and kisses the back of it, the strip of skin where the fabric is cut out. This isn't gentlemanly at all, the pressure much more firm and insistent than would be proper, his lips hot and slick.

            Against the back of Alan's hand, he whispers: "Why don't you turn over, then?"

            Alan gulps, and obeys.

            (This isn't something he's done often, obeying. Whenever he's done things like this, it was mutual stuff, on equal terms, no one having higher status over anyone and certainly no one serving the other like this.

            It makes his skin crawl, itch, like misreading the flow of a battle and being taken by surprise — but relentlessly, every couple minutes, he just can't get used to the Champion, can read but not predict him at all — and like an unexpectedly tough battle, it just makes it all the more exciting.)

            Turning over requires a little awkward shuffling, wriggling away from the side of the bed to get his legs up on the mattress, maneuvering onto his right side while being careful not to use his left arm. He finally settles on his stomach, gracelessly, and Daigo-san immediately sits on his thighs again rather than the small of his back, which just figures; but at least Alan’s own erection is trapped down between his body and the mattress, now, which is just a little better than Daigo-san's thighs. He clenches his teeth when his sensitized nipple rubs and chafes against the bed sheet, but that, too, is a lot more bearable than Daigo-san's torturous fingers.

            Those fingers alight on his shoulders, now, still teasing and flirting but lighter, the caress of feathers. Warmed slightly from rubbing Alan's own skin, but still a little cool.

            One hand lifts off, finger by finger. Alan's not sure if he likes it better on him or off; his skin still tingles at every contact.

            Then it comes back down.

            Knuckles first, into his right shoulder blade, hard.

            Not quite a blow, but fast and sharp and unexpected as a punch in the gut and Alan gasps, airlessly.

            Swiftly, it slides down and around and under his scapula, snug along the bone, the rings — the crazy bastard's kept his rings on! — hard-edged bumps against it, until he finds the dip under it and burrows under there, and all the while the fingers of his other hand are digging like drills into the muscles of Alan's upper back — carefully far from his injury, ridiculously enough because fuck, it hurts.

            Then the pressure disappears all at once and Daigo's hands go back to gliding on his skin gently, open palms and spread fingertips, and Alan can finally stop gritting his teeth long enough to enunciate, "Guuhh".

            "You all right?" comes Daigo-san's voice, light and lilting. Alan doesn't need to look over his shoulder to tell that he's smiling, that perfect charming smile again. He's not even doing the back-and-forth switching between ruthless monster and gentleman this time: right now, he's wearing the same face the whole time, whether or not it matches his actions.

            "Yeah," Alan pants into a pillow.

            "Good~"

            Alan is wheezing. "You're rough," he says, stupidly.

            "Seems like you need it. Is your back always coiled this tight?"

            "Transcontinental flight," he mutters. "Not really ideal for backs."

            "Oh dear, did you and Manon just arrive this morning?" He sounds so conversational. Must be the life of business meetings.

            Alan sighs and closes his eyes. "It's been a long day."

            "Indeed." Daigo-san shifts his weight onto his palms again, leaning on them, pressing down on Alan's back above his lungs. "A lot of work for me, then."

            — his hands fist and tilt onto their knuckles, rake down his back, boring into the small of his spine, and what comes out of Alan's mouth is embarrassingly close to a moan this time. He swallows, hard, and he can just feel Daigo's amusement, as though radiating.

            "What," Alan gulps, trying to find his breath, twisting his neck to look at the man sitting on the back of his thighs, "what — was your type — specialty, again?"

            "Oh, you didn't know?" Daigo-san's voice rises past cheerful and into absolute glee barely disguised as offhandedness, and Alan manages to recognize this as the warning it is and catch the split-second to brace himself, this time. A grunt still makes it past his lips. Daigo-san is grinning, white teeth showing, and he whispers like sharing a secret: "Steel."

            Alan groans and lets his head drop back down, face first into the pillow, defeated.

            He might have to reconsider his previous agreement.

            Both thumbs jam into his skin at once, on either side of the axis of his spine, press in, and pull it upwards, kneading his back as if he were elastic as a Numera. Alan gives up, lets himself collapse completely into the mattress, his limbs loosening and his tense muscles slackening, and grunts, heavy and deep and long-suffering.

            Daigo-san laughs, a low yet clear chortle, and releases the pressure. His hands turn into soothing currents again, rubbing Alan's skin softly, massaging away the ache they just inflicted. The next time they dig into his flesh, they catch a kink in the muscles of Alan's back and he jolts, reflexively, jerking up into Daigo's thighs.

            Daigo-san chuckles, "Hm? Does that feel good?", like he's surprised, like he's not hard as well and Alan didn't just rub against the bulge straining his tailored suit pants, like his breathing didn't just hitch and his fingers aren't clutching into Alan's sides.

            Alan breathes in, sharp and hard, and whatever, whatever, it's not like he's expected to be having any shame right now, so he groans, "Yeah, there. Right there."

            Daigo's fingers still for a beat. Slowly, they inch back up Alan's ribs, feeling the relief of his muscles and tendons, in search for that one spot. He finds it as if he could feel the little star of throbbing tension coiled tight under Alan's skin, as if his fingertips were magnetically drawn to it, and poises his hand over it like a claw. "Here?" he whispers.

            Alan nods.

            Daigo-san pushes.

            Even knowing it was coming, Alan can't refrain the full-body jump — feels like a Koiking this time, bouncing and flopping uselessly on the ground, a long whimper keening out of his throat.

            He doesn't quite understand what the sound in his back is until he notices Daigo's hands and thighs are shaking.

            He needs to catch his breath, but then he turns his head to glare over his shoulder and huffs, "Are you laughing?", perhaps a little more snappily than he meant.

            And yes, he is, a quiet but full-on bubbly snicker. "You're just so trusting!" Daigo-san practically giggles. "I mean, I like to think I'm trustworthy, I'm happy you seem to think so too, but —" he presses down again, driving and twisting his gathered fingers into Alan's back like a screw, "I haven't really given you that much proof, have I? We have only met this morning, like you said."

            "'S not like I'm marrying you," Alan manages to groan, really fast, before he buries his face into the pillow again and decides to allow himself a few minutes of just lying there, twitching, under Daigo-san's hands.

            "No, but you might regret letting me know your weak point."

            The cheerfulness in his tone is indeed kind of terrifying, but his hands have receded, back to gentleness; his fingers only graze the tender spot when they reach it again, smoothing over it lightly, delicately. Alan shivers again, just the faintest tremor, and he's not sure if it's from the words or the almost ticklish contact.

            "That wasn't a threat," Daigo says suddenly. "I won't make you regret anything. If you want to stop right here, right now, or anytime, I won't make you regret that either. I swear, on my honor as Champion."

            Alan turns his head again, to stare at him, as much as he can bear to, anyway. "You're really insistent on that," he notes, quietly.

            "I have to be." His expression is carefully empty, and maybe Alan shouldn't, after all, trust someone who can school their face into this blank slate a mere minute after what looked like a helpless fit of giggling.

            But he does. Daigo-san is all kinds of strange and slightly intimidating, but Alan's not afraid or wary of him, his body is aching all over but he's not uncomfortable and he doesn't want to stop. "So long as you don't puncture my lungs," he sighs, stretching.

            A blink, and the inscrutable mask vanishes, the mouth cracking back into the teasing smile and drawling: "Nah, no puncturing anything just yet."

            Alan breathes, deeply, deliberately, and rocks back into him. Daigo-san's thumbs burrow in the small of his back and he hunches forward, and then just keeps leaning down, slowly. Alan can count the points of contact one by one: first just the hands clasping his flanks and the thighs around his; then the erection pressing against him, enclosed in fabric and warmth; then the tails of his open shirt fluttering down, caressing Alan's skin; then the cold of his belt buckle and the warmth of his bare stomach, connecting with Alan's back, first — and then, his chest, and shoulders, and arms bracketing his torso, as he comes down to cover Alan like a blanket, still careful not to weigh on his left shoulder.

            That's not going to be an easy position to keep massaging from, the stupidly clear part of Alan's brain signals, right before Daigo-san's face reaches his ear and he whispers: "But, like I said. If it really is not too much." His hands slide down Alan's sides to his hipbones, and his thumbs, between their bodies, slip, just the first knuckles each, under Alan's waistband. "I would love to."

            Alan breathes.

            "Or the other way around, really. At this point, I'm up for anything you want."

            Alan breathes.

            "Or don't want. Alan?"

            He starts sitting up just as Alan starts turning around, bracing on his right shoulder — and Daigo-san is already clambering off, leaned away the instant Alan began to move, so Alan reaches out with his left arm and catches him by the hanging tail of his shirt, pulls him back, reels him in, and slides his knee up Daigo's thigh to press hard against his erection.

            He thinks he sees Daigo-san's eyes roll back, for a fraction of a second, before the lids lower on them, squeezing shut. He freezes, half looming over Alan, hands fisted in the sheets on either side of Alan's stomach, his intake of breath sounding sharp, harsh, almost like hissing metal. Alan moves his knee up against him a little, slowly, just an inch, watches him shudder violently. Daigo-san's pupils are blown out when he opens his eyes again and meets Alan's, head-on.

            "Okay," he whispers, his voice low and hoarse. He starts on a sentence, then cuts himself off, draws another shuddering breath, and another. And another, deep, painstaking.

            Then he makes that sound again.

            Around his attempts to catch his breath back, his lips are twitching, letting that sound escape, that helpless laughter, bubbling like champagne.

            Alan pulls on his shirt, reaches up for these lips, but Daigo pushes his chest back down, saying, "No, please," laughing breathlessly again. "Alan, please, this is important. Listen to me, all right?" This doesn't sound too good, but Alan is only apprehensive for a short instant, because Daigo's smile is elated; maybe a little too much, to be honest, but this doesn’t really worry Alan either, just makes him smile back, a little shyly, even as his fist is still clutching the corner of the open shirt.

            Daigo-san takes in a gulp of air, composes himself, actually manages to look almost respectable and businesslike, sitting on Alan like that. "Okay. I'm taking what you just did as a sign of good will. Am I correct?"

            Alan nods, then wonders if he was too quick to respond — but Daigo-san is still smiling and, right, that's right, this guy has nothing against eagerness.

            "Good," he breathes. "Now. What are you willing for? I've got condoms, lubricant, everything. That okay with you?"

            Alan nods again, definitely too quick again, but Daigo's smile widens, turns into a sly grin — eagerness turns him on.

            "Good," he repeats. One of his hands delicately catches Alan's, which is shaking a little. "So, can I —"

            "Can't we just — stop talking, get on with it?" Alan bursts out, and experiences about half a second of relief before balking at his own interruption. But Daigo-san's not looking mad.

            "Alan," he says, reaching for Alan's face with his other hand and laying it on his cheek, as if comforting a child. "It's important for me too. I need to know that you're fine and you trust me —"

            "Okay, you like to hear it, I got that, but I thought I made it clear enough—"

            "— but I also need to know that I can trust you."

            Oh.

            "I need to be sure we're on the same wavelength," Daigo-san says, gently. "I need to hear you say these things."

            Well, that's. That's sensible.

            Alan swallows, licks his lips, says, "All right."

            "All right," Daigo-san repeats, small smile, demure, almost proper. Just thanks to this expression and his impeccable posture, he still looks sophisticated, even despite his waistcoat on the floor, his dress shirt hanging open, his suit pants straining, his cheeks flushed. "I would like to fuck you," he says. Alan will never forget the picture of his mouth pursing around the word, his teeth pushing off his bottom lip.

            Well all right then.

            — Except he continues, "Is that okay?", insistent, his dark eyes earnest and genuine, and Alan's promised to think and be serious about this.

            He breathes in deep (Daigo's right hand shifts on his cheek as it moves), clenches his jaw. "... No strings attached, right?"

            Daigo-san smiles, eyes twinkling; happy or amused, Alan can't tell, either option only making sense in the Champion's strange head. "No strings attached," he confirms. "No commitment, no follow-up, no consequences."

            "You won't tell Manon," Alan checks, his fingers tightening on Daigo's other hand, and all right, he gets the feeling now, wanting to make things clear and hear it.

            "Of course not," Daigo promises.

            "Not about the shoulder either, nothing, no matter what," Alan insists. "Even if she asks you when I'm not there to hear."

            "Why, are you going anywhere?"

            Alan's dry throat makes it hard to swallow. "Like if I pass out again, for whatever reason."

            Daigo laughs. "You won't as long as Manon is protecting you!" He sobers up when Alan doesn't laugh with him, and his face softens somewhat. "If it reassures you, let's make a deal?" His hand on Alan's cheek slides down his jaw, strokes his neck, not quite sensual but intimate, close. "Let's say this room is the boundary: once we leave it, this... encounter is over, and we don't even mention it again."

            Staring up Daigo-san's arm at their hands entwined between their thighs, Alan considers this, weighs it like a stone rolling in his palm. "The moment one of us walks out the door, it's over."

            "If that suits you." His thumb brushes the back of Alan's hand encouragingly.

            "It sounds fine. Sounds... neat." He looks up, frowning as the thought occurs to him — "You have a lot of experience with that arrangement, huh?"

            The Champion of Hoenn bats his eyelashes, pretending at ingenuity but a guilty-as-charged smile tugging at the corner of his lips. "So!" he exclaims cheerfully, breaking into a full grin, "do we have a deal?"

            Alan suppresses a snicker. "Yeah, okay, then."

            "Okay for what?"

            Alan snorts again, but Daigo-san is staring at him, intently, his grin showing teeth, light-hearted but not joking at all. "What you just said," he intones, slowly. "The door thing."

            "All right, but what are we going to do and not talk about outside this door?"

            "I — You just..." Daigo-san's grin hitches the corner of his lips a little higher and Alan's breath escapes him. "You want me to say it," he realizes.

            Daigo-san's thumb on his throat slides around his Adam's apple, pushes up under his chin. "Yes." He bends down and leans in again, close, close, close, his pupils dilating again, eyelids lowered. Looming over Alan's face, he breathes, "Yes, I want to hear it. Tell me what you want me to do to you, Alan."

            "You're —" He wants to say ridiculous, he wants to say incredible, but his throat is tight, his breathing back but way too fast, his right hand shaking as Daigo-san slowly intertwines their fingers and pins it to the mattress beside him.

            "Yes?"

            "I —" Alan inhales, "I want —", doesn't know how to finish that sentence because that's it, really, that's a complete sentence, this is all he is right now: wanting, but of course Daigo-san isn't having any of that.

            "Go on," he nudges, his lips brushing against Alan's.

            "I want — you," he tries, he manages; Daigo-san presses a kiss on the corner of his mouth, quick and hard, fierce, barely longer than it takes Alan's heart to pulse one beat.

            Then he pulls away and repeats, hair's breadth away from Alan's lips, "Go on," and Alan is whining and past caring.

            "Fuck," he pants, "fuck, fuckfuckfuck fuck —" and through his frustration he can feel the chuckle building up Daigo's chest, shaking his shoulders.

            "Yeees?" he drawls and Alan groans, kisses him out of sheer spite and heat.

            "Shut up," he begs, he's begging, he knows he is. "Fuck. I want you to fuck me, all right, is that —"

            "Good," Daigo-san is whispering again, then kissing him again. "Perfect." Kissing him again, opening his mouth. "Good boy," purring, kissing him again, and Alan bites down harshly on his bottom lip for that but that just gets Daigo-san jerking and grinding into him and, fuck. "So, shower now, or—"

            "What is it," Alan finally bursts, "with you and showers?!" His face is burning and he kisses back once, furiously, before rambling on, "Seriously, do I stink?!"

            Daigo-san is snickering once more, vibrating against his chest, his shaky breath flickering on Alan’s face and lips. "Right, it’s — I’m not sure if it’s a Hoenn thing, or if it’s just not a thing in Kalos," he explains. "We usually shower before having sex, that’s all."

            "Oh." Alan’s head drops back on the pillow. "Oh, okay," he sighs. "That makes sense." He shifts uncomfortably, swallows. He’s not sweating as much as he might have if he still had his shirt on, but their skins are hot and slick where their chests touch; it’s never bothered him, but... "So you want to clean up first?"

            "No, no, it’s fine by me, it’s just out of habit, if you want to just get to it now —"

            "Yes."

            Daigo smiles, smiles, smiles and kisses him again, long and deep. Alan laps at his mouth and pulls at him with his left hand until they’re as close as they could possibly be, Daigo lying on him, then shoves his hand up the back of his shirt to pull him even closer.

            Daigo-san makes a sound inside his mouth, pulls away. "Tshh, tshh," lays his free hand on Alan’s left shoulder, very lightly, "I told you to stop —" kisses the corner of his lips again like he can’t help it, "— using —" slides his fingers down to Alan’s elbow, "— that arm." Slowly but inexorably, he pushes it back down on the mattress, grabs Alan’s forearm to pin it down by the wrist, rises a little to look down at him. Alan’s already tensing, uncomfortably aware that he’s trapped, both arms kept still, before Daigo-san whispers, very low: "Do I have to tie you up just to be sure you can’t move it?"

            Alan gulps. Something tightens, tightrope-taut, in his chest and stomach, and he feels too hot, stifled. "I’ll… stop moving it," he mumbles, stiffly.

            "Sorry," Daigo-san says quickly, his voice back to normal, the pressure of his hands weakening immediately. "So no restraining?"

            "Yeah, no. Please."

            "Of course." He lets go altogether, his hands flying up in the air aimlessly. "But please, be careful with your shoulder still."

            Alan breathes, can breathe again. "All right." Then he lunges at him, bracing on his right elbow, lurches up and crashes into his chest and they’re sitting up, and Daigo-san doesn’t stop him moving this time. Instead, he goes with the momentum to swing a leg around, wraps it around Alan’s waist, curls his arms around his neck — he’s laughing, pleased, and Alan is free, free to do this, free to shove his tongue in the Champion's mouth, free to pull away and pant, "The lubricant, go get the damn lubricant."

            "Right," Daigo-san whispers back, breathless, "should be some in the bathroom, I'll be right back."

            Alan's jaw drops.

            "Okay, how much does this hotel cost?!"

            "Doesn't matter, worth it," Daigo declares, both cheerful and dead serious.

            Alan is dizzy again, and not only because most of the blood in his circulatory system is concentrated in stupid places.

            It's not like he's a virgin, and he's not unused to attention, but this — this kind of attention, lavished on him, by the Champion of Hoenn who could have anyone and has been so dedicated and enthusiastic and happy about seducing Alan, there's no preparing for that, no getting used to that.

            And he has no idea how to respond to that, either, so he just kisses him fiercely again, mutters, "Stop that," panting, his lip mashed against Daigo-san's mouth and caught between his teeth, "stop, just — go. Go get it," but then Daigo-san grins with delight and gives him a peck back as an answer, so Alan has to grab him again to kiss that expression off his face, defeating the purpose, and it's a few minutes of breathless push-and-pull before Daigo-san gets to huff, "With pleasure," and Alan all but shoves him off the bed.

            Daigo practically skips to the bathroom, sing-songing, "Please don’t run away while I’m gone!"

            "Do you need me to sign something before you’ll believe I’m really willing?" Alan shouts back, and hears laughter reverberate in the small room.

            Alan sighs deeply, and then just breathes, in and out, a few times, tries to get his heart to calm down, his hands to stop shaking. He’s still got his gloves on, he notices, so he slips them off, sets them on the table next to the glass and the Keystones. Tugs off his socks, too. Just as he’s wondering if he should go ahead and take off his pants now, Daigo-san reappears at the threshold, so Alan looks up at him, and figures there’s no reason not to at this point.

            Daigo-san closes the door of the bathroom behind him with a thin smile, almost a smirk, playing absently with the plastic bottle in his hand, his eyes fixed on Alan’s right hand pulling the baggy fabric from his legs. His stare bores holes in Alan’s skin and he’s looking way too happy, so Alan grumbles, "This isn’t a show, you know," as he kicks his pants off the bed.

            Daigo-san actually says, "Aww," and steps closer.

            Alan leans back, bracing on his right hand, locking his elbow and shoulder, and tries not to fidget.

            Daigo-san takes his sweet time approaching. He toes his waistcoat out of the way, crouches on the floor to fish in his jacket pockets for his wallet and pull out a couple of condoms, sets everything on the mattress, next to where Alan’s let his left hand drop like a dead weight.

            He straightens, takes one step back, and with that smile still floating, staring Alan right in the eyes, he grabs both flaps of his shirt and pulls it off his shoulders, does a little motion to shrug the sleeves down his arms, letting it join his other crumpled clothes on the floor.

            There are purple-green spots on his forearms. Alan stares at them, then up to meet Daigo-san’s eyes, raising his eyebrows eloquently because he doesn’t trust his throat right now.

            "Oh," Daigo-san goes, like it just occurred to him. "This morning, when Rayquaza used Draco Meteor, I stumbled. I fell." Alan stares some more. "Well, I’m not hurting them every time I move my arms. And I didn’t get a piece of wall falling on me. Or get thrown into a block of ice. Or —"

            "Hmm-hmm," Alan manages to mumble with the right, unimpressed tone.

            Daigo-san honest-to-Arceus pouts. Then he unbuckles his belt, and instead of just loosening it and moving on to his fly, he slides it all the way out of its rings, slowly, and drops it to the floor.

            Okay, that is a show.

            Alan swallows and concentrates on breathing.

            Daigo-san undoes the button of his pants, unzips his fly, with a hitch as it catches because, yeah, he’s still noticeably hard; there really won’t be any problem getting him back in the mood. He bends one leg back behind him, standing on one foot with impressive balance, to pull his sock off without looking away from Alan, then the other. Then he sticks his thumbs in his waistband, teasing and smug and really nothing a Champion should be, but Alan can’t even muster the voice to inform him of that.

            His underwear probably cost more than the entirety of Alan’s outfit and traveling gear combined. Alan’s pretty sure this is silk, too — not that he gets to check. Daigo slips it off and steps out of it casually, flicks it to the ground with the rest of his discarded clothes, and takes a few seconds to stretch, clearly just to show exactly how satisfied he is with himself.

            Then he steps forward, and Alan physically cannot move, can only breathe, look up to maintain eye contact as Daigo-san, slowly, clambers onto the bed and back into his lap to straddle him.

            Daigo-san smiles down at Alan. He lays his hands on his shoulders (lighter on the left, barely a careful brush) and slides them up, delicate and smooth but firm, along his shoulder blades, up his neck, fingers entwining on his nape and knotting into his hair. Alan's head is tilted up already, his mouth hanging slightly ajar, so Daigo-san only has to lean down a little to sweep his tongue inside his mouth, easy, familiar already.

            It's dirty, and not only because Daigo-san's erection is now skin-to-skin, hot and snug against Alan's stomach; Daigo dives and pushes into his mouth, not so much kissing as making love to him with his tongue, pressing, curling, coaxing, like sex already in Alan's mouth. Alan can hear his own breathing through his nose, loud and fast, his chest heaving. Daigo's palms have settled on either side of his throat and Alan can feel his own heartbeat quavering against them, frantic.

            Daigo shifts and draws his legs around Alan's waist, encircling him fully, thighs against his flanks and hooking his feet together behind Alan's back, his ass right on Alan's pulsing hard-on. Then he pulls himself closer, tighter against Alan, letting his hands and arms glide down Alan's shoulders, reaching as far down his back as he can and digging his fingers and palms in his muscles, like he can't get enough of touching him, can't get enough surface of contact. He bucks and tilts forwards, rubbing, against Alan's stomach, against Alan's cock, and Alan makes a painful sound inside his mouth.

            Daigo-san is laughing when he finally pulls away, just an inch, still close, but not close enough and Alan clutches back, running his hands all over Daigo's lower back, roaming as best he can without moving his shoulder too much. The Champion's back is skinny, too; Alan can feel the bones of his spine and ribs under his fingers.

            "So," Daigo-san says, and plants a kiss on Alan's temple, on Alan's forehead, another, tenderly brushing away his sweaty bangs with his nose or mouth. His hands come back, up up up Alan's back, over his shoulders, and back down his torso, palming his pectorals, his abdominals, stopping at his waistband; the tips of the index and middle fingers slip under the elastic, nails grazing Alan's hipbones, rings digging into his stomach. Up against Alan's temple, he smiles and murmurs, warmly: "Shall we?"

            Alan buries his face in the crook of Daigo-san's neck and lets his right hand drop down to rest on the small of his back. "Which way," he mumbles.

            "Hmm?" The sound makes Daigo-san's throat vibrate against the bridge of Alan's nose.

            Alan clears his voice, doesn't look up. "It," he starts. "I don't know, we said you'd — but it looks like you want to do it the other way around in the end...?" Daigo-san's ass is still on Alan's hard-on, rubbing every time he shifts.

            Daigo-san leans away to look at him, curiously, then his face illuminates when Alan finally glances up to meet his gaze. "Oh, would you like to?" he almost chirps. "Right, I didn't even ask! Sorry, I just presumed because I knew what I wanted to do — but if you want to do it, I really wouldn’t mind!"

            The Champion of Hoenn wouldn’t mind being fucked by a stranger in a hotel. Okay.

            But really, Alan was only asking just in case; he’s been thinking about it this way around since the start, really, and his gut’s been tightening and his face flushing at the idea, in anticipation, not dread. He wants this and he wants it that way, and not only because Daigo-san made him say so and ask for it.

            "No," he admits, almost guiltily. "No, I want you to fuck me, please," he repeats, and the way Daigo-san kisses him again is clearly intended as a reward, like a pat on the head of a Pokémon.

            "All right," Daigo says warmly, and climbs off his lap, slinging his left leg back over Alan's thighs to kneel at his side instead. "Then please lie down."

            Alan rolls over, lying with his flaming face down in the pillow again, arms bent on either side of him. Daigo chuckles in his back; Alan turns his head to look at him over his right shoulder.

            "What a good boy," Daigo says once more; his smile is the snide one again and Alan kind of wants to bite that one off too, but that would just get them sidetracked once more. "Not face-to-face, hm?"

            Alan shakes his head.

            "Okay," Daigo-san accepts readily, and swoops down, bracing one hand on Alan's hip, to kiss the dip of his back; Alan jolts ever-so-slightly. Daigo's hand moves down his hip and he slips his fingers under the waistband of Alan's boxers, and starts pulling it down, casually. "So, I assume the answer is yes," he resumes, as conversationally as ever, shifting to use his other hand to drag his underwear down, "but I really have to ask this too: you have done this before, right?"

            Alan mumbles, "Yeah," and closes his eyes as Daigo's thumbs trail on the curve of his ass, following the elastic waistband. "Not in a while, though."

            "Ah, good! I mean, I wouldn’t mind being your first, but I would feel a little bad about not making it a little more special." Does he even hear the things that come out of his mouth? "I'd have tried to get a better hotel, for starters."

            Alan chokes and has to take his face out of the pillow.

            "Hm?"

            "This hotel is pretty nice," Alan splutters, staring at him in bewilderment over his shoulder.

            Daigo-san laughs and kisses the back of his right thigh; Alan's muscles clench instinctively on response. "Well, it's not bad," he allows cheerfully, "but you could aim for better!" He follows the crook of Alan's knee with his thumb and kisses it, too, tickling the sensitive spot. "I'm guessing you've never slept with a Champion, huh?"

            Alan takes the excuse of the tickling to give a small kick in the air in the general area of Daigo's head, burrowing his face back in the pillow and groaning, "I thought your title didn't matter?"

            There's a beat, just long enough for Alan to wonder if he's gone too far, then Daigo-san chuckles airily — and Alan feels movement and a sudden, sharp pain in his calf, making his full body jerk again in surprise. It takes him a second to realize the Champion just bit him and he looks back again, shocked.

            "I really have a weakness for the insolent ones," Daigo-san just comments, smiling absently, and throws Alan's underwear over his shoulder and reaches for the condoms lying next to him.

            Alan hides his face away again, breathing hard into the pillow.

            "Need a pillow somewhere? Under your hips?"

            Alan shakes his head. "I'm fine," he mutters.

            "All right." One of Daigo's legs slides between Alan's, knee and calf touching his; one hand hovers up Alan's thigh to his hip, brushing the knuckles to his skin, the cold rings grazing it occasionally. "Okay, seriously now: tell me if I'm hurting you, even the slightest. Tell me if you want me to go slower, or wait, or if you want to stop — tell me at once."

            "Yeah," Alan sighs. There's the sound of a packet ripping, rustling. "The light?"

            "You want it off? I'd like to be able to see your face."

            Of course he would. Alan breathes in deep and relaxes. "Okay."

            Daigo-san goes for his neck, startling him again; he burrows his nose in Alan's slicked-up hair and kisses his feverish nape, touches his right thumb to one of Alan's cervicals, and starts from there. He trails down slowly, thumbing or touching his knuckles, his rings, to each of Alan's vertebrae, and then following with his lips to place a kiss on it, dry and warm.

            He reaches the small of Alan's back and doesn't stop, and Alan tries to stay calm but can't help tensing as he keeps going down, down, until the knuckle of his index finger reaches his sacrum, the thick metal ring pressing right at the start of the cleft of his ass, and every single one of Alan's muscles tightens and locks up.

            "You're not going to —" he starts, and Daigo's hand finally stills.

            "Ooh, right," he goes, tone sheepish yet somehow gleeful, "forgot to take those off. Sorry~"

            Alan reminds himself that he can't afford to be arrested for murdering the Champion of Hoenn.

            While Alan sighs explosively, Daigo takes his hand away and sits up for a minute. When he returns, it's to sprawl down over Alan's back, erection against his hip, chin on his good shoulder. His right hand grabs Alan's on the mattress and presses two rings in his palm, entwining their fingers to close on them. "Look after these for me?" he whispers in Alan's ear.

            Alan refrains another sigh, but does breathe in, deep, and out. "Sure."

            Daigo kisses his cheek, "Thanks," and slips them on his fingers, index and ring. He gives his hand a squeeze.

            Then he shifts a little to the side and there goes the rustling again. The sound of the bottle cap being popped.

            Alan breathes in, sharply, and forces himself to loosen up again.

            He always finds preparation a little strange, awkward sometimes. He'll never get used to the sudden slick cold (but it warms up fast), or to the feeling of latex probing him (though it's better than nothing). But Daigo-san is slow, careful. He kisses the edge of Alan's shoulder blade, the side of his neck, behind his ear, his cheek again, the bit of it that he can reach, just with his lips but open-mouthed, his breath hot and humid.

            "Good?" he whispers after a minute, and crooks his finger back, s-l-o-w-l-y.

            Alan clenches, relaxes, nods. Daigo-san nibbles on the shell of his ear approvingly.

            "You can — you can go harder," Alan mumbles, which Daigo-san probably only hears because he's so close, so close Alan feels his mouth move into a smile against the side of his neck.

            "Right, you like to go all out from the start, hmm?" he quips, like he's not acting, too, exactly like he does in Pokémon battles as far as Alan can tell: teasing, taunting, imposing his own calm rhythm, barely going out of breath while Alan is sweating and starting to pant — he makes his movements harsher, spreading him wider, and Alan swallows and shifts a little to accommodate his erection, trapped again under him, throbbing almost painfully against the mattress. Daigo's is flush against his thigh and just the feel of it makes Alan breathe faster and clutch the sheets again.

            Daigo-san pulls back a little, fiddles with the condom. He moves to cover the back of Alan's left hand with his palm, easing and wedging his fingers between his; Alan can feel the rings touch his knuckles, in echo to the ones on his own right hand. He's not sure if Daigo-san means to hold it like lovers do, or just to keep his arm in place.

            Either way, Daigo-san holds his hand as he pushes back in with one more finger, and Alan moves up with it with a hollow grunt.

            His breath is labored and loud, his blood is pulsing in his ears (at his temples, in his neck under Daigo-san's soothing lips, in his cock under him), and he can barely hear Daigo speak, doesn't register his words immediately: "Sorry, are you all right?"

            "Yeah," Alan pants into the pillow, "yeah."

            Daigo-san licks the back of his ear and keeps to a slow pace for a few long minutes, which is technically merciful, even though Alan's never been patient and it just drives him crazy. But then Daigo-san presses his fingers deeper, twists and curls and Alan moans, bursting and resounding.

            "Eh? Was that a good sign or bad?" the asshole chirrups in his ear.

            Alan's response is a wordless blubbering sound. Daigo-san recedes, cautiously, and Alan manages to gasp, "There," then chokes and whines out loud when Daigo-san strokes him again.

            "So, good?" Daigo-san breathes, "Alan? Look at me, tell me —", haltingly, finally flustered as well.

            Alan lets out a long incoherent wail, bites into the pillow to cut it short, turns his face towards him to gripe, "Yes, good, stop. Talking," and Daigo-san bucks into his hip and all but crashes his mouth on his, fervent.

            He's silent for almost five seconds before he starts again, but at least he's out of breath, flushed and urgent too. "Alan," he says against his lips, "Alan, I want you —", like Alan can't tell with his erection digging in his loins, hard and hot and practically begging.

            "Then do it," Alan groans, much louder than he meant.

            "Yes?"

            "Yes, for Arceus's sake —"

            Daigo-san kisses him again, deep and long even with the awkward angle, and pulls his fingers out. He gets rid of the condom, reaches for a new one, and just the short moments when he's gone are enough for Alan to miss the warmth of him on his back. He bites his lip and breathes through his nose, counts his heartbeats.

            Daigo-san comes back like a surging wave — taking over Alan's back, kissing the vertebrae between his shoulder blades and licking up the nape of his neck. Then, he settles, legs between Alan's thighs, one hand going to grasp his hips, the other pushing his cock to his ass, ready, condom and lube and all, slick and hard. Alan breathes in and steels himself, concentrates on relaxing his muscles again, and Daigo-san waits, nibbling at his neck, even though Alan's stretched and ready and has given him the green-light, he waits until Alan exhales, "Come on," and only then does he slide in, slow, steady, maddening.

            Alan grits his teeth to keep himself quiet.

            Daigo-san stops mid-way in, pulls out; adds lubricant; pushes back in — careful, careful, senselessly careful, like Alan is made of porcelain — except he drives all the way in this time and then whispers, panting, his lips pressed against the nape of Alan's neck: "Can I bite you?"

            Alan moans and curses.

            "Your scarf'll hide marks anyway," Daigo rambles, "but are you fine with the principle of getting marks —" and that's a sign he needs to shut up.

            "If you can say the word principle," Alan hisses, painstakingly, "then get moving."

            Daigo laughs, breathless and strained, "Yes, of course, but can I —"

            "Whatever, yes, fine, just —"

            Daigo-san kisses the place where Alan's shoulder meets his neck, opens his mouth against his skin, lets his teeth graze it first before sinking them in. Alan's hands clench, and for a second, absurdly, he's distracted by the unfamiliar feeling of the thick rings between the fingers of his right hand; then Daigo-san lets go and licks and kisses the spot he's just bitten — and then digs in again, sharper — and sucks, hard and hot and slobbery — and finally starts moving, slowly, raising his hips up into Alan's, then drawing back, then back in and up and Alan groans with tension and relief at the same time.

            It's better once they get a rhythm started, though as usual it's Daigo-san's pace, infuriatingly slow, conscientious, leisurely. But when Alan tries to hike his knees under him for leverage, to push back and meet his thrusts, Daigo-san pins his waist back down against the mattress with his hands and a sudden rough shove from his hips that has Alan reeling.

            "Don't," he murmurs in Alan's ear, then nips his way back down his neck, testing Alan's skin until he finds a spot he can suck into his mouth.

            Alan groans and jerks under him again, but Daigo-san's strangely strong for his size and he can barely shift at all — and it's a little scary, honestly, but there's also a definite thrill to relinquishing all control, to Daigo-san taking it all, so Alan lets him.

            Daigo-san is weird and this is by far the least spontaneous of anything Alan's ever done with anyone, not frenzied or frantic and stupid from hormones, but it's still passionate and still good, it's good, impossibly good. Held in place under him, only able to receive and not to take, Alan feels every thrust, every movement more intensely somehow, as they go from long and smooth to rougher and choppy until Daigo-san is just pounding convulsively into him, harder and deeper and harder and deeper and Alan is seeing flickering white spots and whimpering into the pillow. At the height of every slam, Alan feels himself lurch with the momentum like he's about to jostle out of his own skin, spill over with the overflow of sensations, but at the last second Daigo-san's firm weight keeps him pinned inside his own frame, forces him to stay right there and feel it all go through his body instead.

            Then Daigo-san stops at the apex of the arch, his body curved over Alan's back and his face between his shoulder blades — and stays there, frozen, for a few long seconds, like the instant of stillness right before the rollercoaster hurls down the tracks, or right before gravity grabs hold again of a circus artist —

            shudders

            and collapses onto Alan's back, and slides off to his side like a dead weight.

            He pants into Alan's side for a long while, limp and suddenly much heavier, as though exhaustion has added weight. His breathing's still erratic and hollow when, after a minute, he raises his head weakly and nuzzles Alan's right shoulder with his nose, his sweaty brow, happily, slightly like a Fokko's warm and humid muzzle when it's asking to be petted.

            Seriously, Alan thinks, numbly, first with dazed stupor, then white-red anger. Seriously.

            He grunts and squirms a little, trying to signal that he's not done, painfully far from it, and Daigo doesn't react beyond a vague little satisfied sigh, so the regret Alan feels about elbowing his head away in order to get his own hand under his stomach amounts to exactly zero.

            Daigo's fingers smack his wrist down and close around it, lightning-fast and vise-like, incomprehensibly quick and strong coming from his slack body — his left hand shoots across Alan's back and grips his other wrist before it occurs to Alan to use his bad arm. "Aww, no," Daigo laughs breathlessly, "give me just one more minute," and Alan screams into the pillow — except all that comes out his abused throat is a miserable, needy sob.

            It's barely one second, then Daigo immediately lets go of his wrists in a jerky motion, though his fingers are still trailing on Alan's pulse points. "Right. Sorry, I'm sorry," he gasps, "please just wait, I'll take care of you, I swear." So this means Alan has to burrow his face in the pillow and grasp the sheet to keep himself from sending his clenched fists flying, either between his legs or into Daigo's face, while Daigo-san kisses his shoulder slowly, deliberate, languid.

            He straightens up a little, finally, his boneless body stiffening again. He pulls out and Alan tries not to thrash under him as he reaches for one more condom.

            "All right," he practically sings, "sorry, your turn now," flips Alan around easily on his right side and then his back, all the while still careful of his left shoulder, and kneels back between his thighs.

            Alan cannot believe this guy — until Daigo-san casually grabs his erection and unrolls the condom on him with the ease of habit, and chirps, smiling with all his teeth, "May I?", and Alan can't believe this either so his brain doesn't quite catch up in time for him to realize to what, exactly, he desperately whines, "Please."

            Daigo-san grins and swoops down and takes him in his mouth whole, and Alan's just gone.

            He glides back up, letting his tongue trail out and along the underside of Alan's shaft, and glances up at him, eyes glittering with mischief below his half-lowered eyelids, which is when Alan's addled brain helpfully supplies that yes, the Champion of Hoenn is going down on him, and Alan has to look away and slap both his palms on his mouth to stop himself from wailing without having to bite on his tongue.

            Daigo-san licks at his head, grazes with what Alan's pretty sure is his teeth, then sucks him back in like a gag reflex is something that happens to other people and Alan bucks and jolts up helplessly and Daigo-san slams his hips down on the mattress again, instantly, swift and firm and implacable, and Alan bites down into the base of his thumb.

            He can feel the laughter welling up inside Daigo-san's throat, vibrations fluttering against his cock. Alan tilts his head up to look over his hands and instantly regrets it: Daigo-san is smiling, the same sly smile he had on while accepting Alan's challenge, smiling around him, and when he catches Alan's gaze he swipes his tongue out and swirls over him like he's eating fucking ice cream and Alan needs his hands to drive the heels of his palms into his eyes, but this is another sight he'll never be able to forget.

            Alan resists screaming but sputters a long stream of nonsensical curses and pleas as Daigo-san sucks and licks him down and up again, thumbs stroking on his hipbones and rings digging in them and fingers holding them down unflinchingly the entire time, even as Alan's thighs and legs thump against his arms and torso, even as Alan arches his back and jerks and quavers under him. Daigo-san holds him down and sucks until Alan sees black and white and red and bites the side of his forearm and wails from the back of his throat anyway, and comes like a wreck against the roof of Daigo-san's mouth.

            He lies there panting, feeling heat flush over his face and chest, his lungs try to fill again, unsure he'll ever stop shaking or figure out how breathe normally again, and Daigo-san isn't helping that last one by crawling up his chest and kissing him deeply.

            He tastes weird. Like, not an expected weird.

            "Is," Alan stammers, his hammering heart up in his throat, against Daigo's lips, "is that..."

            "Shuca berry flavor," Daigo confirms cheerfully, and tilts his head and kisses the other side of his mouth, then up his cheek, then the corner of his eye (which is how Alan realizes with embarrassment that he teared up and his eyes are still misty). Alan groans tonelessly but is too exhausted to complain.

            Alan can feel himself zone out, laid out on the hotel bed with his limbs splayed out, only peripherally aware of Daigo-san's actions: rolling the condom off him, dabbing him clean with a tissue, then detaching himself from him and starting to rummage around the room.

            "How are you even standing," Alan mumbles, vaguely hears Daigo-san laugh airily and reply something about having to tidy up some stuff.

            He does notice when the lights are turned off, and twitches when Daigo comes back to bed, pulls the sheets from under Alan and then over him, and sprawls and sticks himself to Alan's right side.

            "Ngh," Alan says. Then, when Daigo kisses him and now tastes like fresh mint, "What. How."

            "I brushed my teeth," Daigo-san announces.

            "When did you have the time to..."

            "You've been pretty much comatose for a good ten minutes now. You just conked right out," he happily explains, then kisses Alan's cheek like a child and adds, "It's cute." And before Alan can muster enough energy to get annoyed, he snuggles a little more comfortably against Alan, head on his shoulder and one arm slung across his torso, states, "All right, good night!", and closes his eyes.

            Of course he's a cuddler. Of course he is. Alan stares blankly at his lowered lids and smooth forehead for a moment, and finally enunciates, "You should be illegal."

            Daigo-san snorts into his chest and smiles against his skin, and doesn't move.

            Alan wasn't exactly planning on spending the night curled up with him, but this is, after all, one more way of keeping the Champion close.

            (Though he is never, ever reporting a word of this to the director.)

           

           

 

 

 

           

            He wakes up suffocating.

            He's missing, missing something, lacking air, lacking space, lacking his Mega Ring on his wrist, lacking Lizardon's presence next to him.

            After the few seconds of disoriented, sheer panic and genuine terror that he's going to asphyxiate to death, he realizes that most of that is because the Champion is still wrapped tight around his chest and, as far as Alan can tell, his body temperature approximates that of a Magcargo. Alan stirs a little out of the embrace, trying to dislodge Daigo-san without waking him, until he can breathe again, shakily. He gasps, inhales a long gulp of air, and his head clears a bit.

            He's all right.

            He stretches, inventories: his legs are cramped and his right arm is numb from having Daigo-san's head lying on his shoulder, but a little shift is enough for his blood to start flowing again. His lower back is a little sore, unsurprisingly, but not much; his shoulder hurt much worse than that. And his shoulder's fine now, and the bandages seem to still be tight in place.

            He's aching everywhere, but a good kind of ache — the twinging looseness of limbs, the sheer, fulfilling satisfaction. Daigo-san may have been a bit of a jerk towards the end, but damn if he didn't know what he was doing; Alan hasn't felt this relaxed and peaceful in a while.

            He focuses on the feeling of his own limbs, breathing, lying on his back and staring at the ceiling in the dark. What time is it? He doesn't think he's slept much. The drapes aren't drawn over the window, so the lights from outside, from the stars and the city below, are enough to discern the angles of the ceiling with the wall, the dark shapes of the furniture in the room, the features of Daigo-san's face.

            The Champion looks relaxed, in sleep; open. Exposed. Alan isn't sure he should be seeing this, when Daigo-san carefully juggles and flits between three or four personae at any given time while awake — not all of them aggressive or defensive, but none of them vulnerable. He looks so young, clutching Alan like a stuffed toy.

            Getting up without waking him is going to be a pain.

            Alan shuffles to the side, slowly, very cautiously manages to slide and pull himself out from under Daigo-san's head, arm, legs, and to sit up. Daigo-san's arm slides down his chest and falls around his waist. Alan turns to the side of the bed, puts his feet flat on the matted floor.

            The arm tightens around his waist, another shoots up his torso, and something warm plasters itself to his back and hair tickles his right shoulder blade. Alan startles, bites off a yelp.

           "Cold," Daigo-san yawns, then smacks his lips loudly.

            His tone is just conversational enough that Alan can't tell for sure if he's referring to the ambient temperature, or to Alan's attempt to sneak away.

            "Going somewhere?"

            "— Shower," he murmurs, guiltily.

            "Ooooh," Daigo-san lilts into his shoulder. "So you Kalosians do shower at some point after all."

            Alan groans. "Well, I wanted to get clean and... get out."

            "Whaat," Daigo-san drawls lazily, squeezing his arms around Alan's stomach, "nooo! I want to keep you~"

            He can't possibly see Alan bite his lip, but Alan must tense at that, because Daigo-san abruptly straightens and unlocks his arms, keeps them only just hovering around Alan's waist hesitantly.

            "I mean," he says, sounding a lot more awake and sober all of a sudden. "Sorry, if you want to stop here, it's fine, of course, perfectly fine. If you want to step outside, you can, and you can come back right away to go back to sleep, if you don't want me to even touch you again I swear I won't —"

            "It's not like that," Alan interrupts him, and Daigo-san shuts up instantly. "It's fine, I just..." Alan licks his lips. "I want to see Lizardon."

            "Oh." Daigo-san slowly comes back close, warm against Alan's back. He trails his fingers on Alan's stomach, hooks his chin on his shoulder. "Don't worry. He's being cared after just fine, I promise. He just needs to rest — and you, too."

            "No, it's..." Alan cringes before admitting, embarrassed, "I just — need to be with him for a bit." He hates every word of it. Normal people don't need to hug it out with their Pokémon after a one-night-stand.

            "Aah. Of course," Daigo-san says, perfectly casual. "Trainers who have achieved Mega Evolution often seem to need to reconnect with their partner after sex, had you noticed?"

            "... No."

            Daigo-san's hands flitter on his hips. Alan lets them, cautiously leans back against him, tilts his head back and closes his eyes. He feels Daigo's lips move near his neck as he chatters: "It makes sense, in a way. Mega Evolution requires a lot of, how should I say — upkeep, to maintain a powerful bond. Even though it doesn't need to be completely exclusive, it's important for both the human and the Pokémon to remember to dedicate a lot of attention to each other, especially when there's suddenly someone else in their lives. Reassure each other. Anyway, your stuff won't be back yet, but there are sets of night clothes in the closet."

            His thumbs are rubbing Alan's hipbones at that point, so it takes Alan a second to process the change of topic in Daigo-san's rambling, and then the meaning of the words. He raises his head, blinking his eyes open. "What?"

            "Hm?" Daigo-san nips at his neck, distractingly, but Alan's not going to let that subject drop.

            He scans the room and it's true, his things are nowhere to be found, just his Mega Ring on the night table and his bag on the couch. "What happened to my clothes?"

            Daigo-san yawns again. "I gave them to the laundry?"

            Alan stares at him. "What kind of hotel is this?"

            Daigo-san laughs and says instead, "How's your shoulder?"

            "Better, thanks — seriously, is this the rich people's love hotel?"

            "Eh," Daigo-san shrugs, "it's really not fancy enough for that."

            Seriously, Alan is used to objectively high standards of life. He was born and raised in Miare City, the city of haute couture, five-starred restaurants and grand hotels. This still elicits in him a virulent pang of resentment against born-rich people. "Why did you even stay the night here, then?" he bites. "With the siege of your father's corporation in town, don't you have — a flat, at least a room, somewhere? You didn't really have to stay here with us and share a room with me, did you?"

            "I'm offended!" Daigo-san protests, but there's way too much amusement in his voice for that to be true. "I do, but it would have been rude to just leave you and Manon on your own! But, all right," he allows generously, "it is true that even if we had managed to get you a separate room, I was planning on checking on you and your shoulder anyway."

            "And on other things," Alan points out, his voice finally cracking and shaking a little because Daigo-san's knuckles are brushing against him, and the rings, cold and hard against his skin.

            Daigo-san kisses the lobe of his ear, whispers: "Probably."

            That sounds like a huge euphemism when he's curling the fingers of his left hand — because of course he's ambidextrous, nothing the Champion isn't good at, obviously — around Alan, pushing and rubbing the fucking rings along his length and Alan can't believe he likes the startling sensation of the metal. He's hardening again and it's ridiculous and Daigo-san is way too self-satisfied about it.

            "You," Alan starts, focusing on his breathing rather than on Daigo-san's hands, "were very prepared. You'd definitely planned it." He exhales. "How often do you this? How many people do you do this with?"

            Daigo giggles, warm on his nape. "I'm particularly fond of nice, attractive boys from Kalos who have mastered Mega Evolution," he replies airily.

            "Right," Alan snorts, then keeps going, because as long as he's speaking he's not moaning. "Is everyone like this in Hoenn, or just you? Or is it a Champion thing?"

            Daigo-san nudges his skull with his forehead in a pretend-headbutt as if to chastise him, but then he nuzzles Alan's cheek with his nose and Alan's almost sure he's grinning. "Ah, what a difficult question. It's probably just me, but... let's just say my predecessor was both much better and much worse than I. So perhaps it's a Hoenn Champion thing."

            He doesn't elaborate, which is a little strange, for him. Alan blinks and thinks this over for a moment, absently, while Daigo-san's hands continue their matter-of-fact caressing. A thought forms and floats in his mind, and smoothly out of his lips, before he's really processed it: "I see. So, you slept your way to the top."

            It's only when Daigo's fingers still that he realizes what he just said, and how deafening the silence now is. There's a pregnant, tense moment of complete void, the tide receding and leaving nothing behind it, Daigo-san there but saying and doing nothing, and Alan doesn't dare look at him.

            Alan yelps, shrill, from both surprise and pain as Daigo-san's teeth sink hard and deep in his right shoulder.

            "So— sorry!" he splutters.

            Daigo-san doesn't let go. Alan's cheeks are flushed hot, his head dizzy, and his heart is up in his throat, trying to drop out of his mouth. Daigo-san's hands are clenching his hips tight and everything in him is sharp, cutting even, steely cold and harsh. He keeps biting until Alan's sure he's going to break skin and make him bleed — then he relents, unclamps his mouth from Alan's shoulder, and the aura of petrifying danger disappears into thin air.

            "Ignorance is bliss," the Champion comments, calmly, "and I didn't think you'd have challenged me the way you did yesterday if you'd known who I was... but you really are an insolent little brat." Alan's blood is roaring in his ears. "You're lucky that I love it."

            Alan breathes. His heart's still pounding.

            "Besides," Daigo-san continues, his voice lighter and his hands snaking down the crux of Alan's thighs again, letting Alan relax again, "that's some big words, coming from someone I destroyed in a Pokémon battle."

            Alan clears his throat. His heart rate is calming down, but his face isn't getting any less hot. "We never finished that match," he reminds, lamely, on principle.

            "We were going to pulverize you."

            "I know. I'm not stupid."

            "That you're not," Daigo acknowledges serenely.

            Alan's cheeks are still burning, because there's really no arguing exactly how one-sided that battle was, and even though it's completely gone now he can't forget the Champion's aura of knife-sharp danger from mere moments earlier... but it's easy to talk with Daigo-san, about this or anything. It's relaxing, even; even with the petting and being coaxed to hardness again, Alan can think straight, his mind is clear, and the weight from yesterday has lifted from his shoulders.

            He sighs contentedly, and Daigo-san echoes it, rubbing his face in Alan's neck. He inhales, seemingly breathing in Alan's scent, and exhales again, warmly, again Alan's skin.

            "I think I really, really like you," he whispers.

            Alan startles. That's — nice to hear and all, but not as planned, not at all. "You said no strings attached —" he starts, quickly, not looking at him.

            "Hm? Oh! No, no, don't worry, I'm not falling for you or anything!" He chuckles, raises one hand to bat it in front of his face, and all right, that's a relief, but the way he says it is still a little insulting, like the mere idea is preposterous. "I'm just saying, you're a really interesting trainer." He lays his cheek on Alan's shoulder again, so Alan can see his dreamy smile when he tilts his head. "Well, trainers who specialize in Mega Evolution tend to be of interest in general, of course."

            Alan leans back against him, the conversation comfortable again, safe. "Have you met a lot in Hoenn?" He never got a chance to start looking, with his assignment being to look for the ruins and the entire Rayquaza and megalith incident starting almost the minute they set foot in Hoenn. Now that that's behind them, he would have liked to take the time.

            "I've travelled. You probably know a lot more than I about battling Mega Evolutions, isn't Fleurdelys-san having you collect data?"

            He closes his fingers on Alan's half-erection and pulls up, and it feels wonderful, but Alan isn't far gone enough not to notice the shift to a slightly more confidential topic. He closes his eyes and bites his lip, and doesn't answer, just leans and sinks into Daigo-san, between his arms, head tilted back on his shoulder, and breathes.

            Daigo-san swipes the pad of his thumb up Alan's length, base to tip, and after Alan's little moan has died, says like he's talking about the weather, "I think I should help you shower."

            Alan, who's been trying to fight back his blush again, sighs loudly. "Okay," he says, then exhales. "Okay."

            Daigo-san kisses the side of his neck. "Young people," he breathes, happily. "Can you walk?"

            "Yeah, I'll just be careful." Because Daigo-san was. As much of a jerk as he also acted.

            "I'll help you, then!" Daigo-san says with way more enthusiasm than warranted.

            Alan shakes his head in disbelief, but allows him.

 

 

 

            Daigo-san walks him to the bathroom with Alan's arm around his shoulders, which is really only symbolically helping. The Champion is so frail, he's not really carrying any of Alan's weight. (Then again, apparently Manon managed to pull him to safety this afternoon — though, when nude, Daigo-san looks almost even skinnier than her.) But it's fine; Alan can walk basically on his own with barely a twinge of discomfort.

            The light of the bathroom is bright, everything porcelain-white. Alan stands in the middle of the room, blinking away the blind spots, naked and alone and wondering why he doesn't feel awkward or exposed, even though he's shivering from the cold already. Daigo-san is rummaging around, setting out towels and picking a selection out of the little bottles of products neatly lined up beside the sink.

            "Sit down, sit down. We'll need to take your bandage off, first."

            Alan complies quietly. He sits on the side of the huge bathtub, then does a double-take. "Wait, is this a hot tub?"

            "Mm?" Daigo-san glances over. "Ah, yeah. I've seen better, though, doesn't look even worth it. Unless you want to try?"

            Alan stares at his face, but he looks perfectly serious, his mouth turned down in a little unimpressed frown. "I'll say it again," Alan starts somberly, "how much does this hotel —"

            Daigo-san laughs. "The perks of being a Champion," he teases, walking over to sit beside him. Alan is pretty sure it has more to do with being the heir to a huge business corporation. "Don't worry about it and trust me, honestly, this isn't that impressive."

            Alan sighs and settles a little more comfortably, leaning with his good shoulder against the wall. He watches Daigo-san's fingers glide up his left biceps, unroll and undo their work; watches Daigo's own arms, bruised dirty purple and yellow in the harsh light; Daigo's face, now focused and circumspect, as he applies his palm directly to Alan's naked skin and Alan doesn't react.

            "Good," Daigo-san notes. "You're not burning up anymore. The bruise will probably last a while, though."

            Alan nods. "Thanks again."

            "My pleasure," Daigo smiles wryly. Alan has no doubt it was. "Now, I'll need to make sure you don't use it while washing yourself!"

            "Sure," Alan snorts.

            Daigo-san grins and stands again. He walks to the shower, pulls the glass wall back and looks at him in invitation, so Alan stands up in his turn, cautiously. But he can't help the flicker of wariness about stepping first into the closed-off cubicle — luxuriously roomy as it may be, it feels too much like a trap ready to close on him.

            And Alan's starting to seriously suspect Daigo-san might be psychic because he seems to pick up on Alan's unease, and steps inside first, grabs the showerhead and starts testing the water temperature. "Relax, I'm not going to eat you," he says without looking at Alan.

            You sort of already bit into me like a piece of meat. Alan doesn't come out and say it, but he thinks it with intensity, and he does point at his neck eloquently instead. He catches his reflection in the mirror as he does it: it's not pretty. His own reflection glares back at him, scowling, bags under his eyes and hair an utter mess, and more importantly, looking violated. The suck marks from earlier aren't so bad and look like they might fade within a day or two, like the bruises and scratches of the afternoon, but the unmistakable imprints of teeth are still a stark angry red on his shoulder. Alan can count individual teeth.

            Daigo-san smirks, clearly not at all repenting. And Alan must not have as much of a sense of preservation as he likes to think he does, because he crosses the room and joins him in the shower.

            Daigo-san turns off the water, hangs the showerhead back on its hook, and pulls him in by the wrist.

            "Alan," he says.

            He sticks himself to Alan's back again, sneaking his hands under his arms and laying them on his chest, tracing his pectorals and down. He's slightly shorter, Alan suddenly notices; which seems absurd even with the Champion's slight build. Alan's not sure what to do with his own hands, and now he does feel vaguely stupid, standing there naked in the shower with no water. Daigo's fingers stop at his waist again and Alan expects it when he asks: "I can touch you, right?"

            Alan nods and Daigo-san caresses him again, fleetingly, like just grabbing him would be boring.

            "Alan," he whispers, very low. "Alan, speak up, I like to hear your voice."

            Alan gulps. Daigo-san runs his knuckles against him — no rings anymore, he must have left them by the sink. Alan turns his head slightly, to look at him — in the bright light, he can see his eyes again, the pale irises and the dark, shot pupils. "You... also really like to say my name," he murmurs, because he couldn't not have noticed that.

            "It's a nice name," Daigo-san says, and reaches out, leans his neck across Alan's shoulder, dips towards Alan's lips, "I like to feel the taste of it on my tongue."

            Alan is flushing and his legs are trembling before Daigo-san even kisses him. He reaches his tongue out and slides it inside Alan's open mouth, first, before joining their lips, their tongues touch first. The kiss is sultry, hot and wet and Daigo-san's tongue sweeping and devouring him from inside — lewd and raunchy, making Alan feel indecent and borderline pornographic even from his own point of view, even when they were fucking just a few hours earlier, and that's not even taking into account Daigo-san's hands on his now full hard-on. Alan is panting, has lost all bearing in the sudden rush of heat and intimacy; when Daigo-san leans away, Alan leans with him, turns to follow the movement, follow Daigo-san's mouth, the only point of reference he recognizes. Under his half-lowered eyelids, he sees that mouth smile, Daigo-san look back at him, fondly, tenderly.

            "All right," Daigo-san whispers, "let's take care of your shower."

            He closes the glass wall, raises the showerhead over Alan, and flips the water on.

            Alan squeeze his eyes shut in reflex; the stream is forceful, but perfect lukewarm temperature and he raises his face towards it, feels it cascade down his forehead and cheeks; feels Daigo's hair sticking to his jaw right before Daigo-san kisses him again.

            Alan kisses back. It's almost innocent now (certainly in comparison to the debauchery from a minute earlier), just little pecks, mouthing and nibbling on each other's lips, Alan's right hand on Daigo's hip and Daigo's on his chin, holding him gently.

            Then, of course, Daigo-san lets his index and middle fingers follow the line of his jaw and neck and down his chest, down, down. It has Alan breathing faster and more shakily than before, for some reason, feeling it more intensely, maybe because they're still kissing, maybe because of the water making their bodies warm and slippery; they seem to be touching everywhere, Daigo-san pressing himself into Alan and, Alan's almost sure, getting hard again too against Alan's thigh. Alan's own erection is sliding, slippery with water and hot with friction, between Daigo-san's fingers and their bodies as they move against each other.

            Daigo-san reaches up and fixes the showerhead on the high hook, and Alan vaguely mutters, "I could have done that too, your excuse is really —" but Daigo-san is grinning and kissing him again before he can finish the sentence, and that doesn't matter as much as kissing back.

            Daigo-san pushes him slowly into the wall of the cubicle, still careful to leave Alan enough room not to lean on his left shoulder. One of his hands lets go of Alan to adjust the showerhead again, then comes back, firmer and insisting. He licks Alan's lips one last time and moves on to nip at his earlobe and Alan sighs, lays his head on Daigo-san's shoulder. Kisses it, first just because he has his mouth against it, then because Daigo-san's skin is smooth and warm and he wants to do something, anything, while Daigo-san's jerking him, progressively more roughly. Alan feels fingernails, and partly to smother his own groaning, partly to get back at him, he bites down.

            Daigo-san gasps, inhales suddenly; his hand tightens on Alan and his head whips back up with a snap. From the corner of his eye, Alan watches his rosy cheeks, his lowered eyelids, his half-open mouth, watches the Champion offer up his neck to him. Alan sucks his skin in and worries at it with his teeth and tongue and Daigo-san whimpers, moans, quietly but unabashedly.

            It's pretty satisfying.

            Daigo-san starts bucking into him, and yeah, he's hard too. Alan lets go of his skin and rocks back against him, tries to grab his erection, but Daigo-san swats his hand away, so instead, Alan wraps his arm around Daigo-san's waist and pulls him closer, closer, not caring that he's having trouble finding air to breathe. Daigo-san dives in to catch his lips again, and it's a series of short, frantic kisses, intercut with panting, with the water running down and between their bodies, with small slivers of punctual sensations: Alan's soaked hair sticking to his forehead and the nape of his neck and in his eyes, Daigo-san's brushing his cheeks, the little ponds of water that pool in the short moments their hips or chests or arms stay joined and still before they move, every point of contact between them, the tips of Daigo's fingers, his eyelashes, the heat, the heat.

            One of Daigo-san's hands rises up to Alan's face, brushes his bangs back, treading his fingers in his hair all the way to the back of Alan's head and Alan feels the excess water flick out and on his shoulders, even though it's immediately replaced. Daigo-san's hand slides down his skull and stops at his neck, curls on his nape, and pulls, pulls Alan's head closer so Alan kisses him, again, again, open-mouthed, and Daigo-san kisses back but keeps pushing down on his neck, crowding him against the shower wall and weighing down on him and Alan staggers a little before he understands what he's aiming at.

            He bends at the knees and starts sagging down the wall, slowly, carefully, because his shoulder — and Daigo-san's hands immediately grab his hips to support him and go down with him. Alan winces as he settles on the floor, his lower back aching, legs apart and Daigo crouching between them.

            "You all right?" Daigo-san murmurs, and then, when Alan nods and reaches for him with both hands, "No, no, don't move, it's fine."

            Alan looks up at him, gets water dripping into his eyes and mouth and has to shake his head, has to tilt it to the side to breathe. "I — you... I haven't done anything for you yet," he tries to protest, weakly.

            Daigo touches his knuckles to his forehead, affectionately, then runs his hand through his hair again, ruffling it up backwards and for once, with the weight of the water, it sticks that way. Daigo-san leans forwards and places a small kiss on his brow, like Alan's a kid, when he's just been jerking him off and Alan's still aching from earlier, when his own breath is still faltering. "It's fine, y'don't need to," he whispers, repeats: "I like taking care of you," pets Alan's hair again.

            Alan tries to say something, can't find words, so eventually he just gives in, sighs into his neck and leans back against the wall. "Then," he breathes, "please do."

            Daigo-san freezes for a beat, then lets a small surprised, pleased laughter escape him, like he wasn't expecting Alan to actually agree.

            Then he falls to his knees as he lurches down and just crashes right back against Alan's chest — kissing, kissing him again, hot, wet, passionate, and sneaking his right hand between them and taking them both in his hand and just like that, all at once, the heat and flush are back. He rubs, frantically, against his fingers and each other and Alan bucks his hips once and leans into him, drapes his right arm around his shoulders.

            It's like a Trancell's cocoon, though he's not sure what's the wrapping, the heat, the water streaming down his back, Daigo-san's body or just his hand, but it's warm, it's safe, confined and intimate. Alan breathes, mouth open wide, between the kisses and the water, hears himself moan, small, quiet, deafening in the cramped space. Daigo-san's breath is on his face, in synch with the rhythm he finds and Alan rolls into.

            Everything in Alan clenches, grows hot, hotter and hotter. He can feel himself coming, but more slowly, more gradual this time; he has time to lay his forehead on Daigo-san's shoulder, face in his neck, and breathe, and take it at his pace. Daigo-san takes him along, stroke by stroke, the whole way, the whole climbing build-up to his climax, until Alan is only a heartbeat.

            His sight goes black under his squeezed-shut eyelids, his body tenses, tightens, comes taut together — then apart.

            He returns slowly, following his heartbeat. He feels it, then hears it; notices, first distantly, that he's shaking and breathing hard, before he actually experiences it. Only then can he become aware that Daigo-san is still kissing his mouth, still grinding against his thigh, jerky and frenetic. Detachedly, Alan thinks he should perhaps help, but he can barely move a limb, barely do more than groan from the back of his throat — and anyway the Champion's batted aside his every attempt to do anything before. So Alan just sits there under the warm water, and lets Daigo-san use him.

            He lets Daigo-san thrust between his thighs and rub against him, smash his mouth against his, and Alan just nips a little at his lips, manages to squeeze his right hand on Daigo's shoulder where it's still laying limp, his movements and mind still slowed down. Finally, Daigo-san gasps and keens a little and burrows his face in Alan's neck, his panting loud and whimpering. He shoves up against Alan one last time, hard, and shakes.

            Alan keeps breathing.

            They stay like that, collapsed unto each other without moving for so long that time goes strangely still. In the little pocket of space of the room, there's nothing but their breathing, slowly evening down, and the water still streaming over them, regular and steady, washing away their sticky mess with no judging. It's a natural, relaxing sort of quiet. Alan breathes in, out, in, out, eyes closed under the water like a warm summer rain shower.

            He can tell Daigo-san is laughing softly before he hears it; he's starting to know that light vibration of his body, against his chest.

            "Did I make up for leaving you hanging last time?" he whispers against Alan's right shoulder.

            Alan exhales. "Yeah." He'll never understand how Daigo-san can just talk so much all the time. "Thanks," is about all he's capable of adding right now.

            Daigo-san chuckles again, a low little rumbling sound like a small Pokémon curled up on Alan's chest, purring. "Do you usually thank people for having their way with you?"

            Alan blinks against the water. "Well, yeah."

            "How adorable," Daigo-san sighs, snuggling a little more against him. Alan doesn't have the energy to move enough to bite him again, but he manages to groan and bump the side of his face against Daigo's head in protest.

            He's feeling good. There'd be no need to move if it were up to him. But the water is only hitting half of his body, the other half getting cold from the floor and walls of the cubicle even with Daigo-san on him, and the way he's sitting probably will get uncomfortable eventually, or make him regret it later. He shifts a little, pulling his legs back, and Daigo-san straightens up, stretches, and unfurls off him.

            "All right! I promised to help you clean up, didn't I?"

            Alan snorts, quietly, as Daigo-san sits up and leans away to open the glass door. The steam billows out and the colder air hitting Alan's skin is a shock, but it's a relief to breathe in at the same time, clearing his head. Daigo brings in the bottles of products and a washcloth and stands up to fiddle with the showerhead again. The stream stops and Alan runs his right hand through his hair to push it out of his eyes, with the faint urge to shake out the water like a wet Trimmien.

            Daigo-san comes back down, soaped up washcloth in one hand and showerhead in the other, streaming again but more gently, the temperature a little lower. He kneels next to Alan and starts cleaning him up with slow, careful gestures, starting with his chest and, very cautiously, his shoulder. Alan closes his eyes and breathes evenly, moves a little to accommodate him, frowns a little in when the cloth moves on down his stomach and between his legs — he's sensitive now that he's come (twice in one night, Alan's not complaining but how did that happen), but Daigo is being delicate.

            "Is it all right?"

            Alan nods. Daigo-san runs the washcloth under his shaft and over his thighs, softly and gingerly but thorough at the same time, then rinses him off with the water. Eventually, even the water leaves his skin, and Alan opens his eyes slowly, blinking and feeling his wet eyelashes sticking together.

            Daigo-san catches his gaze and smiles, a little, with the corner of his mouth, before dipping down to come and seek out Alan's lips; he pushes a little at Alan's mouth to make him tilt his head back and get a manageable angle, and Alan just obliges lazily, kisses back a little, with no particular enthusiasm or assertiveness but it's not bothering him, either. He lets Daigo-san kiss him, slow and deep, but not intrusive; warm and tender. It's not the plan, but Alan could get used to this. (Already is, really; the mood is almost always different, but kissing Daigo-san is easy and natural and feels familiar already.)

            He would almost expect Daigo-san to try and initiate one more round, but it's not that kind of kiss, he can feel it; it's a conclusion, a thanks-for-the-good-time kiss, fond but final. Daigo-san leans away and stops there, his hands not going anywhere.

            What he does do is pipe up, "Say, can I wash your hair?" as though that would be a favor for him and Alan can't reel in the little cracking outburst of laughter. No matter how used to and good at reading the Champion he may get, Alan could never predict him.

            He shakes his head, amazed, and knows he usually wouldn't even consider it, but he can't help but be amused, and at this point, really, it's not like Alan has any appearances to keep up, so why not humor him. "Sure," he chuckles. "I wouldn't be able to move, anyway."

            Daigo-san doesn't seem to have that problem, feeding some more Alan's suspicions that he's some kind of superhuman. "Wonderful," he replies gleefully, and grabs the shampoo.

            It's probably worrying how often Daigo-san makes him feel like a kid, what with the rest of their interactions. But Daigo-san is definitely acting like one, too, clearly having — well, maybe not the time of his life, but fun. He runs his hands through Alan's hair time and time again, vigorously, wringing and fluffing it up again, lathers the shampoo into a thick white foam that drips down Alan's temples and neck and splatters on the floor. He rises on his knees and pushes Alan's head down to get at the back of his hair; the symbolism in the position isn't very subtle.

            "Do you really enjoy taking care of people," Alan wonders, looking at the floor of the shower between his legs, "or is it just another way to..." He stops to think about how to word this in a way that won't get him bitten for insolence again. "... establish your position as being in power and in charge?"

            Daigo-san laughs, genuine and light and clear. It's fresh and warm at the same time — not burning, not biting, not cutting, just the same pleasant lukewarm as the water running on Alan's skin, blanketing and covering and soothing. "I'll just let you decide what to believe for yourself," he declares teasingly.

            Alan smiles and closes his eyes. Once Daigo-san goes silent, almost all of Alan's perceptions of what's going on come through his sense of feeling: warmth, movement, Daigo-san's fingers in his hair, rubbing and kneading his scalp. Most of it is to apply the products — after rinsing off the shampoo, he moves on to some sort of conditioner — but some is gratuitous. It's starting to feel like a massage again, with the addition of the water warming his bones. Alan focuses on the contact, then stops focusing on anything at all, just takes in the plain pleasant glow that fills him up. He relaxes, feels his limbs loosened. His body is wrecked, but in a way that will feel good later, having purged out the stress and tension; he really can't move or think too hard right now, but he knows he'll feel better, energized and clear-minded, when he can stand up.

            Daigo-san lifts the showerhead again and rinses the last of the product out his hair, running the fingers of his free hand through it over and over again, almost like a comb, until he's apparently satisfied. The sound of the water stops and Daigo-san curls a hand under Alan's jaw to pull his head back up, gently, and proceeds to brush his bangs back. Alan enjoys the touch of his fingers on his forehead and temples for a little while more before slowly opening his eyes.

            "I'll need you to move and stand up to wash your back," Daigo-san explains.

            Alan breathes in, calmly, catches himself almost yawning. He's still too empty and comfortable to want to get up. "I'll just rest a little longer, if you don't mind."

            "All right! Then you'll just have to do that yourself later." And just like that, he stands up, puts the showerhead back on its hook, angled so it doesn't hit Alan too much anymore, and starts cleaning up himself. Alan is slightly surprised that he doesn't insist, but he doesn't look vexed or anything, his voice was still light and cheerful. He just stands in the opposite corner of the cubicle and washes his body, then his hair — with a lot less fussing and wasting of time — careful not to splash Alan too much, but otherwise paying him no mind at all.

            Sitting next to a Champion while they're showering wasn't something Alan thought would ever happen in his life, never mind the part about having sex with them twice in a few hours, but after all, this isn't even the weirdest thing that's happened to him in the last twenty-four hours.

            Daigo-san rinses off, turns off the water, and turns back towards Alan and catches his gaze, pensively. "You're not in pain, are you...?"

            Alan shakes his head.

            "Alan," and there comes the stern Champion voice again. "Are you sure—"

            "Yes," Alan groans obediently, "I promise. I just need to catch my breath a little."

            Daigo-san looks slightly suspicious still, but also amused again, and satisfied at any rate. "All right, then. But be careful not to stay too long and catch a cold in here." And he steps out, with a, "I'll be right back with some clothes!"

            Right, he had Alan's stuff shipped away to the laundry or something. How generous of him to take responsibility for it.

            Alan shifts a little, pulls his legs back and lays his hands on his knees, and listens, distractedly, to Daigo-san moving around, toweling his body, and eventually, walking out and back into the bedroom.

            Even though he's only on the other side of the door, even though Alan walked back from Manon's floor on his own just hours earlier, Alan feels like this is the first time in days that he's alone. He tilts his head back against the wall, eyes closed; opens them again and stares into nothing for a little while. His gaze drops as if instinctively to his left wrist, and it takes him a moment to realize why. He can feel the absence of his Mega Ring like an itch, almost actual, physical discomfort.

            He knows Lizardon's fine, he gave him the potion and berries himself — he wouldn't have gone to sleep without making sure Lizardon was okay — but he needs to know.

            He can still see Lizardon hitting the ice, the horrifying trail of his body grating it for much, much too long a distance; from up in the aircraft, over the howling of wind and legendary Pokémon, Alan could still hear the sickening sound it made, and he can still hear it now ringing in his ears.

            He shivers violently and knows it has nothing to do with the sudden draft as the door opens again.

            "I'm leaving it next to the sink," Daigo calls out.

            "Thank you," Alan responds.

            The glass door inches open and Daigo-san pops his head back in. He's slipped on a robe, of the non-descript cream hue that all hotels around the world seem to share for some reason. "... Are you sure you want to go out? You can have half of the bed and I promise I won't touch you again, I'll leave you alone. Or you can just go get Lizardon and come back, and stay with him on the couch..."

            Alan shakes his head to clear it. "No, I want to be alone with him for a bit. I'll just stay with him in the garden, it's fine."

            "All right," Daigo-san concedes, though looking less than thrilled. "Be careful not to catch a cold, really. Take a blanket along? I'll leave out a spare for you. Oh, and I'll prepare another ice pocket, in case. Look in the mini-bar before you go."

            He's back to being so concerned and fussy, like he wasn't pinning Alan down and slamming into him a few hours earlier. Alan can't help but smile. "Thank you."

            "Please don't hesitate to come back if you're in pain, or cold, or tired, if Lizardon needs something, if you want to talk, or anything. All right?"

            "Yes." Alan shifts a little to his side, bracing on his good shoulder, to tilt his head and look at Daigo-san more directly. "What about you? You said... don't you need to go spend some time with your Metagross, too?"

            Daigo smiles. "I will, absolutely, tomorrow morning. There's no rush for us." Then he chuckles, and admits, not at all embarrassed: "Let's just say Metagross is used to it."

            Alan snorts before he can help it, but Daigo's still smiling, and he smiles back. It's strange, how not strange this is, how familiar Alan feels he can be with this guy now. He's still naked and collapsed on the floor of the shower, Daigo-san standing clothed over him, and it could feel unbalanced or sordid, like Alan's just been used, but if it's true Alan doesn't mind anyway.

            It was all right. It was nice.

            Daigo-san yawns, covering his mouth with his usual incongruous proper manners. "Well, it's nice to be young, but I need my beauty sleep. Good night!"

            "Good night, Champion," Alan cracks.

            Daigo-san sends him one last wry smile and a wink, and closes the door behind him when he leaves the room.

 

 

 

            Once he eventually gets up, Alan's fine. He has the strength to stand, to wash off thoroughly enough to hopefully spare Lizardon from having to smell Daigo-san's scent on his skin. He dries off his hair and body with almost no shoulder-related difficulty, brushes his teeth. Everything was going perfectly well.

            Until the clothes.

            They looked innocuous enough, a set of pajamas in shades of dark blue and grey, carefully folded in a neat pile.

            It's not pajamas.

            It's not real clothes, it's some weird Hoenn thing again that looks a little like a bathrobe, or like what he saw martial artists wear back in Kalos, but longer, with weirder sleeves, and in clearly more sophisticated material. Alan isn't even sure how to call it, let alone how to put it on, which he's been trying to do for five minutes with very little success. He finally manages to knot the belt (he hopes that's a belt) around his waist in such a way the long robe-like garment will stay wrapped around him, but even then, he has no doubt he got something wrong. The neckline most likely isn't supposed to gape this much on his chest; but at least, the other, dark blue piece, which he's reasonably sure is a sort of jacket, covers his torso well enough, so it'll do.

            What the hell does Hoenn have against underwear, though. Or perhaps that's just the Champion.

            He straightens the collar of the jacket and goes to open the door. The flaps of the robe don't allow him to take long strides, but he can walk without making them slide open too much. He'll manage.

            The bedroom is dark and silent. Alan can just make out the shape of Daigo-san on the bed, under the sheets; he hasn't moved.

            Quietly, in small cautious steps, Alan moves to the couch. His bag is still there, and next to it, his hand meets the soft plushness of the blanket Daigo-san promised. After groping around the wall a little, he finds the door of the mini-bar, and in the bucket of, yes, definitely champagne bottles, a new makeshift ice pocket is waiting. The wrapping is the same handkerchief, but Alan recognizes it less from sight than from the feel of the texture under his fingers as he takes it. It really is silk.

            He closes the mini-bar and waits a little for his eyes to adjust to the dark again. He can make out the bed, a light-colored spot on the floor next to it; after a moment, he can see enough to tell that it's the robe Daigo-san was wearing earlier. He breathes in deep.

            Slowly, as silently as he can, naked feet on the strange mats, Alan makes his way across the room to the bedside table. The two Keystones gleam just a little in the night. One of the ends of the stickpin is resting on the edge of the bracelet; he groans internally at the sight. Daigo-san's sense of humor has been weird from the start. Alan reaches out to pick up his Mega Ring.

            Daigo shifts and rolls over, and stretches, the covers tangling around his legs and knees and slipping down his waist, exposing his chest, stomach, hips, and the fact that he's quite clearly naked under them. His eyes are closed and his face impassible, from what Alan can see of it, but everything in him from his parted lips to the tips of his fingers looks provocative and inviting and Alan knows, with every fiber of his being, without a single doubt, that despite all his claims about needing sleep, the asshole is awake. This shameless, insatiable flirt is supposed to be the Champion of Hoenn? Unbelievable.

            Although, well. It did sound like he'd been looking and digging in those ruins for a long time, alone. He was growing desperate enough to accept the director's help immediately, at any rate; Alan knows how that feels, after all. Perhaps he was already frustrated and tired, and he didn't catch any more rest than anyone all through this crazy day. Less so, even, what with having to deal with Devon Corp and all the technicalities of arranging transportation (and, all right, Alan and Manon didn't exactly make it any easier on him at any point). He likely needed a break, too, and he certainly deserved it. Alan can cut him some slack. Even though he's still an annoying jerk sometimes.

            Alan sighs and leans down.

            He just brushes his lips against Daigo-san's, gently, mouth closed. It's a little laughable, honestly, how chaste the kiss is, after the night they've just had. He keeps it short and quick, parting without even leaving Daigo the time to decide whether to blow his pretense of sleep and kiss back; he closes his fingers around his Mega Ring and straightens up, turns around, picks up the robe on the way and wraps it over the back of the couch, grabs his things, and is gone.

            There's a small sound in his back as he opens the door: Daigo-san's scolding "Tss", as if in frustration or reproach, but Alan can hear the joking tone and genuine amusement in it. He feels slightly amused, too, as if he's just pulled a harmless but clever prank, and smiles with no one to see it.

            He steps over the threshold and closes the door behind him.

            The lights are a little blinding for a moment. He leans with his back against the wall and gathers his things: slings the blanket over his shoulder, puts on the slippers, straightens his robe-thing. He slides his Mega Ring around his wrist.

            He starts walking.

 

 

 

            The night worker at the reception desk tells him the garden is on the terrace.

            Daigo-san had called it an inner garden, but that wasn't quite right: it's a greenhouse. The glass ceiling shows a clear sky and the starlight is enough to see the trees, the artificial pond — he has to blink to make sure he's not imagining the Koduck floating on its back in it, blink again to convince himself that no, Gaburias isn't just about to jump out from the trees to ask him or the professor to scratch her neck.

            It's so unfair. Alan was going to go back to Kalos anyway. He feels like crap about leaving already. He really didn't need backlash from yet another sudden surge of memories.

            But the layout is subtly different than the Platane laboratory's greenhouse, and it's nighttime, and when he blinks hard and shakes his head, he can gather himself enough to find that it's actually pretty nice.

            The air is warm, but fresh, and fragrant; it's probably all artificially regulated, but it's pleasing, not the kind of suffocating heat of tropical greenhouse attractions. The grass is well-kept, and a clear-watered fountain gurgles quietly away. No artificial lights, just the ones from the city below, and a few sparkles in the dark: the eyes of a Golbat hanging upside down from a branch, the flashing tails of a few Illumise and Volbeat drawing shapes in the air above the water. There's movement between the trees, shuffling and cracking sounds — Alan even catches sight of the familiar white tails of a female Nyaonix, which, if he remembers right, aren't native to Hoenn — but it's nothing worrying or threatening; even the Pokémon that don't belong to guests must be used to humans and mostly tame. There's an entire microcosm in here, breathing, breathing life, just breathing.

            Just standing here, Alan feels more at ease already.

            (Home.)

            (But exactly for that reason, it stings a little, too.)

            He takes his slippers off but ignores the shoes prepared for the guests and steps into the grass bare-footed, feels the damp blades tickle his soles.

            Out of the corner of his eyes, he catches sight of a familiar white shape, glinting in the moonlight. Metagross has settled near the edge of the small woods, all four legs tucked under its body, and its red eyes are trained on Alan. They follow him as he walks up to it and bows his head: in greeting, in thanks. Manon said it protected her, too — well, all of them. Alan doesn't quite know how to express his gratitude for looking out for Lizardon and Manon, but Metagross slowly blinks, as if to signify understanding.

            The way it then keeps staring at him for a few long seconds somehow gives him the feeling that it understands a lot more as well. Alan gulps.

            Metagross remains quiet but it finally moves, one long shudder, as if it's shrugging or shaking off sleep, and looks to the side; one of its legs rotates out to point in that same direction. Alan bows again, and goes. Even with his back turned, he thinks he can feel Metagross' gaze prickling the back of his neck and he needs to fight back a shudder too, the urge to shake off an imprint Daigo-san might have left on him somehow.

            It's not long before he can see the light, like a beacon in the night, flickering between the trunks.

            Lizardon has found a patch of dirt where he could lie down without risk of setting fire to the grass; Alan can see the prints of his paws and tail in the dirt where he beat it. He's curled up, tail lined up along his body and head tucked back under a wing. His flame is burning strong again, bright, tall; in the plane, Alan rubbed his back and Manon helped until it was rekindled enough to stop being worrying, but this — this is without compare. It's beautiful.

            Alan walks up to him and when he breathes in, it's easier and deeper, his whole lungs filling, like they'd been locked, like there'd been a weight compressing them that's now gone, lifting as Lizardon's wing unfurls. Lizardon opens one eye and shifts on his side just a little, meeting the hand Alan lays on his flank. He's breathing deeply too, his rib cage expanding and deflating under Alan's hand with each inhale and exhale, regularly — he's fine, completely fine, his body is warm against Alan's face when Alan collapses on his knees against him.

            Lizardon cranes his neck to bring his head closer; Alan can feel the movements of his bones and muscles under his hand, then the rough texture of his scaly nose against his cheek, a puff of his hot breathing.

            Then Lizardon inhales, and snorts, dry and crackling.

            Alan groans. "Yeah, I know." And he tried his hardest to wash off the scent, too.

            Lizardon smells him again and keeps nuzzling him and Alan faintly wants to bury himself in a ditch somewhere, or maybe just bury Daigo-san. Then Lizardon gives one more bump of his nose and Alan finally realizes he was aiming at his hand, where it's laying near Lizardon's face — his fingers still wearing the rings. He forgot about them again.

            He just forgot to take them off, but it's a very disconcerting and unpleasant feeling, as if he accidentally stole them or, worse, accidentally got married. Lizardon sniffs them again, huffs out a few small harmless sparks. "Shut up, yes, they're his rings. I meant to give them back, I was just tired." He finally takes them off, hoping they're not made of silver because, Arceus, he kept them on in the shower, didn't he? He'll have to remember to leave them somewhere for Daigo-san. He carefully stashes the rings in his bag and Lizardon goes back to nosing his neck, but he's not even commiserating, just mercilessly amused. "Stop that," he groans. "Why are you all so mean to me? He was kind of a jerk too, what's so amusing about it? This is why I have trust issues."

            Lizardon snorts again, hard, a whole spray of sparks flying out of his nostrils. With another loud sigh, Alan drops his forehead back against his flank.

            Lizardon's skin is scaly, a good tough protection, hard angles that chafe if you rub too hard against them, but on his body and belly it's smooth and pleasant to the touch. Alan stays pressed up against him for a while, feeling and listening to the fire roaring under his skin like a blood stream.

            A sudden shudder runs through Lizardon's body and he shies away from the ice pack that Alan had forgotten about, on top of the pile of things in his arm. Alan takes it away and shifts to lean on him with his good shoulder. "Sorry." He sits more comfortably, unfolds the blanket and spreads it over his legs, and applies the ice pocket with another sigh, contented this time. The cold is striking and distracting, but a relief; it was about time. It was starting to melt already, anyway. "Well, he did take care of me, too, like you see. I'm all right now." Lizardon lifts his head to lay it on Alan's and grunts peacefully. His rib cage vibrates with it, then expands again slowly as he breathes; Alan lets the knuckles of his free hand trail down it. "That battle against Rayquaza was nasty, huh?" he whispers.

            Lizardon doesn't react.

            "You did what you could." Alan tilts his head back so his face is against the underside of Lizardon's maw and he can nudge him softly. The skin there is much slacker and thinner. "I'm glad you made it safely." Lizardon burrows his nose in his hair, ruffling it, drawing a smile out of Alan. He brings his free hand up to pat and scratch the corner of his jaw, teasing, "There, there. What a big baby."

            Lizardon nudges him back, both chastising and tender. Alan smiles again and lets his eyelids droop closed.

            "I'm glad you're fine."

            They just breathe like that for a while, Lizardon's head a reassuring, stabilizing weight on his, the flap of his throat moving against Alan's forehead in time with his respiration. Then Lizardon nudges again, a little more insistently, into Alan's hand, in a familiar demanding gesture.

            "What, you already hungry again?" Alan chuckles, before frowning — "Wait, didn't the hotel feed you?" When he opens his eyes, Lizardon meets them candidly. Alan squints and takes his hand back to pat Lizardon's suspiciously round stomach with it. "They did, you little scoundrel!" he laughs, but there's no universe in which he refuses to dig into his bag and hold out a handful of dry meatballs for Lizardon to eat out of his palm. "Glutton," he adds for good measure. Lizardon huffs in agreement.

            Eventually, Lizardon shifts again and drops his head into Alan's lap, easily finding the spot on Alan's thigh where he can rest his neck without craning it too much and without making Alan's leg numb. These are familiar movements, familiar feelings, Lizardon's warm and firm body all around him, but it's been a while, since they really spent time like this, just the two of them. Without opening his eyes, Alan pats his way up his neck and scratches lazily behind a horn, and sighs.

            He keeps his voice low, in case Metagross can hear them, from wherever it is. "You got it, right?"

            The grunt is just as calm as the previous one, even quieter, barely more than a rumbling vibration on his thigh. It's a little melancholy, but it's not a reproach, just an answer, a comment: it's sad.

            "Yeah, sorry. We won't say goodbye to Manon or Harimaron. It would complicate things." He swallows. "But this isn't farewell. Probably."

            Lizardon waits, patiently, without doing anything in reply, but Alan doesn't need him to, Alan knows he understands. He probably didn't really need to speak out loud; for years, they haven't actually needed that.

            "If you're well enough. We're leaving in the morning," he whispers anyway, more for himself, just to make it official. "Just you and me, on our own again." The words sound a little sad like Lizardon's noise, but it's not a tragedy. They're comforting, reassuring words, the return of something they're familiar with, and there's a promise in them, too, a little note of hope Alan can hear in his own voice. "We'll get stronger," he knows. "I'll get stronger. I won't put you through something like that again." He opens his eyes, though he wouldn't need to, and moves his hand to stroke the flat of Lizardon's muzzle, the tip of his nose. "We just have to become stronger. That's all right, right?"

            Lizardon lifts his jaw just enough to puff out the smallest of flames, warming and licking Alan's palm and fingers painlessly.

            "I thought the way we were would be enough to make progress just by travelling," he whispers, apologetic, "but..." He can't even finish his sentence: Lizardon slides his forehead under his palm and pushes into it, rejecting the apology and accepting him, and Alan can't help but smile. "Thank you. For being with me."

            Lizardon rubs his head into his hand again, like he's the one petting him, and Alan is still smiling as he closes his eyes again.

            Against him, he can feel Lizardon's body shifting as he lies back down, and he lets himself follow the movement into the usual comfortable position, almost snuggling. He has to drag his eyes back open to take off the ice pack, dry his shoulder and adjust the blanket over himself, then Lizardon extends his wing out again and closes it over him, blocking out the light from his flame and the night sky.

            Even in this darkness, Alan's drowsy eyes can still make out the discreet, warm shimmer of the Keystone on his bangle, and he knows that on Lizardon's necklace, the Lizardonite is shining in echo — not reverberating any outside light, just emitting their own in synchronicity.

            It's a warm thought to fall back asleep to.

           

 

 

            Lizardon nudges him awake just before dawn breaks, cautiously but firmly pushing his nose to Alan's face. "'Morning," Alan mumbles, and gets affectionately and heartlessly pushed off until he stands up.

            They stretch together, shake off the last clinging traces of drowsiness. Alan gathers his things, straps his bag around his waist (at least it keeps the robe closed), and they walk out of the artificial meadow, side-by-side, until they reach the curved glass walls, to watch their first sunrise in Hoenn. It feels like days since Alan stepped out of that plane with Manon, even though really, they haven't even been here for twenty-four hours.

            It's been one long day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

            That's about as good as the morning gets.

            When Alan goes back down to the reception desk, the clerk brightly informs him that his clothes have already been brought back to the room, as requested. Alan thanks her and makes it all the way to the elevator before cursing out loud, but there's no two ways about it. He can't very well leave the country in robes and slippers.

            He sighs and prepares to make his way back to a room he had no intention of ever returning to. It's barely past sunrise, he reassures himself in the elevator: there's a distinct possibility Daigo-san is still sleeping. Alan still has his keycard, he can get in without waking him. Get his clothes, put Daigo-san's stuff back, nothing hard. He can be in and out of the room in just a minute.

            No such luck, of course.

            He scans his keycard, cringes at the loud beep and the sound of the hatch unlocking, pushes the door open slowly, quietly.

            The curtains are thrown wide open to the early morning sky and all the lights are on. Daigo-san is lying on his stomach on the bed, wearing the same robes as Alan, his feet in the air with his ankles crossed and a tablet on the pillow before him, wide awake.

            Alan exhales and closes the door behind him.

            Daigo-san makes a brusque, wide sweeping gesture on the screen of his tablet. His face is blank, the lines and angles of it hard and sharp.

            Then it softens all at once. The stiffness disappears, leaves way to bright and easy cheer. His mouth doesn't quite smile but its shape is warm as it chirps the words:

            "Good morning!"

            — and then the mask is back, smooth as a coat of steel poured over. He hasn't looked up, hasn't stopped typing.

            Alan walks towards the bed slowly, and it feels like walking into the field of an arena; his body tenses in anticipation of a battle even as he replies quietly, "Good morning."

            Daigo-san keeps typing, one-handed, fingertips dancing on the screen soundlessly. He says nothing.

            Alan clears his throat, rummages in his pack. "I brought these back." He hands out the handkerchief, neatly folded in a square, and the rings gathered in its center. Daigo-san doesn't even glance at them. "Thanks again," Alan tries. "For everything." No reaction. "About my clothes..."

            "Ah, yes, they were brought in here earlier." He makes no move to indicate where; Alan scans the room but can't find them. He feels stupid, humiliated, standing there in foreign clothes, acknowledged but completely ignored.

            Something moves and there's a dry cracking sound. It takes Alan a moment to spot its origin: on Daigo-san's other side, a small Cokodora is nibbling down a bar of iron from his hand. As he watches, it tears off a larger bit and sets about chewing it down, little by little, its steel jaw clicking like machinery.

            Alan inhales slowly and reviews his next words in his head. He can't find a way to bring up Manon naturally, but the silence stretches on, so he licks his lips, opens his mouth without knowing quite how to ask for this reassurance without making it sound like a last request.

            "I'd have put money on you taking the 7:35 flight," Daigo-san says.

            Alan freezes. His brain goes blank. His body won't move, his chest turns to ice, his blood leaves his face. His ears ring as if he'd just been slapped in the face.

            "Noon, right?" the Champion continues, with no particular intonation. "Be careful, departure time has been moved to half an hour before schedule."

            His voice is as empty as Alan's head. He still hasn't looked up. Alan's reflexes finally catch up and instinctively launch him into battle mode, his fists clenching and his muscles tensing from his shoulders to the tips of his toes, his jaw and his gut tightening — he can almost feel the hairs on his skin rise up, the back of his neck prickle, ready for a fight, and Daigo-san doesn't move from where he lies, calm and detached and barely there at all.

            The Cokodora grinds the last of its snack between its teeth, iron scraping against steel with the screech of cutlery grating against a plate. Then it swallows, and Daigo lowers his hand so it can have another bite.

            "You do realize that taking such a late flight left plenty of time for Manon to get up, notice your absence, and ask me to take her to the airport to fetch you and drag you back kicking and screaming."

            Alan's head snaps around, his gaze jumping all around the room, fully expecting Manon to bounce out of the bathroom, the closet, from under the bed or something even more ridiculous, scowling and hurt and asking for explanations Alan can't give her face-to-face.

            But she doesn't. Daigo doesn't react, just goes on calmly, musing out loud: "She'd probably have Hari-san tie you up." It's a joke, it sounds like one; it twists a knot in Alan's stomach like an explicit threat. His left hand twitches thoughtlessly onto his right wrist, just to confirm that there's nothing holding there, no vine whip and no vise-like delicate hands.

            Alan's voice rattles and grates like sand in his dry throat. "How —"

            "I have business and brain connections, you know," Daigo-san interrupts, but he doesn't even raise his voice, nor snarl. "It really wasn't hard to guess that you were planning on skipping town. Well, I suppose not anybody could have obtained your booking information, so perhaps I'm lucky I'm not just anybody..." His tone remains even and his elocution perfect, mechanically so; he sounds robotic, and he sounds bored, bored out of his mind, as though Alan's predictability made him lose any relevancy.

            He starts typing again, a completely casual, off-handed gesture, but one that speaks volumes: Alan's case doesn't take priority on his work and doesn't require his full attention, Alan isn't worth his attention anymore.

            It's all just so jarring that Alan needs to look around again, just to confirm that there's no one here that Daigo-san needs to perform an act of detachment for, before his brain can accept this and articulate how to respond. "Sorry to disappoint you," he finally mutters — and realizes the instant he says it, with some embarrassment, that he sounds, even to himself, offended.

            It pisses him off.

            Especially as it occurs to him — "And you came after me knowing that," he snaps, because it's not like it hurts, but it stings. "You fucked me knowing that and hiding it from me." Five hours ago, this very same guy stared at him like he was the most fascinating thing in the world, said his name with reverence, this guy got on his knees in front of Alan, and now he won't even look at him? If Daigo-san is that good an actor, he's a horrid, manipulative asshole and it's not Alan's place to feel bad or guilty.

            Daigo-san taps something on the tablet, his eyes scanning the screen quickly, his face the picture of supreme boredom. "Yes, sure. And you let me, thinking I didn't know." Alan's blood boils. "What, are you complaining that someone did to you what you were planning to do to them? I wasn't even sure until this morning, and I asked what you wanted. I let you choose. I wasn't even going to bring that up, as promised. I think I've been nothing but fair, all things considered."

            Cokodora twitches its little head up, tearing the last part of the iron bar from Daigo's fingers, and swallows it down with a sick clanking gurgle. When it looks back down, its deep-sunken little blue yes fix on Alan, too focused to be simply curious. It doesn't blink. Daigo makes no move to produce another snack for it.

            The back of Alan's neck prickles and he tries not to think about how the Champion's hand would feel on it, how he could probably grab Alan and toss him on the bed and feed him to one of his Pokémon like one more useless scrap of metal without changing his expression, with this same indifference.

            "Besides," Daigo starts again, calmly, like this doesn't concern him, "you're in no position to talk about dishonesty. You lied to me yesterday, said to my face that Fleurdelys-san wasn't calling you back."

            "I never lied," Alan snaps impatiently. "He didn't give me any more orders, I decided to go back."

            "Oh?" Daigo's fingers still on the screen. "Did you now? Whatever for? Surely you could find things to do in Hoenn."

            It's none of his damn business, and Alan shouldn't have to justify himself to him, but it'll itch if he doesn't, so he grumbles, "I'm going to train. I need to get stronger, and the director can help me with that."

            Still without looking up at him, dead calm and quiet, the Champion asks, "What about Manon?"

            "What about Manon?" Alan snaps impatiently. "She's been in too much danger already, I can't keep her around after yesterday. She's better off without me."

            Daigo-san doesn't move. Alan doesn't see him do anything; but something shifts — perhaps he relaxes minutely — his voice and his face aren't quite as cold as he resumes: "Well. That's certainly more interesting. Anyway, I was just checking; I'm not going to try and stop you just because I disapprove. You're not under my responsibility, I can't tell you what to do with your life. Do what you think is best for you."

            "I intend to."

            "Glad to hear that." Daigo-san smiles blankly in front of his tablet. It's clearly, painfully fake, meaning he's not even trying to make it look honest, but at least he's not being cutting anymore; the tense atmosphere has dropped and Alan doesn't feel like the air is crackling with electricity so much anymore.

            Of course, there's still about a fifty-fifty chance that the Champion's just messing with Alan, lying and manipulating him and planning to double-cross him as soon as Alan is out of his sight. But until now, he has (had; whatever) been consistently reliable and — if not open — truthful to everything he did say. He didn't interfere, didn't change plans, didn't do anything when Alan left Manon behind yesterday beyond a light comment. Maybe Alan can still trust him on this.

            Alan breathes in. "Then, in that case, if you're not planning on stopping me, I want to ask you something." It comes with an unpleasant feeling of making himself vulnerable by depending on him, now, but after all, Alan's had ample occasion to notice that the Champion likes feeling in control. Perhaps this is all this little scene was about. The theatrics of the Cokodora having breakfast is too dramatic to be coincidental.

            Daigo-san's little "Hm?" is lilting, almost singing, very much not helping. Alan refrains a sigh and, even though he knows Daigo-san will love this, he bows respectfully.

            "Could you take care of Manon, help her if she needs anything, make sure she's fine and safe after this?"

            He stays bent, looking at the floor, but he almost feels the back of his head prickle again under Daigo-san's mocking stare as he lazily rolls to his side to, finally, look at Alan. "So you can be polite to other people than your director."

            Alan keeps his mouth shut.

            "You know, I think I'm done being generous with favors and getting nothing in return. That's just not a good business practice — almost downright rude, in fact. Unless that's just how you Kalosians do things?" Alan doesn't rise to the bait; in some strange way, he gets the feeling that the jab — not-unjustified after all — was made to ease the way to the rest. He steels himself and waits in silence, still bowed. "Manon is a good kid, of course I'll look after her. But I disapprove of your decision to leave her behind, so I'm afraid it won't be for free."

            At that, he does look up, because there's no reason to be overly proper and formal if that guy isn't. "What would you have me do?" he asks, dryly, with no pretense of being amused.

            Daigo opens his mouth once more, then closes it with a sudden — not a scowl, but a frown, abruptly serious again. He chews on his lip pensively, and says nothing, but looks deeply frustrated about it.

            Alan mulls it over, and sighs: "If that's what you're worried about, no, I didn't agree to sleep with you so I could ask you for this in exchange. I wouldn't have involved Manon in that kind of deal. Please."

            Daigo-san exhales as well, and for once, he sounds earnestly relieved, rather than annoyed or flippant. "Thank you. I didn't want to bring it up when I promised not to, but I did need to hear that."

            He doesn't look sorry, though. Alan dryly points out: "I hadn't planned on coming back in here at all."

            "I believe that," comes Daigo's instant, light response, his voice completely unrepentant and immediately cheerful again.

            Is it all an act, everything he does and says, constantly, even when he flickers through personae and moods? Alan wonders fleetingly. Or on the contrary, is everything real?

            He hasn't got the time to stand here and figure out the dark depths of the Champion of Hoenn's weird brain, though. Especially when Daigo-san chants, "Well, then, I do hope you're feeling fine this morning, as my condition might be hard on your knees."

            Classy. Alan's face can't decide if it wants to flush or turn livid with anger again — the Champion likes being in control, yes, he's had ample chance to notice that, but this is quite a different dynamic. "I'd have returned the favor if you'd just asked," he growls. "You swore that once I'd left, you wouldn't —"

            "Psshh, psshh!" Daigo interrupts him with a dismissive wave of his hand. "My, my, what a dirty mind you have, Alan! That's not what I meant at all!" He's beaming. Alan clenches his fists on the urge to punch him in the face. "Who do you take me for? No, no. I want you to... well, ideally, I'd like for you to go and talk to Manon about this whole plan of yours, but I've seen enough of you two to guess that you'd probably make it even worse. Upset her on purpose to make sure she wouldn't want to chase after you, something noble, selfish and stupid like that. So, no: in exchange for my cooperation, you're staying for breakfast."

            Alan stares him in the twinkly eye. "And is that an innuendo?"

            "Nope!" He looks so positively happy with himself, it's almost painful. "I wanted to share a little of Hoenn's culture with you two, and food's always a good place to start, so I booked a room for a traditional breakfast for just the three of us — well, and Hari-san. Manon and he were our heroes yesterday, weren't they? They've earned a reward." He yawns, somehow gracefully, then puts his chin over his steepled fingers. "Plus, Manon-kun went through a lot, she deserves to be spoiled a little. At the very least, she deserves to have her nice meal, without it being ruined by the knowledge that you sneaked away and heartlessly abandoned her."

            The worst part is that this is actually a thoughtful gesture of him. Almost touching. Alan drops his gaze and mutters, "Understood."

            "I'll let you feel like a jerk for hiding it from her," Daigo adds cheerfully.

            "How generous of you."

            "Unless, of course, you change your mind." He smiles, very self-satisfied indeed. "At any rate, I'm keeping your clothes hidden away until breakfast is over, so if you want to run off after all, be ready to get stared at a lot in the airport. Deal?"

            "So long as you don't tell Manon about this, either."                                    

            "I will tell her why you left and where to after you're gone. She'll be worried." Alan knows she will. "But I can promise to say nothing before you're gone."

            That's not the best, but acceptable. "Deal," Alan sighs.

            "Fantastic. Breakfast's at eight," Daigo-san concludes, and rolls back on his stomach to return to his tablet like the very busy person he is.

            After that ambush and all that insistence to get exactly what he wanted out of Alan, it's. Weird, to be honest. "That's it?"

            "Mm?"

            Alan's hands are itching, his curled fingers clenching and unclenching, his thumb running against the inside of his knuckles. Fidgeting. He hasn't done that since his interview for the job at the Miare City labs. "You're just... letting me go? Not that I'm complaining, but..."

            "As long as you're cautious about — ah, nevermind." Alan gets a feeling he would have very much minded. "There are many things I'd like to ask or tell you, but there's no point now. And on the matter of your own well-being, well. You said you're off to train, right?"

            Alan's already said the most he's going to tell about that, so he looks away and keeps his mouth shut. Daigo-san seems to figure that, and doesn't wait long for a response.

            "I get it," he says.

            Alan snorts.

            But Daigo-san glances at him, and he's grinning, like he knows how patronizing that sounds, and he insists, "No, really! A few years ago, I did that, too. Left everything behind to go train and get stronger."

            "Sure," Alan bursts out. This is not a man who has ever felt inadequate or worried about his strength.

            "I swear. The desire — the need to get stronger, to get better, I get it. I know the feeling, I promise. And it's easy to see it in you, too. I'm really not surprised. But," and his voice gets softer, still warm and the smile still there but the humor gone, "what I also know is there's no point if you don't go back after it all. Don't forget to go back to somewhere, Alan."

            Alan opens his mouth, then finds he has to wet his dry lips and swallow to ease the small knot in his throat before he can say even such a small thing as, "Got it." Daigo-san is still watching him and Alan doesn't want to meet his gaze and see what sort of emotion is in there, real or fake. Instead, he looks at the little Cokodora, which has now started trying to nibble at the side of the tablet. Daigo's fingers are in its way, and it sniffs them, but Daigo doesn't seem worried. His only reaction is to raise his hand, as if automatically, and follow the curved slope of its face to stroke its head; Cokodora makes a sound like gears turning and closes its eyes.

            It's doing its equivalent of purring, Alan realizes, just like some lady's Eneko being petted. Daigo is running his hand over and over what Alan is pretty sure is a cold steel shell as though it were smooth fur.

            "Ah, my little exploring companion," Daigo comments fondly, finally taking his attention off Alan and focusing on his Pokémon. "Always hungry, I'm afraid, but she's a huge help in caves. Aren't you, Co-tan?" He suddenly scratches (tickles? somehow?) under her chin and she produces a happy metallic rumble. "We met at that time, actually. Though she was never as interested in training as in finding rocks."

            "What did you do, after that?" Alan manages to ask in a casual voice. Not exactly small talk, but it's safer territory, to keep it about the Champion and the past and not his own present and future. "Where did you go back to when you were done?"

            "Isn't it obvious? I went after the previous Champion and stripped him of his title. Didn't I, Co-tan? It was amazing."

            Alan can't claim to understand the Cokodora's answer, but Daigo seems to take it as agreement. He hums in satisfaction, and looks at Alan again, but the threat has passed. His eyes slide off Alan's face easily, and finally down to his right hand, still fisted around the handkerchief.

            "Ooh, silly me, my rings! How nice of you to bring them back, thank you," he says, brightly, like they haven't had two entire conversations since Alan mentioned them and there is absolutely no way he left them with Alan on purpose. But at least he finally takes his stuff back, and lays everything on the bedside table, so Alan can reasonably hope that he'll wash the rings off before putting them back on.

            Then he sighs dramatically.

            Alan doesn't like how it sounds.

            "You're wearing that yukata outrageously wrong." He puts the tablet away, slings his legs off the bed and rises, with complete ease, his robe — is that what he's talking about? — staying in place and in impeccable order by some ineffable magic. He raises his hands, hovering in front of Alan's chest, the sleeves just sliding a little down to his elbows gracefully. "May I?" He is not touching him. Alan barely thinks it over before he nods, and Daigo-san just grabs the edges of his jacket, carefully. "Did no one tell you off at the reception? I knew this place's reputation was overblown."

            It's amazing how easily Daigo-san can pull Alan from the defensive to harmless exasperation to amused complicity, and make him crack a smile again a mere minute after Alan was ready to strangle him.

            Well, the amusement doesn't last long either, turning into discomfort after all when Daigo-san removes his jacket and starts efficiently and brusquely tugging at his belt. "Nevermind the bag, first off, your knot looks terrible, you didn't even tie the haori right, and worst of all, you folded the fronts the wrong way around — Alan, seriously, only corpses are dressed this way! We really don't need that kind of omen."

            Because of course, that's only common sense. Alan ought to have known.

            Hoenn is weird.

            So Alan has to apologize while Daigo-san pulls his waist-pack and belt off, business-like, slinging it over his own wrist, and pulls the fronts of his garment open. Alan tenses up, but Daigo-san is focused on his collar, grabbing the hems of it without so much as brushing Alan's skin and running his hands inside the steam to adjust the fold, the whole way down Alan's chest — it could probably be insanely sensual, but he's so prim and professional about it that Alan almost feels scolded instead. Except that it means Alan can relax.

            "How's your shoulder, by the way?"

            "Good. Thank you again." Daigo lets out that warm little bubbly chuckle, like Alan just said something charming, so before he can start flirting again, Alan adds: "Even though I'm leaving, could you still —"

            Without taking his eyes off the strange technical things he's doing gathering the fabric up around Alan's left armpit, Daigo-san interrupts him easily: "Not tell Manon about the injury either, I know, I know, you were very clear on that. Don't worry." Then he just — folds the robe, right then left, left over right, snug against Alan's waist yet still without touching his skin, wraps the belt basically one-handed around Alan's waist and over what seems like disgraceful excess fabric — then smoothly pulls on the ends of the belt again, hard, probably enough to bruise Alan's hips — ties it into an impossibly elegantly balanced knot— and when he lets go and steps back, the entire thing somehow holds and feels and looks right.

            Alan won't miss Hoenn.

            Daigo-san pokes at his collar some more, not that Alan can tell what he's doing, but he does it while humming and frowning thoughtfully. "... Is something wrong?"

            "Mmm-hm. Nevermind, it's my fault. Your neck. Well, doesn't matter, you'll wear a haori anyway." He turns to retrieve the jacket while Alan refrains the urge to touch his own neck or to scream. It's his own damn fault, he gave permission, but he didn't know he'd be seeing Manon afterwards, and without the cover of his scarf to boot.

            Movement catches his eye — the Cokodora has sat up and crawled to the edge of the bed, and carefully jumps off of it. She lands on all four legs with a thump that would probably have been much louder without the thick mats muffling the sound; Alan doesn't remember the average weight of a Cokodora off the top of his head, but it's significant. Then she starts walking again, unfazed, small regular and repetitive steps, fastidious but purposeful, like a factory robot with a task.

            Daigo-san wraps the jacket around his shoulders again — mindful to raise the hem of the collar up and close against Alan's neck — and ties the knot again. In all objectivity, Alan really can't see what the difference is with the way he'd tied it, but whatever makes the Champion happy. He looks Alan over and nods, satisfied. "Much better. All right! I hope you're enjoying the whole Hoenn experience, Alan." Ambivalent this time, Alan notes with almost morbid detachment: the smile looks genuine, but his tone is dry and pointedly affected, not even trying to disguise the very unplatonic subtext behind the comment. And yet, Alan's still almost certain he really can trust and rely on him, that Daigo-san really does care and wish him only the best. "Have you even slept at all?"

            "Yeah, I caught a few more hours in the garden."

            "Good. And how is Lizardon doing?"

            "Much better. And I..." He trails off, trying to find the words, to explain how it feels like, to feel that Lizardon is there right now, as if he were outside of his Monster Ball, to know that they're together, connected, that their bond is an almost tangible reality; then he remembers that Daigo-san knows this feeling too and it's easy to tell him: "We're fine."

            Daigo-san's smile blooms, tender and warm, all the way into his eyes. "I'm glad to hear that." And Alan has not a single doubt that this is true. "He really got badly hit in yesterday's battle."

            Alan nods. Then jumps as something touches his shin — and bumps into it again, and stays pressed against it: Cokodora is pushing her head against his leg, insistently and very seriously. Daigo-san crouches down (smoothly pleating his robe along his legs in the motion) and lays his hand on the top of her head again, smiling.

            "It's fine, Co-tan, I don't need you to push Alan to make him move. Thank you for trying, though."

            Cokodora pulls away and looks up, stern and gravely inquisitive, though what she's expecting or looking for now, Alan can't tell. Maybe she's asking to be petted?

            Daigo-san rises again before Alan can try. "All right, it's almost time. I'll go pick up Metagross, and I think you should go wake up Manon. After all, you're still travelling partners for now, it would be strange for me to do it."

            "I'll do that." But before that, there's still one thing he's concerned about. "What about you, though?"

            "Mm?"

            "You're hoping I'll feel guilty and change my mind, but what about you? I'm asking you to lie to Manon. You're okay with that?"

            The Champion outright laughs to his face. "Alan," he says once he's slightly calmed down, but still grinning, "my father is the head of Devon Corp. I've grown up in the business world. I'll be fine, don't worry about me — and you needn't fear that she'll see through me, either."

            He says it almost proudly. Alan sighs, crosses his arms, and deadpans, "So really, I should be worried about the fact that Hoenn is in the hands of a man like you."

            Daigo's eyes are sparkling. "Ah, well, you don't need to worry, it's not like you'll be doing anything that'll bring my region any sort of harm, hmm?"

            "No, indeed. I guess it's fine to leave you in charge, then."

            "How rude!" Daigo-san shakes his head, mirth all but bubbling over. "Tell Manon to put on her yukata, too. It's a little cheap, but I'm guessing you wouldn't approve if I rented out something fancier than the hotel's — heh, thought so," he chuckles at Alan's involuntary scowl. "But we still have to fit the room, it's only respectful."

            "Oh, I thought it was just another way for you to torture us," Alan mutters.

            "Stop complaining," Daigo-san says just as cheerfully. "I'll meet you two — three — at the reception desk in thirty minutes? Oh, and be careful not to get lost and try to run away, please, I'd hate to have to hunt you down and put you on a leash."

            Not even gracing that with an answer is probably Alan's safest option, not to mention the least humiliating. He just squints unimpressedly at the Champion's beaming face, spitefully grabs his bag and straps it on again, and at long last, takes his leave.

            Daigo-san's weird and dangerous, for sure, but he's probably not a threat to Alan after all. At any rate, if there's one thing Alan is sure of, with one hundred percent certainty, it's that he genuinely likes Manon; which means Alan can trust him with her if with nothing else.

            And perhaps he even really does like Alan, too.

 

 

 

            It's only in the elevator that he realizes he still doesn't know what his knees have to do with (genuine, actual) breakfast.

 

 

 

            Three floors down, one turn in the hallway and he's standing in front of Manon's door again, against all odds.

            Three knocks later, he's still standing there, completely unsurprised.

            It's still too early to be too loud, so he just knocks one fourth time and calls in a mild voice, "Manon?" and it's so weird that he's the one waiting for her and having to insist, when he should be gone already.

            He almost misses it, but there comes a small sound from the other side of the door — right on the other side, something bumping against it lightly. Some shuffling, then the beep and click of the electronic system unlocking the hatch. The door yawns slightly, inviting, but nothing more. Alan gingerly peeks inside, just in time to catch sight of something long and thin slithering lazily across the floor of the dark room and back to the shape on the bed.

            So Manon's still asleep, but Harimaron gives the okay.

            Well then.

            Alan comes in, slams the door shut after him and hits the lights immediately. "Manon, it's morning."

            Harimaron wiggles vaguely to shove his head under the pillow, with a plaintive but still sleepy, "Rimaaa...", but the amorphous shape on the bed doesn't move.

            Manon looks the same as she ever does in sleep: mouth hanging open and drooling, arms and knees bent in improbable shapes under the cover, hair everywhere, pillows askew, sheets in disarray, a complete mess and blissfully deep under, having clearly slept through the entire week's worth of emotional rollercoaster Alan suffered since they separated last evening.

            He can't resent her for anything, but Alan's bitterness may have something to do with why he strides across the matter floor directly to the large windows and whips the curtains wide open. Bright, fresh sunlight pours in, flooding the room mercilessly. "Manon, get up."

            She doesn't so much as twitch.

            Alan sighs. Ripping the covers off her would be too much, so he goes to (carefully) kneel at her bedside and shake her shoulder, first — not roughly, though not particularly gently either. "Manon, wake up. The Champion wants us to have breakfast with him." Tongue-in-cheek, he repeats: "Breakfast."

            Manon mumbles something inarticulate and finally stirs slightly. Alan retreats, standing up (— which he could have done more slowly, all right, that kind of movement does ache) and walking back to the window. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees her jerk upright suddenly, ramrod straight, completely still for a few long seconds, before she tilts her head back and yawns loudly. The whole process of waking up takes about a full minute: stretching out her arms, shaking her head like a Pokémon as if to clear it, yawning again, wiping her lips, before finally she manages to half-open one eye and mumble: "Mornin'."

            "Hi. Remember where we are?"

            "Duh," she replies eloquently, and proceeds to yawn again, long and wide, in a very ladylike manner, absolutely deserving of ladylike special treatment. Beside her, Harimaron sluggishly drags his head from under the pillow and starts stretching as well, rubbing his eyes sleepily with his vines.

            Alan has seen this exact scene more times than he can count. It's going to be weird waking up alone again — well, not alone, never alone, but without the two of them, without Manon.

            "When you're ready, the Champion asked that we join him downstairs for breakfast," he repeats, because that's (somewhat) safe territory. "And..." He's about to mention she can have her clothes laundered while she's here, realizes that would only call her attention to his own outfit and he doesn't need to hear her tell him exactly how weird and bad he looks, reconsiders, and finally realizes she isn't wearing her usual set of pajamas, either. It's white (which doesn't suit her at all), simple, yet luxurious-looking — like something that might come from the hotel. "Wait. What are you wearing."

            "Mm?" Manon sighs in the middle of her series of stretching movements, half-assed and uncoordinated yet synchronized with Harimaron. "What?"

            "Those aren't your pj's."

            "Yeah? The lady who came by last night to get my stuff for the laundry told me there were nightclothes in the closets, so. They're sooo classy, too bad we can't keep them..." She proceeds to make her shoulders crack disgustingly a few times, then rubs her eyes one last time and looks at him, her face naturally slipping into a default dreamy smile. She blinks a few times, and her gaze turns to staring. Alan braces himself. "Huh. Why'd you pick the weird thing instead of the pj's? You sure you didn't get sick yesterday?"

            "I'm fine," Alan snaps automatically, but it's not her he's fantasizing about strangling right now. He should have at least looked in the damn closets. Why he assumed he could trust Daigo-san about anything at all is a mystery, really.

            Manon mercifully drops the topic, or just decides it's not worthy of her attention, and turns towards Harimaron with a sunny grin. "Good morning, Hari-san!"

            "Ri-mari!" he replies brightly, flexing his little arms to signify that he's strong and ready to tackle the day.

            Yeah, they'll be just fine.

            Alan gives up. "Daigo-san said you should put on a...," he pronounces carefully, "yukata, too. Those clothes," he explains, gesturing at his get-up, when Manon looks back at him blankly. "For breakfast."

            "Oh. Oh, sure!" She sets about disentangling herself from the covers with the enthusiasm of a kid getting to try a new toy.

            Something else needs disentangling, though — her hair is a mess in the mornings, and today is no exception. She's a mess from head to toe, to be honest — there's the imprint of creases from the pillow in her cheek, her nails are somehow dirty, and she generally looks like she fought a Pokémon battle all night, perhaps personally. Definitely not ready for the private traditional breakfast room of a hotel that provides hot tubs and champagne.

            "Go have a shower, first," Alan sighs.

            "That's not what you tell a lady first thing in the morning."

            "What lady?"

            "Daigo-san was much nicer, you should learn from him."

            Alan is currently busy banishing the stark memory of Daigo-san being very nice in relation to showers, so he just stiffly excuses himself out of the room while Manon finally manages to get out of bed (face-first because her feet got caught in the sheets).

            In the hallway, Alan lets himself drop against the wall, inhales, and exhales deeply.

            The day's still only just starting.

            (But maybe he'll miss this, too.)

 

 

 

            Fifteen minutes later, Manon's hesitant voice comes from the other side of the door. "Alaaan. How do you fix that thing, exactly?"

            ... He should have thought of that. Well, at least it's a somewhat reassuring confirmation that he's not the only one who finds it difficult, and the Champion really was unfair to act like it was but a matter of common sense. Alan highly doubts he could do it again even after Daigo-san's demonstration, but anyway, there's no way he's coming in there to help Manon get dressed.

            "Hari-san doesn't know either..."

            "I'll go find someone," he sighs.

            It's so stupid and contrived, all this just because of one of the Champion's fancies. Alan feels stupid for the fives minutes or so he roams down the hallway, then has to go look on another floor, until he finds a staff person; then feels stupid some more when she just blinks in confusion as he tries to explain the issue, and eventually smiles bemusedly and tells him they could have just called from the phone in the room. Thankfully, Alan doesn't get thrown out for being too glaringly a commoner, and she follows him back and makes her way into Manon's room with only a genuinely amused smile and no further comment.

            ... Or none to him, anyway. After a few minutes, he hears a loud, ‹‹ NON, NON, THAT'S NOT IT! I'M JUST FOLLOWING HIM FOR THE POKÉMON! ››, and he just drops his head against the wall with a loud sigh, and doesn't bother asking them to hurry. He's pretty sure they're already late, but the Champion-sama who predicts everything probably expected that, too. He can wait a few more minutes.

            Finally, Manon emerges, wearing the same jacket but a sunset-yellow robe, her hair knotted in little pigtails on each side of her face, not quite dry yet, her cheeks pink and her mouth twitching in a little viscerally gleeful smile. Harimaron paddles after her proudly, wearing his own very small (yet still too big) outfit. The staff lady exits after them; Alan quickly bows in thanks, and hears her chuckle softly. He's not quite sure what she thinks of the odd pair they make, but at least Manon refrains from jumping up and down in excitement until after the woman has left them.

            Then she whispers, very loudly: "I love those clothes." More normally: "All right, breakfast now!"

            She skips off, makes three steps, and Alan is prepared to catch her when she stumbles. "They're hard to walk in," he mumbles noncommittally. "Are you okay?" Manon tilts her head back to stare at him, eyes wide. "What?"

            "Are you okay?" she asks, completely genuine.

            "... What?"

            "You're concerned? Nice?"

            "Because I caught you?!" He groans. "Should I just drop you?"

            "No, no! But you're so nice, it's weird! Did Daigo-san rub off on you overnight?"

            Alan drops her and walks off.

            (And has to hurry back when she tries to run after him and trips again.)

 

 

 

            They stumble in their slippers to the reception hall. Daigo is not, in fact, there to meet them, but another member of staff takes one look at Alan's face and Manon's hair and trots up to them.

            "Alan-san and Manon-san? Tsuwabuki-sama is expecting you. Please, allow me to guide you."

            They follow him through a door labeled "PRIVATE", then, surprise, surprise, down yet another long hallway. Manon tugs on Alan's sleeve and leans up to whisper at him, "He recognized us, I feel famous."

            Alan doesn't tell her that he strongly suspects they were identified on sight by their obvious foreignness. Even the most professional of clothes-straightening couldn't make two world-trekking Kalosian brats look at home in these shiny corridors.

            The man finally stops and opens a sliding door to a long, low-ceilinged room. The floor is covered with mats, a few rich red cushions surrounding a long low table in dark, shiny wood; the walls are bare, with just a hanged roll of a painting, a boat on rolling waves of ink, a few strokes of Camome and Pelipper fluttering in the black sea spray. The air smells and feels different, ancient, even though it's just one room amongst others in a modern hotel that can't be older than a few dozen years.

            And the Champion, of course, looks right at home there, kneeling with his hands on his thighs, back straight, with the bearing of a CEO or a feudal lord and yet completely natural, grinning easily and brightly when they enter. "I was wondering if I was going to have to send Metagross to fetch you," he jokes, although his eyes fixate on Alan for a moment. "But it was worth the wait! Manon-kun, you look lovely."

            She preens for barely a second before elbowing Alan. Square in the ribs, hard. "See how you should behave?" she admonishes him while he tries to find his breath back. "Learn from Daigo-san!"

            "I just was nice and you complained that it's weird," Alan wheezes in protest.

            "But you didn't say I was pretty."

            "I didn't say you were ugly or anything. It suits you."

            "But you didn't say I was pretty!"

            "Well, you didn't say anything about how I look, either," he reasons, scowling.

            Daigo is discreetly cracking up (the corners of his mouth twisting, a twinkle in his eyes as they jump between the two of them as though following a very quick battle between Flying types). Alan flashes him an unimpressed glare as he goes to sit down across from the Champion at the table.

            The process of Alan sitting down involves several steps in quick succession: he spontaneously tries to settle with his legs crossed; realizes that this is difficult with how tightly his robes wrap around his legs; considers opening them a little; catches Daigo staring pointedly at the flap of his robes and blinking twice very fast; thinks it over; cannot figure out if that was a warning to not attempt or an enthusiastic and dirty-minded exhortation; glares at Daigo even more for his trouble; eventually settles into the same stiff kneeling position as the Champion.

            This all takes about a second, so that when Manon plops down besides him (easily, just dropping on the cushion, yet somehow folding herself into a graceful position), she looks to still be deep in thought, contemplating what he said and apparently reaching the conclusion that he's got a point.

            "That's fair, I guess," she shrugs.

            Alan contains the urge to huff in victory. Instead, he makes a show of tilting his head to the side thoughtfully, and adds, "Harimaron looks good, though." The both of them startle, blink at him in synchronized confusion. "Outfit aside," Alan continues casually, "his spikes are healthy, he's got good, bright eyes. It proves that he's living a good life. He can move well, he's dynamic, and a fast thinker. It's obvious that he's happy and his personality can shine." He throws in a calculated shrug. "That makes him stand out, and naturally beautiful."

            Harimaron slaps his paws on his nose as though to hide a blush and wiggles his tail and vines, cooing happily, and Alan can't hold in his amused smile. Manon, though — she blinks a few more times, and Alan expects her to splutter in offense and call him mean for teasing, but her reaction is much better: her face blooms into a huge, radiating smile. She turns to her partner to stare at him, proudly, fondly, and just says, "Right?!," simply glad that he acknowledged something she thinks too, from the bottom of her heart.

            Alan smiles a little more.

            "I agree," Daigo-san comments, smiling as well but much more composed, his fingers steepled in front of him almost professionally. "He was very impressive, protecting the two of you." His warm gaze goes from Harimaron to Manon. "He has a good trainer."

            "Haha, oh, Daigo-san!" Manon coos, and Alan can see it's half playful but it still kind of pisses him off how easily she is taken in by his complimenting.

            Of course, Alan is kind of relying on Daigo-san's ability to make Manon feel safe and happy in Hoenn, but that doesn't mean he has to be happy about the part where the Champion's tongue is as twisted as aHabunake's.

            Ah, well. At least one thing Alan does trust the Champion about is that he was honest about looking after her, and clearly, she'll be delighted about that.

            "I mean it, really. That reminds me," Daigo says, completely casually. Alan prepares not to like this on principle. With a perfectly neutral expression, Daigo slips one hand into his wide belt and rummages in the folds while continuing, "I have been looking for someone to entrust my Koutetsu to. It's still young, but I've had it for a while and it's been itching to see more of the world." He pulls out a Monster Ball and looks back up, to Manon, and smiles encouragingly. "Do you think you could look after it for me?"

            Manon waves her hands around in front of her, but without the usual apologetic or panicked flailing. "Ah, sorry!" she says, smile bright with self-confidence. "I don't have many partners yet, so I want to catch and train them myself! Besides, I wouldn't know how to look after a Champion's Pokémon..."

            "I'm sure you would be up to the task," Daigo reassures her, but he doesn't insist.

            Well, not to her.

            His smile looks still genuine, but the corner of his mouth is tilted up just a little too far, just enough to make Alan think of a Gengar as Daigo turns towards him and says, "What about you, Alan, can you help me out? I'm sure it'd have a lot of fun with you. Wouldn't Lizardon like a cute and soft little disciple?"

            Alan can't really say it out loud, so he hopes his unimpressed glare conveys that he doesn't need to ever hear again how much fun the Champion thinks can be had with him. "I don't know about that," he just mutters. Exclusiveness issues aside, Lizardon would choke himself with the smoke from his own laughter if Alan were to come back from a one-night-stand with a 'cute and soft (?!) little' young.

            "Really? What a shame. I was thinking it would love to see Kalos, whenever you go back."

            What's back are Alan's strangling fantasies. But Daigo's still not breaking their deal, technically, so Alan can't do a fucking thing about it and his only way to stop that conversation from going further in that direction is to mumble, "Okay, whatever," and take and shove the offered Monster Ball in his bag without even asking what species it is.

            Daigo looks so satisfied with himself, Alan almost expects it to be a Kabigon or something else of equal nuisance. (A newly-evolved and rampaging Bangiras? Another possibly-man-eating Cokodora?) Thankfully, with perfect timing, there's a knock on the door, and Daigo's dangerously cheerful-looking mouth falls back closed instantly. He waits, hands on his knees, as a couple of waiters in traditional garb come in with trays and serving plates, kneel on the floor mats, and start setting the table.

            Ensues a dance of quick and smooth gestures, in complete silence, each unloading their burden into an artful arrangement on the table, then rising and gliding out of the room to leave place to an endless stream of other waiters and other plates, more and more plates.

            The final number of dishes is ridiculous even for four people, and none of them fits Alan's idea of a breakfast even approximately. There are soups, greenery, raw eggs, rice, something that looks grilled and something that looks like a sponge, a lot of things that look like nothing Alan can think of. The last waiter lights a series of four miniature stoves lined up in the middle of the table, with one hand, the other gracefully holding back her long sleeve.

            Daigo waits until she has vanished for good, then he joins his hands flat together in front of his chest and says, "Thank you for the meal," to the empty room. Manon imitates him immediately without batting an eyelash, Harimaron falls in line, Alan does his best not to let his face betray his deep questions regarding the grilled thing which he more and more suspects to be Koiking fillet.

            And they dig in.

            Well, Manon digs in. Alan spends a few seconds trying to pick where to start, looking for something that he can figure out how to eat with only chopsticks and a shallow spoon. He finally settles on the greenish paste that looks like it might be some sort of toast spread, before realizing the bigger problem.

            "Are you all right, Alan?"

            He scans the table once more to be sure before he has to admit defeat, for what feels like the hundredth time in less than twenty-four hours. "I can't find the bread," he confesses.

            Daigo-san blinks, somehow politely. Manon guffaws, not quite as much. "Alan, no!" she chortles. "There isn't any! Why would you have bread with this?"

            He stares at her. "And you don't find breakfast without bread shocking?!"

            She just grins and bursts into laughter some more, slamming her bowl on the table, soup on the side of her chin like drool, all very undignified to a point that is making Harimaron look slightly panicked, because honestly, the Champion should be appalled at both her and Alan; but instead, Daigo-san is smiling and looking at them like they're both a delight again. Must have a thing for embarrassment. That would explain a lot.

            "My apologies, we really do not eat bread for breakfast, indeed," he says with the one charming apologetic smile. "If soup or fish in the morning is too strange for you, I suggest the vegetables and rice?" That's not much better. "You don't have to eat everything, of course. In fact, you probably want to avoid the natto." He gestures at a bowl of light-colored beans covered in some suspiciously viscous substance. Alan eyes it for a second and immediately decides he is not eating that, and especially not in front of the Champion.

            "I like natto," Manon pipes up. That doesn't really mean much in itself (Alan has no recollection of any sort of food ever failing to meet her enthusiasm), but she doesn't look at all dubious at the gooey appearance, and has no problem grabbing the beans with her chopsticks and gulping them down with rice. Alan squints at her.

            "Have you eaten this kind of food before, Manon-kun?" Daigo notices.

            Cheeks stuffed round like a Dedenne eating berries, she explains around a mouthful: "My gramps is from here. He made stuff like this for us all the time when I was small."

            Alan doesn't have the heart to inform her that she is still small.

            "Aw, and here I was hoping to make you discover a new experience."

            "Oh, it's fine, this is delicious! Thank you for treating us, you take so much care of us!"

            "Rima-ri!"

            "Not at all! It's no big deal," he laughs.

            But it is, and he does. He teases but he's looking at her, listening to her, paying attention and entertaining her. It feels the same as entrusting Lizardon's Monster Ball to him did: weird and uncomfortable for the principle of it, but not an actual source of worry. For all that he wants to have doubts about this multi-faced manipulative bastard, Alan knows, deep in his gut, with complete certainty, that he really will take good care of Manon.

            Alan sighs.

            "It's sure a lot better than Alan's meatballs."

            "My meatballs are perfectly fine."

            "Yeah, the first six times."

            After the natto or whatever it's called, Manon goes for the oddly thick chunks of omelet without hesitation. That looks safe, so Alan does the same, interspersing with some rice in between bites. Manon being Manon, she's wolfed down big servings of three more dishes — a thick square of something light-colored and sponge-like, salad with some fried vegetables and dark sauce, and one of the thin grilled fillets — and is having Harimaron crack an egg over her rice by the time Alan has finished his first bowl, so he skips the weird sponge thing and goes for the salad. It's unexpectedly sour, almost tangy, and the sauce smells slightly like fish as well, and he has a hard time believing he's eating this for breakfast, but it's not bad at all. Maybe he'll try the grilled Koiking next.

            When he looks up, he catches Daigo's eyes, and an amused little light in them. Alan has to swat away a flicker of mortification at being caught copying Manon; instead, he elects to feel annoyed that the Champion is finding that funny. Their host is in the unfailingly polite public persona, though, so he generously only says, "You're good with chopsticks, Alan."

            Alan learned from too many late nights at the lab with the professor ordering delivery from the sushi restaurant for everyone, but Manon is leagues better. As Daigo says this, she starts, somehow, mixing the egg in her rice and feeding the slightly liquid mixture to Harimaron with her chopsticks.

            It's not quite déjà-vu: Alan knows he has never seen this scene before, and even the context is a complete novelty — he's never seen Manon in Hoenn robes, or handling chopsticks, or eating raw egg. But it feels familiar, something he's used to, something he can rely on, something he can predict and recognize. Familiar. Like the houses of Miare City in a neighborhood where he's never been, like the lights of a Pokémon Center in a foreign landscape, like the chains of energy linking a trainer and their Pokémon even when he's never seen that species' Mega Evolution before. It's Manon, Manon and Harimaron.

            It's silly, but Alan won't just miss the constant of Manon-and-Harimaron, he'll miss this in particular, this everyday unique sight, this new scene that he's witnessing for the first time but recognizes from how much Manon-and-Harimaron it is.

            She looks up as Daigo says something, and she laughs, and smears some egg on Harimaron's cheek, and he makes a face and protests and waves his arms and she frets and dabs him clean with a silk napkin, and Alan has been watching for too long, probably, but he can't take his eyes off them quite yet, missing them already.

            His peripheral vision catches the movement of Daigo raising a teacup to his lips. Alan is frowning even before, finally, tearing his eyes away and glancing at him. Daigo meets his gaze and cocks an eyebrow, inquisitive, his face guileless, not at all the face of someone who cheerfully admitted to orchestrating all this in part just to make Alan feel bad about leaving.

            "Something wrong?" he chimes good-naturedly.

            Alan can say nothing, of course, so he just scowls harder, and takes out his frustration on a bowl of soup. It tastes mostly bland and slightly bitter. Appropriate.

            "What are you frowning about now," Manon interjects, without even giving it the tone of a question.

            "Nothing," Alan retorts immediately. "It's nothing."

            Manon's own frown is deep and tight-lipped and taking strictly no shit. "Yeah, that reminds me of last time you said that," she mumbles. "'My name is Alan, I just broke my shoulder, it's nothing!'," she mock-mimics, scowling even deeper, in a way that doesn't sound or look like Alan at all.

            Alan sighs. "It's not broken," he mutters.

            "How do I know that?" Her voice isn't very loud, but it's raised so suddenly that it seems inappropriate for the room, and it vibrates with raw emotion, with hurt. It's in her eyes too, fixed on Alan piercingly even though he won't meet them, and there is nothing, nothing Alan can say or do to make her forget about that.

            To his credit, Daigo tries to defuse the situation. "He's fine, Manon-kun," he says placatingly, but of course that only makes Manon frown deeper in confusion and suspicion and ask:

            "How do you know that, Daigo-san?"

            "Ah." Daigo sips from his cup with wide-eyed innocence. Alan glowers at him even more intensely over the rim of his bowl. "I gave him a massage," he says.

            Alan almost spits out his soup.

            "His shoulder was fine," Daigo continues before Alan can call out Lizardon to cremate him, "he was just —" his voice suddenly breaks and he coughs into his hand, dry and harsh, before resuming smoothly: "— my apologies. He was just all knotted up from all that tension."

            His voice is still a little rough, husky, and Alan can't tear his eyes away from his Adam's apple bobbing up and down as he tries to clear his throat.

            Daigo-san doesn't even glance at him, just keeps smiling at Manon and eating small, delicate bites of things that drip and stick and glisten on his lips, while Alan has to sit there and try to drive out of his mind the violently clear memory of this very same mouth taking him in and how the back of that throat felt against the tip of his cock.

            But Manon bellows triumphantly: "Ha! I keep telling him! Being so stuck-up can't be good for you."

            And Daigo concurs easily: "It felt like trying to work with steel. I can't believe he can move around like that."

            "Right? And he's always frowning, he'll get cramps in his face someday."

            At that, before he can think about it, but agonizingly aware of it as it happens, Alan frowns again.

            "See, Daigo-san, he's doing it again!" Manon points, Daigo laughs, and just like that, the conversation has moved on and away from the topic of Alan's shoulder and Manon seems totally oblivious to the potentially raunchy subtext of a nightly massage.

            "Eyebrows don't get cramps," he mumbles, for the principle of not letting them have the last word.

            His thighs are starting to, though. The position didn't seem that hard to maintain at first glance, but his knees are also prickling with the warning of later pain. It suddenly dawns on him with consternation that perhaps this was what Daigo's warning-slash-dirty-joke was about.

            Manon pulls him from his appalled brooding over the Champion's sense of humor with even more nonsense. "Because people don't abuse them like you do," she snaps back smugly. "You do it so much, you'll pierce a hole in your skull."

            Alan blinks. "That doesn't even —"

            "Sshhh! Instead of sitting there frowning, you should eat your food."

            "I'm eating!"

            "Eat faster! I don't know what he'd do without me," she sighs at Daigo, shaking her head dramatically.

            Harimaron adds insult to injury by wiping non-existent sweat from his brow with a fake-exhausted, "Rima."

            "And so ungrateful, after Daigo-san was so kind as to give him a massage!"

            "Rima!"

            "Ah, it wasn't a problem at all," Daigo laughs.

            "But I bet it was so nice!"

            Alan prefers battling to get one of the Koiking pieces in his rice bowl to participating to that conversation.

            "Well, I'm no expert. But I'm not bad," Daigo admits. "Would you like one?"

            Alan drops his fish. No one bats an eye. Manon clasps her hands to her chest like she's just won life-long free meals at all the 5-stars restaurants in Miare City. "Really?!"

            With a smile that wouldn't look out of place in a movie starring top actress Champion Carnet, Daigo elegantly puts his chopsticks down on a little lacquered rest next to his bowl and scoots away from the side of the table. Less elegantly, Manon clambers to her feet, grabs her cushion, and runs over to his side to sit beside him in a muffled and jumbled pit-pat-pat of footfalls.

            Daigo doesn't pull his sleeves up before going to work on her shoulders.

            He doesn't have his rings on, either, and Alan is pretty sure he's a lot gentler on her, though Manon makes a lot of elated noises.

            Daigo is still sitting in the same abominable position, and Manon settled back into it as well as if it were easy and natural and absolutely not uncomfortable, so Alan stubbornly keeps it as well as he finishes his meal alone, at his own pace, nibbling bits here and there.

            On the other side of the table, Manon sighs "Perfect. Dreamy." She hums happily for a while, then opens her eyes and pats her lap with a smile. "Hey, Hari-san, want one too?"

            So breakfast ends with a massage train, Manon and Harimaron making a veritable chorus of sighing and cooing and Daigo chuckling quietly.

            "You're a little tense as well, Manon-kun," he observes polite, like that's common light conversation for the breakfast table. "Yesterday was rough for you too, huh."

            Manon nods, her head bobbing up and down as if disarticulated from her neck. "We went to sleep almost right away last night, Hari-san and I, we were so exhausted. I got my diary out and everything, but I just wrote one line, I... I couldn't even start drawing Rayquaza..."

            She clams up suddenly; Alan can see her shoulders tensing up, her face falling, darkening like the thunderclouds, and the air is heavy with pressure, thick with the promise of a storm, as if Rayquaza were back, looming and coiling over them, furious and destructive. Alan can feel it too: it might be gone, but that doesn't mean they have truly got away from it. There is no forgetting what happened, no erasing Manon's memories of fear.

            Alan was able to react, to fight back, to protect her, because he had to, and he will be able if the need comes again, but that's not enough. Something like that cannot happen again, not when Manon wilts at the mere evocation of it. It shouldn't have happened. Alan shouldn't have let it happen, shouldn't have put her through that.

            The further she stays from anything that has to do with the megalith, Mega Evolution, or Alan, the better off she'll be.

            This time, Daigo-san's attempt at diverting the topic is painfully obvious, but his voice is very gentle, careful, delicate. "Your diary?" he asks, softly. His hands are still moving, but more slowly, soothing, and Manon's shoulders are gradually lowering again.

            "Yeah," she mutters, still distracted and somber, but responsive at least. "It's my Mega Evolution journal. I've been recording our journey in it, but I'm not sure I'll be able to write down everything that happened yesterday..." It's not just a matter of summing up exactly how much happened, Alan knows. He chews on his last bit of Koiking tail in silence.

            "Oh?" Daigo-san patiently continues to pull Manon along and away. "What have you written in it so far?"

            "Ah, stuff like, all the Mega Evolutions we've met, and Alan's battles. You know, Daigo-san, there's a lot of Pokémon that can Mega Evolve in Kalos? I was surprised, I didn't know anything about Mega Evolution when we first met. So I decided to put it all in a journal."

            "Sounds interesting!" Daigo smiles.

            Manon nods. There's a beat. Then her head whips round and she exclaims, "I can show you!" She makes to jump to her feet, is held back by Harimaron's weight on her lap and Daigo's hands on her shoulders, makes them both lose their balance and flail around a little. "I'll just go get it in my room," she rattles off, still trying to get up, suddenly high-wired again, much too loud and fast-paced for the formal space, "I'll show you, everything Alan told me and Zumi-san's Mega Kamex and I drew the other Mega Lizardon and Mega Absol and —"

            "Manon!" Alan snaps, startled, nerves raw. "Sit down! You can do that later."

            "Rima!" Harimaron concurs for once, looking alarmed and still holding on to her torso to avoid getting thrown off her lap. "Rima-ri!"

            "But..." Manon's face falls at the same time as her voice.

            Alan sighs (exhales, blows out and away the weight of Rayquaza's presence and breathes); as Manon's skittery hands come to a reluctant rest, Alan's suddenly elevated heart rate slows down as well. "You'll have all the time in the world for that after breakfast." And because she scowls in response, one cheek puffing out and her eyebrows sinking, he can't resist adding with a light smirk: "Instead of sitting there frowning, you should eat your food." And pops a piece of weird sponge thing into his mouth in punctuation.

            He was expecting her to get offended, at least to protest a little. Instead, she stops frowning and blinks a couple time. Then, slowly, a smile crawls across her face — something awful, dangerous, Daigo-like. Alan narrows his eyes at her suspiciously as he chews on his mouthful.

            "You just don't want Daigo-san to read about the time you were beaten by a Mega Yadoran."

            Alan chokes and almost spits out his food. "Tha— that!" he splutters after painstakingly swallowing, "That has nothing to do with it! I just — it wasn't even a real loss! Lizardon didn't faint!"

            Manon's grin widens and she twists around to share it with Daigo, whose lips are pinched and twitching. "As you can see, Daigo-san, he's also a sore loser."

            "I —!" Alan clenches his fist. There's nothing to answer to that that won't make it worse and sound even more immature and hypocritical. It's too late. It's Manon's win.

            "I do see," Daigo replies diplomatically with only a small, polite smile, but even from across the table Alan can see the sparkle of pure delight dancing in his eyes — there is not a doubt in Alan's mind that internally, the Champion is cackling along with Manon's little laughter of victory. Alan groans and glares at the both of them and mourns the loss of his pride by pouring himself a cup of tea and not offering any to them. Daigo smiles at him brightly before returning to preoccupying himself with Manon's back. "I really would love to have a look at it, later," he says.

            Manon beams with pleasure. "Of course!"

            Daigo knows full well that he'll have no way to stop them, so Alan doesn't even bother questioning whether the Champion's curiosity is all just to mock Alan some more, genuine, or motivated by professional interest. It's hard to imagine the heir of Devon Corp and region Champion scanning a little kid's crude scribbles for exploitable data about Mega Evolution, but at the same time, it's undeniable that Manon works hard on her diary. From the few times Alan has been allowed to read some of her entries and contribute his knowledge, he can tell that her efforts show. Amateurish, obviously, nothing at the level of scientific research — though the professor would most likely call the entire journal marvelous! — but what she lacks in method and training, she makes up for by being clever and observant.

            It's still just a beat-up notebook full of brightly-colored crayon doodles, scrawled sound effects and unflattering depictions of Alan scowling, but it isn't completely worthless.

            "I think I'm still gonna make a log for yesterday," Manon declares solemnly, going back to massaging Harimaron as Daigo moves his thumbs to her own spine. Harimaron tilts his head back to look up at her, his little face concerned; she scratches his flank comfortingly, and smiles at him. "After all, Hari-san almost beat Kyogre, didn't he?"

            Alan blinks at her over his cup of tea. So does Harimaron, and Daigo as well, before smiling again, even though Manon can't see it anymore. "He certainly did!"

            Harimaron's expression flips from confused to unapologetically self-congratulating in less than a second. He puffs out his chest, hits it lightly with a small clawed fist, and proclaims, "Rimarimaa!" He's laughing a little, and Manon too, laughs, but in all honesty, if what she and Daigo said happened yesterday while Alan was unconscious is to be believed, he really does deserve some praise and a special spot in Manon's diary.

            "Primal reversion isn't quite the same as Mega Evolution," Daigo comments, fond smile still floating on his lips, "but I agree, Hari-san has most definitely earned some recognition in your diary."

            Manon punches the air, imitated by Harimaron's vinewhips. "I'll make it a masterpiece!"

            "Riiima!"

            Then deflates so quickly that it's comical. "Kyogre is gonna be hard to draw, though."

            "Rima..."

            Daigo chuckles while Harimaron consoles himself by grabbing a bowl of salad with one of his vines. "Oh, I believe I might be able to help with that. Would you like to see pictures of Primal Kyogre? We could do that today." Alan carefully focuses on taking another sip of tea, tries to keep calm and relaxed, but his senses are readying for battle, expecting betrayal. "There is a wonderful history museum in Kanazumi City, which has a few ancient murals of legendary Pokémon, including of Primal Kyogre and Groudon. I'm rather familiar with it, I could give you a tour."

            Manon and Harimaron share a curious glance before looking at him, "A museum?", "Rima?"

            "It also has Pokémon fossils, relics, and —" his tone turns wistful and his gaze distant and daydreaming, "— absolutely beautiful rare stones."

            "Ooh!" Manon's eyes are shining, with interest, enthusiasm, excitement. Back to liveliness, all of her bleak anguish vanished.

            Daigo-san is good at handling her.

            "That sounds cool! Alan, let's go!"

            Uh-oh.

            "I'll pass," Alan says, meticulously neutral. "Feel free, though."

            Manon looks surprised, sincerely so. "Are you sure?" Just normal Manon stuff: for all the mocking and taunting flying both ways, she's still your best friend half a second later.

            "The stones are magnificent!" Daigo insists brightly. He's clearly having fun again, but unlike the incident of his earlier gift, Alan doesn't feel pressure this time; rather than a trap, this sounds like an opening. "Not as pretty as the megalith, but still a sight worth the trip, in my — if I may say — expert opinion." There's still something weirdly aggressive in the cheerfulness of his tone, but Alan can't figure out what that's about.

            "Sorry," he deadpans instead, pointedly sipping his tea. "Unless they're Mega Stones, I'm not really interested."

            "Sadly, they aren't," Daigo replies, still sunny. "You probably wouldn't enjoy it, then. I understand."

            And there is Alan's opportunity for taking Kalosian leave, huh. Manon is pouting again, so he sighs and tells her, "I've got stuff to get to after breakfast. Have fun and be careful." He swallows. Camouflages it with a calm: "Don't get lost and inconvenience the Champion, mm?"

            Manon makes a show of shaking her head disdainfully and blowing him an energetic raspberry, surprising an amused smile out of Alan, but follows it up with a smile back, a wink, and a teasing echo of, "Mm-mm!", accepting Alan's excuse. The matter seems closed as far as she's concerned, as she lets her eyes fall shut again and sighs of contentment, basking in Daigo's massage.

            Alan is staring again, he knows, but it's fine so long as she can't see it, can't question why he's drinking in the sight of her safe and happy, Daigo-san taking care of her and Harimaron secure on her lap. He'll never have enough of it, though this will have to be enough.

            Again, he can feel that he's being watched. Daigo isn't hiding it either; when Alan meets his insistent gaze, he frowns, inquisitive (almost concerned):

            Are you certain?

            Alan simply blinks, slowly, deliberately.

            Yeah.

            This isn't a choice he made lightly and would just go back on so easily.

            Daigo doesn't sigh, but he lowers his eyelids as well, a moment; breathes in and out, straight-spined, without stopping his ministrations on Manon; opens his eyes again and they're steely, like this morning, firmly determined, like Alan's decision is also his — then it melts away into a playful air as he leans in a little closer to Manon's ear to tell her, conspiratorially: "You know, Manon-kun, there's also a Gym in Kanazumi City. The Leader, Tsutsuji-kun, is a geology specialist and an acquaintance of mine. If you'd like to battle her, I could introduce you."

            "Eh?" Manon opens on eye, smothers a yawn before she can continue. "Oh, uh, that'd be nice I guess, but I don't know that I could battle a Gym Leader..."

            "Oh? Are you not collecting badges for the League challenge? Well, I don't think Hoenn badges would count in Kalos anyway, but..."

            "No, I'm..." She lets out a little embarrassed laugh. "I'm not really doing anything, to be honest. I'd just set out on my journey when we met Alan, I haven't really... thought about it."

            Daigo purses his lips, pondering. "I must confess I'm surprised. Hari-san looks like a Pokémon training for the League."

            "Heheh!" Harimaron wriggles happily again, nose and spines twitching, from the compliment or from Manon's tickling his head with a proud grin. They are way too susceptible to flattery, both of them. "Actually, I think I'd like that. You know, Daigo-san, I watch the Kalos League tournament on TV every year, and it looks so fun! Even just watching, it's so..." She stops to think of the exact word, scrunching up her nose.

            It would suit you, Alan thinks, and bites back, pushes down his throat: this isn't about him, this isn't something for him to decide for her, and most of all, this isn't the time to pull her attention back on him, not when she's forgetting about him and finally focusing on herself, making plans, thinking about a future where she doesn't need him.

            Selfishly, he'd like to see it, though.

            "Intense," she concludes.

            Daigo-san's smile is a quiet, dreamy thing. "I know what you mean." Then it breaks into the misbehaving-teenager grin again. "So, museum, then Tsutsuji-kun's Gym?"

            "Yeah!"

            Alan discreetly takes out his Holo Caster to steal a look at the time. His plane takes off in three hours, and he has three text messages from the director: confirmation that transportation will be waiting for him at the Kalos national airport, comments on the report he sent this morning, and a date to talk about his training program (he makes note to ask to reschedule that earlier), with an attachment of files for him to read during the flight. He swipes through them — data on Mega Bangiras, a basic training regimen plan, a list of moves that the Lizardon species can be taught — before putting the Holo Caster away.

            He can feel the extra Monster Ball in his waist-pack — not the weight, it's not heavy enough for that, but the outline of it through the thin fabric of the pouch. It's not a bother, but it's noticeable, a strange new presence, something that wasn't there before. Manon and Daigo are chattering away, Manon's face in full bloom, while Hari-san uses his vine whips to empty the last of the bowls into his bottomless stomach, patting his rounded tummy. None of them are paying any attention to Alan as he slowly finishes his meal. For all intents and purposes, Alan is already gone.

            "You could do the Hoenn League!"

            "Haha! I'll think about it!"

            They'll be just fine.