Everyone knows that Raihan likes a challenge. There is something in him that makes him chase victory down to the ends of the earth, that doesn’t stop for breath until he has it in his hands, which makes him more than just a competitor. It lives within him and makes him hungry, makes him rebattle Leon over and over again like a jagged scratch on a TR. It feels better to him to know that he’s earned what he has- everything around him and under his fingers, his perseverence manifest.
It spills over into his relationships, too. Raihan knows that if he wanted it, he could have all of his fans at his beck and call, lining up outside the Hammerlocke gym in patient rows just for the chance to kiss him. He gets attention, he knows it, the thirst comments on his rapid-fire selfies have never been empty words. But he doesn’t want it- not like that. The appeal of his physique is part of what keeps revenue rolling for the gym, so Raihan won’t say it out loud just yet, but something strikes him as wrong about being with a fan. Something about the power dynamics, or the knowledge that whoever it is would want more than anything the idea of Raihan, drags him away from every woman who professes to be a big fan of his in a club or who lingers getting his autograph for a likely non-existent niece or nephew.
There’s that, and then there’s the way that looking at Leon’s breath running ragged in the latest of their succession of battles sends Raihan’s heart lurching forward into some alien terrain. Refusing to call it attraction- for Raihan had told himself many times before that he wasn’t like that, he was normal and unperverted and consumed with the thoughts of women’s bodies- it remained nameless within Raihan’s heart, but managed to consume him nonetheless. And each morning Raihan would don his airy casual clothes regardless of the weather or the chill in the air, take a deep breath by the door and resolve himself into escaping those thoughts. Victory is victory, Raihan told himself, and the sweetness of the way the champion drags his hands across his body doing his stupid poses was extraneous to the need for victory. He was going to win, one day, and Leon could be replaced with one of those stupid-looking bouncy balls with his mug on it for all Raihan would care.
Then Leon loses as the champion, and everything changes. Suddenly, Leon is more. He’s more physical now that he’s wearing an outfit that doesn’t weigh him down like an anchor. He’s more elastic, showing up in strange places and calling Raihan whenever he wants now his business has been undertaken by his successor and he has little else better to do. He’s more tactile- the cameras don’t flock around him as they used to, so Raihan is privy to Leon messily debriding sweetcorn with his teeth or scratching the seemingly-perpetual itch on his calf right in front of him. It’s not a different Leon, per say, because Raihan knew all of this about him. He was just loose, now, and in his release from orbit he gravitated towards Raihan like an intrepid satellite.
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” They’re lying together in Raihan’s room, nestled deep within the castle, when Raihan asks it. It’s not a combative tone, not exactly, but something more akin to genuine curiousity as to why Leon is suddenly lying around in other people’s houses just to scroll aimlessly on his phone and play electronic music from the tinny little speakers on his burner phone. Well, Raihan knew why Leon was using his burner phone- he’d dropped the last one into the river in Motostoke while wandering aimlessly in search of the café. But it was entirely alien to him that the man who had once been so busy that every single meeting with him had to be tenderly and accommodatingly scheduled was lingering around regardless of whether he had any business with Raihan or the gym at all. Clearly comfortable in the splayed-out position he had taken on Raihan’s wide and luxurious bed (one of the physical pleasures being a high-ranking gym leader afforded him, but not something alien to the ex-champion by a long shot), Leon shook his head gently.
“Not really.” Raihan notices the little smile that spreads itself across Leon’s face as he says that, only to glance away seconds later in order to avoid the return of his gaze.
“That might be the first time in years I’ve heard you say that.” Raihan muses out loud, trying to think of a particular last instance but giving up fairly quickly, not for a lack of remembering but for the way it was so clearly long ago enough that the time particularities didn’t matter. And Leon leans up against the headboard of the bed and exhales deeply from his chest.
“Feels kind of terrifying that it’s true right now. If I was here for hours, nobody’d chase me up on it.” Part of that statement makes Raihan laugh, because it’s true that just two months ago such a long radio silence from Leon would spark accusations of bloody murder towards anyone in his general vicinity for the last week. Another part of the statement- the one that’s not the joke, that’s extraneous to it, that’s just Leon proposing to nest in Raihan’s bedroom or something- stirs up something strange and provocative in Raihan’s throat. He tries his best to swallow it and think of a good response, all of a sudden aware of Leon’s gaze lying on his face.
“Mate, I might chase you out my room myself if you went and did that.” There’s comfort in the banter, Raihan thinks. Not getting too close to anything real, just jokes. Leon pouts exaggeratedly and whines.
“Even if I could beat you in another battle?”
It’s Raihan’s instinct to ask him when he’s next free, when Chairman Rose- just Rose now- will stop biting his ankles for once, when he’s not promoting some hand sanitizer or salty snack. It’s been like that for so long. And then it hits him for the second time- Leon is around whenever Raihan wants him, now. And Raihan is available whenever Leon wants him, too.
“Yeah… Now.” The little pause tells Raihan that Leon’s not used to it either. “Winner gets the bed for tonight.”
Raihan knows that he can make Leon give in right now. It’s his bed, and Leon might be cocky but he’s not a prick. Also, he never said Leon could stay in the first place.
He can just say.
He nods, and lets the warm sweetness settle in his guts.
Like each of their battles before, the anticipation of the result could cut almost to the bone, and yet Leon returns triumphant regardless of anything. His Charizard, limp-winged and worn from the sustained barrage of rock and water impressed upon him, is inconquerable regardless. For Raihan, this is the sweetness in the wounding fire, the knowledge that he never loses because he’s inadequate. He loses because Leon is excellent, and Leon is his- they are bound to rivalry, talking about each other as coveted and beautiful things. Victory against another would never taste as sweet- Raihan was sure of it. Feeling the weight of Duraludon’s pokeball clasped in his left hand, he stepped forward with his hand outstretched, conceding his loss. Leon reached out his right hand to meet Raihan’s, connecting in the dead-centre of the stadium, and the new weight in his other palm fit as much like a glove as a Pokeball did.
Leon feels warm, Raihan thinks.
My palms are drenched in sweat, he thinks a second after.
Or is that Leon’s palms? Both of us?
Glancing down to Leon’s well-developed thighs, Raihan observed the way Leon clasped Charizard’s pokeball with his whole hand, almost identically to the way in which he held his companion after the ravages of battle.
One of us must have caught that off of the other.
The handshake is slow and languid, shaped by shared exhaustion, and Raihan swears he can feel the air go as thick as golden syrup. It’s like when he was younger and he’d had an asthma attack- one of the Year 6 girls took it upon herself to spray some cloying Aromatisse-branded Kalosian perfume all over the classroom- and yet somehow the same as the relief which rushed through him after he took hit after hit off of his inhaler. Something is different now that Raihan knows Leon could stay here, shaking his hand, for as long as he wished. There’s blood rushing to his face, his throat, while something constricts and twists within him. Water is pricking at the corner of his eyes. Breathing is futile, and all he can do is fail to gasp for precious life. The delirious feeling overtakes him, but not before he yelps out a single wheezing command.
“Fuck- Leon, I’m chokin’-“
The world goes dark as the sky at night, and Raihan floats.
What awakens Raihan first from his slumber is not the flickering halogen lights hanging above him, nor the sleek and shining moon slipping in through the hospital blinds. It’s Leon, the mingling of his voice and his intangible presence hanging above Raihan until it lures him out of the night. Saying nothing, but still whining at the harsh glow which Leon blocked out only partially, Raihan shifted himself to sit up with his eyes still closed.
“Raihan! It’s good to see you awake.”
I passed out, Raihan remembers. In front of Leon. Kill me now.
“Unnnngh… Anything you can do get these lights dimmed a bit?” Raihan mumbles. He expects some thoroughly sarcastic response from Leon about his priorities- faux offended banter between the lads- but the sudden recall of Leon’s body towards the other side of the room surprises him enough to blink open his eyes and take in his surroundings. Including Leon, fiddling with the light switches and adjusting the brightness to a comfortable dim light. Another time, another day, Raihan knows he’d be tempted to make some sort of comment about it.
“I’m surprised you didn’t get lost on your way over to the light switch.”
But it’s not the right time, so he stays quiet and watches Leon’s surprisingly delicate fingers tweak the artificial glow until it hits a bearable level. He surveys Leon’s change of outfit, too- from his stylized and frankly ridiculous casualwear to a comfortable set of dark and formal pyjamas that Raihan hasn’t seen before (and he does his best to remind himself that he shouldn’t want to have seen them). The way his hair hangs loosely and unrestrained over his back, its definition and maintenance now absent or worn. Then, he meets Leon’s eyes.
Without hesitation, recognizing Raihan’s return to reality, Leon puts on his widest smile- the “Champion smile”. He coughs, and speaks with a surprising tenderness.
“I’m glad you’re alright. You worried me.”
Raihan’s flattered. The hot, sweet feeling of relief bubbles in his guts again, and if he wasn’t breathing freely in the filtered air he’d put money on him having another attack like the last one.
“You don’t have to worry about me.”
“Well,” Leon states quite pointedly, “you don’t get to tell me what to do. So I was worried about you.” He pauses, and contemplates the words inside his head. “If I’m honest, mate, I’m worried about you right now. Never seen you go tits up like that before.”
Raihan pauses too, for the same contemplation. He decides to tell the truth, as embarrassing as it is. “I had asthma as a kid. It cleared up after a couple years, didn’t come back. I think- I might have had another attack. Cuz of the sandstorm, or somethin’.”
“You cause sandstorms all the time, and this doesn’t happen.” Leon replies, concern welling in his voice.
It’s true, Raihan thinks. I don’t know why this happened. I hope I don’t nearly kick the bucket every time I do a fuckin’ Pokemon battle.