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never look away

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What is love to a god?

Can it be defined in mortal terms? Do gods love as mortals do? A question that never really crossed Raihan’s mind before, even though he has been alive for a very long time, even though he has shared a bed with mortals and immortals alike. Maybe all he feels for humans is a simple fascination, with little desire to actually befriend them.

All he needs is in the realm of the gods where he can do as he pleases, have what he pleases so long as he plays his role when necessary. Keeping the weather stable, whipping up storms only to clear them up later, letting rain heal dry earth, letting sun give life to wilting flowers. Occasionally his dragon scouts will return to him to report their findings, to update him on the state of the lands.

This is all he has ever had to worry about.

Until he comes along.

At first, Raihan takes no real notice of him. A boy ten years of age and not entirely himself yet beginning his training as a warrior for the people of Galar, after his father met an untimely end during a war long since past. At thirteen, that boy choosing a name for himself that was strong, courageous—Leon. Fitting for what he is and what he will become over the years.

At sixteen, that boy begins seeking the guidance of the gods.

He starts making long treks to altars, leaving offerings for each god, kneeling before them and whispering his requests. He needed to know, just how can I make Galar safe? How can I help the people live in peace? And that, that is what grabs the attention of the gods, that is what causes them to continue to watch him, watch him learn and grow.

They begin to give Leon quests, missions, things for him to do for him to build trust between him and them, between him and the people of Galar. Quests that earn him handsome rewards in the form of money, armor, food, even the medicine he needs to truly be himself. It is not without its risks, however, for he puts his young life on the line far too many times. Yet it’s never for his sake, it’s always the sake of others.

“Dangerously selfless,” Opal had said once as she wove the stars into place. “He may be dead before he even reaches his eighteenth year.”

He isn’t.

Not long after Leon’s eighteenth, Raihan truly begins to keep an eye on him. Leon has surpassed all of their expectations, lived longer than any of them thought he would. And in such a short span of time he has become a hero among the people, refuses to align himself with any god in particular and instead call himself the Champion of Galar—or, that is what the Galarian people call him, and it is a title that he accepts.

“I should give him something, shouldn’t I?” Raihan asks Nessa one day after Leon had prayed to him specifically, asking for strength in an impending battle, for the power of storms to be on his side. He eyes the pool of glittering water which reflects Leon’s kneeling figure back to him.

He’s grown handsome, with his wild mane of purple hair, bright golden eyes, his jawline sharp and defined further by the beginnings of a beard, his shoulders and chest broad, his body fit like a warrior’s should be. Despite his shorter stature, he is nigh impossible to bring down in battle. There have been so many who have tried to end his reign as the strongest in Galar, but they always fail. He truly is a Champion to the people, a Champion to the gods.

“What were you thinking?” Nessa asks from where she lies in the grass on her back beside him, her hair pooling around her head. She commands a ball of water in her palm, which thins out into a thin rivulet that she twists around her finger.

“A dragon egg, maybe,” he hums.

“Wow.” The water vaporizes and Nessa sits up. “You would give up one of your scouts for him?”

Raihan huffs. “It’s not the first time I’ve given a mortal an egg before.”

“Sure, but how long has it been?”

He’s silent. He won’t look at her.

“Raihan.”

“Five hundred and seventy two years,” he grumbles, folding his arms over his chest, tucking his nose into his fur hood and hoping that the heat flooding his cheeks isn’t noticeable. Nessa reaches over to pinch one of his cheeks anyway, so she’s obviously going to be able to feel it.

Raihan’s eyes flicker back to the pool, which has gone back to looking like its usual golden, Leon having left the altar. “It doesn’t mean anything,” Raihan defends himself weakly. “He’s done so much, and I’ve never rewarded him before.”

“Maybe send a love letter while you’re at it,” Nessa teases. Raihan scowls at her. “Just give him your blessing for his battle tomorrow, okay? If he survives, give him an egg. It might prove useful to him in the future. Besides…”

Her eyes trail to the pool of water and she reaches out, her fingertips gliding over the surface. A moment later, Leon comes back into view. The Champion has his hood pulled tight over his head, his shoulders hunched as he rushes through the rain from the altar back to shelter, his boots splashing in puddles.

“Even a Champion needs companionship, don’t you think? So many people looking up to you, but how many are really with you? Cheering you on, but never truly knowing you. Plus, dragons do make great friends.” She winks at him.

Raihan’s lips press tightly together. As he watches the image of Leon rushing through the rain, he can’t help but act. A slight twitch of his fingers and the gray clouds begin to disperse. The sun breaks through them, the rain ceases its downpour, and Leon is coming to a stop then. The Champion looks up at the sky, his big eyes widening and a boyish grin breaking out over his face. He looks happy. Raihan tries to ignore the feeling it ignites in his chest. The image fades as Leon finally ducks into an inn.

 

 

The following day, the gods sit and watch Leon’s battle. The storms are on Leon’s side, just as he requested; the sky is clear, the sun is shining—not too harsh, but enough to bask everything in a comfortably warm glow. The giant beast he faces emerges from its dark cave, unwinding its long, purple, spiky body. Venom oozes from its fangs and it lets out a piercing shriek.

Raihan watches, unblinking, fascinated as Leon alternates between his blade and his bow. He moves with grace that one often does not see in a warrior, his movements fluid, practiced, because from what everyone has seen Leon hardly ever affords himself a break even if he needs one. Always training, fighting, seeking to do good but never taking himself into account. Dangerously selfless, right.

Leon lunges from a boulder and, midair, notches an arrow and fires it. It hits the beast in one eye, breaking through the red, translucent scales that shields them, and it’s enough of a distraction that the Champion can land on its back and draw his sword again, keeping his other hand gripping one spine so he doesn’t fall off. And he drives the blade into its neck, blood spurting up around it, the creature wailing and thrashing, trying to get Leon from its back, trying to knock loose the blade.

The Champion merely pushes it in further. After another few moments of struggle, the beast collapses to the ground, still as a statue. Leon waits to make sure the beast is truly dead before he gets off of it. Dark blood stains his hands, his arms, glistens on his armor. It spurts out as he pulls the sword from the creature’s neck, and then sprays over his face as he chops the head off. Removing his cloak, Leon wraps the large head up in it and begins his trek back to town.

Raihan releases a deep breath, as do the other gods around him. Leon is safe, relatively unharmed, and is now presenting the head of the beast before the townspeople. Even covered in blood he’s still handsome. Raihan chases away that thought.

When Leon returns to his home that evening he finds a gift awaiting him on his bed, wrapped in dark gray furs to keep it warm. A large, orange dragon egg. Raihan keeps checking the pool to see how Leon reacts to it. First, Leon stares at it from afar, and then he wanders over to look at it up close. Callused hands run over the rough surface of it, rough as the scales of the creature that slumbers within.

When the egg hatches some weeks later, the orange dragon hatchling is the size of a small dog. She coughs out a little flame, smoke rising from her nostrils, and she’s immediately attaching herself to Leon—the first living thing she sees. And the way he treats the dragon is so kind, so loving, immediately rubbing her beneath the chin, behind her horns while she squeaks and rumbles happily. Raihan can only imagine how gentle those hands must be now, and he wonders…

No, it isn’t the time for those kinds of thoughts.

But he thinks he’s grown rather fond of the Champion.

 

 

“Grown fond” is becoming an understatement.

Leon is twenty-one now, having just celebrated his birthday. He is kind, he is handsome, Galar loves him, the gods admire him. And Raihan… wants him, in some odd way. He watches now how Leon’s muscle shifts beneath his skin when he moves, how his trousers stretch over his legs, the way his hair twirls about his head when he turns. How the sweat shines on his skin when he trains, the two moles on his neck visible when he pulls his hair back into a loose ponytail.

And something dark and ugly rises in his chest whenever he learns of Leon lying with another man again, sharing his bed, arching into touches that could be from Raihan if he wanted them to, panting a name that could be Raihan’s. It’s irrational for him to feel that way—he hasn’t even properly met Leon yet. Does Leon even know the dragon he now regards as his best friend was a gift from Raihan? Well, who else could it be from?

“You’re watching him again,” Nessa comments as she walks by. “Have you ever considered actually meeting him?”

“Why would I?” Raihan replies, shooting her a glare.

“Sick of watching you make moony eyes at him, is all,” she replies, sitting down next to him. A dragon is curled up between them, its head in Raihan’s lap. He gently pats its neck.

“I’m not making moony eyes,” Raihan snaps back. Even though he knows he is. Even though he knows he’s stupidly infatuated by the mortal he now watches.

Nessa pats him on the shoulder. “You don’t even have to tell him who you are. At least, not at first. You can’t lie to him forever.”

For the next few days, Raihan thinks about that. He checks in on Leon occasionally, can’t deny how full his heart feels when he sees Leon smile, or laugh; when he sees Leon interact with children or animals; when he sees Leon interact with his family, who now live comfortably because he always sends most of the gold he gets as rewards to them.

Then, one day, he finally caves.

Leon is to be fighting challengers this afternoon. People aiming to take his title. It might be a little unfair to fight him, considering Raihan is a god and could so easily defeat him without breaking a sweat, but he has to meet him somehow. Sheathing his swords, he descends from the golden realm of the gods and travels down the mountain. Raihan calls one of his dragons to carry him partway to the city, then dismounts when he gets close enough he can walk there—close enough someone could spot him approaching from the sky if he wasn’t careful enough.

Wyndon’s townspeople don’t look twice at him, most of them on their way to the stadium to watch the matches themselves. It feels strange being out here among mortals, when was the last time he allowed himself to do this? When was the last time he left his home? The Great Raihan, the powerful god of storms, mingling with mortalkind. It feels so unlike him. He walks over cobblestone streets, past bakeries and inns and pubs, tosses a few gold coins to beggars he passes and then circles around the back of the stadium. The guards there ask no questions, immediately assuming (correctly) that he’s a challenger.

They announce Leon as he walks out onto the field and the crowd cheers wildly. The man looks radiant, his hair blowing in the breeze, his eyes bright, the sun making his brown skin look like it’s glowing. He sheds his cloak, tosses it aside, and ties his hair back. As they announce his first opponent, he’s fixing the straps of his armor and then drawing his sword.

In these matches, they never aim to kill—merely to disarm. That isn’t to say there were never deaths, but Leon has never killed a single one of his challengers in these sorts of battles. Injured, yes, but never killed, because they were never truly enemies. Most men would not be so kind, so merciful, especially if they had the power he did where they could murder and get away with it.

It shows just how good and fair his heart is.

There are three men ahead of him, and all three are taken down in quick succession. Disarmed within a minute each by Galar’s Champion. Raihan watches closely as Leon moves, the graceful pivots of his heel, the turn of his wrist, how his waist twists. He’s beautiful, for a mortal. No, no need to say that—he’s simply beautiful. True beauty is hard to find these days, but Raihan thinks he’s found it in this young man.

When he steps out onto the field, the announcer looks surprised, like he wasn’t expecting a fourth challenger. There is no name to call as Raihan didn’t give his name, and Leon watches him closely. This is the first time Leon’s ever seen me, he thinks as he drops his visor over his face. Behind his own helmet, Leon’s expression is unreadable, but Raihan can see the glint of golden eyes. He can see how his chest heaves with each breath beneath his breastplate, he can see the bead of sweat running down his neck.

The horn blows, and Leon charges.