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To Breathe

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When Hibiki defeats him, it's almost a relief.


He wakes up and nothing looks familiar, but he relaxes because Green's scent is everywhere. He sits up slowly; his head still hurts, and when his hands brush the covers, he realizes he hasn't slept in a real bed in three years. It's precisely made, with military corners, and the subtle crosshatch pattern on the sheets is more traditional than he would have expected. The room is spartan, the floor swept clean, and the midmorning light that spills through the open window seems filtered somehow, less blue, sanitized by ozone and atmosphere.

The air is rife with smells—food, garbage, motor oil and vegetation—and he realizes that it's spring, realizes that there are seasons again beyond cold and colder. He tries to take shallow breaths, overwhelmed by sensory input and high oxygen levels, but then he realizes that this also cuts down on Green's scent and he's conflicted for a moment.

“Pika?” says a quavering voice, and then he's nearly knocked over by his faithful Pokémon, who showers him with kisses and tiny little shocks. He smiles softly and wonders where the rest of his team is, if they're okay. But he knows Green—who has learned to pay attention to even the littlest details—would certainly have taken care of something so important, so it doesn't bother him for long.

Pikachu is curled in his lap, looking blissful as Red rubs his belly. There's humming from beyond the bedroom door, and he cocks his head, listening. The smell of food is coming from there; eggs, toast, things he hasn't eaten in forever. His mouth waters so sharply it hurts.

He didn't know Green could sing.

He's starting to consider getting up when the door opens. Green looks different, too, outside of the darkness of the cave; more tangible. In this setting, he looks like he belongs, perfectly ordinary, and Red wonders if the same could be said for him.

“You're awake,” he says, and Red nods. The gym leader comes to stand by the bed, his hands by his sides like he doesn't know what to do with them. “Breakfast is almost ready,” he says.

“It can wait,” he answers quietly as he grabs Green and pulls him down into a kiss. Here, at last, is something he's familiar with. Pikachu manages to leap off of the bed before Green falls into it, the springs squealing. Eevee, who has been sleeping in a small box in a corner of the room, wakes up at the noise; she tosses an annoyed look at the two men and storms off to the bathroom, Pikachu trailing behind her. Red thinks he can hear the door lock as his fingers slide under Green's shirt, but he can't be sure.

The eggs burn, but Red eats them anyway, and Green looks like he doesn't know whether he should be irritated or pleased.


Red watches as Green weeds the tiny herb garden on his (their?) balcony. “Pidgey,” he explains, because they're on the second floor. “They scatter seeds everywhere.” The other man's fingers are digging in the dirt, and Red breathes in the fresh tang of soil and growing things.

“Here, try it,” Green says, snapping off a leaf and handing it to him. When he bites down, the taste of mint floods his mouth, and he swallows without meaning to.

“I didn't know you could cook,” he says, and Green frowns, remembering the eggs.

“Nothing tastes right after you haul it up a mountain,” he says.


Green gives him a tour of his apartment. It doesn't take long. It's a tiny little thing, just a bedroom, bathroom, and living room, with the kitchenette squeezed into one corner as an afterthought. Both rooms are full of windows, their curtains fluttering in the breeze. The smallness of it surprises Red, but it's not an unwelcome discovery; it somehow mirrors what he had on Mt. Silver—the dark, close walls of the cave and the endless mountain sky.

He takes his first heated bath in months, and though the water is only lukewarm, it still makes his toes curl. He isn't surprised when Green slips in behind him, pouring shampoo into his hands and gently kneading it through his hair. It smells like him, peppermint and pine trees and something deeper, something he can't name.

Some of it gets in his eyes, and Green apologizes, but Red can't find it in himself to mind.


Looking up is difficult for him; he's spent the past three years gazing down as the world unrolled itself at his feet. To practice, he lies on the floor as Green sits at the kitchen table, paying the bills. Eevee and Pikachu are chasing each other around the house, and suddenly, the lights go out.

“Pika,” the Pokémon says, sounding guilty, and Red realizes what happened: always surrounded by stone, Pikachu has gotten used to being a little freer with his sparks.

“It's fine,” Green says as his Eevee skids to a stop, confused. “It just takes some getting used to.” He catches Red's eye, and he recognizes the expression, the way the other man's eyes glint even in the dark.

“I'll get some candles,” he says, but Pikachu has already begun to light the room.


Green's shirts are too big for him, and Red decides to sleep in just his boxers. As he gets into bed, it feels vaguely nostalgic, like he's eight years old and sleeping early after admonishments: he's got a big day tomorrow, he has to get his rest.

He can hear the city around him, a hundred people breathing, weighing down the silence with their dreams. A moth whirs around the porch light, banging into it with a hazy rhythm. He's not sure he'll be able to sleep under bedsheets and night sounds, surrounded by too many people and not enough air.

The bathroom light turns off and Green stands in the doorway. “You all right?” he asks. Red doesn't answer.

When the other man slides under the covers, he's tense for a second, and then relaxes all at once with a drawn-out sigh.

“You don't know how many times I've thought about this,” he says, sounding a little embarrassed. “Us, like this, like we are right now.”

When they reach for each other in the dark, their bodies fitting together like two halves of a whole, Red realizes that nothing has really changed at all—nothing important. And when they fall asleep, wrapped in each other's arms, he doesn't dream.