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we tried the world, it wasn't for us

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The line to sign up for the challenge is long, nearly out the door. Sonia rolls her eyes at the sight of it and leads him over to one of the couches that were blessedly free without even mentioning how it was his fault they were late.

The hotel was a block away from the stadium. He’d headed off ahead of Sonia while she took her time in front of her suite’s mirror and was sure he’d make it there without her. Instead of saving her a spot in line, he’d ended up halfway across the city, describing the street he’d found himself on to Sonia on the phone.

“Sorry,” he says to her when they sit down.

Sonia’s bag gets dropped between them as she rifles through it in search of something. “It’s alright,” she tells him. “You’re just lucky your mom let you go on the challenge a year early, or else she never would have let you leave home without someone to chaperone you.”

Leon purses his lips at that, not liking the scolding, motherly tone she’d used, but ultimately says nothing seeing as he’s a little deserving of it. She’ll get over it, he knows. All it’ll take is stopping by the Boutique down the street before they catch their train and spending a little bit of his money on something she looks at for too long. At least, he’s hoping that’s all it’ll take. She’s way more on top of what’s trending in general than Leon; the latest fascination has been fashion, but that’s due to change any day now. 

Eventually she finds what she’s looking for - her Pokedex; her grandmother gave them each one along with her letter of endorsement - and she begins scrolling through what small bit of data she’d collected for about the seven hundredth time. Leon sighs through his nose, letting his shoulders slump back into the cushions, and really looks around for the first time.

There’s about seventy trainers gathered, over half of them filed in front of the main desk, the rest of them standing off in groups with each other or lounging on the rest of the couches. Some of them are his and Sonia’s age, most of them even older than that by a few years - or a few decades, he notes, briefly catching the sight of a woman leaning heavily on a cane.

Different accents float about, all of them clean and telling of the north. For never having left his little hometown, he recognizes them pretty well from the League matches he caught on TV. That, and the month and a half Sonia dedicated to mimicking the Wyndon dialect in order to sound more proper when they were ten. He is painfully familiar with the Wyndon accent. 

Briefly, he wonders how they’d all react to Leon and Sonia if they were to hazard an attempt to mingle. He’s sure they’d be polite, but he doubts they’d think much of them, without prim talk and their Wooloo wool coats. 

He wonders if they’d just think of them as the Professor’s charity case.

He wonders, with a cocksure grin, if they’ll be angry when the little nobody from a hick town like Postwick is the one to beat them all. 

Someone drops into the seat across from him and Sonia with a heaving sigh. It’s a kid, like them, and Leon politely keeps his gaze downcast rather than stare like he had been at everyone else.

Sonia doesn’t share the sentiment.

“I like your hoodie,” she calls out softly, loud enough for the new kid to hear her but quiet enough that it doesn’t get the attention from the other trainers close by. 

The kid blinks once at her, stopping halfway in the motions of putting his backpack between his legs on the floor. His eyes are an electric blue; they look at Sonia, but they cut right through Leon. 

Before the silence drags on for too long, the kid reaches up and pulls out an earbud. “What?”

“I like your hoodie,” Sonia repeats, Pokedex now completely lowered in her lap to regard the newcomer with a bit of amusement. 

He looks down at the zip-up sweatshirt he was wearing, like maybe he didn’t really know what she was talking about. It was black that bled into a deep, crimson red closer to the bottom. When he shifted, Leon noticed that the light caught on a strange pattern, round lines that weren’t quite ovals, all stacked together until the fabric got too dark to see. It was weird, but interesting - something Sonia would definitely take a liking to. 

Distantly, Leon is a little relieved - fashion is still in. This meant that the Boutique was still a good way to get back into her good graces again. Then, the kid looks back up at Sonia and smiles a little and the thought of making the day up to Sonia is even farther away. 

“Oh. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Mostly to Leon, she continues, “Y’know, it’s a good thing so many people are signing up this year. They would have closed registration by now otherwise.” 

Still not having replaced his earbud, the kid raises his brow at this like maybe he hadn’t thought of that. 

“Did you get lost, too?” Leon asks him. Something that lightly burns the inside of his chest and throat tells him he doesn’t want to exclude the other quite yet. 

The kid snorts at the question. “Nah. My hotel’s right down the street. I just slept in.”

Leon chooses not to tell him that his hotel was also just down the street. Sonia catches his eyes in a sidewards glance, but she doesn’t say anything either. “I’m Leon,” he does end up saying.

The other earbud comes out now, the kid is wrapping the wire around his phone and Leon notices there’s something sharp in his grin. “‘M Raihan. Nice to meet you.”

 

-=-=-

 

Later, he’s standing on the pitch, breathing in the newly worked grass and the electricity in the air around him, and he feels like his blood is buzzing just from the oxygen he’s taking in. It’s different there - on the dirt, in front of hundreds of people cheering, all the cameras that are broadcasting to the millions at home, with all the gym leaders staring them down, their shadows casted long and giant by the massive screen and powerful lights. Leon feels like he’s stepped into a pocket where time moves separately from the rest of reality and he feels so light.

“Mad, innit?”

He looks to his right, finds Raihan doing the same as him - eyes upward, lips parted in a tiny and awed smile. 

Leon nods, eyes drawn to the crowd. He can’t discern individual faces, it moved like one massive entity, waving and chanting, screaming at the top of their voices. His fingers twitch by his side where his belt has Charmander stored away in his ball. Inside his chest, his heart is singing to the beat of the crowd.

 

-=-=-

 

It’s weird, afterward, to have soaked in all that energy just to shed the uniform. It feels like his bones are humming underneath his skin and no matter how many times he shakes out his joints, the feeling lingers. 

Sonia’s back out in the lobby when he finally emerges from the dressing room, looking glad to have the whole ordeal over with. Her smile is big and relieved and it tells him that he’s definitely been forgiven for their morning. Leon returns it, but he still feels jittery, and his blood almost goes cold when Sonia suggests they go straight for their hotel.

“We should wake up early if we want to make the train,” she explains when she sees his face fall. 

“It doesn’t get in until noon.”

She gives him a look. “I still think we should turn in.” A loose translation would be, I don’t want to risk it given your track record.

There’s two options. He could concede to her very and incredibly fair point, follow her to the Budew Drop Inn and try to ignore the pent up energy the roaring stadium left him with. The other option - one that was sure to get him into trouble - is beg off and run the streets of Motostoke until he finds himself out in the wild area, see how many battles it would take to burn off this buzzing. There were countless trainers making their way through the wilds at all times of night, and if none were interested, the pokemon he found out there were always getting stronger.

He’s about to tell her to head off without him, already half turned so he can run before she disapproves or drag him with her herself, when his eye catches on something blue, watching him. Raihan, and he grins like he was waiting for Leon to notice. 

The grin is crooked, and there’s still something sharp about it, something so sure. It makes Leon smile back, and that buzzing hums into a vibration up his spine. 

“Go on without me,” Leon finally tells Sonia, not taking his eyes off the boy that’s approaching them.

As he thought she would, Sonia gives him another look, this one skeptical. “What? Why?”

Raihan sidles up next to him as an answer, hands shoved in the pockets of his hoodie. Before he can even say anything, Sonia rolls her eyes. 

“I shouldn’t even be surprised.”

Leon shrugs, because maybe she shouldn’t be. 

“I’m going to the café and then back to my room, so fend for yourself,” Sonia tells him, putting on a show of acting exhausted with him. “And don’t let your phone die.” With that, she’s sauntering off and out the doors, leaving Leon behind with Raihan, a few other trainers lingering in the lobby, and the staff of the stadium. He tries not to feel guilty over leaving her alone. He’s gonna make it up to her, he swears it, even if he only gets an hour of sleep in order to wake up early enough for the Boutique. 

Rather than questioning what that was all about, Raihan does Leon a favor by instead asking, “You wouldn’t want to battle, would you?”

Leon nods almost instantly.

 

-=-=-

 

“You’re different than the others.”

Leon looks up from Charmander who’s been curled up in his lap for the better part of an hour. Raihan’s off to his left, Trapinch laying on its back between his long legs, trying to soak up what little sunlight there was left. A sitrus berry pit lay by its head - the remains of its earlier snack, given by Leon himself so the poor thing would stop pouting after the close battle it lost. Trapinch had settled on its stomach to eat it and Raihan had taken the opportunity to tend to the minor burns along its shell while it was distracted.

He’d offered Leon a clean bandana from his bag, as well, and motioned at the drying mud that covered a good amount of Charmander. Leon was glad for it, not really wanting to leave just yet. Raihan intrigues him, if he is going to be completely honest. The way he battles tells of inexperience, but there was something about the screaming blue of the boy’s eyes and how they always catch hold of Leon’s when they should be focusing - but that was the thing. Battling Raihan, it was just like standing out on the pitch, just without all those lights and the thousands of League fans staring them all down. It was just the two of them, and it felt like they were at the center of the world.

“What d’you mean?”

Raihan hesitates on his answer, mouth open around the words he was still deliberating on. Leon watches the process and takes in the boy’s features while he does. He’s made of straight lines, precise lines, long and sharp lines. The sunlight catches on the revealed canine, and even that comes to a point. 

Leon is so, so fascinated. 

“I don’t know yet,” Raihan decides to settle on.

Yet. Leon snorts at that, furrows his brow. But Raihan doesn’t elaborate and Leon just shakes his head with a small laugh. “You’re different, too, mate.”

Raihan draws his legs up, bending them at the knee so he can rest his elbows on them and then his chin in one of his hands. He hums thoughtfully, smiling a little bit. “Maybe. Not like you, though.”

And, honestly, Leon doesn’t know what to say to that. 

After he’s quiet for too long, Raihan speaks up once more. “It’s not a bad thing,” he assures. “It’s just - “ He trails off, waving a hand around. 

“Different,” Leon supplies slowly.

Raihan nods. “Right. S’ not a bad thing. Just different. Like your Charmander.”

On his lap Charmander doesn’t stir when Leon’s slow, gentle petting halts. “What about him?” He asks, almost defensively.

Either Raihan doesn’t notice the tone, or he just ignores it. “Reckon you don’t really see too many Charmanders walkin’ around Kanto let alone Galar. How’d you get him?”

Oh. Leon breathes. Charmander lets out an unconscious cooing noise the second he continues petting along the pokemon’s back. “The Professor. He was a birthday gift.” 

Raihan lets out a soft whistle. “Quite the present.”

“I know.” He moves his hand up to scritch at the space between Charmander’s neck and shoulder. It makes the little body stretch out, pleased, and his eyes open just a little so he could look up at his trainer while it trills gently. “I’ve always wanted a Charizard.” The words are quiet, but they’re spoken so passionately that Leon has enough sense to be a little embarrassed about it.

But just like before, Raihan doesn’t notice or doesn’t mind. “Guess you got really lucky, then.”

Leon couldn’t agree more, really. He remembers leaving the lab in Wedgehurst feeling like he was flying the day Professor Magnolia had handed over the pokeball. Sometimes, even recently, it still feels a bit like a dream. The very first night, one week before he was meant to set out with Sonia, he’d set Charmander up in his own little space on the floor by the foot of his bed. It lasted all of three minutes; he felt tugging and pulling on his blanket and suddenly the air around him grew a little brighter as Charmander’s flame got closer. He clung to Leon’s chest that night, and Leon held him as close as he could and could barely find sleep, because that same thought had run on repeat inside his head - 

He had gotten so lucky. 

“What about you?” He asks Raihan, a little out of politeness but also out of genuine curiosity. He nods his head at Trapinch, who is now fast asleep. “How did you meet?”

“Dunno,” Raihan admits. “There’s always been a Trapinch or two around the house, ever since I was little. Dad just let me take this one because he liked me the best, I suppose.” 

“Your family keeps Trapinch as pets?” Leon questions with his eyebrows raised.

“Well, yeah, we had to. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to pull out a Deino from one of the nests the Trapinch used to dig up around the yards. It was either take them inside or take the Deino inside, and the Deino are pretty much blind and walk into all the furniture - and bite all the furniture. And people’s legs. Anything, they bite pretty much anything.” As if to help him explain, he raises the hand he’s not using as a headrest and curls four of his fingers together and taps them against his thumb, mimicking jaws. He’s smiling, though, like he knows what he’s saying sounds ridiculous.

“Are you messing with me?” Leon can’t help but ask.

“Never, Leon.” When his expression remains disbelieving, Raihan adds on with, “My dad runs a humane breeding program for dragon types. We’ve had a lot of weird circumstances that lead to a lot of weird pets. He’s been my best mate through it all, though, haven’t you?” He places his hand flat on Trapinch’s exposed belly and gives it a little jostle. Trapinch’s tiny limbs give a twitch, but otherwise it stays asleep.

Leon, suffice to say, is a tad bit jealous. The only pet his house ever had under its roof was his grandmother’s moody Purrloin. Neither he nor his little brother had ever been able to get along with her, and not for lack of trying. Being surrounded by dragons seems like a way better time than being terrorized by the tiny cat pokemon that was known to steal his lunch from him out of pure spite. 

“If we’re talking about pokemon we’ve wanted, though,” Raihan says, grabbing Leon’s attention again. “I’ve always - “ He stops and glances down at Trapinch. Suddenly, he sits up straight and moves his hands down to either side of the pokemon’s head, covering where Leon thought its ears might have been. Despite this, Raihan still leans forward and whispers, “I always thought it’d be wicked to have a Garchomp.” 

In order to play off how off-kilter the new closeness makes him feel, Leon scoffs. “You know you can have more than one pokemon on your team, right? It’s not like you’d be replacing him as your partner if you added on.” 

“They would be the same type,” Raihan tells him, scandalized, betrayed that the other isn’t taking this as seriously as he is. He gathers Trapinch up into his arms and cradles it close to his chest. Amazingly, the pokemon still does not stir. “He’s sensitive - if he heard me say that, he would be devastated.”

It’s sweet, Leon thinks to himself. The boy is mostly kidding, but there’s a genuine, underlying worry in the thought. Like hurting Trapinch’s feelings is something that Raihan actively thinks about, does everything in his power to avoid. One thing Leon has already learned in his journey, as short as it has been, is that he will never get enough of seeing people loving their pokemon. 

“You don’t have to worry about that too much, mate. I’m almost positive you won’t be seeing a Garchomp around here.” 

“I know,” Raihan concedes, sounding heartbroken about this, too. He covers it up quickly with a grin. “Maybe I’ll get lucky, and some ol’ bird’ll give me one for my birthday.” 

Leon shakes his head, but he’s laughing. “Here’s hoping.”

 

-=-=-

 

It’s late by the time they’re nearing the hotel. The sky had long since deepened from orange, to pink, to a dusky gray, then finally to blue. Street lights mark the way for them, the echo of their shoes on the pavement joining in with the trickling of fountain water, the rush of the river, the cranking of gears. They keep their voices just loud enough for the other to hear even though they were just about the only ones left wandering Motostoke. The still air about the buildings gives Leon the impression that it should be left untouched, which is weird. Less than a few hours ago, the city was practically swimming with activity. Still, he does his best to not disturb whatever energy has washed over Motostoke and whispers to the other as they brush shoulders while they walk.

Leon gets an odd look when he follows Raihan into the Budew Drop Inn. “You sure you’re not further in the city?”

He tilts his head, confused. “What?”

“You said you got lost this morning.”

“I did,” Leon confirms.

The odd look intensifies. “The stadium is a two minute walk from here.”

“It’s - “ Leon looks away, bites the inside of his cheek, then quickly finishes, “It’s a long story.”

It isn’t, but he’s definitely not going to get into it right now.

Raihan just shrugs. “Alright.” He takes a step toward the stairs rather than the elevator, then stops to look at Leon once more. “I better see you around, Leon.” 

A shocked laugh bubbles up from his chest and escapes before he can help it. “What’s that supposed to mean?” 

“I’m just saying, it’d be a real let down - after what I saw today - if you didn’t make it.”

A fire ignites in a snap at the center of his very core and it lights up all the empty spaces in his chest. Leon curls his fists around it, the sudden shock of heat straightening his spine, and he’s fighting back a wide smile. “You’ll see me again.”

Raihan’s grin is crooked, and sharp, and sure. He moves back in, holding out his hand, and Leon takes it without a second thought. “Good. Because I’m gonna beat you the next time I see you.”

Leon squeezes his fingers around Raihan’s. “Try me.” 

 

-=-=-

 

Sonia does forgive him quite easily, but she turns down the offer of visiting Motostoke’s clothing store. 

“I went there yesterday,” she answers the question he asks via the relatively concerned and worried expression he wears. “I went with someone I met at the café. She’s a gym challenger like us and she’s got a crazy eye for colors - and she even knows what makeup companies are vegan and which ones are just lying about it, y’know?”

Leon didn’t, but he nods along and acts appropriately surprised. Honestly, he didn’t even know makeup could be vegan. He would have to ask about that later. But for now, he’s just going to revel in the fact that they could take their time with breakfast, and that they could head out without spending a good hour in a store deliberating over two shades of green jackets. He wouldn’t have complained, of course, but this was absolutely the best case scenario.

They set out on Route 3, heading for Turffield.

 

-=-=-

 

The first time Leon Dynamaxes, it’s on the pitch during his very first gym battle.

The power is nearly overwhelming - it’s reminisce of the hot burn he felt that night at the hotel. It brings a grin to his face, looking up at Charmeleon, one that feels wild even in the moment. His partner roars and it’s loud enough to shake the arena, to drown out the fans chanting. It blows the air around them and shifts the current until the grass is stuck rippling around with them at the center. 

The gym leader’s own partner goes down in smoke in less than one attack. Leon feels drunk from the way the crowd explodes, and even when Charmeleon is recalled into his pokeball, even when they’re laying in their tent, Leon still can’t shake that feeling.

 

-=-=-

 

Raihan runs into him again as he’s leaving Hulbury’s stadium. They battle on the docks, and this time Sonia stays to watch, even plays as referee.

Leon can’t get enough of the way Raihan battles. He’s such a force and even more refined since their last go. He and his pokemon move fluidly, without hesitation, and it’s like if Leon stopped paying attention for one second, he’d get swept away by it all. Their eyes meet across their makeshift pitch and it’s still electric. 

“I thought this was supposed to be for fun,” Sonia remarks when she finally calls it. “You battle like you’ll be kicked out of the gym challenge if someone catches you having a good time.”

Leon laughs and Raihan does the same. He’s recalling Trapinch when he says, “What’s the point if you’re not giving it your all?”

Sonia just regards them with a raised brow and still manages to look unimpressed. “You’re both maniacs.”

 

-=-=-

 

Raihan hangs out again rather than moving on after his loss. They settle in a booth at the Captain’s Table and Sonia spends a lot of her time on her phone, texting her new friend from Motostoke. She’s always had this weird talent of multitasking; she hasn’t looked at either of them for twenty minutes and her thumbs are moving rapidly over her keyboard, but she always knows where he and Raihan are at in the conversation.

Halfway through, Leon feels someone’s shoe tap a rhythm against his ankle underneath the table. It stops when he locks eyes with Raihan but it doesn’t retreat - just remains still, pressed there until Leon nudges back, then it continues again.

 

-=-=-

 

“Are you traveling alone?” He asks later. They’re standing outside the restaurant, Sonia a little ways down, waiting for them quietly and watching the exchange. 

“For the most part,” Raihan replies. He’s staying in town a little longer, says he has a few things left to do but didn’t say what. 

Leon feels himself frown. “Did you want to come with us?”

Raihan’s usually collected features pull just a smidge in what might be surprise. He recovers quickly, though, and scoffs. “What, so you can see how I’m gonna train for our next battle? Not a chance.” 

“No,” Leon says. “It’s just - “

“It’s all good, mate. You’ll be seein’ me again.” He holds out his hand, just like last time, except that it’s his left rather than his right. Still, Leon takes it with his own left hand and shakes it but Raihan doesn’t let go right away. He drags the other in closer, maneuvers his arm so it’s palm up, and then there’s a pen dragging along Leon the skin of his forearm in gentle strokes. “So we don’t get lonely on the road,” he says with an honest to Arceus wink.

Raihan’s walking away and he leaves Leon behind with what could only be his phone number written on the other’s arm. 

 

-=-=-

 

Sonia hasn’t stopped talking about it even though it’s been at least three hours since they left Hulbury. 

But Leon guesses he kind of gets it. He hasn’t been able to stop smiling since then either. 

 

-=-=-

 

“Tell me about your dad’s breeding thing.”

“Bit of an odd request. I’m not sure my mum would appreciate that.”

Leon looks up from where he’d been running a rag over one of Doublade’s sharp edges to glare at his Rotom phone’s screen. “You know what I meant.”

“What did you wanna know?” Raihan asks through his laugh. 

“I don’t know.” It’s dark underneath the shade of the trees and the campfire he and Charizard had started is too far away to be any use to him. He’s working under the light of his partner’s tail flame and it’s hard, but he didn’t want to bother Sonia. It’s definitely not any good for his eyesight given the amount of time he’d already spent on the phone, straining to see. He doesn’t want to hang up, though, and Raihan hasn’t said anything about being tired yet. Maybe Leon’s just a little worried they’re going to run out of things to talk about and it’ll force them off the phone. “I don’t know much of anything about the whole thing. What kind of people do you get asking for something?”

Leon doesn’t know where Raihan is currently, but it’s outside. He can hear the rustling of grass underneath his footsteps and sometimes his Rotom pans enough to where Leon can see the stars above his head. 

“Mostly gym trainers, sometimes we get a few people who want something really specific for a contest. Those are always a hassle, too. The gym trainers don’t really mind what they’re getting as long as the pokemon is decently strong and have the right temperament.” He ducks suddenly, under a branch, and Leon realizes he’s out in the woods somewhere, as well. Just walking around the woods in the middle of the night. “The contest people, though, it’s always something. They want a specific move that they can only get through swapping around parents, and that’s always an ordeal because you’ll be lucky if you get two different species to care much for one another. So it takes about a lifetime to find a pokemon with the move they want, sometimes you just have to find one and then get someone else to teach it to them. Then, you just have to hope and get lucky that that one gets along with the dragon the person wants, and then - and then, mate - they have the audacity to ask why it’s taking so long.”

“Contest participants,” Leon says solemnly with a shake of his head, trying to hide his smile.

“I know,” Raihan agrees. He lets his grin go free, though. “I actually just stopped by earlier today. I live around Stow-on-Side. It was nice seein’ them again.”

“That’s sweet,” he teases. On his lap, the Doublade shifts against each other and the length of cloth drapes itself across his knees. He starts running the rag over the flat surface and the tasseled ends of the cloth begin to wave in the breeze that isn’t blowing.

“Yeah. Honestly I did it to have a real home cooked meal after so long. Left earlier today but I’m probably lagging behind everyone else, so I’m making up for lost time.” Raihan gestures around himself, giving reason to his midnight wandering.

“Do your parents like you being away from home?” Leon can’t stop himself from asking. Just the mention of Raihan’s mother has him thinking of his own, which leads to thinking of his grandparents, of his little brother.

None of them had been too happy to see him go. Hop had been the most passionate in supporting him, but he was also the hardest to leave behind. His mother tried a few times to talk him out of leaving, his grandfather would shake his head and change the subject whenever anyone brought it up, and his grandmother always pursed her lips and said “If you think you're ready, dear”.

“They were a little miffed I wasn’t planning on helping out with their little business,” Raihan says with another shrug. “But they’ll get over it.”

Arceus, Leon hopes so.

He forces a smile onto his face and tries not to think about it. “You really think you’re gonna win this whole thing, huh?”

“‘Course.” The answer is swift and confident. He’s looking at Leon with his eyes half-lidded, but they’re burning at Leon’s little jab and he’s grinning with that sharp tooth of his. “What, you think just because you won a few battles you’ve got it in the bag? We’re always getting better, mate. You and your Charmeleon should watch out for us.”

“Charizard,” Leon corrects.

Raihan’s eyes widen a smidge in something that’s between surprise and excitement. “Really? That’s sick!”

“I know! He evolved just in time for the gym and when we dynamaxed, he - “ Leon hesitates, not really knowing how to describe it. He remembers the intense orange glow, remembers blazing wings that rained embers down on every beat, and the fire that visibly burned in Charizard’s core. Words wouldn’t do it justice, he realizes. His partner is just something that one has to see for themselves. “He’s not just any Charizard,” Leon settles on.

Charizard, who’d been curled up in the grass a few feet away, opens one of his eyes slightly to look at his trainer. He trills out a little sound and huffs before he goes back to sleep, pleased with the praise.

“Makes sense,” Raihan speaks again. Leon’s gaze goes back to the screen and Raihan is already watching him. “You’re not just any trainer.”

Leon wishes he could scoff at the flattery, maybe roll his eyes and call the other out for it. He can’t, and he doesn’t, just stares at the phone like a dumbstruck idiot, wondering when the time will come where he doesn’t get so tripped up over getting a compliment from the other boy. Even ones that seem so simple in retrospect.

He pouts at the way Raihan laughs to his stunned silence and supposes that that particular time won’t be for a while yet.

 

-=-=-

 

Opal stares hard at him when he battles her. Her eyes are cold and calculating and unsettling. He makes it a point to appear like it doesn’t bother him; he keeps his expression neutral and his movements short and firm. Even when he sends Charizard out, he pretends like the roiling energy in his chest isn’t shaking his very being. 

If he were honest, Leon doesn’t like the way she’s watching him. When he’d walked in, Opal got this look on her face like she’d found something that intrigued her and wouldn’t look away until she saw more. 

She reminds Leon of his grandmother. Because of something that feels like spite, he hides whatever she’s looking for behind a wide smile he bares his teeth through.

He Gigantamaxes his Charizard and they run through her Alcreamie, tier by tier, and he holds Opal’s eyes until she’s the one who turns away first.

 

-=-=-

 

He convinces Sonia to hang back in Ballonlea in order to wait for Raihan. It’s more like he suggests it and Sonia readily accepts, delighted to spend more time in the little village. When they first arrived, she dedicated a good bit of time typing furiously on her phone, periodically shaking the strange mushrooms in the Glimwood Tangle, then continuing her typing with more fervor. She hasn’t hidden the fact that she’d like to go back

The stadium roars when Raihan battles the gym leader. Leon must imagine it, because the stands are filled with faces and he and Sonia are too high up to be anywhere close to the pitch - but he swears Raihan catches his gaze as he emerges from the tunnel at the start. When the filming drones fly over for closeups, the giant screens mounted on the walls of the arena show off a brilliant smile and blue eyes that held storms.

Sonia does manage to get them back in the Tangle after the the center wraps up their mending of Raihan’s team. Leon could agree that the bioluminescent mushrooms were cool to look at, but he didn’t know if they were worth the amount of note taking she’d been doing. Sonia thinks it’s important, though, and even enlists the help of some friendly Shiinotic that were curious and bold enough to emerge from the foliage. 

Raihan doesn’t seem bothered by it; he looks content from where he’s leaning his shoulders on the trunk of a truly impressive tree, hands in his pockets, and a pensive set to his features. Vibrava hangs from his back, upside down and clinging to the fabric of the hoodie he’s wearing. It’s covered in orange splotches that are lined with blues and pinks. It reminds Leon of the sky in Motostoke. 

He realizes that he hasn't seen Raihan in the same hoodie twice. He wonders where he keeps all of them.

“You battled with him today,” Leon says, running a finger along the edge of the closest wing of Vibrava’s that he can see. “Thought you might wanna play this gym safe, with Opal specializing in Fairy types and all.”

Vibrava chitters at the contact, crawling around Raihan’s front to follow it when Leon thinks to pull away. Now, without risk of crushing his partner, Raihan slumps fully back onto the tree with a relieved huff.

“We had it handled,” he says back, confidently. No one could fault him for it; they had won with relative ease.

“We’re almost done,” Leon muses. He’s rubbing his thumb against the small space between Vibrava’s antennae thoughtfully.

Raihan nods. “Just three more. Then it’s off to Wyndon.”

“It’s weird. Feels like I left home last week but also like I’ve been sleeping out in the cold for half my life.”

“Don’t be dramatic,” the other jokes. “It’s only been seven months.”

Leon blinks up at him. “I’ve only known you for seven months?”

Raihan raises a brow. “That’s surprising?”

He schools his expression to something more nonchalant and tries a shrug. “No - not really. It’s just, y’know. I just forgot it hasn’t been as long as I thought.”

That look overcomes Raihan’s face, the one that turns his smile crooked and shows off that little fang as he looks down at Leon with his half-lidded eyes. “S’ probably on account of you texting me a million times a day, mate. You’re bound to get to know someone from that.”

An incredulous scoff escapes Leon. “That’s you! What am I supposed to do, not respond?” Raihan just laughs, leading Leon to scowl. “You’re the one who calls in the dead of night, anyway.”

“You’re the one who answers,” he teases back.

“Excuse me!” 

They both straighten at the new voice, Leon having to lean around Raihan in order to see the girl who’s just addressed them. She’s older than them, maybe eighteen or nineteen, and is accompanied by a boy around the same age. They’re stepping off the nearly-overgrown path and toward them, looking extremely serious. For a moment, Leon thinks they’re about to get yelled at, briefly wracks his brain for anything he might have seen or heard that told him the part of the Tangle they were in was off limits.

Those worries are dashed when the girl whips around suddenly to her friend and hisses, “It is, it is him.” She faces forward once more and her stern expression is lightened by the newfound excitement. “Challenger Raihan! We watched your battle today - I follow your Pokegram!”

Leon immediately cuts his gaze to gauge Raihan’s reaction and barely refrains from laughing. He, for once, looks like he’s at a loss for words. “Thank you,” he manages after a moment, but it sounds a lot like a question to Leon’s ears.

The girl doesn’t respond, rounding on Leon, now, with eager eyes. “And you! Challenger Leon! We’ve never seen a Charizard in real life before, where’d you find one?”

“Could we maybe battle?” Her friend asks rather than let Leon answer.

When Sonia sees them heading for the closest clearing she rolls her eyes but there’s a fond smile on her face.

It’s different, battling with Raihan but having him next to Leon rather than across from him. They can hear each other better, and Raihan calls out commands like he does everything else: with confidence. Vibrava moves with impressive speed that tells of trust and strikes with precise control. It’s easy to keep up with them, though, as if it isn’t the first time working together in a double battle. 

Raihan makes a call, Leon responds, Charizard takes flight and Vibrava’s wings flutter and shake the ground. The little dragon dodges a swipe from the opponent’s partner with an impossible twist and Charizard’s there in the very next second with a slash of his own to end the battle. 

Sonia doesn’t cheer, but her little group of assisting Shiiontic do. The couple - their fans - thank them for the battle graciously before they head back from where they came and leave Leon and Raihan standing along once again.

“Pokegram, huh?” Leon asks with a sly smile on his face as Raihan’s rifling through Leon’s bag for some berries. Vibrava is clinging to his back once more, but this time right side up and excitedly looking over his trainer’s shoulders.

“Yeah, and apparently I’m Pokegram famous.” He stops his search long enough to level Leon with a false glower. “So think twice before you mock me, mate.” 

Leon just laughs and reaches over to unfasten the latch to the pocket he’s been searching for.

 

-=-=-

 

The next time Leon’s going through his backpack for Rotom’s charger, he comes across a pokeball he doesn’t recognize. Sonia looks at it curiously as well when he shows it to her.

Not hers, she tells him. And it’s definitely not his. 

He presses the button and when the white light fades, a pokemon that definitely is not Leon’s stares up at him.

“When did you get a Dreepy?” Sonia questions, setting the croissant she ordered back down on her plate. 

Leon frowns. “I didn’t.”

“Oh,” she says then looks around the café, maybe searching for someone frantically looking for a missing pokemon. 

However, Leon just shakes his head to himself, thinking of Raihan’s extensive rifling he’d done yesterday in the Tangle. He holds out a hand for the Dreepy to sniff at before it rubs its snout against it. “I’m pretty sure it’s a gift.”

Sonia catches on immediately. She picks her croissant back up and says, “I think he likes you,” then takes another bite.

Leon just shrugs, smiling a little. He always thought that had been obvious. 

 

-=-=-

 

Charizard makes quick work of Melony’s gym and in the cold, brisk mountain he’s standing outside the pokemon center when he gets a text.

Are you coming home for Hop’s birthday

Immediately, Leon feels a hot wave of shame roll over him. It’s not like he forgot; he has a reminder set in his phone for the day before and the day of. He had just been planning to make a phone call, though - he was halfway across the country after all. Getting back to Postwick from Circhester entails taking a three hour Flying Taxi all the way back to Hammerlocke, then taking the near two day train trip all the way to Wedgehurst, which means he would have to leave tonight at the earliest, and -

The shame turns into guilt. Leon knows the only reason his mother thought to ask is if Hop has been asking her. And isn’t Leon the type of person to travel across the country for his little brother?

Of course, he sends back. 

He brings it up to Sonia and she phrases it as“We should leave now, then” rather than“You should leave now”. Leon expects that, but he still finds it in himself to be relieved and grateful. Hammerlocke was a huge city and train stations always confused the hell out of him. On top of this, Sonia was always better at deciphering what the stop announcements say exactly; they were just garbled messes to Leon.

Raihan is quiet when they’re discussing it, so Leon asks, “Did you wanna come?” 

“I doubt your mum would appreciate you bringing a random kid to her house,” Raihan says when he realizes that, yes, Leon was talking to him and that, yes, it was a serious question.

“They’re going to have a barbeque for the party,” Sonia tells him knowingly. “They always make too much food, having more people show up will probably do them good.”

He hesitates some more until Leon finally relents. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“He does,” Sonia states confidently and ignores the looks she gets from both boys. “We’re going to miss the train if we stand here all day mulling it over.” 

She sets off in a march after pulling the collar to her thick, green coat up higher to shield from the air. Leon and Raihan hang back and watch her go. 

“You don’t really have to,” Leon tells him, trying hard to convey how genuine he was. The last thing he wants to do is make Raihan uncomfortable or make him feel like he needs to do something he doesn’t want to.

But Raihan has already recovered. His grin is back and his eyes are bright when he shrugs and says, “Sonia said I had to. Don’t want to piss her off.” 

Sonia has hailed a taxi by the time they reach her. The cab is small; Sonia and their backpacks take up one seat and Leon and Raihan fill the other side. Their knees bump against each other, the frosted-glass windows fog up from the close proximity, and soon the cold is no longer a bother.

“If we have time, we should stop at the salon when we get to Hammerlocke.”

Leon barely stops the eye roll he feels inside of his soul. “Didn’t you just get your hair done?”

“I meant for you. Your gram is going to lose her head over how long you let your hair get.” 

That was a bit of an overreaction. It’s hardly even past his shoulders.

He doesn’t answer, but she must glean his reluctance from the look on his face because she shrugs with a long-suffering sigh. “Fine. Just don’t act surprised when they complain about having a caveman for a child.”

For some reason, he finds himself looking to Raihan for help. Surprisingly - or maybe not surprisingly - he gives it to him.

“I like your hair,” he tells Leon sincerely as he lifts one shoulder up in a shrug of his own. 

Leon turns back to Sonia and smiles at her like he won something. She doesn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes.

 

-=-=-

 

They arrive at Wedgehurst late in the evening a day before Hop’s birthday. Raihan looks like he could cry from relief at being able to fully stretch his legs out, practically jumping from his seat the moment the train stopped.

Sonia splits off before they head into Postwick, tells them that she wants to see her own parents, visit her grandmother. When Leon asks her if she’s coming over for the party tomorrow, she looks at him like he’s said something ridiculous. 

“Of course we are. Gran loves that kid.”

Leon leads the way to Postwick with Raihan following wordlessly. He imagines the little village is quite the sight to someone who’s seeing it for the first time, but Leon wouldn’t know. The first time he’d seen anything beyond his hometown and its neighboring city was only months ago when he’d embarked on his gym challenge. He remembers always being a touch jealous of Sonia when she was allowed to travel with her grandmother. But it was never enough to stop him from hanging off her every word when she described all of the places she had visited, the pokemon she’d seen, the accents she heard.

He was so excited to leave his little bubble of Postwick; he isn’t really too sure on how he’s feeling now that he’s back.

The sprawling fields seem to catch Raihan’s eyes, because he’s staring at the expanse of them. Leon looks, too, wondering if he’s thinking about letting his pokemon out to run and play to their heart’s content just like Leon is. It’s a tempting thought.

Raihan must feel his attention on him, because he looks at Leon with questioning eyes, and suddenly it’s so jarring to see him here, walking along the stone walls on Leon’s path home, his silhouette up against the yellow grasses of Postwick’s autumn. He’s realizing it means something, being here together, and Leon’s about to open his mouth - to say thank you, maybe, for coming along. Or to ask if he’s sure he wants to do this. Something, he just wants to say something, but a shriek of his name catches the words in his throat.

A figure starts up from the bottom of the hill, sprinting on small legs, screaming, “Lee!” once more. There’s no fighting the grin that overtakes Leon’s face, not even the bite of the gravel when he kneels down with open arms to accept the hug his little brother throws himself into. He buries his face in the crook of Leon’s neck, arms wrapping around his shoulders as far as they could reach and squeezing with all the strength the little five year old could muster.

“You’re home,” Hop practically yells, muffled by Leon’s shirt. Then, with energy he envies after such a long journey, Hop pulls out of the embrace to stare up into Leon’s eyes giddily. “Can I see your Charizard? I watched all of your matches - sometimes mom records them, too, when Gramma remembers to delete her soaps off the box. Did they let you be champion yet?”

“Not yet,” Leon tells him, fondness coloring his smile. “I came home for your birthday, Scotch.”

“It’s tomorrow,” Hop tells him seriously.

“It is,” he agrees.

The house is as he left it, big but cozy with family. His mother hugs him the second he steps in the kitchen and so does his grandmother, but not before - as Sonia had expected - commenting on the length of his hair. His grandfather has some sort of marinade he’s preparing tomorrow's barbeque in up to his elbows, so there isn’t a hug from him but he does offer a huge smile and the obligatory “Good to see you, boy ”.

Leon almost forgets that Raihan is there, but then his mother looks him up and down - mostly up - and says, “You got tall, Sonia.”

He grins at her. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“This is Raihan,” Leon tells her. “He’s my - “ And he stops on the word friend, because it feels only like a half truth. It throws him off guard, something that’s rarely done, so he looks to Raihan - who only looks back at him - and tries out, “Rival.”

It seems like everyone but Hop catches the strange hesitance. No one says anything. No one but Hop, coincidentally, who just helpfully adds, “I’ve seen him on the telly, too.”

“You’re a gym challenger, son?” Leon’s grandfather asks.

“Yes, sir.”

“He’s got a Flygon,” Hop says. He’s by their mother’s side in the very next second, pleading, “Could we go outside so we can play with them? I won’t get dirty.”

It honestly looks like it physically pains her to refuse him. “It’s too dark out, Hopscotch.”

Leon can’t fault her. Looking out the window above the sink shows him that the dusky blue sky has darkened to a near black. “We’ll go out first thing tomorrow,” he promises. “Maybe when we’re out there we can find a pokemon of your own to play with.”

The way Hop’s entire face lights up is almost enough for him to miss the way his mother’s lips purse together in a thin line. From the corner of his eye, he catches his grandmother and grandfather sharing a look. 

“Really?” Hop presses.

“Leon,” his mother warns.

“It’s his birthday,” Leon defends. “It won’t be for battling! Just to keep him company now that I’m gone.” 

It’s a little conniving of him, to do this in front of his little brother rather than ask in private. He might feel bad about putting his mother on the spot like this later, but in his fifteen years of being her son, Leon knew that two pairs of pleading golden eyes were harder to say no to instead of just the one. 

“Nothing too big,” their mother finally says on the exhale of a deep, deep sigh. Leon grins and Hop looks like he’s about to scream from elation. “And nothing messy! But before you even think about that, you think about getting ready for bed. I’m timing how long I hear the water running,” she calls out after Hop as he takes off for the stairs, sounding like an entire herd of Tauros as he does. “So don’t think about just sticking your head under and thinking I won’t know!”

She turns on Leon next, sending him a heated look that he knows isn’t all that genuine. Still, he’s at least self aware enough to smile sheepishly at her. “Thanks, mum.”

“‘Thanks, mum’ is right,” she snaps with no real bite, turning back to the dishes she must have been doing before they’d gotten in. “Are you boy’s hungry? We could put some leftover dinner in the oven, it would only take a few minutes.” 

Leon looks to Raihan again, taking in the tired set to his mouth and the dark smudges underneath his eyes. After the three days spent cooped up like they were, Leon feels much the same.

“Nah, I’m pretty knackered. Think we’re just gonna turn in early for tomorrow.”

His mother nods in understanding. “Okay. There’s extra blankets in the hall closet.”

Leon shoulders his bag and heads for the stairs, Raihan right behind him, and his mother’s voice stops him again.

“It’s good to have you home, dandelion.” 

The tone says a lot more than her words and it has Leon’s hand tightening on the railing before he catches himself. He forces himself to relax it, keeps on going without a response.

He can tell his grandmother has been in his room while he was away because the bed is made and there isn’t a speck of dust on the books filling his shelves. He drops his backpack onto the floor by his desk with a heaving sigh and crosses the room to collapse into his bed.

The sound of his desk chair being kicked out tells him Raihan is taking a seat, and when he pulls his face up from where he’d buried it in the blanket, Leon sees the grin on his face. He’s immediately reminded of the Purrloin downstairs and the look she’d give him after she’d stolen his lunch. 

“Dandelion, huh?” 

Leon returns his face back to the blankets so Raihan can’t see the way his cheeks heat up. He didn’t even notice his mom had called him that; he’d been too caught up on something else. “Shut up,” he groans into the mattress.

“It’s cute,” Raihan says through a snicker. 

Shut up.”

“Sorry, I mean no disrespect, dandelion. Where’s that closet your mum was going on about? I don’t want to accidentally waltz into your nan’s room.”

“Oh,” Leon pushes himself up onto his elbows and does his best to stifle a yawn. “I’ll get it. You can take the bed.”

Raihan lifts his brow, giving a disbelieving look to Leon’s bed. “You havin’ a laugh, mate?”

He looks at it too, not getting the problem. “No?”

“I’m not about to spend the night in your child-sized bed after being folded up in a train.”

Oh. Yeah, Leon supposes that can be a problem for someone other than him - especially one as tall as Raihan. He’s had the same bed since he was about seven, he thinks, but it doesn’t bother him. He tends to sleep curled up on his side; maybe the habit stemmed subconsciously from the small space. 

“Leon.”

Right. He yawns again. “Sorry, yeah. Are you sure?”

Raihan smiles at him, crooked and sharp. “Yes, dandelion, I’m sure.”

 

-=-=-

 

He wakes up on his own but still feels like he could sleep for another fifty-four hours - at least fifty-four. The mess of blankets that used to have Raihan hidden underneath them were now folded and stacked on top of the pillows he used as well on the desk’s chair. Leon sits up and takes stock of that and the clothes he remembers Raihan wearing the day before spilling out from his backpack, the guest towel hanging from his open door. 

The sun is high enough for him to tell that it’s pretty late in the morning; late enough for Raihan to be awake and for his mother to offer a hot shower that he’s already finished. 

Leon pulls himself out of bed, but only because the thought of a hot shower sounds heavenly

He gets dressed and after about twenty minutes of trying, he can’t be bothered to towel dry his hair anymore. So, when he’s grabbing a hoodie from his closet he also pulls down a hat from the high shelf and taps it against the doorway to dislodge any dust. It’s an old one and simple, plain white with a black brim, and it doesn’t necessarily match his shirt - which doesn’t exactly match his joggers - but it’s fine. It’s whatever. He’s just wearing it to keep his damp hair out of his face.

He carries his shoes with him downstairs and goes into the living room when he hears Hop’s voice in there rather than the kitchen. His brother is sat on one end of the couch closest to the kitchen with his back to Leon, still in his pajamas but looking wide-eyed and lively as he speaks rapidly. Raihan is across from him on the other couch and Leon stops at the very sight of him - at what’s curled up comfortably on his lap. 

Purrloin lifts her head, narrowing her eyes and effectively announces Leon’s presence to Hop and Raihan. His little brother and him share a look, Leon’s concerned and Hop’s doing everything but outright saying, "I know, right?”

Raihan sees this and stops his petting along Purrloin’s back, to her disapproval. “What?”

“Nothing,” Leon says slowly, but sits next to Hop and gives the pokemon a wide berth as he does. How her eyes track his movement make him feel like he’d been smart in giving her her space. 

He begins pulling on his shoes, unlacing them and tugging them on and tying them one by one. The earlier shower washed away most of his grogginess, but there’s still enough left over that the process feels more tedious than it should be.

“Happy birthday, Hop,” he says in the middle of it, sending a smile over to him.

Hop’s returning smile is so big the force of it nearly closes his eyes until it’s replaced by a severe expression. It’s near comical on his boyish face but Leon succeeds in not laughing at him. “We’re going to get a pokemon today, aren’t we?”

“As long as mum hasn’t changed her mind, so you better get dressed before that happens.”

In a whirlwind of unnecessary fervor, Hop is running upstairs. The movement causes Purrloin to shift and stretch out, one paw in particular spreading out with its claws extended. She growls softly in annoyance but ultimately settles once more, leaning back against Raihan and closing one of her eyes. The other barely stays open and it’s set on Leon, like he’s someone that needs watching. 

 

-=-=-

 

Charizard, fierce and loyal, stands over Hop wherever he wanders to.

The fields are wide and open, but they’re full with Leon and Raihan’s teams, and Hop looks like he’s having the time of his life. He goes from climbing on to Raihan’s Torkoal - who so graciously lowers himself and steadily rises appropriately to make it easier for the boy - to jumping off the pokemon’s shell in order to see the biggest distance he can cross. Dreepy is draped across his neck, acting more like a scarf than a pokemon, and doesn’t even stir at the constant jostling.

Flygon hovers above them, swooping down at every leap like maybe he wants to try at catching Hop out of the air. The way Charizard huffs every time he draws too close deters him, though, and honestly - with how high Flygon likes to go - it might be for the best.

Leon and Raihan watch from close to the edge of the fields. Leon’s leaning back against one of the stone walls, arms crossed over his chest, and finding that his little brother’s smile and laughter is far too contagious. Raihan is crouched down in front of Leon’s Fraxure and running his hands along the impressive length of the pokemon’s tusks. Fraxure is obviously enjoying the treatment, leaning forward into the contact with her little arms hanging limply from her sides as she purrs at every pet. 

Off to his left is Gigalith soaking up the feeble sunlight that Postwick’s early afternoon overcast provides. Equally unmoving is Aegislash, who’s looking the part of a discarded sword and shield from where he’s leaning up against the rock pokemon’s side. If it weren’t for the gentle rippling of the cloth that hangs from his hilt, it would have been hard to believe he were a living pokemon at all.

If home were more like this all the time, Leon finds himself thinking, he would probably miss it more often.

“She’s about to evolve, I think,” Raihan suddenly announces, drawing Leon from his thoughts. 

“Hm?”

Raihan straightens, much to Frazure’s dismay. “Her tusks are starting to curve, see? They’re not growing straight anymore. That usually means they’re close to evolving - unless it’s not from lack of maintenance, but I don’t think that’s the case since she’s a little diva.” 

Fraxure pouts at the comment but doesn’t argue, since it’s very, very close to the truth.

“Sometimes I forget you come from a family of dragon type trainers,” Leon says. He smirks into the sidewards glance he gives the other. “Y’know, on account of you only having the one. If only you had something like a Dreepy, then you having all this dragon knowledge would make sense.” 

Raihan seems to be thrown off only for a second before grinning himself. “And miss out on your little brother wearing him like a decoration? No chance, mate, wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t given him to you.” 

Leon narrows his eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Raihan shrugs. “My dragon’s fully evolved. You’re two behind by the looks of things.”

He sputters. “Wh - you just said Fraxure was about to evolve, and Dreepy - “ Leon stops. Dreepy was a different case, which - okay, Leon supposes he could admit that maybe he spoils the little dragon too much. He was just so small compared to the opponents they were going up against recently. Battling wasn’t something Leon let him do very often, but he always watched from his perch on Leon’s shoulders. They trained, as well, in their own time and it might take them longer, but it was better than the poor little thing getting hurt. 

It’s a little obvious now that maybe Charizard gets his overprotectiveness from his trainer.

“Uh huh,” Raihan says, far too pleased with himself.

Leon huffs. “Why don’t we battle then?”

“Oh, trying to show off now, are you?”

“You just were - Raihan!”

He jerks forward from the other pulling the brim of his hat up and off his head. Flygon’s attention is on them immediately from Leon’s sudden shout and he’s flying over to snatch it from the air when his trainer tosses it to him. 

“See?” Raihan asks when Leon tries to grab it from the pokemon, who slips around the attempt like water against wind. “You’re too slow.” 

The hat gets dropped on Hop’s head with a happy chirping from Flygon. Momentarily blind from the way it covers his eyes, Hop loses his balance and slips from Torkoal’s shell but is instantly righted by Charizard, steadying him with the flat of his head pressed to the boy’s back. Charizard is not nearly as amused as Hop is.

“You’re just afraid you’ll lose again,” Leon sniffs and pushes back the hair that's fallen into his face without the hat.

“I’m not afraid to lose to you,” Raihan replies earnestly, far more serious than Leon expects. “You’re the most fun I have when battling.”

Leon’s breathing stumbles in his chest. He doesn’t know why that feels like such a compliment. 

 

-=-=-

 

By nine o’clock in the evening, Hop’s slumped over his Wooloo and is dead to the world. Leon carries him up to his room across the hall from his own, Raihan behind him and cradling Wooloo, who’s also passed out from the amount of chasing he’s done today.

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” Leon asks after he sees the gentle way he lays the little pokemon down close to Hop’s side so the boy can wrap his arms around him. 

“Nah,” Raihan answers. He’s still whispering, even though Hop’s door is closed behind them and they’re in Leon’s room where the adults downstairs can’t hear them. “Just me and the Deinos.”

Leon supposes that isn’t weird. Raihan wouldn’t need practice for something like dealing with kids; everyone likes Raihan. It’s easy for him to get along with anyone - or anything, if his grandmother’s Purrloin is anything to go by. 

“And your indoor Trapinch, apparently.”

Raihan laughs. “Apparently.” He drops the neatly folded blankets back onto the floor, stacking three of them on top of each other before laying down with his pillow and duvet. Sonia had told them they were to meet her at Wedgehurst at six in the morning for the earliest train; Raihan is smart for wanting to turn in.

Leon kicks off his shoes, leaves them by the door, shuts off the light, and collapses into his bed. There’s a gentle glow coming from his and Raihan’s phones on the desk sitting side-by-side, charging using the same outlet. Leon’s curled up on his side and staring up at the ceiling that’s bathed in the light and watches as the colors change. 

“Hey.”

Leon makes a small grunting sound to convey that he’s heard Raihan speak. 

“Remember when you asked me if my parents were cool with me leaving home for the gym challenge a while ago?”

The colors go from green and yellow to red and purple. “Yeah.”

“I never asked you if your family was cool with you leaving.” 

There’s a pause, a long one. The colors change once more, syncing up for the first time in a matching orange. In the warm light, Leon breathes in deep through his nose and releases it with a short, “No. Not really.”

He hears Raihan shift and Leon catches his eyes with Raihan’s, as bright as their phones even though they’re a bit muddled from tiredness. “Why?” The question is so quiet, so soft.

“I think they’re afraid I’ll be like my dad,” Leon tells him. It’s the first time he says it out loud - the first time he’s even lets himself think it. But it’s always been there, in the back of his head when he gets those texts from his mother when she’s checking in, the words on the back of his tongue when she tells him ‘It’s good to have you home’. “My mom used to say he didn’t like living around here. One day, when I was ten, he just left.”

Raihan’s moving again. He sits up and folds his arms on top of Leon’s mattress, resting his chin on his forearm and touching at Leon’s wrist. He doesn’t say anything, just keeps watching the other.

“I don’t really remember him,” Leon says, even though it’s not true. He remembers his father just fine when he lets himself think about it, which he doesn’t do often. Truth be told, he just wasn’t looking for pity. Still, he turns his hand around and holds Raihan back. “I’m not like him, either. I mean, I left, but I’m not going to disappear. I wouldn’t do that to them - definitely not to Hop.”

“I know,” Raihan whispers. His voice is low in the dark room and Leon realizes how close they are.

And Leon is struck with a strong urge to touch him, so suddenly that he doesn’t think twice about doing it, just reaches out with the hand that isn’t holding Raihan’s and cups the other’s cheek. Raihan leans into the touch, turning into Leon’s palm just a little bit, enough to where Leon can feel the warmth of his breathing against his skin.

He runs the pad of his thumb down the straight, long line of Raihan’s nose and says, “I’m glad you slept in on registration day.” 

Raihan snorts, smiles at him with sleepy eyes and says, “I’m glad you got lost, dandelion.”

 

-=-=-

 

When Leon wakes up Raihan is still there, still asleep, and still holding onto Leon.

 

-=-=-

 

It’s a little bit of a relief to get back to traveling, even if it means sitting on a train for hours again.

Raihan splits off from them at Hammerlocke, which doesn’t surprise either Leon or Sonia. He offers an explanation, though. The wild area; he wants to train for the last two gyms and maybe catch some new additions for his team. 

“I think it’s about time,” he comments as he’s seeing Leon and Sonia off in their Flying Taxi. “Someone told me I didn’t have enough dragons.”

Leon sits opposite Sonia with his head leaning on the window for as long as he can until the glass gets too cold in the Circhester air. They’re quiet, but Sonia isn’t keeping her attention on her pokedex like usual or looking over her notes app on her phone and editing research she’d stored there. About an hour into the flight, Leon realizes that she’d spent that same amount of time switching between bouncing her leg and gnawing on her bottom lip. Her hair twisting was a constant, though. She twirled it around and around on one of her fingers; Leon begins to worry she might accidentally pull it out one of these times she tries to untwist it. 

“If I tell you something,” she says suddenly when Leon finally decides it might be a good idea to ask what’s wrong, “would you promise to tell me something?”

“Uh,” he says back eloquently. Sonia is patient, though, waits for him to blink and make sense of the deal she’s just offered him. “I guess. Are you alright?”

Sonia takes a breath and in a rush says, “I don’t think I want to be a gym challenger anymore.”

Leon thinks about that for just a second and comes to the conclusion that he’s not all that surprised. “Okay. Being just a trainer isn’t a bad thing, Sonia.”

Her cheeks puff out with air and gives off the impression that Leon still isn’t getting it. “I don’t think I want to do that either.” 

“Oh.”

“Yeah,” she sighs. Slumping back into the seat. “It’s just - even though it was only a day, I kind of realized I missed home, like, a lot. And helping out my gran. But when I’m home, I still feel like I have somewhere I need to be. Like I’m late for something or missing out. You know?”

Leon absolutely doesn’t. In fact, he’s pretty sure he and Sonia were a few years off from having this sort of crisis. “I think you have a lot of time to figure everything out,” he tells her for lack of anything else to say.

“Maybe,” she says doubtfully. “I just wish I was like you - you know what you want to do. But Nessa said the same thing, so I guess if one isn’t right, two of you should be.”

“Who’s Nessa?”

“My friend I met back in Motostoke when you ditched me for Raihan,” Sonia replies without missing a beat. Her face is bright again, and Leon can’t tell if it was because of the mention of her friend or because - “Speaking of Raihan.”

There it is. Leon rolls his eyes at his friend but smiles anyway.

“Look at you, you look like the Meowth that got the milk,” Sonia exclaims with a wicked grin of her own. “That’s what I was going to ask, what happened when you brought him home? What did your mom say?”

His head tilts. “Why would she say anything?”

Sonia’s face goes very blank. “Leon. You brought home the boy you’re dating.”

He tilts his head further and asks, genuinely, “Did I?”

For the first time that day, Sonia reaches for her phone and searches through it like she was about to make a point. It only takes a second, then she’s showing Leon the screen where she’d left it on Pokegram. It’s a selfie, one of Raihan’s, and Leon himself is in it but he’s not looking at the camera. He recognizes it as the morning they spent in the field, leaning up against the stone wall where Leon had been smiling as he watched Hop. Raihan was leaning to get the shot, somehow capturing the infrequent sunshine well enough to reflect in the blue of his eyes, the gold of Leon’s, and the white of the little sharp canine that sits next to the barest hint of the tip of his tongue. 

The caption is wordless and bare except for a single yellow heart.

Didn’t you?” Sonia asks, sounding smug.

Leon shakes his head. “I didn’t even notice he had his phone, how did he do that?”

“So are you or aren’t you dating?”

“I don’t know,” Leon says truthfully. It’s not something they’ve ever talked about and it isn’t something Leon was particularly worried over. They didn’t call themselves anything and they were pretty content with the way things are. It’s easy this way, because everything with Raihan is easy. Battling, talking, smiling - it was all simple. There isn’t a need to change it right now. His focus should be on his team and on the gyms he has left to battle, then the championship. Everything would come after, if it had to. It’s easy to leave them as Leon and Raihan for right now, because that’ll always be true; underneath anything they add on later, Leon will be Leon and Raihan will be Raihan and he’s pretty sure that’s their favorite thing about each other.

Sonia seems flabbergasted at this, shaking her head and flipping her phone back around so she could text someone. Leon doesn’t pay attention; he retrieves his own phone from the front pocket of his backpack. The first thing he does is install Pokegram, the second thing he does is follow Raihan.

The last thing he does is save the picture.

 

-=-=-

 

Leon emerges from the Hammerlocke stadium locker rooms - from his last gym battle - victorious. Through the glass doors of the lobby, he can see a collection of League fans gathered by the drawbridge leading into the castle and he can see them waving at him, smiling, cheering.

He sees them all, he waves back to them, smiles back, and thinks, This is it. He turns from them, doesn’t stop smiling, and heads back into the stadium where he’ll watch Sonia’s battle, then Raihan’s, and thinks, We’re gonna do it.

 

-=-=-

 

Of all the things that Leon dislikes the most about Wyndon - besides the massive size of it, of course - is the pure gaudiness. The hotel that the League Staff set the gym challengers up in is called the Rose of the Rondelands. Leon, quite honestly, doesn’t really know what that means.

It’s bathed in red and gold, the lobby’s floor sparkles like the neon lights outside, the rooms are as big as Leon’s entire first floor back in Postwick. There’s only four gym challengers left, so they can’t be too worried about expenses, but the luxurious suites have Leon feeling tense. He’s spent months shacking it up in tents or on the couches of pokemon centers; for some reason he expects everything he touches in the hotel to come away with a layer of grim in the shape of his hands. 

Though, seeing Raihan scuff his shoes against the bare tile as often as he could while they checked in made him laugh and eased the tension a touch. 

Despite the bought privacy, Raihan still ends up in Leon’s room when they’re meant to be sleeping for their matches tomorrow. They’re spread out across the huge mattress; Raihan lying along the foot of the bed on his back scrolling through his phone, Leon reclining against the headboard with one leg drawn up to rest an elbow on and the other dangling off the side of the bed, and Drakloak curled around every pillow he could gather from the bed and in the closet. The Dreepy it had adopted - somehow, at some point, without Leon noticing - is snoring in the craddle of the bigger dragon’s tail.

“Do they heal your teams in between matches?” Leon asks, breaking the long and comfortable silence they’d been basking in.

“I believe so,” Raihan says. He looks away from his phone and shifts his gaze up to Leon. “Why? ‘Fraid you might have to do some last minute shopping in the metropolis?”

“Yes,” he answers, gravely serious.

Raihan snorts and goes back to scrolling. “You’ll be fine, mate. Just stressing over nothing.” 

“Probably,” Leon admits with a sigh. He turns Charizard’s pokeball over in his hand and stares down into the worn-red surface of it. 

He feels a big, warm hand wrap around his ankle and give his leg a little shake. When Leon looks up, though, Raihan’s still focused on his phone.

“I think you’re ready,” he states, sounding sure. 

For a moment, all Leon can do is blink at him, but Raihan doesn’t notice the weight of Leon’s surprised gaze. Which means that he doesn’t have to go to extra lengths hiding the gratified smile growing on his face. Still, he turns it back to Charizard’s pokeball in his hand, just in case.

Raihan doesn’t pull his hand away, so Leon sits there with a thumb pressing gently into the bone of his ankle through his sock. It rubs absentmindedly and Leon keeps smiling, figures that, yeah. He’s as ready as he’ll ever be.

 

-=-=-

 

The matches start during the early afternoon, giving tourists and fans enough time to locate the stadium and fill the stands. Upon checking in, Leon is split from the rest of the challengers and is led to his own locker room, which is big enough for his entire team to join him in his waiting. He suspects that the space is meant for many more people, given the walls lined with empty lockers. He heard some of the league officials talking before in the lobby - apparently, this was the fifth year in a row where less than twenty percent of the gym challengers that had signed up made it passed the eighth gym. They were used to a few dozen challengers, matches that spread out over the course of a week or two. There’s talk of the Officials thinking about adding in fixed trainers, like gym leaders and diplomatic guests from other regions.

Today, though, there is only going to be four matches. 

His match was second and against a girl named Nessa. Sonia’s friend. A water type user, from what he knows. Leon had conveyed this to Charizard when he’d found this out and his partner huffed, lifted his head defiantly. 

There was a giant flat screen hung up on the wall by all the exercise equipment, displaying the field outside and the battle taking place. Raihan is up two against Sonia. Leon can hear the cheering from underground. His new team member is Duraludon and it towers over everything on the pitch even without the power of dynamax. Filming drones sweep by it and it’s mostly motionless until Leon sees Raihan’s mouth move in a command. Then it seems to glide, just flashes of sunlight off metal sheen across grass - and it’s still once more, a burn glowing from the divots on its head. 

Leon doesn’t realize that he’s leaning forward until it cuts away from Raihan and his Duraludon. He blinks, focusing himself again, and forces himself to stand from the bench and face away from the screen. Rhyperior grumbles at him and straightens as well, Leon’s hat still hanging from the tip of his horn.

He laughs and takes it from him. “Thanks.” 

Rhyperior grins and looks back at the television over Leon’s shoulders. Behind him, Charizard still lingers around the spot Leon had been sitting, eyes also glued to the screen. Haxorus, Dragapult - even Aegislash, from where he was leaning against the treadmill - all of them silent and watching with wide eyes and intense interest.

Leon grins and is very, very excited to battle.

 

-=-=-

 

Nessa, like the ocean, is a force. 

Her calls are sure and concise, her presence bigger than herself and imposing. Still, she falls, because Leon is a fire that can’t help but burn.

 

-=-=-

 

They’re allowed an hour break in order to rest their teams and themselves, for the attendees to stretch their legs and get refreshments. Ten minutes before he’s due back on the pitch, Leon sits alone on the bench in his too big locker room with Charizard’s pokeball grasped in one hand. 

The screen above is muted now and playing back highlights from the matches that had already taken place with some thoughts from the commentary desk sprinkled in. The subtitles scroll across the screen in black boxes. Leon catches the words explosive and potential and the best for last

“Challenger Number One?” 

Leon looks up at the League Staff whose head is the only part of him that’s poking through the doorway. 

“The Chairman is just about finished his speech. You might want to head into the tunnel for your introductions.”

Leon stands. “Okay. Thank you.”

The Chairman’s voice is clear and booming. It echoes over all the murmurings of the crowd as they ooh and ah at all of the right moments. Leon doesn’t know the Chairman from anything besides the billboards he’s seen in the bigger cities. Apparently he’s got something to do with the new energy plant that runs straight out of Hammerlocke, and the major fishing and shipping companies in Hulbury, the brands that fill the racks in every boutique across the region, the sparkly hotel that the League stationed all the gym trainers in - anything you looked at in Galar, it’s likely to have the Chairman’s name on it.

Except for Postwick, Leon mentally corrects. There wasn’t much there to make money off of. The Chairman hasn’t bothered with Leon’s hometown much, so he had very little reason to bother with thoughts of the Chairman.

But now, looking out from the tunnel and at the man who’s looking incredibly posh in an off-gold three-piece suit that could probably cover his mother’s rent for a good few months, Leon’s still finding he doesn’t have much of an opinion of the man.

This might be on account of him trying his best to look around the Chairman, passed him and through to the other side of the field where his opposite’s standing just beyond in a dark tunnel of his own. Leon’s never heard a crowd like this one before and all he wants to do is see how Raihan is handling it. He wants to see his smile - that one that’s crooked and sure, sharp and confident - because it makes Leon’s own smile come easier.

His hands are fists by his sides when the Chairman calls his name. He’s not as tall as Leon had originally thought when he gets close enough to shake the man’s hand. The Chairman stands only about an inch or two higher than Leon himself. He takes Leon’s hand gently in his own and it’s soft where it isn’t adorned with rings, just like his smile when Leon meets his eyes.

Raihan, Number 241, is called on. The Chairman has to look up to him but he smiles the same. With a hand on either of their shoulders, he turns Leon and Raihan to face them toward each other and in the quiet where only the three of them can hear, he tells them, “You must be proud to have made it here. No matter what, boys, both of you are making history tonight.” 

Leon’s fists relax and he breaks out into a smile he can’t control. History was being made the moment he left home; he’s going to show the Chairman that. He’s going to show everybody. 

The Chairman touches at his neck and his voice is loud once more, playing from the arena’s speakers. “It’s with great pleasure that I announce the start of the semifinals! There’s not a doubt in my mind this will be a battle to remember.”

He nods at them pointedly and they extend their hands, grasp them tightly. They’re wearing the customary trainer gloves, but Leon knows Raihan’s hands aren’t soft like Chairman’s. They’re calloused from the training and care he’s put into his pokemon, the work back home he’s told Leon about late at night when neither of them can sleep. They’re big, warm, and his palm fits against Leon’s so nicely.

“Good luck, Raihan.”

“You as well,” he says back. His fingers tighten around Leon’s once before he lets them go and adds, “You’re gonna need it, dandelion.”

There’s rapid popping sounds and the lights on the stadium’s floor go off and the pitch is covered in a layer of smoke. Leon moves like he was told to, over to his side of the battlefield as the Chairman makes his retreat out of sight into one of the tunnels. Ahead of him, Leon can see the white glow of a pokemon being released onto the field. His hand ghosts over his belt and he retrieves the lead to his team.

The smoke clears. Aegislash is a barrier between Leon and Gigalith - between him and Raihan. The harsh lights glint of his polished shield, off of Gigalith’s crystals. 

The crowd screams and Leon feels like his heart finally starts beating.

He trusts in Aegislash’s defenses enough to withstand the immediate attack Raihan must order, because rocks are being thrown their way not five seconds the referee calls the start of the match. They bounce off the surface of Aegislash’s shield and do very little to harm him. Leon hesitates to take solace in this, because when the rocks hit the ground, they scatter and grind hard into the dirt, jagged and pointed ends facing the sky. 

Those are for Charizard, he thinks to himself distantly as he throws his arm out, calls a command to his pokemon. One of the pieces of cloth wraps around his shield and Aegislash is unsheathed with such a brilliant shine that the crowd reacts with more booming yells. 

The sword comes down on Gigalith and it nearly does it in - it should have, but the pokemon’s always been too stubborn to know when to quit. Gigalith slides back from the impact and Raihan’s mouth is moving but Leon can’t hear it, only knows they’ve made a move when Gigalith roars and the dirt he’d kicked up begins to swirl - begins to move.

Leon shouts for a King’s shield, but the Sand Tomb moves like a whip and cracks against Aegislash like one, too. He sees how the cloth winds tightly around the pokemon’s shield and the shock of the attack is already behind them. Leon orders another Sacred Sword and this time Gigalith falls.

They’re even soon, because Raihan sends out Sandaconda next. He dives into the dirt before he even lands from his pokeball and then explodes from the ground in the middle of the battlefield. The sudden shifting creates a miniature fissure and from the crack flies out dirt, clay, rocks, sand - all of it edged with orange embers. 

Aegislash stumbles from the Earth Power and Leon recalls him before he can lose the grip on his shield. 

Sandaconda follows up with this by taking out Haxorus, and then finally crumbles to Leon’s Rhyperior who is bested by Torkoal, of all things. Dragapult cleans up for him, though, and Leon breathes out something shaky. Jittery. His hands are fists by his side again.

It’s two to two, now.

Raihan surprises him; sends out Flygon even though he’s got another pokemon left on his belt. He’s agile, practiced, and relentless, dodging every attack Dragapult hurls at it and swiping at his opponent the very second he sees an opening. 

Finally, a billowing spout of fire catches Flygon, knicks it enough that it slows and Leon yells for a Shadow Ball. It connects, lays Flygon out hard on the ground, and it’s finished when Dragapult attacks once more.

For someone with only one pokemon left, Raihan looks anything but backed into a corner. His eyes are alight with something that Leon might have been able to mistake for giddiness had he not battled him as many times as he has. Or know him like he does. It’s a little like determination, but it goes deeper - like veins under skin, or bone under veins. It’s something that’s built into him; a desperation, a want, a primal need

Raihan sends out Duraludon and the pokemon moves so fast, Dragapult probably won’t know what exactly happened to him when he wakes up later. 

Leon recalls his pokemon. A well-loved pokeball replaces Dragapult’s and he hesitates. Ahead of him, he sees the way Raihan’s jaw is set, the slight frown that pulls his mouth downward. 

Despite the piercing of stones, Charizard’s roar is without pain and deafening, the beating of his wings like hurricanes. Leon stands through it and feels stupid.

Everything was going to change. It hadn’t connected like it should have before, because he knew it was going to end up like this. Leon knew, without a single doubt in his mind, that he and Raihan were going to meet this way - they were rivals. They pushed each other too hard for anything else. Yet, somehow, the levity of this battle still manages to catch him off guard.

It’s both of their dreams to be here, to have climbed all the way from the bottom with tight fists and bared teeth side by side until there was no more ground to cover. Until they were at the top. And here they were, looking down at everyone but each other, until one of them couldn’t anymore. 

Leon squares his shoulders. He tries not to think about being terrified at the feeling in his chest that tells him he’d rather die than lose. He doesn’t want to delve into this, certainly not now of all times. The feeling burns in him like a fire, though, and it adds on, you’re not scared you thought it, you’re scared you don’t regret it.

It tells him, you’ll win because you’re meant to.

It tells him, you’re going to show them what it’s like to be strong.

And Leon listens, because he isn’t about to give any less of himself because he feels guilty. Raihan wouldn’t want to win that way, he knows. Leon is going to win tonight. He’s going to win, and it’s going to be at the expense of someone he cares for so deeply. Leon’s going to achieve his goal, live out his dreams, and to do that he was going to have to ruin Raihan’s.

Everything is going to change after this and Leon is terrified, but there’s a thrill in something like that.

 

-=-=-

 

Leon’s left his team with the nurse stationed outside his locker room. He keeps his head down as he weaves around League Officials. It’s a little lucky they made such a mess out of the pitch; everyone is in a rush to get it presentable for the finals they aren’t likely to catch sight of Leon sneaking around them. 

He shouldn’t have left his locker room, he knows, but the silence without his pokemon was too much. The need to talk to Raihan was too much.

Still, he hangs back at the entrance of Raihan’s locker room. He’s nervous, he realizes, for the first time in what feels like forever. Most of him wants to do this, to meet up with the other like they always did. A smaller part, albeit a loud one, has him freezing before he’s even through the threshold.

Maybe he doesn’t want to find out how everything’s changed. Leon doesn’t want to show himself to Raihan just because he knows he’s going to scrutinize the way he’s looked at, mark the changes to find out how he’s going to cope with them.

Leon doesn’t want to risk it. He doesn’t want to find out he won’t be able to cope. 

Then he hears shuffling and the distinct grumbling of something large. It’s answered by a smooth, low voice whispering, “What are you moanin’ about? You were amazing.”

It’s incredible, really, how just the sound of Raihan has Leon drawn in. He steps forward and he finds the other immediately, sat on a bench with his back to the door and his entire focus on Duraludon. There’s singed, black scorch marks across the steel plating of its body that Raihan is attempting to buff out with a rag. Duraludon is staring down at its trainer silently now, looking put-off by the attention but also apologetic. Leon only catches the fond gaze for a moment, because the pokemon’s eyes harden and land on him right as he steps fully into the room. 

Raihan turns. He doesn’t scowl when he sees Leon. He doesn’t smile either, though. Leon doesn’t say sorry. He doesn’t gloat. They stare at each other for too long and Leon realizes that Raihan must have been wondering the same thing, as well. How different were things going to be? Were they going to survive it?

“Are you allowed to be back here?” Raihan still isn’t angry, but - thank Arceus - he isn’t carefully emotionless like Leon feared he might have been. His tone holds his playful nature and Leon feels something in him loosen.

He shrugs. “Nobody stopped me.”

Raihan stands, scoffing. “Who could?”

Leon smiles at him and wonders how it looks; if it comes off either preening or sheepish, or maybe as relieved as he feels. They let it go quiet again, but it doesn’t bother them, it doesn’t matter, because they’re looking at each other and it tells them all they need to know. 

Raihan has lost before. He’ll keep losing until one day he doesn’t. Losing doesn’t matter to him. Beating Leon does. Tonight won’t change them because it hasn’t changed them before.

Above them, the crowd starts another uproar. People are probably looking for Leon. 

“You’re gonna win this thing,” Raihan tells him. He’s grinning, crooked and sharp and sure. “You owe us that much. ‘Sides, I think beating Champion Leon sounds a lot better than beating regular ol’ Trainer Leon.”

Leon huffs and in that second, he forgets that his whole life is about to change in the matter of minutes. In that second, he’s just a kid talking to one of the greatest people he’s ever met in his whole life. “I’m not gonna lose to anybody.” 

Raihan doesn’t miss a beat. “You better not.”

 

-=-=-

 

Confetti falls in sparkles of blues and reds and golds. Lights burst above the arena and against the night sky, painting the stars the all kinds of colors.

Leon’s staring straight ahead, right at the spot where the champion’s last pokemon used to be right before he recalled it. In waves and smoke, the gigantamax power seeps out of Charizard and the flames that danced along his wings go out in wisps. Once he’s able to move freely without the worry of harming anything, he’s taking flight on his bare wings, soaring across the pitch and to his trainer. 

Leon turns - the fallen confetti is disturbed once more, lifting back up and splitting away from the speed Charizard’s flying - and it feels like his legs give out the very second Charizard is there to sweep him off his feet. Leon’s lifted probably uncomfortably high in the audience’s perspective but he’s too busy yelling, wordlessly, into his partner’s embrace. Around them the confetti starts dropping in embers because Charizard is roaring, too, his excitement conveyed in the bouts of flame he spits in between each yell.

Eventually he’s back on the ground, and the commentators are saying something Leon can’t hear, and the Champion is saying something Leon can’t comprehend. He just smiles, because that isn’t hard to do at all, keeps smiling and nods when the Champion - the ex Champion - looks at him like he should be.

They grab his arm, the one with the wishing star wrapped around his wrist, and raises it. Leon catches sight of himself in the giant screen hung from the arena’s wall. Charizard stands just behind him, and they’re dusted with red, with blue, with gold.

And they’re victorious.

 

-=-=-

 

There aren’t any interviews after the match; Leon knows enough to find this strange. There should be reporters and cameras all vying for his attention, asking questions, begging for his first thoughts, wanting his opinions. It’s a little relieving to not be bombarded when he feels like he’s on such a high, every single one of his senses heightened almost dangerously.

So he’s glad the screaming for his name was reserved to the fans, but he’s wondering if there’s a catch. 

And there is, standing there waiting for him as a League Official is leading him back into the tunnels for his locker room. The Chairman with soft hands and softer smiles and green eyes that were so wet they almost looked tearful. Beside him stands an impressively tall woman with features so severe they should probably deal some sort of damage just from looking at them too long. 

“Challenger Leon,” the Chairman greets once the League Official stops them just in front of the two. His tone is agreeable and hearty so Leon keeps smiling. “No, let me correct myself - Champion Leon, our youngest ever. Congratulations, my boy. That was an amazing battle.”

“Thank you, sir,” Leon says.

The Chairman’s smile goes warm. “Please, just call me Rose.”

Based on the pinched look the woman standing next to him sends down to Leon, he feels like he’s just received a suggestion he was absolutely not meant to follow. 

“There’s a few things we must discuss, but that can wait for another time,” the Chairman continues. “First, we’ll have you escorted back to the Rose of the Rondelands. I’m sure no one could disagree with me when I say you and your pokemon have earned some rest.”

Leon, confused, can only nod. Did he miss something? Did becoming champion earn him some sort of charity nobody told him about? Or did he just impress the Chairman enough? Subtly, he looks to the League Official standing next to him; he doesn’t seem surprised by this interaction. If anything, he seems a little too preoccupied in staring at the spot above the tall woman’s head, which puts his gaze just below the ceiling. 

“Excellent.” The Chairman pulls out one of his hands from his pocket and extends it out to Leon, who takes it politely. The man smiles and his eyes sparkle. “I’m excited to work with you, Leon. There’s a lot of potential here, and there’s more greatness yet to come.”

He leaves off on that relatively cryptic statement, spins on his heels and heads down the rest of the tunnel, out of sight. The woman stays behind, though, and that terrifies both Leon and the League Official.

“Take him to gather his things from the locker rooms. I’ll send some of my staff to bring him to the hotel. Once they relieve you, you return to your usual duties.”

The League Official still doesn’t look at her. “Yes, ma’am.”

She never says anything to Leon, hardly even spares him a glance. But she’s gone soon, too.

Leon doesn’t see anyone besides those in uniforms as he makes his way to and from the locker room. When he’s changed back into his clothes, hat back on his head, and his phone dead in his pocket, Leon emerges and is greeted by four other Officials. They’re livelier than the one from before, and they gush over the battles the championships held today as they rode the strange, glass elevator all the way across the city. Leon contributes when he can; he’s still overwhelmed and flying somewhere between the stars and the clouds. He’s looking down, though, at the streets of Wyndon full of people all bathed in the lights of the night and the fireworks that pop from every corner of the city.

From the elevator, Leon is tucked in the middle of his little entourage and they shuffle him around the courtyard. He can’t see much through or above them, but it’s quiet at first until they must get noticed. More flashes join the fireworks and he can hear the clicks of the cameras the flashes belong to. A rush of talking starts at once and not a single one of the voices are discernable from another. The Officials keep forward, their demeanor much different than moments ago. They remind Leon a little bit of the woman that accompanied the Chairman, so he looks forward as well.

The Rose of the Rondelands is like being shut away into a world much more shiny and much more quiet. The first thing he does when he’s alone in his room is stand in the middle of the wide space and breathe. 

This morning, he woke up Leon. He answered a text from his mother, hung out with Raihan and Sonia, and struggled to eat his breakfast from pure anticipation that built after the promise of an exciting day. Now, he was champion. He apparently has a meeting with a very important CEO in the morning, for something he couldn’t be sure of. Outside, fireworks were going off for him. People were battling on the streets because something he did exhilarated them enough to forget public decency. Roads were full of a surging crowd, music blasted from every open window, pokemon and people are celebrating an excellent night because their new champion changed history.

And now, he was meant to go to bed.

Leon shudders as something moves over him, something that feels gross, bad. Like disappointment. Quickly, he shakes it off, and drops his backpack onto the floor and kneels down to start rifling through it for his phone charger. Once his phone is plugged in and laying on the bedside table, he’s pacing, looking around for something - anything - to do. The velvet red curtains are drawn closed and opening them to get a look at the reporters outside and just the rest of the world in general feels like such a very bad, very poor idea right now. Still, the thought crosses his mind. 

The kitchenette has gone unused during his stay. He hasn’t even looked inside the fridge and he seriously doubts it’s fully stocked. That seems like it would be too much, even of the Rose. He thinks about the jacuzzi tub and the full shower in his bathroom and resolutely decides not to open the fridge.

He drinks from the faucet in the kitchen, cupping his hands and collecting as much as he could before bringing it to his mouth. The shaking of his hands as he does so tells him it would have been stupid to find a glass in one of the cupboards. It definitely would have ended up in pieces on the tile and Leon’s sure that would have done something to him. He just feels so off, now that it’s all said and done. He feels unfinished. He feels - 

With wet hands, Leon pats the sides of his face until his cheeks sting. He breathes through his nose and clenches his hands by his side. He was better than this. He’s just shown everybody that. It’s just the residual high from an intense battle. He just needs to sleep it off, or something.

When he goes to his bed, he doesn’t lay down in it. Instead he looks at his phone, pressing the home button and finding it turned on and at half battery. He’s got texts from his mother, from Sonia, even from the Professor, who Leon’s never seen ever holding a phone before. 

Sonia’s is mostly a collection of capital letters and exclamation points that get calmer the longer Leon scrolls down.

Where are you??? Me and Nessa are on fifth street by the guy in an electabuzz costume playing the banjo
We need to celebrate !!
Okay i forgot you’re busy, i should’ve probably guessed that, mr champion
Text me when you can, dinner’s on you since youre rich now!!!!!!!!
We’re still celebrating in your honor

The last text is a selfie of Sonia and Nessa with their cheeks pressed together, smiling widely in front of the aforementioned man in an Electabuzz costume with a banjo. Leon laughs a little at it and shakes his head before moving on to the text from his mother, which is a long paragraph about how proud she is of her sweet, little boy

The attached video is of their living room. The white walls are doused in yellow from the warm lamp light and on the floor sits Hop, draped over his Wooloo and screaming his heart out. Through his mother’s tearful laughter, the phone shakes just enough to show the telly Hop’s sitting in front of and - though it’s pixelated to hell, bless his mother’s outdated phone - Leon can make out the shape of himself on the screen. His hair’s full of confetti and he’s sweaty, but Hop cheers for him all the same. 

Leon watches it about seven times in a row, sitting on the edge of his bed with his hand over his mouth so he doesn’t have to see the big, goofy smile in the screen’s reflection. 

The knock at his door comes suddenly and with no warning that Leon jumps so intensely the phone slips from his hands. Rotom catches itself, though, and floats gently to the bedside tables as Leon stands. A part of him is a little leery; he’s positive the scary woman hadn’t mentioned anything about being picked up once more tonight. Besides, the Chairman had talked about needing rest or something. Maybe room service was at the wrong door, or the hotel staff were doing last rounds before curfew. 

Leon opens the door and probably should have figured it would be Raihan standing on the other side of it. 

“‘Ello,” he says with the usual upturn to his mouth. “I wasn’t sure if you’d be here, but - “

Leon cuts him off, throwing himself into Raihan who readily meets him in such a fierce hug, they nearly stumble back into the hallway. He buries his nose in the shoulder of Raihan’s hoodie, feels a hand at his neck that pets through his hair and an arm that winds around his waist.

“You did it,” Raihan tells him, so close that Leon can feel him say it, how it rumbles from his chest.

“I did it,” Leon repeats and now, for the first time, it starts feeling real.

“C’mon,” Raihan says after a few very long moments. He doesn’t let Leon go because Leon doesn’t let go, but he does start walking them further into the suite so he can shut the door behind him. “I still need to give you something.”

He looks up to give the other a questioning look and once he extracts himself from Raihan’s hoodie, the hand in his hair retreats. Fingers ghost along his jaw and move along the line of it until they reach Leon’s chin, tilting his head up even further. 

“Raihan,” Leon whispers.

“Just say no if - “

Leon doesn’t. Leon kisses him.

It’s one of the messiest things he’s ever done in his whole life, but there’s a new kind of warmth in his chest that has him focused on anything but that. He’s paying attention to the way Raihan’s lips are a little dry, but how they’re smooth and soft against his. He’s paying attention to how Raihan’s hand is pressed to the small of his back, how his other one is brushing Leon’s hair from his face. It’s his first kiss and he knows he’s probably not any good at it, but it’s so, so sweet and he’s smiling into it and keeps on smiling when Raihan pulls away.

Leon thinks, wow. Leon says, “Wow.”

“Congrats on your win, Champ.” Raihan’s grinning, too, showing off that fang and something bright in the blue of his eyes.

Leon’s caught between wanting to kiss him and wanting to hug him again, so he settles on doing both. After pressing another chaste kiss on the corner of Raihan’s mouth, Leon wraps his arms around the other’s shoulders and squeezes until Raihan laughs.

“Alright, alright, you’ll kill me, mate - “ He writhes and gets his arms between him and Leon, shoving until Leon gives and allows space between them. “Why are you hiding away in here? Shouldn’t you be out, drinking illegally and celebrating?”

As he’s saying this, Raihan moves around him, kicking off his shoes and heading for the giant bed. He falls onto it and lands on his back, making himself comfortable and stretches out enough to reach the outlet Leon’s phones plugged into without actually having to sit back up. Leon follows suit; rather than walking around to the other side of the bed, though, he just climbs over Raihan and settles in next to him, sitting cross-legged and making sure his knee is pressed to the other’s thigh.

“I think that comes later,” he says slowly, obviously unsure. “That Chairman guy made it so no one would talk to me, then had me taken straight here.”

Raihan’s brow furrows at that. “Weird.”

“Right? Apparently I’m meeting with him again tomorrow - ‘there’s a lot to be done’.” He puts the last few words in air quotes.

After a thoughtful second, Raihan shrugs and says, “I guess that makes sense.”

“Does it?”

“Yeah, he might just want to run some rules by you so you don’t say anything you’re not supposed to. Y’know, keep it PG, don’t be rude, keep the League looking clean.”

Leon makes a face. “Why would he care?”

Raihan makes an equally confused face, but his is maybe a little suspicious, as well. “Are you having a go with me again? He runs the League, Leon.”

He does?”

Now that it’s all too obvious that Leon was absolutely not ‘having a go with him’, a laugh bursts out of Raihan’s mouth as he says, “Yes! What did you think he was the chairman of?”

“Wh - maybe one of his three million companies, Raihan!”

His indignance makes Raihan laugh even louder. “Why did you think he was announcing the starts of the matches? Did you think he was just a fan?”

“It’s the gym challenge,” Leon defends. “Everyone in Galar is a fan.”

“Everyone in Galar knows who the Chairman is, too. Didn’t you watch the old seasons back then?”

He did, but only when no one else was using the telly and the recordings were able to save on to the usually filled cable box. When he got the chance, he had the magical ability of fastforwarding, so he was always able to skip to the good bits - the battling - and even then, the sound was usually drowned out by a screaming toddler. 

Instead of saying that, though, he asks, “Does that mean he’s, like, my boss or something?”

“Dunno,” Raihan replies. “I think you’re just the champion. I don’t know if it’s a job or not.”

“I’m the champion,” Leon breathes out and it sounds like it hits him all at once, all over again. 

“You are.” Raihan pushes himself up to lean on one of his elbows, touching Leon’s hair again. “You were incredible, dandelion.” 

“Can I tell you a secret?” He asks. His hand goes up to grip Raihan, fingers wrapping around the crook of his arm. “If anyone remembers any of the battles from tonight, I hope it’s the one between me and you. You put up more of a fight than anyone.” 

He feels mean saying it, like he’s badmouthing their former champion. But Leon knows that - given the way Raihan pulls him down to kiss him, and how he can feel that sharp fang against his bottom lip - he would say it over and over again if he needs to. 

Besides, it’s true. There isn’t a single person on the planet that battles like Raihan does, Leon would bet his victory on it.

 

-=-=-

 

Rose Tower is bustling despite the ungodly hour of the morning.

From outside, the building loomed over Leon and it was honestly a struggle to look up at. Maybe it was his exhaustion, but it really did seem like it was going to topple over and on top of him at any moment. Inside it now, though, was a different story. The wide expanse of every floor halted at floor-to-ceiling length windows and outside of them were the rolling hills of Galar. 

It’s an amazing sight, one Leon stares at until the glass darkens and the only light now comes from the harsh ring lights set up in front of him. He blinks in surprise - and a little from the sudden stinging - and looks forward.

Thank you,” says the man holding a large camera. He’s dressed in all black with a crisp white scarf wrapped all the way up to his chin. The scarf is the only way Leon can see him, and the reflection of his massive thick-framed glasses.

“Sorry,” Leon mumbles, feeling anything but.

“It’s no problem.” It’s unclear as to which one of them Rose directs this to. Maybe it’s both of them. Next to him, the severe woman slides her phone back into her pocket.

Leon holds an aggravated sigh in his chest and bites the inside of his cheek for good measure. He hasn’t ever, in his whole entire life, ever enjoyed the morning in any capacity. Having to sit through it with a posh and haughty photographer wasn’t doing him any favors, either. Leon would much rather be back in bed, curled up on his side at the bottom of the mattress with Raihan somewhere up amongst the pillows.

But now he was here, in the gym challenger uniform he was told not to clean from the night before in order to make the photos seem more authentic, even though they were far from it. They were going to ‘touch up’ everything else, apparently; meaning that they were going to photoshop dirt and grime on after in order to sell the photos to publishers who were hand picked and ordered to write the articles about Leon’s victory. 

The sigh leaves his chest despite all of his efforts. Was he being ungrateful? The Chairman and his scary secretary could have left him all by himself to deal with screaming reporters and nosy journalists and flashing, insensitive cameras that would’ve led to many unflattering pictures. Sure, they are doing this for their own benefit - but it is mutually beneficial, at the least.

Leon shakes his head and takes another breath, pats the sides of his face in hopes that it’ll wake him up a little more. The Chairman is hardly paying attention when Leon dares to look at him; there’s a tablet in his hands and he’s scrolling through it with his ever-present smile. Scary Secretary is the one that notices him looking first, but her expression doesn’t change in the slightest. 

“Can Charizard come out?” Leon asks. 

The camera’s flashing pauses and the Chairman looks up from his tablet. Everyone in the room is looking at him, but his eyes are on Leon only. “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”

Charizard reacts about the same way Leon did when he’s retrieved from Leon’s bag and released onto the set. He blinks and lowers his head away from the brightness, mouth open a little to allow the confused and alarmed rumbles to spill out. Leon cradles his partner’s face in his hands and puts his back to the camera, effectively protecting Charizard from the sudden explosion of photos being taken.

“Hello,” Leon greets him, low enough so they’re the only ones who can hear. He scratches just below the horn where it meets the flat of Charizard’s head. He purrs in response. “You wanna help me get through today?”

Charizard nudges his snout against Leon’s chin and makes an agreeable noise. 

By the end of the shoot, the rest of Leon’s team is roaming around the set. They started out innocent and cooperative enough, but then the photographer started getting more imaginative and bold with his visions. He asked about Aegislash performing as a real sword and shield for Haxorus. Leon had tried to explain why this was a poor idea, but his pokemon soon displayed that it was a poor idea when it quickly turned into a game of catch with Aegislash’s shield acting as a frisbee. This was really only reserved to Rhyperior and Haxorus though, because Aegislash - bless him - was committed to his role and lay discarded on the set’s stark white floor until the scene was called. 

Dragapult and Charizard remained the most behaved up until Oleana had ordered refreshments. (Leon had learned her name when the Chairman had introduced her by saying, “Oleana, why don’t we get refreshments? ”) Dragapult hovered over the mini buffet that was delivered and mothered his two - two, now - Dreepy into picking at plates of anything they found appetizing. Charizard stayed close, but he was pouting into a bowl of Vanilluxe brand ice cream Leon got him after Rhyperior had accidentally stepped on his tail during one of the poses. Leon wanted to sympathize with him - and he did, really, but it was too hard to not smile at Charizard’s moping with his tail curled protectively around himself and a melted dollop of ice cream dotting his nose.

Surprisingly, though, the photographer seemed ecstatic with what he got by the time he left. 

Once he’s gone, Oleana unshutters the windows and the light of Wyndon’s early afternoon bathes the room. Leon and his team get a little bit of a break before the stylists come in, and he’s not even hiding that he’s dreading that. He goes over to the table of snacks and is followed by Rhyperior and Haxorus. Their game ended as soon as the windows reopened, Aegislash reclaiming his shield for himself and wandering over to stare out at Galar somberly.

Soon after, he’s swept up in measuring tapes and Kalosian accents that’s mostly directed either to each other or to the Chairman, so Leon only half pays attention. That is, until he hears one of them say, “Bone structure is great, creates such an interesting face shape. A cut to accentuate that would help - “

Leon jerks out from under the hand touching his hair and in doing so unwittingly upsets the measuring tape around his waist. 

“Uh,” and that’s about all he gets out now that five pairs of eyes on him. 

The Chairman makes a humming sound. “We’ll have to find a work around for that, I’m afraid. Seems like the hair is off limits.” He goes back to his tablet, now writing on it with a stylus, and leaves no room for questions or discussions.

This does not seem to bother the stylists. The measuring tape is readjusted, the chattering continues, and hands do not touch his head.

“It’s well taken care of,” the one who had been messing with it at first says. He sounds apologetic, and Leon appreciates it. “It just seemed impractical at first, but you must know how to manage it.” 

“Not really,” he admits with a bashful shrug. “I just wear a hat.”

Behind him, the woman who’s been taking the measurement hisses out, “Write that down,” to the other who’s been crouched over a knitting box full of thread and fabric swatches.

He must have a dubious expression on his face because he hears the Chairman chuckle. “You can trust them, Leon. We only employ the best, and that’s what it’ll take to create a long lasting brand.” 

Leon hears the term long lasting and grins. “Yes, sir.”

“Please, Leon,” the Chairman says, returning his smile. “We’re business partners, now. Call me Rose.” 

 

-=-=-

 

Days later, Leon gets a text from Raihan. It’s a selfie; most of his face is hidden behind an issue of PLG with just his eyes peeking out from the top. Leon can tell without even seeing his whole face that Raihan’s grinning in mischievous joy. 

this bloke kinda looks like you, reads the caption.

The cover of the magazine is of Leon from the photoshoot, himself and Charizard looking somewhere beyond the camera. Their eyes were eager and looking more relaxed and happy than Leon remembers being that day. The refreshment table must have just shown up; maybe that’s what they were looking at.

Don’t buy that, Leon sends back.

He gets an immediate response. nah I’m waitin for the j14 to come out so i can get one of those two page posters to hang above my bed

Leon laughs and shakes his head. You’re a git.

All that gets him is a slew of smiley faces and golden heart emojis.

 

-=-=-

Leon’s brand, according to the designers, is a child playing dress up. 

He’s escorted into Rose Tower a few weeks after the fittings and is once more greeted by Rose, Oleana, and the three chittering Kalosians that tended to him the last time. Along with them they brought what honestly looks like a portable wardrobe filled to the brim with the same uniform. That of which Leon has no problem with. It’s pretty standard, black with the gold trim and details, a sword and shield encrestened on the chest. Printed on the back of all of them and the matching white shorts is the striking 1 . Those are fine. Leon doesn’t mind those. 

The genuine, Wooloo wool cape , on the other hand, he’s a little hesitant on. Unfortunately, that’s what everyone else is the most excited for. 

It sits across his shoulders like a fifty pound itchy nuisance and looks just as gaudy as Leon had feared it would when he looks at himself in the mirrors they have set up around him. His eyes find Rose’s smiling face in the reflection and he sends him what he hopes is a politely doubtful look. He doesn’t really want to say anything, because the designers are right there and they’re fluttering about and taking notes and telling each other that their ideas were great and that they all did a good job and - 

“What do you think?” Rose asks him.

Leon finds himself under the gaze of five pairs of eyes and all he says is “uh” once more.

“We had the wool delivered,” Rose tells him as he steps forward and stands shoulder to shoulder with Leon. “Postwick raised Wooloo herded for shearing at our local farms recently established in Turffield. It seems fitting, doesn’t it? To have something from home. It’ll show the people of Galar that their champion is humble, that you remember where you come from while it still shows them what you’ve become.”

From where he’s looking, in his place next to Rose dressed immaculately in his silver suit, Leon can’t see a bit of home anywhere. Absolutely not in the deep, red fabric hanging from his back. 

“We’ll do the finishing touch ups. Have it sized a little better,” Rose tells him, but then also nods at the stylists like he was telling them also. “Then we can have it sent over for the printing - oh!” He spins on his heel and is making his way back over to his secretary. “Oleana, set a reminder, we’re to hold a meeting with the Electabuzzing and Breeze people today to finalize our advertisements.”

“Already done.” Her tone is blank and her expression does nothing to soften the inflection. Rose seems unphased. “And that’s tomorrow morning. The Litwick Wax Farm is tonight.”

“Oh, dear. Might as well start airing out the conference room now.”

Oleana nods, phone in her hand again. “I’ll send someone to open the windows.”

“In any matter,” Rose says, looking back to Leon. “Settling these deals will give us enough time to run you by a Public Appearance Coach. By the time everything is all said and done, we can set everything up to book a television special with Galar’s Global.”

Leon just nods dumbly. “Okay.”

“Perfect. I need to swing by my office and organize a few things for the coming meetings.” Rose turns once more and begins to head for the elevator with Oleana at his heels. “Finish up here, my boy, and we’ll see you there at once.”

With the owners of their commissions now safely out of earshot, the stylists talk more freely around each other. They don’t actively include Leon, but when he does end up saying something they all listen intently and sometimes they even take more notes. 

“Such a shame,” one hums. Leon knows her as the lead designer but has yet to learn her name. She’s holding the ends of the cape still draped across his shoulders and mournfully running her fingers along the red material. “I can’t believe they’re using my work as a billboard. Have they no vision?”

“I would think you’d be proud. Those companies are paying a lot of money to be on your billboard,” says the man who’d touched at his hair and nearly gave Leon a heart attack. His name is Lawrence, and Leon knows this for sure because it’s written across all the bottles of shampoo and conditioner he’s been sorting through the entire time, amongst plenty more hair products he’s desperately hoping are not coming home with him. 

“How’s the weight, darling? Kloe, see what we can do about the amount of wool we use - and what have I told you about the excess material in the shirt, it’s baggy at the shoulders. We do not accept baggy.”

The third stylist shrugs with a roll of her eyes, clearly exasperated. “He’s sixteen, he’ll grow into it.”

“He might not,” the other woman retorts. They all nod at each other sagely. More notes are taken. 

And Leon doesn't think that bothers him. The idea of still having more ground to cover, more expectations to meet up to - and then the possibility of not meeting them? It definitely has him pausing. He looks back to himself in the mirrors and tries to find what they must see. The uniform’s shirt is a touch loose. The shorts are a bit too long, like they expect him to get taller; his legs look too skinny in them. The cape threatens to swallow him whole. His earlier thought resurfaces. A child playing dress up. 

For a hot, shameful moment the thought sounds like, not good enough

But he is. Of course he is. He’s the champion, isn’t he? Leon looks up at his face, sees the hardness of his golden eyes, the set in his jaw, the furrow in his brow. He relaxes it and tries on a smile.

“Everything’s fine,” he tells the stylists. They all pause to look at him. “You all did great.” 

The second woman and Lawrence both glance at each other, chuffed. The main designer nods like she is as well, but she still asks, “But what about the cape, darling, is it too much?”

Leon shakes his head and straightens up as subtly as he can. “No, ma’am. It’s fine. Honest.”

 

-=-=-

 

He’s back in his own clothes in Rose’s office later when he asks about getting a personal trainer. Rose has some already listed, ever prepared. Leon hires the one Rose suggests first; a black belt from some important fighting dojo all the way over in the Kanto region. Leon’s never heard of it but Rose ensures him they’re impeccable athletes. 

Leon goes home that night smelling like fifteen different kinds of floral candles and carrying two bottles of shampoo, one bottle of conditioner, and the promise of another full schedule tomorrow.

 

-=-=-

 

The first time Leon goes home after becoming champion, it’s for business.

Rose and Oleana look incredibly and laughably out of place in his Postwick house. They bring along a briefcase with gilded buckles and velvet lining filled with pages and pages for Leon’s mother to look through and to print her name on when necessary. The way Rose had explained it on the Flying Taxi was that, because Leon was still technically a minor, they have to work around the legality of him being away from home while not technically on any registered gym challenge. It’s a new issue they’ve stumbled across, as Leon’s the youngest champion in Galar history, but at least it’s one they’ve already solved. 

It didn’t seem so bad, either. Leon would do everything he did since he took on the title, except now they were going to make time for lessons he’s missed out on while traveling and then continue them up until he was eighteen. All of this would be done in his own penthouse, apartment-esque suite in the Rose Tower until the summer month of August arrived. During that time, he’s to return home.

“Think of it as being sent to attend a boarding school,” Rose explained on the way to Postwick. “Except it’s more like champion school, class of one.” 

There were other things that need to be discussed, as well, like Leon’s new and decently sized income. It’s all left to be arranged by his mother, which he’s got no problem with. It’ll all be funnelled into a savings account that he knows he’s going to have to fight with her about it whenever she refuses to touch it for the first few months. He’s already got a plan for this; he’ll play dirty and bring up Hop as often as he has to until she caves and takes what she needs.

Leon lets the adults sit around the dining room table to discuss the adult things. He takes his little brother out to the fields to play.

Hop and Wooloo have a game they play; it’s a form of jump rope where Hop stands in one place and Wooloo rolls back and forth in one long line and Hop is meant to jump over him as he passes. They’re very proud of this game so Leon is proud with them. 

“You’re not staying?” Hop has to ask, though, when it’s getting late and they see Rose and Oleana being delivered to the front door of the house. 

Leon kneels down and pulls his brother into a hug, hides his head underneath Leon’s chin so he can’t see his face. Just like their mother, he’s not even close to being immune to Hop’s soulful eyes. Leon knows that if they’re looking at him when he answers, he’ll do something stupid like lie and say, yes, of course I am

“Not this time, Hopscotch.” He doesn’t let go until Hop does and struggles not to look at the disappointment he finds in Hop’s frown.

When they reach the front lawn, Leon hears Rose having nearly the same conversation with his mother. “We wouldn’t want to trouble you any further, miss,” he’s saying with a polite bow of his head. “Enjoy your dinner, I’m sure it’ll be lovely.” 

Leon’s mom thanks him quietly and there’s a troubled crease in her forehead. 

Oleana leans forward and covers her mouth with a hand as she whispers something into Rose’s ear. He nods back.

“I must thank you again for your hospitality, miss, but we really must be going.” To Leon, he says, “There’s a taxi for us at the bottom of the hill. We’ll see you there and let you have your privacy.”

The troubled look on his mother’s face does not lessen even when Rose and Oleana are passed their yard’s gates and halfway down the road. “I thought the gym challenge was too long,” she begins, crossing her arms and cocking one hip. “Now they want to take you for the whole year?”

“Not the whole year.” The look that earns Leon is, in one word, unimpressed. He swallows but presses on. “At least they’re letting me finish school.” 

“Your school here is just fine, and you got to come home every day.”

Whatever Leon might have said next gets caught somewhere in his throat. He knows where this is coming from. He knows why his mother is worried. He knows that when he left that they closed the door to his bedroom. He knows that if he were to look upstairs now he’d find it closed again despite leaving it open when he’d left once more with Raihan. His mother is used to hiding things that are missing, Leon knows. He knows he’s not making this easy on her. And yet, she’s signed the papers Rose carried with him in his expensive briefcase. She’d allowed Professor Magnolia’s written letter of endorsement to be handed to him. She let him leave home once, and she was letting him leave all over again. It has to mean something, with how much it must hurt.

Leon snaps his mouth shut and he crosses the space left between him and his mother and gathers her into his arms like he’d done to Hop minutes ago. It’s then that he notices that, at some point during his journey, he’s become taller than her.

“I’ll come to visit,” Leon tells her, tone heavy with the resolve of someone determined to make something work. 

He feels her chest expand with a deep, deep breath. “I know you will. And if I feel for a second that they’re not treating you right - that you're losing weight or not getting enough sleep or anything - I’m coming up to Wyndon and taking you home myself, Chairman Rose be damned.” 

He laughs. “Okay.”

Her arms tighten around him for a second before she pulls away and takes his face in her hands. She looks at him for a long moment and Leon lets her. “I am proud of you. Don’t ever think I’m not.” 

Leon swallows again, and takes a moment to make sure his voice doesn’t warble when he says, “I love you, mum.” 

“I love you, too, my little dandelion. Every day, for all my life.” 

Thankfully, when he slides into the Flying Taxi’s cab, neither Rose nor Oleana mention how Leon’s face is wet and how his eyes are a little too red.

 

-=-=-

 

Leon’s Public Appearance Coach is honestly not the worst person he’s had to work with since becoming champion. After the first initial months where they relentlessly scolded him for mumbling - something he did often, apparently - and for his posture, they actually did more good than bad. That is to say, he saw the most progress in a shorter amount of time.

They incorporate different reading and podcasts into his lessons to help naturally broaden his vocabulary, taught him where to look on a person’s face so it appears like he’s looking them in the eyes, how to stand straighter without it looking forced, and where to pull his voice from his chest so it came out stronger and louder. It helps a lot and it builds Leon’s confidence as he’s in front of groups of people and several cameras more often than not these days. That, and the books they recommend aren’t actually terrible. Rose notices him reading in between meetings one day and that night a bookshelf that takes up most of his wall is installed into Leon’s “dorm”.

They also debrief Leon on important parts of his public image - most importantly, the display of his personal relationships. His personal relationships. Leon is mortified the entire time. They teach him what to do when his younger fans interact with him, how to respond to lewd comments when he gets them, not if, when . They make sure he knows that it’s absolutely crucial that he’s to go through them if he ever wants to actually date anyone.

Leon’s given a genuine, printed list of criteria for potential people he might be interested in in the future. He reads “Must be willing to sign an NDA” and promptly stops reading. He also does not say a word to the Coach about Raihan. 

The black belt, Hitoshi, isn’t bad at all, either. He averages about three words a sentence and hits like a Machamp when they spar, sure, but Leon loves the work. Without being out on the road and also not allowed to battle anyone unless it was scheduled and processed through the League, sessions with the trainer are just about the only times Leon gets to train with his team.

Every night, he goes up to his “dorm” with pleasantly burning muscles and sits on his floor with his laptop to finish up his lessons. It’s easier to do them down there where he can recline against the foam roller he stretches his lower back out with when it gets too tense after a workout. He downs about two bottles of those fancy, electrolyte-enhanced waters that fill his fridge and eats whatever was sent up from the kitchens that day. He goes to bed, wakes up before the sun, and meets Rose and Oleana in the big office on the top floor to follow them around and meet whoever he needs to. 

By the end of the year, Leon’s public ratings are positive, he’s adored in households, speaks clearly when conversing with sponsors, and fills out the baggy uniform shirt just fine. 

Throughout the day, whenever he finds himself pausing and is able to look at his phone, he always has a text from Raihan. Taking selfies with pictures of Leon he finds around his town has become a trend with him; Leon gets one almost every other day and they never fail to make him laugh. His favorite one so far has to be the one he got last month. It was a billboard advertising the beginning of the new season of the League with Leon and Charizard posed dramatically. Raihan’s hand was held up and the pic was framed in a way to make it look like he was poking the tip of Leon’s nose.

The attached text read, this guy kinda cute, might have to join the gym challenge to get his autograph

Leon hasn’t seen him in so long and sometimes those texts do more harm than good. They get in a few calls if they’re lucky and Leon’s all caught up on school and Hitoshi doesn’t keep him after, and they talk for longer than they really should. Because when Raihan tells him good night, calls him dandelion in his sleepy voice, and ends the video chat, Leon misses him so much it feels like it might start physically hurting him. 

The first time they see each other in person is a couple of months after Leon’s seventeenth birthday. It was in the middle of the season and gym challengers were floating about Hulbury in preparation for their battle against Kabu. Rose deems this a fine time to make an appearance, but Leon suspects it’s mostly for the Captain’s Table because it’s the first stop they make when they get there.

Leon texts under the table the whole time, for once grateful of Raihan’s inability to put down his phone. About half an hour into the meal, he gets the one-worded message that just says “here” , and Leon immediately excuses himself as politely as he can before heading toward the back of the restaurant. He makes sure no one is looking at him, ignores the bathroom he claimed to be going to, and walks straight out the employee only door that he knows leads into the back alley by the docks. 

Raihan’s hoodie is a pale blue with yellow hems and drawstrings. Leon grabs him by it and pulls him down so he can kiss him. Distantly, he hears the sound of his hat hitting the pavement when Raihan’s hands push into his hair but he doesn’t care about it too much. He’s got a million like it back home. 

“Did you win?” Leon asks when they finally break apart. His lips tingle a bit from where Raihan’s fang pricked at them.

“‘Course I did,” Raihan says and he’s grinning down at Leon. “And you better watch out, because after I’m done running through the rest of the gyms again, I’m coming for that ugly cape of yours.”

 

-=-=-

 

“Where’s your hat, Leon?” Rose asks later as they’re on their way back to Wyndon.

Instinctively, Leon reaches up to touch the brim but finds it missing. “Oh. I, uh, I must have left it in the bathroom.”

Oleana seems far from convinced, but Rose at least smiles his passive little smile and looks back down at his phone. “You should be more careful. You might forget something more important, next time.” 

 

-=-=-

 

Raihan does actually end up being the one Leon faces in the grand finals. He doesn’t win, though, but Leon does, so there’s still a cause for celebration. 

It takes them a while to actually get around to it. Now that Leon’s well versed in interviews and photoshoots, they start right away instead of a month after. There’s endless press conferences, television appearances, autograph signings, meet and greets, radio interviews - it’s a whole whirlwind. Leon doesn’t see his “dorm” for two weeks.

When he finally gets a night off, he smuggles Raihan home with him. Leon’s still a few weeks away from eighteen, but Raihan is ahead of him on that front and he’s got a bottle of - of something stuffed in between his clothes in his backpack. Whatever it is, it’s loads better than the wines they pass around at parties Leon’s forced to attend, or the piss-yellow champagne in skinny glasses they deliver by the trays.

“The new filters kinda suck,” Raihan’s saying from where he’s sprawled out on Leon’s living room floor. He’s got the foam roller underneath him, moving his hips over it by gently pushing off his heel and rocking back and forth. His phone’s in front of his face in order to mess around with a selfie he’s working on posting to his pokegram. “The only good thing to come out of this update was dark mode, to be honest.”

Leon grunts in response. He hardly ever uses the app to know better. Most of his accounts are run by management, pokegram included.

“Remember that one time they updated and said they changed the font? And everyone got so mad about it that they reverted it within the week? I didn’t even notice a difference.”

Leon doesn’t remember. He sits up enough on the couch to drag their shared drink closer to him, takes a few pulls, and then settles back down with the bottle. “Y’think they didn’t change anything, said they did, then just didn’t do anything when people got mad but said they did?”

Raihan lowers his phone to stare up at the ceiling thoughtfully, seemingly processing the words that came out of Leon’s mouth. Leon himself, upon reviewing what he’s just said, has to think back and make sure it was appropriately coherent.

“Maybe,” Raihan says. He taps once on his screen and then lets his phone go for it to drift safely onto the floor. “Maybe it was like a test, y’know, like, maybe they wanted to see how people would react to it but didn’t want to do the work if they were just going to have to change it back - “

As he goes on, Leon’s phone buzzes from where it lays on the armrest of his couch. “Hold that thought, Raihan,” he says, reaching for it and swiping the new notification on screen. “My boyfriend just posted on pokegram and if I’m not one of the first hundred to like it he gets mad at me.” 

“I do not.” 

“You do,” Leon tells him solemnly all while trying to stifle a teasing smile. 

“I don’t.” Raihan pulls himself up so he’s leaning over Leon’s lounging form. “You’re just saying that so you don’t look creepy for having me on notifications.”

“Am not.”

“Uh huh,” he says, then kisses Leon before he can argue. 

Raihan’s mouth tastes like what they’ve been drinking, but his lips are still soft and they smile against Leon’s when he sighs into them. He rests his palm on the back of Raihan’s neck and tilts his head for him, gets Raihan where he wants him so he can deepen the kiss. The movement drags a noise deep from the other’s chest, quiet and subdued, but Leon still picks up on it, runs his tongue along Raihan’s bottom lip so he can hear it again.

As expected, Raihan groans a little into Leon’s mouth, and he’s moving as he does so, climbing up fully onto the couch and getting a knee between Leon’s. His kisses trail off from Leon’s lips, traveling down to his jaw then along the line of his neck where sharp canines ghost at the junction between it and his shoulder.

“Not too hard,” Leon whispers on a short breath. The way he tilts his head and shows the teeth more skin does very little for the severity of the admonishment. “I have somewhere to be tomorrow.” 

A huff, and the rush of air tickles at the spot below Leon’s ear. “You always have somewhere to be,” Raihan mutters, but he listens - or tries to, anyway.

The collar of Leon’s shirt gets stretched from where it’s pulled off to the side and he feels so pleasantly warm with alcohol burning in his system, with Raihan’s comfortable weight on top of him. He’s been to parties, to parades, to fairs, to planned events at malls - but this will always be Leon’s favorite way of celebrating, even if it is weeks late and a little messy.

He’s mumbling out words to Raihan and he can’t recall them as soon as they leave his mouth. But he knows he means them, and Raihan must know that, too, based on how he melts against Leon. There’s fingertips rubbing at his hair and a palm sliding up his forearm. The skin that it passes over is left searing and Leon pushes into the hand that’s petting at his head, gives more room to the mouth at his neck. He threads his fingers in between Raihan’s - 

Something hits the floor and instead of making a dull thud, it crunches. 

Shit - “

“Sorry,” Leon’s saying before he really even knows what’s happened. He sits up with Raihan, who leans over to pick up the half-filled bottle Leon had forgotten he was holding. Underneath it is Raihan’s phone. Leon’s eyes widen in drunken horror. “Oh no - m’so sorry, I didn’t - “

“S’alright,” Raihan tells him. He sets the bottle upright on the floor and picks up the phone. “Rotom?”

It lifts up from his palm, thank Arceus, but when it’s screen lights up, it displays Rotom’s tearful face that’s heavily marred by a spiderwebbed crack. 

Oh no,” Leon coos, reaching out for it and feeling dangerously close to tears himself. Rotom flies to him and settles into his hands where it vibrates with sniffles and he cradles it underneath his chin, repeating his mantra of “I’m sorry ” to it.

An arm goes around Leon and he and Rotom are being pulled into Raihan’s chest, which effectively hides his face from the former. Leon doesn’t think this too odd at first - if anything, he’s a little relieved that Raihan wasn’t upset or angry. But then he notices the way Raihan’s shoulders are shaking, and when he tries to pull away to look at him, Leon’s met with resistance. 

“Are you laughing at us?” 

Raihan doesn’t lift his head up, so his answer is muffled. “No.” He certainly was.

Leon pouts. “Raihan! Your poor phone - “

“It’ll be fine,” he says gently, to both Leon and Rotom. “It’s not the first screen I’ll have to replace and it’s not likely to be the last. Or, actually, I could just move ‘im over to my old phone since the new one is coming out in a month.” 

On the screen, Rotom’s expression perks up.

“Thought you’d like that, you spoiled brat,” Raihan chides mirthfully. Leon still doesn’t say anything, though, so Raihan mimics the frown on his face,  traces the line of Leon’s with his thumb. “I’m sorry I thought you freaking out was cute and that it made me laugh.” 

Leon can’t help it; he smiles. “I’m sorry I broke your phone.”

We broke my phone, dandelion, you can’t keep taking the credit for everything all the time.” 

 

-=-=-

 

The next day, Leon gets to hair and makeup almost a whole hour late. He’s been fighting wave after wave of nausea to the point where Oleana’s intense stare does very little to intimidate him in any way. He does, however, have enough wherewithal to spare a little but of guilt for the crew working on him. They busy over the dark circles under his eyes and try to correct the ruddiness of his cheeks.

One takes a look at the red, purpling mark on his neck and swears loudly. 

Leon feels Oleana’s glare on him like he feels the pounding headache he’s had since he woke up. Neither of those things make him regret the night before. 



-=-=-

 

By the time Leon turns twenty-one, three big things happen:

One - Rose succeeds in distributing clean energy to over seventy-eight percent of Galar, with a projected increase that climbs as the days go by. 

Two - Leon maintains his title, making him the second longest reigning champion. In two more years, he’ll take the title of longest.

And three - Leon and Raihan pass their five year anniversary. 

Getting plastered in Leon’s apartment - one that he rents out himself now that he’s able to live on his own - is a tradition they save for Leon’s victory in the finals of the league season. For this special day, they still hide away in his apartment and try to work together to cook the fanciest meal they can think of, eventually order takeout, then ask Sonia for that year’s most popular romance movie and provide commentary in hopes of getting the other to laugh. 

The issue with this is, however, that with the aforementioned clean energy project of Rose’s, they’re exceptionally busy. Now that he doesn’t need chaperoning Leon’s been delegated his own schedule, which often has him traveling from city to city to meet with boards and councils. There’s a lot of old history in Galar and few places are ready to see some of its land converted to Rose’s receiving plants. Leon gets sent to sway them as he’s been deemed “so well liked”. The translation to that was “powerful”. Because while few people were hesitant to say goodbye to history, even fewer were willing to say no to the champion. 

Leon isn’t fond of using his title like this. Rose calls it persuasion. He sees it more like manipulation. Everytime he leaves a meeting and he’s able to relax the Champion Leon persona, he finds that it gets harder and harder to put it back on.

So, even though he’s incredibly, horribly late, he’s relieved that he doesn’t have to wear it anymore tonight. He’s going to go home and make it up to Raihan - for not showing up three hours ago like he was supposed to and also for having to reschedule tonight four times.

But the bad taste the day left in his mouth must have distracted him more than he initially realized. It hits him maybe a little too late that he’s been walking for longer than he should’ve been. His apartment is only half a block away from the train station. Looking down at his phone tells him it’s been thirty minutes since he left it. 

At that point, it’s just so late and Leon is so ready to be home, he calls out Charizard for help. Dutifully, the pokemon soars up high enough to gather his own bearings, then lands back down next to his trainer and, beckoning Leon with a nod of his head, begins to make his way home. 

The door is unlocked when he gets there, but it looks like Raihan is getting ready to leave when he opens it.

“Oh,” they say at the same time.

Leon shuts the door before anyone in the hallway can see them. “Sorry, I’m here - I got in like an hour ago, but I think I went down the wrong street getting home. It’s been a long day, but - I’m here - “

Raihan interrupts him, and it sounds like it takes a great effort to do so. “Actually, I’ve gotta go.”

Before he can catch himself, Leon’s smile drops with his shoulders. “Oh,” he says again.

Raihan nods. “Yeah. I’ve been helping dad around. There’s some eggs that’re about to hatch, you know what kind of hassle Axew can be.”

Leon does know that. He also knows that Raihan’s lying to him. It’s obvious in the way he refuses to look at him, just keeps his gaze down low on the doorknob behind Leon. 

“Oh,” he says once more. Then, “You’re mad at me.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you are,” Leon insists. He moves passed him and ventures further into the apartment. It’s smaller than his “dorm” in Rose Tower, so it only takes a few steps for him to be in the dining room. 

Raihan doesn’t leave even though the exit isn’t being blocked. He turns around and watches Leon shed his cape and toss it over the back of a chair. “You can’t just tell people they’re angry.” 

“I wouldn’t have to if you told me the truth.” Leon can tell Raihan’s gritting his teeth by the way his jaw moves. “You’re mad at me,” he tells him levelly. 

It’s quiet until, “A little bit.”

“I’m sorry, I should’ve texted you - “

Raihan scoffs and shakes his head a little. “That wouldn’t’ve stopped you from being late.” 

Leon blinks at him. Something that’s hot and feels like static curls on the back of his tongue. Subconsciously, he’s crossing his arms over his chest. “Of course it wouldn’t have. I can’t help everything else - it’s my job.”

"That,” Raihan bites out, “is not a job. A job doesn’t take you to every city in Galar within a week. It doesn’t have you awake twenty hours a day for seven days a week. It doesn’t drive you to getting lost in a city you’ve lived in for four years. A job is what I do, or your mum - it’s not supposed to kill you the way it is - “

Don’t talk like that. I’m fine. Things will slow down once this energy business is all said and done.”

“That doesn’t mean anything, you know it doesn’t. Rose’ll just have another Rome for you to build - Leon, things were meant to slow down years ago.”

He closes his eyes and presses the heels of his palms into them until colors start to pop around in the black. “What do you want me to do, then?” The question is quiet and it betrays Leon’s neutral tone from earlier, because his voice trembles now and he can’t find a way to stop it.

Raihan hears him, but all he offers in return in an incredulous, “What?”

“What do you want me to do, then?” Leon repeats. His arms fall back to his sides. His hands are clenched into fists. “It’s not like I can just quit, or tell everyone in the country to sod off! I’m the champion, Raihan, they’re my responsibility. I took that on willingly when I won - is that what you want me to do?” He throws his arm out to the side in a wild gesture toward the window where, if either of them were to look, they could see Wyndon Stadium. Neither of them look to see it. “You want me to go out there this year and lose on purpose?”

“No,” Raihan hisses, drawing his shoulders up. “I - “

“Then what, Raihan? What’s the point of this fight if - “

“‘What’s the point?’ I fucking miss you, Leon! That’s the fucking point!”

Blue eyes are thundering and a sharp fang is bared.

“You don’t think I miss you?” Leon isn’t yelling anymore. He remembers that he’s tired.

In a way he’s never seen before, Raihan’s expression goes completely blank. “No,” he says. He’s turning on his heel and wrenching the door open. “You haven’t got the bloody time to.”

The door slams shut and Leon is alone. 

He stands in his dining room and focuses on breathing rather than the time. His hands relax and there’s divots in the skin from where he’s dug in too hard with his nails. They don’t bleed so he doesn’t pay attention to them. 

Eventually, Leon recovers enough to start moving again. Muscle memory carries him through the actions of showering, of toweling off, of drying his hair, getting dressed, plugging his phone in, getting into bed. Under his skin feels too cold with unease and his joints are singing like they need to move. 

Leon doesn’t. He lays on his back and stares up at the ceiling. Despite the way his eyes droop and his breathing slows, he doesn’t fall asleep. The apartment is dead quiet but his head is loud with thoughts he’s wishing he would’ve said out loud when he and Raihan were shouting at each other. It was such a stupid fight. They were being so stupid. He wishes Raihan would’ve come back. But as he’s overthinking it, rewording each potential argument, restarting the whole thing, Leon can’t figure out a good enough answer to the underlying problem. 

It wasn’t a stupid fight. They were being unfair. 

Realistically, Raihan sees Leon a handful of times a year and usually only for a night at a time. It isn’t fair to expect someone to be okay with that, to settle for that and sometimes less when they have to. It’s not fair for Leon to want Raihan to survive in such a way, especially when he thinks about the way Raihan holds onto him during those nights they get. It isn’t fair when he remembers the way he breathes out Leon’s name or the desperate way he bites his mark into Leon’s skin.

But Leon can’t give this life up. He’s afraid of what would happen if someone else took up the champion title. He’s terrified to find out how a person would handle Rose, now that his company has grown the way it has. Could they manage him, their team, the league, the fans? It was his dream, years ago, to do it. To be someone that people looked up to and could strive to be. It still is. At the end of the day, Leon loves being the Champion of Galar. He loves doing all the public appearances and seeing determination build in the wide eyes of kids in awe. He loves shaking hands with people and seeing them safe and helping them when and if they need it - he just, he loves doing good. That’s what the champion did. Leon doesn’t want to stop doing good. He doesn’t want to stop being the champion.

He didn’t want Raihan to leave. Leon wants him to come back so they can fix this. Standing across from each other the way they did, it reminds Leon of a battle now, in the worst ways. Raihan is a storm when he battles, but Leon is the immovable force that refuses to be blown away. This is a good thing when they wanted to put on a show for stadiums. Sometimes, though - when it’s most likely to hurt - it’s something bad.

His phone buzzes and in the quiet the noise is blaring. Leon’s sitting up the second he hears it and grabs it from the charger. It’s Raihan, but it isn’t a text. Leon slides the notification and unlocks his phone straight to pokegram. 

It’s hard to tell where exactly the photo was taken, but if he were to wager a guess he would say somewhere around Dusty Bowl right below Hammerlocke Fields given how dense the pictured sandstorm is. It glints off the camera’s flash like glass, alive on evidently ferocious winds and there’s nothing else to see. Nothing. It’s the first picture on Raihan’s feed to not have an obvious subject. 

It’s already got nearly a thousand likes, even though it’s late into the night - early in the morning - and was only posted about ten minutes ago. A couple dozen comments are listed beneath it; most of them confused and questioning the significance. They won’t get an answer.

Leon is in love and it hurts so, so much, but he’s way too many years past crying over things not going the way he wants them to.

 

-=-=-

 

However long he manages to close his eyes, it feels like he’s just barely drifted off to sleep when the alarms on his phone began to chime.

Leon carries out his morning mostly in a haze, but it’s a practiced one seeing as most of his mornings are typically endured this way. The preworkout helps as well, and it wakes him up enough to the point where he can finally see straight and without blurry edges. By the time he’s gathering his things into a duffel - a regular gym bag doesn’t fit the cape - he’s able to read through his calendar after rubbing his eyes only once. 

The one time is a mulligan, though, because he thought he was reading it wrong. But after pressing his knuckles into his eyes and trying again, he sees that, no, his reading was just fine. His morning is mostly open save for a meeting with Rose closer toward the afternoon. It wasn’t like this yesterday; Leon remembers distinctly needing to be somewhere yesterday. Did it get cancelled? Should he be worried?

He sets his phone face down on his kitchen’s island and stares down at his shaker bottle. What’s left of his preworkout is threatening to congeal into the foam that’s still lingering from the mixing. He’s just going to go to the gym, he decides. He’s going to go to the gym, and when he’s more present mentally and physically, he can decide if he’s going to worry about this. 

The gym he frequents is private and at this time of the morning he’s typically by himself, so his team is free to roam without bothering anybody. Usually, they relish their time spent out of their pokeballs. It isn’t very often they get to stretch out anymore when it’s not on a pitch, and Leon’s apartment is too small for more than one or two to be out at a time. 

Today they seem to mirror Leon’s poor mood. He’s feeling the lack of a good sleep now more than ever and the preworkout had worn off an hour into training. Rhyperior - while admittedly getting on in his years - was one of the hardest working and most dedicated out of his team. This morning, though, one would never be able to guess that, since he was sitting on the floor and leaning against the punching bag he was meant to be holding for Haxorus, the rounded end of his rail rolling back and forth idly as he stares down at the floor. Dragapult keeps to his own corner, huddling over his Dreepy like maybe he could shield them from the bad energy. Charizard hovers close to Leon and makes soft noises every time he notices his trainer pausing in thought.

The only one who stays diligent to their routine is Aegislash, who’s leaned up against a bench and is motionless, as always.

Leon calls it early. He feels a little guilty about shoving off his bad mood onto his pokemon but he’s too tired to pull himself together. He resolves to make it up to them later; for now he gathers his things and tries to wake himself up with a near freezing shower.

The walk to the Tower helps with this, too. His hair and skin are still a little damp; he’s got shorts on and the compression tights he’s taken with him today stop mid-calf, so the cool air outside is just biting enough on such a specific point of contact. The uniform’s shirt is short sleeve as well, and the cape doesn’t do much unless he’s willing to wrap it around himself like a shawl.

Rose smiles at him from behind his desk when Leon makes it to the top floor of the tower. He’s sorting through a thin stack of papers and there’s a laptop open next to the two monitors he’s already had set up for his main PC. A rotom tablet floats to the left of his head. Oleana looks to be in the same state, surrounded by her own collection of electronics. Leon remembers he was supposed to take time to worry about this or at least wonder if he needed to worry. He thinks he might have wanted to do that.

“Leon, my boy,” Rose greets, folding his hands on his desk. Oleana does not look up, just continues to frantically type on one of her laptops. “I’m glad you made it in.”

Leon nods and comes to a stop in front of Rose’s desk and doesn’t sit down in one of the plush chairs there waiting for him. “Of course.” 

“Unfortunately, there’s not much time for pleasantries, we’re in a bit of a rush.” Rose unfolds his hands and starts reading through papers once more. “The Hammerlocke Gym Leader has fallen ill. She’s already informed us that if she manages a recovery, she isn’t planning on returning to her position.” 

Maybe it’s the clinical, curt delivery of the news or just Leon’s mangled emotional state in general that makes him speechless. His mouth is open like he might have said something, but it just hangs around the ‘O’ shape as he blinks down at Rose. Neither he nor Oleana look at him for his reaction.

“It’s a worsening condition, apparently,” Rose continues. He places a piece of paper onto the desk and turns it so it’s facing Leon. He suspects it’s a dossier the Chairman received relaying all the information he’s gotten about the situation. Leon doesn't pick it up. “She was flown out to Unova for treatment just this morning.”

“Is she going to be okay?” Leon finally gets out. 

“She was stable on departure,” Rose informs. He’s frowning, pauses in his paper shuffling. “It’s out of our hands now, unfortunately. Our health and wellness branch didn’t have the specialist she would need for her illness. It’s being looked into.” 

Leon closes his mouth. He sighs slowly and quietly through his nose. After Opal, Hammerlocke’s gym leader was the oldest among them. She was a sweet old woman, stern when she had to be like any good teacher, and treated her dragons like someone might treat a Lilipup. Leon had always made it a point to stand next to her during League meetings and she would hold onto his arm and sigh and roll her eyes when someone would drone on for too long. Calls to her gym were usually just disguised meetings for brunch because she told him often that he reminds her of her grandson who still lives in Sinnoh.

Leon hopes her grandson is able to get to her, along with the rest of her family. 

“Since the season’s already started, we’ve resorted to her recommended gym trainer to cover for the challengers that make it far enough. However,” Rose’s tone goes light and the pained expression lessens as he says, “It’s been made extremely aware that he is not recommended to take over the gym. Reason being, ‘I don’t quite like the cut of his jib’.” The last part is read from one of the screens hovering around him.

Had he gotten a few more hours of sleep, Leon might have smiled at that. “I trust her,” he still states.

“Yes, it’s hard not to,” Rose agrees. “We have a few candidates lined up - not as many as we’d like. It’s difficult, as dragon training is quite the niche but I’m reluctant to change the gym’s type as the Hammerlocke castle has always been a home to dragons. One potential trainer we’re looking at has experience training under Leader Claire from the Indigo League, but there’s always the issue of traveling long term between countries. Getting her over here and obtaining her citizenship will be one hurdle, getting her ready for next season is another. We might not have the time.”

“We can’t let a gym go leaderless for two seasons in a row,” Oleana says behind them. It sounds practiced; they’ve probably had this conversation already. “We could move Spikemuth’s gym staff into Hammerlocke, move one of the minor divisions up.”

“Spikemuth won’t even move for a Power Spot,” Rose says dismissively.

“Then we consider the other options.”

“Raihan can do it.” 

The clacking of Oleana’s furious typing stops. Rose sets his papers back down and folds his hands once more. Even the Rotoms in the phones and tablets turn to face their screens at Leon. 

“Raihan,” Rose repeats. His tone says nothing about what he thinks of the idea.

Leon nods and tries not to sound too hopeful. He wants this to come across as a good idea, not something he wants . “He specializes in dragons - he’s helped his father breed them since he was young. My Dragapult comes from their program. And he’s been through the gym challenge nearly five times now, so it won’t be training someone brand new to the League.”

“He’s lost the gym challenge nearly five times,” Oleana says dully.

“To me,” Leon replies without looking at her. “He’s made it to the end every time.”

“I can understand Oleana’s concerns,” Rose says. “As talented as he may be, he still has no experience working within a gym, which is no small task. Especially such a high ranking one like Hammerlocke.”

That’s not a no. “He can do it.”

Rose’s eyes narrow and it goes odd with the soft smile he still wears. “He’ll be tested the same as anybody else.” The Chairman likes Leon, but he’s still a businessman. While he didn’t exactly forbid Leon and Raihan, he wasn’t about to do any favors for them. 

“He can do it,” Leon assures him. 

A moment of consideration is had, then Rose is waving over one of the floating tablets. “Very well. I’ll have his records pulled and we can reach out - “

Leon doesn’t try very hard to diminish his brilliant, enthusiastic grin. “I’ll take care of that, Chairman.”

As he’s retreating back toward the elevator, picking up the bag he’d dropped off by the doors, he hears Oleana whisper, “Chairman, if I may - “ but Leon ignores it. 

 

-=-=-

 

Leon has his phone out with him the entire walk back to his apartment building. He’s got his and Raihan’s conversation up on screen and he’s typed out about seventeen variations of ‘can we talk?’ and has deleted all seventeen of them. Sometimes he gets one written out, hovers over the send button, then locks his phone. 

In his excitement, Leon had kind of forgotten that it was Raihan that walked out last night. It wasn’t really up to Leon to determine whether or not they should talk, is it? That’s typically left up to the person who decided they didn’t want to talk anymore during a fight? Arceus, he doesn’t know. They’ve never - they’ve never argued before; they bickered back and forth, sure, and they teased each other. It was all playful, though. It never ended with one of them slamming the door on the other.

Maybe he should just call. Raihan’s always got his phone on him; if he doesn’t answer, then that’ll be that, Leon supposes. 

Standing in front of the door to his apartment with his keys in one hand and his phone in the other, Leon - for the first time - entertains the idea of that. Of it just being over with. He wouldn’t say the prospect makes him sick, but it definitely does something to him. It makes his stomach feel like an empty cavern and has his chest going cold. He definitely does not like it.

Leon isn’t so surprised that the door has been left unlocked. The morning was a blur to him already, even though it transpired literally a few hours ago. The movement inside his apartment is a little jarring, on the other hand. He stops in the doorway with a hand at his belt, ready to grab for Charizard’s pokeball. 

“Leon?”

His hand drops back to his side.

Raihan’s in front of him. He’s got the same clothes on as the night before and there’s a faraway look in his eyes and Leon knows he hasn’t slept, just by looking at him.

“I was gonna text you,” Leon hears himself say, and he’s holding the phone up as evidence. 

Raihan doesn’t say anything to that right away. He just steps forward and Leon goes to meet him halfway instinctively, barely getting the strap of his duffel off his shoulder in time for arms to wrap him up in an embrace. 

“I’m so sorry,” Leon hears Raihan say, words muffled into the fabric of his snapback. “I shouldn’t have left like I did. I was just - “

He hesitates, so Leon finishes for him. “You were mad.” 

“I was being an asshole.”

“Because I hurt your feelings.”

“Leon - “

He pulls away enough to be able to look up at Raihan. He brings his hands up to cup either side of the other’s face to make sure he can’t look away when he asks, “Do you really think I don’t miss you?” 

Raihan swallows. “Leon.” 

He stands as tall as he can and drags Raihan down to cover what he can’t reach so he can kiss him, because he’s been wanting to since he walked in. Raihan’s breath hitches and Leon can feel it against his lips and his arms tighten around Leon’s waist from where he’s got them shoved underneath the cape; all Leon can do is kiss him. When Raihan retreats to let out a shuddering sigh, Leon runs the pad of his finger along the straight line of his nose, up until he gets to the crease in his brow that he attempts to smooth out himself.

“‘M sorry,” Raihan mumbles again. His eyes are closed but he’s leaning into Leon’s touch.

“I am, too. I promise I didn’t mean to miss our fourth five year anniversary celebration.”

The absurdity of the sentence gets a laugh out of Raihan and even though it sounds a little hoarse Leon’s so glad to hear it. “I know you didn’t. I just,” he shrugs. “I just wish you had more time for yourself.” 

Leon’s heart feels scorched. “I have time today,” he says, phrases it a bit like an offering. “Fifth time’s the charm?”

Raihan grins. He takes the hand Leon was using to pet at his nose, presses a kiss to his knuckles. “Maybe it’s our lucky number.” 

 

-=-=-

 

Later, Leon’s laying on his stomach, in between Raihan’s legs with his head pillowed on the taller’s bare chest. A hand absentmindedly passes through his hair, starting at the crown of his head and then threading all the way down until the ends are smoothed against Leon’s shoulders. It’s lulled him into a state that’s somewhere between being awake and being completely lost to the world. The only thing keeping Leon awake at this point is the audio from Raihan’s phone that’s being held right above his head and the odd humming sensation that’s sitting in all his muscles. It’s almost like his body doesn’t know what to do with itself now that it’s sitting still; and his brain isn’t helping make any sense of it, confused now that it’s not actively worried about having somewhere to be. 

It’s weird. It’s comfortable.

“I have a question,” Raihan announces, sounding very much awake.

Leon grunts in the affirmative, conveying that he is listening.

“Oh - sorry, were you sleeping?”

Leon grunts in the negative, almost lying.

“So, you know how we’re technically not allowed to bring pokemon from other regions to Galar - especially if they’re not native here?”

Leon hums.

“But you have a Charizard.” 

“Professor gave it t’me,” Leon says, words coming out slurred and mumbled. “She got it from’n egg. Kanto professor.” 

“Right,” Raihan replies, following along somehow. “And she probably got it through customs easy. Claiming, like, research or something.”

“Yeah.”

“And you’re the champion, so you can probably get some leeway with that.”

Leon pauses. In the quiet, the audio of a battle plays from Raihan’s phone. “Are you watching Cynthia clips again?”

“She can mega evolve her Garchomp, Leon. It looks so fucking cool.”

“I can’t get you a Garchomp.”

The audio cuts and there’s a thump on the mattress next to Leon’s head. “You won’t even try,” Raihan whines.

“Why should I?” Leon asks. He’s feeling a little more awake now. Enough to be catty, at least. He pulls up enough to support himself on his elbows, drags his lips across the lines of Raihan’s collarbones when he says, “Why should I when you watch other champions’ matches when you’re in bed with me?”

The hand in his hair tightens, urging Leon to lift his head. He’s met with Raihan’s grin, the crooked one that shows off the sharp fang and is accompanied with his half-lidded eyes. “Don’t be jealous, baby, you’re the only champ for me. I have such a champion time when I’m with you.”

Leon lowers back down and bites at the place his lips had just passed over. Raihan jolts with a surprised peal of laughter, his hips bucking and pushing Leon up and off of him. It doesn’t work as well as he probably would have liked, because Leon’s grip on him is strong enough to drag Raihan with him onto their sides. He keeps his mouth by Raihan’s neck and tangles their legs together by throwing one of his over Raihan’s thigh.

“You never let me win anything,” he huffs, giving up on trying to writhe out of the hold.

Leon hums. He kisses the barely-there bite mark and tucks his head underneath Raihan’s chin, very pointedly not lessening his grip even in the slightest. “You put up such a good fight, though.”

“That’s such a backhanded compliment.” 

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Leon tells him, and even he can hear the smile in his voice. 

“That’s it, mate.” The struggle begins anew. “I’m going home to the Trapinch, all they do is puke on me and they don’t belittle me when they do it - “

“Wait,” Leon hisses, wrapping his hands around Raihan’s biceps to press his shoulders into the mattress. He sits above him, feeling a lot more awake now. “Dragons, Raihan, I forgot!”

“What, that they existed?” 

“No, that - “ On instinct, Leon pauses. Technically, the Hammerlocke Gym Leader’s story was classified until the League puts out an official statement. But Raihan was Raihan, and Leon tended to tell him everything. “Miss Zenna had to be flown out to Sinnoh for some kind of emergency treatment. Her gym trainers are filling in for her for the rest of the season.”

Raihan’s demeanor sobered immediately. “Shit. Is she gonna be okay?”

“They said it’s hard to say right now, I guess. But either way, she sent in her resignation to Rose the first chance she got.”

“That’s fair,” he says. “She’s, like, eighty years old.” 

“It is,” Leon agrees. “But it means we need another gym leader who specializes in dragon types before the start of the season next year.” 

Raihan nods along sympathetically. “That’s rough.” 

Leon frowns at him. “Isn’t it? If only there were someone we knew who’s been raising dragons his whole life.” 

Luckily, Raihan seems to gather that he’s missing something. “You want my dad to be the gym leader?”

“For Arceus’ sake,” Leon groans. “Raihan - “

“You want me to be the new gym leader?” 

He pauses at the incredulousness in the other’s voice. “Yeah, why not?”

Raihan looks at him like he’s begun speaking Kalosian. “Because I have no experience whatsoever?”

“What? Of course you do.”

“Being inside a gym doesn’t count as knowing how to run it.” 

“They teach you that,” Leon insists. “And it’s not like you’ll be starting from scratch - you know a lot from what I’ve told you.” 

“That implies that I listen to you, and you’re mean to me so why would I do that?”

Leon pinches at his side.

Ah - see? You’re horrible to me.” 

“Do you really think it’s not a good idea?” 

Raihan searches his face for a moment. “I don’t know. I just never considered it, I guess. Why do you think it’s a good idea?”

“Because it’s Hammerlocke, one of the oldest cities in Galar, and it was made for dragons. And it holds Rose’s power plant, and we’re in and out of there all the time because of his new energy project. Plus, all of the league meetings and press we do, we’d see each other more often - especially when we’re working out everything, shifting over the gym’s ownership and such. You wouldn’t have to go through the whole gym challenge every season because the leaders get their own tourney to compete in the finals. And speaking as the champion, you’re one of the strongest trainers in the region. I really do believe you’d’ve taken the championship title for yourself if I hadn’t gotten there first.”

Raihan seems to fluster under the praise. Still, petulantly, he says, “I don’t like that you added that on as an afterthought.”

Leon lifts his hands from where they were resting on his arms and brings them up to either side of Raihan’s face. “Stop deflecting,” he tells him.

“I just - are you doing this because of what I said last night? Because I swear I’m sorry. I said it when I was angry, I didn’t mean for you to go pulling favors and - “

“I’m doing this,” Leon interrupts, “because I think you’d make a brilliant gym leader. You’re strong, so is your team, and you’re one of the smartest battlers I’ve ever seen. You’re incredible.”

Raihan’s eyes go soft. He reaches up and grabs one of the wrists Leon has by his face, but doesn’t try to pull it away. He holds onto it and says, “I think you’re a bit biased, mate.” 

Leon leans down, tells him, “I think if you gave it a shot, Galar would agree with me.” He kisses him then, and he keeps it slow and soft and doesn’t stop until he can’t taste the small traces of doubt leftover on Raihan’s tongue anymore. Leon kisses him until there isn’t any hesitance, until a hand pets into his hair, until the burning flames tickling at his ribs starts to roar.

 

-=-=-

 

Raihan gets the position and Leon’s the only one who isn’t surprised. 

His application is the only one that the previous Hammerlocke leader sends back when she was asked for her opinion. Leon says that’s a good sign, that she saw something in him. Raihan counters that she probably just recognized his name from the amount of times he’s been through her gym. 

Leon’s there when Rose calls Raihan to Wyndon for his team’s physical examination. They stand side by side and both stifle laughs when - in order to check the state of his teeth - the doctor opens Sandaconda’s jaws and globs of wet sand drip onto the doctor’s smock then plop onto the floor. 

“Sorry,” Raihan had said, sniffing in attempt to school his expression and explain away the amused snort. “He, uh - he likes the taste.” 

Besides that  little hiccup, the doctor clears them fit to battle under the League, meeting all requirements in the health and fitness department. Then it’s back to Hammerlocke, where Raihan and his team are put up against the five gym trainers the previous leader has left behind. It’s mostly protocol, and no one expects Raihan to lose to any of them, which he doesn’t. Still, Leon is glad they have to do it and is even more glad that it’s deemed Official League Business.

The arena is mostly empty; gym staff, Leon, Rose, and Oleana are sat in the stands close to the pitch. A few other gym leaders have stopped in, as well. Opal arrived seemingly on the wind - no one saw her come in and she didn’t speak a word to anybody. She just materialized into one of the seats and stared down at the field to judge for herself if her oldest friend’s replacement was deserving of the title.

Melony stopped in as well, all the way from Circhester, and took a few rows up from them. She brought her son along with her. As the battles progressed, they would lean their heads together and nod as they discussed moves and strategies, Gordie eager and Melony with the air of a motherly scholar. 

Leon hardly pays attention to anything but Raihan. He’s sure Rose says a few things and all he can do is hope that it’s mostly directed to Oleana because Leon hears none of it. His senses are overwhelmed by the movement of the battles on the pitch, taken back by the way he can hear how Raihan’s voice resonates at every call and command he makes to his pokemon. Halfway through the second round, Leon has to cross his arms over his chest. He’s aching to be down there, to be the one on the other side of the field, to be pinned down by eyes that moved like a storm.

He takes a deep breath as subtly as he can. He’s realizing he hasn’t seen Raihan battle in a long, long time.

After it’s all said and done, after Raihan shakes Rose’s hand, after he’s handed a bag and asked to change while the pitch gets cleaned for the announcement photoshoot, Leon meets him in the locker room with a bag of his own.

It’s humid in here; Raihan’s always liked showers that were two degrees away from burning skin and always turned the small space into something akin to a sauna. Leon double checks that it’s empty besides the two of them, then locks the door when he closes it behind him.

“I told you you could do it,” he says to the stall that’s got movement behind its closed door.

He hears Raihan laugh. “Was kind of a shoe in, wasn’t it? I’ve already beaten those guys, what kind of test is that?” 

“Formalities,” Leon says, taking a seat on one of the benches. “It’s just to make sure you’re the strongest trainer in the gym. We don’t expect you to lose, we just want to see how well you perform.”

A towel is draped over the stall door. “You’ve seen me perform before.”

Leon’s eyes seem frozen on it. He swallows. “Don’t start. We have to be out there in ten minutes.” 

Raihan laughs again. “I should get something for getting the position, shouldn’t I? Some sort of compensation for always doing what King Leon wants to do.”

“I didn’t make you do this,” Leon reprimands. “You wouldn’t have tried so hard if you didn’t want it.” 

Finally, the stall opens and reveals Raihan’s sharp and sure grin. “I still think I’m entitled to a congratulatory kiss.” 

Leon opens his mouth to snipe back, but whatever he was going to bicker back with dies right there on his tongue. 

Hammerlocke’s colors were a deep navy blue with a muted orange for detailing. Leon thinks they might be his new favorite colors. The uniform’s shirt was stretched across Raihan’s broad shoulders nicely, and on his front was the dragonhead crest with its crimson banner. The matching shorts do nothing to help disguise the incredible length of Raihan’s legs, either, and it feels like the once over Leon gives him takes ten years too long because of it.

He swallows again.

“Mate,” Raihan says slowly.  “You’ve seen me in a uniform before.”

“This is different,” he defends. He closes the distance between them because he needs to get his hands on those shoulders. He does, smoothes out the fabric over them, digs his fingertips into the muscles. “I’m so proud of you,” he says, then pulls the collar of the shirt down and brings their mouths together.

“Holy shit,” Raihan breathes out once they part, eyebrows high but his eyes hooded. 

Leon feels the sentiment. He lets the other go and clears his throat. “I actually did get you something, though - and then we really should get back to the pitch.” He puts his back to Raihan, lifts his hat off his head and runs his hand through his hair, drops it back down, then goes back to the bench. He retrieves the bag he’s left there and tosses it over. “If you don’t like it you don’t have to pretend.”

From it Raihan pulls out a zip-up hoodie. The blue is a few shades too dark, but the orange lines up pretty well. Along the front is a silky, peach fabric that glints a little under the lights. 

“You had this made,” Raihan states, holding it out in front of him.

Leon answers that like it was phrased as a question. “Yeah. You always wear stuff like that so I thought you might like it. I didn’t have your exact measurements, so it might be a little off.” He didn’t really have any measurements at all besides ‘tall’ and 'skinny ’, but his designers did what they could and they’ve never done too bad before. “If it’s too big I could ask them to - “

No.” Raihan holds the sweatshirt to his chest and even twists away from Leon a little, acting like he’s made an actual and physical attempt to take it back. “You gave it to me, it’s mine now.” 

It makes Leon smile, a little relieved. “You like it?”

“I love it, dandelion.” He shrugs it on and takes note of the other’s face. “You were nervous?”

Leon shrugs. “I don’t - you see what I wear all the time. I don’t know that stuff like you.”

Raihan zips it up, and it’s a little big but so’s the grin on his face. “I love it,” he says again and, despite their better judgement, leans down to kiss him once more.

They don’t end up making it out to the pitch in ten minutes. It’s more like twenty, but they get there. The pictures get taken and that’s what counts. 

 

-=-=-

 

There’s a lapras that skims the waters along the Lake of Outrage. She’s been there for as long as Leon can remember, drifting lazily along the shore in all types of weather - never bothered and always kind. Leon sees a lot of her; his trips to Hammerlocke recently led to some unfortunate detours. Their first meeting took place during one of those one extremely foggy morning. His Flying Taxi that day had left him at the gates of Hammerlocke as he didn’t want to risk Corviknight getting harmed by anything  in the city they couldn’t see. 

Leon got turned around, unsurprisingly. He ended up at the lake, beckoned by her singing, and he sat with her until the sun burned off the fog and Charizard could find their way into the city. He visits her now whenever he can spare the time - which isn’t often, but she still purrs and trills with pleasure when he shows his face. 

She always knows when he’s coming, too, because he can hear her song as soon as he’s descending the hill toward the lake. Leon picks up the pace as soon as he sees her outline unconsciously. Behind him, he can just make out the groan Raihan lets out over the pattering of rain smacking against dirt. He turns to look at him and smiles at the glare that peeks out from underneath a fanged hood.

“Did you bring me out here when it was raining on purpose?” Raihan asks as they approach the shore. He grimaces at the way their shoes sink about an inch into the sopping wet mud.

Leon reaches out for Lapras in greeting and her snout presses into his palm, chilled and smooth. “There’s a reason for it,” he assures, turning to gesture Raihan closer. He does, but not before they both trade each other pleading looks. “I was hoping I could show you something.” 

Lapras turns her head to address Raihan and he reluctantly pulls one out of the hands he’s hidden in his sweatshirt pockets and offers it out to her. She forgoes the experimental sniffing and instead gives him the same snout-rubbing she’d given Leon. Raihan’s mouth twitches upward in a smile, but he quickly goes back to indignance. “Did you want to show me how fast we can get back to my place?”

Leon pouts. “No.” He steps over the small gap of water and onto Lapras’ back. She holds steady for him; the white, choppy waters splash against her fins but she doesn't seem to notice them. Leon holds out his hand for the one Raihan has yet to hide back inside his pocket.

Raihan, however, stands resolute. The look on his face is simultaneously questioning and stubborn - he isn’t going to cross the lake without a good reason. Leon rolls his eyes but can’t really blame him. 

“The season starts in a few weeks. I wanted to get you something for good luck since it’s your first year being a gym leader.” 

“I thought you already did that.” He tugs at the hem of the sweatshirt he’s wearing to show it to Leon, as if he might have forgotten.

“That was a congratulatory present. This’ll be a lucky charm.” Leon pointedly stretches out his arm farther when Raihan just continues to look skeptical. “Just trust me?”

Raihan does. His hand is warm in Leon’s and out here, where no one but the pokemon is there to see them through the freezing mist of an unforgiving rain, Leon pulls him close. Raihan returns the embrace readily, hides his face in the crook of Leon’s neck and in the mess of hair. 

Leon barely hears the baffled question of, “How are you so warm, mate?”

He laughs a little, pressing his fingers into the small of Raihan’s back to bring him even closer. “It’s not even that cold.”

Lapras drops them off at the other side of the lake. Leon thanks her, tells her he’ll try to hurry. She hums back to him and pushes off the shore, back into the depths where her song echoes after her even when her silhouette shrinks into the horizon. 

“I’m going to get sick,” Raihan whines as they climb further into the lake’s surrounding wilderness. Pokemon peer out at them curiously, some dashing away further into the grass and trees. A bold Quagsire doesn’t even shift, its beady little eyes following them up the path from where it leans over a small hill of piled mud. Raihan pays it no attention as he continues to complain. “What’ll be the point of a lucky charm if I’m not going to be a gym leader, because they’re going to fire me for taking days off to recover from pneumonia?”

“Stop it,” Leon gripes with a smile.

He takes Raihan’s hand in his again for no real reason besides just wanting to. After this, when they leave here today, Leon isn’t going to be able to stay at Raihan’s like he’d been able to for the most part during these last few months. He’s going to have to return to Wyndon. To his own apartment. Back to Rose and Oleana and their tasks and jobs and deals for Leon to close. He and Raihan won’t be able to see each other as often now that he was officially settled into Hammerlocke and everything was running smoothly. Business is going to lead him through the city every so often, but that is no consolation. Leon’s going to miss him all the same. 

“Can you at least tell me what we’re looking for?” Raihan asks after Leon makes them backtrack for the third time. 

“I can do it,” Leon says with cheap assuredness.

“Dandelion, I’m sorry, but I really don’t trust that you know where you’re going.” 

“I do.” He looks back out from where they’d walked from to how much he could see of the lake. It was pretty far and the view looks familiar. Maybe a little more to the left - he distinctly remembers that tree, too - 

“Baby,” Raihan tries again.

“No, I got it! Look, right here - “ 

He leads him over to the canopy of massive leaves that hung over an outcropping of stones. They droop more with the added weight of rainwater but Leon doesn’t approach them to lift them up. He lets go of Raihan and crouches down, mindful of his white compression tights - the shoes were a lost cause - and starts to click his tongue. 

Raihan watches all of his with a raised brow. “Uh.”

A bubbling noise emitted from underneath the leaves, sounding like water over a hot flame. Then, like peeking through a curtain, a Goomy’s face pokes out from between two leaves. 

“It’s still here,” Leon whisper-yells, reaching for it.

The Goomy gurgles excitedly, crawling out from its hiding place and making its way over to Leon’s open arms. He hears Raihan gasp - actually gasp - and drop down to his knees next to Leon, mud be damned.

Little angel,” he coos, running a hand over the top of the little pokemon’s head. The antennae stick to her skin when they were petted down, but spring back up in time for Raihan to press them back down. 

“It was alone last time I was here,” Leon explains. He lets the Goomy shift over to Raihan, all too pleased with being able to watch the two interact. The awed and overjoyed expression on Raihan’s face is almost too much. “And it’s getting colder around here, and Lake of Outrage always sees the harshest weather first. So I got worried because it didn’t seem to have anybody to help keep care of it.”

“Goodra are too hands-on as parents,” Raihan says, sitting back onto his legs and letting the Goomy climb up onto his lap. “We’d know if her mum was nearby.” 

He frowns down at the pokemon, patting her little back sympathetically. “Then she really is all alone?”

“Not anymore.” Raihan leans forward, balancing himself with a hand on Leon’s forearm. It’s wet with rain and - and something else that’s thicker than water. “Galar’s very own Champion swooped in just in time to whisk her away to safety.” 

Leon steadies him so he doesn’t fall forward, their noses bumping. “I brought you so you could do the whisking. She’s a dragon, isn’t she?” 

“She is.” He leans the rest of the way and kisses Leon’s smile. “I love her.”

“I hoped you would.”

He pulls back suddenly and looks down. Goomy stares back up with an impressive amount of Raihan’s sweatshirt pulled into her mouth. There’s an excessive amount of drool.

“Oh, Arceus, Leon, she’s absolutely brilliant.”

 

-=-=-

 

Hop is fifteen.

Realistically, Leon knows this because he has a firm grasp and a basic understanding on the passage of time. Unfortunately, there’s something about teenagers - or maybe just kids in general - where if you don’t see them often enough, they’re going to be so different each time you see them it’s going to take your breath away. 

Hop smiles the same, still calls him Lee, still lights up like a bulb the second his eyes land on his brother, but he’s changed. He’s taller and his voice is deeper and he doesn’t hug Leon enthusiastically. Hop’s proud of him, he loves Leon so much, but he’s older. 

Realistically, Leon should have expected this. Unfortunately, he still wonders why he’s let himself miss it.

Hop pierces through the crowd that’s gathered around Leon in Wedgehurst, straight off the train. He’d called out Charizard to help him find his way; it’s been a while since he’s been home and he’s been in enough cities to know that most of them all look the same, so he was bound to get lost. Charizard was meant to navigate, but he’s a big pokemon and Leon’s a big presence. He puts on a smile, stands straight with his shoulders back, crosses his arms over his chest, poses when it feels right. The people love it. They regard him as a hometown legend, the folk hero finally returning home.

His brother sees him as Leon, a mess with directions. 

The kid that Hop’s brought along doesn’t seem too bothered by their interactions or the crowd that’s got their attention on them. He’s not nervous in front of Leon, which is something he’s not used to when it comes to kids their age. Actually, he seems to be half awake. 

“You must be Victor,” Leon says to him as Hop leads them back up the dirt road for Postwick. “The one from Unova?”

The kid nods his head, an easy smile on his round, boyish face. “Heard from Hop, did you?” His voice is deep , surprisingly so, and his speech is slower than Leon was expecting, lilting in odd places. He wonders what part of Unova the kid hails from, because he’s never heard that dialect before.

“Of course! New kids moving into town is big news,” Leon tells him.

“Then we practically know each other,” Victor replies. “He talks about you all the time, too.”

Leon smiles at that, and ignores how it feels sheepish and a little cold.

“You brought us pokemon, didn’t you?” Hop questions when Leon’s barely made it a few steps into the yard. His energy is about the same as when he was six and his entire body buzzes with it, shoulders hunched and hands twitching in constant movement. “You had to’ve, I know you did!”

The extra pokeballs at his waist might have been a dead giveaway, but it wasn’t exactly meant to be much of a surprise. “Right,” Leon says, grabbing them from his belt. As he tosses them up into the air, some small, far away, and sensible part of himself thinks that maybe he should have done this somewhere more contained. Maybe he should’ve refrained from letting Hop’s excitable and contagious energy get the better of him, or at least released the pokemon one by one. Because the three of them land with large smiles.

And then they scatter.

Leon has enough time to say, “Oh, hold on - “ and then they’re separating with cries of joy.

Sobble dips into the small man-made pond that sits under the shade of the tree Grookey claims for himself. He disappears behind a cluster of leaves, but gentle chirping and a rhythmic beat fills the air that tells Leon he hasn’t gone very far. Scorbunny hit the ground running from his pokeball and has since taken up sprinting the round line in the middle of the play-pitch his grandfather had put into the yard all those years ago.

“You can choose first,” Leon hears Hop whisper to his friend as he’s corralling the pokemon into a line. “I’ve already got Wooloo, and this is your first pokemon. It should be special.”

They go back and forth, seemingly arguing over if that was fair, all the while Leon gathers up a fussy Scorbunny and pretends he’s not even a little emotional over his little brother’s easygoing kindness. 

Victor collects Scorbunny right from Leon’s arms and the pokemon goes to him easily enough. “I kinda like this dude,” he says, and Scorbunny grins, bopping the boy's nose with the flat of his paw and screeching a noise of agreement.

Hop introduces his Grookey to Wooloo, kneeling down between them and talking quickly. Grookey seems to follow along just fine but Leon only catches about every four words - words like training and champion and you and I. It’s then that for once he understands Raihan’s compulsive need to photograph everything. Leon wants so badly to capture this moment, with the light of the sun in his brother’s eyes and the sure confidence in his gestures. He wants it so he can look back, use it as a physical reminder that this is why Leon’s family misses him. He puts all the work in to give the people of Galar the opportunities like the one he’s offering his brother. He stands so tall so people can see what they can achieve. He battles because he wants other people to attempt the same. 

But Leon keeps winning because nobody gets anywhere by being soft. He isn’t giving up his title for someone who hasn’t worked for it like he has. 

He stands with his shoulders back and his arms crossed over his chest. Clutching his leg is Sobble, hidden under the shaded protection of Leon’s cape. They stand at the sidelines of Hop and Victor’s very first battle.

And he’s dying to see what they can do.

 

-=-=-

 

“Do you think Victor’s only nice to Hop because I’m his brother?”

Raihan thinks about this. “Are you asking this out of genuine concern for your brother, or is this one of those moments where you, like, get kinda showboat-y and talk about how you’re the champion?”

Leon thinks about this. “I - well, it was the first one, but the second reason is part of it.” 

Raihan snorts. He hasn’t looked away from his phone yet. Leon’s used to this. “I think they’re fine.”

They’re at Hammerlocke, the halfway point between Motostoke and Wyndon. They’re spread out on the living room couch, Raihan using his height to his advantage and dominating the majority of the space. Leon’s trapped under his legs but he doesn’t mind so much since they make for a convenient arm rest. Out in the kitchen, Mr. Rime - a relatively new addition to Leon’s team - is making a decent amount of noise as he goes through the process of making dinner. 

That particular hobby started the first night he spent with Leon and his team. He mimed Leon as he prepared their food, chopping and stirring along, soundless through it all. The next morning, Leon woke up to the same meal. It’d been a near perfect recreation if not a little too heavy for a breakfast, but he ate it anyway. After he evolved, Mr. Rime’s technique got a little more refined and even ended up surpassing Leon’s. Now there’s strange cooking utensils and extensive pots and pans sets in Leon’s kitchen that get a fair amount of use. In one of his bookcases, two entire shelves are dedicated to cookbooks Raihan and Leon started collecting for the little chef.

“It’s just weird, innit?” Leon asks, eyes on the telly. A replay of the opening ceremony was playing out during one of the late night news segments. Leon couldn’t make it - he was covering for Rose so he could attend. But he made sure that he was able to see Hop before he left for Wyndon. Before he took off, he’d seen Victor not minutes later. It’s how he found out that they weren’t traveling together.

Raihan shrugs when Leon conveys how weird he thinks that is, which looks hard to do in his reclined position on the couch. “We didn’t travel together when we did the challenge.”

“I asked you to,” Leon points out. “And you said no.”

“I would have died if I stayed around you more than I did,” he admits. “You made me so nervous, mate.”

Leon rolls his eyes and gives him a dubious look. “No I didn’t.”

“Yes you did. The first couple of times I talked to you I thought I was going to puke.”

Huh. He didn’t know that. Leon tries to think back on his first few conversations with Raihan and tries to think if he can remember anything that might have given that away. He doesn’t come up with anything that sticks out.

“‘Sides, what if it’s Hop that wants to make it on his own?” Raihan asks after a few seconds of quiet. “He seems to think he’s got a lot to prove. Or, maybe they didn’t even think about going together, since they’re both not ass with directions and they don’t have to worry about the other getting lost.” 

“You think I’m being stupid, then?”

“No, love, I think you’re being a protective older brother. Figure someone should talk you down from that kind of madness.” 

Leon rests his chin in his hand, his other wrapped around Raihan’s knee and absentmindedly thumbing at the long line muscle he finds there. “That’s fair,” he says thoughtfully, but also seems to really doubt it.

“It is,” Raihan says pointedly. “Here, this’ll make you feel better - it’s a BugBuzz article on who would win in a fight between us.” 

His phone buzzes and sure enough, there’s a link from Raihan in their messages. “Why would this make me feel better?” He scrolls through it, skimming the list the article put together of their attributes. It was surprisingly detailed. 

“I dunno - are you really a black belt?” 

“Last time I checked.” 

Raihan evaluates this information. “I still think I have a chance.”

The tapping in the kitchen is drowned out by a sudden crash, and that’s followed up with clanging of a few things hitting the ground. It’s quiet after.

Raihan’s pushed himself up to his elbows and looks at the doorway leading into the kitchen warily. “Should I go - “

The tapping continues.

Leon shakes his head and continues to scroll through the article. “He’s fine.” 

 

-=-=-

 

Leon can not remember exactly the last time he was back home in Wyndon. Between Rose’s inquiries on several cities receiving plants and following along the gym challenge as much as he can, Leon often found himself in between cities or lost somewhere inside them.

He always likes getting lost in Hammerlocke, though. It gives him an excuse to pull Raihan from the gym so he can come and find him. 

He collects Leon from where he’d ended up in the expansive courtyard of the Uni and leads him back down the steps, closer to the castle. They’re forced to keep a short distance between them in public, per Oleana’s nonverbal request, so Leon’s quick to suggest somewhere private. 

“The vault is as good as I can do,” Raihan tells him. There’s bitterness weaved into the words and Leon already knows why before he says, “Your boss kicked me out of my gym again.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Leon admits. “We’ve got a meeting at the energy plant later. He hasn’t even told me what it’s about.” 

“Well, he certainly hasn’t told me.”

Raihan sends off the gym trainer working the front desk at the vault, tells her to take an extended break and that he’ll watch the doors for her. His way of watching them, though, is by locking them as soon as she leaves and drags Leon up the stairs where he pushes him against a stone wall and kisses him hard. He can taste Raihan’s frustration on his tongue, can feel it in the way his hand twists in Leon’s hair.

So far, Raihan has had no qualms in playing into the part of a dragon sitting on a hoard of treasure. He doesn’t like anyone going near the things he was assigned to protect - not without a good reason, at least, or without a reason at all. There’s a flicker of something fond in Leon’s chest every time Raihan gets like this, because it’s hard not to think it’s a little cute. 

“I’m sure it’s not for nothing,” Leon gets out as soon as Raihan moves down to his neck, pulling his uniform down and out of the way to get his teeth at his collarbones. 

Raihan’s breath is warm on his skin. “If he’s dragging you into it,” he says, “then it’s something.”

Leon leaves Raihan there to brood when his gym trainer comes back, promises that if Rose’s meeting is about anything he already doesn’t know Leon will tell him. 

He’s - maybe? Possibly? Hopefully - about halfway toward the gym when Hop hurries passed him with his head bowed and his shoulders nearly up to his ears. Leon puts himself in the middle of Hop’s path but he’s walking fast enough to the point where he doesn’t notice in time. 

“‘Ello, Hopscotch,” he says to him once he’s righted himself after knocking his head into Leon’s chest. 

But he doesn’t grin wildly at the sight of Leon, or even grimace at the nickname, so his own smile falters quickly. Instinctively, his hands go up to the cape around his neck, adjusts it and the shirt over where he can still feel the marks Raihan’s mouth left on him earlier. Everything seems to be in order, though, so his brow furrows further in confusion at the sour look on his brother’s face.

“Hop - “

“I’m so sorry, Lee,” he says, choked, and then he’s off again.

By the time Leon’s recovered from the shock, Hop is long gone.

 

-=-=-

 

“He lost to Bede,” Victor tells him, not ten minutes later. He’s got a Toxel against his chest, nestled in a makeshift sling he’s made out of his sweater. It makes for an odd sight; honestly Leon’s reminded of his mother when he was younger with Hop on her hip and a stern set to her features when Leon came home late and covered in mud. Victor’s slow, deep speech is amplified by that same expression. “The guy’s an asshole.”

Leon frowns, crossing his arms. He’s heard very little about the challenger that was endorsed by the chairman. Rose never mentions him, not even in passing. “Some tough losses, then?” Victor nods, but he also shrugs. “That’s… rough.” It sounds pathetic when he says it out loud. He’s a little glad Hop isn’t actually there to hear it. “He’ll bounce back, though. There’s nowhere to go but back up.”

The Toxel makes a gurgling sound and Victor gives a reluctant grin. “That tall lady and the chairman were looking for you, by the way. They’re still at the gym.” 

Leon breathes a sigh of relief at the offered escape. “Right - “

Victor steps aside and points a thumb behind him. “That way.” 

Right.” 

He follows the directions with a rushed goodbye, because he’s hoping if he moves fast enough the cold, creeping feeling of guilt won’t be able to catch up. He should go and find Hop, he knows. He should get him to open up himself, not have to hear it from his friend. But there’s probably a reason why he ran from Leon, right? He was embarrassed, probably, or wasn’t quite ready to confront that. Besides, it’s not like Hop’s ever gone to him for anything like this before. Granted, he’s never had to. 

He was never able to.

Leon hurries his pace, even though he really, really should turn around, but it’s just - he just has somewhere to be, too much to do. He’ll talk to Hop about it later, if he still needs to. If he’s got the time.

 

-=-=-

 

Route Nine could have been horrible

Leon could have been unlucky - lucky, in a sense - and had not gotten turned around when heading back into Hammerlocke. Charizard could’ve been inside his pokeball rather than navigating for Leon when the Perrserker burst from the grass and swiped at his trainer with rapidly growing claws. He could’ve noticed Hop a second too late, he could’ve missed Victor earlier and not warned him off, he could’ve lost

He didn’t. Of course he didn’t. But maybe he should start taking the anxious looks Sonia started giving him seriously.

She thinks it has something to do with the Darkest Day, because her grandmother thinks it has something to do with the darkest day. She’s gestures wildly as she explains this, pointing between each tapestry that hangs in the Hammerlocke Vault, twirling her hair in between pauses and biting her lip as she thinks.

Leon stands there and lets her talk, arms crossed and shoulders back. He’s still a little - he’s not going to say shaken, but he’s having a hard time coming up with a word that accurately describes the antsy feeling in his bones. He’s waiting for the ground to shake again, and he can barely hear Sonia over the rush of anticipation in his ears. 

Raihan is next to him, one hand on his hip and spinning the vault’s keyring idly with the other. It’s well after the time any visitors are technically allowed into the building, but Leon’s the champion, and the daughter of the Professor claimed it was an emergency, and Raihan really didn’t have a reason to say no.

“And Rose doesn’t say anything to you about it?” Sonia’s asking Leon after a considerably long pause in her ranting.

“No. I was under the impression everything was fine until your grandmother said she’d been called in.” He leaves out the fact that, since his last meeting over a month ago, he really hasn’t seen much of the chairman. Unless he’s making appearances around the region for the challenge, he locks himself in his office in Wyndon or in the basement of Hammerlocke stadium. If he’s needed, Rose goes through Oleana to get any messages to Leon, and even then his calendar app has steadily grown more and more open. Leon had just thought he’d better not look a gift ponyta in the mouth. 

Then the ground started shaking and pokemon started dynamaxing without a command. 

“Something has to cause all this,” Sonia says, glaring at the spaces in between each tapestry. “Everything has a source. Something like the Darkest Day just doesn’t happen, pokemon just don’t go on rampages. Raihan, are you sure these are the only tapestries?” 

Raihan blinks at her, bewildered. “Wh - well, I don’t know, Sonia, lemme go check the laundry, maybe the one I used to wash the dishes is still in the dryer - “

“I’m just asking,” she snaps back.

“Why would I move any of them?”

“I don’t know, maybe for the same reason one is hanging in a mom ‘n pop shop in Circhester?” 

“I don’t think Raihan would send a part of Hammerlocke’s history exhibit to Circhester, Sonia,” Leon says, despite how okay he is with watching them bicker.

“I wouldn’t,” Raihan agrees. “It’s too cold there.” 

“I - sorry.” She lets go of her hair to pinch at the bridge of her nose. “It’s just that there’s already evidence of things missing from the story. It changes every time something new pops up - first one hero, then two, then two with two pokemon. But nothing ever goes into what they’re stopping.”

“I could ask the chairman,” Leon tries, but she shakes her head.

“Gran said he didn’t know anything worth our time. And I think,” she pauses, puts her elbow in her hand and rests her chin against her knuckles, focused on the tapestries once more. “I think I have some ideas on where to start.”

 

-=-=-

 

He’s back in Wyndon trying to get a hold of the chairman or even Oleana when he gets the text from Raihan.

those kids are no joke mate

There’s a picture that comes with it; a selfie of Raihan just coming down from a battle. Leon’s seen the tells enough to know that it was an incredible match - sand-dusted skin and electric eyes and a crooked smile that bared a fang. On either side of him, peeking just into frame even though Raihan is leaning, is Hop and Victor. Hop’s grin is big enough to close his eyes. Victor’s is more subdued but he’s able to fit in the peace sign he’s flashing the camera. Behind them, Leon can just make out the busy hustling of the Hammerlocke train station.

They’ve beaten Raihan.

Leon’s feels his hands clench into fists as he rereads the message. He smiles.

 

-=-=-

 

His home city becomes an even bigger rush.

Three days before the semifinals are set to start, the gym challengers arrive from the Route Ten train station. There’s only three left, but the Rose of the Rondelands is never lacking in accommodations anyhow. Leon is the one who’s being asked about the budget and the floor plannings and the escort timetables as they come in. He only thinks that this is weird after the fact. 

“Where’s the chairman?” he asks the official after he’s signed the small contract the Rose has sent over for the rooms. 

The Official takes it from him with a shrug. “In his office, maybe? Oleana’s the one who told me to give this to you, I just do what she says.”

Leon nods, because that’s fair. It’s what he tends to do, as well.

He’s not given much time to think on it, either, because more and more questions come in from League Staff. More jobs to delegate, more contracts to sign, more ads to find time slots for, more tech issues he’s got to pass over to someone else. Leon takes it all in stride - the work isn’t anything he’s not used to. He was allowed to be more hands on when it came to the championships ever since he turned eighteen. 

But it’s the day of the start of the matches, and Rose is still nowhere to be seen. 

And then there’s the ever-present feeling on the back of his neck telling him to be prepared. To always have one hand ready to call out Charizard. To expect the ground to shake and to defend against a sudden burst of red light, a pokemon on a rampage. It’s just -

It’s different this year.

The matches carry out. Leon watches them from the Champion’s Box like he’s done in the years past. It’s spacious with lounge chairs instead of the plastic seats out in the stands and a full serving staff ready at beck and call. And just like he’s done in the years past, Leon does not use any of it.

He stands close to the windows facing out into the stadium, floor to ceiling but thick enough to block out the sounds of the cheering crowds. The commentator’s audio plays out from the TV hanging above the included minibar that runs the match as it’s airing, but Leon still prefers to stand and watch. The noise cancelling is probably a good idea, though. If he could hear the energy of the fans and the sounds of battle, he’d probably find himself on the field far quicker than he should. 

Raihan stands with him, like always. He’s probably the most normal feeling thing that Leon’s experienced in the last few days. Raihan picks up on this.

“You nervous?” He asks Leon. Neither of them take their eyes away from the battle taking place down below. 

Marnie is on her second to last pokemon. Victor has yet to switch off his first. But Morpeko is faster than her previous teammates, and Hitmonlee has been battling for a long while. She might be able to finally take him down. That would put them to three to one, then. 

Marnie is a fine trainer. Excellent, even. This battle isn’t going to be close, though.

Leon’s hands tighten from where he’s got them wrapped around his crossed arms. He realizes he’s been smiling the second the match started. “Excited,” he corrects Raihan. 

“Probably the best competition we’ve seen in a while,” Raihan says with a nod. 

Neither of them say it, but Leon knows they’re both thinking it. Raihan isn’t going to be the one he meets in the finals this year.

 

-=-=-

 

Hop’s battle style, while polished since the last time Leon’s seen it, is still wild. 

His calls seem to be more like suggestions that his team takes as they please, but it’s not as if they don’t listen to him. They battle hard and they battle to win - it’s one of the most intense matches Leon’s ever seen that he’s not been a part of. For the first time that day, he turns to the television to see it closer. His brother’s face is devoid of any of its usual sunshine; his mouth is a downturned line and his brow is furrowed together in focus. 

Across from him is Victor and he’s different than how he was in his battle with Marnie. The way he battles is still seamless, confident, unmatched. His pokemon don’t look worried. He does. It’s brief and fleeting but Leon catches it in the split second the filming drone gets close enough for the fine details of his face. The commentator calls out the standings of the battle - two to four - and Victor grimaces. 

It’s so fast but Leon sees it, even though he’s not really looking for it. 

You’d rather die than lose, the grimace says. You’ll win because you’re meant to.

Watching his brother fail crushes Leon in such a specific and obscure way. It feels like nothing is going the way it should - or maybe it is, and that’s the most unsettling part. Ten years of things going one way only to shift tide at the very last second. 

He feels Raihan’s knuckles bounce off his hip lightly and Leon reaches down to grab his hand. 

“You alright?” 

Leon doesn’t answer that question directly. “I’m gonna go check on them.”

“Want me to come?” 

“You have a match to get ready for,” he says reluctantly.

Raihan tugs the hand he’s got a hold of and Leon follows it until his head is on Raihan’s shoulder. When there’s a kiss on the top of his head, one he can feel through his hat, he breathes out steadily.

“Okay.”

“I’ll come by your room later,” Leon promises. 

Raihan pulls away, and the kiss he leaves behind is light on Leon’s lips. “Okay.”

 

-=-=-

 

Hop doesn’t look at him right away when Leon meets him and Victor at the elevators. 

“Brilliant match,” he tells them, but says it mostly to his brother. 

“All of Victor’s matches are,” Hop says with a shrug, smile looking too easy to be genuine.

From where he’s hovering close by Hop’s shoulders, Victor frowns.

 

-=-=-

 

Leon had promised them dinner - forced them into dinner, really, because Hop had tried to make an escape. He’d wanted to hide away in his hotel room, said something about being “absolutely knackered, ‘s been a day ”. Leon, suddenly, felt like he was fifteen again, locked in a room after a battle that changed his life. Little thought went into denying Hop that. With the way Victor hovered over Hop’s shoulder and didn’t hide his frown, Leon doubted he’d leave Hop by himself, anyway. 

Still, he asked them to dinner. He just wanted to be sure.

League Staff were finishing cleaning up the stands, rerolling new grass out onto the pitch after a sweeping. He leaves them to it after he’s been assured a dozen times that everything is on schedule. The feeling that everything is very much the opposite of that is unshakable. 

An hour after he was supposed to meet back with Hop and Victor, he finally relents and heads for the stadium’s lobby. Double checking and triple checking hasn’t lessened the uncanny feeling, and he’s thinking that extracting himself from the environment might do him some good. 

The couple of League Staff standing by the door must beg to differ, as they stop him as soon as he gets close. Leon hasn’t been in Rose Tower for some time, but he recognizes the uniform differences - they weren’t working on the arena. They’re here to collect him. 

“Miss Oleana sent us,” one said to him as he approaches. He really didn’t need to be told that. With how their arms are crossed behind their backs and how their faces are still behind their sunglasses, Leon could’ve guessed himself that these were Oleana’s employees. 

“Chairman Rose would like a word,” the other continues for the first. 

“Okay,” Leon tells them. He forces on his champion smile. The mention of Rose’s name makes him anxious. In all of his ten years working with the man, that’s never happened. Everything is changing. “I’ll make my way over there as soon as - “

“Miss Oleana requested urgency,” the first says. The other one steps aside and holds the door open for Leon to step through. 

Leon’s smile stays intact. Distantly, he feels his nails bite into his palm.

 

-=-=-

 

The lights at the top of the tower are dimmed to near darkness. The staff who’d escorted him to the building and up the elevator don’t step off with him, so he’s left to cross the expanse of the room by himself.

Rose is at his desk; none of his monitors are turned on. He’s looking at the tablet he’s set on his desk. Oleana stands to the left of him and watches Leon as he approaches. The only sound is Leon’s shoes on the back-lit panels of the floor.

“Good evening, Leon.” Rose’s tone is distracted and he doesn’t look up from his tablet, but his tone is pleasant enough. 

“Chairman,” he greets back. He stops in front of the desk and puts his hands on his hips, smiling. “We missed you at the semifinals today. Excellent battles.” 

“I’m sorry for that. Something came up that needed addressing. Something,” Rose pauses to turn the tablet around and slides it over for Leon to see, “I need your assistance with.”

The screen displays a graph, one Leon is actually quite familiar with. It’s been shown in countless presentations, discussed in meetings, worked over and edited weekly. He stares at the climbing line of Hammerlocke Power Plant’s energy production. He’s not following. Nothing on the graph appears to be out of place.

“Sir?”

Rose leans forward and taps at the screen. The image zooms out and the line continues to be drawn across the graph, steadily rising until a sudden drop.

“Our resources have been confirmed to be depletable, something we previously thought to be untrue.”

Leon feels his smile wilt completely. Oh.

That is an issue. A big one, at that. For as long as he can remember since becoming champion, Leon’s life has been split so many different ways. Maintaining the title has always been a big portion - training and keeping up with competition. If his life were balanced like a scale, the title would be on one side and Rose’s energy project would weigh out the other side. He’s spent all his off time helping the Chairman’s company convert old cities over to their cleaner grid, even lent a hand managing and overseeing worksites when it came to it. So Leon knows for a fact that a vast majority of Galar runs off their power plant. 

A vast majority of Galar without power.

“I’m sure you can understand why this is something that requires our immediate attention,” Rose says. He’s not putting an effort into smiling anymore. 

“Of course.” That’s homes without heat, hospitals with dead tech, no working water treatment centers, entire districts cut off. It would be a disaster, one Leon promised the people wouldn’t be possible. “How much time do we have to fix this? Can we fix this?”

“Going as we are now, our team has estimated that we have the means to produce, store, and distribute for another thousand years.”

Oh. Leon breathes out a sigh. Rose notices this.

“Yes. We were lucky that we made the discovery when we did.” He retrieves the tablet, but instead of continuing to swipe through it he locks it and sets it aside. “It gives us time to rectify our mistake, which is why I’m cancelling the matches tomorrow.” 

He folds his hands on the desk and looks at Leon expectantly.

For a moment, all Leon can do is blink at him. “I’m sorry?”

“In order to preserve Galar, I’m going to need you.”

And Leon just stares at him, because hasn’t that always been the case? Hasn’t he done nothing but give everything of himself to Rose’s country? His entire business? His league? “You’ve always had me, Chairman,” he states. “But - I don’t think I’m following.” 

In the middle of this, Oleana’s phone buzzes. Both Leon and Rose ignore it.

“We already have the solution. Wouldn’t you agree that it’s better to utilize it as soon as possible? If we have it, why wait?” 

“What is it?” Leon hears himself ask. “What kind of ‘solution’ would take me away from the Championship Match?”

It goes quiet. Leon holds Rose’s gaze. The man doesn’t seem nervous or reluctant to speak, but he still takes the time to look at Leon, taking in his expression, the tone of his voice. 

Oleana’s thumbs tap against the screen of her phone.

“You know the history of Galar,” Rose says.

Yes, Leon wants to snap back, you made sure of it. He nods.

“Then you know the story of the Darkest Day.”

It feels like a rubber band goes around Leon’s ribs in a cold, hard snap. “Chairman - “

“We have the means to harness the power that pours from such an event,” Rose tells him. “We’ve tested this, and you’ve helped tremendously without even being made aware.”

Red light, hulking shadow, massive claws. Close calls, could’ve lost, could’ve been caught unaware. I thought you said you didn’t know anything -

“I would just need you to be present. Power spots appear in patches near the power plant, and there’s no better trainer more equipped to dispatch any pokemon who wander into the fray.” 

Rose,” Leon tries. The man doesn’t barrel on again but he does purse his lips together. “Doesn’t this seem - seem drastic? Unleashing something like the power of the Darkest Day, if it’s even possible, for something a thousand years in the future?”

“It’s necessary.” 

“It’s a lot of time. Time we could use to start working for another solution, or even an alternative source of energy.”

“It’s a lot of time,” Rose says as Oleana takes a few steps closer to him, “to spend doing everything we can that ends with us potentially coming up with nothing. Every second we wait is another second closer to a darker future.”

Oleana leans down and cups her hands over her mouth as she whispers something to Rose. Leon waits, gritting his teeth. Eventually, Rose nods and Oleana straightens. She locks eyes with Leon and he notices that he can see more of the whites in them than he’d like to. She breaks away and saunters passed him. He can hear the elevator doors slide open and then close behind her.

Rose stands from his desk, straightens his golden suit. “Follow me, Leon.” He puts his back to him, pushing his chair in and stepping over to the large windows lining the walls. “Come look at this.” 

Leon does as he’s asked. Below, the shape of Galar rises to meet them. Its lights reflect in the watery-green of Rose’s eyes as they flick back and forth to the specks of movement in Wyndon’s streets. 

“Our people trust us to do the right thing,” he says, so quietly Leon isn’t sure if he was supposed to hear it or not. 

“You can’t expect them to understand this,” Leon says, unable to hide the disbelief in his voice anymore. “Cancelling one of the most anticipated events of the year for something they won’t even experience in their lifetime - it won’t make any sense.” 

Rose’s eyes close and his shoulders lift with such a long suffering sigh that Leon’s immediate reaction is to feel guilty. “After all these years, Leon. And you still don’t understand the importance of what we do.” 

“That’s not true.” The anger that rises in him might have surprised him, but in the moment it burns too hot for him to notice how sudden it comes on. “My entire life has been Galar.” 

“Then why are you so reluctant to help me save it?”

“I’m not!” Rose doesn’t flinch at the way Leon’s voice is raised, but Leon does. “I - Chairman, I wouldn’t do anything that would ever endanger the lives of Galar’s people, but with all due respect, sir, I don’t believe the situation is dire enough to cancel the matches tomorrow.”

Rose stays silent, his expression still. Leon can’t read it. He doesn’t know if he’s getting through to him or not - he’s never seen the chairman like this. Afraid. As unnerving as it is, Leon can’t let it deter him. 

He sets his shoulders back and steadies his words. “Look, I understand your concern. Once tomorrow’s match is over, you have my word that I’ll help you in any way I can. I promise.”

The chairman’s silence goes on. Leon doesn’t know what to say anymore. 

Behind them, the elevator’s doors slide open once more, but the footsteps are too rapid to be Oleana and too quick to be just one person.

“Lee!” Hop slows to a stop as soon as Leon and Rose turn to face him. His eyes go back and forth between the two but they linger on Rose the longest. Victor hovers by Hop’s shoulder and he does not even try to hide how he blatantly and openly stares at the chairman. “I texted you, like, a billion times and you never answered. So when you didn’t show up when you were supposed to so I got worried - Piers and Marnie and their Team Yell people helped us get up here - “

“I must apologize to you, Hop,” Rose cuts in and it’s like he’s come back to life. His smile is back and it’s blinding, igniting his eyes back into something warm. “We didn’t mean to cause any worry, and I didn’t mean for this meeting to last as long as it did. Unfortunately there are times where it seems that adults just can’t have an honest discussion with each other. Sometimes our pride just gets in the way.” 

The words cut and Leon just barely keeps his smiling expression in tact when they slice at him. Is that what the Chairman thinks this is? His pride getting in the way? Or is it just an excuse - is he reaching for reasons that could potentially make Leon rethink his decision? No matter what, it’s a meager attempt, and maybe it goes to show how dire Rose must think the situation is. Leon doesn’t care, especially when he sees Hop take a step forward and opens his mouth, eyes narrowed enough for Leon to know that he’s going to say something.

“Don’t worry about any of this,” Leon tells Hop, and it sounds like an echo of himself. Let the adults handle it, let the adults handle it, let the adults handle it. Is this what he’d wanted, when he diverted their attention from all the things that had gone amiss? “I’m sorry I missed you earlier, but we can go for dinner now.”

Hop gives the Chairman another uncertain glance. Eventually, he gets out, “The restaurant’s closed, Lee.”

“The hotel it is then,” Leon says without missing a beat. “Room service there is excellent. Anything you want, it’s on me.”

From where he’s standing just behind his little brother, Victor unintentionally catches his attention. He’s staring, unblinkingly, at Rose and it’s something Leon’s never seen in a fifteen year old before. But he’s always known Victor was smart, along with Hop. They know something is wrong. That doesn’t mean they have to worry about the disaster set a millennium from now. No one should have to. 

Leon turns back to Rose himself, smiling still. “If you’ll excuse us, Chairman Rose.” And then, because he can’t help it, because he’s angry, because he’s had a long day, a long few years, he mirrors his brother and narrows his eyes just a touch. Nobody goes to stop him when he dares to say, “And I do hope you’ll be able to make it to the matches tomorrow. It’s sure to be one for the history books.” 

Rose says nothing in return and Leon doesn’t wait for him to, doesn’t even wait to see how he reacts. He shoulders his cape, adjusts it across his back, and moves in long and steady strides as he heads for the elevators. Hop falls into pace beside him, only pausing when Victor stays still for just a second too long. He relents simply enough with a touch to his elbow, and Leon watches his brother exchange a look with the other. Whatever Victor must see in it gets him to turn with Hop and has him following them toward the elevators.

 

-=-=-

 

It’s dark when Leon gets to Raihan’s room later - much, much later - but there’s a light shining against a lump under the large bed’s blankets. He almost doesn’t bother with his shoes until he gets his palms flat on the expensive, silky sheets, then he thinks again. He’d left his cape back in his own suite when they’d gathered for dinner, changing briefly in the bathroom while Hop and Victor chatted excitedly over the menu. It was one sided, now that Leon thought about it, but when he returned to the main room Victor’s lazy, easy smile was back.

The thought of it - and its cause - has Leon heaving a giant sigh when he finally drops onto the mattress, shoes discarded off to the side and hat somewhere on the floor beside them. 

“You didn’t have to wait for me,” he whispers. The light from Raihan’s phone goes dims as it’s dropped onto a pillow, then there’s an arm being laid over Leon’s waist.

“How d’you know it wasn’t because I just couldn’t sleep? I have a big match tomorrow, if you haven’t heard.” 

He supposes there could be a bit of truth in that. Then again, Leon knows the other too well. Moving onto his side, he reaches out and finds the other’s face in the dark, running his thumb over his cheekbone and guesses where his lips are. He actually gets pretty close, kisses the corner of his mouth. It’s how he knows Raihan’s frowning.

“Everything alright?”

Leon doesn’t lie, because it goes both ways - Raihan knows him too well. “I don’t think so.” Raihan makes a questioning noise. Leon turns under the arm over his middle until he’s on his side, resting his forehead against the other’s shoulder. “The Chairman called me in for a meeting tonight, the first I’d heard from him since yesterday.” Leon feels Raihan’s hum against his temple. “There’s going to be an energy crisis in a thousand years.”

“Call the presses,” Raihan mumbles after a snort. 

Given different circumstances, Leon might have laughed with him. “He kept saying all these things, he - those red lights that started showing up around your gym? How he said he didn’t know anything about it? He was lying - he kept talking about the Darkest Day and how he’s going to save Galar’s future by unleashing its power and using it for energy or - “

What? How - why - how would he even do that?” 

“I don’t know,” Leon admits. “But Sonia and Magnolia seem to think whatever he’s doing at his power plant is connected to that story Sonia’s been studying.”

Raihan’s hand had been petting at the small of Leon’s back as they spoke. When he hears that, it stills. “You think he’s going to go through with it?”

Straight away, the answer Leon comes up with is a no. Because for as long as Leon’s known Rose, he never would have thought the man would do anything that would endanger the people of Galar. Over half of Rose’s income goes directly back into the region what with maintaining multiple free clinics, making donations to all sorts of charities, funding projects like his own in cities or other countries that don’t exactly have the means. When Leon thought of Rose, he thought of humility. Dedication and restless hospitality.

But then he remembers how his eyes can go hard and how his face is like steel without his smile. He remembers Rose’s voice and how it cut through a room when it was sharp with frustration. 

“I think,” Leon starts slowly. “I think he’s just scared.”

Raihan snorts again but this time it’s completely mirthless. “That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Why else would someone go to such extremes for a problem so far away unless they’re terrified?”

“He didn’t seem like himself,” Leon adds on. “He wanted to cancel the match tomorrow so I could help him, but I told him no. ‘M kinda hoping this’ll all blow over and he’ll come to his senses after a good sleep or something.”

There’s a long pause, and in the time is stretches over Raihan’s hand continues running across Leon’s back. “So you’re not going to tell Miss Clever Clogs about your boss potentially starting the apocalypse she’s been studying for almost a year?”

“No,” he says without even thinking, because if anything, he was sure of that. “The Champion Match is something Galar - something I - wait for all year. Too much work goes into tomorrow. Rose and his apocalypse can wait until after.” 

“I would go even further and say,” Raihan starts, humor and sleepiness thick in his voice, “that the apocalypse can wait even longer than that.” 

Leon huffs out a laugh. “Yeah. That would be best.” 

 

-=-=-

 

Chairman Rose does not attend the finals, but he doesn’t send any of his personal staff to come and collect Leon again. He deems this a good omen.

The crowd cheers when they see him step onto the field, adorned in his champion garb and a larger than life smile. At the head of the pitch, just underneath the giant screen, Leon stands, introduces himself, the gym leaders, the sole challenger. No one asks where the Chairman is. 

The show goes on.

 

-=-=-

 

“What do you want us to do?” 

From the Champion Box, Leon could just barely make out the two figures on the pitch. Victor stands in place, the first contestant in today’s matches for a spot at the grand finals. His eyes are locked in a place across from him, where his opponent should have been. But the person standing across from him is definitely not Nessa. 

It’s Bede. The Chairman’s endorsee. 

He addresses the crowd directly and he can just barely be heard over the confused murmuring in the stands. Leon didn’t know this kid very well. He never met him in person, only heard of him through Rose and Victor. But he knows what influence Bede’s actions had over his brother. He knows that he willingly destroyed history to please one of Oleana’s request. He knows that Bede walked around the region, cocky and arrogant, boasting his sure goal of taking Leon down, all in the name of the Chairman.

But Rose isn’t here. Bede is, in Opal’s colors. That has to mean something.

Below, Leon sees Victor’s head tilt up. His eyes land on the glass of the Champion Box. He knows that the outside is tinted. No one can see through it. The trainer is making a point, because he knows that Leon’s watching from up here. He doesn’t want to see Leon, he wants Leon to see him.

It makes Leon smile. He wouldn’t have said no, either.

“We can have him escorted - “

“Let them battle,” Leon says, and the League Staff member’s brows rise over the frames of her glasses.

“Are you sure?”

He nods. It would be a bit hypocritical of him to turn Bede down now. His dream was to support all trainers in Galar, to give them a chance at doing great things. Leon figures Bede could probably use another chance, seeing how unlucky he’d gotten with the first, and who he’d gotten it from.

“If our challenger accepts, then I don’t see a problem.” 

The League Staff member seems thoughtful for a moment. Eventually she smiles. “Yes, sir. I’ll have them ask.” 

 

-=-=-

 

In less than five minutes, the pitch is clear besides the two battlers. Victor sends out his Gyrados, Bede his Mawile, and Leon crosses his arms, settling in for the match.

 

-=-=-

 

Bede falls. Nessa falls. Bea falls.

Victor doesn’t falter a single time.

“That kid,” Raihan says when he hears the door to the locker room close and lock, “is no fuckin’ joke.”

“Neither are you.” Leon makes his way over to him, doesn’t sit down but does drag his palm along Raihan’s shoulders. He tugs at the fanged hood playfully. “Even if you only have two dragons.” 

Duraludon, who’d been stationed at the end of the bench his trainer is sitting on, makes a grumbling sound. It nearly matches the one Raihan himself makes perfectly. “Four, you wanker.” 

Leon grins down at him. “Whatever the number, you'll do great.”

“Is that what you’re doing, then?” Raihan reaches up and lays his hand over the one Leon’s got resting on his shoulder. “Wishing me good luck?”

In all honesty, Leon’s come down from his perch for some normalcy. Watching Victor’s battles left his nerves feeling like frayed ends with a lit match nearby. He couldn’t figure out why - didn’t want to figure out why - so almost subconsciously he’s sought out Raihan. 

He turns his hand over and takes a hold of the other’s, finding it big and warm. “You don’t need luck.”

Duraludon agrees with that sentiment given the way he straightens up even more and groans deeply. 

Raihan’s smiling at his pokemon - one of those grins that are crooked and sharp, as sure as the storming blue in his eyes. “Here’s hoping Rose stays gone,” he says, lifting an elbow up high enough to buff out a streak on Duraladon’s body casing. “Maybe we’ll be able to celebrate early this year.” 

 

-=-=-

 

The battle is not as one-sided as the rest of them seemed to be. Victor starts off the match with his Tyranitar. It’s massive, imposing, and when it’s released its roar blows up the dirt from underneath the pitch. It rages for all of a second before Raihan throws out his own starting pokemon. The sandstorm is whipped away with Torkoal at the source, the grass wilting from the sudden heat wave. 

Leon sees the way Raihan leans forward, how Victor widens his stance, and wishes desperately that he could sit in the stands just above the tunnel. 

The Tyranitar is an incredible pokemon. It shrugs off Torkoal’s Solar Beam despite the speed of which it was dispatched. Its Earthquake hits hard and Torkoal is rocked.

It’s only the first exchange and Leon can hear the crowd screaming and chanting. Raihan’s always been a fan-favorite, and Leon doesn’t even feel biased when he thinks it. His battle style is always intense, but there’s something different about Raihan in the finals rather than when he battles as a gym leader. In Hammerlocke, he’s there to teach - the strategy and team he utilizes is meant to fail when it’s supposed to, when trainers come knowing or have learned how to overcome the challenge he’s set up for them. 

In Wyndon stadium, he’s Raihan, a trainer who’s here after climbing all the way from the bottom. Tight fists, bared teeth. No more ground to cover. He doesn’t like losing. 

Raihan battles like a storm.

But Victor roars louder.

 

-=-=-

 

Leon makes it to Raihan’s locker room before he does and waits for him there, long enough to begin to wonder if he’s gotten the wrong room. The battle’s been over for twenty minutes or more, and press or fans haven’t been allowed in the tunnels for a while now.

He’s about to go and look for him when the door opens and Raihan saunters in, phone in hand with a pensive expression.

“I thought I was the one who got lost all the time,” Leon says, trying to put humor in his voice. They’ve never done this before. Usually when Raihan loses, it’s to him . Not to anybody else, not in the finals. It’s like all those years haven’t past and he’s waiting for something to show in Raihan’s face. 

His brow furrows, and Leon’s chest chills when he notices there is something there. “What?” Raihan asks. He doesn’t slip his phone back into his pocket, but he does lower it down by his side. 

“You took a while getting back in,” Leon explains, still trying for a light tone and his usual smile. “Figured you had to’ve gotten lost.” 

Raihan breathes out a laugh and there’s something odd about it. “Oh! Yeah, yeah, I just - Sebestian called, something came up with the gym.”

Leon forgoes the grin. “Everything all right?”

“Yeah,” Raihan says, looking away and back down at his phone. He walks passed Leon and heads over to his locker where his bag is half spilling out onto the floor. “It’s nothing too bad, but I’m still gonna head out, wanna help ‘em in case something goes wrong.” 

He’s leaning over his bag, dropping his team’s pokeballs into the opened pocket with one hand and keeps his phone in the other, very pointedly not taking his eyes off of it. Leon struggles for a moment on what to say, because he knows something’s wrong. It’s obvious in the way Raihan’s not looking at him, but - but Leon was sure everything was fine. Out on the pitch, after Duraludon’s speed is bested by Victor’s Hitmonlee and the match is called, Raihan had strode forward with that grin he wore after every battle. Pleased, respectful. Content. 

But had that all been for show? This is the first time in ten years Raihan’s lost to someone other than Leon, gym challenges disregarded. Could he be disappointed? Embarrassed? That isn’t like him. Even before Leon was champion and him and Raihan battled on dirt roads and docks against the sea, the dragon trainer has always been able to take a loss gracefully, no matter the stakes. Always coming out cool and confident, because he knew he’d learn from it; his Rotom phone was trained to fly around the pitch, filming every battle he’s in and that was later watched over and over, sometimes frame by frame in Duraludon’s case. 

Losing never changed Raihan. It has to be something else.

Leon’s shoulders roll back a bit and he straightens up a little. “Raihan,” he says sharply, and the other’s eyes snap up to meet his in the very same second. “What’s going on?”

He opens his mouth and nothing comes out. Then he closes it and exhales through his nose. “Seb texted to tell me he and the other trainers got kicked from the gym again, per Chairman Rose’s request.” The last part is said with a hint of irritated sarcasm. Leon blinks. “After what you told me last night, I just wanna make sure he’s not there to do, y’know.” Raihan shrugs. “Anything stupid.”

“He’s there now?” Leon asks. Raihan nods. “Then I’m going - “

As he’s turning on his heel to leave, Raihan catches his elbow in his grip and holds him in place. “See - that?That’s why I didn’t want to tell you.”

Leon doesn’t try to shake him off, but he doesn’t turn back around either. “If he’s going to do anything - “

“You said he’d need you to do it, didn’t you? Maybe that’s what he’s trying to do,” Raihan says. “But he’s at Hammerlocke, and that’s my responsibility, innit? So it’s me he’ll be getting. And you’ll be staying here, because the grand finals are your responsibility, Champ.”

Leon frowns but ultimately he knows that the other is right. Even if he broke a few rules and flew out on Charizard, who’s not bound to the air paths and designated courses set for the Flying Taxis, Leon would never be able to make it there and back in time for his match. He also doubts another meeting with Rose would be resolved before the end of the night if it’s anything like the one he’d dealt with. 

“If anything happens,” he starts, finally relenting.

“If he decides to bring on Armageddon, you’ll be the first to know,” Raihan laughs.

 

-=-=-

 

Energy crackles underneath his skin and he finds that it’s impossible to stay in his own secluded locker room. The League Staff does a good job at hiding their odd looks at Leon’s presence but they don’t try to cover up how relieved they are to have someone to direct their questions to. He’s able to keep busy, directing production and ensuring first-hand that everything was going as it should on at least one front. 

He’s asked Rotom to notify him directly when he gets a text from Raihan. It’s been two hours since he’s left, and there hasn’t been anything.

Finally he’s urged to descend into the tunnels, and he does so gladly. His entire being is aching to be out on the pitch again, in the middle with the grass crunching beneath his shoes and the air stood still around him and his opponent. He doesn’t want to wait any longer. 

He wants to battle, because it feels like he’s been waiting since he watched Hop and Victor set off for Motostoke to experience the kind of fire that ignited the second Victor stepped onto a battlefield. 

Leon wants to battle him because he likes to win, but more than that he loves a good match where the crowd buzzes like static. Battles like those always feel extreme.

Leon wants to battle him and get it over with, because the phone sitting in his pocket gets heavier and heavier each second that passes without a word from Raihan. He wants to get to Hammerlocke and sort out this energy crisis so he doesn’t lose anymore sleep worrying over it. 

But first, Leon will battle, because he wants to. He owes himself that.

A familiar head of purple hair rounds the corner, and behind him is his massive partner towering above him. They stop when they notice Leon, Rillaboom thumping his chest twice in greeting with a broad grin.

“Good to see you again, too,” Leon says to the pokemon. It’s a little endearing that he remembers Leon after all this time, seeing as the last time they’ve actually seen each other was probably back when he gifted him as a Grookey to Hop. The memory makes Leon smile himself and looking at his brother now puts something warm in his blood. “What are you doing down here, scotch?” He still has to ask, since he’s technically in charge and people technically aren’t supposed to be down here. 

Hop shrugs and shoves his hands into the pockets on his joggers, even going as far as looking appropriately bashful. “Just talking t’Victor. It’s his first Championship Match, after all, wanted to make sure he wasn’t gonna bail.”

Leon laughs. “Well, thank you for your help. That would’ve been a disappointing end to the season, wouldn’t it?” 

“I do what I can,” his brother jokes back, and his smile changes just in the slightest of ways, but Leon spots it. It’s the same fragility from before and makes the expression brittle. Before he can say anything, Hop hurries on to say, “Well, you better get moving, Lee. You’ll need all the extra time you can get trying to find your way around.” 

Purposefully, Leon takes the bait. He scowls playfully, reaching out and forcefully running his hand through Hop’s hair and ruffling it with enough force that Hop nearly stumbles over to the side. “I’ve worked here for ten years, mate - “

Knock it off!”

“ - I’m not hopeless enough to get lost in here.” He pauses. “Anymore.” 

Hop ducks out from Leon’s hand and runs around his partner, putting Rillaboom between them. The pokemon lifts an arm to look at him from under it, aiming an amused smile at his trainer.

“Get outta here, then,” Hop says as he dares to peek out from around his cover. His golden eyes are bright with laughter. Whatever Leon saw in them a moment ago is gone - or covered up once more. “Seriously. Don’t wanna be late for your own battle, especially since everyone’s been so excited to see it.”

“Even you?” Leon asks, because he’s a martyr, and things have been changing and he wants to know by how much. 

But Hop nods, says, “‘Course. I’d never miss it, Lee.” 

 

-=-=-

 

Leon doesn’t wait to be called out. He waits on the field without an introduction. At this point, he really doesn’t need one. Waiting with his arms crossed and eyes closed, soaking in the still air and faraway cries, he thinks of the face Oleana would have made had Leon done that while she was present. Her face pinched intensely when Leon was late by fifteen minutes to meetings, he couldn’t imagine the hell that settled in her features when she watched him strut out onto the pitch without his lightshow. 

The air doesn’t change, but the crowd does. Screams roar and he starts to grin before he even opens his eyes. 

Victor stands in front of him but he’s looking at anything but Leon, scanning the stands with that lazy half-smile. He seems relaxed, and that isn’t too odd really, seeing as he’s spent enough time in front of an audience, but Leon knows. It’s different from the others. It’s bigger. Wyndon matches always seem to feel this way.

“Mad, innit?” He asks.

Victor sobers slightly, brown eyes hardening. He doesn’t say anything.

“I’ve been addicted to this feeling since my own opening ceremony.” Leon glances around himself, but only for a second. “Hearing them for the first time when you step out onto the grass, realizing it’s all for you… Sometimes it feels like it’s the only thing that gets your heart beating. But they don’t matter right now,” Leon says and Victor’s head tilts in acknowledgement. “The only thing that matters right now is you and me. So don’t lose focus. I want an excellent battle.”

“No doubt,” Victor replies, voice low and smooth, calm and confident. His eyes are narrowed just slightly and with his half-smile he tells Leon, “Good luck.”

Around the blazing in his chest, Leon laughs. “Hope you don’t lose that confidence, challenger. My team has been itching to battle you.” 

The crowd has noticed that they’re exchanging words and they’ve quieted down to a murmur. So, Leon speaks up, loud and clear like he’s been taught to, and says, “I’m Galar’s Champion Leon. Me and Charizard, the rest of my pokemon - we’re going to use all our knowledge and experience in our battle. If we want to have a champion time, you better not hold back!” The crowd starts up again, so only Victor can hear him when he says, “Because I’m not going to.”

Leon turns from Victor, takes the dozen paces over to his end of the pitch. He takes his breath, he turns - 

The lights in the stadium dim to near darkness, sponsors and champion logos disappearing from their scrolling boards. Cries of confusion and alarm erupt and Leon’s first reaction is to look toward the tunnels, squinting to see if he can see any League Staff members to question about what is happening. 

“Hello, Leon - and Victor, dear boy!”

He turns just enough to glance over his shoulder, eyes going up onto the giant monitor that hangs behind him. Leon sees Rose and quite honestly, for an entire second, he wonders if he’s having some sort of nightmare. Like maybe he’s managed to black out on the pitch and he’s imagining all this, because Rose’s voice is booming through the speakers where everyone can hear and see that he’s not there, he’s at -

“Unfortunate that I’ve had to resort to such extreme measures, but there’s nothing left to be done,” Rose is saying. His voice is horribly flat and his smile is missing and Leon’s just looking at the power plant behind him, where red electricity is bouncing around the frame. “I did what I have done to save our region. But because you would not listen, would not help, the Darkest Day cannot be restrained. It’s no longer under my control - “

As if on cue, the ground starts to tremble. Leon barely registers it until it cracks and breaks beneath him. He sees Victor stumble back a few paces - just in time, too, because light bursts in a straight beam that hits the clouds and cracks open the sky above. It hisses with the same red electricity and Leon has to use his cape as a shield against the sudden burn of it.

“I’m sorry it’s come to this,” Rose is saying over the chaos. “But you forced my hand. I just needed you to listen, Leon.” 

Tripping over rubble and overturned turf, Leon gives the energy a wide berth and locks eyes with Victor. There’s not a chance in hell the other can hear him over the light, so he points over toward the tunnel and doesn’t move until Victor does.

“This is about last night,” Victor states when they’re a safe enough distance away, hidden just beyond the entrance of the tunnel. His eyes are reflecting red, looking up as far as he can into the sky. 

“I didn’t think he’d do it,” Leon hears himself say.

“Lee! Vic!” Hop’s footsteps echo in the long hallway and he skips to a stop in front of them. He’s out of breath, evidently from his run from the stands, but he finds enough to ask, “Are you okay? What’s happening?”

“He said the Darkest Day ‘can’t be restrained ’,” Victor recalls. 

“So he’s already started it?” Hop blanches. “What in the world did the chairman do?”

He’s created a mess, is what he did. Leon doesn’t say it out loud, but he’s thinking it so wholeheartedly he screws his eyes shut on the thought, fists clenched by his sides. I just needed you to listen, Leon. But he has. He has been listening. Leon’s done nothing but listen to other people for an entire decade - he’s listened to their rules, followed their schedules, spread himself thin in order to meet expectations. That didn’t earn Leon this. It shouldn’t have.

But now there’s lights springing up from the ground with power capable of leveling cities, and the chairman was sitting in Hammerlocke - the heart of it all. 

Leon thinks of his phone, and how Raihan never texted him.

“I have to go,” he tells Hop and Victor, turning from the field and breaking out into a run as soon as he’s passed them. Hop calls out something to him, but it doesn’t even occur to him that he should stop.

By what might be the only amount of luck that’ll strike him today, Leon gets to the exit of the stadium without a wrong turn. On the streets, the sky is dark with folding clouds. He pays it no mind.

Charizard spreads his wings as he shakes off the white light from his pokeball. He rumbles out an inquisitive noise and visibly hones in on the uneasy tension his trainer is carrying about him. 

“We need to get to Hammerlocke as fast as we can,” Leon explains to him quickly and he doesn’t care that his composure is slipping, not where anyone but his partner can see it. “Can you help me?” 

Charizard blinks up at the several beaming spears dotting the skyline and huffs out an affirmative bout of flame. He lowers his head, folds in a wing, and allows Leon to climb onto his back.

The wind is deafening when they’re high up, but he can hear the dial tone just fine in his ear. He’s ducked down to keep the current out of his face, forehead resting against Charizard’s neck as he flies, and keeps his eyes closed. Bottom lip between his teeth, he waits for Raihan to pick up his phone, listens to the ringing, ringing, ringing - 

An automatic voicemail message plays. Leon’s never heard it before; he hangs up before it can finish and hits the call button again immediately. 

It rings, rings, rings - “The number you have dialed -

He hangs up.

Rings, rings, rings - "The number you have dialed - “

Leon hangs up once more, chokes out,“Charizard -

The pokemon growls and the beating of powerful wings quicken in their pace.

 

-=-=-

 

The black clouds that swirl above Hammerlocke’s castle bleed with the burning electricity. The power spot connects the stadium to the sky and the air shimmers around it, making lines wave and colors blur and blend. Leon forces his eyes away from it and looks down at the ground.

People are rushing away from the castle, heading toward either the west or east exits. As Charizard descends, Leon can make out gym staff in the blue and orange uniforms lining the streets, their pokemon helping them direct the terrified mob of people as safely as they can. They’re familiar, but none of them are the trainer he’s looking for.

Charizard finds an empty space large enough for him to land by the pokemon center, right next to the drawbridge that leads into the gym. Leon drops down and doesn’t even bother with recalling Charizard, knowing he’ll follow when he hits the ground running. He hears a few people in the crowd shout at the sight of him, cries of ‘Thank Arceus, it’s the champion! ’, and distantly he imagines how he must look to them. Dashing into the thrall of danger, cape a heavy, waving flag hung from his shoulders, Charizard on him like a shadow. 

He supposes he must look brave to them. Fearless. Not even the least bit terrified. 

The lobby of the stadium is in disarray. The carpet is rumpled and torn from unlevel stones raised from the floor, probably from the initial trembling the first burst of energy wrought. Dust and rubble rain from the high ceiling every so often from lesser shaking, but the walls don’t shift and nothing creaks too loud. 

There’s two figures in there with him. A woman Leon recognizes as the employee who runs the small uniform kiosk beside the item shop; she’s covered in dirt, looking like she’s just been recovered from the wreckage of her stand and her arm slung around the shoulders of - 

Goodra,” Leon calls to her as he picks his way through the mess. 

The dragon’s head snaps up as much as she can manage without upsetting the woman leaning heavily against her. She coos back to him and the relief is evident in her expression despite the overlying exasperation.

“Champion Leon,” the woman says, looking at him with an unfocused gaze.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” Leon announces, sounding sure and composed. Goodra isn’t as easily fooled, though, and she must sense the wild feeling that’s roaring around in his head. She makes another noise and Leon asks her, “Where’s Raihan?” 

And just as he feared, Goodra’s head swivels behind her in the direction of the arch way that leads into the arena - into where a massive power spot has ripped through the earth. 

“Come on,” Leon says to Chairzard, leaving Goodra behind to carry out the woman to the safety of the streets. 

It gets louder the closer he gets, the sound of explosions popping and rumbling forcing him into a sprint, shoes pounding against cement. Out on the field is deafening . The beam covers an impressive amount of the pitch, not leaving a lot of room to work with. Leon just hopes no one was lingering inside the arena when everything happened, but his focus shifts immediately when he spots Raihan.

The hood of his sweatshirt is pulled over his head in order to shield from the blinding light pouring from the energy spot. Duraludon seems less affected and acts as a barrier between it, Raihan, and any stray debris that flies up and out from the heaving mess. Rocks break apart as they connect with the pokemon’s body, his claws alight with a blue glow as they slice through anything too big to passively defend. 

Leon screams his name and Raihan turns to face him. Just behind him, Leon can see Oleana.

He grits his teeth, reaches for his belt and grasps for a pokeball. In a flash of light, Mr. Rime lands in the dirt close to the group out on the pitch and without Leon needing to make the call, he kicks out a few taps. The ground freezes near him when his cane connects to the ground and climbs up into a wall that separates the three from the power spot. The ice is melting fast but Leon doesn’t need to tell Raihan that, because he’s recalling Duraludon and shoving Oleana forward, setting her into a run for Leon. Once they’ve cleared the entrance to the arena, Mr. Rime is returned to his pokeball and the ice cracks not a second later. Leon doesn’t wait around to see it crash to the dirt.

“What’s happening?” He asks, voice hard and directed to Oleana where she’s slouched against the wall, using one of the dragon head’s busts for support. It probably the first time Leon’s seen her with anything other than a blank stare or an incredibly severe scowl. In fact, she looks terrified . Leon, with his fists clenched by his sides, finds that he doesn’t care.

Eternatus,” Oleana gets out in between gasps. “When we woke it up, it - there was no controlling it, and - “ Her eyes widen and she straightens. “The Chairman!” 

Before Leon could stop her, she’s hurrying away, back for the lobby in the front of the castle. He lets her go, but only so he can look up to Raihan, feeling himself physically relax as he gives him a once over and comes up with nothing that looks like he’s been harmed. 

“Are you alright?” He breathes out anyway, reaching out and resting a hand on the other’s shoulder and pressing his fingers in, reassuring himself that he’s there.

“Barely.” Raihan pulls his hood down. His Trapinch bandana is down and around his neck, Leon notices, probably used to cover his mouth when the building’s dust whipped around him. He wipes at his brow with the back of his hand before he pulls it back up. “Her bloody Garbodor nearly killed me,” he says, gesturing in the direction Oleana ran off to.

“She attacked you?” Leon asks incredulously.

“That thing burst out from the ground, leaving behind that massive power spot. Then next thing I know Garbodor’s bursting out from its pokeball while we’re evacuating, already dynamaxed,” Raihan tells him. “It wouldn’t listen to Oleana, and it tore up what was left of the pitch before we could stop it.”

“What ‘thing’?”

Raihan shrugs, “I have no idea what it was. I’ve never seen anything like it. Oleana called it Eternatus and - it looked like a pokemon, but - “ He trails off, shrugging again.

Leon shares a look with Charizard, who nods back to him in quick understanding. If the source of this madness was a pokemon, the solution was simple.

“Keep up the evacuation efforts,” he says, setting his shoulders back and adjusting the cape before he’s set to move again. “If everyone’s out, then you get out, too.” 

Raihan catches him by the hand before he gets too far. “What are you planning on doing?” 

“I’m going to battle it.” 

“Leon,” Raihan says after a mirthless, incredulous, disbelieving laugh. “Whatever this thing is, it’s got crazy power. I couldn’t even dynamax Duraludon - I got lucky. You can’t - “

Leon forces a wide grin onto his face. “You know I don’t lose battles, Raihan.” 

“At least let me come with you,” he tries helplessly. 

Leon shakes his head instantly. “No, this is my responsibility. The chairman was right. I should have listened to him. If there was any chance he would do something like this, I should have taken it seriously.” 

Fuck the chairman,” Raihan snaps. “He’s a mad man, what he did isn’t your fault - you did everything you could, that’s all you ever do, Leon.” 

He gives the hand in his what he hopes is a reassuring squeeze before he pulls away. “And now I have to do this,” he states, calm even with the way his heart is thrumming against the flames in his chest. “I’ll be back, okay?” 

Raihan doesn’t answer, but he doesn’t try to stop him again either. Leon kind of loathes that that’s the expression he’s turning away from, but he forces himself to keep going. Charizard makes an apprehensive grumbling noise next to him, and Leon knows that it’s just something he’s got to do. 

They head for the roof.

 

-=-=-

 

The air is thin and it makes it hard to catch his breath once he emerges from the lift out onto the open roof. It sits heavy in his lungs and it pricks at them like frost, but there’s nothing cold out here. Everything is red hot, loaded with a current that throbs like an open wound. 

Its source rounds onto Leon, massive head swivelling to stare down at him. There’s no discernable eyes, but he can feel the weight of its glare. Leon refuses to freeze; he continues forward, toward the mass of spines and sharp edges and churning, red power. As he draws nearer, the beast pushes off from the ground it’s been resting on, the strings of energy that had been clinging to it dissipates, burning upward and away like a thread set aflame. The glowing ball in its chest cavity brightens. 

Charizard springs forward, and Eternatus roars.

It’s quick, Leon finds, but they can use its size to their advantage. He makes the call to Charizard, instructs him to always keep the beast’s back to him if he can, and runs his fingers along the pokeballs still at his belt. Eternatus’s long body ripples like silk as it whips around, trying to keep track of Charizard. Bouts of flame burst from his open jaws every time he gets an opening, and it’s seemed to shrug the attacks off with ease so far. It’s a dragon, there’s no doubt about that, but - 

Eternatus’ head jerks back, and from the core of its chest a faint, violet accumulation moves up into its throat. Whatever it is smokes as it seeps from its maw, sizzling as it drops onto the cobblestone below. Lashing out with its tail, it cuts off Charizard’s path of flight and curls its neck around and spits out what can only be acid of its own creation.

Leon makes a choice, sends out Haxorus. “Charizard’s keeping its attention,” he tells her. “Get in close, take the ground out from underneath it.” 

The dragon nods, lowers her head, and charges.

Charizard sends his body down, momentarily forgoing his ranged attacks in order to slam his full weight into the rigid spine of Eternatus. It shrieks, collapses down to the roof where it meets the full force of Haxorus’ earthquake. The rubble the impact causes is caught midair with a wisping white glow and is sent straight back down onto the beast with a fiery roar from Charizard. 

Leon raises his cape to avoid the oncoming dust, lowers it time to catch the struggle Eternatus screams through in order to right itself once more. Its arms extend and it doesn’t stop shrieking, its body goes taut with a sudden tension and the core in its chest brightens and brightens and brightens -

Charizard dips so dramatically Leon can feel his stomach drop. It keeps plummeting when he sees how Eternatus’ head snaps around, its aim shifting on a whim. Whatever attack it launches, it goes wide and blasts against Haxorus with enough force that it sends her flying

She’s thrown several feet - several yards - and Leon barely registers his own shout of alarm as she’s toppling over the edge of the castle. He throws his hand out, and the only thing that stops her from dropping the several stories he’s climbed is the white light that closes around her. Around her pokeball, Leon’s hand grips tight. 

Fighting with the rest of his team wasn’t going to work. It was too risky on such a precarious battlefield. Charizard was the only one capable of flight; they were just going to have to do it alone. Leon refocuses on his partner, sees the acid burns that shine like oil on his skin and the smoke that billows from his nose, his mouth, his tail. At this rate, there’s a very slim chance this ends with Eternatus falling. Their attacks did what they could, and the raggedness shows in the burning of its core, but its ferocity in its attacks have doubled. It's desperate. It doesn’t want to lose. 

Leon doesn’t either. 

“Keep going,” he yells to Charizard. He nods back to his trainer, wings spreading further to glide circles around the dragon’s head. 

He goes for his belt again, but passes the remaining four pokeballs that seem to hum with anticipation. But he can’t do that, not to them. He’s the one who’s gotten them here. Leon’s the one who fought with tight fists and bared teeth and climbed until there was no more ground to cover, ‘til he was at the top, alone, looking down at everyone else. 

This is what that’s got him.

On the left side of his belt, there’s a pouch he rarely goes into anymore. It’s been some time since he’s needed it. He opens it, retrieves one of the few things he’s left in there. The empty pokeball expands in his palm, like an inhale of bated breath held in place. Anxious to see if this works. 

It’s going to, Leon thinks. It has to.

Lee!”

No, is the the word Leon thinks now, no, no, no -

Hop and Victor’s eyes go over Leon, straight up and at Eternatus looming above. Its attacks have paused and it looks down at them, too, shuddering and hissing out sounds that tinkle like glass.

Charizard lands next to Leon, stance ready to move at a moment’s notice, either toward the dragon, or toward the kids. 

“What are you doing here?” 

He watches his brother steel himself; the effort is miraculous. “We - we came to help.” 

Beside him, Victor says nothing. His expression is stone. Leon glances between the two of them and somehow, through it all, finds the space to feel proud . It feels like a moment of clarity.

“Thank you, but - “ that’s not something you should have to do  “ - I think I got the situation under wraps.” He flashes them the pokeball and pulls together all the shredded bravado he has left and puts it all into a winning smile. “If I can catch it, all of its energy will be contained - everything’ll go back to normal.” 

That’s the idea, anyway. He keeps that bit to himself, faces Eternatus again. It still hasn’t made a move to strike. Maybe he should find that odd. 

Leon reels back and lets the pokeball fly. Eternatus jolts away from it but it's not fast enough. It seems surprised when the pokeball bounces off its head and then back into the air, dropping open and pooling Eternatus in red. The frenzied roar it releases is cut short as the pokeball snaps shut, the dragon inside.

It falls to the ground.

Behind him, Hop lets out a quick cheer, but Leon holds an arm out to him without looking. He goes quiet.

The pokeball shakes.

Leon addresses Charizard. “Go - “

Eternatus does not wait for him to finish. And something must have happened, but he didn’t notice or he doesn’t remember, because he’s no longer standing between a dragon and his brother.

Seconds or minutes or hours later, he’s waking up - doesn’t remember closing his eyes  - he’s waking up to the pain. He’s on his back, or his side maybe, and his muscles are screaming. They’re beaten bloody, he can feel it running along his face, down his jaw and onto his throat. The cape around his shoulders is twisted and it’s nearly smothering, pressing the air out from his lungs. His body gives a twitch in acknowledgment to the agony it’s experiencing and a feeble groan escapes from somewhere between the spaces of his ribs. 

A voice cuts through the ringing in his ears, and Leon realizes he’s being shushed. Gently, a hand comes to rest on the side of his face, it’s big and it’s warm and it trails down to Leon’s shoulder, pushes him to rest on his back. The cape falls away and his breathing comes easier but the pain intensifies, and he grimaces hard. He can’t open his eyes. Everything sparks up in pain - his legs, arms, spine. Leon feels like screaming. 

“Can you hear me?” He’s being asked and Leon wants to say barely, because it sounds like he’s underwater. He wants to ask where his brother was. Where Victor was. Where Eternatus was, his Charizard.

Raihan - “ is all he can get out, though, through gritted teeth and roaring pain. 

He’s shushed once more. “You’re alright, dandelion,” the voice tells him, its tone so contrary to its assuring words. There’s movement Leon can’t track and he’s being lifted into the air, his head lolling forward to rest against someone’s chest. Another pained noise passes through his lips and the shushing continues. “You’re okay,” the voice keeps repeating. 

Leon doesn’t know if he believes them, feeling the way he does. Either way, he feels himself dipping back into unconsciousness, and there’s very little he can do to stop falling. 

 

-=-=-

 

When he sleeps, he thinks he’s looking up at a cloudless sky that shimmers like diamonds. No clouds mar its surface. He can’t find the sun. On the ground beneath him that he cannot see, he hears the pattering of rain. 

 

-=-=-

 

Waking up is slow, and he does it one minute at a time. Leon’s head swims, feeling like cotton floating around in a bowl of alcohol. Everything in him feels hollowed out and empty. His limbs are floating, so he doesn’t move them. Behind his closed eyelids, he can tell he’s somewhere bright. Underneath him, he can tell that he’s laying somewhere soft. 

Waves in Leon’s ears subside and he can hear the wheezing in his chest, humming off to his left, to his right. There’s beeping above his head. 

He’s in a hospital, and Leon thinks, oh, yeah. 

He almost died.

He isn’t, though. Dead, that is. He wonders if that’s a good thing. 

Opening his eyes hurts but it’s nothing in comparison to the ache that pulses everywhere else. He blinks furiously in order to right his vision, seeing as lifting his arms to rub the blurriness from his eyes would surely leave him gasping in pain. 

The lights, he finds, is a single lamp sat in the corner of the medical suite he’s been left in. It’s dim and soft, but it still feels like a spotlight shining directly onto his face. The walls are a calm blue and the TV hung in the corner is off, there’s a few house plants scattered on available surfaces. Office blinds are covering the side-opening windows and blocking out the sun. The medical equipment and tile floors break the illusion of a small dorm room, though. 

The line of the heart monitor bounces, up and down, up and down, and Leon watches it until he feels something touch his arm. He follows the heartbeat’s line down, down, then over. It’s someone’s hand, and it’s big, warm. 

“Leon?” Raihan’s asking him, quiet and gentle like he might be imagining that Leon’s awake. 

And Leon’s so glad to see him, so relieved, that he takes in a slow and deep breath no matter how much it hurts. It makes his chest sing in painful pitches and it fills his lungs with questions - what happened? Where was his brother - where was Hop? Is he okay? Is the world ending still? 

However, his vision is clear now and he can see the dark, dark circles underneath Raihan’s eyes and the redness inside of them. He can pick out the gaunt lines of worry and grief in his face. Whatever Leon wants to ask, it gets stolen away. “I’m sorry,” gets punched out of his chest, raw, broken, sounding like a sob. 

Rather than pulling him into his chest, Raihan goes to Leon. Crumpling into his side, hides his face in Leon’s hair, and just breathes. 

“Stop,” Raihan pleads suddenly and Leon realizes he’s just been repeating himself into the other’s shoulder. “None of this was your fault.” 

But it was, wasn’t it? I just needed you to listen, Leon. 

“What happened?” He forces himself to ask. 

Raihan doesn’t sit back to answer; if anything, he’s slowly managing to become more entangled with Leon on the small hospital bed. He welcomes it and the pace - anything too fast or sudden and he might scream. He hides it the best he can, because he’s desperate for the closeness and he doesn’t want to risk Raihan pulling away.

“I don’t know the details,” he admits, getting his arms around Leon. “I - I left with you. You were bleeding, so I - “ 

Leon severs that thought for him as gently as he can. “Where’s Hop? And Victor?” 

“I put ‘em in rooms at the castle. The part of it that didn’t get rolled over, at least.”

“Oh.” He looks back to the window and again sees the sun trying to bleed through the blinds. “Everything’s okay?”

“Half of the city is without power, my gym is in the shits, Rose turned himself in, and the rest of the hospital is filled to the waiting rooms. But , there’s no casualties. The labcoats in my basement tell me that they can get everything back on the grid by the end of the week. Pokemon centers were left untouched, so there’s enough shelter.” Raihan jostles them with a shrug of his shoulder. “For the most part, yeah. Everything’s okay.” 

“Eternatus?” 

It’s quiet for a long moment, and because he can’t see Raihan’s face, Leon continues to look at the blinds outlined by the sun. He’s expecting them to darken.

“They told me Victor caught it.” 

He closes his eyes.

“Hop was talking about this sword and shield they used to fight it off after it flew up into the sky and - I don’t know.” Raihan shrugs again. The more he talks, the heavier he gets against Leon. He sounds about as exhausted as Leon feels. “I think he was a little delusional from everything, and I wouldn’t blame him, but. Victor really did catch that thing.” 

“I couldn’t,” Leon tells him in a whisper. “I couldn’t catch it.” 

Raihan lifts up enough to look at Leon with all kinds of shades of exasperation. “You used a pokeball.”

But Leon’s shaking his head, slowly, because he’s thinking about how quick Eternatus was when he battled it and how erratic its movements were. And then he’s thinking about how still it got at the sight of the two approaching kids, how its eyeless gaze locked onto Victor and only ripped away when Leon forced it to. 

It’s the kid. It’s Victor. It was always going to be him.

“I still have to battle him.” 

Leon ,” Raihan warns. 

“I just need to wake up a bit,” he says. To make a point, he braces himself on an elbow and pushes up until he’s sitting. He does all this and doesn’t grimace too much. “I’ve felt worse after sparring with Hitoshi when I was sixteen.” Which is partially true. Some days when he was first training with the black belt, he’d wake up with muscles so stiff he could hardly move. But he managed it back then, because he had stuff to do, so that’s what he’ll do now.

Leon,” Raihan says again, more stern and this time Leon listens. “You had your ass handed to you by a space dragon, so you’re going to sit that very same ass in this bed until one of those doctors out there say you can move it - do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir.” It doesn’t come out as lighthearted as he wanted it to, and Raihan doesn’t laugh either. 

He spends a lot of time searching Leon’s face, looking it over like maybe he’s forgotten something about it - or could forget something about it. “I almost lost you. They said if you’d been hit anywhere else, by any thing else, you could’ve - “

“I’m sorry,” Leon tells him, grabbing him by his sweatshirt and tugging him close again. He tucks his head back into the crook of his neck and hides the way the blue eyes are looking more and more flooded. If Raihan cries, he’s going to cry, and there isn’t anything Leon finds wrong with that. It’s just that - right now - it would be hell on his chest. So instead he hugs Raihan, fights through the biting pain in order to hold him as tight as his own body will allow him, and rubs at his shaking shoulders. “Baby, I’m so sorry,” he says again, and this time Raihan doesn’t tell him to stop.

 

-=-=-

 

Hours later, when the nurses come in to check Leon’s vitals and ask him questions about pain levels, what do you remember last, follow the light and try not to blink, can you feel this - they practically beg Raihan to go home. They tell Leon that he’s been out cold for ten hours and that the gym leader was there for all ten of them, pacing out in the halls until they let him inside the room.

“Where’s your pokemon?” Leon asks him.

Raihan pauses in his not-so-subtle glaring at the nurses who’d snitched in order to look back at Leon. “They’re with me,” he says, and from his pocket he retrieves an ultraball and holds it out to show him. 

“They should be resting.” Leon tries hard to be convincingly reprimanding. He does believe his team has earned a bit of reprieve, though, but it’s obvious he’s only using that as an excuse to get Raihan home as well. He sees right through the attempt, so Leon presses on. “They helped evacuate the entire city, take them home so they can relax.” Raihan opens his mouth with an obvious intent to deny him, so Leon hurries to pointedly add on, “They’ve earned it.” 

Raihan narrows his eyes. “Fine,” he concedes, standing up from the chair he’d dropped down in when the nurses initially knocked on the door. “But I’m coming back - and in the meantime, I’m sending Hop over to stand guard.” 

“Oh, I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” one of the nurses says kindly. “We have pokemon and our own security doing rounds - “

“It’s not to keep people out,” Raihan explains seriously. “It’s to keep him in. Front desk has my number, call me if he tries anything.”

The door shuts behind him and the nurses both look to each other, then at Leon who’s still sat in his hospital bed. In return, he offers them his most reassuring and incredibly innocent smile. 

 

-=-=-

 

“Raihan’s gonna kill me,” Hop remarks glumly. The duffel bag Leon’d texted him to bring sits at his feet, empty. “I promised him, Lee.” 

“Technically, I didn’t.” He feels much, much better in his own clothes again, if only a little stiff and achy. The headache he had woken up with has nearly faded after the painkillers the nurses left behind with him and he’s gotten used to the odd stretch he feels that pulls something around in his chest every time he breathes. He almost doesn't even notice it anymore. “‘Sides, all you did was bring me my stuff, you didn’t do anything wrong.” 

Hop rolls his eyes. “I think packing your escape bag and hand delivering it counts me as an accomplice.”

“Who’s brother are you, anyway?” Leon gripes, messing with the fastenings on the cape. It’s been recently cleaned; there isn’t a spot of damage on it. Somehow, it feels heavier than usual, but he chalks that up to the strain on his body. 

“At this point? Probably both of yours.” 

The blinds are drawn now, and it’s dark enough outside that the lamp creates a decent reflection in the window pane. Leon stands in front of it and looks himself over. He’s always cleaned up well; years and years of covering up a bad or long night is hardwired into his brain at this point. In his makeshift mirror, Leon can hardly even tell he’s been on the brink of death. 

To top it all off, he tries on a smile. 

“Right,” he says, then turns on his heel and puts his hands on his hips. “I’ll be off, then. Probably sleep better in my own bed, anyway. Then I’ll get over to the stadium and get a look at the state of the pitch, then see about when me and Victor can have our battle.” Hop nods along but doesn’t say anything. “You want to come along? I doubt you’d wanna miss the match.” 

Hop seems to startle at the question. “Oh, nah - no, I’ll prob’ly head over with Vic when he’s ready. Maybe I can convince him to take a run in the Wild Area before we go, call it last minute training, or something.” 

And there it is again, that brittle fragility Leon’s caught before hidden underneath the easygoing smile. Like a brick, the thought hits him: wonder where he learned that from.

“Are you okay, scotch?” 

If the first question startled him, this one absolutely stuns Hop. “What?” 

Leon takes a deep breath. He’s never done this before. The surprised and confused look on Hop’s face - he shares the sentiment. But Leon’s never been one to shy away from his challenge. Still, he never thought his little brother would be a challenge. Not in this sense, anyway. Hop’s always had the makings of an excellent trainer and if it had ever come down to him and Leon, it wouldn’t have been easy. That was something he could have prepared for, though. This? This feels like he’s been dropped in the middle of an ocean and no one’s ever thought to teach him to swim. It’s vast and terrifying, but Hop’s been dropped here with him, so he figures one of them better start learning.

“You’ve been through… a lot,” Leon finally gets out, slow and thoughtful. “This week. Or, past few months. Leaving home, going on a journey, the semi finals, then that - “ He finds that he doesn’t really have a good way of phrasing the day before that’s not that whole mess, so that’s what he calls it. “Dealing with that whole mess.”

Hop shrugs and stuffs his hands into the pockets of his joggers. “I mean, Vic was the one who really dealt with that. I just helped when I could and - “ He stops and then finally stops smiling. “Well. I tried to help, anyway.”

Leon’s head tilts to the side. “From what I heard, you did quite a bit.” 

“I battled Rose,” he says. “The chairman. I wanted to buy Victor time to help you, because I knew I couldn’t. But I lost.” He shrugs once more. “‘S just I’ve been doing that a lot recently, is all.”

To Bede. To Victor. To Rose. 

Leon recalls the forlorn expression Victor wore when he stepped out of the elevator behind Hop after their battle in Wyndon. Something hot in his chest that’s been reclaiming strength mutters to him when he thinks of the face, you’ll win because you’re meant to

“Do you think you know why?” He asks his brother.

Hop seems to nod and shake his head at the same time, a physical representation of conflict. It makes him furrow his brow at himself and he ends up shrugging for a third time. “I don’t know. It’s just, a lot of things are changing and - and, just… I don’t know.”

“I think that’s okay,” Leon says. The way he drags the words out and ends it on a questioning lilt make him seem doubtful, so he repeats it more firmly. Because the more he thinks on it, the more he kind of gets it. “I think that’s okay. To feel upset when you lose. It means you care, and that’s always a good thing. And it can have you doing a lot of thinking, which can go either way, I guess, but - the important thing is to keep focus, and don’t let it stop you from learning and moving forward. When you’re lost, the only thing left to do is figure out where to go next.”

It seems haphazard when he says it out loud and Leon’s quick to open his mouth after a too-long beat of silence in order to rectify whatever he’s done. But then he notices the way Hop’s expression lessens and how his frown seems more contemplative rather than bothered. So, Leon waits and watches his brother mull what he’s said over, tries for patience.

He’s rewarded with a slow yet blinding smile. “How strong are those painkillers they gave you?”

Leon laughs. “I dunno. But I feel great.” 

“Better hurry ‘fore they wear off then,” Hop says with his usual merriment. “You’ll need all the strength you have if Raihan catches you before you get to Wyndon.” 

That’s a very good point. Leon reaches down to shoulder the bag of his stuff and shoulders it, hesitates, then finally puts a hand in Hop’s hair. He ruffles it for what must be a bearable amount of time, because Hop doesn’t pull away, only scrunches his nose.

“I meant what I said, scotch,” Leon tells him seriously. 

He keeps smiling, and it’s troubled and small, but it’s genuine. “I know.”

“And don’t ever count yourself out. Because I never will.” 

For the first time in Leon doesn't know how long, Hop lurches forward and wraps his arms around Leon in a fierce hug. “I’m trying,” he hears his brother say, and that’s honestly all Leon can ask of him.

He stands there and doesn’t pull away from the hug until Hop does.

 

-=-=-

 

An hour tucked away into his Flying Taxi, his phone rings. He answers without looking at the caller ID, already smiling.

“Hello,” he sing-songs.

Baby,” Raihan hisses into the phone.

Leon stifles a laugh and then says, “Uh-huh?”

“Dandelion. Honey. Love of my life.” The last one sounds like a threat. “Wanna guess where I’m at right now?”

“I’m not good at this game,” Leon replies. “You know I can hardly guess where I’m at half the time.” 

There’s a frustrated, distressed, and desperate sound on the other line. It lasts for less than a second; it’s a little impressive that Raihan managed to make it. “What ever happened to - “

“Come to Wyndon,” he says suddenly. “You can come stay with me and be a mother Chansey in person.”

Another sound, this one more resigned. “Where did you think I was going?”

Leon’s grin is so wide he feels like he needs to hide it, even though there’s no one in the cab with him. His head thumps against the glass of the window lightly and he looks out at the night sky beyond it. There’s stars along with dark clouds, and they seem to go on forever.

“I’m gonna stop by the stadium first, just to see what’s been done. But I’ll leave Mr. Rime behind, and he can get started on dinner.”

“I’m giving you an hour after I get there,” Raihan tells. There’s noise peeking through his words and Leon can tell he’s outside already. “Because I wanna make sure he doesn’t burn the apartment down with none of us there, and then I’m dragging you home.”

“Okay,” Leon agrees. “Call me so I can meet you outside.” 

They hang up after their long-winded and indulgent goodbyes and Leon lets Rotom go, leaves it to float around in the taxi’s cab, and keeps smiling. 

He watches the stars pass.

 

-=-=-

 

Victor agrees to battle him by the end of the week. He gets back into Wyndon a day after Leon, much to Hop and Raihan’s chagrin. 

“I don’t get why you have to rush anything,” Raihan’s saying as Leon dresses the morning of. “It’s not like people are going to lose interest.” 

Leon throws the cape up and over to lay across his shoulders. “No point in waiting if we don’t have to.” 

Raihan opens his mouth to say something, but doesn’t. He watches on in silence from where he’s reclined in Leon’s pillows and doesn’t try to cover the displeasure on his face. 

 

-=-=-

 

When Victor walks out onto the pitch, it’s like a sequel to the time from a few days prior. The crowd still screams and the air on the field remains still, but it’s revamped - more intense. A new story. A new battle. A new day.

For the first time in years, Leon stands on the grass in front of thousands and gets the feeling that the cheers are no longer for him. The thing that’s bright and lives in Leon’s chest rages, and the hot sting puts a wild grin on his face.

Things weren’t just different. They were under a constant state of change. 

Victor stops in front of Leon, and this time he pays the mass of people no mind. His brown eyes are attached to his opponent. He’s smiling as well. 

“They’re expecting to see something great, today,” Leon says to Victor, loud enough so the other can hear him over the roar. “I am, too. The hero who saved Galar’s future, who defeated Eternatus, who battled beside the legendary pokemon, Zacian and Zamazenta…” He crosses his arms and sets his shoulders back. “What a name to add to the list of trainers I’ve crushed into the dirt.” 

The laugh Victor lets out is absolutely giddy

“Let’s give them a match that they’ll remember,” Leon goads, and then turns away with a whisk of his cape. 

The strides he takes are counted and measured. When he turns around, the ground does not shake. There’s no beaming energy and the clouds don’t go dark. 

This is it , he thinks. He shakes out the tension in his clenched fists, bounces lightly to loosen his muscles, pats his cheeks until they sting and he focuses on that rather than the dulled ache the week has left behind. The cape is thrown away with a shrug, and Aegislash’s pokeball slips into his hand like a magnet to steel. 

The lights fade from two pokemon being released, match start is called. Standing across from Aegislash is the Hitmonlee Leon remembers seeing from the semi finals. He’d gotten a hint of its speed back then; there was no way Aegislash was going to be faster than it, even unsheathed. 

“King’s Shield,” he says - just in time, too, because Hitmonlee is on them, sprung up from the grass with a flaming heel.

It comes down just as the ends of Aegislash’s cloth flares out on either side of his shield, and a bright sheen emits from the surface. It cracks, then finally breaks as Hitmonlee pushes off of it, back in the air just as Aegislash’s blade swipes up for an attack. 

Hitmonlee lands on its feet. Aegislash returns his shield to his front.

The flurry of attacks probably only lasted for less than five seconds, but it’s enough to have the stands in a riot around them. When Leon dares a glance at Victor, his eyes are on the pokemon in front of him, but he can tell the kid can hear it.

“It’s one of the champions duties to get the crowd fired up,” he tells Victor, and before he can think about why he does so, Leon gives Aegislash another command with a flourish of his arm. “Shadow Ball!”

Victor shouts to his pokemon and Hitmonlee kicks back off into the air, over the ghosting orb, then he’s back on the ground and driving a leg into the pitch hard . It rocks the pitch and Leon slides a foot back to widen his stance, catching himself right before he could stumble back. A pain sparks up at the sudden movement and he pointedly ignores it. 

“It’s going to get in close again,” he calls to Aegislash as the pokemon rights itself from the attack. “Wait for it.”

Aegislash listens, catching another Blaze Kick on his raised shield and uses it to knock Hitmonlee’s leg back and force him off balance. There’s a scorch mark on the shield that still smokes after the contact, but Aegislash forces a Sacred Sword through it anyway. Hitmonlee lands on its back, sliding over toward the middle of the pitch in a trail of torn up grass and sand, but the attack hasn’t done enough to knock it out.

The burn on Aegislash’s shield continues to smoke, and his cloth ripples in jagged waves.

Hitmonlee draws its knees up close to its face, then thrusts them out and lets the momentum carry it back up onto its feet. 

“Flash Cannon,” Leon yells.

Aegislash’s blade begins to gleam.

Hitmonlee dashes forward. 

The Cannon goes off, but it goes wide with the force of Hitmonlee’s strike, and Aegislash clatters to the dirt.

The stadium rumbles with its thundering cheers. Leon returns Aegislash to his pokeball and reaches for another. Mr. Rime emerges with his usual flair, tapping out a few moves and then spinning to a stop with his cane pointed toward the sky and arms splayed out as he balances on one leg. 

“Psychic,” Leon says.

Mr. Rime’s cane comes back down and mimics the movement of a wand. He points it at Hitmonlee, raises it, then flicks. As if hit by a rampaging Tauros, Hitmonlee is thrown off its feet. It soars even passed Victor, unconscious before it even hits the ground.

One to one. 

There’s something warm and wet in Leon’s palms so he unclenches his fists and wipes at what he can of his forehead without lifting his hat. The harsh arena lights mist his skin with sweat, but the heat of those have nothing on the uncontrollable fire whose embers threaten to lick and flicker at his organs until they combust.

Victor holds the pokeball that belongs to the Hitmonlee he’s just recalled, his mouth moving in words meant for the pokemon only. Leon knows what they are, he’s said them himself. 

Next to come out on the challenger’s side is Cinderace, the very pokemon Leon gifted him. It’s no less energetic than the day he passed him over, but it’s channeled now and it’s easy to see in the way Cinderace stands. Hand on it’s hip but its body practically thrumming with the need to go, go, go

The smile on its face - lazy, but still with a hint of confidence, cockiness - reminds Leon of Victor. 

Something starts up next to the fire in Leon’s chest, but he doesn’t stop to figure out what it is. 

Cinderace’s legs bend, bracing itself for the force it uses to kick up off the ground into a sprint. Leon makes the call and Mr. Rime attempts to slow it down with a Thunderbolt, which hits - but so does Cinderace. Electricity coils around its fur with what seems like very little effect. It keeps close, too, not giving Mr. Rime any room to breathe or counter, swiping with its powerful legs. Frustration is clear in the way Mr. Rime’s mustache twitches and Leon sees the white power collecting on the cane he holds in front of him to parry some of Cinderace’s attacks. 

The energy erupts in a burst, and Cinderace moves out from the close quarters it was keeping in order to avoid the psychic blast. The opponent backs off, but does not slow. It’s kicking up the dirt it upturned on its escape until a rock tumbles out. It juggles the small pebble from foot to foot, and the friction engulfs it in the matter of seconds. 

Then it’s sent flying, a sun moving over the field, and Mr. Rime takes the hit full on. 

Two to one. Leon sends out Inteleon. 

Just like when they were younger - less trained, new - Cinderace is faster. Inteleon manages the blow well enough, points his finger at his old friend, then fires off one of his own. Water moves like a jet and crashes into Cinderace like one, and then it’s down as well. 

Two to two. Leon won’t make this easy. 

Gyarados comes out on Victor’s side next, and there’s very little Inteleon can do against it. Water seems to roll off the giant serpent like rain rather than doing any damage, and the spray of mud is washed away before it gets close, so when Inteleon goes down, he sends out Haxorus. 

She battles like she has something to prove, with a ferocity Leon’s never seen in her before. And it makes sense, really. The last time she was a part of a battle, she’d been deftly defeated in one shot and nearly thrown to her death. Leon’s team was just like him: they don’t handle losing well. It’s why they never do it. Haxorus has never seen such an effortless defeat like that before; she surely doesn’t want to see another again. 

Victor’s Gyarados surprises them when it goes through the motions of another Aqua Tail, but then the water wrapping around its body begins to freeze over. It shatters against Haxorus, but she digs her heels in and tanks the hit. Doesn’t exactly shrug it off, but there’s something bright and red in her eyes, so Leon’s next command comes out with no hesitation. 

“Outrage!”

Before Gyarados can retract its tail, Haxorus grabs it by the fins and pulls with a roar. She drags it until its forced onto its side and writhing in an angry panic, then moves around its thrashing until she’s just below its jaw and latches on with her own. Gyarados bellows again and in one, massive push gets its tail back out under it. The movement flings Haxorus and she lands on her feet and then moves in to strike again. 

Gyarados tries to meet her, but she ducks under its head and closes her jaws onto its throat. This time, its cry is muted and when it falls to the dirt it doesn’t get back up. Tyranitar takes its place and the second it's on the pitch, Haxorus is moving for it and finishing out the rampage she’d set herself on. Her head connects flat to the pokemon’s chest, as if it weren’t made entirely of stone, and the sound resonates, seemingly shaking the clouds above them. 

Tyranitar barks out a surprised noise and wobbles back onto one knee, face contorted in a pained grimace. 

Leon looks passed the trembling that shudders through Haxorus as she comes down from her barrage and at Victor. The trainer’s face betrays nothing, but Leon can pinpoint the minute way his eyes have widened, how his stance has shifted like he’s leaning in a little more. 

“Don’t let a critical hit hang you up,” Leon hears himself saying, and his heart’s beating on the word why, why, why. “Just focus on what you’re going to do next!”

Victor’s eyes narrow. Tyranitar straightens and the pain that marred its features is soon replaced with a determined kind of rage. 

“Haxorus,” Leon calls. His pokemon is blinking and shaking her head rapidly every so often, as if plagued by a cutiefly no one but her can see and hear. She twitches at Leon’s voice and he knows she can hear him. “Pay attention to me, alright? Just listen.” 

Her eyes screw shut and her shuddering doesn’t subside. She stays in place. 

Tyranitar’s eyes are glinting red as it pulls up close and swings out with a fist. Leon doesn’t call for a dodge; as worked up as Haxorus is, she wouldn’t be able to focus enough to follow up with an attack. They would give up too much space if they played the dodging game, space Leon wasn’t willing to give them. 

The fist strikes Haxorus against her jaw. Her head is tossed back. Her eyes open.

Leon sets his shoulders back. “Earthquake.”

Tyranitar lashes out with its other fist and Haxorus catches it on her shoulder. She bears down on the impact, shifts her weight, and then slams her tail into the ground. The pitch splits apart and Tyranitar gets lost in the wreckage with a yell.

Three to four. 

Victor sends out his Corviknight next and it explodes from its pokeball in a screech of feathers. The sound is piercing enough that it causes the already sense-sensitive Haxorus to flinch back, and then the bird swoops in. The attack it lands with its beak is devastating; Haxorus goes down. 

Four to four.

The crowd hasn’t quieted in the slightest. A few people are even on their feet, some climbing onto their seats and holding their signs and banners over their heads. Leon looks above them, just for a moment, up at the Champion Box. Briefly, he wonders if Raihan is still watching from there, and if he’s still mad at him for battling today.

Leon sends out Dragapult. The Dreepy that are under his care skitter about until they’re safely hidden within the hollows of his horns, tucked away and ready for an attack. 

Corviknight screeches again and, with a beat of its wings, flies in close once more. Dragapult dances around the slice of its feathers without needing the command. He dips into the ground, intangible, then reemerges in the middle of the pitch, behind Corviknight. The Thunderbolt crackles out and snaps against the bird right as it turns to face him.

It has a hard time hitting him, but Leon has to admit that Corviknight does an excellent job at receiving damage. He’s patient, though, and so is Dragapult. He bides his time weaving in and out of the air and the earth as he pleased, dishing out a few lightning strikes and narrowly avoiding Corviknight’s own attacks as best he could. A volley of pecks thudded against his back once when he got a little careless, but direct contact with his body sent a much stronger current of electricity across and into the bird. 

It falls and it’s enough to shake the ground, lift up a cloud of dust. 

It’s close, now. No one’s ever knocked out this many of Leon’s pokemon - no one but Raihan, at least. This match was already something the fans wouldn’t forget for years to come. That kid, Leon remembers hearing, is no fuckin’ joke.

Across him, Victor’s weight shifts from foot to foot. He doesn’t look nervous. His face is a mask of seriousness. Leon looks at him and he can tell that he’s having the time of his life. 

Toxtricity stands with its head cocked back so it can manage to look down at the dragon in front of it, locking eyes with him and biting its tongue on a grin. It draws an arm back and brings it back down across the protrusions on the front of his chest. The noise rattles even Leon, makes him grit his teeth and stifle a pained groan.

Dragapult seizes up suddenly, muscles tensing so intensely it looks painful. Leon calls to him, but Toxtricity’s next move comes in fast - honestly, with how strong the paralyze looked, Leon isn’t sure Dragapult would have been able to react in time. 

Toxtricity thumps a fist against its chest and makes some hacking motions, then coughs up a bubbling spit ball of sludge. It slaps wetly against Dragapult and splatters with sizzling pops. 

Five to five. Match point. 

The last pokeball at his hip feels heavy, but it's a comfortable weight in his hand. This is it, he thinks again. 

Charizard is greeted by the eruption of screaming delight in the crowd, the feeling of a ruined pitch under his feet, and the sight of Victor, a child who’s come to take their throne. His demeanor is calm and controlled, but Leon recognizes the look in his eyes; he feels the same thing in his chest right now, the one that lays dormant in every battle until it gets heated, exciting. Now it’s vicious. Loud. All consuming. The only thing stopping it is the new, small something that sits next to it. 

The dynamax band wrapped around his wrist has a heartbeat when Leon recalls Charizard. It ticks away like a metronome, or a clock, and Leon’s aware of it like he’s aware of the hurt in his bones - distant, unconsciously. Charizard spreads his wings when he’s re-released, and they drip with the fire that luminates his very core a coal-singed yellow.

Victor’s focused frown turns up just barely when he recalls his own pokemon and looks down at the pokeball that he’s grasping at. Toxtricity doesn’t react to the dynamax energy like most pokemon do - or, Leon supposes, he should say that Toxtricity reacts to dynamax energy the way Charizard does, or Raihan’s Duraludon does. It comes out and lands on all fours, eyes like explosions and blue-lined yellow protrusions rippling with shocks of electricity. Its upturned tail collects dark red clouds like a lightning rod collects voltage. 

Leon takes a deep, deep breath and bares his teeth on a smile. He points forward, calls the command. Charizard’s wings beat once - twice - and the air in the arena raises by a dozen degrees at least. Flames build up in the inner line of his jaws and he lets it fly, the fireball itself appearing to have wings of its own. 

Toxtricity’s tongue peeks out as it reaches behind itself. From - Leon doesn’t know where, maybe from the spines along its back, it comes back around with something shaped like an electric guitar. He almost can’t believe his eyes.

It stands up on its back legs and swings the thing from one side to the other, batting away Charizard’s attack. The flame fizzles out like a sparkler, and then Toxtricity brings the juddering weapon up in an arc. It drops it like a hammer onto Charizard, and it splashes with purple, yellow, acid, electricity.

Whatever liquid it leaves behind pools at Charizard’s feet and hisses. His partner doesn’t flinch at it, but Leon knows that it’s dealing damage to him. He shakes his head. This kid and his status effects. 

The next bout of fire they send Toxtricity’s way ends up connecting, and the flames burst and skitter along the ground, setting the grass up in smoke. Anything Toxtricity’s poison does to them, Charizard’ll return it with his leftover embers. 

The tongue lolls out, flicking up to run across one of its eyes. Charizard’s quiet and still, but his body is alive with popping flames.

Once more, this is it

“Go,” Leon says to his partner.

Impossibly, the field gets hotter. It glows with the candescent power inside of Charizard, and the flame bursts explodes out with the force of an atom bomb. The only thing that counters its radiance is the humming glow of Toxtricity’s strange conjure that splits right through it like a knife. The flames fold out around the opposing pokemon and in the clear space it jabs it forward. 

With a crack, its edges stab into Charizard, and he rocks back - 

- and falls. 

And falls - 

… and crashes. 

Thundering booms break out around his body, blinding everyone in the stadium. Leon doesn’t close his eyes. Off they go, bam, bam, bam, until it’s just Charizard curled into the dirt. Unconscious. 

Around his wrist, the heartbeat stops ticking. The wishing star goes dark.

Five to six. 

Numb. It’s numb when he’s recalling his Charizard. He doesn’t know if the people in the stands are cheering or if they’re stunned silent, because there’s a loud ringing in his ears that picked up sometime after the explosions of spent dynamax energy.

Leon turns and Toxtricity is the first thing that catches his eye, but not because it's looking at him. It’s twisted around, gawking up at its trainer and when Leon follows its gaze, he sees Victor already watching him; dazed, awed. He finds he can’t look away from the trainer, he’s so overwhelmed with everything and nothing at all - nothing he can identify - so he reaches up, pulls the brim of his hat down and over his eyes just to cut himself off, just to breathe. Just for a second. 

It’s over. The ringing fades away. It’s over. His shoulders rise and bunch up around his ears. Ten years, it’s over. And what a trainer to do it, too. Leon never thought it would end up this way - not that he ever really thought about it ending at all. He realizes in that moment that, if he were ever to lose to anyone, he just assumed it would be Raihan. But it wasn’t, it isn’t, because the dragon trainer is somewhere up in the crowd and Leon’s down here on the pitch, in front of the trainer he endorsed himself.

The nobody from Postwick no one ever expected. 

The something that started up small engulfs the burn in Leon’s chest, and it's warm in a different kind of way. It threads through him like nostalgia. It fills him like pride. Leon sets his shoulders back and with purpose, tosses his hat - his crown - away until it lands somewhere in the mess of a well-battled pitch.

Victor is still watching Leon and what he sees is a wild, manic, joyous smile. It must be contagious, because the trainer gives one right back. 

“You did it,” Leon half-whispers. It’s over. It’s over. “Congratulations, Victor!” He raises his voice now, because this is for the crowd as much as it’s for Victor. They all seem hesitant, like they’re afraid to cheer. Then the confetti bursts, reminds them that this is a celebration, and not a single person is left sitting. Leon walks through it - the noise, the confetti - until Victor’s looking up at him with wide eyes and a wider grin. Looking at him like he can’t believe it. “You’ve beaten the unbeatable champion - making you the new champion of Galar!”

The crowd accepts this with a roar.

Leon still has Charizard’s pokeball tight in his hand. He uses the other to grip Victor by the shoulder. There’s lights bouncing in the kid’s eyes, reflecting off the plastic confetti and the arena’s spotlights and the exuberance of his face. Leon wonders, if he looks at them long or hard enough, would he be able to see himself.

“You’re going to do great things,” he says with confidence, because he knows from experience, doesn’t he? It’s just what happens when he looks at Victor, Leon sees him and he just knows. “You’re only getting started.” 

Victor receives the praise with a confused and overwhelmed laugh, like he’s hearing it but he’s still ten minutes behind, so he doesn’t quite know what to do yet. Leon helps him, urges him to turn around to face the end of the pitch - the huge screen that has their faces on it.

He knows what he says here is important to Galar, but Victor won’t hear a word of it. Ten years ago, to the day - the very minute - Leon was deaf with victory, too.

It’s over. It’s over. It’s over. 

Honestly? It’s about bloody time.

“Here you have it, Galar! A legend born right before your eyes! Your champion - Victor!

Galar answers back with cries of his name, vicTORvicTORvicTORvicTOR. It’s loud. Celebration starts up once again, fireworks pop into gold, in red, in blue. Time slows thick and it feels like hours before the cheers let them escape off the field, into the tunnel. Before he goes, Leon bends down and scoops his hat off the ground.

He leaves his cape, crumpled somewhere on the pitch.

 

-=-=-

 

There’s two figures standing in the tunnels. Leon takes in the shape of them, one short, one too tall, and nearly falls into hysterics. Things were changing - they were different . He wonders if the resemblance between the then and now was a cruel joke or just irony. Perhaps, this was how change happened. Some things come and go, others stay the same. Perhaps, he was supposed to take solace in that.

The shorter figure is not in an expensive three piece suit. He’s in joggers and a denim jacket he’s just recently grown into, and his smile is not soft. It’s wide, uncontrollable, and if his eyes are wet it’s only because he’s been wearing that smile for too long, because he’s so obviously happy

Hop doesn’t wait for them to approach. He’s sprinting down the rest of the way and collides into Victor like he’s afraid he might miss him. And it’s a reach, since the new champion is still a good bit taller than him, but Hop manages to throw his arms around the other’s neck and he’s - he’s just screaming, wordless but enthusiastically.  It’s answered by Victor’s own voice, who doesn’t put any effort into forming words either. 

Leon raises his brow at it but the excitement gets to him, too. He grins. 

“Hey,” he hears next to him, and when he turns he’s looking up into blue eyes. A questioning half-smile. “You alright?” 

For a second, Leon just blinks at Raihan. He doesn’t really know. Is he alright? Everything feels too bright after a battle. A lot of the times, Leon felt like he was living in a world covered in dust and each and every time he went for a battle, a cloth was wiped over the surface of the world and its color came out, vibrant. Is he alright? Not safe to say right now, when his muscles still sang and his heart still beat. Anything was possible after an incredible battle, anything like smiling after the greatest upset in the Galar League’s history. 

And that’s a concept, isn’t it? That objectively, the best and greatest battle Leon’s ever had was the only one he’s ever lost?

He never gives Raihan an answer. A League Staff member makes his way down the ramp, stops in front of them and crosses his arms behind his back. “Excuse me, Champion Le - oh, uh - Sir. Mister Leon. Sir.” A ruddy color fills the apples of his cheeks, his ears getting the brunt of it. Still he powers through. “We’re keeping press contained in the lobby, but a few of our usual tabloids want to know the earliest they should schedule their interviews.”

Leon just blinks at him, too. 

The League Staff member falters guiltily. “Sorry, no one knew who to go to, since when stuff like this happens, we usually…” He trails off, but Leon knows what he’s not saying. 

Public image is something he dipped into as infrequently as possible. Leon focused solely on the practical and straightforward stuff. Ticket sales, power plants, stadium maintenance, battle schedules. The rest of it - the brand, how to represent it, who to let talk about it - that was Rose. Oleana.

They’d called Leon their partner back then. They’d made this his responsibility. 

He closes his eyes and tilts his head back, breathes deeply through his nose - in then out. When he opens his eyes again, he finds Raihan still watching him. “Fuck the chairman,” Leon tells him, repeating the words Raihan had hissed out days before, because he was right.

Fuck the chairman. 

Raihan lets out a surprised laugh and Victor and Hop pause their celebratory screaming. The League Staff member actually recoils a little. 

“Sir?” He says, a little shakily. 

Leon ignores him for the moment in order to look at Victor. If he’s in charge, and things were meant to change, then it’s going to be for the better. He’ll be in a spot to change things how he wants them. “What do you want to do, Champ?” 

Thoughtfully, the trainer looks down to Hop, where he’s got his arm around his shoulders. They stare at each other until Victor looks back to Leon and announces, “I wanna go to that restaurant we never got to go to. I wanna take my mom, and I wanna pay for her dinner.” 

“Okay.” Leon’s answer is easy and without hesitation. He looks to the League Staff member and says, “No interviews for the foreseeable future. Let them know.” 

The Staff member opens his mouth, shrugs. “Yeah. Okay, yeah. Sure.”

 

-=-=-

 

Leon makes sure the “No Interviews” rule applies to him, as well. And just in case, after his team visits the stadium’s nurse, he calls for a flying taxi to drop down in the middle of the pitch through the open roof, taking extra measures to avoid anyone. Once he’s sure Hop and Victor have made it through the streets safely, he drags Raihan into the taxi and doesn’t let go of his hand even when they’re tucked away to themselves.

They’re dropped off on the steps of Leon’s apartment building and neither of them have said a word yet. He imagines Raihan’s probably waiting for something to happen, for Leon to say something or to, who knows, break down, maybe? Leon doesn’t know, so Raihan certainly doesn’t. It’s unsettling and uncomfortable in the quiet and he wants nothing more than to think about something else.

So, when Raihan closes the door, Leon’s stepping into his space and pressing his shoulders back against it. Raihan makes a quiet noise of surprise but doesn’t protest to the kiss Leon drags him down into. He flattens himself against the taller’s front and grabs handfuls of his sweatshirt, pulls as he pushes, focuses on grounding himself. 

Raihan’s lips are as soft as they’ve always been, and part like they always do when Leon swipes his tongue across the line of the bottom one. Big, warm hands come up to push into his hair, to lay against the back of his neck. To push and pull for himself. To give what Leon wants to take. 

One of them makes a sound, Leon doesn’t know who, and then they’re off the door. Toward the bedroom. Leon’s fingers fumble with the zipper on Raihan’s hoodie in their desperate need to get at the broad shoulders underneath. 

“Are you alright?” Leon’s asked after he gets Raihan on his back, an indent of his little fang knicked into his neck. 

Leon looks down at him. One of those big hands cups the side of his face and Leon’s turning into the contact. “I don’t know,” he says honestly. 

Raihan draws his knees up, puts Leon in between his legs. Sliding the hand from Leon’s cheek down to his shoulder, he urges him down. “Okay,” is what he whispers to that. Maybe that’s the answer he was expecting, because he doesn’t ask for him to explain or to keep talking. 

Leon just folds up in the other’s embrace, and kisses him like it’ll teach him how to breathe again.

 

-=-=-

 

Macro Cosmos is signed over to Leon. The full extent of what that means has yet to hit him. 

And maybe he doesn’t let it hit him. Because the first thing he does when he accepts the new position of chairman is put other people in charge. Higher ups from each department that Leon’s known for years are asked to get put on The Board. They pretend to know what that is and they accept the invitation, allow themselves to run the region like they have been: quietly. Now, they just do it with a little more responsibility and a much bigger paycheck. 

It might be a risk; there must be a reason Rose didn’t trust anyone else to be in charge besides himself. Then again, Leon’s learned that the old chairman was a bit of a control freak. That he liked things done a certain way. Leon isn’t built like that. That is, he isn’t a businessman. He’s fine being the face of the country - he’s done it for ten years, so he’ll keep doing it now as the chairman. He’ll go to the meetings and listen like he’s always done and be the opposite side of the scale, the humility in their graphs and numbers. Leon will keep them in check, because that’s a lesson he doesn't have to or want to learn twice. 

But that’s that. Chairman in name, partially in practice. It’s what Leon wants, but other than that he doesn’t -

Leon just doesn’t know in general. He just knows about that in specific. Not a chairman, but what?

The grasses outside of Wyndon are tall and their edges are sharp, but Leon sits among them anyway. In all of his years of living in the city, Leon’s never been out this way. He’s never seen the skyline like this. He does it often now, because his apartment can get too cramped when he’s lost in his own head like this. Getting away from the noise helps as well. The farther into the fields he goes, the quieter it gets. The smaller the buildings look. The smaller the problem, at least for the moment.

In front of him, the grass shifts and parts around movement, one that Charizard is trying to track. He makes confused little grumbling noises when he dips his head down through the foliage that stills and comes up with nothing, only to jerk in surprise when Flygon springs up directly behind him. The dragon hisses out a snicker every time at the disgruntled look it earns him and then dives right back in, Charizard seemingly on his tail. 

“You’re awfully quiet today.”

Leon looks away from the pokemon and back up at the Wyndon skyline, trying not to make a face at that. He’s heard that almost every day since that whole mess . He bounces his knee off to the right to knock it against Raihan’s lightly. “Sorry.” 

“Don’t be,” Raihan tells him. He’s got Leon’s hat in his hands, has been fiddling with the brim and tracing the crown design with his fingers. “What’re you thinking about?” 

“I don’t know,” Leon lies, and then corrects himself with, “Everything.” 

Raihan snorts. “Oh yeah?”

He hums back. “Everything’s all settled with the Tower and the company and - everything.” Mentioning it draws his eyes to the thin, looming building that stretched over the rest of the city. “I’m all done.” It’s over.

“Oh,” Raihan says, like he gets the issue immediately. Leon’s always wondered how he’s able to do that. People have told him before that he’s hard to read, but Raihan picks up on everything Leon says and also the stuff he doesn’t without even trying. 

“I’ve just,” he pauses and frowns, tilts his head to the side. He goes on. “I feel like I’ve been living as half a person for a long, long time, y’know? One part of me doing what everyone’s been telling me to do, the other part doing what I thought I had to. I could only ever do one at a time to keep people happy, but now that one’s gone - it’s just me. It’s just what I want to do.” 

And shouldn’t that be freeing? To have that choice? 

Leon shakes his head at himself, and then shrugs when he realizes that that’s it. That’s all he’s got. It’s all he’s been left with.

“I think no matter what you do,” Raihan says, “you’ll be fine. Amazing, even. I mean, even if you have been ‘half a person’, or whatever you said, you still always did what you set out to do.”

Leon sighs. Shrugs again. Raihan takes this as he should: a display of resigned disbelief.

“You did, though. You said you were going to be champion, and you did it. You said you were going to be a great champion, and you were. You said you want to make every trainer in Galar the strongest they can be, and you do. Look at Hop and Victor - hell, mate, even me.” Raihan takes a hand off the hat he’s been holding and lays it on one of the ones Leon’s been pulling at the grass with. Their fingers thread together and Leon can feel his thumb pressing down on the back of his hand. “Anyone who’s ever met you is better off because of it. The rest of the world isn’t gonna be any different.”

A pressure starts to build behind Leon’s eyes, around his nose. He tries to breathe through it as discreetly as possible. “Thank you,” he whispers, and despite his efforts it still comes out sounding wet. 

Their shoulders are brought together and he feels lips kiss at the hair that’s fallen over his temple, hears them whisper back, “You’re welcome. ‘S what I’m here for.” 

“You’ve always been here,” Leon says, like a sudden realization. “Through everything, even though it wasn’t always fair.” 

“Wasn’t fair to you, either, was it?” Raihan’s still close so Leon turns into him, tucks his head into the crook of Raihan’s neck. The angle is weird since neither of them seem to want to let go of the other’s hand, but they don’t complain. “Besides, I think it’d be pretty stupid to give up something I’ve invested time into since I was sixteen, don’t you?”

“That’s all it is?” Leon asks, being able to put just enough mirth into his tone to be heard. “Just a time investment?” 

Raihan laughs and the sound is warm. “Well, I love you, so that plays a pretty big part.”

The little noise Leon makes is so feeble he’s almost shocked with how resolute he sounds when he says, “I love you, too, Raihan. I love you so much.” 

“I know, and that’s why I’ll still be here, no matter what you choose to do, whenever you choose to do it.” 

Leon brings his other arm up and wraps it around the other, their joined hands trapped between them, and doesn’t pull his face away from where he’s hidden for a while. Not until he knows his eyes aren’t wet anymore and the stinging from nearly crying passes.

“I still want to help trainers,” he ends up saying. “I don’t regret the time I spent as the champion, because I got to do that. But…” There really wasn’t a place for an ex-champion, is there?

He doesn’t say it out loud, but he knows it’s true. The one that came before him, Leon doesn’t even remember their name. They moved out to Hoenn the same week they lost their title, retired and was never heard from again. There’s no need for another gym leader; Marnie and Bede are taking over for Piers and Opal respectively, Gordie for his mother. And they all passed their titles down willingly, because they had other plans - Piers furthering his music career and Opal managing her theater, Melony with her duel hotel chain. Leon didn’t have anything yet, and he isn’t so sure he wants to have anything else. He loves battling. Outside of being a gym challenger and a gym leader, there really isn’t a career in that, is there?

Leon straightens off from Raihan, sitting up and gazing back out at the Wyndon skyline. Rose Tower still stands at its full height. 

Is there?

He takes a deep breath, in through his nose and then out of his mouth on the words, “I have to go to Alola.” 

Raihan raises a brow. “Right now?” 

“I’d have to call a favor. I don’t think he would mind, but - yeah. Right now.” Leon stands and brushes the grass and dirt off from his shorts. “You want to come with me?”

The other stares up at him, considering. “You know, I did technically say I’ll be here when you decide what to do. I’m still a gym leader, even though it’s the off season. And then there’s the vault - and the mess the energy plant I still have to find a way to clean up. You think I should ditch all that?”

Leon shrugs. “I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to.” I don’t want to go anywhere you won’t follow.

The thought arrives like a storm and hangs around like one, too. Even though he hasn’t spoken the words, he knows Raihan still hears them. It’s a shared sentiment. Something mutual between them, like the laced hands that rested on their thighs. 

Leon won’t go to Alola without Raihan, because Raihan wouldn’t have gone without him. He’s proven that with countless interviewers asking the same question, commenting on the same fact. As strong as he is, why hasn’t he left? Why hasn’t Raihan just gone to another region and claim the championship there? He could make a name for himself anywhere else, but he doesn’t.

He always tells them that it’s Leon. 

They started their journey together, they finished it together, and they’re living in the mess that happened after it together. But now things are changing again, and they’re looking to each other to see what they’re going to do.

I don’t want to go anywhere you won’t follow.

Raihan smiles his smile, the crooked one, the one that’s sharp and so sure. He gets to his feet and holds out the hat he’s no longer fiddling with. “You know I can’t let you leave the country without me. We’d never see you again - and then what would I tell your mum?”

Leon grins at that, shaking his head. “Shut up.” He takes the hat back, and just having it back on his head is helping a little. He’s starting to feel like himself again. “Maybe, if I seem pitiful enough, they’ll feel bad for me and we can bring home that Garchomp you’re always whining about.” 

Taking his hand again, Raihan lets Leon start leading them back toward the city. “Here’s hoping.”

 

-=-=-

 

The only person he tells about this impromptu trip - other than the people at Macro Cosmos that need to know - is his mother. 

It’s a day before he means to leave, an early flight the next morning so they arrive some time in the afternoon in Alola the following day - but still technically the same day? It’ll be the first time he’s ever left the country; all of the international sponsors had typically come to him when he was working as the champion. Time differences still elude him, honestly, so he let Raihan be in charge of the planning. 

Leon goes to Postwick alone with his luggage on hand and ready to meet up with Raihan back in Hammerlocke in time to leave. His mother sees this when she opens the door for him, and something like recognition flashes in her eyes.

Quietly, she invites him in. 

His grandmother’s Purrloin sits on the edge of the counter and stares at Leon the entire time his mother’s back is to him. Her ears flick back and forth at the small din his mom makes while gathering the necessary supplies for tea, tail swinging back and forth, but not once does she take her eyes off Leon. 

From where he sits at the kitchen table he stares right back, but only to create the facade of him not being a little uneasy by her unblinking glare.

“How are you feeling?” His mother asks when she sets down his cup. 

Her own cup is a part of the matching set; she usually reserves those for when she has a guest over. Leon wonders why she’s using them on him. 

“I’m fine, mum,” he says, finally dropping Purrloin’s gaze to fiddle with the teabag’s tag hanging by the cup. It’s still steaming, so he doesn’t drink it yet. 

It’s the first time he’s been back home since Hop and Victor started their journey. It’s the first time he’s been back home without the title as champion. His mother doesn't seem to know how to broach this topic. Leon would put her out of her misery, but he still doesn’t know how to do it either. It just is what it is. 

“Where are you planning on going?” The question is for him, but her eyes are on the suitcase still sitting by her door.

“Oh,” Leon looks over to it, too, like they weren’t his and he isn’t the one who’s left them there. “Alola. I had an idea and asked the professor there to help me with something. That, and Raihan’s been wanting a Garchomp and I know we can find one there.” 

At that, his mother looks him in the face. “Raihan’s going with you?” Leon nods. “What’s the gym going to do?” 

“It’s the off season,” he explains slowly, confused. “And they’re still doing repairs on the stadium anyway. They won’t even be able to train out there for a few weeks and we’ll be back before then anyway.” 

Curiosity melts away into what looks like relief. “You’re coming back,” his mother sighs. 

And then Leon realizes - she thought he was leaving. She thought he was going to disappear. 

“Mum,” he starts, but doesn’t finish. He doesn’t know what to say, because he doesn’t know if he should feel guilty that he still scares her like this. Or if he’s angry that she even still expects that from him. 

“I’m sorry,” she says to him gently. “You’re a grown man, and you have been for a very long time. You should go out and do the things you want to do while you’re still young enough to do them.” 

Leon frowns at her. “I’m not like him.”

His mother’s smile is sad when she says, “You are, baby. But not in ways that should make me afraid.”

“I’ll be home more often, I make my own hours now. I’ll still be in Wyndon, but I’ll come over whenever you want me to - “

His mother reaches across the table and takes Leon’s hand in two of her own. “I’m sorry,” she says again, still smiling that paradoxical smile. “Don’t let my fear get in the way of doing what you want.” Then, she relaxes, and the smile starts to look like something Leon used to see on her when he was younger, what he sees on Hop’s face, what Leon sees when he looks in the mirror. “Although, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing you home for dinner more often.”

“You will,” he promises. He thinks that his chest might be aching. It kind of feels like he’s just started being able to breathe in deeper than he’s ever been able to. It’s an ache he doesn’t mind. “I love you, mum.” 

“I love you, too, Leon.” The hands around his squeeze just the slightest. “Every day, for all my life.” 

They talk until the tea goes cold. Leon sleeps in his childhood bed and in the morning, he kisses his mom goodbye, hugs her as tight as she can stand, and leaves to catch his flight. 

He's left his door open. The next time he visits, he sees that it's stayed that way.

 

-=-=-

 

A Battle Tower is not a new concept, but it’s new enough to Galar and Leon’s excited to implement it when he gets home. His excitement only grew after his fourth run through the Tree Kukui graciously gave him a tour of the very same day he and Raihan arrived. The immediate action was requested by Leon, to Raihan’s displeasure. He had immediately begged off without a second thought, using the excuse of wanting to make sure the hotel room was in order. Hours later - half of them spent getting countless directions and, in the end, a guide to the hotel - Leon gets to the room practically buzzing whereas Raihan was passed out, jet-lagged out of his mind. 

Used to keeping odd hours, Leon hardly felt a thing, but he let the other sleep if only to have an easier time convincing him to join Leon on the normal course for the Multi Battle tier.

The week is spent hiding from the sun and trying food Raihan likes hearing Leon try to pronounce the names of. Taking pictures with fans that recognize them and, in Raihan’s case, just taking pictures in general. Petting the Charizards even though they most definitely have a job to be doing, people to be picking up. Their nights are long and their mornings are late. They don’t spend a second of them without each other.

Except right now.

Leon wakes up without an alarm, which is something his body is absolutely not used to, just like the humid air that creeps in despite the intense air conditioning. The hotel bed is clean and fresh with crisp white sheets and thick but firm pillows. It’s empty, as well. Leon makes a displeased noise at this. 

Eventually, he drags himself out of bed. The mirror in the ensuite is still sweating and the glass of the sliding doors to the shower is streaked with fog. Riahan couldn't have gotten out of the shower not ten minutes ago. Leon gets in and uses what little hot water was left for him. 

When he emerges, he dresses in clothes that are half his - the thinnest compression tights he has that stop just after his knees and some loose shorts - and half Raihan’s - an old baseball-styled jersey he leaves mostly unbuttoned. 

Leon finds the other sat at the table in the little kitchenette, a freshly hatched Gible perched on the tabletop in front of him. Raihan’s shirtless and comfortable in the heat with a breakfast for two laid out in front of him, but most of his attention is on the bowl of assorted berries he’s picking through. He holds one out to the baby dragon for him to inspect and every so often his massive jaws drop open. The approved berry gets dropped onto his tongue where it gets lost to little, gnashing fangs. 

Leon feels glad when he looks at the two of them. He feels really lucky. 

He pads across the carpet until he’s close enough to drag his fingertips across the lines and dips of Raihan’s shoulders, grins at the way he leans into the touch. How he leans back against the chair to reach up and feel the damp ends of Leon’s hair. His eyes are half lidded, and when he grins up at Leon its sharp, crooked, and sure. 

“G’morning.” 

“Mornin’, love.” 

In the literal seconds he’s been left unsupervised, Gible falls forward and lands nose first into the bowl of berries, going for them by the couples.

Oi," Raihan squawks, turning forward to push at the large fin on the top of the baby’s head in order to get him to tip back and upright. Gible’s expression curdles and he makes a distressed noise. “Got one you didn’t like, did you? What we learn?”

Leon takes the seat next to Raihan around the table’s corner and the Gible whistles out a noise that sounds pouty at the gentle scolding. In a moment, he’s going to need to start the process of packing once more for their extensive flight back to Galar. For now, he’s going to enjoy his breakfast and revel in the fact that if he doesn’t hurry, there won’t be any consequences. He has all the time in the world now.

A socked foot kicks him lightly in the calf and Raihan asks him, “How we feelin’ today?”

It’s a question he doesn’t have to ask, because he can probably find out without Leon needing to tell him. It’s just his way of letting Leon know that he cares about what the answer is, and that he’ll try and change it if he has to. 

“‘M ready to go home,” Leon admits, resting his chin in his hand. The other becomes occupied with scratching at Gible’s side. The baby trills and preens under the attention, shuffling over to scrape the edges of his fangs along Leon’s knuckles. 

Raihan watches this exchange with a warm look in his eyes. “Yeah?”

Leon hums. “I don’t really care for the heat.”

The other’s leg moves closer, hooking under Leon’s and pressing their ankles together. “That’s a shame.”

Despite the reluctant growl Gible purrs out, he stops scratching his rough skin to grab Raihan’s hand so Leon can press his smile into the back of it. “I’m excited to get started on everything.” 

“I’m glad, dandelion.” Raihan squeezes the hand in his. “I can’t wait to see what you do.”

The prospect of the future settles over them, and it’s heavy with the unknown. Of course Leon was going to miss how things were - a schedule, a routine, the security of what to expect. But it’s not enough to keep him from moving forward. 

There’s just too much left to do for him to slow down now.