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There is a roaring in Raihan’s ears. 

It had started off as the crowd’s deafening cheering, their faceless support for... Him? The Champion? Now though, the roaring is down to the blood pulsing, the rising tension in his body as the battle is drawing to its explosive conclusion. 

Opposite him stands his opponent. His final hurdle. His rival, his friend. His... Leon is too far across field to clearly see his expression, but Raihan feels the challenge of those eyes on him, the weight of it. Their exhibition battles are truly the spectacle of Wyndon Stadium, of Galar. The whole region and beyond may be watching, but to Raihan it is just him, Leon, their Pokemon and the pitch. There’s a gust of wind from Leon’s Charizard as it flaps its wings, leaping back to its trainer in what Raihan knows is their preparation to dynamax. It causes the sweat on Raihan’s body to cool briefly - the heat from numerous fire attacks had been intense, but it’s only part of the cause. Battling Leon was a work out itself and the thought makes Raihan grin proudly, because he can see the heavy rise and fall of Leon’s chest even from this distance and knows he’s being pushed like nobody else can push him. 

This time, Raihan thinks to himself, fingers itching and ready to dynamax Duraludon. They are down to their final Pokemon and have left the dynamaxing to, quite literally, the last possible moment. Charizard is looking weary, Raihan calculates that Leon’s dynamax is being used to bump his health somewhat, give him a little longer to land that final blow. But Raihan has held on too, not to be caught out.

Rotom is orbiting him to catch his trademark fanged smirk, well trained in their routine - the fan-service. Here we go.

The crowd, however deaf Raihan had been to them, begin to chant and cheer louder, to new levels, breaking into their imagined shared space down on the ground. Leon is glowing, he usually does from the attention, but now it is the red light of the enlarged pokeball shining on him - and he’s throwing the dynamax ball behind him. In just seconds Charizard is towering over them, its roar shaking the very foundations beneath the stadium. Leon’s signature Pokemon was intimidating enough at the best of times, but in these moments it really is something else. Raihan revels in it. 

At Charizard’s feet, Leon is waiting. Arms crossed, chin high - challenging - the image of Leon is being projected on the big stadium screen and the crowd eat it up, (he’ll be seeing that very image on social media for weeks). The Champion was waiting for him, he knew what was coming and Raihan would think him a fool if he didn’t. 

A flash of his Rotom, a wink and a grin, it is his own face on the big screens now as he tosses the dynamaxing form of Duraludon behind him. The adrenaline-fueled roar tearing from him completely drowned by his pokemon’s cacophonous arrival into its dynamax form. The ground shakes once more and Raihan’s stance is animalistic, ready to pounce. Leon remains steadfast before him, too far away but not far enough. Still he feels that heavy gaze... Those eyes full of challenge and something just for him. He’d never miss them, they’d see Raihan through his most turbulent sandstorms. Sometimes Raihan thinks Leon sees him more clearly during them.

You know I don’t lose battles, Raihan, Leon had told him with a laugh before the battle had started - is voicelessly telling him now, as the battle is ending. They have about two hits left, both Pokemon reaching their limit and so are their trainers. The adrenaline of these moments is an addicting drug, the resulting fatigue a satisfying thrum, and being the only person to reach this point with the Champion was always, always, worth the effort. “This time.” Raihan breathes, audibly drowned out by their surroundings. He can place Leon’s smirk from his end of the arena, smiling at Raihan as if he hears it, or is it his imagination?

Leon signals a move, finger pointing ahead, and Charizard rumbles in preparation. “Hold tight, buddy.” Raihan hisses for Duraludon, fingers curling as he braces for the impact of Max Flare. But it’s not a Max Flare - and it throws Raihan because he’s battled Leon and Charizard enough to know the Pokemon’s move set. This doesn’t explain why, in his dawning horror of misjudgement, Raihan is facing the super effective power of Max Wyrmwind rocketing towards him and Duraludon. 

The force of the surrounding shockwave is enough to cause him to step back, his resolve shaken, and Raihan does not need to turn around to know that Duraludon is hit - a critical hit too, it says so in flashing red letters on the big screen. The crowds cheer, Duraludon roars, but the pulse in his ears is much louder than both. 

It’s over.

His Pokemon’s dynamax form explodes. Fireworks also explode, colouring the sky high over the arena, but the rainbows in his periphery don’t distract him. It’s over and he’s lost. The same song and dance, despite Raihan’s best efforts. Always his best effort, always never good enough. He reclines slightly in his stance, arms behind his head in nonchalance, his fans expect it, just like they expect Leon’s Charizard pose, and he never fails to disappoint. More fireworks go off as Leon strikes his hand high, ever the showman. Raihan wants to kick his ass and kiss his lips simultaneously. 

“Thank you for the champion time!” Leon is clapping and laughing then, bowing before the audience. Charizard, now back to its regular size, gives a few nonsensical growls behind him. 

The Chairman enters the pitch with an entourage of cameras and crew for the closing speech, but Raihan remains focused and battle ready. There is still only one man who is the metaphorical light of his adrenaline induced tunnel vision. Leon is nearer now and he is looking right at him, watching, waiting. He feels the electricity between them, the challenge simmering. The screens are broadcasting Rose only, the focus removed from the two challengers as they stand - their bubble preserved. There is a grin on the Champion’s face reserved only for Raihan, and Raihan responds with such an intense gaze that Leon’s smile wavers. 

 


 

 

The locker rooms of all the stadiums are reserved for challengers only, not a lot of staff even get access and especially no press. The decor here in Wyndon Stadium is a little too minimalistic for Raihan’s taste, but he doesn’t complain all that loudly. Just scoffs at the white on grey on white. He’s waiting, slowly packing some things into the duffel bag that took up one of two lockers being used today. The other is being used by Leon, who has yet to leave Rose’s side and the gaze of the public, still on the green of the arena.

Raihan’s movements gradually stop. Leon’s expression is stuck in his mind, a reminder of their complicated relationship. They didn’t have much time before Raihan was given the hint to scram - it was Rose and his Champion’s limelight, no time for losers there. He sits on the bench with a heavy sign and takes out his Rotom to scroll through social media, his fans have flooded his mentions and he takes some time to read their comments.

NOOOO @Raihan241 next time please win.. #WynEx 

that was so close omg, my mum got so excited she almost threw our purrloin at the tv on accident lol @Raihan241 @LEON #WynEx  #riptoraihan #riptopurrloin

MAX WYRMWOOD @LEON WTF BRO that was brutal @Raihan241 #WynEx 

It’s expected of him to upload a post battle selfie, not that he particularly feels like it, but it’s his own ego that began that tradition - win or lose. He switches over to his recent  photos and finds one he’d taken before the battle, scrolling through the twenty-or-so images of just that moment. Raihan’s thumb pauses scrolling on one, it’s a close up of him throwing the peace sign, tongue poking out and winking playfully. Leon is there in the background clearly in an attempt to photobomb him and Raihan laughs. He’d taken these pictures before the public had entered the stadium, maybe even before crews had begun working on setting up for the battle. They’d been on the grounds without spectators for a rare moment or two.

He zooms in to try and decipher the Champion’s expression and makes out that Leon’s eyes are closed and his fingers are covering his mouth, and it takes Raihan a few seconds to think of swiping to the next picture he’d taken. Leon’s lips are revealed in the next photo, pursed from blowing him a kiss, and Raihan laughs despite himself. Leon knows he’d never upload compromising photos of him, but it does make Raihan’s core do weird and painful things knowing that what they have... Whatever they’re calling this thing between them, has to be kept secret - per Leon’s request. 

“What are you laughing about?” Raihan’s head snaps up, he hadn’t heard Leon enter and hadn’t expected him so soon.

“None of your business.” He shoots back, but it lacks any real fire, and he returns to his phone as Leon strolls unfazed to his own locker. Raihan crops the photo so it’s just himself and posts it. The caption reads: we goin > training tomorrow, lads. Followed by some dragon and pokeball emojis.

He hears Leon’s Rotom ping immediately, triggered to alert anytime Raihan posts, and he snickers at the sound of Leon clearing his throat. Busted. Raihan looks over his shoulder at the other man, an eyebrow raised in question at the blush on Leon’s cheeks and-oh, that flush is dipping to his exposed chest. It makes Raihan’s mouth go dry, as if he’s inhaled sand from his own signature weather. This... Relationship between them was still relatively new. Sure, Raihan had been pining for years and had accepted that a long time ago. But he hadn’t expected Leon to also return those feelings and for, apparently, a lot longer. 

Looking back on their confession wasn’t a favourite memory of either man, it was embarrassing and full of tension. Lots of silence that spanned for days and childish behaviour to Never Speak Of Again. But it eventually worked out. They were adults after all, or at best good at pretending to be. However, there is one rule. Leon is looking at him now and it’s his turn to raise a questioning eyebrow, “Don’t get any ideas,” he warns, but Raihan swears he sees him flex and it’s completely unfair, “Someone could come in here and see us.”

’We can’t tell anyone. Okay? Promise me.’ The rule echoes between them and there is an uncomfortable tension.

Raihan had promised him. He understands why, kind of. Leon is under immense pressure as the Champion and under the almost constant watchful eye of the entire region. Raihan is too, of course, and a lot of that is by choice with his online presence - he does enjoy the attention being a gym leader brings him. But Rose doesn’t have him on a short leash like he does Leon. It also doesn’t mean Raihan has to like it. 

It must show on his face that he’s about to argue, because Leon is frowning and looking down guiltily. It just makes Raihan want to kiss the pout off his lips. “Oi,” he snaps to grab Leon’s attention, but the Champion’s face is briefly obscured as he’s resumed getting dressed and Raihan silently bemoans the loss of the view once the shirt is on. “Nice surprise there with the dragon move.” He comments dryly, instead of a litany of other things he’d rather say. 

It takes Leon a second to comprehend and he smiles when he does, momentarily relieved by the change of topic. “I visited the move tutor a few weeks ago, thought I’d save it for our exhibition,” he swings his bag onto his shoulder in what is probably the most extra way imaginable, “Have to switch it up to stay at the top, you know, especially with a rival like you.”

“Oh don’t sweet talk me,” Raihan drawls sarcastically, and yeah, it still sucks to lose and he’s allowed some post-battle sulking, “And don’t for one second think that I’ll fall for that one again, mate.” He sits with his back to Leon once more, fidgeting with his Rotom. 

He hears the sigh behind him, followed by something hitting the floor. The bag, Raihan assumes, but is unsure why. That is until he feels rough and familiar hands gently cup his jaw from behind, tilting his head back to look up. Leon is smiling down at him softly as if he can read Raihan’s thoughts, as if he knows that Raihan is just a little touch starved and lovesick. It’s probably written on his face, but Raihan sees those same feelings in Leon’s expression, too. It’s such a contrast to when they’d been mid-battle, sweating and vibrating with the thrill and adrenaline. It’s like the energy of being The Champion and the Hammerlocke Gym Leader has left them, all that remains is Leon and Raihan, post battle and spent, no crowds or commentators. No roaring in his ears. 

Raihan makes a show of glancing from side to side checking that nobody else is around to observe and Leon chuckles quietly, catching on. There is only a brief moment of hesitation before Leon leans over for a gentle, open-mouthed kiss. Raihan tilts his head into it, the angle slightly awkward but workable, testing the waters as he lifts one hand to encircle one of Leon’s wrists and anchor himself. 

Leon sighs into the kiss and melts against him, the slight shift causing his hair to fall past his shoulder and tickle the inside of Raihan’s elbow. It’s sweet and not at all enough to satisfy either before they separate. Time is short and they both know it. Thumbs stroke the skin of Raihan’s cheekbones and his eyes are closed, when did he close them? He feels those hands travel higher, reaching the fabric of his beanie and pulling it back from his face. Lips press tenderly to his forehead and linger there, and now it’s Raihan’s turn to sigh.

The hum of approaching voices causes them to break apart, hands falling away, eyes opening, and Leon barely steps back in time before the Chairman and his assistant Oleana appear from the tunnel. Rose, none the wiser, beams at the two as he spots them and he beckons Leon to follow, “Excellent battle today Raihan, almost had our Champion in a corner there.” Things are quick to return to normalcy, then. 

Raihan, already bitter over the interruption, just accepts the back-handed complement with a lazy two-fingered salute, but Rose is already leaving through the other exit. There is probably a press conference waiting for them, waiting for Leon. Oleana remains behind, making sure the Champion won’t get lost on the way to their destination. Short leash

“Duty calls, then.” Leon laughs, but Raihan is frowning and Oleana just looks bored, her small mouth pinched in impatience. “See you later, Raihan.” Leon says it so convincingly, like he believes it, even though it’s rare when they do and always secret. But he’s leaving anyway because he’s Galar’s Champion and not just Raihan’s Leon. 

Raihan lifts his hand in a half-hearted wave, then he is alone. 

 


 

 

It’s hours later and he’s on the train to Hammerlocke, chilled by the weather and in such a mood that even an overpriced, overly strong, train station latte couldn’t help warm him. There’s a sudden, little trill from his pocket and suddenly Raihan’s Rotom hovers into his vision, blocking out the snow-capped hills that are gradually becoming green and habitable. He drags his gaze lazily, reading the notification. 

@LEON liked your post. (46 seconds ago)

 

It shakes again, giving a cheerful chirp when a second notification comes through.

 

@LEON sent you 1 attachment. (Just now)

 

Wherever the Champion is being held right now, his mind must be elsewhere. Boring work those sponsorship meetings. Raihan sits up then, taking hold of Rotom to steady it. He’s in a private compartment for the journey so he doesn’t hesitate to open the direct message, which is a short video. His thumb hovers over it for a few seconds before it plays.

It’s a video of himself taking selfies, Raihan recognises it being Wyndon stadium earlier that day. 

“What is he doing?” He hears Leon say from behind the camera, hears the smile in his voice, too far for Raihan in the video to hear, “Oi, Raihan~?” There’s a noise that he can’t quite decipher but Leon starts laughing and it’s infectious because Raihan is smiling so wide that his cheeks start to ache.

The camera suddenly goes black, before revealing Leon as he begins using the front-facing camera. “You’re too busy taking pictures of yourself and, honestly, I’d be a bit miffed if you weren’t so handsome,” there’s a blush rising on his cheeks and he’s smiling still, “Send some to me, yeah?” And then Leon blows a kiss to the camera before the video ends.