It's Just Me
Author's Note: Yes, the title is a reference to the Escape the Fate song. What are you going to do about it? Besides, listen to it once and tell me it doesn't match Arlo's vibes. (useless fun fact: it's the only song from This War Is Ours he'll publicly admit to liking.)
The Ponyta that Candela had previously seen in the field at the empty lot behind a shopping center which contained an okay pizza place, a law firm, and not much else were notably absent. Presumably, they'd been scared off by the vibrations pulsing throughout the lot and ricocheting off of the dumpsters and back wall of the shopping center into a single wall of distortion guitar and rancid vibes. Said vibrations emanated from a low-to-the-ground black sports car whose grill vaguely resembled a cliche anime villain courtesy of the slanting of the headlights, bearing a variety of immature stickers and unnecessary modifications, including to the audio system, as was being demonstrated. Arlo leaned against a dumpster, spinning his car keys in his hand and smirking as she approached before turning off the car and striding toward her, making his best attempts at slow-clapping. The emerging from the shadows bit would have been more effective if it wasn't mid-day and a pleasant temperature in the low 70s Farenheit (or 22 in Celsius). And if he wasn't visibly sweating underneath his unnecessary glasses courtesy of the oversized black hoodie that obscured his entire torso.
"Well, hello, Candela. You look as good as the day I first met you."
"Yeah, so do you."
"Uh..." Arlo fidgeted a bit to avoid eye contact while coming up with his response. "When you first met me, my Pokemon dragged me into your center after I passed out in the desert."
"Exactly. Also, if you were trying to hit on me, don't. You're supposed to hate me. Make up your goddamn mind."
"I've lost my goddamn mind, babe." He smiled a little too wide and attempted to position his face such that the sunlight interacted with his glasses such that it would obscure his eyes. He rapidly flinched back after the light, unsurprisingly, got in his eyes.
"Yeah, it happens all the time. Oh, and if you call me 'babe' one more time, you're going to end up another victim of the bad girls club, as it were. Or a footnote in the Wikipedia article on spontaneous human combustion, depending on how things go."
"Wikipedia doesn't have footnotes."
"Look, can we just call this off? Please?" Candela dropped her disdain and tried her best to look Arlo straight in the eyes, leading him to fidget even more. "I don't know what you think you're doing, but this isn't going to help anyone."
"Call what off? I have people who value my talents now. Also, I'm pretty sure I get paid more than you." Arlo postured with his hand poised over his glasses, turning enough to the side to be able to side-eye her along with continuing to avoid direct eye contact.
"This whole emo rage fantasy you're acting out."
"It's called emoviolence. And it's metalcore, not emoviolence."
"You know what I mean. I'm talking about the whole idea that I betrayed you, so you're going to turn evil and dedicate yourself to destroying me. At minimum, it's self-destructive and prevents you from properly moving on. At maximum, it's a particularly vile form of emotional manipulation in which you're effectively guilt-tripping me with your sanity. And, like, I get that you're not the most emotionally mature berry on the bush--"
"Hehe, bush. And I'll have you know that everything about me is particularly vile, babe."
"Shut it, you. And thanks for proving my point! -- but come on, dude. If your threshold for 'evil' is skulking around in a hoodie and quoting Falling In Reverse lyrics, you didn't need to join Team Rocket. You did that anyway."
"Are we gonna talk about feelings or are we gonna battle?"
Arlo sneered at her before making a grandiose turn and thrusting his arm forward, releasing a Scizor wreathed in a dark aura that occasionally flickered with points of purple and red light from a Premier Ball. The Bug Pokemon clicked its pincers and hissed at Candela before flexing its muscles for action.
"Put that back." Candela glanced over the Scizor and its trainer alike with nonchalant disdain. "We fight like men."
"Men other than emo dudebros, Arlo. If there's any valor left in you, fight me like a real trainer. Use your old team. None of this Shadow Pokemon trickery."
"It's been 3 years. What makes you think I still have them?"
"That you're wearing the hoodie your Charizard dragged you to the Pokemon Center in."
"Fair point. Let me get them out of my trunk."
Arlo walked back to his car, produced the car keys, still adorned with a heavily worn Team Valor emblem keychain, from one of the pockets in his hoodie, and quietly hummed to himself while he dug through crevices, backpacks, and boxes that had been there for gods knew how long. Candela watched him, contemplating how in many respects, he was still the same man she remembered. He'd always had a tendency to go for aesthetics over practicality and could coordinate everything except his own life. Which meant that things derailed as soon as someone didn't respond how he anticipated, which was pretty often. Even now, since she didn't respond to his evil posturing correctly, he rapidly transformed back into the sophomoric idiot she knew and lo--who she'd known. In the past. Candela stopped herself from smiling remininscing on all of the mishaps they'd gotten themselves into. That was over now. Evidently, Arlo's douchebag persona had subsumed him entirely, or at least he'd have liked to think that. Maybe after the battle he'd see reason again. She'd sate his bloodlust and then they'd have one of the heart-to-hearts like they used to have in Orre and maybe they'd go get baked goods and listen to MCR. This whole thing was a facade. It'd crumble before long.
Arlo returned from the car, wiping dust off of a Great Ball.
"Okay, you'd better give this your all because I don't want to know what I just exposed myself to."
"I always do."
Arlo gripped his first Pokeball tightly before flinging it into a square of asphalt at the center of the field that functioned as the closest thing to a battle arena they'd have. Out emerged a Charizard who looked around with confusion, its eyes blinking against the sunlight after having remained in digital data form for years, before it growled with enthusiasm and rushed over to nuzzle its Trainer. Arlo stifled a smile and whispered into the Pokemon's ear about what they intended to do. Immediately, the Pokemon shifted into business mode, a brilliant white flash emerging from its tail before the flames rose up in piercing yellow. It let out a triumphant roar of challenge and stared down Candela's Typhlosion. Typhlosion responded with a chirping hiss, the flames around its neck similarly flashing.
"Go. Use Earthquake."
Arlo's voice came out quieter than Candela would have expected at the extreme low end of his range, with clear effort on his part to prevent it from cracking. The Charizard matched his no-nonsense demeanor, nodding before pushing itself up off the pavement, wreathing a claw in dragon energy, and stamping it down into the asphalt, cracking the pavement, rattling the dumpster's lid, and sending up clods of dirt right into Typhlosion's flames. The lanky Pokemon squeaked in pain before responding with a flash of its eyes and flames prompted by Candela's nod, the flames bursting out orange as several embers flared up and formed themselves into solid shapes. The Rock Slide quickly overwhelmed the Charizard's best attempts at dodging, forcing its wings down and slamming it into the pavement. The dragon energy surrounding it fizzled and Arlo reluctantly withdrew it. Was he trying to let her win? He knew her Typhlosion knew Rock Slide. Hell, he got the TM for her as a tournament present. Arlo's hands trembled and his grip on the Pokeball slipped from sweat as without any posturing, he released his Crobat.
"Unleash the fucking bats, right?"
Candela smiled in Arlo's direction when she made the reference, hoping to see some of his passion returned. Sure, the fight may have been intense, but he wasn't having fun. There wasn't any of the crack in his facade like she'd hoped for. Well, unless he really was that angsty over her, which would probably be even worse. Surely he was letting her win. Sending out another Pokemon with a known weakness? She scanned Arlo's face for the slightest reaction, and found nothing. The other Trainer's head remained turned downward and he mumbled an instruction to his Pokemon that she barely heard. A glob of foul-smelling sludge rose up from the parking lot and hurtled toward Typhlosion, which the Volcano Pokemon easily dodged. Was this really it? Was it just going to end like this? Was he...even trying? Was any of that original spirit Candela remembered still in him? She could have chosen Thunder Punch or another Rock Slide and ended things right there, but opted to go for Overheat instead. The drain in Typhlosion's power would have provided Arlo the perfect opportunity to turn things around.
The flames rose and while the Crobat avoided some of them by flying upward, it still took most of the hit, and based on its wincing squeak, had been left with a burn. Arlo could have taken out her Typhlosion then and there. Instead, he produced a spray medicine from his bag and applied it to the flying Pokemon. He was letting her win. He had to be. Either that or he wasn't thinking straight. I mean, he wasn't straight, nobody believed him when he said that he only liked watching pretty metalcore guys making out with each other on stage for aesthetic purposes, but this was depressing even for him. Candela hung back once more and told her Typhlosion to build power. This was Arlo's chance to do something. He was still mumbling to himself, with growing intensity, but it decidedly wasn't any instructions to his Pokemon. Rather, he was chanting...something repeatedly, clenching his fists and trembling without any seeming perception of the battle. Candela actually walked over to him and tapped his shoulder, to which he responded by rounding on her with a startled high-pitched noise followed by a withering glare and commanding his Crobat to perform a vicious Sky Attack. Candela's Typhlosion took the hit, but was able to stay on its feet long enough to channel all its remaining energy into a Thunder Punch, leading Arlo's second aerial Pokemon to fall to the ground.
Now closer to him, Candela could clearly hear Arlo's mantra, growled at the lowest parts of his vocal range and fluctuating in tone as his face scrunched up and he continued to clench his fists and tighten his whole body.
"No. I'm not losing to you again. You're supposed to be stronger than this. What the hell is wrong with you? I'm not losing to you again!"
With the final sentence, increased to a yell, he rounded on Candela with his fists ready, his breaths coming short and sharp. His fist came within inches of her nose as she remained unblinking before him, before he seemingly realized what he was doing, stepped back in shock, and his hands went limp, the Pokeball he still clenched falling to the ground.
"No...no...this wasn't supposed to be...why can't I...why can't I hate you? I'm supposed to be able to destroy you. That's why I joined. Why can't I hate you? Tell me why I can't hate you."
He gesticulated in Candela's direction on the last sentence, his eyes widened and darting around. She wasn't sure if he was talking to her or not and hesitantly placed a hand on his shoulder, to which he didn't object.
"Hey. You know, things don't have to be like this. You don't have to stay working with those assholes if your heart's not in it. You can come back to Team Valor, no hard feelings. We can be a team again, like old times. Honestly, this never happened?"
She outstretched her other arm, figuring that at any moment, Arlo would stop holding himself back and start crying, she could enclose him in a hug, and things would be okay, after she showered to get off any sweat and body spray and gods knew what else. Instead, the other trainer jerked back from her, dusted himself off, picked his Pokeballs back up, and grimaced, heat rushing to his face and despite his best attempts to steel his expression, clearly still holding back tears.
"N-no. This is what I want. I'm stronger now. I'm a leader now, and I don't need your pity."
Arlo tried to have it escape as a snide challenge filled with biting acidity, but didn't quite make it. He had all of the intonations and motions of sharpness, but it still came out hollow and his expression didn't match what he was trying to say. His jaw trembled and without any further words, he turned and fled back to his car. The door slammed shut and his music blared out once more. Without any regard for proper speed in a parking lot, the sports car peeled out, its tires squealing against the pavement. Candela stood silent in the center of the empty lot, her Typhlosion still out of its Pokeball and nervously nudging her with its head in an effort to get a response from its trainer, which it didn't receive.