Author's Note: The gratuitous Falling In Reverse references have been exchanged in the title for a gratuitous Ice Nine Kills reference. I can diversify.
I'll set the scene for you: it's 10 o'clock, on the dot, at the spot, and I just got off my takeover shift so I'm sitting on a park bench, taking in the nighttime scenery and casually listening to music and scrolling through some choice webcomics on my phone. It's a pretty nice scene overall. Normally, I would have driven back, but Spark decided that he felt bad that I kept picking him up to drive him places but he hadn't done the same, so he convinced me to have Sierra drop me off in the TGR van today so he could play the hero and pick me up to go do whatever the hell we wanted until we got the midnight batch at Sleepless Bakery. I sent Spark a text letting him know that I was off and where I was so he could approach and continued to hang out. Today had been an annoying day of takeovers, well, more annoying than usual, anyway. It always felt like a waste of my time, but today had the additional factors of it being sunny so I was sweating something fierce and that for some reason, every trainer insisted on asking me questions they had no right to know the answers to. I could brush off almost all of them with the statement that the forces of evil don't need to explain themselves. Which worked on almost everyone, except those from the core squad at Instinct HQ.
Don't get me wrong, I love Instinct HQ. The WiFi's good, all of the chairs are comfortable, and I can curl up with Spark in one of the many ready-made blanket forts consuming snacks, watching cartoons, and petting a Shinx. It's great. And so are most of the Go trainers, who are usually absolutely overjoyed to see their beloved team leader getting laid and think we're just the cutest thing they've ever seen. No one other than Spark and Cliff is allowed to call me cute, but as long as they're not snitching to the Pokemon League Authority, which they aren't because Spark is just so happy and they're glad he has a life outside of them, then it's all good. Of course, for every trainer who chuckles under their breath when they see me and see how obviously Spark has it bad (and who could blame him?), there are others who aim concerned looks in my direction. They're never intentionally judgmental, exactly, and "what do they see in him?" is a reasonable question, given our respective moral alignments and career paths. Most of them don't raise any direct questions, wanting to avoid making a scene or assuming Spark knows what he's doing or something, but they chat amongst themselves in the halls, just quietly enough to be discrete and just loudly enough that I can hear it. As a result, questions became more annoying than usual.
As if summoned by my contemplations of everything wrong with them, one of the Instinct HQ regulars who looked at me with judgment when I hung out there approached on the park path and sat down on the bench next to me. I got up and moved to the next bench over, all discrete-like, mumbling something under my breath about how there was a stitch in my back and the next one looked more comfortable. The other trainer advanced as well, pretending to approach a Pokestop's spin radius. Maybe if I sat there minding my own business, they'd mind theirs and we could pretend this never happened. The Trainer approached the Pokestop and looked at it, evidently confused that it wasn't blacked out, and they turned toward me with a questioning glance.
"I'm off the clock. Fight someone else."
I returned to my phone. They continued to look at me and approached the park bench once again. Under normal circumstances, I would have just gotten up and left, or turned up my headphone volume so they'd talk to me with no avail. These were not normal circumstances. I'd had it up to some arbitrary line with these kinds of interlopers, and had decided I was feeling mean. I turned towards the trainer with a glare, which they answered with a smile slightly too calm to be sincere.
"Well? What are you gawking at? If you've got a question, say so!"
"So, you used to be on Team Valor, right?"
"Well, I was curious given that you've seen...both sides of the debate..."
"You're not my type and I've got a boyfriend."
The trainer chuckled slightly, probably getting my "joke" in an attempt to calm me down and break through my edgy facade to the sweet boy they knew was underneath. The joke was, in fact, on them. "Oh, not that. I was just thinking about...well, do you ever think about the morality of what you do?"
"If you're trying to convert people away from the forces of evil, go talk to Facebook support."
"Good one. But, like, you're a strong trainer and clearly Candela saw something in you that made you good friends."
Every time someone had this conversation with me, they always mentioned Candela and the narrative that she told her boss and then he relayed to them and they never questioned. As if she was a reasonable arbiter of my morality as opposed to jumping the bones of the closest thing to an eligible mate she'd seen in 6 months and convincing me to come with me to the tournament because she was bored and wanted someone to take out her stress on. Hell, it was a more reasonable conclusion that she was just as evil as I am, as opposed to her seeing some noble spark (hehe) in me that got shrouded in whatever Shadow Pokemon aura is made of but maybe some valiant hero can break through. I didn't mind this from Spark. He knew Candela and he knew the real story. This trainer didn't, and whether they intended it or not, they were basically insinuating that Candela knew me better than I did and that she was the only one who could have "saved" me. From what?
"That's the past. This is now. Just cut to the chase so we can get this over with. I have an appointment."
"Okay, I see that you're not one to mince words. I admire that in a person."
"Flattery will get you nowhere."
"Well, I always assumed that you didn't know Team GO Rocket was evil when you joined and that you were desperate for approval, so that's why you stayed. But surely you know now, right? After all, you're the one who stole what was behind that secret door to create Apex Shadow Ho-Oh and Lugia, and there's no way someone as smart as you could see anything good in that."
I'd let them have that one. In actuality, I'd already created the Apex Shadow formula for Mewtwo back in 2020. The door just held some ancient treasures that Giovanni probably pawned or something and he only needed us to do recon on the team leaders so he knew when to send operatives in.
"I get that plenty of people get into situations that aren't the best for them, or anyone, when they're stressed or desperate. But if you stay in there after knowing they're hurting people, doesn't that make you complacent? I'm not judging you. I'm just...philosophically curious about how you reconcile this."
No one has ever said "I'm not judging you" and meant it. It's the same kind of statement as "they are not my boyfriend/girlfriend/etcetera". It's a demonstration that you've got a feeling, but you're too "polite" to admit it. Or you don't want to deal with the fallout if you do, so you hide behind plausible deniability while trusting that everyone knows what you really mean, so your target feels judged and your would-be love interest can keep making moves on you. I looked back down at my phone. It was still going through my playlist, actually; I'd taken out my headphones when the trainer had the gall to start talking to me but had forgotten to pause it. Looking down at it, and through my internal catalog of moral dilemmas, and at their expectant face, gave me an idea that I was reasonably confident would shut them up. I turned toward them, smiled the kind of smile that I'd normally use just before an evil laugh, and put my hand on my chin in mock contemplation.
"Oh, I get what you're asking me now. Apologies for not responding; I had to really consider the question. You want to know about my stance on the mic stand incident and the fact that his 'criminal history' section on Wikipedia is just as long as his discography and how he keeps invalidating folks' demographics and picking fights on Twitter with anyone who's nearby, right?"
The trainer stared blankly at me. They felt like they were getting an inkling that I wasn't talking about Giovanni anymore, but they didn't want to leave because after all, I'm smart and I'm a good guy on the inside, so this had to be going somewhere.
"Look, I'm not going to deny any of that. It's kind of hard to ignore. Threads and news postings aside, it's kind of all a reasonable inference. The man uses the term 'cancel culture' unironically, made an entire EP that summarizes to 'these kids with their genders and their TikToks need to get off my lawn because they're all brainwashed zombies', and has built his entire brand on how much he sucks. It did kind of sting to realize that my number 1 gender inspiration doesn't consider my gender to be real, but it wasn't really surprising in the first place. And hey, they're good songs. And for the most part, they have nothing to do with all the horrible acts he's committed, nor does the money he gets from them. Also, I use native mp3s and even if I didn't, what is he going to do with the, like, 8 cents he gets from streaming royalties?"
"Uh...is this a metaphor? I don't really get where it's--"
"So, I felt sad for a bit and contemplated if being a fan of his band was okay, since I am attached to Falling In Reverse in a way that's a little more complicated than just thinking the songs are good, but then I had an epiphany. Namely, that I'm edgier than a 39-year-old man who still throws temper tantrums could ever be."
"I thought Giovanni was older than that...?"
"In true edgelord fashion, I serve no gods, no masters, and no fandom doctrine. So I came to the conclusion that yes, fuck Ronnie Radke. And I'm going to keep considering him gender and contemplating how I'd probably literally fuck him. My treating him as an inspiration for me to be more aggressively transgender and bisexual than ever before is in itself a middle finger to him, as is me not posting any public statements about 'oh no, I'm sorry that I supported him, please forgive me'. After all, that's exactly what he wants so he can claim that he's a victim of society or whatever the fuck his excuse is this week. He's crying out for attention because he knows that the subculture he proclaimed himself the king and/or god of is basically irrelevant and that he's coasting on Popular Monster and how much he sucks at this point. He only gets attention when he picks on someone because he thinks they're picking on him, so the only winning move is not to play. Do you get what I'm saying?"
The Go trainer started to get up, but I gestured for them to sit back down. After all, I wasn't done with them yet. I contemplated that it was taking an awfully long time for Spark to get here. There shouldn't have been that much traffic at this time of night in between Instinct HQ and this park. Maybe he got lost, or had been in the field when I texted him?
"One day, I hope to meet him and tell him that he was one of many aspects of my transgender awakening, that I've rewritten his narratives to suit my own ends, and that there's nothing he can do about it. And then I'll ask him for an autograph and finally find out if the 'In' in the title is supposed to be capitalized or not. Really, it's rather condescending of you to assume that the only person who can critically think is you. I undoubtedly agree that informing people of the harmful actions of those they are involved with that they may not otherwise know of is important, but you framing it as 'well, I'm sure he wouldn't do this if he knew' gives the impression that I'm too lazy, or dumb, or misguided to look things up myself and make my own judgments on what I consider morally right. And let's be real, you don't really want to make me aware of the problems with who I support, or have an honest discussion about my morals. You want to make yourself feel superior and like you saved me from descending further into debauchery, right? Well, I'll give you what you want."
The trainer stammered out that there was no need for this and that I'd made my point, whatever the hell it was. I didn't have time for this.
"Thank you so much. You've made me see the light and have preserved the sanctity of my immortal soul, casting out the problematic demons that occupied me. You are truly the single arbiter of moral purity. And you never should have asked me this in the first place. My job and my moral decisions are none of your business and don't disguise telling me I'm wrong as discussion."
With perfect dramatic timing, Spark texted me that he'd arrived, so I smugly walked off, briefly waving goodbye to the trainer before I turned back towards the parking lot, looked over the once-white minivan before me to Spark's shrug that he'd gotten it from his mom and hadn't bothered replacing it yet, beckoned Spark into the back seat, connected my phone to his headphone cable, and pinned him across the extended back seat, moved the central cup holder out of the way, tasted his tongue, started unzipping his weird hoodie-vest thing, and felt pretty damned gender, with Losing My Life playing the whole time.
Don't make an attempt at comprehending the morals of the God Of The Music Scene, motherfuckers.