Reverse Mode

Author's Note: This is inspired entirely and solely by the realization that Shadow Pokemon going berserk in XD is canonically called that and I can totally use it for reference reasons. Plus I took an animal behavior class and they talked about testosterone being linked to aggression a lot. Also, in terms of random trivia -- this was written entirely on my phone.

"I am aware that I am an asshole..."

The tinny sound of a self-assured voice, projected from a cheap Bluetooth speaker, echoed against the bathroom walls. There I sat, positioned sitting on the side of the tub, rummaging through the glitter-covered pouch that held my injection supplies. Cliff had made it for me when I told him I was starting T with the Johto Tour bonus. He said that he wanted to pattern it after Stardust since I was "powering myself up". It wasn't my personal style, but I couldn't help but smile at it. Besides, it wasn't like I had anywhere else to put the needles.

All the posts online and my endocrinologist suggested that if you were nervous around needles or had sensory issues with the experience, that turning the injection into a ritual would help. Put on a scented candle, dim the lights, and play some self-affirming music. I didn't listen to anything especially positive and didn't own any scented candles, so affirming myself as an asshole was as good as it was going to get. Of course, one could reasonably argue that I shouldn't have been projecting myself onto Mr. Radke, who may well be an asshole beyond aesthetics, but everything in that regard is shrouded in myth and hey, I crave everything he has going on in the gender department. Except the tattoos. Again, needles. I can't ignore the sensation, no matter how much I distract myself and how brief it is. For the first couple injections, I actually went to the office because I couldn't do it myself. The injection site wiped off, I had no more excuses, so I took a deep breath and jabbed it in, trying and failing not to wince. It went in, though, and that's what matters. It's about the results. It's about being able to look at myself in the mirror without agonizing over whether my hair's curvature looks okay as compared to my jawline.

A series of purple and black rectangles flashed over my vision. I turned off my glasses, figuring the AR display had glitched again. Right as I reached for the button on whatever one calls the part that goes over your ear, the flashes kicked up again, stronger this time, looking less like a glitch flash and more like a burst of smoke. They made themselves harder to ignore, punctuated by a burst of searing pain going through my head. I fumbled toward the countertop to grab my phone and get the speaker, still happily going through Just Like You, disconnected. I couldn't see well enough against the flashes, increasing in regularity to the point that I felt like the whole room was lit in strobe lights, to type, but at least I'd had the foresight to put my doctor on speed dial.

"Hey, uh, I just did my T injection and something went...wrong. I'm getting headaches and dark spots in my vision. I know you told me only to call you directly for emergencies, but I think this qualifies. Can we meet on video call as soon as possible? I don't think I'm okay to drive."

Hopefully they'd check their voicemail soon. While I was in the bathroom, I rummaged through a drawer until I got something that based on shape was probably a bottle of headache relief pills. Unable to get the cap twisted off, I whistled in the direction of my room. Gil emerged and seeing my predicament, twisted the cap off with one of his pincers and presented me with a pill. The Bug Pokemon looked at me with concern, tilting his head in both directions as though to fully take in his trainer's sorry state.

"Don't worry, dude, it's probably just a headache. I'm gonna try to go to sleep and see if things clear up in the morning. If my doctor calls, tell them I'm available any time tomorrow; my computer's unlocked so you can use the text to speech."

I shakily reached out a hand and patted the Scizor's head in an effort, seemingly not very effective, to convince him I was okay. Hopefully I could also convince myself of that. Once I staggered to my room, I quickly collapsed and spent an indeterminate amount of time in a haze, unidentifiable dark shapes slithering through my mind's eye.

My door gently creaked, awakening me. The flashes had stopped; I could see now but I still hurt all over, the pulses in my head showing no signs of dying down. I reached toward my phone to check the time and stopped midway through upon getting a good look at it. My hand, not the phone.

It was covered by cascades of black and purple smoke. I stared at it in shock for a couple seconds before holing myself back up under the blankets. If I were a fictional character, I'd try to wake up again to make sure I wasn't dreaming, but the pain in my entire body that corresponded to the aura's movement was definitely happening. Cliff called out to me from the other side of the door before opening it a little further and carefully stepping in.

"Hey, little dude. Are you okay? You went to bed pretty early last night and I heard you moaning from the other side. Are you sick?"

"Something like that. Something went wrong when I did my T injection last night. I'll be calling my endocrinologist today to see if they can figure out what."

"Okay, I hope you get better. Sierra and I are going out to work, but don't feel like you have to go if you're not up to it, you can come out whenever you're ready."

Cliff exited and closed the door once again, at which point I pivoted from having my head exposed to completely covering myself. That was quickly foiled by Gil, who emerged from the corner to pull the blanket off of me and gestured to my phone, reminding me that I was going to get in touch with my doctor. The bug was right. Hiding wouldn't accomplish anything. No matter how much I may have wanted to, there was a problem that I needed to address. I finally actually pulled out my phone and checked the time. Gil had apparently successfully scheduled me an appointment for 30 minutes later, which gave me enough time to go down to the kitchen and grab some breakfast.

"Hey, Arlo. Apologies for not being able to answer your call last night; you got me outside of work hours and I had other arrangements. How are you feeling?"

Dr. Peyton looked at me through my computer screen, short, curly black hair with hints of having previously been dyed framing a face that had clearly been hardened though forces other than natural growth and carried marks of smiling despite all forces conspiring against it. They were probably one of my favorite humans overall.

"Uh, not great. I can see now, but my headache has been joined by a rest-of-body ache. Also, uh, glowing eyes and aura of concentrated bad vibes. Pretty sure those aren't normal side effects."

"Yeah, that's...definitely unusual. Looks like it might be XM-related, which isn't my department. Didn't you say that you handled XM and hormonal treatments for Pokemon at work?"

"Yeah, I do that. That's what I'm thinking might have happened. Maybe the injection interacted oddly with some Pokemon hormone and made the XM kick in?"

"That's my best guess. Pokemon don't have hormones in the same way humans do since their growth and evolution are mostly managed by XM, but it is known that they're biochemically close enough to humans for pheromones to work across species. It doesn't seem implausible that some part of the formula you work with is similar enough to testosterone for your injection to have manifested an XM effect."

"So, what do you suggest I do about it?"

"I can't really give that much specific advice since I'm not an XM specialist, but I'd say to take some medicine and rest as you normally would for the pain. For the aura, if it's XM-related, you'll want to spend some time away from your workplace and not working with your Pokemon treatments to give your soul time to settle and regenerate. I can give you a note for work; I'll write one up and send it to your email right away."

"Okay, thanks. I'm aware this isn't your department, but I'm not really sure who else to call so..."

"Do you have any other questions or concerns? Is everything else going okay?"

"Yeah, I'm still a little squeamish about the needles but I'm really satisfied with the results. My voice sounds great."

"Glad to hear it. Well, Arlo, hopefully you can figure out what's going on. If the aura doesn't go down just from you being away from your workplace, I would seek out an XM specialist; I can try to look for one for a referral."

"Okay, thanks!"

I ended the call and pulled up my messaging app, also on desktop, to talk to Spark. After all, if I had official permission to miss work...

Hey, babe🖤
what's up?
Are you available to pick me up to hang out at your HQ? I'm at the building in the woods.
shouldn't you be out doing takeovers rn?
Having a bit of a medical issue. Something went wrong with my T injection last night. Got a note from my endocrinologist letting me off work and giving me specific encouragement to hang somewhere other than my HQ, so...
I'll be right over. should I make my signature super potion soup?
Does it have healing qualities or is it actually made with Super Potions?

I snapped a quick picture with my webcam, verified that the aura and glowing eyes were actually visible, and sent it.

Also, I don't think soup's gonna be sufficient.
holy shit
i mean, it looks good on you.
Ikr? If it wasn't fucking terrifying, it'd be pretty gender.
isn't being scary kinda a fundamental part of ur gender?
I mean, yeah XD
all right, you dork, I need to drive. I'll be right over.

I sat back in my computer chair, not needing to stifle my smile since I was alone in the building save Gil. I closed the window and started scrolling through my perpetually opened news outlets. Nothing had substantially changed since yesterday. Silph Co was under investigation for worker mistreatment. Another thinkpiece on the ethics of XM manipulation. In short, the usual. I shrugged and stuffed my keys and wallet into the pockets of my hoodie, checking myself out in the mirror as I traversed the perimeter of my room. The aura did look pretty good on me. The more intense red on my eyes and the glowing played well with my glasses and the smoke did nicely obscure many problematic features. I pulled out my phone and snapped a pic, applying my most menacing expression. Could be useful as a profile picture.

Spark pulled up to the back lot, by the Pokemon quarters, and texted me to inform me of his location. I headed out and sat down in the passenger's seat while Spark looked me over. Might as well get their questions out of the way now and get this over with. They paused for a moment, catching my eyes with concern.

"Wow. How are you feeling? Does it hurt?"

"The smoke itself doesn't feel like much of anything. My entire body still hurts, though."

"Hmm. Well, hopefully your doctor's right and getting into a different XM environment will help. You want to put on some music?" Spark handed me the end of an audio cable to the car stereo, blinking expectantly.

"Not today. I've still got a killer headache and, like, while I know they probably aren't actually connected ideas, I was listening to my favorites of rancid vibes when the Shadow Pokemon formula first happened. Better safe than even sorrier, right?"

I tried to punctuate that statement with a chuckle, but it got stuck in the back of my throat and came out hollow. Spark nodded and we spent the rest of the drive in silence, leaving nothing to distract me from my growing alarm. I supposed that talking to him might have helped, but I didn't think I'd be able to maintain anything close to myself. I didn't know if it was something wrong with my brain or soul or whatever or just the matter that it's hard to stay enthusiastic while you're in pain with no clear cause or treatment, but I wanted more than anything to just curl up in the dark until everything stopped.

This was a problem for a variety of reasons. Namely, that I knew that the Shadow Pokemon formula, as I'd designed it, specifically didn't inflict pain on the Pokemon if handled correctly. Cipher's did because they didn't take into account that heightening XM processing would result in spiritual breakdown if the Pokemon weren't given time to recover and their souls weren't given time to regenerate after battles. I wasn't using anywhere near the animum that a Pokemon actively in battle would. So...why did everything hurt? We arrived at Team Instinct HQ, Spark let me out, and we headed toward the common area, undisturbed save a few grunts milling about. Spark sat down on the couch, pulled out his phone, and invited me to lean against him if I wanted, which I took him up on. Feeling his breathing and the subtle shifts he made while sitting there, playing with his dragons and wolves and whatever other virtual pets he had on there, was remarkably comforting. It provided a pattern and something to focus on other than the rhythmic cycles of pain. I let myself settle in, thinking that maybe Dr. Peyton was right. Things would go down if I just got out of HQ, out of my own head, and gave myself time to recover.

My heartbeat started speeding up. I turned toward Spark to verify he was still there. He was, and moved a bit further back upon seeing the alarm on my face. I attempted to steady my breathing, but it came out as sharp and accelerating gasps. Something was wrong. I was under attack. This environment wasn't real. It wasn't enough. Reality gave way. My vision flashed red and then faded to black.

Everything remained black for several minutes, until a hairline fracture opened, showing a glimpse of the other side of the abyss. Spark looked through the crack at me, holding my body and asking me to please wake up, if I was okay, trying to reassure me that things would be all right and he was going to bring me to Mystic HQ where they had the finest purification technology out there. I heard him, I understood conceptually that he was in physical contact with me, but I couldn't feel anything. Something oozed over my body and mind, preventing anything from making contact beyond the dampened layer of liquid.

The door opened further, a figure standing in the light, looking down at the abyss I remained mired in. He asked the same things that Spark did, in a deeper version of my own voice. He said he could hold the door for me if I could just get up. I placed all of the force I possessed into my legs and into my mouth, trying to call out to him and force myself to move, but my mouth just filled with the same liquid and the layer only thickened, leaving me stranded and thrashing helplessly until the weight grew to be too much and I collapsed, face-down and sinking further. The other me sighed and shook his head before going through the door, closing it behind him and leaving me perceiving absolutely nothing. Everything faded completely to black. I could feel...someone's body moving, but I couldn't tell if it was mine or not. It didn't really matter if it was, I supposed, if I had no communication with it.

Spark was reasonably good at carrying weights, given his years of experience transporting eggs and baby Pokemon, many of which were remarkably dense. Arlo was similar enough in weight to a Larvitar that Spark could pick him up or carry him on his shoulders, provided the other leader held on and supported some of his own weight. Well, he wasn't doing that now. The Shadow Pokemon aura had grown thick enough that his form, thrashing against Spark's support, attempting to bite anything accessible, and making noises that no human should ever produce, was barely visible. It was only a few meters to the parking garage.

Spark channeled his resolve. They were going to get Arlo to Mystic HQ and put him in Blanche's capable hands. Maybe also Candela. Spark chuckled a bit at how much Arlo, if conscious, would have freaked out over the idea of Candela attempting to purify him, but the Team Valor leader did have some familiarity with Cipher's Shadow Pokemon, which combined with Blanche's research on purification, could hopefully get whatever was going on figured out and return the man Spark loved to his normal extent of rancid vibes.

Spark ran through everything he knew about Shadow Pokemon. He remembered that in one of Blanche's infodumps back in '19, they'd mentioned how Cipher's Shadow Pokemon would go into a berserk state in which they lost all awareness of their bodies, but would still attack at random. What was it called...? Hyper Rush or something? The nomenclature didn't matter. What mattered was what Blanche had said about what trainers in Orre used to get Pokemon out of that state. Spark's arms already ached; he wasn't sure how much further he'd be able to carry Arlo. Well, they'd reached the car now. Spark, with difficulty, managed to seatbelt the other leader in, although wasn't quite quick enough to avoid getting bitten.

He stared at the drop of blood running down his wrist, emerging not from the usual human bite marks, but from a deeper hole from a sharper tooth digging in. Two of them blared in red against the pale underside of his wrist, bearing a distinct resemblance to the glows which completely covered Arlo's eyes and all sign of connection that came with them. This was serious. The only conclusive evidence of XM corruption changing a Pokemon's physical features was from the original XD001 itself, also known as a Shadow Pokemon so powerful it was nigh impossible to purify. That level of animum could probably kill a human if not dealt with as soon as possible. Of course, if Arlo were conscious, he'd probably adore having fangs. Spark shook his arm, took a deep breath to shrug off the pain, and peeled out of the parking garage and toward Mystic HQ, at speeds far beyond what he'd been warned never to exceed in driver's ed.

While at a stoplight, he glanced toward Arlo, whose convulsions had been held back by the seatbelt, but who remained completely shrouded in darkness save the glowing crimson points of his eyes, reflecting off the rims of his glasses. Spark reached toward the stereo, activating the playlist that had previously been running on his phone. Hopefully, Arlo would recognize it as the same Nightcore mix they'd played in his car when they went out for Spark's birthday. Spark called out to him and invoked the memory, and then returned his attention to the road because the light had turned green and he needed to proceed.

Once he arrived at Mystic HQ, Candela rushed out to meet him before Spark could even stop the engine. Evidently, Blanche had told her the news. Upon seeing her former friend, rival, and lover no longer actively in a berserk state but still entirely shrouded in darkness and showing no sign of recognition other than a low growl, she stood stunned for a few moments.

"Holy shit."

"Couldn't have said it better myself. Now help me lift this little bastard. Blanche has the purification chamber fired up, right?"

Candela nodded in response. Spark turned off the engine, unbuckled Arlo's seatbelt, and lifted up the GO Rocket leader from below the shoulders, Candela supporting his legs. Her brow remained furrowed and breathing sharp, even as she tried to disrupt the tension with humor, her eyes having noticed the still-bleeding spots on Spark's wrist.

"So he bit you. Does that mean you're going to get corrupted too? Just so you know, I'm only doing this once. Mostly because I don't think Blanche and I could lift you."

"I mean, he's not...exactly a vampire."

"Well, he feels like one."

Both leaders shared a knowing glance before turning their gazes back towards Arlo. If he'd been himself, he would have absolutely made that reference before either of them could. He did every time someone mentioned vampires in any capacity, or when someone brought up the question of if he was one, which happened remarkably often. Spark still wondered if he could hear them in there. They could swear that behind the glowing in his eyes, he looked absolutely terrified.

Once they reached the purification chamber, Blanche instructed them both to set Arlo down in it and then close the door. They entered a few keystrokes on a desktop computer to the left of the chamber and the rune-like patterns of animum emitters on it started glowing white. Arlo had gone completely unconscious in the center of the ring, but was visibly breathing substantially slower than he had been and his eyes had stopped glowing. Blanche addressed Spark without turning their gaze from the indicators on the screen.

"Go to the bathroom and put some antibiotic on where he bit you. There is no risk of you developing XM corruption from it; the amount of animum contained in bodily fluids is miniscule. The menagerie of mundane bacteria in the human mouth is far more of a concern, especially if he broke skin."

Blanche pointed in the direction of the restroom, to which Spark moved. All witnesses gone, Candela approached the Mystic leader and looked over their shoulder at the indicators on the screen and at her most complicated relationship in the reinforced glass tube, bathed in blue and white light combined with the dark aura that still surrounded him. Her voice emerged without its usual strength.

"Is...he going to be all right? You don't know anything about Shadow Pokemon stuff happening to humans, right?"

"Correct. Based on the indicators and his aura visibly subsiding, things are proceeding as normal. This is taking longer than it would on a Pokemon, though. Humans' souls do not regenerate as quickly, allowing corruption to sink in more deeply and render itself more difficult to remove. It is good that Spark brought him in as soon as he blacked out; otherwise the damage may well have been irreversible."

"Is that why it's called Reverse Mode?"

"No one is certain of the origin of the term. The leading theory is that the word 'Reverse' refers to Shadow Pokemon in the berserk state caused by severe spiritual degeneration being known to attack their trainers."

"So, are we gonna need anything other than the chamber? I know it's recommended that strong scents and interaction from people they have connections with be used along with XM treatments to ensure Shadow Pokemon are fully purified, at least in Orre."

"Once Arlo regains consciousness, I plan to instruct Spark to join him. The chamber is equipped with speakers so they can play music and I have a selection of Arlo's favored foodstuffs and other emotionally charged stimuli prepared in the drawer of this desk."

"Let me guess, you picked them up as soon as Spark sent you the pic of him all aura-ed up? Unless Arlo's dining habits have majorly improved since I knew him, his 'favored foodstuffs' are the kind of thing you'd rather not have anywhere near your HQ."

Candela smirked at the end of her sentence, but any swagger she possessed was quickly cut off when she looked back down at Arlo and was reminded of the present circumstances.

"Correct. I have plans to confront him and encourage him to gain more variety in his diet, although I do understand that his habits may be a product of sensory restrictions."

Spark emerged from the bathroom and immediately joined the other 2 leaders behind the computer screen, staring at the graphs of internal and external animum levels before turning to Blanche to seek an interpretation.

"Are the levels going down? Is he going to be all right?"

Blanche nodded. "It is proceeding more slowly than it would on a Pokemon, but everything is going favorably and as to be expected given the differences in human and Pokemon XM processing. He should regain consciousness at any time now. When he does, we can proceed to emotional stimuli exposure combined with animum treatment in order to accelerate regeneration."

"That's when I go in there with him and show him strong and favorable scents and his favorite songs and, like, me, right?"


Blanche smiled slightly at the extent to which Spark cared for his boyfriend. Under any other circumstances, they would have reprimanded him harshly for his reckless driving behavior in getting to their HQ. They turned their eyes up from the screen upon seeing movement in the chamber. A smoky border of darkness still surrounded Arlo's body, but his eyes had stopped glowing as he sat up, looked down at his body with confusion, and blinked several times.

"What the...oh. Hey, Blanche. Hmm. I've never seen the inside of a purification chamber."

Spark let out an enthusiastic high-pitched noise. Blanche smiled and pulled out the collection of favored stimuli from a drawer in the desk below the computer.

"You know what to do."

Foodstuffs in hand and the door to the chamber opened, Spark rushed in to join his boyfriend and enclosed Arlo in a tight hug, much to the other leader's satisfaction. Blanche made a final glance at the screen before gesturing for themself and Candela to leave.

"Dude! I worried about you."

Spark reached down to offer Arlo a piece of dried meat in his favorite spice blend while the other leader, aura rapidly subsiding, leaned against their chest, burying their face in his hoodie.

"Yeah, I was worried about me too. Gotta say, as cool as XD001 is, if that's what Cipher did to their Shadow Pokemon, then fuck them. Like, I knew I was better, but come on."

They both glanced upward in the direction of the Bluetooth speakers the purification chamber was equipped with, normally used for delivering warnings based on the computer's analysis of internal and external animum levels but repurposed here in playing The Westerner, in which a very similar statement of superiority was expressed. Arlo looked toward the bandages on Spark's wrist.

"Uh…how did that happen? Did I do that?"

"Yeah, after you blacked out you started thrashing around and trying to bite anything that moved, kinda like Ronnie, actually. The Charizard. Not the singer."

"Eh, the latter probably did that earlier in his career. For the record, there's no evidence of my Shadow Pokemon formula interfering with emotional regulation. Ronnie is just like that."

"In vaguely related news, check this out."

Spark pulled off the bandages, revealing the now-clotted but still obvious fang marks.

"You might have to revise your assessment of your vampiric status."

Arlo's eyes lit up at that, although thankfully not literally, and he then proceeded to run his tongue through his mouth before it settled into an expression of mild disappointment.

"Damn it. I was hoping I'd get to keep the fangs. Too bad I wasn't, like, in my body when that happened because it would have looked even better on my profile picture. Really, this whole thing would be supremely gender if it wasn't so terrifying."

"Hey, you're a smart guy. I'm sure with the power of science, you and your endocrinologist can figure out how you can be the terrifying emo guy you're meant to be without going berserk."

"Well, at least not without prior notice."

With Arlo's aura subsided and the lights and speakers in the purification chamber fading out, the couple remained in their embrace as Candela and Blanche returned.

"Based on the readings from my phone, the process should now be complete. Is that indeed the case?" Blanche looked into the chamber and nodded with satisfaction, sliding some words into a note on their phone. "Excellent. Not only is everyone safe, these findings should get me a near guaranteed spot into the XM Society conference."

"Uh, Blanche? His eyes are still red."

"I am aware of that. I have my doubts that their color is the result of XM corruption as opposed to contacts, his poor sleeping habits, or exposure to fumes, but if it is the former, it suggests that whatever produced them is his natural state and his soul has adapted to managing that level of corruption."

"So he's so fucked courtesy of handling concentrated bad vibes for the past 6 years that he can't be fully purified? That'd be an interesting review for Dying Is Your Latest Fashion, I guess."

"Essentially, yes."

Arlo smirked from within the chamber and emerged from Spark's arms to direct his attention to Candela.

"Rawr XD001, am I right?"

"That's not funny, you know."

Right after that statement, Candela looked at Arlo's smug expression combined with Spark's overjoyed state at seeing his partner recovered and wandered off, snickering to herself. Blanche looked over the duo.

"Well, Arlo, have you learned anything from this experience?"

"Not really, no. Like, this wasn't in the informational pamphlets I got when I started T."

"Fair enough. Well, I am glad things worked out. Although I do suggest that for your future injections, you not self-affirm your status as an asshole."

"...I didn't tell anybody what I was listening to when I did the injection. How do you know that?"

"I have to maintain some mystique. You can leave whenever you're ready, just remember to turn off the computer when you do."

Blanche walked off, leaving the couple alone in the purification chamber. Arlo glanced knowingly at Spark, who nodded, producing his phone and taking a picture of the two of them with the front camera, then texting it to Arlo. It wasn't as raw in emo vibes as the other one, but Arlo decided it would make an even better replacement profile picture.

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