Author's Note: The minor jabs at My Chemical Romance are intended in good fun. I have the utmost respect for both them and their fanbase and Arlo's opinions don't represent my own. The jabs at Team Mystic are not.
On alternating Thursdays, Blanche and Arlo met for coffee at the Sleepless Bakery, or other cafes depending on either of their moods. Ever since Arlo had attended the Team Mystic Powerpoint Night, and gotten remarkably good responses to his presentation performing linguistic analysis on Escape the Fate's lyrics both before and after Ronnie's departure, he'd been interested in engaging more socially with Blanche, considering them something of a like mind. Blanche also appreciated the opportunity to talk to someone other than the Mystics about intellectual topics, since it was difficult to have a good conversation with someone actively sucking up to you and/or afraid of you. Today's meeting was at a local tea shop shortly outside of Mystic HQ, at which Blanche sipped an unsweetened green tea while Arlo had something which, while the colors and flavors were technically from natural sources, was closer to a soft drink than anything.
"Remind me to pick something up for Elaphe before we leave." Blanche held out their phone to make a note of that, but also informed Arlo about it just in case they got absorbed enough in conversation to forget.
"Elaphe's your girlfriend, right? Spark's ex who Candela thinks is a shapeshifting reptile or something?"
"That's the one, yes."
"Am I ever going to see this girlfriend of yours?"
"She doesn't like to appear in public unless she absolutely has to. Of course, she was actually the one who convinced me to sign up for this wonderful book club. You can join if you like; I'm sure the members would love to have you."
"I'm not really much of a reading guy; I don't tend to have the attention span for it."
"Arlo, you developed an entire linguistic analysis system to discuss song lyrics. And you've also sent me thousand-word texts about anime concerning demon kings with inexplicable interests in teenage boys."
"Okay, maybe it's not a matter of attention span, exactly. But tell me more about your book club, I guess."
"Oh, it's delightful. It was set up by Rose from the city library; do you know her?"
"No. Resources for my work wouldn't be at the local library anyway."
"I see. It is called the 'Merry Murderesses'. We meet once a month at the members' businesses to discuss true crime and mystery novels. It's quite the eclectic assemblage of successful local businesswomen."
"Oh, is this the book club that Gladys from the sex shop is in?”
“Yes. We also have Myrtle from the Beefcake Factory, Dorothy from the paternity testing center, and Erma from a local pharmacy."
"Blanche, the last one is the weed shop. I know. I've been there."
"It's still a viable local business. In short, they are a delightful group. Feel free to join us; our next meeting will be at Barbara's back room."
"And where's that? A hitman recruiting center?"
"No, the liquor store downtown."
"So your book club is full of purveyors of sin...and you, and your girlfriend, and Rose from the library, and you get together to plan the perfect murder."
"I've gained a new respect and fear of you."
"Drink your tea."
Arlo did what was mentioned. He didn't have much experience with small talk with many people other than Spark, at least not with creatures that could talk back in languages he understood. Gil wasn't exactly the best conversationalist to exchange intellectual ideas with, although he made himself very clear when he felt the need. Of course, as great as discussing their personal lives was, these meetings were technically so they could get together and discuss the technical facets of their jobs that mutually fascinated them. Without revealing any confidential information, though, so things were regularly discussed in exceedingly vague terms, or stating what technologies were used but not for what, specifically. Arlo decided to make the move this time.
"So, how's work with the Mystics?"
"The same as it usually is, for the most part. Things are always a bit hectic around HQ before Go Fest, and this year it's all the more so since our entire evolution and form change research division is investigating the Zygarde Cube."
"That's the legendary from Kalos that turns into a dragon that's also a dog and a humongous robot that shoots green lasers at you if you litter, right?"
"Yes, although I think that 'disrupting the order of the ecosystem' is probably more likely to refer to wider pollution."
"Well, hopefully my body spray isn't a problem."
"I'm sure it's seen worse. Incidentally, have you been wearing less of it lately?"
"Yeah, now that I actually work with somebody else in the basement regularly. The ventilation's not that great in there and I don't want to activate Jet's sensory issues."
"I take it you've come to an understanding with your assistant? I know you've had some issues previously regarding your differences in taste."
"Yeah, I think we've worked out a pretty good workflow. For the most part, Jet handles a lot of the routine formula production now and I work with software and wider research, which is great. Without as much of the routine mechanical stuff on me, I can focus more on my executive concepts, like how to vastly speed up our animum scanning systems and eventually, automate Shadow Pokemon production so my department can focus on research. I can't go into any more detail because, well..."
"Don't worry about it. And Jet is doing well herself? She is not overworked? I take it based on your presence here that she hasn't killed you."
"Yes, although I do think she could use an assitstant for when I'm not around. Someone she can bounce ideas off of who'll talk back more than the Craig plushie does."
"By that, do you mean a plush of Craig Mabbitt of Escape the Fate? I thought you did not like him; why would you have a plushie of him in the lab?"
"It's not that I don't like him as a person. His music's fine, well, at least before Ungrateful, and he seems like a nice enough guy. Way nicer than Ronnie, which I'm aware isn't hard. I don't dislike him or anything, it's just that I think Ronnie's better as a musician. And I had a fight with Candela over this back in the day, so there are a few bad memories involved."
"Thank you for your assessment of your complicated feelings regarding him. That does not answer my question, though. Is the plush one of Jet's belongings?"
"Basically, yes. After she got my Ronnie plushie removed from the lab because it was 'creating a hostile work environment' --"
"Jet got sexually harassed by a plush? That seems unlikely."
"I'll show you a picture."
Arlo pulled out his phone from one of the small bags he kept on his pant legs, pulled up a picture of Ronnie Junior in one of his more recent outfits, and slid it across the table to Blanche, whose brow furrowed when they looked at it.
"It is leering; I can see where she was coming from."
"Anyway, after that whole thing happened, Jet had the idea of commissioning Cliff for a Craig plushie and brought it into the lab to surprise me/piss me off."
"Did it work?"
"No. We took Craig and Ronnie to Fill-A-Friend since they were still doing the Subject Debate crossover and got them both some clothes. I wanted to take them on a date at the Creepy Doll Cafe, but Jet said no. Craig's still in the lab. I don't mind him; he is pretty good for rubber Ducklett debugging, but I think Jet could use someone who talks back other than me."
"Well, while you were discussing your plush, I realized that I may know someone who could suit your purposes. If you'll take your tea to go and come with me to the lab, there is a soon to be ex-Mystic operative I've been looking for another job opportunity for."
"Remember to pick up tea for your girlfriend."
"Ah, yes. Thank you."
Blanche approached the counter and ordered a tea composed of flowers that Arlo had previously been under the assumption that humans couldn't safely digest. They both waited for several minutes until a generic cup in a cardboard sleeve was produced and placed on top of the counter, which Blanche picked up. Both leaders walked down the sidewalk in the direction of Team Mystic HQ. It wasn’t especially far away and it wasn’t raining or especially hot, so there wasn’t any reason for them to have taken vehicles or ridden Pokémon.
"So, what did this trainer do to get fired from Team Mystic?"
"Oh, he's an excellent researcher. He just...didn't mesh well with the rest of the Mystics. He was too negative, and I had regular complaints about pessimistic and confrontational statements in group work."
"Sounds like my kind of guy, I guess. Although what does it take to be too negative for Team Mystic? I thought Mystics were all emotionless cogs in the machine."
Blanche chuckled slightly under their breath. They were aware that Arlo was insulting them, but it was pretty funny and he wasn't exactly wrong.
"Yes, but they are positive cogs. Now that we're in my office, I will buzz him up." Blanche pressed a button on a white box on their desk, producing a buzz from audio feedback while they recorded a message that played out over the building's intercom. "Ted, can you come up and see me in my office, please?"
A young man in a navy blue sweater vest looked up from his laptop, on which he was researching Zygarde's changes in moves when it changed forms, and groaned as he approached the hall to Blanche's office. This was it. He was finally going to get fired. Probably because one of the losers from his project team sent in a complaint. Well, he supposed that nothing good could ever last, and Team Mystic wasn't that good. They were all too...upbeat. And cheerful. For a team that was supposed to focus entirely on logic, they sure did put a lot of focus on progress and positivity and shit like that. When he entered the office, Arlo was just about as surprised to see him as vice versa.
"Uh...hello, Blanche. Am I in trouble? Let me guess, you're finally going to fire me?" This statement came out in an exhausted monotone, the kind of intonation that was normally used by those who were either extremely tired physically or strongly did not want to be in whatever situation they were in at the time. "And, uh...why is one of the Team GO Rocket leaders here? Do you need me to interrogate him or something?"
"No. Arlo is looking for new hires and it seemed like his organization might be a better fit for you than Team Mystic."
"You're volunteering me to Team Rocket."
"Well, yes, Ted. You're a wonderful researcher, you just do not fit our culture here. I did not want to fire you unless you had somewhere safe to go. Arlo, if you can explain the job offer?"
All eyes turned towards Arlo, who was still holding his now-emptied cup from the tea shop from a seat in the corner. He reluctantly rose to his feet and approached Ted, who stood a full head taller than him.
"Yeah, I could use an assistant for my assistant in the lab. I'm not in there a lot of the time when I'm working on takeovers or higher level research projects and I think she could use someone to talk to who can talk back. So, kid, are you okay with working for the forces of evil?"
"All corporations are evil. At least you're honest about it."
Arlo turned towards Blanche with a smirk. "Yeah, I can see why you thought this one might be my kind of trainer." He then returned his attention to Ted. "Well, all right, 'Ted', if you're willing to forsake morality, then if you come with me, I can take you back to the building and introduce you to Jet. If she likes you, you're in. You should be able to start sometime next week once the payment's set up with exec."
"Neat. What is your healthcare plan?"
"It's actually pretty good; you'll get more details from that from Archer after you sign on. Trust me, their support for gender-affirming surgery is one of the main reasons I joined."
"I thought you joined to get revenge against Candela and Team Valor for not selecting you as the team leader."
"Well, yes, that was why I considered it, but the healthcare plan got me to sign the contract."
After a moderately awkward drive back to Team GO Rocket's menacing building in the woods in which Ted sat in the back of Arlo's car in complete silence for a full 30 minutes without even commenting on his chosen playlist, the duo arrived at the building. Rather than entering through the front door, they went around the back and Arlo opened a shed behind the Pokemon stables with his keycard, revealing a dark and dusty flight of stairs that led directly down into his lab in the basement. Once they entered, Jet rolled her eyes at the sight of the new recruit.
"Fascinating. You've brought us a Mystic. What do you want me to do, strap him to a chair and inject him with Shadow formula until he becomes interesting?"
"This is Ted. I got him from Blanche."
"Oh, you stole him from our enemies. That's actually pretty evil. I'm impressed. I didn't think you had it in you, well, at least without the headband."
"Eh, 'steal' isn't quite the right word. Blanche was going to fire him anyway for being 'too negative' and figured we could use him."
Jet got up from her position behind a laptop and paced around Ted, clicking her tongue disapprovingly.
"So, that is what 'too negative for Team Mystic' entails."
"I'm standing right here and I'm not a 'that'." Ted actually frowned slightly, the most display of emotion Arlo had seen from him the entire time they had him. "Can we get to the interview, please?"
Jet sighed. "All right. Mystics. They're all the same. Can't take jokes and don't really think about anything except work."
"Hopefully he'll...darken up a little after we have him here a while. I got him for you, actually."
"I'm flattered, Arlo, but I don't swing that way and I have a girlfriend."
"My sophomore year of high school. Her name's Tina. I can show you a picture once we're done with this."
"Oh. I hadn't noticed."
"Of course you didn't. You're not much of a noticer. But seroiusly, why did you bring him here? You can't keep bringing in every stray trainer you see; what are we going to feed them?"
"I can feed myself, ma'am."
"Never call me that again."
"I got him for you so you'd have someone to talk to when I'm not around, who's more likely to talk back than the plushie. I just figured you might get...lonely, down here in the dark basement or at the bigger lab in the downtown complex, if it's just you and the test tubes."
"Well, I guess I can appreciate that sentiment."
Ted tapped Arlo's shoulder in confusion.
"Arlo? What were you referring to with the plushie?"
Arlo pointed to Jet's desk, on which the Craig plushie sat behind her laptop, wearing a cuustom-made Team Rocket grunt uniform. Ted looked at it briefly, raised one eyebrow, and turned back to Arlo.
"Why does that exist?"
"It's like 'rubber Ducklett debugging'. Sometimes it helps to explain your ideas to someone else, even if they can't talk back. Incidentally, if the plushie does speak to you, disregard anything it says. It's not trustworthy."
"Neither of them are." Jet smirked in Arlo's direction. She wasn't going to let him live down the whole Ronnie plushie bit. Ted continued to look confused.
"This is all fascinating. Can we please get to the interview?"
"All right. Sit down."
Ted sat on a stack of milk crates in the corner, with another stack of milk crates in front of it with a tarp over it, normally used to handle liquids or other things that would stain the regular desks. Arlo stood in front of it, trying to put on his best airs of a serious boss.
"What's your prior research experience?"
"I worked with the Team Mystic task force on form changes, including producing a report on how to handle Primal Groudon and Kyogre before Hoenn Tour. I did most of the work by myself, though, because the other members of my task force and I didn't get along."
"How do you feel about Shadow Pokemon? There will be a video in orientation explaining that much of what you've been told about them by your team leaders is based on outdated information, if not flat-out incorrect."
"I find them fascinating; artifically induced form changes are a largely unstudied area."
"What's your favorite band?"
"My Chemical Romance, but what does this have to do with the job?"
Jet approached the desk and stood next to Arlo with her arms crossed over her chest.
"We've got a shared stereo in the lab. You'll need to have compatible music taste with the rest of us if you want to live."
Arlo went right back to the interviewing, clearing his throat to interrupt Ted immediately after he finished.
"All right, it's a basic choice, but I guess I can work with that. Name 3 of their songs!"
Jet took Arlo aside while Ted was left at the tarped-over milk crate desk contemplating.
"Really? Not only are you genre gatekeeping, you're doing it in the most cliche way possible? Come on, you're better than that."
"I'm not a genre gatekeeper, Jet. I don't care what someone listens to as long as they're committed to it."
From the desk behind them, Ted raised his hand. After a moment of contemplation, he'd reached a conclusion.
"All right, kid, spill. 3 favorite songs."
"Helena, Welcome To The Black Parade, and I'm Not Okay (I Promise)."
Arlo furrowed his brow, reviewing everything he knew regarding MCR. He respected them, for the most part. They weren't as hard as he liked most of the time, but some of their faster songs were pretty neat and he appreciated a rare face in the genre who wasn't a total dick. Of cousre, they were pretty much the only band in anything adjacent to his genres of choice that your average layperson would be familiar with, codified the standard stereotype, and were light enough to be acceptable to most parents and serve as a gateway drug to harder content. It was, absolutely, a basic choice, and Ted had selected their 3 most basic songs, but Arlo considered that the issue could likely be remedied. After all, being a Mystic had probably held the kid back from achieving his true potential.
"All right, Ted, you're in. Welcome to Team Rocket. Go talk to Sierra upstairs so she can get the forms over here and we can take them down to the main complex downtown.”
Arlo, Jet, and Ted all ascended the stairs from the basement into the main building, to find Sierra and Cliff both on the couch in the common room, respectively doing something on her phone and knitting what appeared to be a bib the right size for his Tyranitar. Arlo stood in front of the TV until Sierra noticed him, and gestured toward Ted.
"I have a new researcher; can you call the complex downtown to get the forms over here?"
Sierra looked over him, equally unimpressed to Jet. "It's a guy. And a Mystic. Did we really need more of those?"
"I am not an 'it', ma'am. Although I do respect those who selectively choose those pronouns to be addressed by, I am not one of them."
"Well, you seem like a pedantic sort. I'm not sure if you match Arlo and Jet's decor, though. Oh, also, if you ever call me ‘ma’am’ again, I’ll let Azzy use you as a chew toy."
Ted very much did not match Arlo and Jet’s decor. His navy blue sweater vest was paired with a plain grey button-up shirt and an entirely basic pair of black slacks. He looked a bit like an employee you'd find behind the support counter at a big box electronics store. The only hint of any individuality on his part, or any connection to his purported media tastes, was his hairstyle, whose bangs were slightly shaggier than would be typical for someone of his aesthetic otherwise and reached down most of his forehead, but carefully stopped at his eyes.
"So what's he going to do? Provide insurance for when Jet gets sick of you?"
"Something like that. I figured that Jet could use an assistant so she has someone to talk to when I'm not here. Besides, the more I can outsource routine production work, the more time I have to work on larger research projects and improving the formula and our systems overall."
"You do know that you're probably not getting a promotion, right? Given the microphone stand incident --"
"I said we weren't going to ever mention that again."
Jet snickered. She had, of course, saved Arlo's video from karaoke during his most recent Reverse Mode incident and sent it to all of her friends, along with uploading it to her favored platforms so it would still be accessible to the world even after Arlo got it deleted. Ted looked confused. Jet smirked once more. There would be a lot she could catch him up on while Arlo wasn't there.
"There's also the matter that no matter how much initiative you show, given that not only are you dating one of the enemy leaders, you're also apparently acquainted with them well enough to use Blanche for employee recommendations..."
"How do you know about that?"
"You do know that there isn't that much sound blocking between here and the basement and that you and Jet aren't great with volume control, right? Regardless, given how much you fraternize with the team leaders, I doubt that you're likely to get promoted given that I suspect the execs consider you a liability save being the only one who knows how the Shadow formula works. But I'm all in favor of you outsourcing your routine production if it means you get more work done and we can send Giovanni more flashy projects. He absoultely adored Shadow Raids. I'll send a request to Archer and explain that you stole him from Blanche and that they really want him back; I think I can swing that. We'll send him through basic research orientation, get the finances set up, and he should be ready for work by next week."
"Sounds good, that's about what I figured. So, Ted, care to get introduced to the rest of the -- Oh. I see you already have."
While Arlo and Sierra were discussing business, Cliff had approached Ted, enthusiastically introduced himself, and enclosed him in a bear hug, including lifting him off the ground while the new recruit fruitlessly struggled.
"Uh, sir. Sir! I understand that you're happy to have me with your organization and I appreciate the warm welcome, but...please put me down."
"Oh, you're so cute! You're just like a little Arlo! Well, a big Arlo, but a younger one!"
"Cliff, put him down. We don't want to scare him off before he's signed the contract. So, Ted, I think our next stop is the mall. You need a makeover."
"Jet and I both agree that your sweater vest hurts us to look at."
"It's dark blue; it's not especially eyestrain-inducing."
"It's not that. It's just that you've got the attitude and you basically have the hair. Now that you officially work for the forces of evil--"
"-- or the forces of edgelording, as the case may be."
"Jet, we talked about this. That's not official. Either way, we think that it's warranted for your appearance to match the rest of you. We're going to Subject Debate."
"You do know that stores like that commodify punk and alternative aesthetics and as such, go against the subcultures' anti-capitalist ideals, yes? Most actual punks would consider you to be posers. If anything, my wearing the same thrift store sweater vest for the past 5 years is more punk than anything from Subject Debate will ever be."
"Shut it, Truth, Justice, and the Gerard Way. At least get some better shirts."
"How is this work-related?"
"We've found that it helps trainers get into the right headspace for effective animum formulas if they're expressing themselves."
"And he made the first Shadow Pokemon while he was whining about his ex, so they're basically just infected with emo anyway."
"Jet! Wait, I didn't tell you that story. How do you know that?"
"You're fraternizing with the enemy."
"You're dating Spark."
"Yes, but that's different. He's just an enemy team leader! She's my ex!"
"And I guess you getting stoned with her and listening to Ice Nine Kills until you fell asleep and Spark picked you up doesn't count as fraternizing?"
"You, of all people, should be proud of me for burying the hatchet!"
"Of course you're using the Ronnie/Craig reference, why am I not surprised?"
"Excuse me? This is all fascinating, but I think I am ready to leave now."
"Oh. Right. Come on, Ted, we're going."
Arlo started storming off towards the parking garage. Behind him, Jet and Ted waited for him to leave before she turned to him with a smirk.
“For the record, you’re totally right about the whole capitalist poser bit. That’s why I get all of my clothes from local independent merchants and make all of my accessories from items from the hardware store or that I find on the ground. So, do you listen to any other bands besides MCR?”
“Uh, I’ve also got some stuff from Fall Out Boy and Panic At The Disco.”
Jet stood frozen briefly. While she considered herself superior to Arlo in most aspects, especially morally, she couldn’t deny that he may have had a point with regarding Ted as thoroughly uncommitted to his emo identity. She had faith in the new guy, though, and trusted that with enough time with them, he’d grow into himself a bit more, outside of the influence of those damned repressed Mystics.
Once the Team Rocket trio arrived at the mall, Arlo immediately made a beeline for Subject Debate, with Jet closet behind. Meanwhile, Ted actually looked at the store windows they passed by. Therre was a black and red flannel button-up in a discount rack on one which interested him. Once they arrived at Subject Debate, Ted found the section with T-shirts, located some MCR designs that looked reasonablee, went to the cashier, and left. Arlo and Jet didn't notice because an encounter with a shirt inspired by Falling In Reverse's "ZOMBIFIED" on a discount rack and Arlo considering buying it had sparked a quite animated conversation about Ronnie Radke's atrocities and the difference between critiquing "cancel culture" and dodging accountability, which given its volume, had attracted the attention of just about everyone in the store. Even the cashier looked ready to put in their own opinion when Ted left the store.
Ted then backtracked to the store window in which he'd seen the black and red shirt, purchased it, and looked in the mall directory to remember what floor the meeical supplies store was on and crossed the mall until he found it. Walking past racks of scrubs and latex gloves in various colors, he located a rack of lab coats and was pleased to find one in the same pattern as the flannel shirt he had picked out, allowing him to achieve the same basic effect in his appearance whether in the lab or otherwise. His shopping concluded, he returned to Subject Debate to fetch Arlo and Jet. When he did, Arlo looked extremely uncomfortable while Jet and the cashier continued their argument regarding how well "separating the art from the artist" worked when the art was, while stylized, heavily inspired by the artist's actions. Once the trio left the store, Arlo looked back and saw the cashier visibly make a sigh of relief. He attempted to look into one of Ted's shopping bags, but got it taken away from him rapidly.
"You will see what I've purchased when I start work on Monday."
"All right. Looking forward to seeing how you did, rookie."
When Ted arrived at work on Monday, in the larger Team Rocket complex downtown so he could be familiarized with all of the equipment and the formula-producing process, his sweater vest and button-up shirt had been exchanged for a Black Parade T-shirt, with the black and red plaid lab coat over it. Underneath the lab coat, an identically patterned button-up shirt could be seen. The slacks, and his hair, remained unchanged. Jet slowly applauded upon seeing the display, unsure whether it was sarcastic or not. Arlo eyed it with confusion.
"Where did you find a plaid lab coat?"
"The medical supplies store at the other side of the mall."
Arlo and Jet both looked at each other in confusion and shrugged simultaneously. Ted rolled his eyes.
"There are things in that mall other than the food court and Subject Debate, you know. After all, Sanctum City is one of the most vibrant retail cities on this continent. You should both explore it more!"
"Yeah, Arlo, we should explore it more. You know, go places other than worrk, the gas station, and the Sleepless Bakery."
"I stopped going to the Sleepless Bakery regularly after Lane and Candela started dating. Now I go to the Dark Alley just as often."
"Arlo, how long have you lived in Sanctum City?"
"Since 2016, Ted."
"You've lived in the most vibrant retail city in Vayera, and one of the stroingest retail cities on the continent, for 7 years and the only places you go are Subject Debate, the gas station, and two bakeries."
"What about it? Also, 'vibrant' shouldn't be used for anything other than colors. What are you, a travel guide?"
"I just choose to appreciate the city in which I live."
Jet gestured to a stereo in the corner of the room.
"Anyway, here's the shared stereo in this building. This one does Bluetooth, but the one in the basement lab at the building in the woods doesn't. They both have CD players and headphone jack connectivity, though, and we've got cables including USB-C converters. Why don't you put your phone on the aux, Ted? Show us what you've got."
The resulting playlist, created by Ted shuffling all of the songs on his phone, very much resembled the results of a generic "emo" Internet radio station. Jet actually walked over to check that it wasn't that, and was legitimately coming from his phone. Despite the songs' relative lack of any particularly unusual content, it still made for a relatively fun first day. While basic songs may not earn you any awed glances from other fans of the genre, there was some benefit in cultural stimuli that everybody present was familiar with. Arlo, along with walking Ted through the functionality of the Shadow Pokemon formula and its generation, suggested that seeing as Ted quite enjoyed specific songs by his favorite artists, that perhaps he should listen to the full albums to find others similar in style in a more authentic manner than streaming services' algorithms. Ted agreed to this, and over the next several days of work, the trio went through several albums, in both digital and CD form. Ted stopped at a record store to purchase some CDs because he wanted his phone to look up information while working.
Several weeks later, After Ted had been fully integrated into the team and they'd established a workflow in regards to who managed what parts of the tech at what times, and were getting along pretty well personally to the point of establishing a personal group text, Arlo noticed a notification in his email that My Chemical Romance would have a show in a location roughly an hour's drive from Sanctum City that weekend, and informed the other two about it, asking if Ted would be interested in going, and that ARlo could give him a ride and he and Jet could go with him if he was. He, in fact, was, so on that Saturday, the trio got decked out in their favored edgy paraphernalia, Ted’s being the same shirt and flannel as he always wore. When the car arrived at the stadium, Arlo briefed Ted on the situation.
“Listen up, kid. We’ve trained for this. This will be the ultimate test of your capabilities and your chance to prove your worth in battle!”
“Arlo, we are spectating at a performance and I have no plans of joining the mosh pit. This is not a competitive endeavor.”
“…okay, yes, but this is different. When I first met you, you were a boy whose only knowledge of any bands came from the recommendations on your streaming services. Now, you are a man, with intimate knowledge of all of MCR’s albums! So if anyone asks for your favorite song, what do you provide?”
“An informed opinion. Also, I am an adult. I was a man when you met me as well.”
“Excellent. When we’re in line will be your best opportunity to discuss important matters with your fellow fans. Don’t let me down!”
“How is my being an insufficiently dedicated fan by your standards letting you down? It is my favorite band and I choose how to engage with the media I enjoy.”
Jet chimed in from the back seat, which she wasn’t especially pleased with her position in, but she couldn’t argue with Arlo’s logic that the person whose band of choice they were going to see should probably have front seat stereo controls.
“Yeah, Arlo, what does his dedication have to do with your edgelordy honor? What, do you expect him to cosplay at karaoke?”
“I. Thought. We. Agreed. Not. To. Talk. About. That. Anyway, let’s go get in line. Jet, did you remember to bring a towel so we’re not all standing or sitting on the ground?”
“Yes, and I’ve got a cooler full of various kinds of drinks.”
The trio moved through the parking lot to the back of the line, as directed by a combination of venue employees, signs, and velvet ropes. Ted pulled out his phone from his pocket and frowned at the clock.
“Arlo, the concert does not start for another three hours. Did we need to be here now?”
“If we want reasonable views, yeah!”
“Arlo, we have assigned seats.”
“Look. This is your best opportunity to exchange ideas with your fellow fans and to prove that you’re part of the community and are truly a Killjoy or whatever it is.”
“I’m not interested in community identity or subcultural posturing, Arlo. I don’t consider the music I listen to the defining characteristic of my identity; I just enjoy the songs.”
“Well, posture it up, because someone’s coming! Hey! Care to pull up some space on our towel and get some talking in while we’re waiting?”
A person in a green hoodie from a previous tour with a class ring from one of the nearby colleges on a chain around their neck noticed Arlo waving them over and sat on the corner of the trio’s towel. Arlo and Jet both sat to the side and let Ted figure things out himself, although Jet still considered this whole ordeal needless dick-measuring on Arlo’s part and wished that he hadn’t decided that they needed to arrive at the concert 3 hours early. Once their protégé started talking to his fellow fan, Arlo frantically pointed at Jet and briefly drove her attention away from her phone.
“Uh, hey. I’m Ted. Been a fan for about a year now and this is my first time seeing them live. How about you?”
“Nice meeting you. Nara.” They shook hands, providing the first view of Nara’s fingerless black gloves. “I’ve been around for quite a while. Actually followed them on tour for a bit last year with some folks from an online group I’m in; that’s where I got this hoodie. Favorite song?”
Arlo’s entire body tensed. This was it. Ted’s chance to either prove his worth as a fan, and Arlo’s worth at teaching him his type of investment, or humiliate them both and get them thoroughly disgraced.
“Oh, definitely Welcome to the Black Parade.”
Arlo’s palm audibly struck his face and he attempted to bury himself in his hoodie, vaguely considering getting up from the towel and walking away to pretend he didn’t know Ted. Nara nodded and smiled in the new recruit’s direction.
“Yeah, it’s a classic. Definitely one of the leading candidates for the Emo National Anthem. I’m a fan of You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison myself; I love the songs with storylines and it’s got so much potential for shipping.”
“I’m the same with storylines! Black Parade is a classic, and the first song of theirs I got introduced to, but it’s also just a fantastic song in its own right and as an encapsulation of the central themes of the album, and really, the band’s ideals as a whole.”
“You’re right. You seem pretty cool, Ted. Care to exchange phone numbers? My data’s kind of crunched in this line, but after the show, I can send you a link to join my group.”
“Yeah, cool! I’d like that a lot; thank you.”
Arlo had hesitantly moved two of his fingers to opposite sides of his eye to witness the discussion. Ted noticed his refusal to look at him and looked expectantly in his direction.
“Well, how did I do? Was that good enough for you? I’m not still a basic bastard you’re embarrassed to be seen with, right?”
Arlo waited for a few seconds, looking toward Ted, Nara, and Jet in turn, before returning to Ted and stretching a bit to briefly tousle his hair, which notably annoyed the new recruit.
“That’ll do, Ted. That’ll do.”