Guys Being Dudes

Table Of Contents

3 | What Is Going On?

"What the FUCK?"

"Well, hello to you too, Candela."

Spark had been dreading the final Go Fest preparation meeting ever since his and Arlo's...appointment the previous night for precisely this reason. He'd never much liked the team leader meetings even beforehand, but this was sure to make the whole scenario thoroughly awkward, especially given that it was Spark's turn to host. They hoped Blanche would arrive soon. The Team Mystic leader had no time for this sort of thing and would ideally shut it down before Candela resorted to violence.

"So. I heard about your new boyfriend. You didn't think you were being secret, did you? Don't know if you know this, but a widely wanted criminal and a team leader going out to a nice little Mexican place on a giant fuckin' shadowy dragon tends to get noticed."

"It's 2022. We can have dinner together as men."

"You know damn well that he's Number 1: a Team Go Rocket leader and Number 2: my ex! This means that you're violating both our contracts as team leaders and the Bro Code!" Spark made an attempt at stepping back in order to avoid Candela's escalating gesticulation and the spit that shot out whenever she got especially passionate. She responded by switching her approach from continually approaching him to pacing in a circle around him, making sure to glare at him from every possible angle.

"Actually, I was reading the contract last night. It just says I'm not allowed to share team-exclusive data with him. It doesn't say anything about personal interactions. Besides, he's a cool guy!"

"A cool guy? A COOL GUY?" Candela stopped pacing, leaving her directly in front of Spark."You seem to have forgotten that he joined Team fucking Rocket! Do you really think someone who's willing to be that callous to his Pokemon will give a shit about you? Believe me, I'm speaking from experience when I say all of his acting like a perfect gentleman will only last until he gets into your pants or otherwise gets whatever he wants from you."

"How much of this is that you're jealous that he never did anything like that for you?"

"That's irrelevant to the matter at hand!"

At that moment, Candela briefly turned her head to notice Blanche standing in the doorway looking utterly bewildered. They shook their head before approaching further into the conference room.

"Did I come at a bad time? I apologize for my tardiness; I got caught in traffic. There was an accident on 53. What are you both so worked up about? I am assuming it does not pertain to our Go Fest preparations, which are the purpose of this meeting."

"Spark is dating my ex!" Candela remained direct as always, at this point nearly yelling, leading Spark, who was still within arm's length of her from her previous monologue, to narrow their eyes in disdain. They attempted to deescalate the situation so they could get back to their business and...maybe call Arlo about all the drama he'd stirred up. They thought he'd get a kick out of it, seeing as he was all edgelordy and such.

"Don't take her word for it; it's not as bad as she says. We got dinner once. And for your information, he was a perfect gentleman and cares more about Pokemon than you think he does."

"Wait. Are we talking about her ex who became a Team Go Rocket leader or the one from Alola?"

"The Go Rocket leader."

"Oh. I see. Is that not a violation of both of your contracts?"

"That's what I said!" Candela interjected, pushing her chair forward to get closer to the doorway where Blanche and Spark remained.

"I don't know what the contract for Go Rocket is, but at least based on what I have access to, it's fine as long as we don't exchange trade secrets. And we're not. Anyway, I've gotten the eggs stocked for next season; do we have any information about Ultra Bonus raids yet?" Spark took a deep breath, preparing himself to again be ignored. He was attempting to be professional; it was Candela who was bringing up unnecessary details.

"We are not done with this conversation! I've been training raid bosses, although I'm not sure if we have enough. Blanche, any progress in figuring out how they reproduce so Spark can get to breeding more?"

"I have had no success based on pairing individuals who appeared to spend more than the average amount of time together. I suspect that they reproduce asexually, although I am not sure how I could replicate the extradimensional conditions which they would likely require. My admins are undertaking research on that as we speak. I have prepared the spawns for the Go Fest kickoff event; I need more time on the city events and I am still waiting on a shipment of Gracidea flowers to complete the costuming."

"Great! I've got exclusive moves for Cresselia and Darkrai on TM ready to go if the Pokemon League okays releasing them. Do we have any information about Team Go Rocket plans so we can prepare counters? Spark?" She turned towards him, blinking her eyes several times which would have come off as an attempt to look innocent if not for her completely unconcealed smirk.

"I haven't picked up anything unusual on radar lately. It's unlikely they're going to do something as big as Johto Tour again any time soon; they'd need more preparation for that. That's all I can tell you."

"Oh, are you staying quiet because Arlo is sucking your—"

"Meeting adjourned. Spark, may I have a word with you?"

Once Candela left, Blanche closed the door as the Team Valor leader left and focused their unblinking gaze at Spark. "Look. I completely understand being able to find love in the most unexpected places, even when it complicates your other personal matters."

"Of course you do; my ex left me for you. I don't hold any hard feelings, though. It's not your fault they never actually liked men."

"And conceptually speaking, I am happy for you and Arlo. But in all practicality, I do recommend that you keep things covert for everyone's professional interest. I think the only reason Candela has not forwarded this to Professor Willow is that she does not consider it a professional issue. But even if it is not technically against the contract for you to be romantically involved—"

"I never said we were. We ate dinner once. We're modern men, we can do that."

"—as I was saying, even if it is not technically against the contract and you are not actually doing anything in violation, the very fact of your interaction at all could be easily misinterpreted and leveraged against one or both of you. And you would receive far more of the consequences seeing as unlike with Team Rocket, Professor Willow is obligated to forward all potential violations to higher authorities. Adorable as it may have been, Arlo's little stunt with the Salamence was quite venturesome. If you choose to continue pursuing this relationship, you will require more discretion. But other than that, go get 'em. That is all."

Blanche turned on their heel and exited the conference room, leaving Spark alone. The Team Instinct leader proceeded to pull out their phone and send a text to Arlo. They knew exactly what memes were treated as laden with subtext so they could properly balance their intended sentiment with literal questions and statements.

"u up?"

After dropping Tia off in the Pokemon housing, Arlo strutted into HQ humming to himself upon getting back from a day's work of menacing trainers next to Pokestops and getting his ass kicked for it. The date had gone great! He'd been contemplating when to text Spark since the Team Instinct leader's request to call him the previous night, but hadn't worked up the nerve to do it yet especially since he still wasn't sure if Spark was aware of the subtext in his word choices or not. And what was he to make of Spark kissing him? That was totally outside of the "guys being dudes" banner, as were his feelings about it.

"Move! You're blocking the doorway. And why are you humming 'I'm Not Okay, I Promise'? Oh, fuck, since when do I know the titles of these songs? After you get yourself laid, I'm introducing you to some better music."

Sierra, transporting a trash bag to bring it to the dumpsters near the back entrance where Arlo had entered, set down her trash bags and paced around Arlo muttering to herself before reaching a satisfactory conclusion to her analysis and returning to her position in front of him, still waiting for her fellow leader to move because he'd just been standing in the doorway in his own head for 10 minutes. He'd always had a bad habit of forgetting where he was when he got to contemplating.

"Hmm. Did you fulfill my assignment? You've got the attitude for it, but you don't look disheveled enough. Of course, you always kind of look disheveled and have some degree of unwarranted swagger. But this swagger feels slightly less...edgelordy than usual."

"I have not fulfilled your assignment, which you have no authority to give me." Arlo adopted the same pose he used during his positions at Pokestops, bearing levels of arrogance that were exaggerated even for him. Of course, no one really noticed since he was considered absurdly arrogant even under normal circumstances. "However, I am working on it. Also, it is the happiest song I know. Get off my back. Oh, would you look at that? I have a text. I bid you adieu for the time being."

Arlo walked off with his nose upturned until he was confidently out of Sierra's sight range in the hallway on the way to his quarters, at which point he pulled out his phone, made a series of high-pitched noises, and collapsed onto his bed holding his phone. Spark had been the one to text first! With even more subtext! Well, since they'd already made first contact...Arlo ran his fingers through his hair before placing his finger on the screen to place a video call.

Spark's absentminded feeding of his virtual pets was interrupted by his phone vibrating with a video call request from Arlo. Hmm. Guess he was home from work. They answered, hoping more than anything that it would be uneventful. If someone had informed Professor Willow and/or Giovanni, the results could be disastrous.

"I am indeed up! I just got back from work, in fact. What's up?" The Go Rocket leader beamed upon seeing Spark, before catching himself and attempting to cover his open display of non-emo feelings with a cough and a self-assured grunt. It wasn't very effective.

"Well, you called at a great time. You'll never guess what happened at the team leader meeting tonight."

"Candela heard about our date and got up on your ass about it?"

"Uh...yes. I guess you did guess what happened. I was thinking about calling to tell you since I thought your stupid, edgy ass would appreciate it." Spark chuckled at this in order to provide reassurance that there were no hard feelings.

"Hmm. I must admit, I'm not nearly as satisfied to hear about her annoyance as I thought I'd be. Mostly because thinking about her being annoyed with you actually diminishes the amount I find this funny, which I totally do. Thanks for telling me. Fascinating." Arlo removed his glasses and wiped them off on his jacket, mostly just so he had something to do with his hands.

Spark laughed out loud for a couple of notes. "I swear, you really do sound just like Blanche. Also, on a completely unrelated note...what the hell is with your glasses? Do you actually need them or do you just wear them to look more intimidating? Totally seems like the kind of thing you'd do and I've never seen you without them, but they also don't reflect like I'm used to with prescription lenses. And does your voice sound different?"

"Oh, yeah! Forgot to tell you this. So, first of all, I'm trans. Wasn't sure if you already knew that. I promise this is relevant to explaining my glasses."

"Cool. Good for you."

"Wait...that's all you're going to say?"

"Like I said about the eggs and 'trusting your instincts' being simplistic and all, it doesn't matter what you were at birth. You're one of the most attractive men I've ever seen. Of course, I don't have a very large sample size, but dude, if anything, you're manlier than I am most of the time. Although, my gender is...not really something I take into account so in reference to the 'man' thing I'" They exaggeratedly shrugged and opened their hands in uncertainty. "Guess I'm some blanket label of 'nonbinary'. Don't really connect with much of anything, though. Oh, sorry, didn't mean to go on about myself, carry on with explaining what's with the glasses, please."

"Oh, uh...yeah." Arlo started blushing again, and this time it was undeniably in response to Spark calling him attractive and also the solidarity they had just demonstrated. They were so...casual! They could just openly be themself and they made him feel safe doing that too. Arlo almost made a high-pitched noise before cutting himself off and then realizing, based on Spark's expression, that he had not, in fact, cut himself off.

"Hey, dude, it's okay. You're cool." Spark smiled at him, again, the expression just utterly radiating...sincerity. He totally meant this. There wasn't any trickery or skullduggery involved, he was just fundamentally wholesome. How the fuck...?

"Just so we're clear, you didn't hear that!" Arlo drew back from the screen in a sudden motion, his face still flushed and his harsh tone quickly fading into that same damned sincere positivity Spark manifested. Truly bizarre in every sense. "Anyway, uh...sorry. Just got a bit caught up in it. Don't quite understand how you're so fucking monolithically nice. But, uh, getting back to my glasses, check this out."

Arlo pressed a button on the rim of his glasses and they flared to life, displaying semitransparent windows of information from the Team Rocket intranet's databases as well as the wider Internet and providing diagnostics on his physical condition and the distance to nearby Pokestops.

"Cool! So they're some sort of augmented reality setup?"

"Yeah! It's really helpful to be able to look things up while I'm doing research without having to interrupt what I'm doing to pull out my phone or find a computer, you know?"

"We really do need to set you up with Blanche; I think y'all would have a lot to talk about. But I don't see what this has to do with you being trans."

"Oh, yeah, they also do this. I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but..." He pressed a button on the other end of his glasses' rim and his voice proceeded to drop several semitones and gain a distorted reverb effect. "They also do this so that when I'm out...on the job, you know, with the Pokestops and all, I'm not identifiable by voice. That's how I got the administration to fund them. I actually keep them on just for the pitch without the reverb even under regular circumstances. Still waiting for the hormones to kick in, you know how it is. Wait, do you, actually?"

"Huh, that's actually really clever. It's kinda a shame we're enemies; we could totally swap tech tips if we weren't. And that's great to hear! I'm not on it myself, but I've got friends who are on T so I know what you're talking about. When did you start?"

"Actually pretty recently; was able to take advantage of the bonus and time off after Johto Tour. Our healthcare plan's kinda inconsistent in that regard. If I wanted to get top surgery, they'd cover that, but not this for some ungodly reason."

"Wait, you get healthcare? Damn, maybe I should join Team Rocket. All we get is maternity leave, which isn't gonna be relevant to me for obvious reasons. Well, and room, board, and research funding."

"Yeah, maybe you should. Willow's totally ripping you off, man. I must admit that's part of why I joined."

Arlo once more considered the possibility of actually converting Spark. He'd run it through his head, certainly, but didn't really think it would work out. After all, even ignoring that Spark was way too wholesome, dating coworkers was absolutely against his contract. He still really appreciated just being able to talk about work like he was at the water cooler at an office party or commiserating with the spouse after a long day...hold up, had he just mentally called Spark his spouse? Anyway, he liked talking about work like this. It made him think about how the team leaders were likely more similar to his colleagues than otherwise and the only reason they were officially enemies was their respective bosses. Plus it almost made him forget he worked in the Pokemon criminal underworld.

"Did your app freeze up or are you just in your head?"

"Oh, sorry! I'm back. Just got on a bit of a mental tangent."

"Yeah, Blanche does that all the time. One time they got thinking about philosophy or something while we were out hatching eggs and ended up stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. Ended up needing to basically drag them to the side when one of those rental scooters approached."

"Holy fuck, I literally just got Sierra mad at me because I was in the doorway and forgot to move."

"Don't suppose you were thinking about me, were you?" Spark got closer to the screen and batted his eyelashes after speaking that line in their best imitation of a seductive voice before realizing what he was doing and awkwardly chuckling.

"!" Arlo felt heat rushing to his face yet again. This was getting quite annoying. His tone came out even sharper than previously. "I was thinking about, uh, cars! Big cars! Trucks, actually! They've got giant tires and terrible gas mileage and flames or something painted on the sides!"

"I see. Do you watch any anime, Arlo? Or are you otherwise familiar with its genre conventions?"

Arlo quickly deflated upon realizing he'd been found out. "OK, yes, I was thinking about you. And, uh, a little bit, yeah. Candela called me 'tsundere' once back when we were dating and I didn't know what she meant so I looked it up and got onto a bit of a tangent. You know, thinking about it, you, uh...well...with your whole wholesome vibe..." He made his best attempt at a sweeping gesture across Spark's body intended to show that he was referring to the Instinct leader's whole vibe, but it didn't come across well over video call. "And me with the being dark and brooding and the glasses...oh, fuck, I'm just now hearing this. Not that I think about it on a regular basis! It was just back when I'd first met you and all I remembered was what you looked like aren't hearing this! This isn't happening! I didn't know you when I first theorized!" Arlo felt his heart seemingly pushing against its boundaries at speeds higher than were really within healthy ranges and didn't want to think about how saturated his face was at the moment.

"Dude, calm down. I totally understand what you're talking about. Yaoi, right? It's cool. It's going to take a lot more than that to weird me out; don't worry."

"You were totally going to call me 'tsundere', weren't you?"

"Well, am I wrong? Which, by the way, does kinda put a hole in the whole yaoi concept if we're talking about ourselves. Sure, we might resemble the archetypical couple aesthetically speaking, but normally, the soft one is the tsundere one and the dark, brooding one with glasses holds them down. Including literally. You're kinda not chill enough to fulfill the 'sexily evil glasses guy' archetype, sorry, Arlo."

"I mean, if we're speaking literally, I'm enough shorter than you that I'd kinda need to top for logistic reasons and I'll inform you I can be plenty sexily evil if given opportunity! Wait, fuck, our first date that may or may not have even been a real date was yesterday and we're talking about gay sex, this is not a normal relationship thing. Uh, so, how about the, uh...local sports team? They sure do play sports!"

"Dude, calm down. I've talked about way weirder things with less lead time and I know you're not seriously talking about me. If you were propositioning me, that might be a bit weird. Maybe some other time." Spark winked at the camera. They knew full well what they were saying, Arlo was certain of it. Which was in some ways worse or at minimum more complicated than if they were joking.

"How. Are. You. So. Chill? I don't get it! I seriously don't get it. I'm literally evil, and also a veritable buffoon, socially speaking!" Arlo had risen to nearly shouting by the end of his last sentence and was hoping that Sierra was either out of her room or had headphones on so could not hear him and wonder about to whom he was speaking.

"Veritable? Buffoon?"

"Please hold all questions until the end of the rant. And yet you are speaking to me and telling me I'm cool and making me feel confusing feelings in my guts that make me wonder if I need to run to the bathroom right now and are totally fine with me going on my tangent about yaoi and how the fuck are you Oh, fuck, this sounds totally scripted and fake, I am very aware of this, I'm sorry, I'm bad at feelings! Urgh..."

"I love you too."

"You met me yesterday. Either you're conning me or you're really immature."

"Dude, we might not have really talked at length before yesterday, but it's not like we just met. I've known you since 2019; it's not like you just randomly approached me in a field. And how much data do you really need? There are some things you just...know. Trusting my instincts, am I right?" Spark pushed his fist against the camera in some pastiche of a fist bump, then promptly retracted it and jostled his device around, his camera rotating several times. Evidently he had accidentally pushed some buttons on the screen. Once his device was realigned, he carefully set up his fist to be pseudo-bumped at a reasonable distance from the screen.

"But...I did just randomly approach you in a field. And I'm pretty confident that everything you've heard about me from Candela and your professor isn't good. While I totally agree that I'm extremely cool, attractive, and endearing, I don't see any reason why you'd go against their opinions. What made you accept when I asked if you'd go out with me to begin with? No screen-fist-bump until you answer my question!" Arlo attempted to lighten his tone on that last sentence in hopes of relieving some tension that inevitably rose up when folks voiced insecurities in the open like that.

" the risk of sounding equally scripted and fake, I always felt like there was more to you than just the Team Rocket stuff. Like, I can accept that Sierra is a total asshole, but you and Cliff both seemed like legitimately nice guys. Just to name a few examples, I saw how you treated your Pokemon when you were off the clock and how you hung out with us after Go Fest in 2020 and, well, that doesn't seem like the kind of thing evil people do. Also, I trust Candela's judgment. Whatever she saw in you, she had reason to. And that's still part of you, whether you like it or not. Face it, you're a good person." He widened his eyes a bit in expectation of Arlo's response.

"You take that back right this instant!" Arlo exaggeratedly put his hand in front of his mouth in feigned shock before removing it, smiling, and sending his fist toward the screen before retracting it with fingers outstretched and a mimed explosion sound effect. "OK, I guess you're not wrong. Both about Sierra being an asshole and the other stuff, I guess. Fine. Now that we've decided it's justifiable, I love you. There. I said it. Are you fucking happy?"

"Very. Have a good night, you evil mastermind, you."

Spark brightly waved at the screen before ending the call, leaving Arlo lying face-up on his bed mulling over what had just occurred. There was only one solution. He pulled up the music app on his phone linked to the Bluetooth speakers he had wired all around and promptly flipped over in order to discreetly make high-pitched noises into his pillow just in case the same album everyone in HQ had become quite acquainted with by now didn't obscure it sufficiently.

"Will you turn that shit down? It's 2 in the fucking morning!" Sierra's voice rang out, partially muffled by the far too thin walls.

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