Guys Being Dudes

Table Of Contents

4 | Honestly, That Never Happened

After returning from a day of field research to recharge himself and his incubators, Spark entered his room to discover a pile of awkwardly broken planks of wood, his bedding scattered across the floor, and a Luxray in the center of the carnage trying their best to look innocent. He considered the possibilities. He absolutely needed to function at his best for the Go Fest kickoff the following day, so simply going without sleep was not an option. At this point, he was past regular work hours so any sources for either the installation of a new bed or repairs wouldn't arrive at any time before Monday. Under normal circumstances, he would have called one of the other team leaders, but he was very aware that all 3 teams were operating at maximum member capacity for their Go Fest preparations. There were no hotels nearby, and even if there had been, they would likely also have been packed and Spark's pay didn't support much of anywhere where he was reasonably confident he wouldn't get murdered. Of course, his chance of getting murdered was probably higher than optimal anyway due to his recent engagements. He sighed in Luxray's direction and keyed in a number on his phone.

Arlo's Scizor collapsed to the ground in the blast of an Overheat, leaving the ground below it a pile of blackened grass and leaving a sweet smell wafting across the battlefield. He withdrew Scizor before turning to glare at the opposing trainer and dropping his Exeggcute's Pokeball in front of him with disdain. The rental Pokemon needed to be exchanged every battle anyway to avoid either wearing them out or them being trackable by their Pokeballs, so the trainer might as well get a new friend out of it. He tensed his body and refused to look towards the trainer, feigning stupefaction before turning on his heel and retreating from his chosen Pokestop.

" can this be? I...I never lose!"

After catching the Exeggcute and expressing disappointment that it wasn't shiny, the trainer blinked at him several times, leading him to cease his retreat and turn around in surprise.

"Well, someone's clearly exaggerating their results. I always wonder — don't y'all have anything better to do? Wouldn't Giovanni's time be better served if you did research or something?"

"The affairs of Team Go Rocket are none of your business, commoner! I'll have you know that-" An indicator light on his glasses started blinking. He was receiving a phone call from Spark, of all people. Didn't they know he was at work? "I bid you adieu; I have an important phone call to take. But I'll be back and you'll learn to fear us!"

The trainer snickered under their breath upon noticing this break in Arlo's usual persona. "He's totally got a booty call, doesn't he?"

Arlo tried his best to ignore it. Honestly, he wasn't especially thrilled with Pokestop duty either. They'd stored up plenty of items and all it felt like he was doing was subjecting himself to mockery in order to give Willow's trainers the illusion of some semblance of impact. Frankly, he'd always thought it would make more sense if they invaded gyms in order to harvest the backlogs of raid prizes, but he wasn't the one who made the orders and any suggestions he made to Sierra probably never actually made it to the boss. He pushed a button on his glasses' rim to answer the phone.

"Hey, Spark. Uh, you know I'm working, right? Is everything okay?"

"Well, uh, I was wondering if I could crash at your place over the weekend. You know how my Luxray is; he only accepts going into his Pokeball when we're going out to raid and apparently, he was practicing moves or something because he completely destroyed my bedframe. I've ordered a new bed with installation included, but it's not going to get there until Monday. All the team HQs are packed for Go Fest and there aren't any hotels near where I am, so..."

"Dude, you're their team leader, right? It's your HQ. Kick someone out. It's what I would do."

"Number 1, that's exactly why I'm not doing it. Number 2, I don't actually have authority in that regard. The trainers were deployed to HQ this week by someone in upper administration who wanted more boots on the ground for Go Fest."

"Well, uh, I'd certainly love to have you, but we'd have to be in my room. I'm not allowed to have guests, officially speaking, and definitely not anyone from your group. There aren't any common areas in our outpost here; all of that was at the main complex in Kanto, and, well, you know what happened there."

"Oh, inviting me to your room? Isn't that a bit forward, my good sir?"

Arlo barely stifled his chuckle at that. "Shut it, you. But seriously. It would take some damn good trickery to get you into my HQ, we'd be sharing a bed unless you want to sleep on the floor, and I'd be breaking likely every single residence regulation we have."

"So that's a yes?"

"I'll pick you up after work. Meet me at the loading dock. Wear something less immediately recognizable than your signature."

"All right then. Yes, sir."

"Love you!"

Arlo hung up the call and covered his mouth upon realizing what had escaped. He wasn't sure how many times it would take for saying that to stop sounding fundamentally wrong. He contemplated the prospect of Spark. In bed. With him. He knew nothing resembling the classical figurative usage of "sleeping together" would happen, and that was for the best. It would be supremely awkward for all parties involved. But that aside, Spark's arrival presented a number of logistical difficulties. For one, he'd need to turn off all surveillance cameras on the inside. The good news was that he was in control of those, along with the rest of HQ's tech. If he had Spark send out a Pokemon when they were right outside of camera range, he could claim that it was a power surge due to Pokemon attack. Of course, there was the issue of him being sighted by Sierra, who would likely immediately sell him out to the boss if she didn't consider it more worthwhile to keep him around and use the information to blackmail him. Arlo figured it would be the latter, especially given her pre-existing issues with Spark, but he couldn't count on it. As long as the cameras stayed off, he could just have Spark stay in his room and instruct the Team Instinct leader to coordinate restroom breaks so they wouldn't coincide with any other personnel. They could exit through the back door and no one would know. Worst case scenario, he could transport them in a body bag and claim he'd kidnapped them.

Oh shit, Go Fest. Even if Spark's presence in Team Go Rocket HQ somehow wasn't noticed, his absence at the largest event of the year certainly would be. Arlo knew from reconnaissance that the team leaders' base of operations would be at a nearby park because it usually had Gracidea this time of year and Arlo would need to be there anyway for the standard nefarious purposes. If he transported Spark in his trunk or in the back with the window blacking out on and let him out several blocks down, Spark could walk there and their fellow team leaders would be none the wiser. Of course, if Spark was going to be staying for the whole weekend while waiting for their bed to arrive, there was then the issue of how Arlo would get him back to HQ without either set of leaders noticing. There were too many variables. This was a plan that would take the full force of his evil intellect. Perhaps combined with Spark's knowledge of the team leaders' patterns, they could work something out. Arlo knew on every possible level that this was absolutely going to go badly, but looked forward to it nonetheless. He supposed this was what everything that warned him about love making people do stupid things meant. Nope, it still felt strange to use that word.

The rest of the workday passed uneventfully. Making smug, condescending comments to Trainers, dropping off Exeggcutes and making the odd one shiny so they'd have something to talk about, and gathering items to bring back to HQ...which they didn't need and most of which got "reclaimed" by the trainers anyway. Sometimes Arlo felt like his job could be done by an item dispenser. Oh, wait, that's what Pokestops are. Once his shift was up, he reported that he would be returning to HQ later than usual, citing needing to check on an upcoming project.

Arlo keyed an address Spark had previously sent him for Team Instinct HQ into his car's GPS and proceeded down the highway, occupied enough with contemplating what would happen over the weekend that he might have run several red lights. The good news was that traffic in this part of town was usually pretty low. This was it. He was going to potentially sacrifice everything for Spark. If this went badly, it could destroy his career. This was his last chance to do the rational thing and go straight back to HQ. His purpose was to destroy everything that Candela and her little friends loved! Why did he care whether one of them had somewhere to sleep or not? He considered once more all the ways that this could go terribly wrong if someone found out or information otherwise escaped. Was it really worth putting this much on the line for someone he had only first talked to as something other than an enemy earlier that week?

He didn't need to consider it for less than a minute. It totally was.

Pounding bass from something being blasted out of a car loud enough that none of the words were understandable, or in a genre where they usually weren't anyway, rattled the windows of Team Instinct HQ. Spark looked up from his tablet and couldn't help but smile. Sure, it may have been more inconspicuous than a dragon, but he wasn't sure Arlo knew what that word meant. He picked up a backpack containing 2 changes of clothes, a protein bar, and a backup charger for his phone, along with the phone itself, and departed towards the loading dock.

At the loading dock, a black sports car bearing a variety of stickers including and not limited to a faded Team Valor emblem, the insignia of several bands, and one on the back saying "How's My Driving? Tell it to your mom! You know, so she can relay it to me when I fuck her." in precisely as many words was vibrating in time with the bassline of something that Spark got was likely about either really kinky sex or murder. Perhaps both. Arlo was actively singing and/or screaming along before Spark tapped on the window several times to remind the Go Rocket leader that he was there. Upon seeing him, Arlo widened his eyes, blushed, and abruptly turned off the stereo before opening the window.

"Uh...hi. Your ride is here. I mean...get in, loser! I'm claiming you in the name of Team Go Rocket!"

Spark entered the passenger seat and looked around the interior. Unsurprisingly, it was entirely black with faux-leather finish. Which meant that if it wasn't for the A/C at full blast, it would have been utterly boiling.

"As a criminal, shouldn't you have a more inconspicuous car? And one that doesn't look like it was designed by a 12-year-old boy?"

Arlo turned towards him and smiled a bit too widely to be natural before making his best attempt at intoning in a low, breathy tone before rapidly crescendoing. Spark half-expected a maniacal laugh. "Oh, Spark, you poor little boy. It is inconspicuous if none of the witnesses SURVIVE!" He stared at Spark for several seconds, his eyes wider than the Team Instinct leader had ever seen before he somehow managed to get his glasses to glow, rendering them invisible. "Team GO Rocket's domination is inevitable. Submit and you may be spared."

"All right, then. If that's what you're into! My safeword is 'cheeseburger pizza'."

Arlo's glasses abruptly returned to being transparent, revealing that his face was almost as red as that streak in his hair. "Uh...well, in all seriousness, think about the team I antagonize. You've seen what most Valors drive. If anything this is too subdued."

"Also, who the hell writes your lines? What, did they need to spice you up for the English dub? Personally, I think you're plenty spicy as is."

"I did. Back when I'd just broken up with Candela. You know how it is. Speaking of spicing up, what the hell are you wearing?"

Spark's regular jacket-vest combo had been exchanged for a black hoodie featuring the image of a snake curling through the eye sockets of a skull while surrounded by roses on its front and the name of a band and one of its albums rendered in a bizarre symbol-based font on either sleeve. The hood left a few spikes hanging down in between his eyes as the only part of Spark's hair visible. His pants were even tighter than usual, their black spandex construction leaving very little in the way of bodily contours to the imagination.

"Well, you told me to not be recognizable as me, and I figured this was the most evil outfit I owned. I was actually going to get rid of this hoodie; my ex gave it to me when they wanted us to match more even though it's totally removed from my usual aesthetic. And I tried my best to get my hair to be all vision-obscuring and stuff, but it didn't really cooperate. The spikes would much prefer to stay up."

Arlo looked over the Team Instinct leader, trying to avoid letting his eyes linger too long on what was heavily implied by their choice in pants. "It's a good look for you. Also, if you don't want that hoodie, I totally do; I don't care if it's way too big for me."

He quickly turned his gaze away from Spark and began driving out of the loading dock, both because he realized that if they kept bantering while parked, someone would notice and because it meant he had a good reason not to look. Those pants were very...flattering, certainly.

"And, wait, your hair just does that? I always assumed you either used tons of gel or stuck forks in outlets."

"Yeah, I know. It's ridiculous. Candela keeps saying I'm an anime character, and I'm not totally sure if she's wrong. I guess there's one way to know for sure: are those your natural hair colors?"

"Well, the red is natural, but—"


"No! What do you think? Also, if we were actually anime characters, mine would probably be naturally white."

"I don't know, hair color aside, anyone as pretty as you is not to be trusted, especially with those glasses."

"So you think I'm pretty?"

"Well, yeah. It's true, isn't it? If you don't like the gendered implications, let me know, but you are absolutely one of the most attractive men I've ever met. And in all honesty, when you were doing that whole schtick about domination and no one who crosses you was actually kinda hot. You may be a nice guy, whether you want to admit it or not, but when you do try to be evil, you do succeed at being sexy if not menacing."

"Nah, don't worry about it; I know you mean dude-pretty. If it felt like you didn't, I'd kick your ass. Really, that's what I'm going for. Looks damn good on me and means I can take advantage of being kinda baby-faced. And I guess I'll take that as a hollow victory. At least you admit I'm evil."

"So, speaking of evil, what's your nefarious plan to sneak me into HQ?"

"Basically, when we get close, I'll pull off to the side somewhere. You brought your Pokeballs, right? And yes, I am aware of the innuendo. I question why the inventor named them that every damned time I say it."

"I'm going into the heart of enemy territory. It would be stupid if I didn't."

"You don't need to worry about grunts; they're stationed elsewhere and will be shuttled in on the balloons for Go Fest. Anyway, when we get close, you send out one of your Pokemon and have it do some zapping in HQ's general direction while I turn off the security cameras from my phone. I'm the only one of the leaders with access to them and if we get electric readings, I can say that they got shut down by a Pokemon attack."

"Even better, I've got Rain Dance on my Zapdos. I can just call up a thunderstorm so you have even more plausible deniability."

"Hey, not bad! You know, you could actually be pretty good at being evil if you applied yourself. My recruitment offer still stands!"

"I'll keep it in my back pocket in case the team leader thing doesn't work out. And about the Pokeballs, what do you make of the name 'Team Rocket' given that everyone knows rockets are shaped like—"

"OK, here's the gas station by HQ. I don't stop here for gas anymore, though, despite its convenience. All right, weather boy. Do your thing. HQ is that way." He pointed a finger towards a patch of forest which only stood out as an even darker shade of black. The road didn't have street lights, leaving everything except the gas station totally obscured. "How big of an area of effect does your Rain Dance have?"

"Dude, it's a legendary. Also, our Pokemon have some of the same things tweaked as raid bosses do, so it's way stronger than the ones the Go trainers get. Don't worry about leaving it here; I needed to take it out flying anyway and it'll know how to come back to me."

Spark released the massive bird Pokemon from its ball, the flash of its wings temporarily blinding Arlo. It rapidly rose to become a pinpoint of light in a pitch-black sky, like a single airhole had been poked in the lid of the world, before cracks of lightning exploded out from that hole, splitting the skies and opening up torrents of rain that against Arlo's windshield, sounded something like machine gun fire, not helped by the combination of rolls and quick bursts of thunder.

"Have fun! Try not to eat too many pedestrians!"

Arlo smirked at Spark as he re-entered the car. "So, let me guess, raid bosses are powered up by love and compassion and sunshine and rainbows? Not our eeevil artificial means?"

"Nah. We boost them with XM."

"Wait, like in Ingress? That's seriously what you call it?"

"Yeah. It's the official Niantic Project term for some reason. Also, I didn't know you played Ingress."

"Someone keeps submitting Pokestops as portals, so it means that I can get in a pretty good amount of hacking and keep control fields up while I'm at work. Do you like any games? Haven't seen you talk about them in our texts, and we've talked about a lot of things."

"Well, it's not that important to your understanding of me, in my opinion, and I'm pretty casual. I play a lot of browser-based virtual pet games and breeding sims."

"Let me guess, your ex was into them?"

"I actually played them back before I got the team leader job. Really haven't been as active as I used to be since then, but I still make sure everybody is fed and happy. I just like taking care of things and find raising creatures from eggs, whether they're real or digital, really satisfying."

"D'aww. Is that why you like me? I'm a secretly vulnerable bad boy with a dark past who needs someone to heal those scars and take care of him?"

"Secretly vulnerable, my ass. When you're not being 'eeevil', you're kinda a total dork. Love both versions of you, though. Also, if that suspicious unlabeled building was your HQ, you just passed it."

"For your information, Mr. Navigator, I'm going in the back route. Also, you knowing where our HQ is totally qualifies as information that no one outside of Team Rocket should have, so if you tell your professor or anyone, I'll kill you."

"You're speaking hyperbolically, right?"

"Yes. Mostly because I think Candela would before I even got the chance."

"For the record, I've kinda got a terrible sense of direction and I was mostly paying attention to you, so your confidentiality has nothing to fear."

"Flattery will get you nowhere! Now, then, let me find a parking place. Keep your hood up and try not to talk too much until we get into my room."

The sports car pulled into a parking space at the back of the lot, far removed from Arlo's reserved spot.

"We're going to go in through the Pokemon's quarters. Be careful where you step. Some of them are pretty big, and, well, sometimes nature calls and doesn't leave a message. And for the love of all things holy, don't pet anything. If anyone’s out for you to pet, that’s a problem in and of itself."

"You keep Pokemon permanently at HQ outside of their balls? I assumed all of y'all's 'mons other than the ones you brought from home like your Scizor and Salamence were rentals and you just exchanged them for new ones when one fainted."

"Yes and no. The ones that we 'abandon' for the trainers are rentals bred specifically for that purpose, but most of the ones we fight with are part of our permanent collections; we just trade them out to keep them from getting worn out and give them all experience. We've found that they get better rest after battles when they're out of their Pokeballs, plus it provides an extra defense against intruders."

"I must say, I didn't think that ruthless criminals would think about that sort of thing. Is someone nicer than he lets on?"

"You already know the answer to that question. And part of it is absolutely that, I know the others are pretty attached to some of their Pokemon too, and part of it's just practicality. As I say in my lines to the trainers, Pokemon are our tools and it's a lot more cost-effective to keep your tools in good condition. Not treating their Pokemon well is part of what let the Kanto unit get curb-stomped by a kid, along with incompetent admins and questionable hiring decisions. Or at least that's what our admins say during meetings."

"It's so weird seeing you describe your evil machinations like any other job. Wait, you told me not to talk much, is this okay?"

"The Pokemon stables have reinforced walls in case of move misfires, so we're unlikely to be heard from the inside. So, what do you think?"

Spark glanced around. The quarters were nearly totally dark, save lines of red LED lights on either side of the walkway which gave everything a sanguine tone. Each Pokemon was housed in a modestly-sized enclosure, concrete walls separating each of them. A treated glass window looked out on the outside and allowed Spark to look into the enclosures. On the front of each enclosure lay a simple door whose access presumably corresponded to the keycard scanners next to them. They weren't especially large, but had enough space to contain a Pokemon's food, water, something to sleep in, and something for entertainment. He looked to the right and smiled to see what he recognized as Sierra's Houndoom curled up in a frilly pink pet bed surrounded by charred squeaky toys.

"I know they're not very big and rather austere. We don't really get much funding for that, most of it goes towards the tech, so this is the best we could do given that. We make sure to take the Pokemon out for exercise and move practice when they're not in our battle rotation. Team Go Rocket actually owns some of the woods around here for that purpose. And so we have guards to shoot any trespassers."

As they got closer to the main building, more light started trickling through the tinted glass on the door to the main complex, giving Spark a better view of things, including a row of incubators containing Strange Eggs.

"So, what's the deal with the Strange Eggs? We've been researching the things for years and still don't get what the hell you get out of them. Based on my findings, the Pokemon that come out aren't especially shadowy, and while Poison and Dark-types are sorta thematically linked to y'all, they don't seem to be particularly...sabotage-y. I get that this is confidential data, but it's not like I could tell anyone this and have them believe it without saying where I got the info, so I'd end up going down with you."

"I'd much rather go down on you. Anyway, they're Sierra's pet project. I think she's trying to prove that she's better at the egg thing than you, but it hasn't really worked out. We've been breeding Poison and Dark-type Pokemon because she thinks that because the Pokedex describes them as mean, they'd help us out, but it, uh, hasn't worked. I keep trying to tell her that no Pokemon is inherently evil and the Pokedex is heavily biased, but she won't listen. So we just have these for no good reason. Guess the Go trainers appreciate them, though." Arlo smirked, mostly satisfied that he finally managed to pull off an innuendo on Spark for once. "Anyway, we're about to go in, so we are going to need to postpone this conversation. We'll talk more about the logistics when we get you into my room."

"Yes, sir." Spark pulled the drawstrings on his hoodie, the edges scrunching up to the point that you could barely see his face. Arlo snickered at the sight of it.

"Something smells...different." Sierra turned towards Cliff after hearing the Pokemon stable door relock. Presumably Arlo was back from whatever the hell he was doing.

"Isn't that just Arlo's body spray? The kind that makes him smell like a teenage boy who's trying too hard and emptied an entire spice rack on himself?"

"Yes, but there's something else in there, too. Slightly less overpowering, but still a crime against good taste. And good smell."

"So he's got someone else in there."

"Either that or he's doing freelance chemical weapons research again. Both options are bad. Well, unless he's getting laid."

"So, what was your purpose in assigning him to do that? It's kinda overstepping your bounds and also creepy."

"I wasn't asking him to literally have sex. To be honest, I'd prefer to know as little about that as possible. But come on, you saw him. He totally needed some other project. Also, I got sick of him whining about Candela all the time. At least now his music is the only offensive thing I'm hearing. Anyway, come on. Let's go see what's going on in there."

"Shouldn't we give them some privacy?"

Cliff and Sierra both burst out snickering at that. That was never going to happen. They approached Arlo's door, Sierra attempting to get him out with her characteristic method. She rammed on the door 3 times before informing him that it would be best if he granted her ingress.

"Hey, dipshit! I thought we talked about this! We're regular criminals, not war criminals! No chemical weapons! Either that, or you're revamping your personal bouquet. You could do much better. Anyway, open your fucking door or I'm blasting it down!"

She turned back towards Cliff, who was trying his best to withhold a smirk.

"I swear, he'd better be getting laid. If he just brought some loser friend over to listen to whiny music or something, I am going to be so annoyed."

"Hey, at least he has friends. Which is an improvement over..."

"Why isn't he answering? Open up, loser!" She rammed the door several more times, with less regular spacing than her last attempt.

Arlo leapt up from his bed, where he and Spark were engrossed in a discussion over whether it would violate a vegan diet to cannibalize someone provided they gave consent, and made his best attempt at manhandling Spark by the shoulders. It didn't work, in part because he had difficulty reaching them.

"Get in the closet!"

"Is that some sort of literal metaphor? Let your colors fly, dude!"

"Seriously, hide!"

"All right, yes, sir."

Arlo blushed slightly at that before taking a few deep breaths to calm himself down. Right as Sierra would have been about due to yell at him again, he opened the door, carefully looking everywhere except her eyes. Cliff stood behind her, giving him a quick wink of recognition.

"Hey, Sierra. I'm back from checking out that personal project I told you about. Did you see that freak thunderstorm? Took down our security cameras. Must be the work of a Pokem—"

"Who do you have in there?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about! I'm just doing emo loser research as always!" He cocked his head quizzically to the right and batted his eyes in hopes of affecting innocence.

"Dude, number 1, the storm wouldn't have taken them all out at once. You totally turned them off with your phone. Number 2, you've been gushing about this mystery man all week. Based on context, I'm going to assume you're getting laid, and you'll end up in the fucking Distortion World before I miss out on finding out who you're sleeping with."

"With whom I'm sleeping. Also, we're not in Sinnoh."

"Consider yourself lucky that you found someone who thinks you correcting people's grammar is endearing. AKA a freak of nature, but I digress. They're in the closet, right? It's not like there's anywhere else to hide things in here. Although you have succeeded at hiding your floor." She awkwardly shifted her footing against the piles of towels, Pokeballs, and laundry that had somehow regenerated. The only area that remained carefully unscathed was the region around his computer, probably the only part of the room he cleaned at all regularly. "OK, I'm opening it up."

Arlo protested before being cut off by Cliff winking in his direction. This would be fine. Sierra omitted most everything the trio did except their finances from her progress reports. Sierra opened the door, to be greeted with Spark, who stood motionless. She looked him over.

"Hmm. It's a man." She turned her head sideways before shaking it. "Oh, sorry, I shouldn't assume these things. Are you a man?"

Spark shrugged and threw his hands apart. "More or less."

"Hmm. You know, Arlo, if you wanted to tell us you were bi, you didn't need to do this whole literal metaphor. An announcement over breakfast would have sufficed." She began walking out before freezing and turning on her heel, returning to the closet where she looked Spark up and down once more. "Wait a second. Your stupid face looks familiar. Take down your hood."

"Uh, excuse me? You don't have authority to give me orders!"

"You're in my HQ. Hood. Down. Now."

"All right, whatever. I know the good guys always win, and that's the side I'm on." Spark took down the hood and shook his head in order to get his hair back into its usual brand of disorder, the spikes that had been in front of his eyes returning to their usual position to the side. "Hey, Sierra." They ran his fingers through their hair, smiling at her completely sincerely while she stood motionless. Spark clicked his tongue and quickly pointed a finger gun in Arlo and Cliff's direction, which Arlo returned with a smirk.


"Yep, that's who I am, all right!" Somehow, despite being surrounded by enemies on all sides and in a closet, Spark remained chipper as ever. Arlo loved him so much.

"You. And him." She pointed in Arlo's general direction. Following Spark's lead, he waved like he was gesturing towards his mom while on a news broadcast.

"Those are the people who will be in this room over the weekend, yes. He said I could crash at his place while I wait for my new bed to arrive. You know how it is with Go Fest. All the team HQs are totally packed. Believe me, this wasn't my first choice."

"You could both do so much better." She briefly turned back to Arlo before gesturing for Spark to remove himself from the closet, to which he complied. "Now, then. Have you both been tested and are you clean? Remember, dude, like I keep saying in the meetings, just because you're trans doesn't mean you're immune to-"

"Yes, I know! I just did mine last week, remember?" Spark hastily nodded as well.

"Okay. Condoms are in the bathroom. Also, I'm on the other side of the wall from you. Arlo, you have permission to blast whatever you want as loud as you want. Do whatever you like, so long as I don't hear, see, or smell it. Speaking of which, shower before the fumes mingle too much. You kids have fun." Before she and Cliff exited, she turned back towards Spark. "By the way, nice stunt with the thunderstorm. Is our resident edgelord rubbing off on you? Nice to see he brought you down to our level. Ha! And I thought Blanche would be the first to convert."

On that note, she exited, leaving Spark and Arlo in silence. Spark waited until he couldn't hear Sierra and Cliff's footsteps in the hall before approaching the door.

"In all seriousness, we should shower before we go to bed. I'm going to go do that. And if you want to...go to bed, so to speak, I'm down for whatever. You already know my safeword."

"Wait, really? I thought you were joking."

"I mean, it hasn't come up much, but yeah. I'm cool with it."

"Uh, if we're going to be sharing a bed over the weekend, it might be kinda awkward. Also, you don’t need to use the complicated safeword if you don’t want to. ‘No’ will suffice."

"I mean, whatever you want. I'm not adverse, but I totally get if you're not ready yet or just not in the mood. We have been awfully busy this week."

"I'll use the shower in the basement so you can have the one across the hall. Meet you in about 10 minutes and we can decide what we want to do then. Also, you know that song that was all over the place, like, 5 years ago? The one about the horses?"

"I thought you hated that song."

"Yes. But Sierra hates it more. She did say I could blast whatever I wanted...and if we keep our mouths shut, she'll never know what, if anything, we were covering up. Hehehe..."

"You truly are an evil mastermind. See you in about 10 minutes!"

Shortly afterwards, Sierra and Cliff, who were both in the kitchen for a late dinner, or perhaps a large snack, and also to get as far out of earshot as they could within the building, watched their plates shake against the table as the bassline of that song about horses that had been a meme several years prior vibrated through the floor of the entire building. The whole song, if one could really call it that, had been reduced to a singular wall of sound both from the distortion inherent in pushing cheap Bluetooth speakers to their absolute upper limits and from it being muffled by the walls. Sierra let out an exasperated sigh and slammed her coffee down against the table.

"I'm going to kick his ass for this."

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