Guys Being Dudes

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7 | This War Is Mine

"All right, here's our plan of attack."

Arlo had fired up the projector linked to his computer, which he'd specifically acquired so that any code he worked on would also be projected over his body like the hackers in the movies. Rather than code, Shadow Pokemon schematics, or anything else particularly menacing, the screen, and by extension, the projector currently showed a map of the college district with a red circle around one Sleepless Bakery. Arlo paced around the projector, with his glasses in glowing mode and gesticulating with a pencil. Spark sat on his bed, thoroughly amused by the whole display.

"The Sleepless Bakery, as everyone knows, is open late and does its best work after midnight. It's like a bar but with cupcakes. I keep suggesting that they should get a liquor license, but they said no. This means that we have until midnight to provide you with an optimal birthday experience in ways other than confectionery."

"Uh, Arlo, this is adorable and I know you're working hard on this; I really appreciate you turning all of your planning skills to a non-evil use, but is all of this really necessary? I mean, we are just getting cupcakes."

"It's about panache, Spark."

"Okay, you're right. So, what's our plan of attack, Commander?"

"Well. After getting into the college district, we will first attend the screening of My Edgelord Phase Summoned The Demon King Who Made Me His Boyfriend at Shadowmoor Park courtesy of the local apartment complex's Anime At The Park series. Despite the name, I've heard it's quite the touching romantic comedy. Like one of the ones Candela and I used to go see except that it's a concept I actually like and I'm not doing it to try to look like the ultimate cishet guy. After the film lets out, we will be just in time for the Kantonian Cultural Society's night market, at which you can locate a suitable gift. I will pay within reason. Finally, we go to the Sleepless Bakery and get cupcakes, fresh from the midnight batch and my credentials as a considerate boyfriend are thoroughly established. Any questions? Oh, I guess I should say that if you're overwhelmed or tired from Go Fest, we don't need to do any of this. I just wanted to demonstrate my full capabilities in order to provide an adequate preview of my credentials as your boyfriend."

"I'm just impressed that not only are there so many events happening this weekend, you managed to locate all of this within an hour. Are you sure you're not a cyborg?"

"Wouldn't you like to know? Anyway, the film screening is at 21:00 and we probably want to get there around 20:30 so we get good seats, so let's go. I do earnestly hope you have fun and if at any point you are not, I can take you back here or change our plans at any time."

"I'm just happy to spend time with you. Also, why are you using 24-hour time?"

"It's more efficient because it avoids me having to do conversions. Also, it's protocol for all missions so I'm just running on autopilot."

"Whatever you say, sir."

The couple shared a quick kiss before briskly exiting Arlo's room, being stopped by Sierra in the kitchen while she waited for her food from the microwave.

"Hold it right there, you two. Where the hell do you think you're going looking so happy? Even when you're not on duty, you have a reputation to maintain. You're going to embarrass the rest of our organization!"

Spark beamed at her. "Oh, it's not much. Just that my boyfriend is taking me to a series of delightful events in the college district for my birthday. We're going to go watch a movie in the park and get cupcakes!"

Sierra assumed an expression of exaggerated disgust. "Ugh. How do you people listen to yourselves? Remind me never to fall in love. Arlo? Is this true?"

Arlo rolled his eyes before winking at Spark and talking to Sierra in a complete monotone. "Fine. If it makes you feel better, I'm going to go buy crack cocaine using Spark's organs as collateral."

Spark's eyes widened before he winked back. "W-woah. That's dark even for you."

Sierra put a hand over her face and specifically avoided looking at them. "Fine. Go do whatever. As long as you're awake and not hung over for tomorrow. Surely something interesting will happen on Day 2. It had better not be more of this flowery bullshit. If I hear one more person talking about how cute Shaymin is, I'm going to hurl."

Most of the other couples attending the Anime at the Park screening stopped looking at the screen within the first several minutes and proceeded to start making out on their respective picnic blankets. Spark and Arlo didn't, although they couldn't hear much of the dialogue courtesy of Arlo taking the opportunity to infodump about isekai cliches, and on the drive back, Arlo might have somewhat regretted choosing to pay attention to what was on the screen rather than using the opportunity.

"Holy fuck, that movie was so stupid. I don't get why it's so widely praised. Sure, the whole idea of love redeeming a person might be appealing, but come on. Maoru is a literal demon. He's made of bad vibes. The idea that all it takes is some soft boy making out with him to get him to not only decide not to bring about hell on Earth, but also renounce evil completely just doesn't compute."

"Plus if Chunii is really a good boyfriend, he should be able to accept Maoru for who he is! Hell, he was specifically drawn to him because he was evil; why did he start guilting him about it?"

The fact that Spark not only actually wanted to hear Arlo's rants but also was willing to rant back if given sufficient knowledge (this was why he specifically wanted to see a movie with them) was completely unprecedented in his previous experience. He loved them so much.

"Exactly. I get the principle of all beings being capable of redemption, but from the little we see of demon culture, it's entirely built around evil, and he's never going to be accepted on Earth. Chunii basically cut off his so-called boyfriend from all his friends and family and culture, and for what? Especially since they were never going to really destroy the world to begin with and it was all just an RPG campaign!"

"So I guess the moral of the story is that if you're going to date someone, support their interests. I'm totally cool with you being evil, by the way. Speaking of interests, why don't we talk about the fact that despite specifically trying to summon a demon and longing for a world full of violence and pain at the beginning, which the movie's version of hell is way nicer than, Chunii drops all of the edgelord posturing and starts crying and wanting to get out as soon as he actually gets to the demon realm. I mean, he's literally billed as an edgelord in the title."

"I don't get the whole concept of yaoi guys being super scared all the time and completely subject to their boyfriends' whims anyway. Not only does it have really unfortunate implications if applied to real relationships and could be read as normalizing abuse, it's also not interesting. I don't come to watch guys crying about how they're not ready. I want to see them make out. Give me someone who's totally down for everything."

"Well, here I am, my dark lord." Spark burst into laughter at this while Arlo's face flushed without any hints of embarrassment. This was his boyfriend. He had a boyfriend. Who was willing to talk with him about this. And unironically address him as "dark lord".

"I love you so much." It came out almost under his breath, but based on Spark's reaction, plainly audible. It actually didn't feel weird for once, at least not until he'd processed what he said. "Wait, fuck, that actually sounded sincere. I mean, it's been sincere every time, but, like. Don't tell the bureau; I'll lose my edgelord license!"

"You seriously expect me to believe that edgelords bureaucratized? I mean, come on, I don't think that 'edgelord' and 'bureaucracy' belong in the same sentence. Well, except that one, I guess." Spark crossed his arms and shook his head in mock disappointment.

"Well, they should. There's way too damned many unlicensed edgelords running around. They don't even really understand the aesthetic; they just use it as an excuse to be either bigots or total assholes. In reference to the former, attacking people who won't necessarily have anyone stand up for them and be listened to isn't edgy. It's just mean."

"And in reference to the latter, you thoroughly admit to being an asshole and, I highly suspect, aren't as much of one as you think you are. So, what would you have in mind for the licensure process? Doing a class on edgelording history and then having to do a road test on how well they can brood?"

Arlo exhaled from his nose the way that happened when you wanted to laugh but it didn't physically escape. "Yeah. They also need to do separate procedures to make sure you're zoned for spike cuffs. Anyway, the market's coming up. I have no idea what to expect; I've never actually been here despite my family being from Kanto originally. Course, part of it's that I left for Orre after my journey and then they kicked me out for joining Team Valor because they thought it was a villainous team. Guess that became a self-fulfilling prophecy, heh."

"Holy shit, I'm sorry about that. Are you okay?"

"I'd already been out traveling on my own for years, so. I was expected and ready to move on. They just forced the issue. We were never really that close to begin with anyway. Who needs them, anyway? Team Rocket's my family now."

Spark hesitated in coming up with a response. What could he say to that? "Well, uh, I'm not really sure if this works in context, but I'm also here for you. And I do think that my coworkers like you in some capacity. You're part of our lives as much as any of the Go trainers. Speaking of which, I want to be one of those obnoxious couples who go around taking selfies and making out and holding hands the whole time and annoying everyone in attendance. I always wanted to do that with my ex, but they kinda had too much dignity for it."

Spark's face spread in his best imitation of Arlo's murder-smile. It wasn't especially effective, but it got a laugh out of the Go Rocket leader. "You have a similar dignity which I long to crush. You have such an air of self-importance about you. Allow me to dispel it."

"You're misquoting me, aren't you?"

"How can I not? Your lines are so..."

"Yeah, I know. I'm totally down to be a completely different kind of obnoxious with you. Always important to expand my repertoire. But if you order a beverage with two straws, I'm cutting you off."

The duo proceeded to explore the night market, taking advantage of pretty signs and lanterns to take the selfies that Spark had mentioned and noting the most strategically visible positions in the park to conspicuously make out and get people muttering about how they needed to get a room, much to the delight of them both. Despite the fact of his hands massively sweating from the combination of humidity and contact, Arlo vastly appreciated it. This was it. He was being adorable with his boyfriend and living his own life without requiring anyone's approval or having to posture for anyone. In the gift department, Spark acquired one of those wall fans featuring a Zapdos that he squeed over upon seeing it and Arlo reluctantly paid for. He'd have to account for this in his upcoming budget plans, but it was all worth it just to see Spark's face. The Instinct leader turned in his direction and might have read either his thoughts or the price tag.

"Wait, I just remembered that you mentioned that you're kinda short on cash. I can pay if it's too much of a disruption; you've done enough just by planning all of this."

"Don't worry about it. It's not like I spend much on myself, anyway. Anything else you want to do while we're here?"

"Well, we probably should get some sensible food before we go get cupcakes."

"Pfft, who are you, my mom? But all right. There's a booth down past the one selling Hisuian Zorua masks that claims to have the 'best dumplings in town'. Care to see if their claim is plausible?"

While neither party in attendance had a wide sample of dumplings to which to compare them and verify the booth's claim of their superiority, the folded containers of fried dough filled with a mixture of various meats and according to the booth's attendant, a proprietary blend of spices passed down for generations were indubitably delicious. The garlic flavor combined with the combination of spicy and subtle sweet notes in the dipping sauce and the pleasing texture of the blend of pork and cabbage produced a flavor profile that resulted in audible declarations of pleasure and surprise. Satisfied mentally and physically, the duo discarded the containers for their dumplings and returned to the car to approach their final stop at the Sleepless Bakery.

Spark fondly looked over the folded fan Arlo had bought for him at his behest when they returned to the car.

"Hey. Just wanted to say that in case it wasn't clear otherwise, I'm having a wonderful time. You really didn't need to pull out all the stops like this. We could have just gotten cupcakes or hung out at your HQ."

"Stop it. I'm being a considerate boyfriend. This is what good boyfriends do. Anything less would be beneath me. Speaking of my consideration, care to put on some tunes? I've exposed you to all sorts of stuff today. Figure you can introduce me to something new in exchange. Seriously. Appreciate this gesture. I didn't even let Candela take the aux."

"I like your music, though. And if you're anything like my ex, I'm not sure if there'd be that much overlap in our tastes. Wouldn't want you to get your edgelord license revoked."

"Oh, come on, whatever you listen to can't be that bad. Let me see."

Spark handed over his phone and Arlo started scrolling through it. His expression started as one of wry amusement, assuming the Instinct leader was playing him. His eyes continued to widen as he scrolled down and realized that they were, in fact, sincere. There was still affection there. After all, he appreciated Spark being so open about being themself, even when it meant being a total dork. But this was something else completely. He started muttering under his breath.

"Holy fuck, is this Nightcore? Like, the girly dance pop is one thing, but..."

"You can sorta blame my ex for that. It's the one thing that we could agree on. Helped lighten up some of their edgy stuff and they could tolerate my stuff if they got to look at scantily clad anime girls and make fun of the editing."

"Dude, I'm a total nerd and even I feel obligated to push you into a locker for that."

"I did it for love. If that makes me a nerd, so be it. So, does your offer to hand me the aux still stand as my considerate boyfriend? Surely you're secure enough in your edginess to support me, right?"

"Fine. The edgelord bureau doesn't need to know everything I do."

Much to Arlo's consternation, his low-to-the-ground black sports car that bore stickers of bands with menacing names' overpowered speakers vibrated the entire vehicle and possibly the pavement beneath it while the couple were in transit to the Sleepless Bakery with, of all things, a peppy Italian dance song sped up to 125% normal speed, which it really didn't need given that it was faster than any human could sing in its original form, complete with a chipmunk-esque voice commanding the listener to "rock their body". In the passenger's seat, Spark made his best attempts at fist pumping and doing precisely that. Arlo couldn't help but smile at witnessing it. He liked to joke, with a grain of truth, that joy made him break out in hives, but Spark just seemed so purely happy to be expressing himself in the presence of his partner. Arlo would need to go on a cleanse of the most asshole-dudebro-edgelord stuff he could find in order to rebalance his vibes afterwards, though. Upon arriving at the bakery, he checked his watch to find that it was...23:15. They'd arrived ahead of schedule and walking in and waiting for 45 minutes for the fresh cupcakes to come out before ordering anything would be thoroughly gauche. Nothing else nearby was open.

"Crap. I thought there would be more traffic or we'd spend longer at the night market. Want to make out or something? We've got some time to kill and need to do something. I'd offer to pull up something to watch, but I don't want to stream on data."

"Not especially. Not that you're not attractive, I'm just not feeling it right now. I think I'd rather just hang out. Or if you don't want to idle for air conditioning or sit in the heat, we could drive in circles so you can look for Ingress portals. Well, so I can look for them on your behalf; don't use your phone and drive."

"Shit! I didn't check on my control fields earlier today! Okay, here's my phone. Hack things as we go past; do glyph hacks at stoplights if you know how and get things connected if they're not already. Let me know if there are any Resistance portals so I can pull in and take them down before rollover."

"I don't know what some of those words mean in context, but yes, sir."

After 30 minutes of Spark doing his best at glyph hacking despite having no context for Ingress other than that the Rocket Radars used some of its code, Arlo occasionally pulling into parking lots, making some motions on his screen, leaving before anyone could wonder what he was doing there, and at one portal, making a highly awkward multi-point turn out of a loading dock that they'd both misjudged the width of as compared to the car, the duo returned to the Sleepless Bakery, just in time for the midnight batch of cupcakes to come out. After holding the door for Spark, Arlo introduced the rather unassuming interior with a grandiose flourish.

"Behold! Welcome to my office away from the office. I've come here many a time when I just couldn't focus at HQ. And when I haven't come here in person, I've used their famous shipments of cookies at any odd hour of the night. They're probably the only people outside of Team GO Rocket who know our HQ's location...shit. Really hope the boss doesn't know that. They're quite well-regarded among college students and others who work late."

The few other patrons, among them a troop of women who based on their attire had come from a bachelorette party, someone in a business suit grimacing at a laptop, and a lanky 20-something whose clothing, odor, reddened eyes, and enthusiasm towards the massive cake before them suggested they had recently been exploring horticulture, paid a quick glance in Arlo's direction at the flamboyant display and then returned to their respective desserts.

The person behind the counter rolled their eyes as Arlo approached, still with his arms outstretched for said flourish. "Oh, great, it's you again. I keep telling you that if we got a liquor license, we'd have to register our zoning as a bar. Ooh, who's this? You brought a friend?"

Arlo patted Spark on the back and smiled slightly too widely, but not to the same extent as the murder-smile at the cashier. "This is my boyfriend, a recent development, might I add, and it is his birthday. Well, I guess it was his birthday yesterday since it's midnight, but who's counting? The day doesn't end until we say it does. I am honor-bound to provide him with an optimal experience. 2 of your finest cupcakes, my good confectioner!"

Spark shrugged and nodded at the cashier sympathetically. "Does he do this every time?"

The cashier nodded in exchange and rolled their eyes, an action that despite its sarcasm, carried no true malice. "Yes. I think we're where he practices his material for the Pokestop takeovers."

"What part of 'Team GO Rocket's operations are confidential' do you not understand? What if one of these commoners in attendance forwarded the information elsewhere?"

"Arlo, you literally introduced yourself the first time you came in here as part of an all-powerful Pokemon crime syndicate aiming to take over the world. You're the reason why we have that 'No Monologuing' sign. You're hardly subtle."

"Wait, what sign?"

The cashier pointed to a sign that said precisely what they had mentioned in thick letters posted on a bulletin board along with notices of community events, including several concerts, piano lessons, a couch for sale, and someone threatening violence if their roommate didn't cough up the rent after having left under mysterious circumstances and asking if anyone had seen the "low-down swindler" so they could procure their payment.

"We just put it up last week after your soliloquy about whether or not someone, presumably this man, liked you. I take it that conundrum has been resolved."

"For all you know, I was on a phone call." Arlo pressed the button on his glasses that did exactly that.

"Here are your cupcakes, happy birthday to your boyfriend, congratulations on acquiring a boyfriend, and if you're going to make out, do it outside. People are trying to work." The cashier handed over two compact cardboard boxes with transparent plastic inserts so one could see the contained cupcakes and returned to the back of the room.

Spark smirked at Arlo after they returned to a booth. "So, I take it you tried to strike up a coffee shop AU with the cupcake bartender?"

"Something like that. And they said to stop calling them the 'cupcake bartender'. I come here so I have someone to talk to just as much as for the baked goods. Of course, the latter are great. Go ahead. My belief in myself as a boyfriend is riding on your opinion of this cupcake, so no pressure."

Spark bit into the baked good and based on expression, it was sufficient. Arlo's quality as a boyfriend was confirmed. He continued his thought.

"And before you mention how monologuing doesn't really count in your opinion as having someone to talk to, it's about having another set of ears present, you know? It's just not the same to do it in total isolation in my room. In part because Sierra yells at me if I get too loud when she's trying to do whatever it is she does."

Spark remained completely focused on the cupcake, but nodded in between bites to demonstrate that he'd heard the statement. After finishing the bite he was on, he responded. "So, I assume that she's rather annoyed about this place knowing the location of your secret menacing building in the woods? Who watches the watchers, am I right?"

"Oh, she absolutely chewed me out the first time, but said that she'd just leave it out of our financial records if I cut her in on some tiramisu. I'll pick something up for the others before we leave. Besides, Cliff orders pizzas so I'm not the only one. And as far as the delivery drivers are concerned, we're a data center."

"Am I wrong in the impression that most of what you three do goes conveniently unreported to your boss?"

"Hey, what he doesn't know can't hurt us. All he asks about is our finances and the Shadow Pokemon, and Team Rocket has enough personnel worldwide — shit, shouldn't have told you that, on official record we disbanded in 1997 — that it's not like he's going to check every receipt."

"I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear that. Anyway, this is a really good cupcake and I had a wonderful time overall; thanks for going to all this trouble for me."

"I always cause trouble. Might as well do it for someone else for once."


Spark began leaning towards Arlo's cheek before catching the cupcake bartender shaking their head and pointing towards a "No PDAs" sign that he'd previously missed. Spark pointed to it, nodded in Arlo's direction, and they packed up the remains of their cupcakes and returned to the car, where Spark proceeded to take Arlo up on his offer from earlier.

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