Spark blearily woke up and nudged Arlo to the side so he could reach his phone on the nightstand. He turned it back on and was attacked by a quite long list of notifications, including a number of missed messages from the team leaders' groupchat and multiple attempts by Blanche to call him on every platform he had. Including the emergency phone, which Blanche themself had said could only be used in the most dire of circumstances. Spark made a murmur of discontent and got up to pace around the room, waking his companion up. Arlo briefly glared in the direction of Spark's side of the bed before noticing the other leader deliberating. After several incoherent noises, he slurred out a query of concern, all without actually getting up.
"What the hell's going on?"
Spark returned to bed and sat down on its side, gripping his still-off phone. "Well, apparently my trio had some sort of urgent emergency meeting this morning which I missed because my phone was off. I've been turning it off, like you said to, when we're here so nobody knows my location. But this meeting was probably over an actual emergency. Otherwise, Blanche wouldn't have violated our policy of no meetings before 9:00 AM. I really should look at my phone and see what was going on."
Arlo finally got at least the top half of his body upright. "So do it. What's the problem?"
"Well, my phone is supposed to be on at all times. It's where I get communications from trainers, do appraisals, keep my Pokedex, communicate with incubators, track my location, and basically everything else. In the event that we're out in the field and don't have outlet access, we're supposed to carry multiple power banks so we can still recharge. Admitting it was off would be admitting to shirking my duties."
"You could just say that you totally did read the messages, the read receipts just glitched to say that you did it later than you did. I've had that literally happen."
"I can't say that about a phone call, though. Blanche called me on every platform I have, including the ones that use WiFi and that experimental one that's supposed to work without service at all so I can't say that I was out of minutes."
Arlo shrugged. "I don't really see what the big deal is. This is just a groupchat with Candela and Blanche, right? They already know where you are and what you've been doing. What's the harm in answering honestly? Candela may make fun of you, but it's not like —"
"Candela and Blanche may know that, but they don't officially know that. If Professor Willow noticed, he'd be obligated to report possible reveals of trade secrets to the Pokemon League. This is why he's been very carefully not noticing anything. If I post anything about it to the groupchat, that's official record and he has no choice but to notice."
Arlo smirked at what he was about to suggest. "Well, a responsible team leader would admit to his crimes, take the consequences, and then carry on the illicit affair in secret."
"Illicit affair? What are you, a Victorian...uh, femme fatale but a dude?"
"Now, what I would do is leave my phone here and say that Team GO Rocket stole it. Then, while you're off the grid, go to the park but spend the whole day hiding from your coworkers. When they find you, tell them the story about us stealing your phone. They'll know it's incorrect, but if they deliver that to your professor, they'll be admitting that they let us run rampant and weren't watching you. Also, they'll probably end up on an expensive and unnecessary mission to our HQ to retrieve your phone. It forces them to be complicit in your cover-up or end up admitting to negligence and being subjected to major inconvenience themselves. It's the perfect evil plan!"
Spark mulled it over for a couple seconds while Arlo snickered to himself and held his fingers in a tent in front of his mouth, his glasses turned to opaque glow mode. This was it. He had finally corrupted the other leader. Spark's response was to pick up the hoodie Elaphe gave him from the floor, put it on with the hood up, and make his best impression of an evil laugh himself before enclosing Arlo in a hug.
"You're such a bad influence." He reached out a hand to ruffle the Go Rocket leader's hair before letting him go. "I love you so much. Also, how the heck do you do that with your glasses without blinding yourself?"
"If I told you, I'd have to kill you."
"Yeah, that checks out."
Spark paused for a moment, staring into space before turning towards Arlo.
"Wait, wouldn't it make more sense if I'm going to spend the whole day hiding from my coworkers to, uh, not go to the park where they're going to be? That seems like it negates the whole purpose of hiding from them."
"The purpose isn't to not be detected, Spark. The purpose is to keep them complicit in your cover-up and avoid inconvenience. If you're actually absent from one of the biggest events of the year, that's much harder for your colleagues to decide not to notice." Arlo reached up a hand to smooth his hair while looking over Spark's outfit. "So, is that what you're going to wear? I mean, it looks good on you, but there's probably something in your bureaucratic guidelines about staying in uniform or whatever."
"You know damn well what happens if you wear a black hoodie all day in summer without washing it. I looked for the laundry room last night while you were on your computer, but couldn't find it."
"Point taken. I suppose that means I should wear something else, too. I just wear this hoodie for everything and don't really notice. I only wash it when I get blood on it, which happens more often than you'd think. Besides, if you're wearing a shirt under it, it's no big deal."
"You continue to wow me with the extent of your depravity."
"Heh, you'd better believe it. But seriously, will you get in trouble with any of your executives if you show up out of uniform?"
"No more trouble than I'm already in. Also, most of my team leader cred comes from my outfit, my hair, and how I present myself. If I wear something different, change my walk style, and keep the hoodie up, I don't think many of the trainers are likely to recognize me, which means we can be alone." Spark suggestively raised and lowered his eyebrows while unsubtly looking down Arlo's chest, successfully getting the other team leader to avert his eyes and blush, which they loved.
"Well, if that's what you've got in mind, I suppose I can show you my true power...go down to the garage. I'll change and then we'll meet at my car. The others aren't going to be leaving for about an hour so we should be able to make it to the park and find a good spot before they show up and your folks notice you're missing."
After Spark shut the door behind him, Arlo opened his closet door and dug through several layers of multi-stacked milk crates filled with CDs, various stolen items from Pokestops, and an emergency supply of protein bars which he'd intended to use when he forgot to eat, but then forgot he had, so they'd been sitting in a milk crate in his closet for...probably going on 2 years now. At the very bottom of his closet lay a black plastic box labeled "Orre Stuff" that he hadn't looked in ever since joining Team GO Rocket. To be honest, he wasn't totally sure why he brought it to HQ in the first place. The top of the box held a gift certificate to any store in the Gateon Mall with an expiration date in 2016. He'd already used it to pay for the box's contents. Why had he kept it? Arlo had seen a news update that the Gateon Mall was closing in 2020 due to mass emigration out of the region, which didn't especially surprise him given its state back when he lived there. He picked up the gift certificate, intending to put it on his nightstand as a reminder to throw it away, but as he raised it, a bright red sticky note fluttered to the floor at his feet.
"Hey, Emo Trashlord —
Cleaning out my desk so I can finally skip this dump whenever something worthwhile comes up. I've been searching the tubes for it for months. By the way, when I find a way to get out of here, you're coming with me. Anyway, I found this from a benefit I got last year instead of a raise, totally forgot it had happened, and realized that this expires next week, I haven't used it, and isn't your birthday coming up? Bring your CDs, I finally got my car stereo fixed and I'm pretty sure I saw a sale on pants at Subject Debate."
Arlo had to squint a bit in order to read the handwriting, scrawled with a sharp slant by a hand commanded by a mind buzzing with who knows what at the time. Letters ran together, there was a visible smudge on the left side from where Candela had rested her hand on the sticky note like she always did when she wrote, and midway through she couldn't decide if she was writing in cursive or not. It looked like she sounded. It was fast and rambling and addressed him as Emo Trashlord, but there was warmth in it. She'd thought of him and thought she'd take him to go shopping for clothes for his birthday and they could drive through the desert listening to Bring Me The Horizon. It was that day that she'd introduced him to the joys of late night cupcakes.
They'd ended up leaving for the mall a little bit later than they intended. She'd been out for a run when she got his text and her car pulled up to the Pokemon Center where he was staying with her behind the wheel in a sports bra, smoke drifting out the window and Demolition Lovers blasting from the stereo. That was one of his CDs; she'd forgotten to return it. He didn't especially mind. The smoke mixed with sweat. Her breaths came heavily and after she put down the joint, she produced a bottle of some bright red sports drink from the glove compartment, the patterns showing that she'd frozen the whole bottle and then stashed it in her car for that purpose. She passed him the joint, he coughed and sputtered while she laughed at his expense, told him he needed to breathe in more deeply, let it sink through him.
The CD player buzzed, letting them know the CD had reached its end. She tasted like that bright red sports drink, rendered saltier with sweat. The liquid on their foreheads mixed. Somehow, they ended up in the back seat; she collapsed the seats so they'd have more room. They'd fought with each other before, they'd wrestled each other to the ground, but never like this. She pinned him to the floor, unzipped his hoodie and started exploring what lay below, but just as her hands started trending southward, Arlo had a realization that he'd known for a while but didn't quite have the courage to state until now, backed by the crimson light of the desert sun in that shitty parking lot. The zipper on his fly had been halfway undone as he chimed in.
"Uh, before you go any further, do you like guys? I don't know if you know this, but...I am one."
"Are you coming on to me or coming out to me?"
"Uh, yeah. I'm...trans. The name's Arlo. He/him pronouns."
"What, did you only get to the 'A' section in the baby name book I saw you with?"
"So what if I did? It's a...good name. It spoke to me."
His voice trailed off at the end of that sentence as they were both struck by the fact of the situation. They were covered in sweat in the back of a hot car in the desert, off both of their faces, and exploring each other's bodies to the sound of the CD player urgently trying to inform them that the CD was over and they needed to change discs. It was one of Arlo's CDs that he'd left in Candela's car and she'd never returned. It was hilarious. The whole thing was hilarious. Candela started asking if, given that he'd just come out, if he was still interested in continuing with their current line of questioning, but before she could get past it, she broke down laughing, and Arlo quickly joined her. They got back in the front seat of the car, went down to the Sleepless Bakery, and hung out in the alley behind a shopping center, laughing with each other about nothing in particular, sloppily making out, and rocking out to whatever the fuck was on both of their CDs. They must have gone through both of their entire music libraries. By the time they were coherent enough for Candela to return to the Pokemon Center she got her lodgings and work at, it was long past closing time for the mall, but she promised they could go the following day and then they could finish the line of questioning that had been interrupted in the back of her car. After all, seeing as Arlo was a guy and Candela did, in fact, like guys, it was the perfect opportunity for a makeover.
They only used half of the gift certificate at Subject Debate; the other half went towards getting Arlo a new haircut and, as Candela said herself, the douchiest pair of sunglasses she could find. He misplaced the rest of the fratbro paraphernalia while they were rooming together in the dorms that housed the competitors for the Team Valor tournament. He'd gotten away with it because his registration still had the wrong information and it served as a loophole in the single-sex dorms. Somewhere along the way, the sunglasses and collared shirts on which the collars were always popped had gone missing during the course of the tournament and all of the late nights he spent posturing, but the rest of the clothes that Candela bought with that gift certificate remained. She'd shown him how to use a cloth strip wrapping technique she'd learned at boarding school in Johto to bind his chest so he could try on shirts better, which held him over until he could actually get measurements and order a binder. He did try on the shirts among other things and felt like he looked good in them for the first time in his life. Candela enthusiastically agreed. Once the pair had left the mall, they didn't stay on long. On the bus to the tournament, there wasn't any of the awkwardness that Arlo had initially expected. It wasn't like his last partner. Maybe it was that he was able to be openly himself with her. Or just that she was really good in bed.
Arlo's phone buzzed against his nightstand with a text from Spark asking if he'd changed yet. Arlo broke from his reverie and considered crumpling up the sticky note and throwing it away, but instead, he reattached it to the gift certificate and put both back in the box before pulling out his chosen outfit, revealing it to the light of day for the first time in 6 years.