Guys Being Dudes

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9 | Your Latest Fashion

"Well, someone's certainly making himself a provocative topic, huh?" Spark, leaned against the garage wall next to Arlo's car, scanned the GO Rocket leader's outfit with widened eyes. "Somehow, this is both surprising and completely in character."

The first thing that struck an onlooker about Arlo's chosen outfit was its state of mutilation. Some aspects of it had been intentionally destroyed either by Arlo himself or at the factory, such as the distressed surface of the right side of his pants and the sleeves that had been cut off of his shirt. Others, such as the chain on the left side of his pants that had several links broken and replaced by safety pins and the visible patches, also on the left side, distinguished by their off-sync as compared to the rest of the garment patterning of black and red plaid, were unintentional as a result of those very pants being his trademark during the Team Valor leadership tournament. The second thing that struck an onlooker was the design of his shirt, which featured a design of Cypher's original Shadow Lugia in the style of a classical Kantonian painting in white outlines against a black backdrop. The lines were marked with red and purple chromatic aberration effects and framed by text in the same shades. The vertical column, in a bold, digital-looking font composed of sharp straight lines, read XD001, with the 0s styled to have lines running through them, down the entire right vertical surface of the shirt. Horizontally, crossing the lines of the Lugia and starting an inch before the XD001 text ended, lay similarly sharp text that was intended to read "Subject Debate" in Kantonian, but actually meant "sex scandal". That, combined with Candela's pointing out that the shirt was grossly inappropriate seeing as she knew people who had been killed in the attacks from XD001, was what led Arlo to purchase the shirt in the first place. The outfit was topped off by a pair of entirely superfluous black faux-leather gloves.

Arlo smirked, watching Spark's eyes linger on his chest, the outlines produced by his binder accentuated by the state of the shirt's sleeves or lack thereof by design. "What? I do own clothes other than my hoodie, you know."

Spark's face flushed and he stuttered slightly. "No, it's not that. I just...didn't take you for a flannel guy. The half-and-half on the pants is neat, though; it goes really well with the black/red/purple action on your shirt."

"You know, I haven't worn this since turning to the dark side. Guess it was some combo of being depressed, not wanting to remember how I got this on a shopping trip with Candela when she insisted I needed a makeover after I came out to her, and the fact that once I was actually evil, there wasn't any need for mall-goth posturing, but it does look remarkably good on me, I must admit. Maybe I'll wear it more often when I'm not on the job."

"You should. The sort of muscle tank with the thick sleeves and the crew-cut neck really emphasizes your strong chin and the distressed action is a nice contrast with the nerd glasses."

"Oh, come on, you're into fashion? Are you really going to give into the stereotype?"

Spark sharply exhaled out of his nose the way that people did when they felt like laughing but didn't want it to come out for whatever reason. "As if you're any less of one, Mr. Trashlord. Come on, you dork. Let's drive before you get distracted."

"Where in the name of whatever's listening is Spark? He hasn't seen any of the messages I sent him about the meeting this morning and I haven't seen him around, but I think I'd get some information from the Team Instinct lounge if he were missing."

Blanche ranted to no one in particular while pacing the perimeter of the Team Mystic tent, periodically stopping to make sure that the inflatable chairs were fully inflated, that microphones worked for announcements, and that everything was set up with reinforcement to ensure it stood even in the (based on the forecast extremely unlikely) event of sudden gusts of wind. Blanche had checked all of these things at least 5 times in the prior 10 minutes. The trainers would be let in for Go Fest in 1 hour and Spark had not yet arrived. By Blanche's standards, that was practically late. Candela leaned against the back of the tent, looking like she didn't want to be there, probably because she didn't. Blanche had specifically gone into Valor HQ and grabbed her after the emergency meeting concerning Professor Willow's disappearance, to which the Team Valor leader had, of course, arrived late. She scoffed as Blanche rounded a corner to pass her, leading them to stop in their path.

"And what are you doing to help set up? Should you not be in the Valor team lounge ensuring everything is safe and functioning properly?"

"I set it up last night. It's fine. Also, unlike you, I don't think I'm going to need to give any Powerpoints." She gestured toward the microphone before shaking her head. "Seriously. The trainers only go in here when they need to charge their phones or sleep something off. S'long as the tent doesn't fall down on them, they don't care about anything else."

Candela continued to stare Blanche down, clearly expecting the Team Mystic leader to continue their rounds so she could return to rolling her eyes and sighing at everything. Blanche would have none of this. If Candela had chosen to interrupt their deliberation over how the hell they were supposed to manage both this event and all of the duties Professor Willow normally covered (as the one operative they'd trust with any of such), she could hardly complain about Blanche engaging her in conversation. Either she'd open up about what was bothering her or she'd leave. Either outcome would be favorable for Blanche's productivity.

"Forgive me for asking this, but are you...okay?"

"What the hell are you talking about? I'm pissed off because you woke me up at 7 in the goddamn morning for what could have been an email."

"Our beloved professor vanishing into an alternate dimension full of creatures with powerful and deadly neurotoxins and completely lacking in food and water could have been an email."

"Well, it's not like we can do anything about that!"

Blanche sighed. "Fair point. But we both know that's not the primary source of your current emotional state. While I think that everyone involved is highly immature —"

"—about this or just in general?"

"Don't interrupt me. And yes. As I was saying, while I think you all have better things to worry about, I do understand why Spark dating Arlo troubles you. Seeing someone you care about engaged with someone you know to have historically been bad for you distresses you. You don't want Spark to repeat your mistakes and get hurt also."

Candela's only response to this was to murmur something Blanche didn't care to process, but gathered was obscene from context, and rolled their eyes.

"...or I'm overestimating your levels of empathy and you are annoyed at Spark for what you perceive as taking what is rightfully yours, or, how did you put it? A violation of the Bro Code?"

"It's not really Spark. He doesn't know any better. I mean, you saw his ex. You know, the one who was a supervillain, probably a snake person, and totally gay?"

"You do know that I am currently in a committed relationship with his ex. At least the 'totally gay' part is confirmed. I will not disclose anything concerning their ophidian status or supervillainy." Blanche smiled slightly and some small amount of heat distributed itself across their cheeks. Candela smirked at the sight of it. Their fellow team leader absolutely had it bad. "Apologies. Go on."

"Like, I get that he showed all evidence of legitimately having it bad, and I would know, when we interviewed him, but I can't shake the feeling that Arlo isn't really in it for the long haul. Even if this isn't part of some sort of convoluted evil plan, which I'm still not convinced it's not, he doesn't strike me as the type to be much for commitment or responsibility."

"So he's just like you?"

"Yeah, I love the guys who hate to love me." Candela blinked a few times, as though realizing what had just come out of her mouth without any input from her brain. "Ugh, I don't even really like that album. Sure, the music's okay, but Ronnie's arrogant assholery permeates it in every way. Did you know that I actually had a fight with Arlo, as in a Pokemon battle, once because I said This War Is Ours was better?"

"Well, that whole situation is irrelevant now. It's the present and Arlo really does appear to be attached to Spark and vice versa."

"Was...that a reference? I can't tell. You do call things irrelevant a lot, and you don't strike me as the type to listen to...but Elaphe..."

"I guess you'll never know. Anyway, you really should go check on things in your own team lounge. I think I'm just about finished here and Brandon says he'll be here in 5 minutes in case anyone shows up early, so I can come with you and we can keep talking. How does that sound? We should also check the Instinct tent just in case Spark doesn't make it."

Arlo's car pulled into the back of the shopping center the Team GO Rocket van had parked at the day prior, carefully obscured from outside view by a near-overflowing dumpster. He turned to Spark after disabling the Bluetooth connection from his phone so they could hear.

"So, how do you want to do this? As you said, Blanche tends to show up early and if Candela was at the meeting, it's likely they dragged her with them, so entering through the park isn't necessarily an option."

Spark pulled up something, presumably a map on Arlo's phone, and made a zooming in motion along with some quick flicks across the screen to scroll.

"Okay, I used to go here to exercise my Pokemon back before we chose it as a venue, so I think that unless they've blocked the other entrances for the event, if we go through the greenway entrance, we can get to this really nice old playground that I used to use when I wanted to be alone and you can turn on your location services for just long enough to show Blanche and Candela that we are, in fact, at the park, and as you said, force them to be complicit in our cover-up."

Spark placed a pin on the map on the phone screen and then handed it to Arlo. "Here you go. I know that you'll feel better if you're the one with the power, plus my sense of direction is...kinda bad so it's probably best to have someone else navigate. Plus your phone."

Arlo lifted up his glasses so he could see details on the screen better and zoomed in on the pin, making a circular motion to see what roads were around it. "Okay, I think I know what you're talking about. There's a Pokestop down there that's just far enough away from the rest in the park to be really annoying to get to if I also have takeovers due in the main park. I'm hoping I can figure out how to hack Pokestops remotely just for cases like that. Anyway, we're walking. Can't risk someone recognizing my car. I parked where I did specifically because I know this isn't visible from the road in any direction. So, like, if you ever need to do a drug deal..."

Arlo turned off the car, placed the keys in one of his pants' many pockets, double-checked to make sure he'd turned off the lights, and pushed himself out with a somewhat excessive degree of enthusiasm. Spark exited in a more reasonable fashion and the couple left the parking lot, heading towards a suburban cul-de-sac which apparently had a connecting trail to the greenway that lead into the park. Every time he had takeovers in this region, Arlo contemplated who the hell had planned this city. A standard cut-and-paste suburb and lackluster shopping center right next to the big downtown park? What were they thinking? And how did they manage property taxes? He was so lost in this renewed contemplation while pressing on toward the greenway following the instructions stated on his phone's navigation app that he missed Spark calling after him from most of the length of the sidewalk behind him, asking him to slow down and let the Team Instinct leader catch up. This was a regular problem whenever Arlo walked with others. Despite having short legs, along with his short rest of him, his determination to get where he was going and disregard for any environmental obstacles usually resulted in some combination of whoever he was traveling with being left behind and him colliding with either pedestrians or low-hanging tree branches. Whenever he went for Strange Egg walks with Sierra, she and/or Houndoom put themselves in charge of reminding him about obstacles. Arlo stopped, calling after Spark as he approached.

"You're like, a foot taller than me and doing a lot of walking is literally your job. How the hell am I faster than you?"

Spark came up to his side, figuring that would be easier for him to coordinate his speed with, and replied. "Shit, I don't even know. Your screamo kid body evidently contains incredible power. Like, you just...go. You are filled with determination. Valor, some might say."

Arlo lightly punched them in the arm at the reference to his former affiliation. "Stop it."

He said this in an exaggerated enough tone that it was clear to both participants that he did not, in fact, want Spark to stop. "That whole situation is irrelevant now. You love the way that I tease, I love the way you breathe, you know how it goes."

"And I'm sure you love to hate Candela so much because she's just like you. Wait...does the sentence 'I hate the ones who love to hate because they're just like me' mean that you hate them because their tendencies to love to hate are just like yours or that they love to hate you because you're just like them, and you hate that?"

"I love you so much. And I'm pretty sure that it's 'I love to hate them because their tendencies to love to hate are just like mine' based on spacing, but that might just be to fit the rhythm scheme. Always hard to tell with lyrics. On that subject, what the fuck do we make of 'maybe they'll leave you alone but not me'? Is it 'they'll leave you alone, but I won't leave you alone' or 'they'll leave you alone, but they won't leave me alone'? And are 'they' the teenagers, the 'they' described previously, presumably society, or an unknown other entity or group?"

The duo spent the rest of their walk enthusiastically debating linguistic ambiguities in song lyrics from both of their music tastes, with such conclusions as that a 10-mile-wide hole would be very hard to dig to any substantial depth and would probably be easy to climb out of, so it's better to throw the members of your ex-band into a skinnier hole and that Ke$ha entering a party and then leaving would create a universe-destroying singularity. This wouldn't have been a line of thought Spark would pursue by himself, but his memories of the lyrics to Arlo's songs and simply loving to see his face and watch his brain work when he started rambling kept them on the topic even if they spent part of the discussion somewhat overwhelmed.

Once they'd gotten to the greenway, Spark felt more confident in his navigation by landmarks and took the lead, bringing the couple to what was clearly once a playground, but hadn't been maintained in quite a while. Sprigs of grass poked up through the wood shaving substrate and several Pokemon chittered and rushed back inside chewed-through holes in the play structure as their feet crunched against dried leaves. The rusted chain of the one swing that remained up creaked in the slight breeze. Arlo looked around and nodded approvingly in Spark's direction.

"Heh, nice, an abandoned playground. One of the classical symbols of angst. So, where are we going to sit?"

Spark gestured to the right, pointing at a somewhat dusty, but completely intact picnic table. This sparked, no pun intended, a sudden flash of memory in Arlo's mind.


"What is it? Or did you literally step in shit? It wouldn't be implausible; I used to come here to observe how the native Rattata dealt with the Alolan ones."

"I just remembered that we were supposed to have a picnic today, and I completely spaced on grabbing any food when we were back at HQ."

"I think I've got a protein bar in my bag..." Spark placed his bag on the table, stirring up a small cloud of dust, and rummaged through it until he pulled out the mentioned foodstuff, using a generous definition thereof. "Of course, there's only one of it."

Arlo sat down across the table from him. "I guess we could break it in half or—"

Spark bit into the protein bar and held it out across the table, looking at Arlo expectantly. "You'd think that for as many anime boy vibes you give off, you'd be familiar with the concept of an indirect kiss. Well, unless you're, like, actually uncomfortable with it since it is kinda unsanitary. There's a gas station down the block; we can go over there and get some snacks and have a picnic of sorts."

Arlo took the protein bar and bit into it, staring directly at Spark the whole time. "You've seen my room. Do you really think I'm that concerned about sanitation? I will take you up on going down to the ol' E&E, though."

"Yeah, all right. I did the little blip on your location services when we were navigating so I'll just turn that back off. And what does E&E stand for again? I get that they minimized their logo as part of that whole marketing stunt a couple years ago, but I know it used to stand for something and it's on the tip of my tongue and it bothers me that I'm not totally sure. I think it was...Exceptional Energy or something?"

"Yeah, that sounds about right. Personally, I transcribe it as Ejaculate and Evacuate."


"You know, bust a nut and off you strut. Blow your load and hit the road. Masturbate and leave the state."

"I get what you're saying, although I thought you meant 'evacuate' as in bowels, but what does that have to do with a gas station?"

"Spark, come on. Do you really think people go to 'truck stops' or 'rest areas' to literally stop their trucks or sleep?"

"Yes. I've slept in my car at rest areas before."

"Okay, but you're the exception. Let's be real. Think about the basic needs humans have to fulfill and the ones you can't meet while driving."

"Well, you really shouldn't eat or sleep at the wheel."

"But people totally do. However, the position of most car seats doesn't really work for certain...other things."

"Okay, I get that you didn't get the chance to be a preteen boy when you were a preteen so you're making up for lost time, but come on, man. Gas station bathrooms are there so folks can literally take care of business."

"So they're doing spreadsheets in there? I mean, I can see it. I've written code on the toilet before."

"Okay, fine, figuratively. But, like, yes, people totally do masturbate in gas station bathrooms, but I don't think that's the main purpose to a point of going on the sign. If you'd said that you meant 'evacuating' as in the bowels, I would have accepted it, but as in 'leave' I'm gonna have to call your bluff on."

"You're right, but evacuating as in the bowels I couldn't make a bunch of rhyming synonyms for."

"Fair enough."

By the end of their conversation, they were actively in the E&E and Arlo was pacing the snack aisles, prompting mixtures of confusion and annoyance from their fellow patrons. The argument concluded, Arlo snapped back to reality, looked around as though taking stock of where he was, and realized he should actually buy something. He sped down the aisles and picked up a bag of spicy dried meat, a can of Monster Energy, and a 2-pack of "cupcakes" that were probably roughly 60% compositionally identical to Styrofoam.

"I know you're probably going to say something about my nutrition, but this is basically what I eat for lunch a lot of the time so."

"Hey, I'm not going to get as on your ass about it as Blanche would. At some point, they literally started doing grocery orders on Candela's credit card for Valor HQ to make sure the Valors ate some vegetables. In my case, I'll pick up some chips. They're made of corn. It's basically a vegetable."

"As previously stated, I love you so much. So, uh, who's paying? Normally I'd say we both pay for ourselves, but this is kinda a date so...having the picnic was your idea, so I think it falls on you."

Spark rummaged through his bag before pulling out a credit card and made a mischievous grin. "Or we can say that this is an event expense and goes out of the lab funds."

"You really have gotten better at being evil. I'll turn you to the dark side yet."

The staff member behind the bullet-resistant transparent shield, unamused, tapped the credit card scanner, which was frantically flashing a message on the screen reminding Spark to tap the card. He did, and the duo returned to the park with their snacks.

Once they were back at the park, Arlo opened the bag of jerky and kept it in the middle of the table, both of their faces flushing whenever their hands touched when they both reached in at the same time. If his colleagues were there to witness it, they'd take it more as proof that he was, in fact, in love than any of his more blatant displays of affection. Cliff especially knew damn well that he didn't share his food with anyone. Once they'd finished the bag, Arlo opened the 2-pack of snack cakes, which they each took one of. Spark raised his up in some pastiche of a toast. Arlo giggled under his breath and tapped his against it before they both took their bites with maximal panache. Spark smiled and commented as he put his back down against the wrapper.

"You know, Elaphe always said that true love was having someone who complemented you. Who provided a counterpart to keep you in check and encourage you to be your best self. I think I might be changing my views on their statement. True love isn't about having someone who keeps you from doing stupid shit. It's about having someone to do stupid shit with. Cheers, you magnificent emo mess."

"With whom to do stupid shit."

After they both finished their snack cakes, they proceeded to get the crumbs off of each other's faces and maximize taste through a rather inefficient means. While they were clearly distracted, Candela emerged from the shadows and walked up the trail past the playground, sarcastically clapping. Blanche followed behind her, their furrowed brow and tensed body language suggesting they didn't appreciate her theatricality.

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