After breakfast, Arlo leafed through his notifications, but they'd dried up since that night. Evidently, no one was willing to engage with him on the subject of his karaoke and concert shenanigans, which he knew from his study of rhetoric meant that he'd won. Satisfied with the show of his power, he decided that it would be fun to demonstrate it to his original hater. That being Candela, the reason he turned to evil and the one who brought him into his ongoing fall from grace. Well, she created him, so she should be overjoyed to see the results of her actions.
Arlo's sports car rolled up into Team Valor HQ and he rang the doorbell, tapping his foot against the entrance sidewalk. He still had a valid keycard since he'd been a member back in the day and Candela hadn't bothered to delete him from the team's systems, but he wanted her to come down to meet him and to see the look on her face when she saw him having arrived unannounced. Once she came down, the look he was evidently so anticipating was a blank stare, traveling up and down his body and pausing on the array of leather strips on his chest that could only be called a "shirt" in that his nipples were covered and the detailed full sleeves on both of his arms, vibrantly colored with only the finest of bulk-purchased permanent markers.
"What. Are. You. Doing."
"Hey. Missed me?" Arlo unsubtly winked at Candela, prompting a confused tilt of her head.
"Now I get why Blanche said that Spark brought you in for an animum scan because you were acting weird. Fine. Come in. It's not like I can stop you."
"Maybe because you know you don't really want to?"
Arlo sidled up next to Candela, not quite making direct physical contact, but still closer than, in her experience, he had any reason to, or wanted to get to anyone other than Spark. She stepped back towards the wall, which he followed, and hesitated in her response.
"Uh, are you feeling okay? Because if you keep this up, you're going to feel very not okay in the near future."
"Keep what up? Is this not an appropriate response to a beautiful woman?"
Arlo approached even closer and placed one hand against the wall Candela was backed against, reaching out the other towards her hair. She intercepted it midway through and grabbed Arlo's wrist, stopping him before he could make contact and glaring at him.
"Allow me to introduce myself, since it seems like your memory's shot. Hi. I'm Candela. I'm your evil ex who does terrible things to people's genitals if they don't leave her alone. Apparently, you've forgotten that."
"You can do terrible things to my genitals any time, babe. Your once and future king is here."
Candela dug her nails into Arlo's wrist, prompting him to wince back, withdrawing the offending appendage and stepping back from the wall. Her glare remained unflinching.
"I don't know what you're doing. I don't really want to. By the way, most kids leave their drawing-on-their-face stage at, like, age 7, but I digress. The door is that way. I'm going to count to 3, and when I'm done, I want you to be out of it, in your car, and on your way to...somewhere else. Understood?"
"Fine. You know you can't stay away, besides."
Arlo punctuated his final statement with an unsubtle wink, prompting no visible response. Candela crossed her arms over her chest and maintained her glare at him, tapping her foot impatiently, with the implication that if he didn't leave while she gave him the countdown, it would be traveling upward and into his crotch.
Whatever part of Arlo kept control of his self-preservation got the message and left for his car, growling the whole time. Who did she think she was? She should be thrilled that he was interested again. After all, it's not like anyone else would be. Meanwhile, Candela closed herself in her room, deciding that she'd filled her human interaction quota for the day, and realized that Spark was probably right with his panicked texts to her about how strange Arlo was acting. Reluctantly, she tapped Blanche's contact in her phone and called them with the latest news.
"Hey, so Spark brought Arlo in because he was acting weird, right?"
"Indeed. I did not notice anything out of the ordinary in his animum scan, though."
"Well, he just walked into Valor HQ like he owned the place and started hitting on me, so you might want to scan again."
"He addressed me as 'babe'. And also called himself my 'once and future king' and was wearing some stuff I haven't seen him with in years."
"Was there anything particularly unusual in his outfit?"
"Well, other than enough metal to outfit a small medieval army and what I'm pretty sure was a BDSM harness, he had this stupid anime dog-boy ears headband. A black, fuzzy, glittery set of dog or wolf or something ears. It didn't match the rest of him."
"Bizarre. I have also been getting reports from trainers that his takeovers have been different lately. Perhaps Spark's concerns really had merit...keep me posted. I'm not willing to do any more invasive scans until there's a demonstrable danger to himself or others."
"Well, he's going to pose a danger to himself if he comes my way like this again."
That evening, Arlo was lying face-down on his bed, listening to The Drug In Me Is You, stewing in his rejection, and thinking about Candela. More specifically, about her physical merits. And by those, he meant breasts. Sure, Spark was cute and nice and supportive and he could assert his control over him, but he was particularly lacking in that area. Arlo's rejection had prompted him to decide that he craved female attention, so he opened a private browsing window on his phone and looked up where he could find that sort of thing, happening upon an establishment solely entitled Unveil that promised ample accommodations in the area that held his interest. He texted Spark that he was coming their way and pulled up into Team Instinct HQ's parking garage once again.
"Get in. We're going to have some fun."
"Oh, are we going to the movies? There's this new Mystery Dungeon sequel I've been dying to see."
"I was thinking something a little more...live-action."
"The community theater? I wasn't aware they had any productions going on right now."
As they drove, spurred on by the navigation on Arlo's phone, Spark glanced out the window, confused about where they were going. They'd already gone past the college district, with the Sleepless Bakery included, and were rapidly leaving the subdivision that hosted Anime At The Park and the Kantonian district where they'd gone to the night market on his birthday the previous year. The businesses' buildings got smaller, the signs got less elaborate, the sidewalks less maintained, and the graffiti cruder as they advanced, until they pulled into the cracked, weed-strewn parking lot of a small shopping center, in which all but 3 establishments were empty and either boarded up or bearing broken windows and thriving Rattata populations. Those 3 consisted of Unveil, a store with a sign that solely said "LIQUORS", and a 24-hour convenience store advertising "cheap beer, cigs, snacks, and vapes". Spark assumed that they'd gotten lost and pulled in to turn around, but Arlo seemed confident and opened the door to exit. Spark followed, but tapped his shoulder before they went in anywhere.
"My liege? Are you sure we're in the right place?"
Arlo silently grabbed Spark's hand and dragged him into Unveil, at which they sat down at a table, Arlo ordered a powerful drink and a plate of jalapeno poppers, and Spark glanced around the dark room in confusion, unable to understand what drew Arlo to this out-of-the-way location as opposed to a closer bar. Then a multicolored string of LED lights turned on before they changed to white left-to-right and unseen loudspeakers announced the night's main event before transitioning to pounding dance music.
"Ladies, gentlemen, and nonbinary patrons, give it up for...Radical Rita!"
Against the pounding dance music and lights, a woman in a strapless one-shoulder dress composed of several seemingly separate and non-reinforced lines of fabric emerged onto the stage and approached a pole that stood in the center of it, grabbing onto it with all of the phallic symbolism that implied, waving toward an enthusiastic audience, and beginning to twirl around it. Spark, while understanding of the training and upper body strength Rita's performance required, carefully looked away and remained supremely focused on the jalapeno poppers while Arlo stared up at the stage, enraptured as the first of the parts of Rita's dress peeled off around the pole, prompting cheers and throwing bills onto the stage from the patrons. Spark tapped Arlo's shoulder, getting him to notice their presence but still not looking away.
"So, does someone you know work here and you're here to support them?"
"No. I just...felt like taking in the spectacle."
"Right. You know, as your boyfriend, I understand that it doesn't necessarily mean any offense for you to find someone else attractive in a hypothetical sense, but it does make me a bit uncomfortable that you're seeking this sort of thing out in person."
Spark turned around after he didn't get a response from Arlo to find that while he was voicing his concern, Arlo had wandered over to the other side of the stage to get a closer look at the display. Rita stood on the side of the stage, about a third of her dress removed, and looked confused as Arlo presented her with a wad of bills and made some instructions and hand gestures in her direction that Spark didn't hear, but didn't have to. Rita reluctantly reached out for the bills, before freezing when the club's bouncer approached and, in a scene that had become far too familiar to Spark, picked up Arlo by one of the straps on his harness and carried him back to their table, presenting him to Spark with a sheepish grin.
"He came dangerously close to violating our 'look, but don't touch' policy. Clearly he's had a little too much. How about you take your leave for the night?"
"All right, but we haven't finished our food..."
"Look, pretty boy. That wasn't a suggestion. And if I see your smarmy little boyfriend messing around with our ladies again, I'm not going to be nearly as gentle."
After Spark collected Arlo and brought him back to the car, which Spark drove because Arlo was still evidently drunk, they sat in complete silence over the entire drive back to drop him off, refusing to look at or talk to him despite his insistence that he didn't mean any offense and was just enjoying a performance; he didn't understand why Spark was taking it so hard. Spark hoped to all relevant powers that Arlo was under the control of an external force and the man who'd made those unheard solicitations truly wasn't his boyfriend, because if he wasn't, they'd need to have some serious words with him.