At Team Mystic HQ, Spark was leading an impromptu meeting, with his laptop, filled with unprecedentedly detailed notes on his and Arlo's recent activities and Arlo's bizarre behavior, being passed around the table. As Blanche scrolled through the notes, they stammered in disbelief, only to resign themself to the prospect when Candela backed up Spark's assertions with the anecdote of Arlo not only having made moves on her at her HQ the previous day's afternoon, he also came over later that night riding on his Salamence and tried to get in through her window, only to get distracted yelling at Tia when her tail nearly knocked off his headband. Spark, in turn, reported that Arlo had even started wearing the headband while sleeping and overall, seemed immensely attached to it, despite it not matching the rest of his style. As he and Candela commiserated, Blanche eventually ended up slamming their hand against the table to bring them to silence and deliver the closest thing to an answer they had in regards to Arlo's behavior and the role of that mysterious headband.
"Order! Please. We won't get anything done if you both become tense over this. While I still don't believe that Arlo is experiencing any kind of animum interference, it is undoubtable that something strange is going on. What I believe has happened, based on Spark's notes, is that he has put himself into something akin to a hypnotic state, probably in response to wanting to be more 'evil' after his performance review. The headband, as the first new stimulus he encountered after waking up from the trance, has evidently become the trigger to put him into this state."
"So if we can separate him from the headband, he'll be back to normal?"
"While this makes no semblance of sense, I believe that would be the case based on what you have described."
"Uh, Blanche, I hate to burst your 'it's all just psychology' bubble, but I read that hypnosis can't make you do anything you wouldn't do of your own free will, and Arlo knows damn well he can't hit on me and live."
"You have a good point, Candela. Him demonstrating any semblance of infidelity or hostility towards Spark is unlike him, undoubtedly, and can not be solely explained by a loss of inhibitions. Regardless, it appears that whatever his anomalous state is, it is linked to the headband, so if we can separate it from him and ideally, destroy it, he should be back to the mostly harmless edgelord we know and love."
"How are we going to do that, though? He keeps it on his person all the time, and actually growled at me in his sleep once when I tried taking it off him."
"Hmm. Perhaps we can have someone or something that he cannot physically overpower remove it from him. I am sure Cliff would be willing to help if we explained the situation."
"You know, Blanche, you're being a little too strong on the magical thinking here."
"Glad to hear you finally properly participating, Candela. Explain your reasoning."
"Well, sure, Spark has the one story about him snapping out of his trance when the headband fell off, but what makes you think it's really the headband that's making him all Ronnified and not him? What if he's just being an asshole for kicks and the headband's a coincidence?"
Blanche paused and placed their hand on their chin while they remained lost in thought. Candela fired a smirk in Spark's direction, which prompted him to reclaim his laptop and dramatically close it, slapping his hand down on top of it for emphasis.
"I know Arlo, and that's not my boyfriend. There's something messing with him, and I'm going to get my Arlo back."
"Fine, whatever. Just don't be surprised if taking his headband just pisses him off more. Anyway, I'm out."
"I believe we have discussed all we need to in this meeting. Spark, do not worry. We will return Arlo to you safely."
"You'd better. I'm worried that if he keeps up like this, he's going to piss off the wrong person and get himself killed."
Spark returned to his own headquarters, frustrated at the lack of results from the meeting. He dramatically flopped down onto his bed and loudly sighed, prompting his Luxray to come in and lay down next to him. He started petting it and spoke nominally to it, but really towards the ceiling.
"I just don't know, Luxie. Like, I want to say that he is possessed or hypnotized or something, but what if this really is him? Candela did say that he used to be a total jerk back when she was dating him. What if all of his improvement was a lie and he's right back to his old patterns? If that's the case, then what does it mean for us? Was there ever really an 'us'? And what does it say about me that I stayed with him without noticing the red flags?"
The Luxray meowed at him, slightly shifting its position to better catch Spark's body heat.
"Yeah, you're right! I know Arlo, and that's not him. I'm going to save my boyfriend. Come on, we're going to go see him and tell him straight-up that this can't go on!"
Spark, now invigorated, rushed out the door...and was stopped by a text from Arlo stating that he had a tattoo appointment at the same parlor they'd gone to earlier that week in an hour and he wanted Spark there for moral support. He paid up front, so he was already committed. Spark sighed and let Arlo know that he could come pick him up. Saving him would have to wait. Hopefully he could at least talk him down from getting a tattoo on his face. He could live with just about anywhere else, but he was rather fond of Arlo's face in its unembellished state.
At the tattoo parlor, Spark sat back in the waiting room chair while Arlo confidently approached the clerk, stated his appointment time, and asked if Spark would be allowed to come back with him to provide moral support. The clerk briefly left their post to check with the artist on staff before nodding and letting them both in. Arlo sat down and showed the artist a picture on his phone when they asked what he wanted. They nodded, and turned to their table of equipment to ready the needle, casually talking to no one in particular while they did so.
"You know, my personal policy is not to get tattoos of bands or anything unless the artist's dead. That way I don't have them on my body forever if they turn out to be racist or boinking underage fans or something. But hey, you do you! I get paid either way."
The artist readied the needle, asking Arlo if he was ready. He nodded, entirely unfazed, and stated that he could take anything, but they still handed him a stress ball and instructed him to squeeze it in his other hand if it hurt. Once the neele was prepared and Arlo had a firm grip on the stress ball, the artist started drawing.
As soon as the needle touched Arlo's skin, he let out a piercing, surprisingly high-pitched given his vocal range as of late scream and grabbed on tightly to the stress ball. So tightly that both Spark and the tattoo artist's eyes reflexively darted in the direction of his hand to place a bizarre banging noise, which turned out to be the stress ball exploding from the pressure. Arlo continued to scream, tightly clenching his now empty hand, and Spark approached to give him their hand to squeeze. He did, quickly regretting it when he started noticing the blood and color draining from his hand and his fingers made some disturbing cracking noises punctuating searing pain. Arlo, even with Spark's support, continued to scream like he was being murdered and/or giving birth while the artist continued on his arm. The other customer on their right scoffed about first timers before returning to looking at their phone while their artist worked on part of an elaborate scene on their back. Spark and Arlo's attendant smiled in Spark's direction, which he didn't really register due to the blinding pain.
"Noisy, huh? He must be fun in bed. My first girlfriend was like that. Woke up the apartment neighbors every time we went at it. We had to move when some science wacko across the street got an elliptical reflector dish."
Spark normally would have responded to the unwanted inquiry into his sex life, but was distracted for obvious reasons. After what seemed like an eternity, Arlo's tattoo had been completed and having completely pivoted from the wreck he was while it was being applied, he thanked the artist upon seeing how the design turned out and attentively nodded in response to their instructions on how to keep it clean and what to expect after the endorphins wore off. He let go of Spark's hand, and with it now free, they proceeded to clutch it, hoping to feel the blood returning to it.
"How are you feeling, my liege? Are you okay to drive?"
"Yeah, my arm hurts, but I feel pretty good otherwise. Nice to get this off the bucket list. I'll drop you off at your place on the way back."
Once Spark was dropped off, before preparing for bed, his first stop was to the restroom for a first aid kit, where he fully wrapped up his hand and sealed it with a bandage, which seemed to be enough to get the throbbing to stop. Based on the pain while he was wrapping the bandages around his hand and whenever he tried to move one of his fingers, he wasn't totally sure that Arlo hadn't broken at least one of them. Spark had to say they were impressed at his grip strength, giving Arlo's general lack of size and musculature.