Arlo woke up in Spark's arms, got dressed, and sat down on the corner of the bed, inviting Spark to come up next to him.
"Okay, now that I've slept on it, you need to catch me up on some stuff. What's this on my arm, why is your hand covered in bandages, when did you get that choker, why do I have so many phone notifications, and what the fuck did I do?"
"Well...for the answer to the first thing, you got a tattoo."
"What? Like, a real one? The kind with needles? That inject ink under your skin which becomes part of you forever?"
"So I've got the Falling In Reverse initial-emblem thing on my left arm for the rest of my life."
"Well, you could schedule an appointment to remove it."
"Eh. It's not the worst thing I could have gotten a tattoo of and not remember having done so, and I don't think removal is covered under my insurance. So, the rest of my questions?"
"Well, why my hand's covered in bandages has the same reason as the tattoo. When you were getting it, the employee gave you a stress ball to squeeze in case it hurt. You, uh, proved to be too much for it, so you started squeezing my hand instead. I'm not totally sure you didn't break some of my fingers."
"Damn. So I guess making this thing a little less glaring against its backdrop by adding it to a full sleeve is out?"
"Not unless you can either do it without moral support or we can get you a muffler and a reinforced stress ball. Did I mention that I actually had to explain to some concerned citizens when you left that you weren't being murdered?"
"Well. Guess I didn't take it that well."
"Yeah...I'd be proud of you for facing your fear under, well, any other circumstance. Anyway, you gave me this choker at the start of the week. You were doing some sort of cool vampire roleplay thing and this represented that I belong to you."
"All right. I'm down with that. Uh, why are you still wearing it?"
"I couldn't find the failsafe and I don't have the key."
"Oh, it's that kind of choker. Let me check my pants..."
Arlo got out of bed and rummaged through his pile of laundry, locating a thin silver key in one of his jean pockets and handing it to Spark.
"Here you go."
"Thanks. Although, I was actually thinking of keeping this. It is pretty cute, and I kind of like the idea of being yours and having a token to that."
"Yeah, you can keep it if you want. It's just that you've got the key now so it's on your terms. Wait, the other me wasn't better in bed than me, right?"
"Uh, no. We didn't do anything past day 1, since after then, it started becoming clearer and clearer that you weren't really in the driver's seat."
"Well, that's not disturbing at all. So, what's with all the notifications? I don't even have a Twitter account."
"You do now. You, uh, got in some trouble, it got caught on video and got spread around the local scene, and you decided you needed to defend your honor against the 'haters'. Using that exact term."
"I started a flamewar with people...over something I did...and I called them 'haters'."
"Yep. The good news is that if you're still logged in, you can probably delete the account?"
"Yeah...anyway, in regards to what you did, here's the list of people you need to apologize to and places you're banned from. The good news is that most of them seemed pretty understanding, so I think if you explain that you weren't yourself at the time and maybe compensate them for any damages, you'll be off the hook."
"Well. The other me was certainly prolific. Both of our favorite dessert places, the sex shop, a couple bars...uh, isn't Unveil, like, a strip club? With...women?"
"Why did I go there?"
"You took me there and got...very invested in the stage show. You tell me."
"An entire local band, a karaoke bar...do I want to know why Candela and Sierra are on this list?"
"Sexual harassment. Also, I don't think the karaoke bar wants you back. I read that they're banning any metal-adjacent songs from their sets for the entire foreseeable future."
"Well, that seems excessive. And shit, I am so dead."
"I think if you tell them that you weren't yourself and properly apologize, they'll let you keep all your limbs."
"How am I supposed to apologize if I don't even know what I did? I was literally a different person when all of this allegedly happened."
"I'm willing to support you, but that's up to you. Accountability is the responsibility of anyone calling themself an adult."
"Yeah, I guess. Although I don't think demonic possession, or whatever it was, is in the usual 'adult' banner."
"Yeah, probably not."
Spark and Arlo shared a hug before Arlo opened up his laptop and started composing a script for future apologies, periodically handing it to Spark for his input. They were going to be okay. They could go on with their lives and there wouldn't be any future problems. After all, Spark was confident that everyone would be willing to offer a second chance if Arlo clearly showed a desire to improve. Well, except the karaoke bar. That was probably a lost cause.
Midway through planning out a route on the map to determine what the most efficient way to get to everywhere he'd been banned from to deliver his apologies in person would be, Arlo froze and spoke, without turning his head or anything else in Spark's direction.
"I think I've had an...epiphany. About evil, and my whole wanting to be evil after my performance review which made all of this happen."
"Well, I've been treating it like it's a subculture. Like an illustration of how edgy I am, you know? It's just something cool that I do as part of my job that doesn't have any bearing on who I am."
"But I'm realizing that it's not like that. Really evil people, like Giovanni and stuff, aren't cool, flashy supervillains. They're...assholes who don't care if their actions hurt people and don't make any effort to change. If they're ever called out for their behavior, they don't do any kind of self-examination and turn the blame on everyone but themselves. I...don't think I'm like that, anymore, and I don't think I want to be like that."
"Good for you. I don't think I want you to be like that either."
"Yeah. But it means I'm kind of lost on what I do now. Like, how do I reconcile my job and stuff with all of that? I may not be an asshole, but by working for Team Rocket and supplying Shadow Pokemon that Giovanni uses for his plans, doesn't that make me...asshole-adjacent? If I'm enabling his behavior, doesn't that make me just as bad?"
"No. You turned to this job because you had nowhere else to go, and you're not doing anything wrong yourself, right? After all, I know you take plenty of steps to make sure the Pokemon are safe and your formula doesn't hurt them."
"What someone else does with what you made isn't your fault. You're supplying a tool. If someone else uses that tool for evil, that's on them."
"I don't think that works if I've explicitly been told that they're for the evil plans of a self-identified evil organization and the tool wouldn't exist otherwise."
"I know, but you're not really talking about Giovanni, are you?"
"I guess not. Like, you know that I kind of joined Team Rocket because of Ronnie, right?"
"Yeah, you told me about how you had all your other reasons, but you responding to the breakup with Candela the way you did was influenced by his whole story from The Drug In Me Is You of his thing with his old band."
"It goes beyond that too. I'm sure Candela's told you how I was a misogynistic asshole back during the Team Valor tournament. Bragging about things Candela asked me not to share, agreeing with the other guys when they started talking about all the girls they'd scored with, going with them to seedy places and parties...it was a mess. I was a mess."
"You're not like that anymore, though, and you've made amends with Candela, or at least tried as much as she'll let you. The past is the past. You can't change it, but you can work to be better."
"Thing is, I'm not sure if I have. I was doing all of that because, well, I'd just come out and was trying so hard to be accepted as a guy and do what I thought my goal in being a guy would do. My goal in being a guy being, well..."
Arlo pointed in the direction of his nightstand, although the plushie was still face-down on the floor next to it.
"I became an asshole because of him. I felt a real personal connection to the story Ronnie was telling, about being rejected and failed by everyone who was supposed to watch out for him, and even though I knew that he was an asshole from day one and didn't keep any of his interpersonal problems or issues in check and really brought all of it on himself...I think somewhere along the way, I started believing that story. And applying it to myself. It used to be that it was just me thinking of it metaphorically with, like, my mom throwing me out and stuff, but I think I ended up conflating things that were me being a dick, like the whole Candela thing, with all of that. And I started defending Ronnie himself when folks brought that up. That was actually what Candela and I had that battle about."
"I thought that was because she said This War Is Ours was better."
"It nominally was, but it was really about Ronnie, and her pointing out that he's, like, abusive in every personal interaction of his we have documented. She had valid points. Hell, she was right! But I was thinking of insults to him as insults to me, and one thing led to another, and we ended up dragging our Pokemon to the center she worked at."
"Again, you can't change the past. But you can work to be better. You're not like that anymore and you've got a more nuanced understanding of your, and Ronnie's morals and actions. You can like his music and the fictional story he's telling without condoning his actions."
Spark stepped down from his position in bed and came up to hug Arlo from behind, which he seemed to appreciate.
"The thing is...I'm not sure if I can. Everything he writes is about his experience. It's not like someone playing a character in a movie or something. He may write a compelling angsty narrative about struggling with evil tendencies beyond his control and everyone rejecting him unjustly, but...aren't I condoning his acts of abuse and stuff if I go with that narrative with myself while knowing that he...believes it?"
"No. Songs are songs. Once they're out and about, they're not Ronnie's thoughts anymore. They're yours, and you can interpret them however you like. As soon as they went on Myspace or whatever, they belonged to the world. And the world can enjoy them with or without Ronnie."
"I guess that makes sense as long as he's not doing shit like Bad Girls Club or Right Now where he's specifically talking about things he did in real life. Thanks. Thing is, it's not just the songs. Even though I know that in real life, he'd probably call me slurs and throw me in a locker --"
"Uh, you're not in high school?"
"I feel like he'd find a locker specifically to throw me in. Hell, maybe he drags one around everywhere just in case."
"I thought he dragged a coffin with him?"
"Oh, he'd throw me in there too. Anyway, even though I know that it's weird since he's, like, a transphobic, misogynistic, just kind of hates everyone but him asshole, I see him as a bit of a symbol. He's confident. He doesn't care that he's 'evil'. And, well, he's cute and kind of my ultimate transition goal, aesthetically speaking. I've got a goddamned plushie of him! How is that not condoning his actions?"
"Again, it's pretty clear that it's the music you like, with Ronnie just being the personification of that. You like the conflicted genius struggling with an inner darkness portrayed in his songs, not the guy who threatens his critics on Twitter. I know there's a difference between those things. You know there's a difference between those things. You're aware of Ronnie's actions in real life and don't downplay or fetishize them. His creative output doesn't really have anything to do with his acts of interpersonal abuse, and you don't listen to the songs that do. What's the problem with liking how he looks? Really, the King or God or whatever of the Music Scene on stage is about as real as that anime demon king you've got a poster of up there. As long as you know it's the art you like and not Ronnie himself and the art's not glorifying abuse, I don't think you're doing anything wrong. You're allowed to like what you like. And in reference to the literal Team Rocket thing, again, you can do something as part of a performance, and really, that's what the takeovers are, without it being who you really are. You don't have to be evil if you don't want to be. I love you either way."
Spark squeezed Arlo tighter and held him in a hug.
"So, how about you take a break from roadmapping your apology, take a shower, and set about making amends with me?"
"I mean amends in bed. I haven't seen my super cute and hot boyfriend for a week and I'm in withdrawal. You do really need a shower, though."
Arlo looked down at one of his armpits and briefly smelled himself.
"Yeah. I'm going to go do that."
By the end of the week, Spark and Arlo had gone out on Arlo's apology roadmap, explained the situation to all of the local businesses he'd been banned from, and repaired relations with everyone except the karaoke bar, who didn't even want to look at him, but Spark was still proud of him for trying. Overall, the situation had been resolved, Arlo was back to his old self, and he seemed to have gotten some clarity about his moral quandary too. Overall, he'd stopped worrying about what he'd done while under the influence of weird hypnosis videos or a cursed headband or whatever it was, so it came as a surprise when Sierra walked into his room with a postcard.
"Hey, you. The 'King of the Music Scene' has mail."
Arlo picked up the postcard and examined it. On one side, it held the same emblem he had tattooed on his arm for the rest of his life in gray against a black background. On the other, it held a single note, in handwriting that looked like it had been hastily penned before the writer dealt with the rest of the things on their to-do list.
"Whoever you are, cut it out. You're making me look bad.
Arlo stared at it, as though to verify it was real. He didn't think about the matter of how exactly "R.R." knew his address, or that someone with documented experience with physical violence knowing where he lived and being mad at him might not be good for him. After fully processing that this was, in fact, real, he let out an elongated high-pitched noise, ran down to Cliff's craft supply drawer to find a picture frame, and attached it to his wall, next to his My Edgelord Phase Summoned The Demon King Who Made Me His Boyfriend poster. He texted a picture of it to Spark, along with several messages of very little other than emoticons and exclamation points at the postcard and what it implied.
Spark picked up his phone, looked at the postcard, put it down, and turned to address his Luxray.
"Luxie, brace for impact. This is not good."