Rubbing his eyes didn't help, Hiroshi found. He was seeing a sight that should not have been possible - could not have been possible. But it wouldn't go away. Sadly, he concluded that he was hallucinating - had probably gone mad - and there was no way to banish the image that haunted him. He was doomed to a life of hopeless insanity.
"Hiro-kun!" That familiar cheerful voice brought him out of his trance. "We're in here! Come join us!"
Hiroshi looked up again, and that same amazing sight met his eyes.
Inside the building, now leaning out of a window in a way that would have been dangerous if he weren't only one story up, was Toraeru Satoshi.
In a library.
With a thick book in one hand.
Now the visions are talking to me, too… Hiroshi sighed, resigning himself to the inevitable. He was nuts. There was no other way about it.
"Hey, it is Hiroshi!" The slight redheaded girl pushed her friend out of the way and leaned out of the window beside him, ignoring his protests. "Hiroshi! You heard him - come in and join us!"
Hiroshi blinked. Was Kasumi part of the hallucination?
"Don’t just stand there gawking!" she snapped. "Get in here!"
Hallucination or not, it wasn't a good idea to piss her off when she spoke in that tone. "Coming!" he answered, and ran around the side of the building to find the entrance.
"It's about time," Kasumi said, pleasantly, as he came into their section of the library. It was a closed-in space neatly tucked into a corner, with a table surrounded by chairs. Satoshi and Kasumi sat opposite each other, each holding a book.
Hiroshi changed his mind about it being a hallucination when he saw Satoshi's choice - 'Legends and Unexplained Phenomena'. I should've known. "What's got you guys so interested in studying?"
Kasumi held up her book with a smirk. 'Art of the Samurai'. "Mallets are getting boring," she explained, still in that cheerful tone.
Hiroshi felt suddenly very sorry for the dark-haired young man sitting across from her.
"Hey, listen to this, you two," Satoshi said, not seeming to have heard Kasumi's ominous pronouncement. "There's an unexplained event that happened in this library! Wow! Can you believe that?"
"Yeah?" Kasumi set down her book. "What is it?"
"They call it the 'Kissing Bandit'," Satoshi explained, eyes bright. "Supposedly, the lights go out for a short while, and the ghost - or whatever it is - chooses a victim to mash lips with. They say that the chosen victim is always one who's got an admirer close by but can't seem to realize it."
Kasumi stared at him, almost incredulously. "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard!"
"But it's true!" Satoshi protested. "It says so in the book! All kinds of people have reported it, even the ones who don't believe in ghosts. How can it be a lie if so it happened to so many different people?"
She snickered. "Hey, if Takeshi were in the vicinity, anything's possible."
"Some of this happened years ago," Satoshi countered, still bright-eyed. Hiroshi sat down at the other end of the table, interested to hear about the story. "And there were guys it happened to as well. Takeshi wouldn't kiss guys, would he?"
"Maybe if he thought they were girls." Kasumi shrugged. "You did say the lights went out. Anyway, that's a dumb legend. Who cares about a bandit that kisses people? It's not like it'd kill them."
"No, I guess not." Satoshi grinned. "But it is kinda interesting. Isn't it, Hiro-kun?"
"Well, it - "
"Hiroshi thinks it's boring," Kasumi announced airily, before Hiroshi could say anything.
"No, I - "
"He didn't say that!" Satoshi stuck his tongue out at her childishly. "You're just saying he does because you think it's boring!"
"Well, it is boring!" She stuck her tongue out back at him. "Tell us something interesting for a change."
"So are you guys actually dating, or are we just waiting to see who realizes it first?" Hiroshi sat back in his seat, a little amused by the way they acted - and half wanting to see the reaction.
"Ew! Me date him? Gross!"
"Yeah right! She's an evil witchy - ow! Hey!"
Kasumi had grabbed hold of Satoshi's ear. "You take that back, Toraeru Satoshi!" she snapped, glaring at him.
"Ow ow ow! Okay, fine, I take it back! Let go!"
She relented, and he sank back into his seat, muttering and rubbing his sore ear.
"Sorry I asked." Hiroshi shrugged. Actually, it had been worth it, and he was fighting back a grin. "Got anything else in that book that's interesting?"
Satoshi's eyes lit up. "Of course!" He thumbed through the book. "Just wait until you hear about the - "
Before he could finish, the lights went out, and the room went dark.
"What…?" Hiroshi leaned forward. It was late out, so the sky was dark, and in the dim light he couldn't see much - especially since his eyes hadn't quite adjusted to the dark yet. "Is the power out?"
"I don't know," Kasumi's voice ghosted back to him. "Maybe they're closing."
"The library's open all night!" Satoshi protested.
"I'm going to see if I can find someone." Hiroshi started to rise out of his chair, but his foot caught on the curved leg of the table, and he stumbled down, taking the chair with him and almost knocking the table. In the ruckus, he couldn’t hear anything but the crashing noise as he hit the floor.
Sitting up, rubbing a sore spot on his back, Hiroshi tried to get his wits together.
That was when he felt it. Someone came up right above him, so quickly he couldn't quite register what was happening. And that someone crushed their mouth right down on top of Hiroshi's, before he could protest.
"Mmmph?" His eyes went wide.
Then, just as quickly as it had happened, it was over.
Something lit up near him, and he glanced toward the doorway to see Satoshi standing there with a flashlight. "It was in my bag," the dark-haired boy explained. "You never know, right?"
"Good thing you didn't make a mess of getting up to get it, like Hiroshi did," Kasumi added, with a wicked smirk that looked quite evil in the shadowy light.
Hiroshi touched two fingers to his mouth, still shaken. "Did you guys… see anyone else in here?" he asked, in an almost hushed voice.
"I don't think so." Kasumi shook her head. "It's hard to tell, since it's so dark. Why?"
"Someone…" Hiroshi hesitated, feeling his face heat with embarrassment, then pressed on, determined. "Someone just kissed me!"
Satoshi and Kasumi glanced at each other.
"Hah!" It was the red-haired girl. She was shaking her head, still smirking. "Yeah right, Hiroshi! As if you're going to convince me of the reality of that stupid legend! You've got to be kidding!"
"It's not a joke!" he protested, face still aflame. "Somebody really did kiss me!"
"Sure." There was heavy sarcasm in that one word. "Whatever you say."
"Seriously, Hiro-kun?" Satoshi's eyes had lit up. "I'll bet it's the Kissing Bandit!" he crowed, looking somewhat excited at the prospect. "Wow! Now I can say that I knew someone who had an encounter with an unnatural being!"
"You already could say that," Kasumi told him. "You know me, and I've had plenty of encounters with you, haven't I?"
He ignored that. "But this means that someone nearby admires you. I wonder who that would be."
Hiroshi blushed again. "Nobody. That wasn't a ghost - it was a real person. It doesn't mean anything."
Kasumi laughed. "Even if it was a real person, you still have to have an admirer, Hiroshi! After all, why would they kiss you otherwise?"
"Oh yeah." Hiroshi felt a little stupid for not realizing that himself. "I wonder who."
Satoshi bent down beside him, and made some show of whispering to his friend. "I'll bet it's Kasumi," he said confidently, in a whisper that probably could've been heard on the other side of the library.
"I heard that!"
He stuck his tongue out at her again. "Yeah, well, I bet it was you, so there!"
"It was not! It was probably you!"
"Shut up!" Hiroshi's face felt like a furnace by that point. "Who cares who it was? I just want to - "
"There you are!" The angry voice was accompanied by a tall, almost threateningly angry person who stormed into their corner of the library with an expression that could've curdled milk. "I knew it'd be one of you up to your tricks!" he snapped, looking absolutely furious. His face was nearly as red as his hair. "Which one of you was it?"
Satoshi blinked. Kasumi raised an eyebrow.
Hiroshi bit his lip, flushed, and looked at the floor.
Shigeru seemed to catch that motion. "I'll bet it was you, wasn't it?" He pointed accusingly at Hiroshi, blue-grey eyes still flashing angrily. In the dim light, he looked even more threatening.
And broad-shouldered. And mysterious. And strikingly handsome.
"It wasn't me!" Hiroshi squeaked, voice cracking uncomfortably. "I don't even know what you're talking about!"
Shigeru regarded him suspiciously.
"What are you talking about, Shigeru-kun?" Satoshi blinked again, staring at the taller trainer in complete bafflement.
"Somebody" - The redhead glanced around darkly - "Somebody came into my cubicle and mashed their sneaky lips onto mine! And it had to be one of you - there's no one else in here this late. When I find out who did it…" He drew himself up, menacingly.
Hiroshi tore his eyes away, still flushing.
"Well, it wasn't Hiroshi," Kasumi announced, coming to his defense. "He made a royal ass of himself when he tried to get up and wound up splattered on the floor with his chair. And he told us that he was kissed as well. So you're both victims. Stop picking on him."
"This is great!" Satoshi's eyes were shining again. "The Kissing Bandit strikes twice in one night! Wow! I wish it would try to get me - then maybe I could figure out what it was. Wouldn't it be cool if it was a ghost?"
Shigeru sent a withering look in his direction. "Keep your mouth shut, gaki," he ordered, probably more than a little irritated that the dark-haired boy didn't flinch at his gaze.
"Don't call me that!" Satoshi shot back, scowling. "If anyone's a brat here…"
Hiroshi had been staring at the floor in dismay, embarrassed to no end by Kasumi's description of his 'incident'. But he wasn't anxious to be caught in the small workspace when Shigeru and Satoshi started brawling. "Maybe we can find out who did it," he suggested, interrupting his friend.
"How?" Satoshi tore his gaze from his offensive rival, obviously more intrigued by the prospect of catching the Kissing Bandit than duking it out with Shigeru. "If it's a ghost, we're probably not going to find much."
"Maybe it's a Pokemon," Hiroshi suggested.
It was the right thing to say. Both Shigeru and Satoshi turned expectant gazes on him. Even Kasumi looked interested. "You seriously think so?" the dark-haired boy breathed out, looked enthralled. "Wow… I can't imagine what kind of Pokemon could do this…"
"So let's look for it," Hiroshi said, relieved that the tension in the area had smoothed out. "If we find it, then you'll know for sure, right?"
"Yeah!" Satoshi held up the flashlight, eyes bright again with excitement. "Let's split up and take a look around! Kasumi and I will go around the bookshelves in the non-fiction section" - he pointed to the left - "and Hiro-kun and Shigeru-kun can go check out the fiction."
Hiroshi glanced up, hopeful.
"Sounds good." Kasumi grinned at him. "Let's go."
"Uh…" Hiroshi held out a hand, as the two left the room. "Guys? We don't have a flashlight… Satoshi?"
"Great." He heard Shigeru sigh impatiently. It was difficult to see. The older boy seemed untroubled by the dark; he walked across the room and helped Hiroshi to his feet. "Those two are so transparent it isn't even funny."
"Huh?" Hiroshi glanced at him.
"I'll tell you when we're in fiction." A firm hand on his arm led Hiroshi away from the closed-in section and across to where the bookshelves loomed up as indistinct, shadowy shapes.
"What do you mean by transparent?" Hiroshi asked, in a low whisper. "You think they're up to something?"
Shigeru's blue-grey eyes regarded him seriously. The taller boy's face was somewhat shadowed, but Hiroshi was close enough to see the outline of it. His breath caught, and he felt his face heating again.
"I'd be willing to bet money that Satoshi was the one who snuck up and kissed me," he replied confidently. "You're enough like him that I got confused, but since you were a victim too, it had to be him."
"Can you tell that?" Hiroshi was a little surprised.
"Of course. Can't you?" The arrogant tone of Shigeru's voice was just a little insulting. "Since he was off on that little expedition, who do you think was left to smack her smirking lips on yours?"
"Kasumi?" That made his eyes widen a little.
Shigeru smirked at him. "Who else? They're playing tricks on us. But I'll bet we could get them back."
"How's that?" Hiroshi asked curiously.
"Get them," Shigeru explained. "Pull the same trick right back on them. I'll bet we could. They're in the non-fiction section. You just keep your eyes out for Kasumi, and I'll watch for Satoshi. It'll be simple."
"But what if they catch us?"
"So? They're the ones who played the trick in the first place." Shigeru shrugged. "This is just payback, after all."
Hiroshi struggled with that for a moment. His eyes met Shigeru's, and he bit his lip. "All right," he agree, somewhat reluctantly. Kasumi wasn't exactly the one he wanted to be kissing.
"Good. Come on." Shigeru grabbed his arm again and steered him back toward the reference books. "There's Satoshi," he said, in a soft whisper.
I looked. "Kasumi's not with him."
"They probably split up to find us. Notice how he's drifting over here." Shigeru snickered quietly. "I'll give him a bit of a surprise." He left Hiroshi to stalk the dark-haired boy.
The blond sighed. Lucky Satoshi… Then he got up to find Kasumi.
She was fairly easy to find, surprisingly enough. He saw a flash of her dark orange hair through the bookshelves, and crept over to the other side in time to see her disappear around another set of shelves. It was kind of exciting, sneaking up on someone like this. Hiroshi grinned to himself, and followed her.
For a second, it seemed as if he'd lost site of her. Then he saw a motion near one of the shelves across the hall, and caught a flash of that bright hair. Excellent.
She seemed to be facing him - at least, that was how it looked. And it also appeared that she didn't expect that he saw her. She must be trying to do the kissing thing again. Hiroshi grinned again, and tried to make it look like he didn't see her. She's in for a surprise if she does.
Funny… Kasumi hadn't seemed so tall before…
He was too caught up in that thought to notice when his stalker stepped up - obviously intending to surprise him with the kiss that followed immediately after.
Without thinking, Hiroshi looped his arms around his assailant's shoulders in an attempt to catch the offender in the act.
Shoulders that were too broad to be Kasumi's…
"Mmph!" Hiroshi's eyes went wide, and he pulled back out of the kiss, staring at his partner in dazed horror. "You're not Kasumi!" he realized out loud, stupidly.
Shigeru gaped back down at him. "You're not Satoshi," he echoed, just as stupidly.
Hiroshi felt his face flush, and he wrenched his gaze to the floor, feeling miserable. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "I screwed up the plan. You must think I'm a real loser for that." He let go of Shigeru's shoulders, awkwardly, and moved to back away.
Shigeru stopped him with another firm grip - on both arms this time. "Ah… it was a stupid plan," he said, offhandedly.
Hiroshi stared at him, perplexed.
"That was a good kiss, though," the taller boy continued, blue-grey eyes meeting Hiroshi's again. "I didn't think I'd enjoy kissing Satoshi all that much. Maybe I figured it was you, huh?"
Hiroshi gaped. He… he figured it was me? But… No way. No way. This had to be another hallucination, like Satoshi in a library with a book. Yes. That was it.
But it seemed so real…
"Shut your mouth," Shigeru murmured. "I'm going to try something." He put a hand under Hiroshi's chin to push it shut, and leaned forward again to kiss him.
The sweetest thing the blond could imagine. Shigeru… Shigeru's kissing me! A sudden burst of elation caught him, and he suddenly didn't care if it was a hallucination or not. It was just too good an opportunity to pass up. He almost threw his arms around the taller boy's neck, leaning against him enthusiastically.
"Oi…" Shigeru looked a bit dazed when he pulled back. "Experiment over. Now, to business." He bent for another kiss. And another, and another.
That was when the lights when back on.
Hiroshi looked up, blinking in a half-stupor. "Wha…?"
"Gotcha!" Kasumi sang out the word, staring in triumph from one end of the shelves. The telltale smirk was on her face. "I knew we could get you two together!"
"Good thing I know Hiro-kun so well." Satoshi grinned from the other side. "I told you that story about the Kissing Bandit would work, didn't I, Kasumi?"
She made a face. "All right, so you were right! But it seemed like such a dumb idea…"
"Well, we couldn't just kiss them without an explanation, could we?"
"Hold it!" Shigeru freed one hand to hold it up, glancing back and forth between Kasumi and Satoshi in irritation. "You two planned this whole thing just to get us to kiss in the middle of a library?"
"Well… yeah." Satoshi shrugged, then smiled. "You guys are just so obvious… we had to do something about it."
Hiroshi blushed, then inwardly cursed himself for blushing. "So the whole Kissing Bandit thing was a made-up story?"
"Oh no, that was real," Satoshi said.
Kasumi shook her head. "If you can believe it."
"There really was a Kissing Bandit," Satoshi continued, ignoring her. "But it turned out it was just overly helpful people with the same idea we had, trying to play matchmaker for their friends."
Hiroshi was interested, though. "Did it work?"
Satoshi grinned again. "Every time."
"Oh brother." Shigeru rolled his eyes. "I've had enough of mingling with you gaki for one night." He looked back down at Hiroshi again. "Let's go."
The blond smiled back brightly, ignoring Satoshi's 'ooh'ing in the background. "Good idea."
Maybe hallucinations weren't so bad, after all.