Falling is Like This

Falling is Like This

Author's Notes, a.k.a. Watch a Sleep-Deprived Leda Babble:

1. *does the Disclaimer Dance* You know the drill, I don't own 'em, I'm just messing around with 'em. ^^ Please don't sue, I'm just a poor widdle starving student .. *turns chibi and looks at you with big teary eyes*
2. This ficcy was the result of a challenge from Ruaki (hi~i Ruaki! ^-^ See, I finally got it done .. you can put down the meat cleaver now, Ruaki-cha~an @.x;;), who asked for a Halloween Shishi fic. I probably would never have been motivated to write it otherwise. ^_^
3. I'm pretty much with Marie-sama on the matter of ages -- Satoshi is around 12, Kasumi and Shigeru are 13, etc. If I didn't know anyone's original name (thanks for helping me with that, WhiteCat-san ^_^), I just guessed or made it up. ^^; Feel free to correct me if I got any of 'em wrong.
4. The title of the fic comes from a song of the same name by Ani DiFranco, and the song lyrics used in the story are from a David Bowie song called "As the World Falls Down" (from the Labyrinth soundtrack -- hail, all other children of the 80s! XD). Those two songs inspired me so much with this fic that I figured I should rip them o -- ahm, that is, pay tribute to them somehow. ^_~ Also, you might notice that the scene where the Labyrinth song is used is "heavily inspired" by a particular scene in that movie .. *snickers*
5. Yes, I know I wrote pretty much everyone wildly OOC. ^^;; My characterization (if you can CALL it that ^_~;) is based a bit more on the Den-geki manga than the anime, though the events in the fic don't quite follow the manga. (Besides, I think the manga Satoshi would be much .. prettier .. in this situation than the anime one would, right? ^w^) But anyway, this thing is just a large mass of fluff; please don't take it too seriously. ^o^
6. Also, this is the first fanfic I've ever written. Try to be kind .. ^_^;
7. You know, I once got kicked out of a cafe for saying the exact same thing that Sato-kun does. >D Err, you'll see what I mean. Okay, I'm shutting up now, really .. ^^;;


Two children ran down a street in the peaceful suburbs of Masara Town. It was Halloween night, and leaves drifted lazily down from the trees as the two boys fled their pursuers. The auburn-haired one, who was dressed as an Eebui, clung to the arm of the smaller, Zenigame-suited boy. The smaller boy was crying.

"I think we lost 'em," the Eebui boy gasped, coming to a stop. The other boy was still crying. "Oh, Sato-chan," said the Eebui boy worriedly. "Don't let those bullies get to you. They're just a bunch of stupid punks, you know?"

"B-but they said all those nasty things about my daddy," sniffled the Zenigame boy, rubbing at his teary eyes. "And they took all my candy .."

"Just forget about it! What do they know, anyway?" The Eebui boy smiled down at his younger companion. "Besides, I've still got all of my candy. We'll share!"

The Zenigame boy blinked at his friend with wide brown eyes, his sniffles dying down. "Are you sure about that, Geru-chan? You don't hafta do that --"

"Aww, what are friends for?" The Eebui boy laughed and started running again, still pulling the Zenigame boy with him. "C'mon, let's go to Gramps' place and divide it up!"

I jerked awake, flinching as mid-morning sunlight blasted me painfully in the face.

"Time to get up, Satoshi!" a female voice said in an infernally cheerful tone. Turning over, I glowered muzzily at Mizusaki Kasumi, who had twitched the blinds open and was smiling brightly at me. I mumbled something unflattering about her family ancestry and squeezed my eyes shut again, pulling a pillow over my face.

Kasumi tsk'ed. "You're such a bear in the morning, Sato-chan," she teased me, and I winced at her use of the familiar nickname.

"Don't call me that," I grumbled, removing the pillow and tossing it off to the side. Only one person had ever called me that, and well .. he wasn't likely to be calling me by that name again anytime soon.

Why did I have that dream again? It's been years since that happened. So many years since Shigeru and I were friends ..

"Whatever," Kasumi shrugged, turning to leave the room. She paused in the doorway for a moment, glancing back over her shoulder at me. "I don't see how you can be so grumpy today, of all days. It's Halloween, remember?"

"Yeah .. I remember," I whispered to her receding back.

***

"Oh, we HAVE to go, Satoshi! It'll be so much fun!"

"I don't want to go to some stupid Halloween party," I grumbled irritably.

Kasumi, Takeshi, and I were walking through downtown Hanada City. We'd been visiting there for a few days, resting up at the Mizusaki sisters' spacious house. Kasumi was being even more annoying than usual today -- as soon as I'd dragged myself out of bed and trudged downstairs, she'd been on my case about going to the Hanada Halloween Ball. Apparently it was some big-deal party that her sisters hosted in their gym every year. And it was the last place I wanted to be tonight.

Kasumi glared at me in disbelief. "Whaddya mean, stupid? And it's not just 'some party!' Our Halloween Ball is world-famous. People from all over come here just to attend it!"

"I don't care HOW famous it is, I just don't wanna go!" I snapped, turning my back on her and folding my arms. "Lay off, all right?"

"Awww .. you've been such a boring grouch lately, Satoshi. Don't you want to have fun anymore?" She stepped in front of me, hands on her hips. "What's eating you, huh?"

"Nothing!" I growled. "Now would you just drop it?! I don't wanna talk about this anymore!"

"Kasumi, I think you'd best give up," I heard Takeshi advise her, sotto voce.

"But Takeshi," she said craftily, "don't you want to go to the ball? Just think of all the beautiful women that'll be there, waiting for a dashing masked man to sweep them off their feet! Perhaps even the Hanada City Joi or Junsaa will be attending .. "

"Well, since you put it that way .. " Suddenly Takeshi zoomed in front of me, going down on both knees. "Satoshi-cha~an, pleasepleasepleeeease can we go to the party? Huh huh huh? C'mon, I know you reeeally wanna go, deep down! Puh-leeeeeease?!"

Kasumi and I sweatdropped in unison. Once Takeshi goes into his "duh, pretty girl" mode, he's totally pathetic.

"Sorry, Takeshi," I said firmly. "I really don't feel like it. In fact, I think it's time we moved on. Maybe we should head on back to Masara Town for a couple days, or something."

"You're outnumbered, you know," Kasumi informed me, smirking.

"Yeah, but this is MY journey," I flung back at her, sticking out my tongue. "It's my decision where we go! Besides .. I don't even have a costume."

Kasumi lifted her hands in disgust. "It's Halloween, and you still haven't picked out a costume?! What's the matter with you?"

"Well, I wasn't planning on wearing one this year," I shrugged. "We've been so busy lately .."

"Okay, Satoshi. I'll tell you what." Kasumi reached into her pocket and withdrew something. "Let's bet on it." She held up the object she'd pulled out of her pocket; it was a coin. "Heads, we go to the party. And just to make things a little more interesting .. I get to pick your costume for you." She grinned ferally.

I shuddered -- I didn't like that grin one bit. "And if you lose?"

"Then we'll drop the matter."

I regarded her with a raised eyebrow. "And?"

Kasumi snorted. "You're just milking this for all it's worth, aren't you?" She thought for a minute, pressing a finger to her lips. "All right, if it's tails, we'll forget about the ball .. AND I'll agree not to bring up that little issue about replacing my bike ever again."

"Wow," I said, my eyes widening. "The idea of never having to hear you bitch about that stupid bike anymore is awfully tempting .. I accept!"

"You got it." Kasumi flipped the coin, and we watched it expectantly as it arced through the air, sparkling in the morning sunlight. It plunked down in the road and rolled off to the side, and the two of us ran into the grass to see which side had landed up.

***

Takeshi shook his head ruefully as he watched Satoshi stomp angrily down the road, Kasumi dancing along behind him. She'd won, of course; her triumphant laughter echoed down the street behind the two of them. Takeshi heaved a long-suffering sigh and started to follow, then paused as he noticed something bright glinting in the grass on the side of the road. Leaning over and inspecting it, he realized it was the coin Kasumi had used in the wager. He picked it up, absently flipping it over in his hand, then sweatdropped.

"Both sides are heads?"

He snorted. Kasumi would stoop to any means necessary to get her way, it seemed.

For a moment he thought about telling Satoshi of Kasumi's duplicity, then suddenly remembered his brief encounter with the Hanada City Joi. A charming and winsome lass, certainly the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen -- far more beautiful than even her sisters, who made the loveliness of the stars in the firmament pale in comparison ..

"Eh, what's a little deceit between friends?" he mused aloud, tossing the coin back into the grass.

***

"Well, you guys are awfully late in coming," the clerk at the Hanada Costumery said apologetically, shaking her head. "There isn't much left here."

"But we're going to the Hanada Halloween Ball tonight, and he still needs a costume!" Kasumi exclaimed, ignoring the warning glare I shot toward her. "He can't get in without one. There has to be SOMEthing here we can use."

"Ah, that's a shame. Well, all we've got left that'd even come close to fitting someone in your size is .. this," the clerk shrugged, pointing toward a small rack situated near the register. The three of us turned and stared at the lone bag hanging from the rack.

I facefaulted.

Takeshi clamped a hand over his mouth, obviously trying not to laugh.

I glanced over at Kasumi apprehensively. Her face was unreadable, and that made me feel even worse. I wouldn't put anything past that crazy little freak.

"Ne, Kasumi .. let's go, hmm?" I said in a wheedling tone, beginning to inch toward the door of the costume shop. "There's obviously nothing here I can use, and hey, I don't need go to some silly party anyway, y'know? Haha, it's all right, really. How about this: I'll just stay home, and you guys can go have fun! I don't mind -- "

"Stop babbling," Kasumi broke in sharply, and I jumped. She turned a positively demonic grin on me, and spun around in a circle, rubbing her hands together. "Ohohoho. This is absolutely PERfect!"

"Kasumi!" I hissed furiously, making a negating gesture. The clerk stared at the two of us with a bemused expression on her face, obviously wondering if she was in the company of lunatics. "Come on. You're not .. REALLY gonna make me wear that, are you?" I stared at her with increasing panic as she made no response, aside from that creepy smile on her face widening a couple notches. "Um .. I'll .. I'll take your pokemon for walks! Take you out to dinner! Clean your room? Anything! Just don't make me wear that -- that THING!"

Kasumi whipped around and fixed me with a steely eye, and I involuntarily took a step back. "I won that bet FAIR and SQUARE, Satoshi," the red-head snapped, elbowing Takeshi in the gut as he snorted. "You agreed to the terms, and you LOST. You knew exactly what you were getting into!" She turned to stare at the costume again, grinning pitilessly. "'Sides, it suits you."

Shimatta.

"No offense, Kasumi, but I REALLY don't think I'm the .. " I trailed off, craning my neck to get a look at the tag dangling from the costume bag, "errh .. 'angel princess' type, you know?!"

Everyone except the cackling Kasumi sweatdropped.

I reached for her arm to drag her from the store, but she had already darted forward and swept the loathsome thing up, plopping it down on the counter.

"We'll take it!" she announced gleefully to the still-sweatdropping clerk.

"But, I -- argh! Takeshi~i! She can't do this to me, can she?!" I cried angrily, turning to the other boy for support. Takeshi glanced back and forth between me and Kasumi, who stood there with her eyebrow raised and a defiant smirk firmly in place.

I dare you to interfere, pink-boy, that smirk seemed to say.

Takeshi gulped. "Uh," he said too brightly, clearing his throat. "We~ell .. it's not as if you haven't done this before, right?"

I groaned in defeat, burying my burning face in my hands. "Thanks a WHOLE LOT, Takeshi," I growled as Kasumi giggled madly. He would bring up that stupid Tamamushi Gym incident again.

I jerked my head up to meet Kasumi's triumphant grin. "Go ahead and buy that dumb costume, Mizusaki Kasumi -- but there's NO way you're getting me into it!" I spat viciously, and turned on my heel to run.

As I fled the store, I heard Takeshi admit sheepishly, "Oi, he's got a point. You can't exactly make him wear it, can you?"

And then as I reached the street, the door banging shut behind me, I heard Kasumi's faint, ominously calm reply: "Ohhh .. I have my ways."

I ran faster.

***

I swirled the ice around in my empty glass and glanced warily at the mean-looking waitress, who was striding toward me purposefully. Here we go again.

Ever since the incident this morning at the costume shop (where I'd discovered that Kasumi was not only completely bonkers, but a freakish little hentai as well), I had been hiding out in various places -- including this cramped, somewhat-less-than-sanitary cafe. I knew I had to go back to the Mizusaki sisters' house eventually; after all, my bag and most of my pokemon were there. I was putting it off for as long as I could, however. I really didn't want to find out what Kasumi's "mysterious ways" were.

I had to wonder why Pikachuu hadn't slipped out and joined me yet, though ..

"Little boy," snapped the waitress, jerking me abruptly out of my thoughts, "you've been here for an awfully long time and you've only ordered one soda. Unless you're planning to order something else, I think it's time you got going."

"Um .. I'd buy some food, but I don't have any money left," I said as pathetically as I could. "Couldn't I please just sit here a little longer? It's so~o cold outside .. " Maybe she'd take pity on me and let me stay a bit; it wasn't as if this joint was busy or anything.

"There are plenty of other places in this town where you can hang out, kid," said the waitress haughtily. I figured that she didn't know I'd already been kicked out of most of them. "These seats are for our patrons only, and you're taking up valuable space!"

"What patrons?" I asked, looking pointedly around the empty cafe.

Big mistake.

***

"Geez, you didn't have to do that!" I yelled crossly at the two burly waiters who stood in the cafe doorway, arms folded and forbidding expressions fixed on me. I fretfully rubbed my sore arms, where they'd grabbed me and literally thrown me out. "I knew where the door was! You could've just -- eep!" I sweatdropped and darted away down the street as the mean waitress stepped out from behind them, wearing a sadistic expression and brandishing a rather deadly-looking frying pan. Heck, I could tell when I'd worn out my welcome.

I headed toward the neighborhood where the Mizusaki sisters lived, my hands jammed in my jeans pockets and my head down, scuffing my feet through the colorful piles of fallen leaves that littered the sidewalk. I couldn't put it off any longer; I was out of money and places to hide. I had to go back. Maybe I would be lucky enough not to run into anyone, and could grab Pikachuu and my stuff and get out of town -- or at least find somewhere to hide until the dance was over.

Just how was she planning to get me to wear that silly costume, anyway? I wondered as the Mizusaki house came into view. It wasn't as if she was strong enough to hold me down and wrestle it onto me. Besides, I could always have Pikachuu teach her a thing or two if she tried anything.

Then it hit me. Pikachuu!

That had to be why Pikachuu hadn't come out to find me today. He's my best friend, after all; he would've been worried when I didn't show up at the Mizusaki sisters' place. It had to be because Kasumi was holding him hostage! I began to walk faster, convincing myself further with each step. This kind of stunt had Kasumi's name written all over it. Maybe Kasumi had tricked Pikachuu somehow and had trapped him in a rubber bag, just like Rocket Dan had done once, and was planning to hold Pikachuu prisoner until I agreed to wear the costume!

"That rotten little WEASEL!" I snarled aloud as I pounded down the street, seething with fury. "Ooooh, I'll show her! She's gonna learn that you don't mess with Ha Satoshi or his friends!"

I reached the Mizusaki residence and banged through the front door, yelling, "Kasumi! Where's Pikachuu?! What have you done with -- mph, mrrph gllmphlgh!" My words were abruptly cut off as a hand clamped over my mouth and a strong arm wrapped around me.

"Got 'im!"

"Mfrrk? Mrrdghd?!" I flailed around frantically, trying in vain to wriggle free from my captor. I KNEW that voice ..

"Sorry, Satoshi," I heard Takeshi say. "But Kasumi promised she could set me up on a date with her sister Sakura if I 'helped' get you dressed. Ahahaha .."

"What?!" I squeaked, as he finally removed his hand from my mouth. "You're betraying me for the chance of a date with Kasumi's sister? .. I thought you wanted to go to the dance to see Joi, anyway!"

"Well, ah, yes .. but I'm never one to look a gift horse in the mouth!" Takeshi proclaimed. "When opportunity knocks, I'm right there! Waiting eagerly, ready to put my best face forward and seize the initiative .."

"Takeshi?"

"Yes, Satoshi?"

"Shut up. Please. And put me down."

"No can do, buddy." He was heading up the stairs, carrying me as easily as if I were a sack of flour. "The love of my life awaits me, her shining blond hair as glorious as the --"

"Takeshi," I snorted as he carried me down the upstairs hallway, "you DO know that you haven't got a snowball's chance in hell of getting Sakura to give you so much as the time of day, right? Or any other female with half a brain, for that matter. Kasumi's just scamming you to get what she wants -- namely, MY humiliation .."

"Ah, matters of the heart are impossible for the young to comprehend. One day you'll understand, Satoshi," he said brightly, completely ignoring everything I'd just said. I sighed and gave it up as a lost cause.

"Piii, pikapi!"

I twisted around, and saw Pikachuu sitting quite contentedly at the top of the staircase. "Pikachuu! You're okay!" I yelped happily. "I thought Kasumi was holding you hostage or something!"

"Ch'! What kind of monster do you think I am, Satoshi?" huffed Kasumi, coming out of a room to our right.

I decided it'd be wise not to answer that. Instead, I turned excitedly toward Pikachuu. "C'mon, buddy. Help me out here -- give these crazy idiots a good shocking so we can get outta here!"

"Hey!" Kasumi popped her hands on her hips and glared at me.

"Pii," Pikachuu snorted, miming Kasumi's pose. "Pikapika chu, pi pi chu pika. Pikapi pii~i."

"You WHAT? You .. think this is funny?" I asked in disbelief, smacking my free hand against my forehead.

"Pikapi pika. Chahaha!" Pikachuu was cuddling up against Kasumi's leg, nodding serenely at me.

"Pikachuuuuuuu!" I wailed.

Takeshi turned and hauled me into the room Kasumi had just stepped out of, closing the door behind him after Kasumi had re-entered. Glancing around, I realized with a sinking feeling that this was the Mizusaki sisters' largest bathroom, which had been converted into a makeshift dressing room. And then I realized that we weren't alone.

"Kasumi?" Warily, I eyed the three girls who were waiting inside. "Why are your sisters here, might I ask? What are we doing in here, anyhow?"

Kasumi didn't answer, just stared at me with her arms folded and a decidedly evil-looking grin on her face. I sweatdropped as Takeshi plopped me down in a chair, and before I knew it, he and Kasumi's sisters had pounced on me, stripped me down to my boxers, and stuffed me into that godforsaken costume. Before I could protest that, the four of them had lashed me to the chair with some ropes that Sakura, Kasumi's oldest sister, had produced out of nowhere.

"Oooo!" Kasumi's other sister Ayame clapped her hands together in delight while I shrieked wildly, struggling madly to escape my bonds. "I totally lo~ove makeovers! Even if all we have to work with is that funny-lookin' little friend of yours, Kasu-chan."

"WHAT?! Now wait just a minute!" I yelped in outrage, still trying in vain to wriggle free. "You never said anything about makeup, Kasumi! You can't put that girl crap on me!"

"I don't think you're in much of a position to argue, jari-booi," Kasumi informed me smugly, as she fiddled with something on the vanity. "C'mon, you NEED makeup if this costume is gonna work. Without it, you'll just look like a monkey in a dress."

"Ohhhhhh .. why are you doing this to me, Kasumi?" I moaned pitifully.

Kasumi chortled in reply, her back still to me. "Because I can. And because it'll utterly humiliate you, that's why! That'll teach you to insult the Hanada Halloween Ball! I've got the reputation of Hanada Gym to maintain, doncha know?"

She turned around then, and I was presented with an image that would haunt me in nightmares for the rest of my life: Kasumi, coming at me with a manic gleam in her eye, wielding a steaming curling iron.

They probably heard my screams all the way back in Masara Town.

Half an agonizing hour later, the makeover was finally over. Takeshi untied me, but I didn't move. I just kept sitting there, my eyes squinched firmly shut, hoping that I'd wake up from the nightmare ..

"Open your eyes, O fair maid," Kasumi's sardonic voice pierced my thoughts. I heard her sisters giggling maliciously in the background.

I opened my eyes, and instantly regretted it. Staring back at me from the mirror was what appeared to be a young girl, dressed in a pure-white angel costume. The dress was empire-waisted and drop-shouldered, and the skirt fell from the high waistline in gauzy panels down to her slippered feet. The girl's dark hair was neatly gathered into a cluster of curls in back, and the stubborn strands in front that refused to stay back had been softly curled and waved back from her face. A shimmering substance had been smeared on her eyelids and bare shoulders, as well as sprinkled liberally across the rest of her costume. And the final crowning glory, a pair of feathered white wings, sprouted gracefully from her back.

"I .. I'm .. I .. you .. this .. " I choked, completely unable to articulate the utter rage and humiliation I felt.

"So, hey, what do you think of our handiwork?" Botan, Kasumi's red-haired sister, asked me cheerfully. "You've gotta admit .. we're pretty, like, amazing 'n stuff. I mean, if we could make even a monkey-faced little jari-booi like YOU look cute .. "

"We're like, total fashion wizards!" Ayame nodded in satisfaction.

"I .. I .. I-I'm .. I'm SPARKLY!" I buried my face in my hands, letting loose with a piteous wail. "I .. I think I'm gonna be sick."

"Oh, shut up." Kasumi was standing behind me, her hands clasped, obviously extremely pleased with herself. "Just be glad we didn't make you wear the tiara, hmm?"

***

I lagged behind Kasumi and Takeshi as we walked toward the Hanada Gym. I kept hoping that I'd get a chance to bolt when they weren't looking, but chances of that seemed pretty slim; Kasumi was keeping an eagle's eye on me the entire time.

Kasumi and Takeshi made quite a pair, strutting down the street in front of me. Even in my miserable state, I had to chuckle as I watched them; Kasumi, wearing an unbelievably gaudy, ruffly Tosakinto costume pranced next to Takeshi, who was dressed as a pirate and trying to look as manly and rugged as possible.

I could've possibly had fun at this party .. if I weren't dressed like the frigging queen of the fairies, I thought sulkily as we reached the gym. Ah well, I guess I can stand it for a couple of hours. As long as no one I know shows up. My dream from that morning came flooding back to me just then, and I shuddered.

Ye gods, don't let Shigeru be there ..

We were finally at the big double doors, and Takeshi opened them for us, probably practicing his chivalry skills for whatever unlucky female he happened to glomp onto for the night. "After you, ladies," he said grandly, ducking as I swung at him.

I had to admit that Kasumi's sisters really knew how to throw a party. I'd thought Kasumi was just bluffing when she said people came from all over to attend the Hanada Halloween Ball, but for once she seemed to be telling the truth. People milled all over the place, participating in the various activities or socializing merrily. Signs decorated with black cats and pumpkins hung at each doorway, and the three of us moved forward to read them.

"'This Way to the Roller-skating Rink,'" Kasumi read from the first sign. She giggled, clapping her hands together. "Oh, that's so cute -- I didn't know my sisters were gonna turn their arena into a roller-rink! How very .. 1980s of them." She grinned, pushing the door to the hallway open. "I think I'll go there first -- seeya!"

"Hmm .. 'This Way to the Halloween Ball,'" Takeshi read, fingering his chin. "Ah! I'm sure that's where all the beautiful ladies will be waiting to fall madly in love with me. Hahaha." He thumped his chest in an utterly ridiculous, Neandertal-ish gesture. "Well, I suppose I'm off, angel-cakes. Don't enjoy yourself too much, 'kay?" Takeshi grinned slyly at me as he pushed the door to the dance floor open and quickly disappeared down the corridor.

"And what am I supposed to do?" I wondered aloud to myself, lifting my hands in disgust. Shrugging, I turned to read the last sign -- "This Way to the Refreshment Room." Clever name, that. Kasumi's sisters were like, all-around creative wizards, 'n stuff.

Ah, I might as well, I thought, opening the last door and heading toward the aptly named "refreshment room." I certainly didn't want to be around those psychotic freaks Takeshi and Kasumi anymore tonight.

Upon entering, I realized that there was a bit more to the room than the sign indicated. There was a large refreshment table and a buffet off to one side, but there were also various arcade games and several tablecloth-covered picnic tables set up, where people were just hanging out. I made my way over to the main table and grabbed a cup of vaguely toxic-looking punch, and started to head for one of the empty picnic tables.

As I maneuvered my way through the throngs of people, I spotted a pair of black wings out of the corner of my eye. I paused, startled. I hadn't seen any costumes that even remotely resembled mine so far -- most people were dressed in pokemon suits, or wearing other typical Halloween costumes, like devils and witches and so on. But .. I was sure I'd seen wings ..

I turned around again, trying to figure out where the other winged person had gone. Then I sighted him, standing next to one of the other empty picnic tables, his back to me. It was a pale, lanky boy who was a little taller than me, his dark auburn hair artfully tousled. He wore a simple, tight black t-shirt, boot-cut black jeans, and a pair of buckle-covered motorcycle boots. To top it off, a really huge pair of feathered black wings were strapped to his back. The costume worked surprisingly well, despite its simplicity; he looked rather incredibly like a young punk-rock angel who'd wandered down to earth by mistake. I blinked, struck by how familiar this boy seemed, but not really able to place him yet.

And then he turned around, his icy blue-grey eyes boring right into mine.

K'so. It's Shigeru.

Panic rose in my throat, and I gulped, tossing my untouched cup of punch into the nearest garbage can. He's looking right at me .. greeeeat. I'd better get out of here before he recognizes -- agh! How'd he get over here so fast?!

Shigeru was now standing right in front of me, looking solemnly down at me. I quivered, starting to back away, but he smiled suddenly. "Oi," he protested, raising his hands in a placating gesture, "I'm not gonna bite you, y'know." He looked at me thoughtfully.

I cocked my head to one side, regarding him curiously. What the .. ? Why isn't he insulting me? Oh -- he must think I'm a girl! I keep forgetting about all this crap Kasumi and her sisters put on me ..

"Uh, hi there. I'm .. Lin," I said quickly, blurting out the first girl's name that came to my mind. I extended my hand politely; he obviously wasn't just going to walk away, so I might as well try to play my part. He stared at me for a moment, his expression blank, then smiled again and took my hand in his briefly.

"I'm Ookido Shigeru. I couldn't help but notice your costume," he said, indicating my dress. "That's really cool -- most people just go as pokemon, or whatever."

I nodded. "Thanks. Yours is pretty cool, too," I said.

"Heh, this?" He grinned and shook his head, rubbing his hand across his eyes. "I just threw it together last night -- the wings were a stage prop from a play my sister Mei was in once."

"It looks good on you, though, Shigeru," I told him sincerely.

"Thank you, Lin of-no-last-name." He winked at me. "You don't look so bad yourself."

Color flooded my cheeks as I stared down at my slippered feet, suddenly unable to think of a single word to say. He's not hitting on me .. is he? Ooh .. this could get awkward ..

"So I take it you're as bored as I am?" Shigeru sighed, folding his arms behind his head and stretching. "This place is bad enough in and of itself, but when you're by yourself, it's doubly boring."

I nodded. "You said it. I came here with some friends, but .. well, they kinda abandoned me as soon as they could."

"You serious? That stinks," he said, frowning. Then his face brightened slightly, as if he'd had an idea. "Ne, Lin .. what d'you say we stick together for awhile? I don't exactly have anyone to hang out with myself, and I think I'm gonna die of boredom pretty soon otherwise." He looked at me expectantly.

I can't just say no, can I? But .. can I really keep up this charade all night? I thought, staring nervously into Shigeru's eyes. Well, I've managed to fool him thus far .. and it is pretty boring around here, anyway ..

"Sure, why not?" I agreed. "It'll be .. fun."

Fun. Right.

***

"Eh?" Shigeru blinked at me, startled. "Lin! You've never been roller-skating before?"

We'd eventually tired of the refreshment room, thrilling as it was, and had started wandering around the gym in search of something else to do. Shigeru had suggested we try the roller-skating rink, but I had to sheepishly admit that I had absolutely no idea how to skate.

I shook my head, feeling slightly embarrassed. "No, I just, uh .. never got around to it, I guess."

"Oh." Shigeru looked at me speculatively for a moment. "Ne .. I could show you how, if you want."

I looked up, my eyes widening. Shigeru, humbly offering to help ME do something? The evening had gone from merely bad to totally surreal! I suddenly had the urge to pinch myself to see if I was really awake. "Oh, you don't have to do that, Shigeru, it's all right. I wouldn't want to -- "

"Don't be silly, Lin!" Shigeru was already heading toward the rink, grinning impishly back over his shoulder. "You should go roller-skating at least once in your lifetime."

"But .. I don't have a pair of skates," I said lamely. Actually, I almost wished I did, watching the happy skaters careening around the rink as upbeat music blared over the speakers. It sure looked like fun.

Still, I thought sheepishly, I'm not exactly the most coordinated person in the world; Shigeru's always been the athletic one. I'd probably just fall flat on my face. I wasn't exactly feeling like my usual adventurous self tonight for some reason. Maybe being stuck in this stupid outfit was turning me into a wimp!

"That won't be a problem. They rent out skates here if you don't have your own," Shigeru said cheerily. He stopped and looked thoughtfully at me when I didn't respond. "Say, if you really don't wanna, that's cool. We can go find something else to do. But, honestly .. I think you'd like it." I glanced up uncertainly. Shigeru flashed that grin at me again, and I felt my resolve weakening. Awfully persuasive fellow, that guy. I was still finding it hard to believe he hadn't insulted me yet. He seemed so different tonight, somehow ..

"Aww, c'mon! Li~n!" Shigeru pulled a comically sad face, and I couldn't help but smile.

"Oh, all right," I said finally, chuckling as Shigeru's face lit up and he began enthusiastically dragging me toward the rink. "As long as you don't mind if I fall and make an utter idiot of myself."

"Of course not." He turned around and winked at me. "But .. do you really think I'm going to let you fall?"

***

Shigeru held onto both my hands, smiling reassuringly at me, as I wobbled cautiously onto the rink. "Awwwwk! Whoa~oa!" I squawked, feeling my skates scrabble and slide against the slick floor. Shigeru patiently held me in place until I got my bearings.

"Careful .. here, let's just stand at the side for a minute 'till you get your balance." He glided gracefully over to the wall of the rink, pulling me with him. I stood rigid, completely mortified, as he guided me along. This was even harder than I'd expected!

"Okay, just grab onto the wall, now."

I automatically did as Shigeru said, still pondering this change in him. He almost seemed like a different person without that arrogant sneer plastered across his face.

Was it really just because he didn't know who I was? Now that I thought about it, he'd never been anything but courteous to the members of his fanclub, and he'd been decent to most of the other people I'd seen him interact with. It was really only me that he was rude to ..

That was it. He was being nice to me because he thought I was another groupie-in-training, just another candidate for his personal cheerleading squad.

And why is that so disappointing?

"Heeeeello. Earth to Lin, d'you read me?" Shigeru was saying, his eyes bright with amusement. He passed a hand back and forth in front of my eyes, and I jumped.

"Sorry," I replied, shaking myself out of my trance. "I was miles away."

"You ready to try moving? Here .. " He moved slightly behind me and took one of my arms, wrapping his other arm across my back. I started slightly at the contact, but he didn't seem to notice. "Hang onto the wall of the rink with your other hand, now .. good, just like that."

"Everyone's staring at us," I muttered.

"No, they aren't." Shigeru patted my back reassuringly. He glanced around, and sweatdropped as he realized that everyone really WAS staring at the two of us. "Ah .. well, it's not every day one sees a pair of angels on roller-skates, y'know," Shigeru amended smoothly.

"Angels on roller-skates, huh?" I snorted. "Sounds like something out of a bad shoujo manga."

He laughed aloud, the cheerful sound rising brightly above the other noise in the rink. I started, twisting around slightly to stare at him in wonder. When was the last time I heard him laugh like that .. ?

"You're funny, Lin," he told me, his eyes still sparkling.

"Erm .. thanks," I muttered, feeling my cheeks grow warm again.

We'd been slowly working our way around the edge of the rink. I was just barely starting to get used to the feeling of moving in the skates, when without any warning, Shigeru wrapped both his arms around me and pulled me away from the wall.

"Shigeru!" I squeaked in fright, as we began whizzing around the rink. "What are you .."

"You're getting the hang of it, Lin," he laughed from behind me, his arms still wrapped tightly around me. "Sometimes the best way to learn something is just to dive right in!"

"Auuuugh!" I sweatdropped.

"You're doing fine!" He released me with one arm, still hanging on with the other. I realized that he was right; I really wasn't doing too badly. I tried to imitate his graceful moves, with a somewhat lower degree of success -- but at least I was still on my feet. I turned to grin at him, and he returned the look, his bright eyes crinkling slightly at the corners.

He's so cute when he smiles like that --

Whoa. Where did that thought come from? I shook my head dazedly, attempting to shake off the weird feeling of vertigo I'd felt when he smiled at me.

"Lin, you okay?" Shigeru was staring at me, a slightly worried expression on his face. "Ne, Lin, are you -- wauk!" I brought my head up sharply as he let out a surprised yelp, his wide eyes fixed on something just ahead of us. I tried to turn my head to see, but --

*WHOMP!*

The next thing I knew, I was tangled up with Shigeru and a mass of ugly orange taffetta on the floor of the rink, and a crowd was gathering around us.

"Lin!" Shigeru exclaimed. "Lin, are you all right? And er .. if you are, could you please get off of me?"

"Ack! Gomen, Shigeru!" I leaped up, blushing furiously. "I'm fine, don't worry about .." I trailed off in horror as the orange mass of taffetta rose to its feet, and I realized just who we'd bumped into.

"Why, if it isn't Ookido Shigeru," Kasumi exclaimed in a suspiciously-sweet voice, placing one of her orange-nailed hands to her mouth in artful surprise. "Fancy, ah, 'running' into you here."

"Oh yeah," Shigeru said, regarding Kasumi thoughtfully as he stood up and brushed himself off. "You're Ha Satoshi's friend." I flinched guiltily at the mention of my name, my face brightening a shade or two. Luckily, Shigeru didn't seem to notice. "Kasumi, wasn't it?"

"The one and only!" she agreed cheerfully, striking a pose. I resisted the urge to snarl as she turned her bright green eyes on me, simpering evilly. "Who's your GORGEOUS date, may I ask?"

"Ah." Shigeru scratched his head. "Kasumi, This is Lin. Lin, Kasumi. We just met, but we're already like old pals, right Lin?" He winked at me.

"Nice to meet you!" Kasumi chirped, proferring her hand. I took it, and squeezed it as hard as I could, my eyes boring into hers.

"No," I gritted out. "The pleasure's all mine."

I'm going to kill her. I swear.

"Anyway, it's really a shame about poor, POOR Satoshi," she said mournfully, releasing my hand and turning to Shigeru. I instantly went on alert, tensing up as she sneaked a glance at me, her eyes glittering with amusement. "He really wanted to come to the party, but this afternoon he gave in to temptation and ate WAY too much of the bean soup my sister Botan made for dinner." She lifted her hands in mock despair. "Now he can't stay off the pot for more than a couple minutes at a time. It's a shame, really -- downright tragic. But perhaps from now on he won't be so greedy, hmm?"

"I see," Shigeru said gravely, with no trace of a smile.

Noooo .. I've changed my mind. Death's too good for the likes of her.

***

"So what do you wanna do now?" Shigeru asked, one eyebrow quirking upwards.

"I dunno. Preferably something that doesn't involve the risk of falling," I told him, wincing and discreetly rubbing my bruised side.

"I hear you loud and clear," he told me, grinning and gingerly patting his own undoubtedly-sore side.

We began walking away from the rink, heading down the fake cobweb and streamer-covered corridor to another section of the gym. I didn't remember this place being so huge. Then again, I had only been in it long enough to win my Bluebadge and leave. As we walked into the next room, I realized that we'd reached the "ball" section of the Hanada Halloween Ball, where Takeshi had initially gone. Energetically dancing couples filled the room. I suddenly wished we were back in the roller-skating rink, even with that barracuda -- oh, excuse me, Tosakinto-suited Kasumi lurking around there.

"Ne, Lin .. dance with me?"

K'so.

I must have looked really apprehensive, because Shigeru shook his head and chuckled. "Let me guess -- you've never gone dancing before, either."

"Bingo," I said with a rueful smile. "As you can probably guess, I've never done a lot of things."

"Hey, it's nothing to be ashamed of. There's a first time for everything." Shigeru winked. "One dance. Then we can stop if you want, all right?"

"Well .. ah .. okay," I relented, smiling weakly. Shigeru smiled back, and reached for my hand, his fingers twining around mine. He began to lead me toward the dance floor, and I swallowed nervously. Hoo boy, I'd really done it now! Roller-skating was one thing, but this ..

"Don't look so scared, Lin," Shigeru said suddenly, glancing back at me. "It's just a dance, right?"

As we reached the floor, the cheery pop tune that had been playing faded out, and the strains of a softer song began.

Shimatta. It would be a slow song.

We stared at each other for a long moment. Then Shigeru moved in closer to me, letting his hands rest lightly at my waist. "This is better, actually," he murmured, his eyes twinkling at my flustered expression. "Slow dancing isn't so hard. All you do is hang on to the other person and sway."

"I-I think I can do that," I whispered, tentatively placing my hands on his shoulders.

"Good."

My heart was thundering in my ears, and my cheeks were burning so brightly I was surprised I wasn't lighting up the entire gym. I was so embarrassed that I couldn't even meet Shigeru's eyes. Instead, I studied the costumes of the people around us -- they seemed a lot more elaborate than most of the ones I'd seen so far. A couple dressed up as peacocks swept past us, iridescent feathers covering their costumes and masks, gleaming in the low light. Behind them swayed another couple, their bodies hung with layers and layers of richly patterned swatches of silk; I squinted at them, but I honestly couldn't tell what gender either of them were. Off to my right, yet another pair held each other tightly, wearing fancy Victorian clothes and half-masks hung with bright streamers and ribbons. I caught myself wondering how Shigeru and I looked next to all these amazing costumes.

As the song progressed, I gradually began to relax. This really isn't so bad .. it's kind of nice, actually, I thought hazily. The dreamy music swirled around in my head, entrancing me, and I found myself leaning closer to Shigeru. His arms tightened around me in response.

This was so different from anything I'd ever seen before: these faceless, fancifully dressed strangers swaying around us; the colored lights from the spotlights and the reflections from the mirror-ball shifting and shimmering, turning the streamer-covered gym into a strange, dream-like land; and perhaps the strangest of all, Shigeru's arms wrapped snugly around my waist. No, the strangest thing of all was that I didn't mind being so close to him. It felt .. right.

"There's such a sad love
Deep in your eyes, a kind of pale jewel
Opened and closed within your eyes
I'll place the sky within your eyes ..."

I was suddenly very conscious of the heat of Shigeru's body, pressed so close against me -- warm and comforting somehow, even through all the layers of costumery between us. I dazedly raised my eyes to meet his, and was suddenly jolted out of my trance. Those bright, silvery eyes pierced and pinned me in place. The colored lights dancing overhead were caught and reflected in those eyes that were looking at me so intensely; one moment blue, one moment green, the next red. My breath tangled in my throat.

He's beautiful.

I shivered, feeling a chill slide down my spine as we stood stock-still in the middle of all the dancing couples, our eyes locked. I'd never thought this way about anyone before. Much less Shigeru, my lost childhood friend, my arrogant rival .. gods, another boy. Was I going crazy?

Shigeru's eyes softened, as if he could sense my fear. He reached a hand up to trace the curve of my cheek, and I drew my breath in sharply. His fingers were soft, cautious as they caressed my face. The music still dreamed behind us.

"As the pain sweeps through
Makes no sense for you
Every thrill is gone, wasn't too much fun at all
But I'll be there for you
As the world falls down ..."

I shuddered as his fingers delicately moved from my cheek to trace the outline of my lower lip, his eyes gone dark with some emotion I couldn't place. And then I noticed that his face was slowly nearing mine.

Is he gonna .. kiss me?

A strange tingling, twisting, yet not totally unpleasant feeling had taken over my stomach. For a moment I felt terrified, and so dizzy I thought I was going to pass out. Yet I let my eyelids slip shut as his face moved closer. I felt his warm breath brush my lips, almost a kiss in and of itself, and my heart felt like it was going to either thunder its way out of my chest or stop altogether.

How did this happen? I .. I actually WANT him to --

And then, with a sinking feeling, I realized something else.

He isn't really kissing me, is he? He's kissing Lin. Someone who isn't even REAL.

I shouldn't be doing this, pretending to be someone I'm not. This is .. wrong.

I gasped and pushed him away, refusing to let the sudden, shocked hurt in his eyes register in my mind. "I'm sorry, I can't -- It's just -- I have t-to --" I stuttered, cursing inwardly as my voice shook.

"Lin, I -- " Shigeru broke off, his eyes troubled. His hand reached for mine.

"No, I .. I have to go!" I blurted out miserably, wrenching myself free. I felt his hand brush against mine, but I yanked my hand away. I had to get out of this place -- every second I stayed pressed against this boy made it harder and harder for me to think straight. I whirled away from Shigeru, shoving my way through the shifting masses of beautiful people pressing close around us, all so distant behind their masks and costumes. I'd found them enchanting just a moment ago, but now I was afraid of the way this situation had cast a spell over my mind and made me act like someone I wasn't. Someone who thought things the normal me had never dreamed of thinking. Someone who would do things that the normal me would never even consider.

"Lin!" Shigeru cried. Disappointment and bewilderment were so evident in his voice that I wanted to turn around and go back, but I didn't dare -- I didn't want to deceive him any further. I kept pushing doggedly on through the crowd of dancers, some of them turning to stare curiously at the two of us.

"Lin, please wait!"

Was he coming after me? I hoped desperately that he wouldn't, that he'd let me go and forget about me. This wasn't supposed to happen!

I finally reached the big double doors and pushed my way through them, letting them slam shut on the fairyland of the dance hall. Turning away, I leaned wearily against the outer wall of the gym for a moment, trying to catch my breath and collect my confused, jumbled thoughts.

What the hell had I gotten myself into?

I began walking away from the gym, arms folded tightly against my chest in a pathetic attempt to ward off the cold. I didn't have a coat, and it was pretty chilly out tonight .. I wanted to be back in the warm gym, in the warm arms of -- gah! No! I sighed unhappily. In this state of mind, it was probably necessary that I got myself far away from the gym as quickly as possible. I brooded over my situation as I walked, becoming more and more depressed with each step.

The Shigeru I had seen tonight was far different from who he had been to me until now -- once a good friend, then suddenly my rival and enemy, and now someone else entirely -- a person who was funny, charming, generous, and sweet. And, I admitted to myself, I had been enjoying his company. I liked this new side of Shigeru a lot.

Maybe even more than just "liked."

I recoiled at the thought. It went against everything I'd been taught about how things were supposed to be, but .. I couldn't deny what I was feeling. There was no mistaking it. Sure, I'd always admired and looked up to Shigeru; we used to be pretty good friends, after all. Even when we grew apart and he became mean and insulting, all I'd really wanted from him was his respect. His talent as a pokemon trainer was obvious, even though we didn't agree on some points, and he had a certain kind of charisma and style that was irresistible. I wanted to prove to him that I was every bit as good as he was, even though I didn't always believe that about myself.

Yet tonight ..

There had definitely been something different between the two of us tonight.

But I knew Shigeru would never have spoken so sweetly to the real me -- Ha Satoshi, the shrimpy little brat he'd grown up with. He would never have laughed at my lame jokes, would never have tried to teach me to skate, would never have held me close and danced with me and looked into my eyes as if I were the most fascinating creature on earth. He probably would never even give me the time of day, I thought with a bitter smirk, recalling my words to Takeshi. No, Shigeru only did those things because he thought I was some girl, another cheerleader to add to his collection.

This was all so stupid! I never should've agreed to that dance .. even if I'd enjoyed it so much it frightened me. But if Shigeru had known what he had really held in his arms, he would be horrified and disgusted. He'd be perfectly justified, too .. because boys weren't supposed to do these things with other boys.

And if he had known what else I had wanted him to do --

I'm a monster .. I'm not supposed to be feeling these things! I repeated over and over again to myself as I walked. My steps gained momentum, until finally I was running, blindly tearing through the neighborhoods surrounding the gym. The streets flashed by me, streetlamps and unfamiliar houses and the shadows of trees merging together in a hazy blur. I had no idea where I was going, but it didn't matter. I ran and ran, trying to ignore the regret twisting in my stomach and the tightness behind my eyes; and above all, the urge to go back to Shigeru and let him press his lips to mine.

Stop! I tried to will all thoughts of Shigeru out of my head, trying not to think of black angel wings or soft reddish-brown hair or sad silvery-blue eyes ..

I huffed a sigh. And I'm doing a real great job of that, ne?

After a few minutes, I noticed my feet were beginning to hurt terribly. These skimpy white slippers weren't exactly the best running shoes. Glancing around me, I realized I was near the entrance to the Hanada City Park. I shuffled miserably through the entrance and walked for a couple more minutes, until I couldn't stand it anymore. My feet felt as though they were about to burst. I should be all right here, I thought wearily, sinking down into a patch of soft grass beneath the spread of an old oak tree. There's no way he would've cared enough to follow me all this way, right? Even if he was about to kiss me .. to him, I'm just some random girl he met at a party. I sighed, easing the slippers off my poor feet and rubbing them tenderly. Why girls wanted to wear these kind of shoes was beyond me. I bet he's kissed lots of girls he doesn't even know. He's always been a playboy. I mean, just look at all those silly cheerleaders who follow him around ..

Leaves rustled; someone was approaching me from behind.

"Lin?"

I closed my eyes. Shigeru, why'd you have to follow me? How he'd managed to stay behind me as I ran crazily through the suburbs of Hanada City, I'd never know. Why'd he have to do that? Why couldn't he just stay at the dance and let me disappear?

There was a long silence.

"Lin," he said again, quietly. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have moved so fast -- "

"No. It's not that, Shigeru," I murmured. "I .. wanted you to kiss me."

"You did?" He sounded startled. "Then why did you run from me?"

"Because I'm not who you think I am. I'm not WHAT you think I am, at all." I stood, still facing away from him. "If you knew who I really was -- "

"Isn't that the point of Halloween?" he interrupted softly. "To drop who you really are for one night and be someone else? That's why we all put on masks and costumes, isn't it?" He paused for a moment, as if he were struggling with his words. "I'm not always this person either, you know," he finally whispered. I heard leaves crunching, as if he were coming toward me. I took another step away and shook my head, feeling sick to my stomach.

"Please, Shigeru, just leave me alone. Go back to the party and find someone else to dance with. Don't get me wrong, I-I really had fun tonight." Before I could stop it, a tear streaked down my face. Great. Now I was crying, just like the stupid girl Shigeru thought I was! "But just trust me on this one. You don't wanna know who I am. Just g-go back to the gym and forget this ever happened, all right?"

I began to walk away, still trying to choke down the lump in my throat. I really didn't want to leave so rudely and abruptly, but I had to get away before I burst into tears, or before he --

"Idiot."

I froze in place.

"You're such an idiot," Shigeru repeated gently, and I could hear the smile in his voice. "Then again, you always were one. I don't know why I'm so surprised."

No .. no WAY. He couldn't possibly --

"You think I didn't know who you were from the moment I saw you?" I could hear him walking toward me again as I stood there, rooted to the spot in shock. "Actually, I'll admit that you had me for a minute there. I wondered who she was, that pretty girl in the angel costume that looked like a matched set for mine. But then I got a better look." He stopped just behind me, and then I felt his hands rest lightly on my bare shoulders as he leaned forward and whispered teasingly against my ear:

"You look damned good in a dress, jari-booi."

***

Takeshi sat slouched at a table in an all-night diner, chin propped up on his fist. He sweatdropped as he watched Kasumi wolf down her food with all the refinement of a starving Kabigon. "I take it hatching all those evil plots and machinations really fires up the ol' appetite, eh?" he observed wryly.

Kasumi paused for a moment, blinking at him innocently. "Whatever do you mean, Takeshi dear?"

The sweatdrop grew. "Never mind."

Smirking, Kasumi returned to her food. Takeshi's expression grew thoughtful. "Poor Satoshi," he remarked, shaking his head. "Of all the people he could've been stuck with for the evening, he gets the one person he can't stand. You know Satoshi -- he likes almost everyone, but I think he'd have to literally be an angel to put up with that Shigeru." He sighed, looking glumly down at his hands. "I've been feeling so guilty about my part in it -- "

" -- after Sakura turned you down and humiliated you in front of everyone at the party, that is," Kasumi finished sweetly. Takeshi just stared at her morosely. "Anyway," she continued, "I wouldn't feel too sorry for Satoshi. Last time I saw the two of them, they looked like they were actually having a pretty good time. Maybe from now on they'll be civil to one another."

"Well, I suppose stranger things have happened," Takeshi conceded, then stopped talking as the waiter walked up and placed the bill on their table. Takeshi let out a low whistle as he stared at the exorbitant amount circled at the bottom of the slip of paper. "Hah, Kasumi, I bet you're regretting being such a pig now," he snorted with satisfaction.

Kasumi raised an eyebrow. "Nah, not particularly," was her only response. She produced a few bills and handed them to the waiter, who smiled widely and backed away with a peppy "Have a nice night, folks!"

She must've given him one huge tip, Takeshi thought, shaking his head again with amusement. It was a little late for someone to be that cheerful without good reason.

As he shrugged into his coat, Kasumi turned around and lobbed something at him. "Here's your wallet back, Takeshi," she said casually.

Takeshi caught it automatically, mumbling "Thanks" .. and then he thought about what she had just said.

"Oi! What were you doing with my wallet?" he exclaimed. Suddenly his brow furrowed. "WAIT just a second. How did you pay for that huge .. " he trailed off as he realized the red-head was already bouncing toward the door.

"For shame, Takeshi," she chided him, winking back over her shoulder. "Don't you know it's bad manners to force a lady to pay for her own dinner?"

"KASUMI! GET BACK HERE!"

***

I wondered if it was possible for a twelve-year-old to have a coronary.

"You .. I .. Shigeru! You KNEW?" I sputtered, my poor mind reeling.

Shigeru laughed, not unkindly. "Yes, Satoshi. I knew who you were the entire time. Ah .. do you need to sit down or something?"

"N-no .. I'm fine. But, well .. why did you, uh .. oh damn .."

"Why did I pretend that I didn't?" Shigeru asked softly. I nodded. Somehow the ability to form complete sentences was beyond me at the moment.

"Honestly, I didn't think you wanted me to know," he told me, removing his hands from my shoulders. "When I spotted you at the party and came up to you .. well, to tell you the truth, I was planning to apologize for the way I've treated you in the past. It's something I had been meaning to do for a long time now, and I thought this would be a good chance. But then when you saw me, you blurted out that false name .. so I figured I'd play along. It seemed appropriate, considering the occasion."

I shook my head, bewildered. "You were going to apologize?"

Shigeru sighed. "Yes. I .. I know I've been horrible to you ever since we both started on our pokemon journeys. Well, there's a reason for that." I turned around to face him, and he shifted uncomfortably, his eyes sliding toward the ground.

"Shigeru?"

"This is hard for me to admit, Satoshi .. but I did it because I was jealous of you."

"Wha~at?!" I must've looked like a Koiking out of water as I stood there, gaping at him. "You, jealous of ME? But Shigeru-kun, you're the one that's always ahead!"

"I'm sure you know that the amount of pokemon one has caught is no way to measure the worth of a trainer. I would've disagreed once, but now I think I understand." He was silent for a moment, standing with his hands in the pockets of his jeans, staring up into the night sky. "It may sound crazy, but from the very start I've had this feeling in the back of my mind that I'll never truly be a pokemon master."

"What are you talking about?"

He looked hard at me. "Think about your journey, Satoshi. Something I've noticed about you is that you're always putting your own plans on hold to help those who need it. You've got the kind of personality that a real pokemon master should have, and I think my grandfather recognized that in you. Didn't you notice how he always seemed to favor you? He certainly helped you much more than he did me."

"But that's because you didn't need any help!" I protested, hardly able to believe what I was hearing. I'd thought Shigeru's earlier behavior was strange, but this was completely unreal -- especially now that I knew he wasn't just buttering up a potential fangirl. What happened to the egotistical, strutting jerk that I'd become so used to?

Shigeru sighed. "That isn't true. Look, my point is that there's .. something .. about you. I can't quite put my finger on it, but you're just .. special. And up until recently, I resented you for that."

"Shigeru-kun, I really don't know what you're talking about when you say I'm special," I said, confused. "I don't see how I'm any more special than anyone else. But anyway .. what changed your mind about me?"

Shigeru shrugged. "It's just a gradual realization I've had. As I got to know the person you'd become, I realized that being jealous of you for your talent as a trainer and your good nature was like being jealous of the sky for being blue, or jealous of the sun for shining. It's just the way you are."

I had no idea what to say to that. Shigeru was the last person I ever would have expected to say such kind things about me .. especially to my face.

These words wouldn't have been such a surprise once, though, would they? Maybe .. he never really changed at all. Maybe deep down, he's still the same Geru-chan who I used to be friends with .. the one who used to protect me from the bigger, meaner kids .. the one that I used to go trick-or-treating with .. used to do almost everything with, as a matter of fact.

"I think it really started on the day you won the Greenbadge, though," he continued, his eyes distant. "That pokemon that Sakaki sent to attack me .. I'd never been so scared in my life. I had never seen something that powerful before." He shuddered, obviously remembering whatever the pokemon had done to him and his friends. "But then I woke up, and there you were, holding me." He smiled sadly at me, his eyes shining at me in the light from the streetlamps. "I couldn't get it out of my mind after that day .. even after I had pushed you away, ruined our friendship, and treated you like dirt, you still cared enough to worry about me. I wanted to apologize to you right then, after you won the badge. But you left before I could work up the nerve."

"Ohhh .. Shigeru, I didn't know," I breathed. "You know, I've missed you so much .. I never wanted us to grow apart the way we did." I reached for his hand, wanting to comfort him somehow. He let me take it, and then pulled me close to him and wrapped both his arms around me in a fierce hug.

"Can you ever forgive me, Satoshi?" he asked, his voice quavering slightly. "I know it's a lot to ask -- "

"Iie, Shigeru-kun. You're already forgiven," I told him, shaking my head vigorously. I pulled back from him a bit, taking both his hands in mine. "After hearing all this .. well, it's a lot to absorb, but I think I can kinda understand why you did what you did."

He was staring at me incredulously. "Just like that? Even after all the times I made fun of you and called you names, and .. "

I chuckled. "To be honest, Shigeru, I think our rivalry was the best thing that could've happened to me." He frowned and opened his mouth to object, but I continued. "If I hadn't had you to compete with, I don't think I would've accomplished nearly as much as I did. I mean, every time I got one of those glowing progress reports from your grandfather, or watched you show off, it pissed me off so much that I was inspired to work harder."

Shigeru laughed softly. "You're one of those people who can see a bright side to anything, aren't you?" He released one of my hands and reached up to brush his fingers across my face.

"Umm .."

"Oh." He let his hand drop and stepped back from me. "I'm sorry .. that seems to make you uncomfortable. I'll stop." He looked away, obviously ashamed of himself.

"No -- don't," I blurted out before I thought, and blushed hotly as he slowly turned back around to stare at me, his blue-grey eyes wide.

"Satoshi?"

"Shigeru, I-I meant it when I said I wanted you to kiss me earlier. The only reason I hesitated just now is because I can't believe you wanted to, knowing who I really was." Once again, I couldn't meet his eyes. "I don't know how it happened, but tonight, you .. you .." All this blushing had to be detrimental to my health somehow. I absently wondered if there was enough blood left in the rest of me to keep everything running, or if it had all migrated up to my cheeks.

I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, and Shigeru was in front of me again, tipping my face up with his fingers. "Oh re~ally. You mean that?" He smirked slightly.

"Yes, I do," I whispered, trembling, my eyes fixed on his. Shigeru's smirk softened, widening into a gentle smile.

"Oh, Sato-chan. I .. I've wanted to do this for so long." His eyes had gone misty, and mine also teared up as I heard him call me by that old nickname. I never thought I'd hear you call me that again, Shigeru ..

He leaned forward again, but this time I wasn't going anywhere.

"However, before we get down to .. matters," he breathed suddenly, stopping a fraction of an inch from my face, "I've got a question for you."

"What?" I whispered, woozy from having his face so close to mine. "What is it, Geru-chan?"

"Not that I'm complaining or anything, but .. why the hell are you wearing an angel princess costume?"

I laughed, nearly falling over from the unexpectedness of the question. He caught me, his arms encircling my waist, as he stared at me with an inquisitive smile quirking one corner of his mouth.

"What? Did you lose a bet or something?"

"It's a long story," I sighed good-naturedly, reaching up to wrap my arms around his neck. "And one I'm not exactly eager to go into right now."

"Oh~h, I see. Well. What would you rather do, then, Sato-chan?" he asked teasingly. I paused for a moment, eyes closed, savoring the feeling of having him so close to me -- me this time, not some made-up dream girl -- and not to mention the feeling of having my best friend back after so many years. I opened my eyes, and reached up to press my fingers to his smiling lips.

"Kiss me."

He was happy to oblige.