A Snowball's Chance

By Gabi (pinkfluffynet@yahoo.com)

"No, no, Misaki-chan. You're still standing too stiffly. Don't brace your legs like that. The point is to relax your muscles and loosely stand," he laughed, one gloved hand gently on her arm.

Of course, it was easy for him to say that. It was very different for her to actually do that when Mihara Oujirou, prince of the layer was standing right next to her, ready to loop an arm around her should she fall, which would put her even closer to him. And she was sure he'd do it too. She had learned earlier that day that he had no qualms sharing his personal space with her the first six times she'd almost fallen and he'd managed to catch her. Every time she thought she'd just about blushed herself out she'd slip and necessitate him coming to her aid and she'd be put in another heart pounding situation.

Just whose idea was it to come ice skating anyway?

Tamayo came whizzing by and cut a sharp figure eight right by the wall (to which Misaki was gamely clinging) and then paused, leaning over for a breather and bracing her hands on her knees.

Of course. It had been Tamayo's idea. Trust her to come up with an activity that was not only extremely physical but also provided her with ample opportunities to shove Misaki into Oujirou's arms. If she didn't know that Tamayo was such a nice person, Misaki might have begun to suspect that Tamayo found her nervousness around Oujirou amusing. Or perhaps she was just so absolutely elated that Misaki was interested in Oujirou and not her Kotaro-chan (which meant she was free to get him in as many body slams as she felt like on the ice). Oujirou was apparently enjoying himself too. He'd already told Tamayo that she'd make an excellent hockey player no less than three times today. Yes, if she didn't know better, Misaki would have suspected that this were some sort of joint arrangement between Tamayo and Oujirou. Of course, that was silly.

Kotaro idled up beside Tamayo, not nearly so bold a figure yet still sure and confident on his skates. Misaki blushed and her grip on the wall tightened. She felt silly being the only one who couldn't even stand for very long on skates. Not for the first time that day she wished that she could control herself the way that she controlled Hikaru – simple, smooth, graceful – perfect reactions to her thought commands. Unfortunately her own body wasn't so good at responding. She had no trouble picturing the elegant moves. It was actually getting her body to respond in the proper way that was the difficult bit.

She tried to brace a little more weight on her left leg gradually only to have it slip right out from under her. She would have likely landed hard on her bottom had Oujirou not moved smoothly and managed to brace her up and set her on her feet again, one hand lingering casually on her shoulder.

Kotaro gave Oujirou a long, steady look before turning his eyes slightly and Misaki would have colored again were she not already blushing from the hand that stayed on her shoulder. Although he was no longer interested in her in the romantic sense, Kotaro apparently still considered himself as filling a surrogate big brother role and felt the need to occasionally challenge Oujirou to contests as pointless as staring down and the odd arcade game. Oujirou usually won, but that didn't stop Kotaro from challenging again and again. Thankfully Tamayo understood and didn't seem to mind at all. In fact she occasionally gave Kotaro tips and acted as his coach when the subject of the challenge was something up her alley, like a pro wrestling game.

"Misaki-chan, somehow I don't think you're going to get any better if you stay attached to the wall," it was Oujirou again with his gentle ribbing. Misaki gulped hard at the thought of going out onto the middle of the ice where she'd have nothing to cling to . . . except Oujirou – and then the tips of her ears went pink again. Desperately she wished that she'd thought to wear ear-muffs. Oujirou was always on top of her moods, without the pinkening ear tips to give him an extra edge. She glanced over at Kotaro who looked as if he were about to challenge Oujirou again. So he had made the clinging connection as well, she sweatdropped to herself. Still, Oujirou was right. She was never going to get any better if she stayed clinging to the safety rail. She glanced down at Hikaru who was safe in the deep side pocket of her jacket and the little angel seemed to be agreeing with Oujirou. Misaki sighed. Hikaru always seemed to agree with Oujirou these days.

Misaki took a deep breath and nodded, "I suppose, Oujirou-san."

He nodded once and then moved smoothly away in a graceful arc. Supple easy movements were one of his trademarks both on and off the layer. Misaki was sure if Oujirou's myriad of fangirls could see what he was like on the ice then there'd be no beating them off, even with sticks. He extended his hands to her, palm up and she managed to steel up the courage to abandon the wall and move toward him unsteadily, one foot in front of the other.

This was apparently not the way one was supposed to move on the ice because she'd taken only one unsteady step when the blade of her skate went one way and she went the other, skidding on the ice and aiming to get a mouth full of dirty slush.

Oujirou reacted quickly, like he always did, moving to get his weight under her so he could brace her up. Unfortunately, Tamayo was the closest to Misaki and also moved to grab her and set her back on her feet. Kotaro, seeing Tamayo and Oujirou move at the same time shot forward to stop what he saw would be a disaster. He moved a little faster than he'd intended and he ended up only compounding the problem.

The end summation of this disaster was a mauled little pile of ice skates and appendages with Misaki on the bottom and Tamayo triumphantly on top, cheering for a spare moment because she had forgotten that this was not the effect she had been going for. Sheepish a moment later, she help detangle the mess and set Misaki back on her feet yet again.

After this debacle the other three skated off a short distance away to have a conference and Misaki was left stranded and wobbly with no one to keep her company but Hikaru. In a few seconds Tamayo skated back with the verdict. They had apparently come to the conclusion that it would simply be safer to let Oujirou catch Misaki when she fell lest they all end up causing critical wounds on each other in an attempt to save her from a sore bottom.

Thankfully, the only damage Misaki and Hikaru had suffered from the affair was to have the wind knocked out of them and then be squished by two larger boys and a bouncing girl on top. Oujirou and Kotaro both had purple knots, although Oujirou's was mostly covered by his hair. Tamayo, who had been by far the winner in this situation suffered only from the fact that she felt she could not fairly claim that she had pinned all three of them at once.

Since the most harm that had come to them so far had been from each other and not the ice, Misaki felt a little better about easing herself out into the middle of the rink (with Oujirou close at hand). He was a patient teacher, quietly repeating the instructions he had given to her earlier about having a loose and relaxed stance. Although still not feeling particularly free from care (since Oujirou was still so close at hand) Misaki forced herself to relax, counting back from a hundred slowly until she found that Oujirou had let loose of her arm and she was now standing on her own, quite steadily in the middle of the ice.

His instructions to glide instead of attempt to walk made such perfect sense to Misaki that she wondered why she hadn't thought of it herself. Of course, up until a few moments ago she had been so terrified of trying to go out onto the ice without something to grope onto that she had ignored most of the actual technical aspects of ice skating. After a few false starts Misaki managed to skate (albeit very slowly) all the way to Oujirou who had to be standing a good seven feet away. She was immensely proud of herself, as were Tamayo and Kotaro. Oujirou smiled and told her that the hardest step to take was always the first.

And then he promptly skated twenty feet away from her.

Misaki found that now that she had established that she wasn't going to bruise her rear every time she attempted to move a muscle on the ice that she felt much more comfortable moving slowly around. This confidence was apparently a major part in ice skating, and before long Misaki found that she could breeze along at a respectable pace. She wasn't going fast, not like Tamayo, not yet, but she was still good enough so that she could get around when she needed to. She certainly wasn't a figure skater either, but Oujirou didn't complain about her form and that was good enough for her.

Steady and smooth, she concentrated on keeping her movements steady and smooth because she figured that this would be the easiest way to keep herself on her feet. It worked relatively well and she even managed to learn to stop herself fairly successfully after Tamayo cut sharp figures around her several times, shouting encouragements. Kotaro was skating slow, lazy circles around the three of them while Oujirou was always in front of her, her goal always a just few more feet away.

She sped up slightly, determined to reach Oujirou before he blithely skated off again and shifted her balance slightly, so she'd be more comfortable. Misaki had no idea what she'd done wrong, but she immediately regretted her slight correction because she felt her feet skid out from under her, throwing up a spray of ice. Her legs went in two different directions and neither of the directions were ways she had been intending to move. She tried to brace herself with her arms, but she ended up landing very awkwardly on her left leg. She squeezed her eyes shut, tears welling up involuntarily from the sharp sting. She leaned forward on her hands as she tried to straighten her legs out and as she did she felt several sets of hands on her shoulders almost immediately.

"Misaki-chan, I'm so sorry. I wasn't close enough to catch you," Oujirou sounded remarkably concerned and slightly guilty.

Misaki opened her eyes slowly and managed a weak laugh through the tears, "It's all right, Oujirou-san. It's the first time you let Misaki fall all day. And it doesn't hurt that much."

"Oh don't fib, Suzuhara-san," Kotaro said, planting both hands on his hips in a brotherly fashion. Misaki could tell that he was not particularly impressed with Oujirou's track record today. Even if he only let her fall once that was once too many for him, obviously.

"Can you wiggle you toes, Misakichi?" Tamayo asked excitedly, peering over Kotaro's shoulder with much interest.

Kotaro rolled his eyes, "Of course she can wiggle her toes. She just fell down on the ice, she hasn't been in a car accident," he paused and then turned concernedly back to her, "You can wiggle your toes, can't you, Suzuhara-san?"

Misaki obediently wiggled her toes, first on the right foot, then on the left foot. The three of them stared tensely at her as she did so and even after she finished. It took a moment for her to realize that they were waiting for her word on the toe wiggling since she was wearing tightly laced ice skates and her toes were not visible. Somewhat abashed, she gave them the thumbs up and nodded .

"I can wiggle all ten of them. I think I'm fine, just hurting a little bit," she blushed as she added, "And my bottom is getting cold."

Oujirou laughed softly and Kotaro looked positively scandalized. They'd been letting her sit on the ice while they questioned her; it was no wonder her bottom was getting cold.

Before she could protest Oujirou had scooped her up as if she weighed no more than a doll, one hand under her knees and one under her shoulders. Kotaro was skating close beside them, obviously a warning to Oujirou not to attempt anything untoward. If she wasn't sure it would have sent the others into fits, Misaki thought she might faint, and not from the pain, either.

Tamayo declared that what she needed to warm her up was a nice cup of cocoa and so they trooped over to the edge of the rink and de-skated themselves. Tamayo led them to the small cafe built on the rink's edge, declaring it had the best cocoa she'd ever had. Oujirou refused to put Misaki down until the got into the cafe and secured a booth despite the fact that she suspected that she would be able to able to walk perfectly well on her own now that they were off the ice. Kotaro was grumping and would have obviously preferred to be carrying Misaki if only to make sure that nothing scandalous would happen. Tamayo, apparently enjoying this immensely (expect for the injured Misakichi part, of course) dragged Kotaro off with her to help fetch the cocoa.

Oujirou, sitting on the outside of the same bench that Misaki tenanted, leaned forward on his hands and looked at her intently. As always when he looked at her with such absent-minded honesty she looked at her lap and blushed.

"Are you feeling better now, Misaki-chan?" he asked her, politely ignoring the fact that she now looked like she was counting the wrinkles in the table cloth.

She nodded quickly, chancing a look at him again and finding his gaze was now much less intimate as if he suddenly realized that they were in a public place and he was several years older than her.

"I am, Oujirou-san," she looked at her hands for a moment, folded on the table, "And I do like skating. I just wish I were better at it. It's just so hard to learn how you're supposed to move."

"Well," he said with a twinkle in his eye that made him remind her very much of Icchan, "There's nothing for that but practice."

She laughed, "But practice seems to mean a lot of bruised legs and wet bottoms. Misaki is not sure she'll ever be able to do it as well as Tamayo-chan and Oujirou-san."

"Practice doesn't necessarily mean bruises and wet bottoms, Misaki-chan," he smiled mysteriously.

This seemed to be the cue he was waiting for because he suddenly turned away from her and began rummaging in his courier's bag. After a short search he managed to tug a slab of sleek plastic and metal out of his bag that Misaki blinked at, not believing. He laid it on the table of their booth and it landed with a heavy and sound thud.

"Oujirou-san carries the portable layer with him everywhere?" she asked, incredulously, "It's awfully heavy, isn't it?"

"The only reason he carries it around so much is that he can convince Suzuhara of anything while they're on the layer, " Kotaro grumbled, having returned with a tray of pastries and mugs. If Oujirou disagreed with Kotaro's assertion, he made no sign, but all he had to do was give Misaki and long lingering look and all thoughts except the pattern of the table cloth were chased from her mind.

Tamayo and Kotaro distributed the warm delights and then Tamayo sent him away to dispose of the tray since it would not fit on the table with the portable layer.

"You see, Misaki-chan, this way you can learn the movements you have to make on the ice before you actually go out on the ice. The layer can simulate a rink for Hikaru to practice on, but it won't be real ice so it won't hurt her or get her wet or cold when she falls down," he intoned, even as his fingers drummed a cadence on the side of the portable layer that Misaki recognized as the one-two-three beat of the waltz, "Of course, Wizard will be there, so it isn't likely that Hikaru will fall down."

Tamayo leaned forward and peered into the layer giggling, but when Misaki turned to ask her what she found so humorous about an empty layer, she had managed a completely straight face. When Misaki turned back to Oujirou she found Wizard calmly sitting on his arm. Once again, Oujirou had managed to produce Wizard from somewhere on his person while Misaki wasn't looking. From past experience she knew that Oujirou never went anywhere without the blue angel, but where he kept him exactly she wasn't sure she wanted to know.

Misaki thought about Oujirou's proposal and then nodded to herself. It did make good sense and no harm would come to Hikaru. She only wished she'd thought to bring winter clothes for her little angel. She fished around in her pockets for a moment and then produced the only thing she had remembered to bring for Hikaru – a tiny pink and white striped scarf. After tucking it snugly around her neck, Misaki dropped her little red angel into the layer where Wizard was already idling gracefully.

Dropping her into a layer where the ground was already programmed to respond as ice was not a particularly clever idea, Misaki realized almost as soon as she'd dropped Hikaru. The angel, who usually landed with grace and style, landed awkwardly, windmilling her arms in an attempt to keep balance. Wizard was there in a moment, a reassuring hand on her shoulder to steady her. It took Misaki a moment to realize that the warmth and pressure on her own shoulder was not simply a carry over of Hikaru, but rather Oujirou, who'd echoed his angel's gesture whether or not he'd intended to. Misaki blushed but managed to keep her mind on Hikaru who had steadied herself under Wizard's hand.

Concentrating on the reactions she was getting from Hikaru along with what she had learned for herself, out on the ice, Misaki managed to keep Hikaru on her feet with little help from Wizard. Since she did not have to spend so much time making sure she didn't land on her posterior she could also watch Wizard in an attempt to learn his movements.

If Oujirou was graceful on the ice then Wizard was a master figure skater, a paragon of form and grace. His moves were casual and flowing, yet there was still a simple pattern underneath them that Misaki found she could analyze and catalogue. Misaki had not become the Angelic Layer National Champion through inattention to detail and mimicry and adaptability were two of her strongest suits. As Oujirou had said, after only a few minutes on the ice with Wizard, Misaki had Hikaru skating around like an Olympic medalist. Wizard followed suit, catching her improvisation and mirroring it. A more perfectly matched pair of figure skaters the rink had never known.

Hikaru moved swiftly and elegantly, cutting figure eights and doing light, fast jumps and then landing in spins. Just as she was coming out of a particularly fast and complex spin, Misaki loosened for the next jump, making the same slight balance shift that she'd made herself on the ice and one of Hikaru's legs skidded out from under her. Misaki was sure that Hikaru was doomed to repeat her own mistake when Wizard's hard shot out and caught her wrist, pulling her momentum and turning it, catching her firmly in the crook of his arm as they spun tightly from the impact of the original move. Misaki caught her breath, her eyes as wide as pie plates. Wizard and Hikaru were nose to nose, still caught in the spin. Even against the speed of the whirl, Misaki caught Wizard's slight shift in weight forward, closing the distance between them. Misaki could almost feel the breath on her cheek, her heart going like a steam engine as Wizard leaned closer and closer to Hikaru, until, until . . .

All of the sudden the layer went completely dead and both Hikaru and Wizard slumped over. Misaki then realized that she had forgotten to breath and took one long shaky breath and then turned to find Oujirou, public smile in place, with one hand on the fail-safe emergency shut down.

"Awww, Mihara-san, it was just getting good!" complained Tamayo, whom Misaki had momentarily forgotten was there.

"Wasn't it just?" he replied blandly even as he tucked Wizard somewhere in the folds of his jacket.

Misaki felt like she was going to melt. She managed to refrain from doing so only by concentrating on getting Hikaru back into her pocket before changing the subject, "Tamayo-chan where's Kotaro-kun?"

Tamayo blinked at her, "You didn't notice when he came up? He saw that you were practicing with Oujirou and said something about going to get some air."

Misaki blanched. She had apparently been more interested in the goings on of the layer than she had previously thought since she had completely missed Kotaro's arrival and departure.

"Speaking of fresh air, do you think you're ready to try skating again, now that you've practiced with Hikaru?" asked Oujirou docily.

Misaki swallowed. How could he always be so calm and collected? She always felt so flustered when he was around. Well, he had been right. Misaki's time with Hikaru had had given her more confidence and a great deal of insight into the logistics of figure skating.

She nodded. She was ready to try again.

Oujirou somehow managed to shove the portable layer back into his courier's bag as Misaki regarded her now quite cooled cocoa. She hadn't managed to drink any of it during the excitement, but she was certainly warmed up now, and not because of the pleasant temperature in the cafe.

They met Kotaro outside and he looked grumpy until Tamayo tackled and noogied him for worrying about other girls more than he worried about her.

"After all," she laughed, "Mihara-san and I might have been having some sort of romantic interlude for all you know."

Kotaro rolled his eyes and managed to laugh realizing that he was perhaps being a mite bit overprotective of Misaki, "Don't worry, I knew Suzuhara-san would keep an eye on the two of you." His pointed glance at Tamayo told Misaki that he had not expected Tamayo to intervene between her and Oujirou. He was apparently wise to Tamayo's moves. Misaki laughed to herself. She needed to stop giving Tamayo so much credit when it came to motives, or lack thereof.

Back on the ice, Misaki felt much more at home, knowing the feel and resistance of the skates under her feet. She wasn't nearly as good as Hikaru, not by any stretch of the imagination, but she was confident in her ability to perform simple moves and startled all of them by performing her first wobbly, lopsided figure eight. The other three applauded solemnly and she felt inclined to take a bow, loosening and widening her stance a little to allow her to bend.

Suzuhara Misaki apparently just refused to learn a lesson, because as she loosened her stance, one leg went out from under her one way and the other sped in the opposite direction. Oujirou moved to get behind her and brace her up. Tamayo shot forward to throw her weight underneath her and Kotaro, remembering the previous incident which had ended up in an injured Misaki, also moved to her aid.

The four skater pile up that resulted from this collision was even worse that the previous one, although Misaki was relieved that this time she'd managed to miraculously stay on top.

From somewhere under the pile, Oujirou's muffled voice came smooshed and altogether adamant, "Misaki-chan, next time we come skating, we're coming alone."


So, did you like it? Amazing what fic ideas strike me when I'm supposed to be sleeping. Also, please no one assume that I don't like Kotaro and Tamayo because I rib on them. This is a humor fic, and if you notice, I rib on everyone. I love all four of them, so this wasn't written to make anyone look bad ^^.

Also, I'm curious – if I wrote an extended Angelic Layer fanfic concerning the international tournament, would you children read it? I need to know before actually launching something like that o_o