Aishuu Offers:
Prince of the Layer
An Angelic Layer Prelude Fanfiction
Disclaimer: CLAMP is Queen. I just want to play, for earlier parts.

Chapter Three: Idol


Oujirou wasn't prepared for the sheer turmoil that his return to school caused after the Kobe tournament. He had become popular after the match with Tigra, but the amount of attention he received from his classmates made him want to run and hide. He had been trying to become an idol, but he hadn't been prepared for what the attention did to his daily life. It was one thing to think about the situation intellectually; it was another entirely to be confronted with it when he walked into the school.

"Oujirou-sama!" one of the girls said to him who a few weeks before had been rooting for his embarrassment at the hands of Kazeni. Now she was addressing him as a superior, and he felt a bit uncomfortable with it, but he turned and gave her the sweet smile his mother told him was so misleading.

"Yes?" He couldn't, for the life of him, remember the girl's name.

"I made an extra lunch, and I was wondering if you would like to eat it with me?" The girl fluttered dark lashes at him.

"My mother sent me something already," he told her gently. "Thank you for the offer, though," he replied. "It's kind of you." He gave her another smile, then managed to duck away, relieved he had escaped. He had lied through his teeth, of course, since his mother's cooking still showed no signs of improving and she avoided the kitchen like the plague because of it.

"Getting used to it yet, Mihara-san?" a voice asked in amusement.

He blinked, pasted a pleasant expression on his face, and turned to see Himeya Kazeni herself. She smiled at him with amusement, tossing her head with a bit of challenge. "Getting used to what?" he asked.

"The hardest part of winning... losing your privacy." She walked closer to him, coming to stand so she was only two feet away, a distance he found invasive. "It's not just about you and the Layer. Once you're off the Layer, you're everyone's property. People want to know you, be you - or be with you." She shivered a bit. "I've gotten marriage proposals..."

"You're fourteen!" Oujirou said in surprise.

"Isn't it fun? I finally had a fan club organized so that they'd sort out the sickos..." She leaned in closer, placing a hand on his shoulder. "I suggest you do the same since Angelic Layer is primarily a female game, you're going to be getting a lot of attention and it's going to be a rough ride."

"Um... I really haven't thought about it...." he admitted.

"If I were you, I would!" Suzuki said, coming up next to them. "Did you see this?" she asked eagerly, waving around a copy of Angelic Layer's official magazine, Layer Fall IN!

Oujirou looked at the glossy pink cover and blinked. "Um, no? Does it have tournament results in it or something?"

"Or something," the two girls chorused together, and exchanged wicked smiles.

Oujirou's stomach fell into his heels as Suzuki handed him over the glossy magazine, featuring a cover of Athena, as usual. "What page?"

"48-49..." Suzuki said, and her grin, if possible, turned even more evil.

He flipped to the indicated page and almost choked on his tongue in shock, even though he had been preparing himself for it. There, on a bright blue double-page spread that complimented his coloring, was a small article and large picture layout of him and Wizard underneath a large headline.



PRINCE OF THE LAYER

In the female dominated world of the Layer, a new wave of male players is starting to emerge, and none shows more promise than Mihara Oujirou of Kobe, and his Angel, Wizard.

Oujirou, a third-year middle school student, swept the Kobe match from no where, with only one previous win on his record. Only Yumemi scored a hit, the Angel controlled by the legendary Matriarch of the Layer, Ginga Kaoru.

And he's expected to do just as well at Kantou.

"Wizard has some unusual schematics," a representative of the Angelic Layer Corporation said when asked. "He's designed for speed and strength, and only an extremely talented Deus could control him. Watch for Oujirou- I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the Nationals."

Wizard has used one special attacks so far, "Magic Circle" which like its name seems to be pure magic, causing the Angel to appear out of nowhere in front of a vulnerable opponent.

Of the opponents Oujirou has fought, none seem to bear him any ill-will. In fact, most seem quite ready to join his fan club as soon as it forms.

Tachi Riira, who went to Kansai last year, said, "He's a wonderful person. He gives advice on how to improve your skills, and I saw him in the waiting room comforting a young Deus who had lost her match and was in tears. He's every girl's dream guy."

A teacher and a prince, with a magical Angel. Watch for him in Kansai next week!


Oujirou looked at the spread of photos after reading the article. The largest was of him with the headset on, a slight smile dancing on his lips. On the opposite page was one of Wizard, taking up the length of the page, standing coolly, probably taken after a victory. There were eight smaller candids scattered around, a few of Wizard fighting, but most were of Oujirou himself in various poses, taken through the weekend. Apparently a reporter had been following him and he hadn't realized.

His stomach tightened. This had been what he wanted, but now that it was here, he felt unsettled. He hadn't realized exactly what it meant to purposely thrust himself into the spotlight. "I... I think I'm going to go home," he said. "I feel sick," he said.

Himeya's expression turned concern. "Mihara-san, you can't run from this. You're a celebrity, and you're just going to keep rising higher." She gently took the magazine away from him and handed it to Suzuki so she could take his clammy hands in her own. "The best thing to do is just try to live your life normally."

He took a deep breath, using it to calm himself. "Is that the voice of experience?" he asked, trying to tease her.

Her voice was level as she replied. "No, Mihara-san. Where you're going, no one else has ever been. If there's anything I can do to help, I'll try, but I don't think..."

"There is one thing you can do for me," he said, smiling at her.

"Oh?" Her eyes lit up, and he knew that she really wanted to help him.

"How do I go about getting a fan club formed?"

Two days before the Kansai tournament, Oujirou was in the Piffle Princess with his laptop, gazing at the specs of the latest line. He had thought his brother wasn't going to release them until after the tournament, but apparently something had changed. As he stared at the accessories, he noted which ones were tournament legal and wondered if any of the competitors were going to try to change their styles. It would entirely throw his data off, and that meant he'd be having a more difficult time.

"Dammit, niisan," he whispered. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were doing this just to make my life difficult," he swore as he rapidly typed in some configurations.

Oujirou froze as his words echoed in his head, realizing that Ichirou just might have released the line early just to throw some road blocks at him. He wouldn't put it past his brother.

Someone cleared their throat behind him, and Oujirou turned his head, a pleasant smile on his face and a polite rejection prepared on his tongue. Ever since that article had run in Layer Fall IN! he'd been besieged by girls wanting dates or the press. The mainstream media had picked up on him for some reason he couldn't fathom, and while he wanted to bring more male players into the Layer, he wasn't particularly eager to answer questions about what his ideal girl would be like - for the umpteenth time.

That had not been the point.

Still, his fake smile turned into a real one of surprise when he saw the old woman standing behind him. "Hello, Ginga-san," he said, bowing politely. "It's nice to see you. Are you looking at the new line as well?"

The older woman waved a hand. "Call me Kaoru. And yes, I'm here to see what's out, and see in Yumemi needs any upgrades, but I don't think anything here will work for her. Are you ready for the Kansai tournament?"

"Just about." He looked down at the Layer Fall IN! Issue she had clutched in her hands and blushed a bit. "I didn't think you would be into that gossip."

"It's fun. Keeps me young." She gave him a grin, glancing around the Piffle Princess. "I don't suppose I can convince you to use some of the points you won to treat me to a latte, can I?"

He was curious what she wanted to talk about, because there was obviously something on her mind. "Sure. I'm always up for dating such a fascinating woman."

Kaoru laughed brightly at that. "If I was fifty years younger, I'd take you seriously and make you marry me. You're way too charming to leave unattached."

Oujirou offered her his arm. "If you were twenty years younger, I would whisk you off your feet, and damn what others would say," he told her. He liked her attitude and spunk. He hoped that he had even half her zest when he reached her age.

After placing their orders, she turned her attention to him. "Have you thought on what I told you?" she asked. Her fingers tapped a cadence on the table top as her curious eyes assessed him.

"Of course," he replied. "I'd be an idiot not to."

"And?"

He wondered what she wanted from him. There was something about her that challenged him, the same way he challenged his other opponents to get better after each fight. It wasn't rude of her being condensing; it was a genuine desire for a rival who performed to their fullest. "I... everything I do is a step toward my goal."

Some of the light faded from her eyes. "Heaven is a place on Earth, Ouji-sama...." she whispered softly. "For those who chose to see what's in front of them."

He shifted in his seat uncomfortably, glad for the distraction of the waitress who chose that moment to bring their drinks. He took a deep sip of his soda, and allowed the sweetness to settle on his tongue."My brother tells me to 'dream big.'" He smiled a bit, thinking of Ichirou. "He always fulfills his goals, and I'm going to do the same."

"They say 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.' You're running so hard you seem to forget that. If you trip, what will you do?"

"I won't trip," he said.

"I wonder," she said softly to herself, but his quick ears caught her murmur. "Your family is certainly known for its achievements, isn't it?" she asked directly.

He stared at her, raising an eyebrow with amusement. He had been expecting someone to connect his family name with that of the creator of Angelic Layer, and it was no surprise that the clever Kaoru was the first to confront him on it. "I do have a rather distinguished older brother," he admitted.

"I rather thought so," she said. "You've been playing for a while, haven't you?" she asked, taking a long pull on her root beer float, smiling as it made slurping sounds.

"Let's just say that you can call me 'senpai,'" Oujirou replied. He didn't want to admit how long he had been playing, and tweaking her struck him as fun.

"Experience sometimes gets in the way," she said. Then she gave him a wicked grin before standing up slowly and straightening her shirt. "I'll be seeing you this weekend," Kaoru said. "I think you'll be unpleasantly surprised."

He tilted his head charmingly, but the hard look on his face made her breath catch with anticipation. "If I can't beat you, Kaoru-san, than I have no right to face Athena."

It was a cloudy day on the day of the tournament. The Kansai match fell on a Saturday, and he had to take a half day for travel and registration. The actual fights wouldn't begin until 5 p.m., which was arranged so they could be televised. It was the first time these matches were going to be carried on a live broadcast, and he wasn't too happy about that.

He still had people coming up to him with copies of that blasted article, and he was starting to get an eyebrow twitch whenever anyone said "oujisama," which girls seemed inclined to call him. Needless to say, he felt decidedly on edge.

This tournament would be harder than the Kyoto one, but he knew he could win it. He had been practicing, and he had studied the sixteen Angels who would be entering as well.

He stared around at the people, impressed at the crowd. No one seemed to have recognized him, and he smiled in relief as he went through to the waiting room after passing through registration relatively unscathed. As he walked in, a group of girls stopped talking to stare at him.

"It's the newbie," one of them said in a hard voice.

Her face was familiar enough from the profiles he had compiled to know her name was Fujita An, and her Angel was Calliope. She had made it to Nationals last year, being knocked out at the quarter finals by Athena. He wasn't sure what to do about her hostility.

He decided to handle it the way his mother always told him to - by trying to make friends of his enemies. He smiled at her and held out his hand. "I'm Mihara Oujirou," he said to introduce himself.

"I know who you are," Fujita replied. She didn't take his hand, leaving him to have to awkwardly pull it back.

"Can it, An," a sharp voice said. Himeya Kazeni walked into the room, cradling her Angel. Suzuki Azami was at her side, as always, and neither one seemed to be particularly happy at Fujita's rudeness. "If you have a problem with Mihara-san, take it out on the Layer. That's if Calliope can get her hands on Wizard - which I doubt."

Quite a turnabout from their first meeting, Oujirou thought as he studied Himeya's fiercely angry profile, a bit amused in spite of himself. "It's fine, Himeya-san," he told her.

Fujita and Himeya both turned and glared at him, but it was Suzuki who spoke. "Mihara-san, don't interfere," she said, her voice sharp. He stepped back a bit to get out of the way of the catfight, watching the continued fireworks.

"So your trusty sidekick is here again. Won't help you anymore than last time... I'm going to go to Nationals again," Fujita pronounced.

Himeya's eyebrow twitched, and her face began to turn red. "Over my dead body."

"That can be arranged - or, at least, over Tigra's."

Threatening someone else's Angel was taboo, and Oujirou wasn't surprised when Himeya stepped closer, her eyes flashing dangerously. He was trying to decide how to defuse the situation when the door open again

"Are you kids up to something?" Ginga Kaoru asked, coming into the room. The two combatants pulled back, blushing a bit in embarrassment. Kaoru wore a look of amusement, but her words had the effect of dousing tempers like a splash of ice water. Kaoru was well aware of that, but turned to talk to Oujirou as though no one else was in the room. "Hello, Ouji-sama."

Everyone looked at Oujirou, a bit surprised as he started to blush. He did not like that nickname. "Kaoru-san. How are you today?"

"Fine. I'll be better when I win, though." She winked at him. "Yumemi and I are all ready... are you?"

He decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and chose not to give her a verbal answer. Instead he merely smiled, and looked at the clock. Half an hour until the tournament. The others followed where his gaze went, and a few broke away, cradling their Angels as they went to do whatever private meditations were their ritual.

Kaoru gripped his arm, tugging him over to a seat and pulling him down beside her. "Welcome to the politics of the Layer, Ouji-sama," Kaoru said with a sigh, glancing at where Himeya stood, obviously fuming. "No one here is your friend for long."

"Even you?" Oujirou asked.

"I'm your rival," she said with a wink. "Himeya is very nice, but if you get between her and Fujita, you're going to get hurt."

He sighed a bit. Oujirou hadn't wanted to get involved in any of the feuding that he knew would come with such a competitive game, but it seemed inevitable. "Everything in life is about politics."

Kaoru was amused at him, smirking a bit. "Apparently there's a mind behind that pretty face. No, Ouji-sama, there's plenty of political machinations to this game. It's head games, and the one who keeps their cool longest has a definite advantage."

His hands went to the carrier and removed Wizard, holding the tiny Angel with a care that bordered on reverent. "It should just be about skill, but life is never like that."

"No... it's not."

Over the speakers, a pleasant-sounding female voice came. "Will all competitors please line up with their Angels to be escorted to the arena?"

Oujirou rose to his feet, turning to offer Kaoru a hand, which she brushed aside with a friendly shake of her head. "I'm old, but I can move on my own," she said stubbornly.

He sighed. He would have offered his hand to anyone. The group moved towards the arena, and he twitched a bit when he heard the roar of the crowd. The amount of people out there were staggering, and he blinked a little as he stepped under the bright lights of the arena.

The group filed around the ring, and Oujirou's eyes took a while to accustom to the illumination. The Deuses took their time, making a ring around the Layer, facing the crowd.

"We've gathered the brightest talent in the region for the Second Annual Kansai Tournament!" The announcer said, waving a hand over the contenders. "Just two will advance to the finals on the National level!"

The crowd cheered, and Oujirou heard them screaming the names of their favorite Angels and Deuses. His name rang through more than his fair share of the crowd, and he tried hard to remain calm. A fluttery feeling danced in his stomach as he was washed away in the excitement.

On some unknown signal, the Deus down picked up a headset which was sitting near her and clicked it on. Holding up her Angel, she turned to the ring, before yelling, "Sent by the Heavens, take them by storm, Kamikaze! Angel, fall in!"

Then a graceful Angel dressed in white with long silver hair flew through the air, coming to life as she hit the field of the Layer. The crowd cheered, but even as the Angel was straightening, the person immediately on Oujirou's left was putting on her headset.

It was a beautiful spectacle, with each Angel a touch different than the last. Wizard was the only male Angel, but the road of the crowd was even louder for him as he brushed his fingers against the Layer's floor.

It took about five minutes for everyone to assemble, and when they finished, the crowd went crazy. It was another ten minutes before everyone was allowed to depart to check out how the random lottery had slated them. Oujirou somehow wasn't surprised that his match was last in the first round. He would be fighting Kitsune, an Angel which was as new to the event as Wizard. Together the group of Deuses bowed to the audience before exited in a single-file line and returning to the waiting area. Then the worst part began - the waiting.

Two by two they went, like lambs to a slaughter. The preliminary round would feature matches played back to back, and none of them dared go join the audience to watch live. Instead, they watched the fights play out on the monitor which had been provided. It wasn't an actual live broadcast, and there was no sound, so they all were able to make their own judgements.

The Angels fighting were all champions in their own rights, and the battles were a pleasure to watch. Oujirou sat in a chair, cradling Wizard loosely in his hand as he analyzed his future opponents. He could see the skill they had, but for every attack, every counter, he imagined it was Wizard who responded, and was satisfied that Wizard would win.

Himeya fought third, and he was satisfied with her improvement. Tigra moved more smoothly, and the fluidness of her transitions between attack and nearly flawless defense made Oujirou consider if he would be facing her in the final round. He would appreciate the rematch, if that happened.

Kaoru's match, which was after that, was one which made him hold his breath. Yumemi seemed to dance on air, and the Angel who was pitted against her was a pitiful spectacle as Yumemi avoided any attempt to attack, responding with a brutal hit in retaliation. The fight was short, and when Yumemi won, he felt his heart skip a beat.

She was in his bracket; he would be facing he next if he won his own battle.

The rest of the matches passed in a blur, and finally his own name was called. It was almost a relief to be entering the arena, and he felt himself smile as girls shrieked his name. One was yelling that he had to marry her, which frightened him a bit. He didn't know how to deal with fans. Glancing back at the entryway, wondering if Kaoru was watching, his breath caught. For a second, he saw the shadow of a white lab coat before the light shifted.

The Layer stood in silent challenge. The feel of Wizard in his hand was reassuring, like the touch of a close friend.

The seat he took was ornate, but surprisingly comfortable. Across from him, a Deus about two years younger than he was mirrored his actions, her own Angel resting on the seat in front of her.

"Watch me, aniki," he whispered, and then clicked the headset on.

END PART THREE