~The Angel With The Crooked Halo~

The part of the Archangel Gabriel was always the prime role for any spotlight-loving students of Seirei's middleschool Christmas nativity. You could have as many shepherds and sheep and worksmen and peasants as you wanted, but it was always Gabriel's appearance that caught the attention of anybody watching. Usually this part was granted to a student with either intellectual prowess or at least a decent singing voice for the basic facts that not only did Gabriel have the secondmost wordcount in the play (bested only by the narrator who didn't really count because he had his lines written in front of him) but also because the solo song written especially could practically make or break the success of the nativity that year.

That one particular year, it seemed fairly obvious from the start that Nishimura Shin was certain to play Gabriel. Quiet and pleasingly academic, he might have made narrator had it not been for Yoshikuni's undisputed mastery of that role and the fact that all in Shin's music class were frequently wowed by the young boy's singing voice. That really was something there, something special indeed... months before Christmas, rumours and whispers were spread across the school as to who would have the role and that Shin had practically been settled for the part, at least in the minds of the teachers organizing the event...

Akihiro had seen this coming since the start of the winter term but this didn't stop him being bitter about it. This was their last year before moving to Seirei's highschool and Christmas activities took on a different edge once you got that far up the educational ladder. It wasn't that he especially liked the nativity - it was his belief that nobody really liked it, but that wasn't the point. The point was, to be the Archangel Gabriel was your one chance at interschool stardom, and this year was his only chance for it. The Archangel Gabriel was always chosen from the oldest year so it wasn't as if he'd had the chance for it before, but that he was cursed to be in the same year as Shin... that was unfortunate. It had come as no surprise to anybody when Shin was announced as having been granted the part, but this didn't stop Akihiro's feelings. He could sing, he could memorize lines, he'd manage the part to the best of his ability if anybody were but to have faith in him... but no, they'd picked their canary. Chasing the matter further would only sting of sour grapes.

This didn't stop Akihiro (now relegated to part of Fourth Angel - those in their final year were given the chance and a break from being shepherds, there were enough students from the lower years to populate most of their fictional Jerusalem with shepherds) from antagonizing Shin on the matter. It wasn't that the two of them really knew one another, though Akihiro had always been somewhat aware of Shin's presence. Always coming top in music class, always the star of any musical event the school was to put on... indeed, it had been stupid to consider that they would have thought of anybody else for the part of the Archangel Gabriel... not that Akihiro had stopped hoping. However, from being aware of Shin, Akihiro was now confronted with being in Shin's presence for a large amount of rehearsals. The angels behind Gabriel did little more than to sing in chorus pieces and provide background interest, but it was important to get the balance correct. Keigo knew how discouraging it was for Akihiro to have to put up with basically watching Shin perform to the empty hall for hours per day when he'd had his heart so set on that role - sometimes he'd reach for Akihiro's hand in comfort and support. Sometimes Akihiro accepted, sometimes he'd pull away. Keigo kept trying for the sake of those times Akihiro accepted.

Watching Shin rehearse was discouraging in more ways than one. Not least because of his voice, but also that it seemed so strange that such a wonderful voice could come from such a person; Akihiro had tried talking to Shin before, had tried civil conversation... however, this had never got very far. The boy just seemed so sullen and distant and Akihiro couldn't understand that. It wasn't as if he was even trying to be mean with just basic conversation, but Shin didn't even seem to want to respond to that... that irritated Akihiro. Not that he was socially beloved either, but for all that they made of Shin, he'd hoped that he'd actually be pleasant about it... it made the fact that he hadn't got the role seem even more annoying. Couldn't they at least have picked somebody with a nice personality? Somebody who could be all humble about having got that prized role so as to not make the others feel quite so inadequate about it...?

The days leading up to the performances, even classes were dismissed for those who were part of the nativity. Various rehearsals were called - narrative rehearsals, lighting rehearsals, singing rehearsals... technically only those involved really needed to turn up, if it was a singing rehearsal then one only needed the shepherds who would lead into each song as a cue, but others were free to come along to firm the idea of the whole production in their minds if they wished. Currently it was one of the singing rehearsals and backstage, Akihiro sat on top of a small pile of boxes, watching Shin pace back and forth while the sound of Yoshikuni's voice narrating the start of the play floated through from his plinth out at the front. The other angels were supposed to have turned up for this rehearsal but there hadn't been any sign of them yet, typically. Akihiro wasn't going to sing on his own so instead he'd been relegated to technical help for the rehearsal, to manage the contraption that would lower Shin down from the top of the stage down to consorting with the earthly masses on cue. Said cue wouldn't be for a while yet, though. In the meantime, Shin silently paced and Akihiro just watched him.

Akihiro was clad in his white angel robe, though the wings and halo sat off to the side since they wouldn't be needed for this performance. He lounged back against the boxes, idly taking note of Shin's own costume. They all had white robes, though these seemed to vary from pupil to pupil. Some seemed to have been made for the purpose and some seemed as if they'd been knocked up from old curtains for lack of anything better... Shin of course had the softest whitest most flowing robe. It even had gold and silver sequins on it. His halo was golden, or at least made of some kind of plastic with gold glitter inside it. Akihiro wasn't sure where you'd even get something like that - his halo was made out of wire and tinsel. Then of course were the wings; all of the wings were made out of some gauze kind of material stretched over the wire frames, but Shin of course had the most spectacular ones. Large enough to slightly tip Shin's balance while walking, Akihiro got a slight level of amusement from watching Shin shuffle back and forth with those on his back. It wasn't as if he needed to walk anywhere once he was on stage, but... backstage, it was fun to watch him. His own wings were smaller but for once that was something he didn't mind - at least he could walk in them.

"You're lookin' pretty nervous there."

Shin glared up at Akihiro's comment, "I'm just waiting for my cue."

"Can't you sit down for it, then? It's annoying, watchin' you go back and forth like that."

"That's not my problem."

Akihiro rolled over on the boxes to be staring up at the haphazard backstage ceiling; black drapes hung at varying lengths here and there, various metal rails were set into the ceiling to accommodate things such as the lighting rigs and the cradle that would be carrying Shin later on... the only light that they had at the moment was that which came through from the main stage itself.

"To say you're the head angel, you're quite a bitch about it."

"Excuse me!?"

Shin seemed quite affronted by this sudden accusation, but Akihiro didn't see the problem in insulting somebody he'd barely met, let alone spoke to before. From what he'd seen of Shin so far, he practically deserved it. Akihiro shrugged, carrying on.

"Well, you're supposed to be the head angel, right? All sweetness and light and shit. You're being pretty grumpy about it, that's all."

"I--... I don't have to stay here to be insulted by you! The role has nothing to do with anything else, as long as I can act it that's what's important...!"

"Where'reya gonna go, then? It's not your cue yet."

"I could get one of the teachers to forcibly escort you..."

"Ooh, I'm scared."

Shin paused in his pacing to turn and face Akihiro, "What exactly is your problem, Jinguuji?!"

Another light shrug, "I just don't think you're good for the role of Gabriel, that's all. You'd think someone getting that kinda role would be happy about it, but no, you just storm around with an angry look on your face, pacing back and forward backstage snapping at anybody who tries to talk to you! I mean, jeez, I'd never really spoken to you before all of this but I never knew you were so annoying."

It didn't seem that Akihiro's little outburst impressed Shin any; he still stared at the other boy, sizing him up in his mind for the first time. Akihiro was right, the two of them had never spoken before that, not outside of little classroom duties and various activities where it'd been called upon them to work together... those times were short and interchangeable, none of them had really caused any impression on Shin's mind of this Jinguuji Akihiro... no, more than that were the various things Shin had heard about Akihiro, not that you needed to listen far for them. Several months ago, Akihiro had been the first boy in their year to be on temporary suspension for getting into a fight after school. He was frequently sent out of classes and assemblies and seemed to almost enjoy talking back to the teachers, as annoying as this was to anybody who actually wanted to get on with their work. None of this warmed Akihiro to Shin any; for all that it seemed, they were practically opposite. For those misdemeanours, Shin didn't seem to consider Akihiro the kind of person who deserved any of his respect. Perhaps he overestimated his own superiority in the face of Akihiro's brutish tactics, but he didn't seem to realise that his haughty expression was exactly the kind of thing that annoyed Akihiro the most.

"If you find me annoying or not, that's none of my business... I don't care what somebody like you thinks of me!"

Akihiro slipped down from the boxes, moving to stand leant against them instead. He kept his voice even, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I just don't see why the words of such a delinquent should affect me, that's all."

That really hadn't been the right kind of thing to say. Akihiro stepped forward, pushing roughly at Shin's shoulder as he did so; the action itself surprised Shin enough, his mind not seeming to take into account the awkward weight of the wireframed wings on his back. The lack of practical movement sent Shin sprawling backward; having never been caught in any kind of physical disagreement before, the action quite surprised him - though considering Akihiro, perhaps it shouldn't have done. Akihiro stood above Shin, mirroring that haughty expression.

"That's a pretty big word for such an airhead, isn't it?"

As Akihiro stepped back and seemed to make as if to walk away, Shin wondered if that was where Akihiro was going to leave the matter - but rather than walking away, he seemed to be repositioning himself. Stepping firmly on Shin's left wing, Akihiro drew one foot back as if to land a kick in... but Shin's reaction time was swift and before Akihiro could manage that, Shin had reached out to grab the leg pressing his wing down. The result of this caused Akihiro also to tumble over and for Shin to try to pull away, though he found himself unable to due to the way Akihiro had fallen squarely on top of his wing... on realising what was happening, Akihiro made another grab for Shin and the two of them found themselves caught in quite a heated tussle on the backstage floor.

As annoyed as Akihiro was, trying to hurt Shin was not his top priority. Shin's main aim seemed to be to keep Akihiro on the floor and due to his surprising enthusiasm for the task coupled with those annoying wings of his, Akihiro was finding it surprisingly difficult to flip the other boy over. Any time he got close to doing so, the metal of the wingframes seemed to prevent him. Hurting that annoying guy could wait until he was in the right kind of position to inflict any kind of damage, but Shin even seemed adept at shifting to dodge the way Akihiro would jerk his knee upward... to say that Shin seemed rather slight, he made up for his lack of physical mass by being annoyingly nimble.

Akihiro wasn't sure quite where the urge to fight faded - that in itself was strange, for him. Perhaps it was that he wasn't particularly angry with Shin as such - just overtaken by the urge to teach an uptight idiot a lesson. Perhaps it was that Shin wasn't one of his usual targets and so fighting with him felt 'wrong' somehow; there were several people who Akihiro seemed to end up in arguments with often, but they were the kind who started arguments and took to them with pleasure. Shin was different to that kind of behaviour, an outsider to that kind of influence... despite his high-and-mighty attitude, there was something about him that seemed delicate and gentle somehow, not that that was the kind of thing to occur to Akihiro. Less that and more just that Shin wasn't the kind of person he needed to fight - Shin seemed determined to keep Akihiro on the ground but never once made a move to throw in any punch of his own. Was Shin the kind to fight back? The more he struggled, the more Akihiro doubted that there would be any gratification drawn from luring Shin into a fight.

Eventually, Akihiro managed to pull Shin into the right kind of angle to be able to grab him by the chest and push him back down against the ground. He hadn't thought as far ahead as to what exactly he'd do once he'd got the upper hand, and this thought seemed to stop him in his tracks once he actually achieved it.

The two of them were quite exhausted. Their breathing was loud, chests both heaving. Shin had ended up flat out against the floor, his wings spread out behind him and his halo bent off to the side. The hairtie that kept his long hair pulled back behind his head had come loose at some point, not that he made any move to find it - or any move at all, for that matter. Akihiro was above him now though making little attempt to hold him down. Sat with his knees on either side of Shin's waist, the victory seemed both unspoken and accepted and from the way that Shin didn't move, Akihiro found himself unsure quite of how to move either. Even like that, he wasn't entirely sure that Shin wasn't about to pull some kind of trick... he pushed himself forward, pressing his hands over Shin's shoulders, effectively pinning him to the floor.

Akihiro was certain that there were a million witty comebacks for situations like those, not that any seemed to be coming to his lips. Or Shin's, either. Instead, together like that, they just stared at one another. There seemed to be a blankness in Shin's expression that Akihiro didn't know how to read and that confused him. It seemed strange to see Shin so silent like that. Wasn't he supposed to have a bitchy remark ready for his loss? Some snooty comment? Shouldn't he at least try and fight to get up? Instead, he just looked Akihiro directly in the eye, something Akihiro himself wasn't sure how to react to. How could somebody stare so steadily like that? Why wasn't he saying anything? Why were his thoughts so confused and why was he suddenly noticing how warm Shin's body seemed to be beneath him...?

That word 'delicate' seemed to float up again. Akihiro could feel Shin's body shift slightly with every hurried breath, could practically feel the lethargy seeping from Shin's body as it recognized the fight over. The way Shin stared at him made him nervous, as if Shin knew something or was expecting something and Akihiro had no idea as to what that could be... he didn't want to ask in fear of seeming stupid and words seemed to have been forgotten anyway. One thing that had always struck Akihiro about Shin was how pale he sometimes seemed... maybe he just didn't get enough sun. Perhaps, for all those thoughts that he should rightfully have been the Angel Gabriel, Shin did quite fit the part after all. He seemed to match the robe, and the wings... aside from his attitude, he seemed to possess a slight other-worldliness to him that seemed to befit a high angel. An angel who currently lay sprawled beneath him with bent wings and a crooked halo. Akihiro gulped, reaching up in a vague attempt to correct the band of plastic. Shin's eyes seemed to track the movement of his hand upward, looking back towards him when the purpose of the gesture became clear. Having done that small thing, Akihiro knew that the right thing to do would be either to put his hand back on Shin's shoulder or to pull back and away completely, either one. Still, he found himself with his fingers against Shin's cheek before he really knew what he was doing - he just knew that the momentary urge to touch Shin had been too overwhelming. His skin looked cold, but felt warm beneath Akihiro's fingertips. He felt slightly light-headed, like he didn't know what was happening any longer, like he could only let himself be guided by whatever strange whim was guiding him...

Neither of them heard the line from the front of the stage that was in fact Shin's cue.

"... and the shepherds were amazed, for the heavens opened up and afore them was the messenger of the Lord, the Archangel Gabriel!"

There had been a long pause. Yoshikuni had glanced to see if he could spot any activity backstage, repeating the cue with emphasis in case he hadn't been speaking loudly enough.

"... The Archangel Gabriel--!"

The rehearsal was only attended by a few of the appropriate shepherds, Yoshikuni and the teachers involved, but this didn't stop the awkward feeling of the missed cue. The teachers whispered amongst themselves - had Shin known about this rehearsal? Other teachers mentioned having seen him earlier with that Jinguuji boy so he should be around... perhaps the pulley had got stuck? Perhaps he'd decided to skip the rehearsal? In the end, student helper Okita Tomoya was sent backstage to see what had gone wrong.

"Nishimura, are you around? You totally missed your--... what are you two doing?"

Shin's voice was practically a squeak, "Tomoya-sensei--!"

Tomoya jerked a thumb in the direction of the stage, "Weren't you listening? You just missed your cue. Jeez, you're not even up on the cradle yet... Jinguuji, were you putting Nishimura off again? We can easily get another angel in if you're not going to behave..."

Having leapt up off of Shin the moment Tomoya had appeared, Akihiro just stood to the side scuffing his sock against the polished wood of the floor. In any other situation he would have had some mouthy comment for Tomoya and Tomoya knew this, so he knew something was up just from Akihiro's behaviour alone. Akihiro was never apologetic, that wasn't the kind of kid he was... and yet now he was glancing to the side and even blushing. Tied with the fact that he'd had come across them in such a compromising position... Tomoya raised his eyebrow. They were kids...!

Still, even kids couldn't stay innocent forever, Tomoya felt he knew that as much as any other. Neither Shin nor Akihiro seemed able to say anything and Akihiro seemed quite shocked by what'd happened, if his expression and silence were anything to go by. The cute awkwardness of the situation made Tomoya want to laugh, but he supposed it wouldn't soothe anybody's ego if he were to do that. He busied himself with adjusting Shin's wings.

"Well, I'm sure Wada was just talking too quietly, huh? Here, your wings are all bent. What have you been doing with them...? At least it's just made out of coathangers, huh. There we go, as good as new...! Let's get you back over here... at least you can miss your cue now, better now than on the actual night! Jinguuji, you stay where you are, I want a word with you. I'll operate the pulley. C'mon, let's get you set up..."

Akihiro leant back against the boxes, watching as Shin silently followed Tomoya off to behind the main backdrop where he would be attached to the pulley that would lower him down to the centre of the stage, where he belonged. He wiped his hand over his mouth nervously, wondering what exactly Tomoya would want a word with him about... probably putting Shin off his cue again, it wasn't as if that'd been the first time it'd happened but nothing like what had just happened had happened before...! Not only that, but in such a confusing situation, Tomoya had seen them... would he guess that they'd been fighting? Would he tell the headteacher? Something nudged against this in Akihiro's mind. Tomoya was the kind of student helper that everybody wished was an actual teacher at the school. He was only in on volunteer work as a classroom assistant in the hope of gathering work experience having barely started his first year at Seirei University... he came in to help when he had time off university and his part-time jobs, he said he liked things that kept him busy. Maybe it was just because he wasn't a teacher but there was something kind of cool about him that the young students liked - he commanded respect without having to be insistent about it, he could capture the imagination of the students with greater ease than stern words of authority could... and he seemed happy enough to answer questions about what it was like up at Seirei Gakuen or Seirei University, the many questions all the students had for him. Akihiro still wasn't convinced that he wouldn't inform the headmaster, though.

A few minutes later, Tomoya returned from where he'd presumably taken care of the technical business of Shin's entrance. On seeing this, Akihiro quickly stood up straight and then bowed a few times in quick succession.

"M'sorrym'reallysorrydidn'tmeantomakeNishimuramisshiscue..."

Tomoya held up his hands in a friendly gesture and sat himself up against the piled boxes.

"Hey, relax, I'm not mad or anything."

Akihiro looked up, "... You're not?"

"Nah, it's no problem of mine. It's just a rehearsal, isn't it? As long as you know not to play up like that on the actual night, it's all good. Of course, on the actual night we'll have all the stage managers and runners in, you'll be happily on stage with your other little angels. So Nishimura missed his cue this time, no harm done. We gotta get through these kinds of things before the performance!"

"... You won't tell on me, will you?"

Tomoya laughed gently, "What's to tell?"

"I wasn't fighting him!"

"Hm? I never said you were."

Akihiro blushed again, realising that he'd practically landed himself in it with hasty words. He stared down at the floor, surprised to feel Tomoya's hand on his head, ruffling his hair. He looked up and saw Tomoya smiling at him.

"Hey, it didn't look like fighting from where I was standing. Don't worry, I'm not going to get you into any trouble. I'm sure you're more than capable of that yourself!"

Tomoya was the one teacher-like figure that Akihiro felt he could laugh with. He laughed at that but then blushed again, not wanting to feel like he was lying to the cool Tomoya-sensei.

"I-..."

"Mm?"

"I... I don't know what happened..."

"With what?"

"J-just now, when you walked in on us. 'Cause-... we-... we were fighting, kinda... we got arguing... n'he pulled me over... but we weren't fighting fighting, we weren't hurting each other or nothing... a-and..."

The two of them fell silent as they realised that, on the main stage, Shin was singing. The sound was such that anybody would be distracted to hear it - perhaps part of Akihiro's initial anger had been from the knowledge of inevitability. Just from hearing Shin sing once, Akihiro had known as well as any of the teachers that there would be no better lead for the school nativity. Most of the time that thought had made him angry, but not this time. For the first time, he felt... relaxed about it. Glad that Shin had got the part. As much as he'd wanted it himself, he wondered if he could ever have felt happy if he'd somehow taken that role from Shin's hold... probably not. As much as he wanted that role, Shin really deserved it. He let himself listen for a few moments before Tomoya's voice cut across his thoughts.

"That Nishimura... do you like him?"

"Huh? Like him? I, I don't really know him... he seems pretty stuck up, but... but I don't think you could have anybody else being Gabriel..."

That response made Tomoya smile. A sensible enough answer, though not precisely how he'd meant it. Still, Akihiro seemed shaken enough about the whole situation... a sure sign of confusion. Quite adorable, really. If he was too innocent to pick up on the implication then Tomoya didn't feel it his place to attempt illumination, falling back instead on the mundane lines of conversation.

"A voice like that is pretty easy to admire, isn't it?"

"... Yeah..."

Tomoya vaulted himself down from the boxes, patting Akihiro's head once he'd done so.

"Well, I better get back to work, I'm supposed to be sitting in on Hiragawa-sensei's reading time. Keep up the hard work, too - once you get to Seirei Gakuen, there won't be any more nativities...!"

"Isn't that a good thing?"

"Well... yeah, I guess. But you never know, you might get nostalgic. Anyway, I really gotta get going now, I'll catch you later. And remember, it's okay to like people, y'know? If you like that Nishimura, that's okay. Don't let anybody tell you it isn't."

"Ah--"

Confused by that last part, Akihiro made to question Tomoya - but with a wave of the hand, he'd already taken the back door out to the staircase that would lead to the classrooms below. If he had to be somewhere then it probably wasn't fair to keep him, but that didn't stop Akihiro from wondering what exactly Tomoya had been talking about. Liking people? Liking Shin? He didn't really have much of an opinion of Shin at all, other than one or two things mainly relating to the nativity. Why would Tomoya want to know if he liked Shin anyway? It wasn't as if any friendship between them would have any effect on Tomoya himself, and it wasn't as if he'd mean it in any other way...

Thoughts of the girls of Seirei middle clamouring in the corridors at a lunchtime squealing over the boys they liked came to mind. The boys they liked. Liked. Not just liked, but liked. The alternate meaning to Tomoya's emphasis seemed to flood Akihiro's mind all of a sudden - what!? Had Tomoya meant something like that? Liking someone in a queer way!? The first thing Akihiro felt was that rush of blind rage again. Was Tomoya saying he was gay or something?!

That said, Tomoya had walked in on him practically straddling Shin. He could see how the situation could easily have been misunderstood.

Yet, to say 'misunderstood'... it wasn't as if even he'd understood quite what had happened back then, nor what might have happened if Shin hadn't had a cue to react on or if Tomoya hadn't disturbed them...

Moving closer to the backstage edge, Akihiro contented himself watching the rest of Shin's vocal performance. His halo still seemed a little off-balance, but that probably wasn't important just for the rehearsal. Someone would likely fix it better afterwards.

Shin was an easy person to watch, a singer with a voice that entranced any listener. While listening to Shin sing of such pure and Godly things, Akihiro couldn't help but think over Tomoya's words. Maybe he was right. Somebody like Shin... he was quite impressive, wasn't he? If people liked him, Akihiro didn't think he'd blame them.

If it was alright to like people then surely even snobs like Nishimura Shin could be liked, surely? And if that was right, then maybe it worked in the opposite direction as well... maybe if he liked Shin, it was also possible for Shin to maybe like him back someday?

Akihiro didn't really understand why, but the thought made him smile. He knew better than to question thoughts that made him happy and so decided not to pick into it further. A nice feeling was a nice feeling, after all.

~fin~