Of Waltzes and Waiting
Misaki grunted soundlessly as she knelt in the doorway to the practice room unlacing her rain boots. Her hands trembled as she did so and it wasn't just from the rain that had soaked her sweatshirt through. They were so small, those hands, her fingers so short. No wonder everyone thought she was a little child.
No, a younger child, since she certainly couldn't claim to be an adult, not even with the Angelic Layer National Championship under her belt. It didn't really bother her that people thought she was young. She was young, after all, still in her first year of junior high. What bothered her was the fact that most people seemed to assume she was still in grade school. This was further complicated whenever she went places with Oujirou.
It wasn't his fault, certainly, and she never showed him that it upset her, but whenever they went anywhere, whether it be on an errand to the store for her mother or a pleasant weekend at the beach, people seemed to assume she was his younger sister.
Well, perhaps that wasn't entirely correct. Not really people, more like . . . other girls.
She really didn't understand exactly what he saw in her anyway. She trusted that it had to be something though, ever since he had declared his love for her almost absently after their first match. It wasn't that she had a particularly low opinion of herself, but, well, he was Mihara Oujirou, the Prince of the Layer. He had an aura, a mystique that the so-called "Miracle Rookie" just couldn't touch. She liked Oujirou so much that she was generally at a loss as to how to tell him so, but that apparently was currently fine with him. He didn't press her about anything, just arrived on the scene at opportune moments to take her out to tea or to the movies. That seemed to be enough for him at the moment and this relieved her, since she wasn't sure she could handle much more. She was still trying to get used to the idea that the Prince of the Layer found her company so stimulating that he sought her out, time and again.
And so they went to the movies, or out to have tea, and while in public the differences in their ages became quite manifest in the way others reacted to them, to her in particular. It certainly wasn't Oujirou's fault that she was so short, that her hands were so small, that she was still a first year middle school student. She could never blame him for anything, except perhaps being born a little too early.
She had to admit, today she'd acted in a way that justified all the labels of "child" that people branded her with. She'd run off in the rain while Oujirou had been momentarily distracted by a horde of fangirls who had descended on him. One, who obviously didn't follow the Layer that well did not recognize Misaki and cooed about what a cute little sister he had. Misaki had felt uncomfortable, and as it had looked like Oujirou would be busy for at least twenty minutes trying to subdue his fangirls enough to get away from them, she'd slunk off without an umbrella. Well, they could call her a child if they wanted. Sometimes you had to trust your heart, and what her heart had told her was that she no longer wanted to be in that situation.
So she had come here.
She pulled her soggy boots off and left them in the hallway, padding over to the scancard box soundlessly in sock feet. Since winning the championship and the new . . . developments . . . in her family structure, she'd been issued a level one pass, which granted her access to all the training equipment at the Angelic Layer Company. She liked to come to the training room when everyone was gone because it was nice and quiet and she could be alone with Hikaru and talk to her angel as much as she wanted without garnering any strange looks or being mobbed for autographs.
Talking and working with Hikaru always made her feel better, and she found she could usually forget her worries while on the Layer. It was also a good time to let emotions out and try and think through her problems.
She settled Hikaru into a comfortable position on the Layer and then went to take her seat, donning the headset and initializing the Layer. She didn't throw Hikaru in when she was just practicing with her alone. She had grown to like the way the angel sat up and smiled at her as the Layer came to life. They were getting together to have a friendly chat, after all, not go into battle. Sometimes it was good to just sit and be quiet and talk to Hikaru, while she looked back, blinking from time to time. Although speech was beyond Hikaru's frame of communication, her eloquent glances told Misaki everything she needed to know. Hikaru was an excellent listener.
But today Misaki didn't really feel like talking. She wanted to practice. She didn't want to talk to Hikaru about something she'd talked about so many times before, didn't want to have Hikaru reproach her silently for childishly running away instead of facing the situation.
So instead of settling to have a long talk with Hikaru, Misaki put on music and began to take Hikaru through a delicate dance step. The music was soft and slow and it really did little to distract her, and she and Hikaru had stumbled no less than three times before Misaki's eyes dropped from Hikaru and into her lap. She brushed one idle tear away and rubbed at her eyes with her balled fists, unwilling to feel any sorrier for herself. Misaki might be the National Angelic Layer Champion, but she wore her heart on her sleeve and was easily injured and distracted, and when her Deus was suitably injured and distracted Hikaru could not, or would not dance.
"Hikaru wants to know why you don't want to dance," the voice was soft and unexpected and she started, turning to find that Oujirou had somehow gotten into the room and then snuck behind her while she wasn't looking. He was leaning up against the near wall, calmly watching her with dark, unwinking eyes.
Misaki sniffled once and then got control of herself. She didn't want to look like even more of a child while Oujirou was watching her. She felt silly and she tried to answer truthfully, "But I do want to dance."
"You may want to dance, but it doesn't look like you feel like dancing," he responded honestly, folding his arms behind his back, "What's wrong, Misaki-chan?"
She shook her head, unwilling to tell him. She knew he'd think she was being silly. She gave him her best false smile while replying, "Nothing, Oujirou-san, I promise."
He raised an eyebrow and looked passively amused, "You're a terrible liar, Misaki-chan. Tell me what's bothering you and perhaps I can help. Wizard and I will try our best," he smiled warmly, pulling the blue-haired doll out from behind his back. Where he had had it secreted away, she was not altogether sure.
She stared at her lap for a long moment and then spoke softly, "Ano . . . ."
"Mmm?" he raised his eyebrow again, encouraging her to speak her mind.
"Ano, maybe Oujirou-san should think about taking someone else out to tea. I'm just in middle school after all and people might get the wrong idea . . . ."
"What wrong idea, Misaki-chan?" he asked quietly, his soft voice resonating to fill the awkward silence that she had been sure would develop after her suggestion.
Misaki blushed and looked into her lap and Oujirou took it onto himself to supply an answer to his own question absently, "They certainly couldn't get the wrong idea about me falling in love with you, since that's true."
Misaki responded so softly that he couldn't hear her, quiet possibly because she seemed set on talking to her lap.
"I'm sorry Misaki-chan, I couldn't hear you," he murmured gently, encouragingly, and still remarkably placidly.
Misaki swallowed and took a deep breath before repeating herself a little louder, hoping that he still wouldn't hear but that she would still have the satisfaction of having at least politely repeated herself.
"Sister. They think I'm your little sister."
Much to her distress, Oujirou apparently had very sharp hearing and when he responded, it was soothing in tone, if not in content.
"Why would they think something like that? Because of my older brother and Shuuko-san?" he asked, apparently truly curious. Misaki was completely unaware that Oujirou was gently baiting her.
She shook her head and waited several long seconds, drawing strength from Hikaru, who stood watching their conversation from the Layer.
"No, it's not because of Okaa-san and Icchan-san. It's because . . . it's because . . ." she swallowed hard, but willed herself to continue, "It's because I'm so small and because I'm only in middle school. People even think I'm younger than I am. Earlier this year I met a man who thought I was a third year grade school student. It's not Oujirou-san's fault that he's older and more mature," she sniffled and blinked several times to try and keep from crying, "But sometimes I wish I were a little older and bigger, so that people wouldn't get the wrong idea, whatever the right idea is supposed to be."
Oujirou's gaze softened and without speaking, he moved to sit across the Layer from Misaki. Hikaru watched him, crimson eyes thoughtful.
"Do you mind if we join you, Misaki-chan?" he asked, smiling at her in that subdued gray-shaded manner of his.
She shook her head silently and wondered what he thought. She was sure he thought she was silly. After all, she was still a child. She'd run off without an umbrella this very morning as if to prove it.
Oujirou threw Wizard in with a graceful flick of his wrist and the male angel landed elegantly, one foot bent behind the other, hands folded behind his back. For a long moment Wizard simply watched Hikaru quietly in the same way Oujirou himself was watching Misaki. In the background, the soft music that Misaki had started during her session with Hikaru was still playing softly.
Misaki finally found the courage to stop staring alternately at her lap and her shoes and cast a tentative look at Oujirou over Wizard. The Prince of the Layer nodded at her once, a simple, smooth move, smiling lightly, as if at some private joke. She didn't know how she was supposed to respond, but in an instant Wizard had crossed the space that had lingered between he and Hikaru. Now standing directly in front of her, he bowed lithely and then offered his arm. Oujirou leaned on one hand idly as he waited for Misaki's reaction.
She looked confusedly from the angel to his Deus, as if not sure what to do. She fidgeted, glanced down at her lap, hoping desperately that it had become more interesting, and then finally managed to look back at Oujirou.
"May we have this dance?" asked Oujirou pleasantly, still leaning comfortably, his cheek propped up on his hand.
Misaki blushed, cast one more desperate look at her lap, and then nodded hurriedly. The music seemed to strike up again suddenly, and the waltz that had been playing started over. She looked at Hikaru for a long moment and then gathered her courage. It was so much easier in the Layer. Hikaru took Wizard's arm smoothly, and the blue-clad angel stepped in time with her, turning her with a sweep and gathering her in the crook of his arm. With the music, they seemed to float, turning first this way and that, keeping close three quarter time. Misaki found it easy to follow Wizard's lead, and soon, she no longer had to concentrate on it and could watch it for what it was.
"It's beautiful," she murmured softly, watching them spin together, keeping Hikaru's repeating foot pattern softly drumming in the back of her mind.
Oujirou didn't respond but instead continued to watch her over the heads of their angels, drumming out the three quarter beat to himself on the control panel with his fingers.
The waltz ended softly, without no great flourish, but Oujirou could not help having Wizard dip Hikaru as it ended, even though he knew quite well that dipping was not standard fare of the waltz. Misaki watched with rapt attention, still caught in some dream of her own as she murmured again how beautiful it was. As the last notes of the music died down, Oujirou had Wizard set Hikaru back on her feet, but the way the blue angel's hand lingered, cupping the cheek of the smaller angel, as if fulfilling some unconscious desire of the Deus made him scramble forward in a very undignified and generally un-Oujirou-like manner to retrieve Wizard before anything else untoward happened. This minor catastrophe averted, he scrambled to set himself back up in the Deus chair as if nothing had happened. Thankfully, Misaki seemed to be too caught up in the waltz still to have noticed his very uncharacteristic behavior. Well, that at least was a blessing.
Misaki was indeed still caught in the waltz, the soft, elegant beat and the way Hikaru and Wizard had moved together. So purely and completely. She sighed dreamily, quite forgetting her earlier awkwardness, or even that Oujirou was still in the room. He startled her with a gentle question.
"Do you remember what Hatako-chan said?"
Misaki looked for a long time at Hikaru, who was now standing idly, with her hands clasped in front of her and tried to think of what specific thing he could be referring to. She could indeed remember many things that Hatako had said, but was at a loss as to which one he referred and so shook her head.
"Age and size don't matter in the Layer, Misaki-chan," he smiled in his thoroughly non-combative way before continuing, "That's the way I think of us. Someday I'll ask you to dance like this out on the floor. Until then, we can dance in the Layer and I'll wait for you."
She managed a smile and he returned it, even as he leaned to hand Hikaru to her as he deactivated the Layer.
"And it doesn't matter what anyone else says, Misaki-chan," he chuckled to her, "Because I'll never dance with any of them, either on or off the Layer."
Misaki blushed again and nodded. She would try not to take it so personally next time, and now she would always have the beautiful picture of the waltz to remind herself of Oujirou's assured commitment.
He cocked his head to the side pleasantly and then offered her his own arm.
"Shuuko-san made curry this evening, I believe. Shall we go?"
Misaki went pink again, but this time managed to control and subdue it a bit. She nodded, even as she shyly took his arm and tucked Hikaru into her bag.
As they walked, arm in arm to the train, Misaki couldn't help occasionally tapping her foot in three quarter time, but only when she thought no one would notice.