A/N: I love the main romantic conflicts of FMP. SxT, SxK, KuxM, KxKu, L- K, etc. But there's two people that are somewhat developed that we have seen nothing of, even as supporting roles.
This all changed when I saw a story from Kyoko's POV for a drabble contest on the Livejournal FMP community. It got me thinking "Wow, that was very well-written. Wait, why not pair her with Shinji?"
I thought to myself, "I thought what I'd do was I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes."
Then I thought to myself "Hey, here are two characters worth exploring. One has quirks we know of already, but the other... she has this camera..."
Everyone's probably seen the episode of FMP where they go to the Narashino base. We see the roots of Shinji come to form there. But I see something in Kyoko that merits exploration. What does she see in that camera? Why is it always by her side? How does she view the world? What if they had something happening?
This story is based, appropriately enough, on photography. ISO, a reorganization of the initials for the International Standards Organization, is applied in photography as a type of film speed. Lower ISOs have higher exposure times, and higher ISOs have shorter exposure times. Think about how an image is inscribed, how a scene becomes a memory, and how a memory becomes a photograph, all by exposing light onto film and paper... or how it comes into a digital camera.
The chapter titles are all terms used in photography with some significance to the content. Definitions can be found at the end of each chapter. I have preserved honorifics for accuracy and better portrayal of the relationships between the characters. This is set after all the canon we know of; it starts in the middle of the third and final year of high school for our heroes.
Last bit of housekeeping info: this fic is being done completely un-betaed. I want to put my skills to the test and be the singular point of contact for anything on it. The people who take their time and effort to beta for me are consistently professional and helpful, but I would rather not continue to burden them. We're all busy in this world. Work, school, hobbies... yeah, it's a busy world.
On with the show!
1: Exposure Value
Year Three, Class D
Jindai High School
Friday, September 22nd, 200X
"Where is he!"
Nobody flinched as the door slid open and crashed into the frame, shaking the safety-glass windows. A while before, they would have blown inwards from sheer force, but other instances of sheer force had prompted the glass to be replaced by its stronger cousin.
"Sagara's not here," a collective reply came from a group of boys in the back of the classroom, huddled around one desk. They grabbed at their lunches without looking; just in time, they were able to grab hold of their waste paper before it blew away from the gust of wind from the thrown-open door.
"I think he went to the bathroom a while ago," someone inquired. Daisuke Onodera – Ono-D to his friends – looked up from his latest issue of Afternoon. "Maybe about ten minutes?"
"Yes. He went to the bathroom." Kaname Chidori, class rep, senior, former Student Council vice-president, and rising star in math and science, stormed into the classroom and threw open the doors to the coat closet. "Where are you hiding!"
"But Kaname-san, you just said that he–"
"He went to the bathroom," Kaname continued, "and introduced a blocking chemical agent into the water pipes. 'In order to protect ourselves against a biochemical or radiological attack through potable water, we must secure our infrastructure until the appropriate filtration and cutoff systems are in place,'" Kaname mocked, throwing her voice into a deep, faux-male voice. "He dumped some kind of glue into the pipes, and now all the sinks, faucets, and toilets are stopped up! The janitors had to get up pumps they normally use for flooding from typhoons to clear the girls' room!"
Ono-D shuddered. "Oh boy. Sagara's gonna get it now."
"Yeah, he did go a bit overboard this time," a more high-pitched voice commented from behind a thick book. "After the biohazard leak last year, he –"
A loud thwack caused three of the four boys around the table to draw back and cover their heads. The fourth, a bespectacled Shinji Kazama, rubbed his head and reached for his glasses, thrown off alignment by the impact of Kaname's harisen.
"Now is not the time to support that stupid military otaku," Kaname almost growled. "Look, we're down to subsidizing the cafeteria from individual class funds to provide drinking water. That's not even considering the sports teams. At this rate, he's depleting the funds for our final class trip! I don't know if you guys want to miss out on Okinawa, but I sure as hell am not losing my trip to Sousuke!"
"But you didn't need to hit me..."
"I'm quashing dissent and eliminating his support base. You'll thank me when you have to walk to the convenience store on the corner to use the bathroom."
"Fine, fine." Shinji set aside his latest issue of Arm Slave Fan. "But I don't know where he went to. He went to the bathroom a half-hour ago."
"Yeah, and five minutes ago, the sinks started to fill up. If you see Sousuke, tell him he's lucky that they didn't serve anything spicy in the cafeteria today, because he's on cleanup detail!"
Godzilla would envy that exit, Shinji thought as Kaname stomped out of the room, harisen armed and ready.
"We don't need any more excitement," Shinji sighed, slumping backwards in his chair. "I can't believe she 'volunteered' me to organize our class' contributions for the school trip."
"You wanna protest?" Ono-D asked, raising an eyebrow as he read the latest installment of Genshiken. "Face it, Shinji, it's not like we have anything better to do."
"It's not that. It's just that I have too much on my plate already, what with getting ready for entrance exams, class, clubs... now we gotta raise extra money."
"Yeah, about that, I think Tokiwa-san was looking for you," one of the other boys offered. "Apparently she volunteered herself for this train wreck."
"Oh, well, at least she'll have a better clue about doing this." Shinji put a bookmark in his AS Fan and took one last bite out of his yakisoba bread left over from lunch earlier. "I'm gonna go see if I can track her down."
"Hey, what do you know about fundraising anyway, Shinji?" Ono-D quipped.
"Nothing!" Shinji chuckled a little as he headed for the door. "When you're the only member of the Arm Slave Studies Club, though, you find a way through somehow."
Shinji shrugged his uniform jacket back on, already resenting the heavy garment in the warmth of the Tokyo Indian-summer weather, when the door slid open in his face. He stopped just short of banging his forehead on the glasses of the girl who was coming through.
"Hey, speak of the devil," Ono-D remarked with a wave, barely looking up from his magna. "Shinji was just coming to find you, Tokiwa-chan."
"Me?" Kyoko Tokiwa looked at the scared otaku, hands up almost defensively from the sudden shock. "Shinji, you look like you've just seen a ghost."
"Sorry," he said, shaking his head. "I thought that Kaname-san would have you tracking down Sagara."
"Oh, he's been tracked down," Kyoko said, looking over her shoulder. "I think he's been impaled on the Tokyo Tower at this point. It was a good trick, hiding himself in the water cooler. He said something about dropping in some sort of test chemical."
Shinji winced. "Yeah, she had said something about biohazard testing, and given the fact that he was kinda our latest biohazard..."
"Oooh! Hold on just a second."
It's her thing, Shinji reminded himself as he stepped aside by reflex. In one smooth motion, a pink blur flew from Kyoko's skirt pocket to just a few inches in front of her face. With a brief, electronic tweedleet sound, her tiny Mizolta digital camera captured the image of the three boys eating lunch, staring into their magazines.
"Right in the natural habitat!" Kyoko chirped, examining the photo in her camera's LCD. "Anyway, yeah, we need to talk funding, don't we?"
"Yeah, but next time, don't leave me out of the picture," Shinji protested mildly.
"Don't worry. There's still tons of memory here left for the week." Kyoko patted her camera lovingly. "Anyway, what's going on with the funding?"
"Apparently because of Sagara's latest situation, we're in the hole for a few thousand yen per class because everyone's gotta chip in for drinking water."
"Yeah, I heard. The thing is, it's worse off."
"Huh? What do you mean?"
Kyoko pulled up a chair to her desk for Shinji and sat in her own chair, smoothing the pleats of her skirt out. "Apparently we already bought out the local convenience stores for drinking water, so we had to buy other things in bulk to suffice for the sports teams..."
"Hey!" an angered cry came from the direction of the soccer field. "Why'd you throw that cup of grapefruit juice at my face!"
"Don't look at me!" a response came. "You looked sweaty, and I thought it was water!"
"Ah, I see," Shinji nodded, flipping the chair around to lean forward on the backrest. "So what are we working with?"
"Hmmm." Kyoko pulled out an accountant's columnar book from her school bag. "Yeah, I see what you mean," the unofficial class treasurer remarked, taking a quick photo of the current class budget. "We're going to have to work on these numbers... you're not doing anything right now, right, Shinji-kun?"
"No, I'm just having a meeting of the AS Studies Club while the clubroom is still being repaired."
"It's kinda hard to have a club meeting when you're the only member, Shinji-kun," Kyoko said flatly, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, it's hard to meet anywhere after our homebuilt AS project kinda went awry," Shinji chuckled awkwardly. "Heh... Sagara was a great resource; I don't know where he got the palladium reactor from, but our testbed chassis kinda leapt straight through the wall."
"Shinji-kun, how do you keep the club going? You're the only member, Sagara keeps breaking things, and you spend all your funding subscribing to AS Fan."
"Not true!" Shinji held up a finger in almost-mock indignance. "Remember the Narashino Post Festival? It was Sagara's idea, but normally it's only open to families." He crossed his arms and nodded with authority. "We were able to bill it as a club event, so technically everyone who went was a member of the Arm Slave Studies Club of Jindai High."
"I'm sure Kana-chan appreciated that," Kyoko jabbed Shinji's arm with her pen. "Come on, we've got to work out what we've got here."
Well, at least I'm not in this alone, Shinji thought, crunching a few numbers on Kyoko's borrowed calculator. Kyoko-san has a good head on her shoulders.
Someone's gotta back up Kana-chan, Kyoko thought as she flipped through the accounting book. She's still as burdened as ever, even though she's not on the Student Council anymore.
"Hey, Kyoko-san," Shinji inquired as he punched in the total influx of Student Council funding for the month of August. "Did Sagara-kun and Kaname-san ever end up on that date a while back?"
"I don't even think Sousuke was sure it was a date, from how he explained it," Shinji scratched his head after a moment's thought. "Even I had to coach him on avoiding all the military talk. Nobody else understood what he was saying well enough to translate it into normal Japanese life."
"Well, you did a good thing," Kyoko smiled with an affirming nod. "They needed a date."
"It seems like all we ever do is get them together," Shinji sighed. "Hey, you think that if we were able to get the Council to transfer the supplies allocation to the water purchase, we'd be able to put the leftovers towards the class trip fund?"
"Sounds like a plan. They were barely getting anywhere on their own, anyway. I caught them holding hands once, though."
"Holding hands? Sousuke Sagara? OUR Sousuke Sagara?" Shinji leaned back a little bit, eyebrows raised in surprise. "Wow. I'd have to see it to believe it."
"Yeah, I'm sure you do!" Kyoko chirped, pulling out her Mizolta and turning it to View mode. A few presses of the button showed a picture taken at an awkward angle, and sure enough, their two friends were holding hands.
"Wow, this was just last month, according to the date stamp," Shinji's eyes lit up. "I can't believe they were even holding hands... maybe they were on a different date and never told us?"
Kyoko scratched her chin for a moment, eyes rolled back slightly in thought. "It could be possible, knowing them," she ventured as Shinji leaned in a little closer to her, not wanting to miss a word. "But then again, knowing them, the 'date' was probably him tackling a street vendor for shouting 'terrorist slogans' at Kana-chan that were really sales pitches for new cell phones."
Shinji and Kyoko couldn't help but laugh at that. "Hey, you guys want us to leave?" one of the boys at the table said wryly, looking up from Shonen Jump for a moment. "Maybe you two oughta have that date that Sagara and Chidori never had."
"Hey, we're not going on any dates!" Kyoko immediately replied, a blush clearly evident.
"Yeah! We're just working on budget figures!"
"Sure, you work on those budget figures." Ono-D closed his manga and stood up from his desk, buttoning up his uniform jacket. "Come on, guys, let's leave 'em alone. I was going to stop by the game center on the way home anyway, wanna come?"
"Yeah, sure" and "I'm in" came from the other two boys, and they made their way out past Shinji and Kyoko, who had suddenly gone quiet.
"In your dreams!" Kyoko shouted in parting, sticking out her tongue at Ono-D's back.
"Geez, what were they thinking?" Shinji thought out loud. "I'm not dateable as is. I probably wouldn't even date myself if I were a girl."
"Hey, Shinji-kun, don't be so un-confident," Kyoko held up her hands in a faux fighting pose. "You're a good guy!"
"Well, it's not like I'm going to have the chance to have a girlfriend for long." Seeing nobody else in the room or walking past in the hallway, he unbuttoned his jacket and draped it on an empty chair. "I really think I'm going to go for it."
"So you're really thinking of joining the SDF?" Kyoko looked up at Shinji, looking over the rims of her glasses. "Shinji-kun, you're really not the military type..."
"Yeah, you can say that again." Shinji nodded affirmatively. "Everyone says that, and I guess it's true. I mean, I can barely run a mile or do twenty push-ups. But it's just... well..."
"You're that into Arm Slaves," Kyoko finished. "I guess it fits for you, but you're really willing to join the SDF?"
"It's not like Japan is going to war with anyone anytime soon," Shinji observed. "North and South China were fighting enough to the point that Taiwan declaring its independence went nearly unnoticed. North Korea is still trying to invade South China, and the United States is up in arms over the Third Gulf War. We don't depend much on anyone anymore now that the palladium reactors in Sapporo and Fukuoka are online. All I want to do is operate an AS. I don't care if it's in peacetime or in war, I want to operate an AS."
"But what about construction? That new bridge in Nihonbashi is being built exclusively with labor-type ASes, y'know. We pass it all the time on the way to Yokohama."
"I know, but still..." Shinji rubbed his thumbs together for a moment. "Sagara went for a training run in an AS at Narashino over the summer, and he took to it like a fish in water. He could run, jump, tuck and roll... he controlled that Type 96 like an extension of his own body!"
His eyes lit up as he illustrated with his hands, moving around haphazardly as if to indicate a dogfight. "Simulation after simulation, he ran and attacked like nobody's business! He was so cool doing that..."
"Geez, Kana-chan's probably going to get jealous if you're scoping Sagara-kun like that," Kyoko raised one eyebrow. "I didn't know you were into guys, Shinji-kun."
"I'm not!" Shinji waved his hands in a precautionary measure. "It's just..."
"It's... well... since my father couldn't..."
"Ah, I see," Kyoko nodded. "I guess I can kinda understand, but it'd be stupid if you had to die in some war."
Die in some war... I don't want that...
"Well..." Shinji sat down from his enthusiastic recitation of Sousuke's Arm Slave practice. "I at least want to do something cool with Arm Slaves. I know that people really frown on signing on with the military, but it's about all I can do that I'd be interested in." Shinji chuckled lightly. "I guess you know how it is, Kyoko-san."
"Huh? Like how?"
"Well, you're always taking pictures of people."
Kyoko held her Mizolta up questioningly. "Yeah, but what do you mean?"
"You seem like you'd fit right in with a fine arts school for photography."
She looked at the tiny pink camera. "Well, I never really thought about it... I always assumed I'd just get a job somewhere."
"Oh. I thought you'd go right in for something like that."
Kyoko shrugged. "It never crossed my mind."
"Right... I'm sorry." Shinji nodded. "Let's get back to the budgeting."
"Sure... okay," Kyoko nodded, a little puzzled.
You idiot, stop prying. She doesn't want you messing around in her head. Stick to what you know. Work out this budget, then you can get back to AS Fan... not like you'll be going to the practice rooms after this.
Why is it that I never thought about school before he mentioned it?
Why not photography, anyway?
To be continued...