When the Student Council president of Kaijou High suggested that the Newspaper Club do a special issue on the school’s star pupils, he didn’t know he was about to revolutionize the school’s popularity rankings and foster one beautiful friendship.
However, in the beginning it looked nothing like that. On the contrary, if you asked the president of the Newspaper Club, he’d wail at you that this task was impossible. He’d pull at his hair and complain that when the Student Council instructed them to get together for an interview and a photoshoot all Kaijou’s distinguished students, they had no idea that it was like telling them to herd a flock of highly individualistic sheep with different schedules. If they just wanted a popular issue, they could do another one on Kaijou’s basketball team; those always sell out like hot pies thanks to their very own professional model on the team. It was a blessing, especially during the dark times when the Newspaper Club lacked ideas for a new issue. Come to think of it, maybe that was the reason why the Student Council was so insistent on making it different this time.
While the Newspaper Club was racking their brains about the logistics of the planned event, the star students in question remained in blissful ignorance. However, their bliss was short-lived, because a week later every club received a memo from the Student Council, politely but unequivocally suggesting that all clubs offer their assistance if they value their funding, because their school needed them.
When the question was put like that, mobilization of the school celebrities was a breeze, because nothings sparks action like budget cut threats. With a mighty kick from their captain the whole of Kaijou’s basketball club turned up at the Newspaper Club’s door in all their Blue Elites glory, with the assurances that doing a service for the school was a great honor for the team. Kise Ryouta, as the team’s sparkliest asset, confirmed that he was ready for a photoshoot anytime and struck a pose that almost made the club president call for a photographer right there and then.
Since the basketball team alone made the quota for athletic stardom of Kaijou High in spades, all other clubs – especially non-sports ones – felt pressured to put up a good show as well. Which was why one day – one of the rare days when he actually showed up at school, to be exact – Touya Akira 3-dan found a groveling president of the Kaijou High Go Club by his desk.
“Please, Touya-sensei, I beg of you! The Go Club humbly begs you! We need you to represent the club for us!”
“But I am not a member of the school’s Go Club. Pros are not allowed to play in amateur tournaments.” Touya looked taken aback by the unusual flurry of activity around his person at school. One of the reasons why he went to Kaijou to finish school was that the principal was very understanding about his demanding schedule. This meant that Touya usually came and went to collect and hand in his assignments mostly unnoticed.
“Of course, sensei, and we’d never ask you to go against the rules. But you could go as our club advisor – and we do frequently analyze the kifu of your games during our study sessions, so that wouldn’t be untrue!”
Seeing that Touya-pro still looked unconvinced, the Go Club president desperately latched onto his last argument.
“Please, sensei! Your appearance would help boost the popularity of the game, and the club might get a lot of new members. Wouldn’t it be great if more people discovered a love for Go?”
In his wildest hopes he didn’t think these words would have an immediate effect. Stunned at finding himself on the receiving end of Touya’s I’m-so-happy-people-love-Go smile and hearing his agreement, the president of the Go Club mumbled his thanks and nearly cried. Apparently, all the interviews with Touya-sensei did not exaggerate his devotion to the game.
Which is how on the day of the photoshoot, to his own great surprise, Kise found himself sharing the spotlight with some prissy-looking guy (with impeccably groomed hair) that he saw for the first time. Ever the professional, Kise could admit that they made a nice contrasting material for the photographer to work with, so it wasn’t surprising that the shutter was going off non-stop in their direction. Still, he felt the matter bore some investigation. That’s why during one of the breaks, when the Newspaper Club members started arguing whether they made enough pictures already and if they could move on to the interviews yet, Kise put on his second best magazine smile and spoke up.
“So, who are you?”
The other boy, who apparently managed to go through the whole photoshoot without paying any attention at all to his surroundings, blinked at him. Kise wondered if he was used to this in his own way, because the boy’s absent-minded attitude had not prevented him from following the photographer’s instructions.
“Ah, I am sorry for not introducing myself. My name is Touya Akira,” was the polite reply. “I don’t really come to school that often; my work schedule doesn’t allow for that.”
“Oh, I know all about work schedules, they can be a pain,” Kise nodded with a laugh. “Good thing Kaijou High is understanding about that.”
Touya continued to look at him with a polite smile. The pause stretched on. Kise saw Touya notice the basketball he was posing with in front of the cameras.
“Um, so you play basketball? Do basketball players have a busy work schedule, too? I don’t know much about these things, sorry…”
Kise stared at the boy, mouth agape. Even the fact that he seemed to be the first person in Kaijou who haven’t heard of Kise aside (seriously, there were still people like that?!), what did the boy think high school sports clubs did?!
“I play on Kaijou basketball team! Kaijou’s team is awesome, have you really never heard of us?! We’re one of the strongest in Kantou region; we played in both the Interhigh and the Winter Cup!”
Touya shook his head apologetically. “I don’t really have the time to follow the school activities, sorry. I’m afraid I’m not really into sports, either.” Then he added unsurely, “But I think I have one friend who is?..”
One friend who might be into sports? Kise peered at the guy suspiciously, noting the way he wore the Kaijou uniform. While Kise knew that he himself pulled off the grey suit like he was starring in a perfume commercial (well, he wouldn’t want those modeling gigs go to waste, after all), Touya Akira wore his like it was a business attire. Perfectly pressed pants, perfectly straight hair, and even a perfect tie knot (possibly the only Windsor at Kaijou, too).
“Wait, what was it that you said you did? And what hair care products do you use?”
“I…wash it. With shampoo.” Touya blinked with a stoic expression of a person who was used to random turns in conversations. “I am a professional Go player. Do you play Go?” Kise looked at Touya’s lit-up face, and was flooded by the memories of the dark classroom in Teiko where Akashi played shougi against himself and occasionally against Midorima. He shook his head weakly.
Before Kise could spiral into a Teiko-rooted fit of neurosis, the Newspaper Club president approached them with a slightly manic gleam in his eyes, waving other clubs’ representatives to come closer. They were loitering nearby, half of them feeling neglected - like the guys from the Kendo club who came in their full sports gear and were complaining about the heat - and the other half (primarily female) enjoying the show.
“Attention, please! Everyone, the Newspaper Club has an announcement to make. We appreciate you all coming here today – it’s proof that Kaijou High can boast success in such different areas. And it’s exactly because the school has so many distinguished students that we thought it would be a crime to cram you all into a single newspaper issue. Each and every one of you deserves some spotlight! That’s why we decided to run a series of Kaijou Monthly specials, each focusing on two representatives from different clubs.”
“Our school prides itself on versatility and diversity of its accomplishments,” Newspaper Club president continued with a badly-disguised triumph in his voice. “Both physical and mental achievements deserve cheering on. And to illustrate that, erm, duality, we’ll be starting with an issue that will center on the ace of our basketball team and our very own professional Go player.”
A crowd of girls from the Kyuudo Club cheered loudly. Kise automatically sent them a sparkly smile. Touya looked unperturbed.
“Other club representatives are kindly requested to come to me to be assigned a partner for their own issue, and to decide on the time and date for further interviews that suit both of you. Kise-kun, Touya-kun, please stay for a round of interview questions.” And seeing the approaching figure of the photographer, whose camera seemed magnetically drawn to the two of them like a compass, the Newspaper Club president added, “And maybe for a few more pictures.”
Touya turned to face the camera with a professional ease and patience. Kise made a mental note to ask him later about what exactly the job of a Go pro entailed, picked up the basketball and sent it spinning on his fingertip, flashing a smile for the camera’s benefit. The shutter went off at an alarming speed, and Kise prepared to follow excited orders of a hyperventilating photographer for the next hour or so.
The first day of the publication of the special issue with Kise and Touya on the cover gave rise to a few things. Among them was a notoriously long queue that caused a human equivalent of a traffic jam in the school corridors, a few bruises, a lost shoe, a dozen request for printing extra copies of the said issue, a few dozens of applications into the two clubs, and an burning interest in professional Go players that swept through school like a forest fire.
Kaijou basketball team was pretty much used to the crowds of fangirls that flocked from one practice session to another, as well as the fact that their fluctuation was predictably tied to Kise’s modeling gigs. That’s why no one was surprised at the sight of the team’s ace flipping through the pages of the school newspaper handed to him by a group of girls for autographing, marker still in his hands and his face showing great interest in the contents of the paper.
True enough, Kise didn’t find fault with his own face in the photographs – and why should he, when he was obviously perfect for the job. He really didn’t need to look at the newspaper so intently if it was just for them, so some of his teammates (okay, maybe all of his teammates) who were grumbling about Kise having narcissistic urges obviously didn’t give his professionalism due credit.
What got Kise’s attention was the fact that Touya, the guy who apparently lives on some planet of bizarre nerds with good haircuts, didn’t do half as bad either. There was the cover picture, of course, in which Touya gave the camera the look of a mild annoyance of a person who has more important things to do but deigned a moment of his time out of politeness – that’s some top-notch work on the “cool and detached” type. Then there was a series of profile shots that any hairdresser’s would have paid to have in their ads, and one super-dynamic picture with him holding a stone over a Go board – and how could he even have pulled off “dynamic” with a board game for old geezers in the first place?
Kise made another mental note to himself to talk with the guy next time he saw him - just before a gentle reminder from his teammates in the form of a basketball flying right at his head brought him back to the court.
The next time Kise saw Touya was a week after the special issue saw the light of day, when Touya almost ran into him with a haunted expression and somewhat ruffled clothes. Since he was absent from school and missed all the hype about the recent drastic surge of his own popularity, it was obvious Touya hadn’t expected to be hunted down by overexcited fans right after he crossed the school gates. He didn’t seem to be enjoying the attention, his breathing heavy and his eyes searching for an escape route. Kise decided to take pity on the guy.
He gestured him to go into the men’s bathroom that was at the end of the corridor, and quickly went ahead to meet Touya’s unfortunate pursuers with his a wide smile and a bit of a swag. It was nice to know how these tricks were always reliable, Kise thought, chatting up and sparkling at the group of girls until they had forgotten their own names – or, at least, the purpose of their being in this part of the school, which was good enough.
After the last of the girls walked away in a daze, Kise went to check up on Touya, feeling very pleased with himself. And sure thing, Touya was still in the bathroom, seemingly determined to keep on readjusting his clothes until the world started to make sense again.
“They are gone,” said Kise, leaning at the door with one arm and looking pitifully at Touya’s fumblings.
Touya looked at him with both disbelief and respect and asked, “How did you do that?!” And after a pause, he added with greater composure, “Thank you.”
“That’s piece of cake for a model, hah, so no problem.”
“A model?” Touya furrowed his eyebrows. “Didn’t you say that you were a basketball player?”
Kise let out a groan and cracked his neck.
“I don’t suppose you’ve heard of the Generation of Miracles, have you? Yeah, no, just asking.” Definitely from another planet, this guy.
“But the efficiency and speed with which you handled the situation is really impressive!” Touya went to peek behind the door, and the sight of the empty corridor apparently calmed most of his nerves. “Normally I don’t find fans bothersome at all, they are generally very nice people. But it’s the first time I’ve been ambushed by fifteen girls simultaneuosly, and all of them seemed to be very... energetic.”
Kise laughed at him.
“Anytime! It’s easy-peasy, really,” he said with a wink, turning to leave. But then stopped and added, “Here’s my number if you need a hand some other time,” handing him his business card and feeling every inch a professional valiant knight.
Touya huffed, but kept the card.
Kise didn’t really think that Touya would take up his offer – the guy didn’t make an impression of someone easily flustered, and the crowds of fangirls weren’t really that unbearable (or, at least, getting used to them wasn’t really a problem). That’s why when his phone rang a couple of weeks later, he was surprised to hear his voice on the line.
“Kise-kun, I apologize for calling you out of blue like that. And before you can ask, it’s not because I’m being… overwhelmed again.” There was a weird noise coming though the phone, like someone shuffling or coughing, but it was hard to pin down.
“So what is it, then? Did you see the light and want my autograph now?”
“Not exactly.” The long exasperated sigh on the other end of the line was followed by some wailing noises, and then Kise thought he heard Touya hiss something under his breath. “You see, there is a… friend of mine, who apparently knows what generation of miracles is, and who got hyper-excited when he heard that I know you. Do you think you could humor him and talk to him some day, please, if you have the time?” Then Touya trailed off in a long, polite string of apologies on behalf his friend, but Kise didn’t wait to listen to all of them.
“A basketball fan friend, heeh? I can meet him some day, sure!” He heard a happy yelp followed by some muffled whispers, and continued, seeing an excellent opening. “But in exchange, you must come meet my manager from the modeling agency. She’s been asking after you after she saw that school newspaper. Her husband is a fan of Go, apparently.” Which paled in comparison with her own interest in Touya as a potential addition to her agency, but he wasn’t about to say that.
“Oh, a Go fan! That would be only fair, I guess.”
“Sweet.” What Touya didn’t know didn’t hurt him, thought Kise, closing his phone with a sense of self-satisfaction. This promised to be fun.