Really Souji has his hands full with his own friendships. He tells himself he's going to leave them alone until they figure it out. Naoto's brilliant and Kanji's honest, and it shouldn't be too hard, right?
His optimism doesn't last for long.
Naoto can deduce the solutions to mysteries just fine, but first the problem has to catch her attention. And Kanji tells the truth about how he feels, but he doesn't just volunteer information about it. They might just keep circling each other endlessly at this rate, one of them oblivious and the other obstinate. Maybe they could use a little push.
"How's the doll making going?" Souji asks one afternoon as he and Kanji are walking home from school.
"Uh." Kanji glances over at him and then away again. "Mom talked me into making a couple that're wearing kimonos made from stuff we sell at the shop. They came out pretty good, I guess."
"Cool," Souji says. "You still taking requests, or are you too busy?"
"I'd make time if it's you asking, senpai," Kanji says. He has a really awkward smile, like he doesn't use it often enough, and Souji's always glad to see it.
He tells Kanji about the doll he has in mind.
Kanji blushes bright red. "Th-that sounds really cute," he says. "I, uh. I can totally do that."
It only takes him a few days. Souji isn't all that surprised -- actually he thinks probably Kanji would have had it done the next day if he hadn't needed to go to Okina for materials first.
The next phase of the plan is a little trickier, but Naoto doesn't really seem to need a good reason to hang out with him anymore, so Souji figures maybe he should just ask straight out.
"You busy this afternoon?" he asks her the next day. "I have something to give you."
Naoto looks hopeful. "Another case?" she says.
"Not quite," Souji says.
"Hmm," Naoto says. Her brow furrows. "Well, I'm not busy. All right."
They head down by the river, and Souji open his bag when they've gotten settled at their usual table. "This is for you," he says as he takes out the doll. "Kanji made it."
Naoto's eyes widen. "Kanji made this?"
The doll is a little white cat with button eyes and a stitched mouth. It's wearing a black uniform complete with half-cape and a cap perched between its ears. One paw clutches a tiny magnifying glass. Naoto reaches for it slowly, as if it might be dangerous, and picks it up. She's blushing as red as Kanji did. "This is adorable."
Souji nods. "I'm sure Kanji would appreciate hearing that," he says. "Well. He might bluster a little. But he'd be happy."
"Th-thank you," Naoto says. She clutches the doll in both hands. "I-I'll remember that, senpai."
That's about as much as he can do for them, Souji figures. They're on their own from here.
When she gets home, Naoto puts the doll on her desk. It's a clue, she thinks. Or. Well. It's the last piece of evidence that makes all the clues add up.
She blushes, and looks away from the doll.
It is an impressive piece of work, though. The stitches are neat and even, the details meticulously rendered. It must have taken a lot of careful work. She wouldn't have expected its like from someone like Kanji. Perhaps that is important evidence as well. He isn't as straightforward as he seems.
The next day at school she expects him to confront her, to confess, something awkward of that nature. She waits for it, watching him, and doesn't even realize how distracted she's become until she almost fails to answer a ridiculously simple question in history class. Kanji is the same as always, blunt, quiet during class, not paying her any special attention.
"I have to wonder," Naoto tells the cat detective when she gets home, "if he's trying to make me curious." The cat looks back at her with button eyes. She feels silly.
And frustrated, because it's working. She's never had time for frivolous things like school romances, the girls professing absurd declarations of love for someone they don't know or the boys trying to give compliments to the girl they wish she would be. She still thinks such things are ridiculous.
But Kanji neither swoons nor bullies; instead he remains as polite to her as he's always been, committed to the investigation and...happy to be part of the group, Naoto thinks. She studies him when they fight Shadows, catches herself admiring his strength and determination. She smiles without meaning to when he cheers her on in battle. She thinks about what he said when she was confronting her Shadow, about letting it out so it wouldn't hurt anymore. What must his Shadow have shown him, to make him phrase it like that?
"You know, Raidou," Naoto says to her cat detective, "I don't think I've ever had a case quite like this."
The cat's name is Raidou Kuzunonya -- a secret she never intends to tell anyone -- and he is not quite as helpful a sidekick as Souji-senpai but he is an excellent listener. Naoto lays out all the evidence for him, reviews it again for herself, and wishes she could come to some other conclusion than the obvious one. Raidou has no brilliant suggestions either. Some detective he is.
It's distasteful, but she'll have to question Kanji directly.
"Are you free this afternoon?" Naoto asks him bluntly, and Kanji jumps. Most of the time she kind of ignores him when they're at school.
"Uh, sure," he says. "Senpai want to go in the TV today or something?"
Naoto looks confused. "I don't believe so," she says. "There are some questions I would like to ask you."
Man, she makes serious faces just like a cop when she says that. Kanji says, "Okay," anyway. If the cops were more like Naoto, it would be -- maybe he doesn't want to take that thought too far.
After school she meets him at the front gate, and she says, "This way, please," turning down the street toward the river. He has to slow down to match her stride. She's tiny.
When they get to the picnic table down there, she stops. She puts her bag on the table and opens it up. "Why did you make this?" she asks, and pulls out the doll he made for senpai last week.
"Why?" he says. "Well, senpai -- he gave it to you, huh?" He thinks maybe he should feel used. It's more awkward than anything else.
Her eyes widen like she's just figured out something that's been bothering her. "My apologies," she says. "I believe Souji-senpai has been meddling. He made it sound as though he was simply delivering a gift on your behalf."
"Well, I -- I was thinking of you when I made it," Kanji says. "Since it's a detective and all." His face gets hot. "I-I would have made you one ages ago if I'd thought you'd like it." He's gotta face his fears, right? Senpai must have set this up for him. "I liked you from the first time I met you."
Naoto flinches and crosses her arms over her chest like she's trying to defend herself. "You -- you could tell?"
Shit. "N-no," Kanji says. He looks down. "I thought, uh. You were a guy."
"Ah," Naoto says. Her voice drops lower, like she used to sound before anyone knew. "I'm sorry. That must have been quite a disappointment."
"What?" Kanji says. When he looks up, she's studying her shoes pretty hard. "No, it wasn't! Finding out d-didn't change anything." She looks up at him and she's got puppy eyes, man, that's not fucking fair. Kanji tries not to freak out too bad. "You're smart and you're tough and you're c-cute...."
"Kanji," Naoto says, really quiet. She's holding on tight to the doll he made. "Could I ask you to -- say that again?"
For a second he's confused, and then he figures out what part she meant. "It don't matter if you're a guy or a girl. I like you." She takes a sharp breath that stutters in the middle. "Are you -- you're shaking."
"I am not!" she says.
Kanji holds out a hand so she can see. "Me, too."
Naoto takes his hand. Her grip is strong. Her fingers are warm. "I'm not really sure what to do now," she says. "I wasn't...expecting this."
"Yeah," Kanji says. "Um. Maybe, you want to go to Aiya, get some ramen?"
"All right," Naoto says slowly, like she's thinking about it. "That sounds good."
She still has the doll in her other hand, and he really, really doesn't want her to let go of his, so he picks up her bag for her. She lets him.
"So you, uh, liked that little guy, huh?" he says as they start down the path. "Did you name him?"