“It's bright pink.” Shoji eyes the disturbingly-coloured cake on Todo's plate as if it were something unpleasant he's just found on the bottom of his shoe. “Don't tell me you're actually going to eat that?”
“What else do you expect me to do with it?”
Having finally closed their most recent case, Iwao Atsuta's investigation team from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department have decided to gather for a celebratory round of drinks – and food – at one of Hinako Todo's favourite cafes. Perhaps 'favourite' is too strong a word; it's certainly somewhere she happens to have visited a lot, and she knows the menu is palatable. Then again, everything tastes of shichimi to her anyway. They've even managed to drag Yasuhisa Shoji along with them, which is in itself something of an achievement, although the man seems far from pleased about it.
“Honestly, Shoji, would you stop making such a sour expression?” Keiichiro Kurashima rolls his eyes at his colleague, annoyed at the man for potentially ruining what could be an enjoyable time spent with Todo. “If you carry on like that, you're going to curdle my milkshake.”
“And whose fault is that for having a milkshake in the first place?” Shoji makes a face back at him. “Those kinds of drinks are for girls, not grown men.”
“Hey, that's not true!” Kurashima’s cheeks flush slightly, not only from his rising irritation at Shoji's mood, but also because he really doesn't want to look bad in front of the object of his desire. “Isn't that right, Todo?”
“Eh?” She pauses mid-way through sprinkling her shichimi onto something which looks like a unicorn has vomited up an ice-cream sundae. “Ah... sorry, I wasn't listening.”
“Todo!” Kurashima makes a sound of exasperation, drawing an eyeroll from Shoji. “This is important!”
“What's important?” Having finished with the shichimi, she slips the pot back into her bag. “Has a new case come through already?”
“Milkshake! Is it for girls or men?”
Todo pauses for a moment, confused by Kurashima’s words; her eyes flicker between him and Shoji, as if expecting some kind of trick question.
“It's... for... whoever likes milkshake?”
“See? I told you.” Satisfied with her answer, Kurashima sits back and takes a long sip of his drink, grinning smugly across at Shoji as he does so. “If it's good enough for Todo, it's good enough for me.”
“If it was good enough for Todo, she'd be drinking one too.”
“Gentlemen, please.” Sensing another impending argument, Doctor Taeko Ishigami breaks off from the conversation she was having with Atsuta in an attempt to intervene before Kurashima can erupt again. “Haven’t we been through enough to not disagree about something so trivial as a milkshake?”
“It was nothing special. It’s just a job,” Todo states flatly, no sense of modesty in her tone; she speaks matter-of-factly, as calmly as if she were talking about doing her grocery shopping. “I expected danger when I signed up.”
“Just a job?” Kurashima doesn’t miss a chance to charge in and defend her, even though there isn’t really anything she needs defending from right now. “You almost died, Todo! If it hadn’t been for Shoji…”
And then his voice trails off and he mentally kicks himself. Yeah, it was Shoji who saved her that time, not him. And it was her who saved Shoji in return.
“It’d look bad on my resume if she died on me.” Shoji shrugs and sips from what might be a mug of hot chocolate underneath a cloud of whipped cream. “I’m kind of surprised, though. I honestly thought you and Nakajima-sensei had something going back there. And then we found out what he was really like, and you still want to see him?”
“He’s interesting.” Again, there’s a lack of emotion in Todo’s response, although it’s clear that Kurashima is on edge.
“Maybe it's not the doctor Todo should be going for.” Ishigami comments playfully, a mischievous look on her face. “Maybe it's Shoji.”
“Shoji?” Kurashima almost chokes on his milkshake, narrowly avoiding spitting a mouthful over Todo in the process.
“Well, they both seem just as moved by the atmosphere here.”
Todo smiles politely in response, although it’s only with her mouth, not her eyes; Shoji reddens slightly and mutters something under his breath.
“Perhaps we shouldn't talk about Nakajima-sensei.” Atsuta places a hand gently but firmly on Ishigami’s arm. “Not now. Not here.”
“No, I think we should talk about him.” She touches affectionately at his fingers in response, and continues. “In fact, I think this is the perfect time to do it.”
“Well, it's hardly as though he's going to suddenly pop up and join in the conversation, is it?
“No, but he might bring up some bad memories...”
“He was fond of Todo.” Ishigami turns to the woman in question, who appears to be following the conversation, although it seems her thoughts may well be elsewhere. “Isn't that right?”
“Hmm?” Todo raises an eyebrow, apparently surprised that she's being asked a question again.
“Nakajima-sensei. He was... fond of you.”
“Yes.” She answers curtly, politely. No shadow of emotion seems to cloud her expression. Whether this makes things better or worse for Kurashima, nobody can tell, but the look on his face is certainly one of despair. “Is that a problem?”
“No, it's no problem at all.” She smiles kindly, her gaze flicking over to Kurashima, then back to the rest of the table. “Only... if the chance had come up for anything to happen with him, would you have taken it?”
“A chance for anything to happen?” Todo frowns. “A lot of things happened.”
“Oh.” A slight flush does seem to rise within her cheeks, but just as quickly subsides. “I don't know. Perhaps.”
There's a muted cry of anguish from Kurashima – he seems to be almost sobbing into a napkin – but Ishigami just nods.
“And if he---”
The conversation is cut short by the sudden arrival of an enthusiastic maid who seems to be waving frantically in Shoji's direction.
“Do you know her?” Kurashima turns to Shoji, annoyed about the suggestion of a romantic relationship between Todo and Nakajima and taking out his irritation on his colleague instead.
“Ah...” Shoji pulls a face and winces, looking as though he'd rather be anywhere else than here right now. “Maybe...”
“This isn't your usual day, Shoji-kun!” Undaunted by his pained expression the maid practically skips around the table to where Shoji is sitting, giggling and tapping him playfully on the head. “I didn't know you were friends with Todo-chan!”
“We're not friends, we're just co-workers...”
“You should have told me you have such pretty co-workers!” The maid pulls a comically exaggerated pout, glancing at each of the other people sitting at the table in turn. “They don’t know how lucky they are, getting to see you every day when I only get to see you once a week!”
“You come here every week?” Kurashima’s dour expression is quickly becoming one of disbelief, and the rest of the table - even Todo - are staring at Shoji as if he’s grown an extra head. “Yasuhisa Shoji, the man with the face who could sour a pickle, comes here every week?”
“My sister would have loved it.” Shoji looks away, his cheeks burning, even as the maid continues to dance happily behind him. “And besides… they do really good hot chocolate, okay?”