There was a lot, Naoto knew, to being feminine. Just historically they were implications on how you would live your life that were the main point of contention with them. The idea of staying at home, idle, doing nothing but cleaning and cooking and waiting. Naoto did not like waiting. (This of course was a source of a lot of her troubles)
Luckily, Rise has proven that femininity in the modern age wasn’t quite so tedious. Uncomfortable and expensive, yes, but there seemed to be so much shopping to do.
So Naoto took her personal research further, and chose to shop at a craft store. She respected sewing, the art of making something out of seemingly nothing. It wasn’t too dissimilar to her own tinkering. It was even said that it could be calming, to knit and sew. From her experiences watching Kanji that seemed to be far from the truth but that was likely due to him being fond of yelling in general. He seemed to at least be in his comfort zone, everything so second nature to him. He would cut seemingly random shapes out of cloth only for them to be exactly the shape he needed to make this seemingly formless bundle to a bonafide teddy bear seemingly by magic. It was...remarkable in a way that Naoto strived for in her old hobby.
For her, tinkering and creating was a science. Every different possibility was a hypothesis that could be tested, then altered depending on its success. Every breakthrough was to be written down and analyzed- if this worked here, would it work there? Would the circuitry allow for this? Ever since returning to this pursuit through the Phantom Thief incident (and her grandfathers odd show of his support) there were new possibilities to investigate. How far could her abilities take her?
But...for Kanji, it was an art. Every step seemed almost effortless but was far from it, years of training and practice not showing in the execution but the precise and detailed final product. He did not falter or hesitate, despite the need for careful preparation and planning. He just did, each movement fluid despite the numerous possibilities and potential paths no doubt flooding his mind with every stitch. Like dancing each movement seemed, on surface, spontaneous and carefree but was, in reality, scheduled and optimized.
It was as easy as breathing for him, and each time she found herself forgetting to breathe just watching him.
“Oh Naoto I just heard the cuteesstttt fairytale from Kanji just now! Apparently, if you make a stuffed animal and name it after yourself and exchange them, you’ll be together forever! So even distance can’t tear you apart because you always have a piece of them! Isn’t that just the sweetest thing you’ve heard?”
“Doesn’t that sound a little like voodoo to you, Rise-Chan? Should I be worried?”
“Ugh, don’t be a spoil sport! Besides, doesn’t it sound so sweet to have a little plushie to hug at night when you are traveling and feeling lonely? I’m totally going to make one for Senpai, I just know he will love it~!”
Making a stuffed doll. It wasn’t...it wasn’t a great plan but if there was one thing Naoto understood about emotions, it was that the longer you thought of them, the worse they got. Rise was extremely helpful in this regard. Of course, it wasn’t a foreign concept. When one is trained in firearms they are told explicitly of the danger: don’t point it at people you don’t want to shoot. To be a detective, one had to be willing take such risks with danger. You couldn’t think, not when a second could mean death for yourself or others. You had to act. There were lives on the line.
...Perhaps not the best example to ruminate on.
The shoddily stitched smile on the stuffed bunny taunted her.
This wasn’t exactly her expertise. Neither feelings or sewing.
Naoto picked it up, feeling it’s weight. She had decided on styrofoam to give it more weight, since it was already so small. The tutorial had been for a bear but...well. Best not to invite unnecessary danger or miscommunication. As such, the ears fell flat and adding stuffing only made that worse. It wasn’t anything like how she imagined it...but if there was anything she had learned in the past two years, it was that there were things more important than your plans.
Perhaps it was a bit cowardly of her. To show up on his doorstep at 1 am, on a school night, with no warning. It was even more cowardly, then, to give no notice as to her brief two day visit to Inaba that was spent almost entirely in her room, with the complete intention to never actually interact with her friends. But it didn’t feel el cowardly when every bit of her bravado was channeled into the small package in her hands, and the short letter that accompanied it. She wasn’t even asking for much, really. Just a show of her appreciation and admiration, is all. And if she had included her personal P.O. box, that had previously only been used for corresponding with her grandfather, with the invitation to send letters (they were both so awkward in phone calls) then that didn’t really mean anything.
It also didn’t mean anything when her heart jumped to see him open the door, a disbelieving but genuine smile on his face.
“Naoto? What...what are you doing here?”
She quickly coughed and gained her composure.
“I could ask you the same thing, of course. Not... about your presence of course but you are aware of how late it is? I understand our previously necessary late schedules but even without that it is past midnight and while I have been known to burn the midnight candle myself I must insist that you get a good amount of sleep since you do have school in the morning. Unless, of course, there was a holiday tomorrow that I had forgotten that would be a reason to your late night, but even still, I must insist you go back to sleep immediately. It is a health risk.”
Yes. These are all things someone perfectly composed would say.
Kanji just stared, entranced by her mumbled rambling, before seeing the package.
“Is that for me?”
“Oh this?” She gestured to the box, as if also seeing it for the first time. “Oh, well, you see, I’m glad you asked that, because that brings me to my next point, which is, that…”
Kanji, still not believing this was actually happening (and more than half asleep) patiently waited in dumbstruck awe.
“...it is, in fact, for you. Which. Is why I’m here.”
Kanji snapped out of his disbelief. Well, enough of it to be polite, at least. “Oh! Do you...you wanna...come in? I was just workin’... on somethin’ but I can make you some tea if you want.”
Naoto eased from her incredibly rigid posture to something resembling relaxed.
“That...would be lovely, thank you.”
The two incredibly baffled and nervous teenagers with nothing but ingrained training on politeness dictating their next moves made their way to a sitting area. Kanji politely laid out tea, Naoto politely thanked him, before politely drinking some. They then sat in silence. Polite silence, of course.
Eager to keep up the facade of normalcy despite her inner desire to run away as fast as possible, Naoto breaks the silence. “So...what are you working on?”
Kanji had been using the tea as a way to busy and distract himself, and seemed reluctant to give up this distraction. “Oh just the usual, yknow? Nothin’ special…”
“Well, everything you make is remarkable, so I’d disagree. May I see it?”
Blushing from the compliment, and also wishing to run away, Kanji rushed out of the room in order to get his current project. He came back bashfully presenting a gray stuffed cat that, to all appearances, looked finished. It had a large hand stitched face and soft fur. It smelled strongly of lavender- likely partially stuffed with some- and while it couldn’t stand on its own, it’s paws seemed weighted to provide a floppy affect. It wore a deep blue cloth collar that stood out against the fluffy gray while still soft and overall complimenting the final product.
It was, scientifically speaking, the epitome of a cute huggable toy.
Naoto smiled. “As expected, you’ve sold yourself short. This is not only market quality, but arguably one of your best projects yet. Your stitching is detailed but neat. May I ask what part you were working on? It seems complete to me.”
Kanji handed her the cat as if burned by it, as if his face was burning enough. Naoto took the opportunity to look at it more thoroughly. Having recently attempted sewing herself the precision and expertise that went into it was even more abundantly clear. It was certainly built to last, as well, each stitch visible centimeters in length so as to prevent holes in the seams. The collar, as well, did an excellent job replicAting the look of a leather collar without the actual material being used. It was completely movable, as well, likely separate in...huh…?
There was a very sloppy stitched heart. It had little holes near it, as if restitched several times. Something about it made her heart skip. Something about it also made it drop. This was not like him. If there was anything sure about the always flustered Kanji, it was his ability to keep a steady hand through it all. Even at their worst, at their most hopeless or frightened, Naoto could always look to him to keep his weapon steady even as her gun seemed to tremble in her hand.
“Kanji...did you sew this heart...?”
“IT'S YOURS,” he yelled, all the steam being let out of him like a kettle. “I made it so you can sleep better and shit. Since you’re traveling on your own in, like, hotels all the time... So you wouldn’t get lonely being away from everyone.”
“Oh” came out like a sigh from Naoto. She hugged it close to her. She was incredibly embarrassed to be seen through like this, but at the same time touched. All the feelings and concern came together to make this beautiful gift. The heart, sewn by shaky nervous hands so overcome with emotions reminded her of her own creation, still sitting in the box on the table. The whole thing swelled her with happiness but at the same time she couldn’t open her mouth to ask, ask about what the heart meant, or why it was so hard for him to stitch.
All she could ask, then, was “Can I keep him?”
Though those were the last words to be spoken, so many were left to be said through letters. One thing, though, that never needed to be said: the names of the bunny and the cat.