A/N: Sweet and slightly cracky response to a meme prompt. Consider it AU for the sake of humour. T-rated for innuendo and Kanji's indelicate language.
EDIT: Since I was asked - yep, I know Valentine's Day in Japan is associated with girls giving guys chocolate. The card + Valentine's Day setup here is just for the sake of humour. Besides, out of the two of them, I figure Kanji would be the one trying to woo Naoto with handmade sweets.
When Emiko Tatsumi found her son sitting in the center of a circle of coloured paper, animal stickers and glitter that resembled the aftermath of a craft store explosion, scissors in hand and brow furrowed in concentration, she reached the natural first conclusion: he was courting that lovely Kujikawa girl from down the street. After all, it was almost Valentine's Day. (Her second conclusion was that he ought to stick to making dolls rather than greeting cards.)
Or - she thought of this later, as she inventoried the stockroom while planning outfits for the wedding - perhaps that delightful young lady from the Amagi family, who showed up in the most beautiful kimonos and always caught Kanji-chan's eye. They'd been friends as children, which was always promising. Admittedly it would be an unusual match, given Kanji-chan's peculiar penchant for attaching metal to his face. And, thinking about it, he usually looked at the kimonos rather than Amagi herself. Still, it was a lovely idea.
As long as her son was happy, Emiko had no objections. Though that charming grey-haired boy had left town a year ago, he'd helped Kanji-chan finally find some friends; even a few young ladies. He'd always had such trouble getting along with girls. Now there was Kujikawa, of course, and Amagi, and Amagi's tomboy friend who - so she'd heard - was one of three people in Inaba who'd mastered the Aiya beef-bowl challenge.
...Perhaps Kanji was pursuing her? Very sweet girl, if a bit unorthodox. Unlikely, though; he'd always had a taste for traditional beauty, regrettably tasteless cards notwithstanding.
That nice detective boy - Naoto, wasn't it? - showed up an awful lot. Such a good influence! Naoto-kun wasn't terribly outgoing - Emiko had never been able to sustain a conversation with him for more than three sentences, bar the first time they met last year - but he dressed smartly, spoke well and always remembered to shine his shoes.
He'd been up in Kanji's room for quite some time. Emiko was never quite sure what they talked about and Kanji-chan seemed very jumpy when he popped downstairs to fetch drinks, but boys were rather strange at that age. She settled in front of Niteline and resumed knitting - noticing, with mild displeasure, that Kanji had unraveled the last few rows, picked up her dropped stitches and knitted back to where she'd left off.
An hour later, soft footsteps sounded down the stairs. Naoto-kun, of course - who was clutching something blue against his chest and looking a little flushed. Emiko ought to check if he was running a fever; the poor boy was on the small side and could use a few good meals.
Looking closely, he was holding the greeting card. How nice! Kanji must have explained how shy he was around Kujikawa-chan or Amagi-chan or whoever. "Naoto-kun, are you delivering that for Kanji-chan?"
Naoto-kun looked blank. As usual. "Very nice of you," Emiko continued. "He's so shy around girls."
"Yes," murmured Naoto-kun, then dodged out the front door before Emiko had chance to offer him tea.
Lovely boy. Bit odd, though.
Poor Kanji-chan. He didn't seem to be making progress with any of the girls. It might be that they all had boyfriends; Amagi's friend kept mentioning somebody called Bruce Lee.
Perhaps Naoto-kun was helping him as a birdman, or whatever they called it; somebody to give Kanji that little push into approaching the young lady he liked. That would explain why they were upstairs again and hadn't come down for hours. Coaching, no doubt. Naoto-kun was quite well-spoken, when he actually got round to speaking.
Emiko decided not to bother them. They might be talking about girls and with young men that could get quite inappropriate. It wouldn't really be in keeping with either of them, given Kanji-chan still blushed at the lingerie sections of the fashion catalogues and she rarely saw Naoto-kun with girls at all - but boys would be boys.
"I'm proud of you, dear," she told Kanji-chan over dinner.
Kanji grunted around a mouthful of beef stew, but it sounded inquisitive.
"All these young ladies you're interested in," she continued. "It's delightful. You were so lonely before."
He raised an eyebrow, chopsticks paused in mid swoop.
"And I'm very glad Naoto-kun's around. Such a good friend! Always up in that room, helping you learn to deal with girls."
Kanji started choking at that point. Emiko passed him a glass of water and hoped he'd eventually learn not bolt down his food.
The buildings in the shopping district were traditional, sturdy, pleasant to look at - and rather susceptible to power outages. This was the third in a week.
Emiko sighed, stood up from the sofa, and found her way to the stairs. The candles had already run out; she'd have to borrow some from Kujikawa-san again. She ought to fetch Kanji-chan and Naoto-kun and send them over.
... Although, Kanji might get in a temper. Who knew what Naoto-kun's coaching involved? He might even be making another card, and he'd gotten so flustered when Emiko caught him finishing up the last one. Instead, she called their names, then walked back into the shop and out to the street.
A few minutes later, both boys dashed out the shop door, red-faced and slightly disheveled. "P-power's out again, right?" Kanji stuttered, then ran off to the tofu shop before Emiko could respond.
Naoto-kun said nothing. Just stood there, his hat tipped down, with his arms wrapped round him. It was rather dark out, so no doubt she was mistaken - but looking closely, the shirt he was wearing was both far too big and exactly like one of Kanji's.
Poor thing was probably cold. Kanji-chan was so nice, lending out his clothes.
The train back from Okina had arrived over an hour ahead of schedule. Emiko would be able to take the shop back from Kanji-chan for the last few hours of the day; perhaps Naoto-kun would be able to visit again.
However, when she reached the store, the door was locked. Kanji had probably stepped out for a moment - though, looking through the window, the lights didn't appear to be on inside. After entering via the side door, she found the living room and kitchen equally empty.
More than a little concerned, Emiko climbed the stairs. Kanji might've fallen ill, or injured himself, or-- no, there was no reason to panic. No doubt he was in his room. She still couldn't stop her steps from quickening, though, and she pushed the door open without even knocking. "Kanji-chan, are you--"
That was as far as she got.
Later, Emiko would decide that her reaction wasn't ideal. It must have embarrassed both of them terribly. Unfortunately, when you found your son on his bed kissing another boy, both with their shirts unbuttoned and the latter - as far as you could tell - having apparently mislaid his trousers, sensitivity and tact became rather elusive.
Emiko's final response was this: quickly closing the door and dashing back down the stairs towards the sofa, where she sat down, picked up her knitting and proceeded to drop more stitches than she could count.
The knitting was put aside within minutes. She just couldn't concentrate.
Obviously, boys who liked boys existed. Girls who liked girls, too. Televisions and magazines had taught her that - and one of her friends had a daughter who was quite fond of other young ladies.
It wasn't really a bad thing. It was, however, the sort of thing that happened to other people.
No grandchildren. No wedding, either. And if the neighbors found out... what would they think? That she'd somehow raised Kanji incorrectly? Emiko had always thought that if you were... well, like that, it was the way you were born, but people made assumptions. Kanji had suffered from those in the past.
He'd always acted so tough, but perhaps 'acted' was the crucial word. A boy could have feminine hobbies and like girls. A boy could also have feminine hobbies and like other boys. Maybe a boy could even like both - but Kanji-chan had always been so scared of girls, hadn't he?
Emiko couldn't help feeling disappointed. But Kanji-chan was her only son. She'd worried about him ever since they lost his father, and if Naoto-kun - who was still an intelligent and well-mannered boy, the sort she'd welcome as a boyfriend to any daughter - made him happy, Emiko didn't have the heart to ruin that. It was just... difficult.
They'd have to talk.
"Ma... I am so, so sorry."
Kanji must've done something horrific in a past life. That was the only explanation for his current situation: standing in front of his Ma, her with eyes as wide as plates and him trying to explain why she'd found him halfway to getting it on with Naoto and why he'd closed the store to do it. He'd hidden upstairs with Naoto for over an hour, waiting for Ma to come back or for the floor to swallow them up, whichever came first, before deciding he had to take action. "We... oh, man, I am so sorry you found us like that."
Ma didn't say anything.
"And, and I-I know I shouldn'ta closed the shop but it was the first time you'd been out the whole day in forever and it, it was the first time we were gonna--" He stopped dead, cheeks burning. She didn't need to know that.
She still didn't say anything. Just kept looking at this sheet of paper on the table.
What else would she be pissed about? He'd done a really shitty thing, closing up when they might've gotten customers, and--
"Oh. Oh." He'd never told her, and all that stuff she'd… oh man.
If it were physically possible, Kanji would've kicked himself in the head. He vowed to get Naoto to do it for him, whenever she quit burying her face in her hands and came back out of his room. "You... you think..." He swallowed and tried again. "Ma, N-Naoto's not actually--"
"Yes, dear. Of course. Experimentation." Ma's hands tightened around each other. "You... really don't need to explain."
"I did some research. While you were upstairs." She paused. "But I don't think I'll look on the internet again. I've disconnected it, by the way."
"Just remember," - and here, Ma picked up the paper and pushed her reading glasses along her nose - "always use protection. It's very important for... for boys, in particular. I have a list of, of items, here. And please... don't be too demonstrative in public, yes?"
"But Naoto's a--"
"I know. But people round here, they're not always very understanding, Kanji-chan." Ma stood up and gently took hold of his hand. "They might... well, I know you're very strong but Naoto-kun looks rather fragile and I'd be so worried about both of you."
Fragile - along with effusive, boisterous, and a bunch of other fancy adjectives she'd taught him - was bottom at the list of words Kanji would use to describe Naoto. "Ma, I--"
"It was just a shock," Ma continued. "But... I want you to be happy."
Then she hugged him.
It would've been touching, Kanji figured, if he wasn't stuck figuring out how to explain his boyfriend wasn't technically much of a boy. But maybe it still was. Ma had stuck by him through a lot, more than anyone else. And at least he knew that if he ever did get together with a guy... well. It helped.
"Thanks," he mumbled, giving her a small hug back.
Ma pulled away and gave him a watery sort of smile - which turned into a reproving glare. "But if you close the store like that again... Kanji-kun, our shop has a reputation."
"Yeah. I know. I'm sorry." Reputation. Kanji couldn't see him dating a guy doing much for that. Then again, everybody already thought he was weird. Except he wasn't dating a guy, even if Naoto was kinda--
He'd have to handle this later. Give Ma time to calm down so he could explain, get Naoto in on it too. Kanji thanked her one more time and managed to escape back upstairs.
Inside his room, Naoto was still sitting on the end of his bed, biting her lip and staring at the window like she was planning to jump out. "H-how did it go?" she asked, not quite looking at him.
Kanji sat next to her, wrapped his hand around hers, then sighed. "Well, she ain't pissed."