One day, in the SOS Brigade club room, while Haruhi was outlining her latest plan for the culture festival, Yuki looked up from her book at her friends gathered around the table and realised she would like to kiss Kyon.
"Oh," she said, out loud.
The rest of the group turned to look at her.
"Nagato," Kyon said, after a moment, "Did you have an idea?"
She blinked at him. The eye contact seemed to reinforce this desire to kiss him. How unusual.
"Or is there something wrong?" Kyon added, with an expression that Yuki believed was 'concerned'.
She stared at him for a moment, then finally said "No." (Kyon had been trying to impress upon her lately that it was polite to answer when someone asked you a question, even if it seemed pointless.) Then she ignored them again and went back to reading. This desire to kiss Kyon was quite unusual and she really didn't know what to do with it, but it could wait until later. This was really quite a good book.
Later that night, back at her apartment, Yuki surveyed her bookshelf for novels that might have some useful guidance about kissing. She'd already looked at her collection in the club room and found nothing helpful, and the books at home were unlikely to be any different. Yuki was well aware of this. She read a wide variety of books, but she didn't tend to read the kind that discussed romance or relationships. The things she read about in books had occasionally helped her gain a better understanding of human life and behaviour, but that was rarely why she read them. In fact, she often enjoyed the way that books seemed to reveal that humans understood so little about themselves.
Once, when she was still merely a part of the Integrated Data Thought Entity and not a humanoid interface, Yuki had completely understood herself. Or at least, she thought she had. It was hard to tell whether taking a human form had made her own self-awareness so murky and mysterious, or whether as a data entity she was simply unaware of the things she did not know.
There had been a time when a feeling so alien to her as wanting to kiss someone would have made Yuki deeply upset. Now, though, she was used to the unexpected feelings that came with living as a human, and this was simply a matter for research.
If Ryoko were still here, Yuki probably could have asked her what to do. Ryoko seemed to immediately, instinctively understand human behaviour in a way that Yuki didn't. It made Yuki angry, sometimes, or as close as she came to angry, that Ryoko was given a personality as a normal, well-adjusted human who could act as she pleased, when Yuki, at least at first, could barely communicate.
Then again, Ryoko had to be terminated after she tried to murder Kyon, so perhaps she wasn't as well-adjusted to her human personality as Yuki thought.
Nevertheless, Yuki would have liked to have Ryoko here to advise her on what to do about Kyon, even if her advice would have been somewhat untrustworthy. Instead, she would have to go to the library.
Yuki paused when she stepped inside the library, remembering the first time Kyon had brought her here, and gotten her a library card, too. She had that feeling again, the one she had felt in the club room that afternoon, and her hand drifted up to touch her lips. Then she strode calmly towards the unfamiliar territory of the romance section. She had to find some answers. If she felt the urge to kiss Kyon when he wasn't even around, this problem was more serious than she thought.
Upon beginning her research in romance fiction, Yuki quickly came to realise that this problem was more complex than she thought. In reality, she wasn't just trying to answer one question. There were quite a number of them.
The first was what wanting to kiss Kyon meant. This hadn't actually occurred to Yuki at first. Her immediate concern had been whether she should kiss Kyon and how to do it, not the why. She assumed that was due to another unforseen consequence of adapting to inhabiting a human body. The romance novels she read for research, however, seemed unanimous in their assertion that wanting to kiss a man meant that Yuki was in love with him.
Yuki was not entirely certain about this. She didn't appear to be exhibiting any of the other symptoms of 'love' that the women in her novels suffered from. She felt no particular heightened sense of nervousness, whether Kyon was around or not. She wasn't prone to fainting, sweating, blushing or acting unusually around him. And she certainly didn't feel as though she would die if he didn't love her. That was simply impossible. On reflection, she did feel a certain sense of loss at the thought of never seeing Kyon again, but that seemed like inconclusive evidence for love.
Sometimes, though, people didn't seem to fall in love until after they'd tried kissing, so at least that wasn't going to be too much of an obstacle.
The books were also unanimous on the question of whether she should kiss Kyon, and that was a unanimous 'yes', whether she turned out to be in love with him or not. Of course, none of the people in the romance novels had to worry about whether kissing somebody would enrage a teenager who might express her feelings with unpredictable godlike powers and destabilise the entire universe. Yuki could probably ask Itsuki for advice on that one, but she suspected that Itsuki would tell her not to kiss Kyon under any circumstances.
(She decided not to think about what it meant that she didn't want to hear what Itsuki had to say. She had enough feelings to try to decipher already.)
How to kiss Kyon was the really difficult part. First there was the question of how to initiate kissing. In the books, it was always the boys who approached girls intending to kiss them, and Yuki couldn't see how that approach would work for her. She was well aware the idea of kissing her may never have occurred to Kyon. He would probably think of it eventually, and Yuki was very patient, after all, but it didn't seem practical to just wait until it happened. Some of the books suggested ways that girls could hint to boys that they would like to be kissed, but Yuki didn't see how sitting closer to him at school or touching him more often would change anything. She couldn't think of anything flirtatious to say to Kyon, either. If she was going to express a desire for kissing in words, then she'd rather just say 'I want to kiss you', but apparently that wasn't how romance was supposed to work.
What's more, it seemed that the mechanics of kissing were much more complex than Yuki had anticipated. She thought that it was just a matter of two people pressing their lips together, but apparently there were also angles and breathing and sometimes there were tongues, and sometimes there weren't, and she couldn't figure out whether teeth were meant to be a good thing or not. She couldn't even picture how some of these kisses were supposed to work. Perhaps it was something she would have to work out by doing it.
At least she didn't share the concern of many of the book characters, who worried that they were bad at kissing. Yuki might turn out to be bad at kissing, but all the books agreed it was the sort of thing that improved with practice. But she had no fear that being initially bad at kissing would cause Kyon to dislike her. She knew that Kyon liked her from the way he paid attention to the books she read and liked to talk to her, and she couldn't imagine that a kiss could change that, whether it was good or bad.
At the end of the day, though, she didn't really understand why. Why did she want to kiss anyone at all? What was the point of it? If kissing was simply an enjoyable activity, that would make sense. Sort of. Sometimes it was worth doing unnecessary things because they were enjoyable. But if it was simply that kissing was enjoyable, why did she only want to do it with Kyon?
Obviously, Yuki had a lot more research to do. But as Yuki headed back to the library for the fourth time that week, she was starting to worry that she wasn't going to find the answers to these questions in any book.
In the end, all of Yuki's questions were answered by a rather unlikely book.
When she picked up Twilight from the library, Yuki did not have particularly high hopes of learning anything useful from it. The promise of vampires made it appear slightly closer to Yuki's usual preferred genre, but it turned out to be rather dull and one of the less helpful books when it came to her current dilemmas about romance. It did, however, turn into a wonderful catalyst when Haruhi saw her reading it in the club room and plucked it out of her hands.
"Why are you reading Twilight?" Haruhi asked, outraged. "It's terrible!"
"Haruhi, give Nagato her book back," said Kyon, wearily.
"Bella's got the right idea. If I went to school with vampires they'd be the only people I'd want to go out with," Haruhi sighed. "But she's so annoying! And the vampires never do anything cool! It's the only book that ever made vampires boring, and that's just - Hey!"
Kyon had walked up behind her and plucked the book out of Haruhi's hands, offering it back to Yuki. "I noticed you've been reading more romance books lately, Nagato," he said. Yuki couldn't quite read his expression, but she was more intrigued that he had noticed what she was reading, and that he had interfered with Haruhi to give her the book back. It made her feel particularly odd, so much so that she kept staring at Kyon rather than going back to reading.
To be fair, she wasn't particularly enjoying the reading.
"Have you gotten sick of sci-fi?" Kyon asked, as he walked back around the table to return to his seat.
"No. This is for research."
"Research?" Mikuru said, her voice almost a squeak. "Nagato-san, what could you need to research from romance books?"
"Kissing," said Yuki, simply.
All four of the other members of the club stared at her, but none of them said anything, so Yuki opened the book again and flipped through the pages. Haruhi had pulled it out of her grasp before she could put her bookmark in, so she'd lost her place.
"Hang on," said Haruhi, and reached over to close the book for her. "If Yuki wants to kiss someone, then this is something that her friends should help her with! I declare it an SOS Brigade mission!"
Kyon scowled. "You can't be suggesting that Nagato practice kissing with one of us. That would just be taking advantage of her."
Yuki found this rather distracting, as was the prickling sensation at the back of her neck the longer she stared at him. Perhaps this was the 'protectiveness' that some of the books talked about, which would indicate that Kyon could be in love with her after all. How interesting.
"That depends what Yuki wants to know!" said Haruhi, cheerfully, and slapped Yuki's shoulder. "So, Yuki, is it someone in particular you want to kiss? Or are you just kinda curious in general?"
"Just one person."
"Great! Is it a boy or a girl?"
Yuki hadn't come across any books about girls kissing girls. "A boy. Does it make a difference?"
"Nope, just curious." Haruhi grinned. "Okay, so there's a guy and you want to kiss him. What's the problem?"
Yuki looked at her thoughtfully. "The problem," she said, at last, "Is that I am not sure how I should initiate the kiss."
"Aww, Yuki, it's not that hard," Haruhi smiled at her. Fondly, Yuki thought. "Just go up to him and kiss him!"
"Really? The girls in the books always wait for boys to kiss them."
"Sometimes books are stupid. Especially that book," said Haruhi, scornfully. "I hate it when people play games. If you want to kiss someone, just do it!"
"Haruhi's right," Kyon said, with a nod and a tiny smile. "Though I think it's usually better if you ask."
"I see." Yuki looked at him, and Kyon smiled back. Yuki hadn't yet formed a picture of what kissing Kyon would be like, but she wouldn't have expected it to turn out like this. Certainly not in front of Haruhi. And yet, going by both Haruhi's advice and Kyon's, this seemed to be the perfect time. "May I kiss you?"
Haruhi squawked with surprise, and Yuki quickly turned back to her, searching for any signs of impending disaster. "Is that okay?"
Haruhi stared back for a moment, as if she'd never seen Yuki before. The whole room seemed strangely silent now, Yuki noticed. Then Haruhi balled one hand into a fist, her face red but determined and defiant, and said "Of course you can, Yuki-chan! If you want to kiss anyone in this room you should just do it! Kyon!" She spun around and pointed at him. "Get over here and kiss Yuki-chan right now! That's an order!"
Kyon just gaped at Yuki. He didn't look as though he was about to move. That was okay, though. Yuki could carry out Haruhi's orders too. She closed her book, placed it neatly on the table and walked around until she was standing next to Kyon. He looked up at her, still baffled, and she leaned over to put her hands on his shoulders.
"Nagato," he murmured, "You don't have to do this. I mean, not here or now, not if you don't want to. You're allowed to have privacy, you don't have to kiss here in front of everyone just because Haruhi said it was an order."
Yuki stared at him, but didn't move her hands away. "Kyon."
"May I kiss you now?"
"Yes, but -"
The rest of his words were cut off as Yuki leaned down and pressed her mouth to his as she had seen other do. It was odd, not as involved or instinctive as she expected, but the experience seemed to confirm what she had read about the pleasurable nerve endings in human lips as the contact was very nice. It still didn't explain why she wanted to do it with Kyon specifically, why no other human would do, but at least she'd confirmed that it was nice.
Then he seemed to unfreeze and made a soft noise against her mouth. She could feel it as well as hear it, and although she'd never heard that exact sound before, something told her that it was a sound only Kyon could make. Then he reached up and put an arm around her waist, pulling her closer, and she realised that Kyon must have wanted to kiss her, too. And that it felt so nice to be this close to him, not just anyone else, because she enjoyed talking to Kyon and being in Kyon's presence. This was just one more extension of this. And though she had never considered the question of whether Kyon enjoyed her company in a similar way, or wanted to kiss her as well, she realised that the experience was a very enjoyable one indeed.
She straightened up after a moment, and blinked at him. Kyon looked just as bewildered as before, even a little dazed, but he didn't take his arm from around her. It still seemed like a strange, unnecessary ritual, this kissing, but Nagato suddenly understood it a lot better.
"Oh," she said, as it all clicked into place. And then she smiled.