Hirato smiled. “That’s right, little Nai.” He held up a finger. “It’s just a sign of affection. I care about Tsukumo, and she cares about me. Sometimes, this is how we display that feeling.”
Tsukumo still wouldn’t meet Nai’s gaze. She looked really red beneath her bangs. Nai stared at her a little longer. “So,” he said, “if I like someone, I should kiss them?”
Tsukumo made some aborted sound. He caught a glimpse of her wide eyes before Hirato chuckled. The man’s smile had grown still wider. “Of course!” he said. “For people you like, you should kiss them on the cheek. But!” he said, holding out that finger again as Nai started to smile. “A kiss on the cheek is for everyone but the person you care about the most.”
Nai’s smile faded. He cocked his head. “The most?”
“Yes.” Tsukumo was staring at Hirato with wide eyes. She covered her mouth. “Only that person should get a kiss on the lips.”
Nai grinned widely. “So you like Tsukumo-chan more than anyone else!” Hirato nodded, and Nai grabbed her hand. “Isn’t that great?!” He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “I’m so happy for you!”
The purple of her irises seemed about ready to swallow her face. Lightly, she touched her cheek. She blushed and looked down. After a moment, she nodded. “Mm. Yeah.”
Nai looked back to Hirato. The man was still smiling widely. “Do you know who you care about the most?”
Nai thought for a moment. For a very long time, his life revolved around finding Karoku. It would be him, wouldn’t it? “I think so,” he said.
“It’s someone you don’t ever want to lose. I’m sure you know that much. But you don’t want to lose any person you care about. You wouldn’t want to lose Tsukumo or me. The person you care about most is a little bit more than that.” Nai thought about that for a long time, but he didn’t think he quite understood. Hirato seemed to see that. “When you figure it out, give that person the right kiss. All right?”
Nai considered this. “Okay!”
Hirato patted him on the head. “Thanks.” Nai ran out, ostensibly to do as instructed. Hirato watched him run off down Second Ship’s corridors. “He’s such a good kid.”
Tsukumo looked up at him. “Um.” Hirato turned to her. “Why…?”
Hirato’s smile grew. It looked something like a smirk. “Because it’s interesting. Don’t you think?”
She paled slightly. “Poor Nai.”
Nai thought about it for hours as he traversed the halls. The sheep, it was easy; he gave each of them a kiss on the cheek as they passed. He saw Yogi and Yukkin hugging in the halls, and he gave them quick cheek kisses, too. Yogi had been so happy he’d picked Nai up and twirled him around, planting kisses all over his cheeks, too, when he explained what Hirato had told him. Nai had felt back about not kissing Yogi on the lips, but Yogi had just laughed. “It’s okay, little Nai! I know the person you want to give that to!”
Nai had just stared at him. “You do?” Yogi nodded. “But I don’t.” Yogi had frowned. “I care about Karoku a lot. But I care about Gareki a lot, too. I really like the both of them.” He’d tilted his head, still trying to think about it.
Yogi had just smiled and pressed a hand against Nai’s chest. Nai stared up at him. “Just listen to your heart! You can love a lot of people, and want them all to be happy and safe. But there’s one who matters almost too much. You always want them around. You hurt when they hurt. You know?”
Nai thought about it for a moment, then smiled. “Oh! Like you with Gareki!”
Yogi looked surprised for a while, then laughed. “Almost! But no, not quite.” He cleared his throat. After a second, he knelt down in front of Nai. He clasped Nai’s shoulder. “For me, missing Gareki hurts, yeah. But I always end up thinking about how I can be near him. I hurt because I want him near. For you… for you, it’s a bit different, right? Even if you miss him, you know he’s happy, and that matters more. Right?”
“There’s a difference. You can feel it. Can’t you?”
Again, Nai nodded. He thought he understood. He grinned. “Thanks, Yogi!”
Yogi nodded. “Go on,” he urged, and Nai ran off, no longer wandering aimlessly. Yogi smiled softly as he watched Nai hurry away. “Glad to help,” he murmured.
Nai ran past Gareki as they met in the hall. Gareki backed away from Karoku just in time for Nai to wrap his arms around the blue-haired man and squeeze tight. Karoku laughed and returned the hug. “Nai! How are you?”
“I’m good!” He grinned bright and leaned up. He landed a quick peck on Karoku’s lips, then, as Karoku blinked rapidly down at him, leaned over and planted another on the man’s cheek. Gareki made some strange noise from behind him. “Karoku! Hirato told me people kiss those they care about!”
Karoku’s mouth moved a couple of times before something managed to squeak out. “Is that so?” He cleared his throat. “Well, thank you, Nai!”
Nai distinctly heard Gareki curse Hirato’s name.
Nai grinned. “Yeah!” He wriggled his way out of Karoku’s hold and turned around. “Gareki!”
Gareki side-stepped him. Nai nearly splattered onto the floor. “Ah! Gareki!”
“I’m not getting randomly kissed just because that idiot likes making trouble.” Gareki lifted his chin. “Why did Hirato tell you to go around kissing people like that, anyway?”
Nai pouted at him. “But I wanted to show you!” he said. “I finally figured it out.”
Gareki sighed. “Once again, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Nai looked back and forth between his important people. Maybe Gareki didn’t know what to think, since Nai had kissed Karoku both ways? “Hirato said you kiss people you like on the cheek.” He bit his lip as Gareki cursed Hirato again. “I really like Karoku, and Yogi, and Tsukumo-chan, and Hirato. So I should kiss them on the cheek!” He grinned, happy to have explained that right.
Gareki sent him a side-glare. “But not me, huh?”
Karoku cleared his throat again. “Ah, but, uh, Nai. You…” Karoku touched his lips.
“Oh!” Nai grinned. “That’s because Hirato said I should kiss the person I like the most on the lips!”
Both men stared at him for a long time. Karoku blushed. “O-Oh.”
Gareki snarled. He stomped past Nai. Nai grabbed his leg. Gareki lurched forward. He swung his arms wildly, smacking one into the wall before managing to scoot his free leg forward and keep his balance. He turned on Nai. “What do you think you’re doing?!”
“Ah! I don’t want you to get the wrong idea!” Gareki snarled. Nai climbed up Gareki’s leg. He leaned up. Gareki smacked a hand on his face. “What. Are you doing?”
“I’m trying to kiss you!””
“Why the hell would I let you do that?”
“Because! It’s what you do when you like someone!”
Gareki pulled a face. He didn’t let go of Nai’s head, but he did turn away. “Fine. I get it. You like me. No need to go kissing me for it.”
Ah! Gareki was red! Just like Tsukumo had been. But while Tsukumo had felt super warm and pink and light, Gareki looked sad. Why? Was it because Nai hadn’t explained properly? He frowned. What had he failed to explain? If Gareki would just let him kiss him, surely he would understand!
“I like Gareki, though,” Nai said. He stared up at Gareki from between the man’s fingers. “Did I do something wrong?”
Gareki grimaced. “Not you,” he growled. “That asshole Hirato.” Still, after a couple of seconds, Gareki let him go. “Fine. Just one quick one, and that’s it. Got it?”
Nai nodded, his grin widening until it was hard to pucker his lips properly. Still, Gareki had told him he only had one chance, so he had to do this right. He leaned up, using Gareki’s shoulders, and pecked him on the lips. He meant to be quick, but he was surprised by how different this one was. Gareki’s body was stiff with surprise, just like the others at first. But inside Nai, something started fluttering horribly. He pulled back, thinking he might be sick, but that wasn’t it. He felt super happy. He giggled.
Nai caught a single second of Gareki’s wide eyes and loose jaw before Gareki snapped his jaw shut and covered his mouth with the back of his hand. That red was back, but this time, Gareki was giving off feelings of happiness and light. Same as Nai. “What the…? I thought you said Hirato told you to only kiss the one you like the most on the lips!”
“I did!” Nai said. He really would have to explain, huh? Since he’d technically done it wrong. “I really like Karoku. If Karoku was happy doing something that made me sad, I would be okay with that, but I would wanna change it. Because I think, even though I really like Yogi and Tsukumo and Hirato and the sheep, I like Karoku more than that. So he should get more than a kiss on the cheek, right? So I kissed him on the lips. But if Gareki liked something that made me really sad, I wouldn’t want to change that. Gareki’s happiness can be without me, and that’s okay, so long as he’s happy. So I like Gareki the most!” He looked over to Karoku, knowing that what he said must really hurt. Karoku really did look sad. “I like Karoku a lot. He’s really important to me. But… I’m sorry.”
Karoku looked to the ground, but he shook his head. “No. I think it’s good that you found someone like Gareki that you like so much.” The man looked over to Gareki. “He and I were just talking about it, actually.”
Nai looked at Gareki. The bright red on his face hadn’t dissipated in the slightest. His emotions seemed all over the place. Soaring high, only to drop low, and veering everywhere in between. “So, what? Being near me sometimes makes you sad?”
Nai shook his head. “No. I miss Gareki when he’s not here. But Gareki wants to go to Kuronomei. If it makes you happy, Gareki, then I want it, too!”
Karoku came over to him and placed a hand on his head. “You’ve grown up into a fine man, Nai,” he said. Nai smiled. As usual, Karoku’s hand was warm. He wasn’t angry that he wasn’t Nai’s number one. He looked at Gareki. He still covered his mouth as if afraid of getting another kiss. The feelings, however, had all gone bright and soft. Gareki really was very beautiful and kind. And now that he’d kissed Gareki on the lips, he couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone else.
Maybe this was what Hirato had meant. Nai thought he might understand now.
Hirato chuckled lowly.
“You’re a mean person, you know that, Hirato?”
Hirato cleared his face of amusement and cast a scowl over his shoulder. “What are you doing here, Tsukitachi?”
The man shrugged. “Maybe I’m here for a kiss on the lips?” The man laughed at the expression on Hirato’s face. “Don’t worry. I’ll get mine later.”
“Good idea.” He turned back to the kids as they started off down the hall. Well, as fun as it was to tease them, he was glad it had worked. Those two would have gone on circling each other stupidly for years if he hadn’t done something about it. Besides, once they got into something more resembling the relationship they both wanted, then the real teasing could begin. He chuckled again. That would be fun.
“Whoa. You’re really creepy, there, Hirato.”
Hirato turned on his heel. “If you don’t have business on Second Ship, then I suggest you leave, First Ship Captain!”