Disclaimer: Usually I write out this very specific disclaimer explaining exactly what it is I don't own but I find myself not really interested in doing so as it is very tedious. Suffice it to say I own nothing that was created by anyone else and I am making no money whatsoever from the writing of this FanFiction.

Warnings: Mild to moderate violence, character death, foul language, alternate universe (i.e. kiss HP canon goodbye), angst, drama, starts pre-Hogwarts Era, and who knows what else.

AN: This story is self-beta'd; so there may be occasional grammatical or spelling errors that crop up every now and then and for those I apologize in advance.


Chapter Forty-Four: Fallout

Thursday, July 24, 2025 3:08 PM

Kazuto did his best to ignore the helmet digging into his back as he parked his bike in the small alley that sat beside the Dicey Café. He then reluctantly peeled James's arms off of his waist so that they could dismount the motorcycle. Once James was standing on his own two feet, Kazuto removed their helmets and secured his bike before he guided the teen towards the entrance to Gil's café. He made no move to stop James's hands from latching onto his shirt again the moment they began moving.

He completely understood the reasons for the kid's current clinginess; James was desperately trying to hold onto reality.

A scowl formed on Kazuto's face as he recalled just how James had ended up in his current state. He'd known that Kikuoka could be a callus bastard at times but he'd hoped that the man would actually restrain himself when dealing with the younger teen. Part of him was unsurprised that Kikuoka had all but accused James of killing other players (he'd accused Kazuto of the same thing at one point) but the rest of him was greatly annoyed he had. Gil was going to be pissed as all hell about it when he heard what had happened though.

More concerning than Kikuoka's not-quite-subtle accusation, was James's response to the mere idea of logging onto another server to visit a virtual world; not that he was all that surprised by the near-panic that the suggestion of visiting one of the Seed Worlds had garnered. Based on that reaction, he suspected the kid was going to completely flip out the moment he learned that all of them visited ALfheim and New Aincrad frequently. Although, Kazuto was pretty certain that James would actually be bothered the most by the fact that Gil still played a virtual game.

Kazuto had suspected that the younger boy might respond that way and that suspicion was the main reason why he hadn't introduced James to Yui through the interactive program he'd created to allow the AI to interact with the real world yet. Even though that was a reaction he had anticipated, Kazuto couldn't help but think that it was tragic that someone who had loved Aincrad as much as James had was now terrified of returning to the very place he'd once considered home.

Not that he blamed James for being afraid.

He too had been afraid of Diving back into a server.

If not for his need to find and save Asuna, he probably never would have gotten over that fear. There was no driving need for James to Dive into a new world though. The fact that he'd lived through another four years while still believing that he was trapped on a server hadn't really helped either. And his magic (a concept that Kazuto was still trying to wrap his head around at times) didn't exactly help matters because magic had facilitated James's belief that he had still been trapped on a server.

Pulling his head out of his thoughts, Kazuto opened the door and ushered James into the Dicey Café. He then guided the teen over to the bar where Gil was currently serving the Café's only customer. The moment James caught sight of Gil, he dropped his hold on Kazuto's shirt and practically teleported to Gil's side in order to latch onto the older man instead. Knowing that Gil would want to know what had happened and exactly what had triggered James's current behavior, Kazuto took a seat at the opposite end of the bar as the customer.

It would be an hour before Gil managed to find time to confront Kazuto about the meeting with Kikuoka. Coincidentally, that was also how long it took for James to regain his balance enough to let go of Gil. The gaki had slunk away to the kitchen to hang out with Gil's wife after that; the teen obviously more than a little embarrassed about his recent anxiety attack. The moment that James had disappeared through the swinging doors leading to the kitchen and the café's newest customer had been served, Gil approached Kazuto and leaned on the bar.

"What happened?" Gil demanded the moment their gazes met.

"Kikuoka pushed a few buttons and I ended the meeting before James could devolve into a complete panic."

"I had already figured that much out on my own, Kazuto. I want to know what it was that man said or asked that set James off like that. It's been weeks since the last time he was that clingy!"

"To start, he recognized James the moment he saw him. It turns out that James's fame from what happened to him and his parents when he was a baby is a little more wide-spread than we were originally led to believe. He's not like James, though; he only knows about that world because of his position in the government. Kikuoka insisted that he hadn't known about James being part of the game until he saw him and he seemed to be telling the truth. He'd actually been rather shocked to learn that James had been able to use the Nerve Gear despite…" Kazuto trailed off and glanced about the café before he finished, "…his family 'gift'."

"Then why didn't he recognize James from the drawings we'd given him for years ago?"

"He claimed that he'd not seen an actual picture of James until last year because the British magic community didn't release one until the gaki got caught up in that tournament he entered. He also said he hadn't bothered to check our drawing against any photos of James because he had no reason to believe that James had been part of SAO for pretty much the same reason why we hadn't bothered to look outside of Japan when we were trying to hunt him down prior to receiving Granger-chan's letter."

"How did the gaki react to being recognized?"

"He seemed a touch annoyed and wary; he scowled at Kikuoka but I think that was mostly due to the fact that Kikuoka addressed him Harry when he first recognized him. He grew even more irritated when Kikuoka asked about the Dursleys and insisted on knowing their names. James was most displeased when I gave him their names."

"That's not surprising; James dislikes others knowing anything about his relatives."

"True."

"That still doesn't tell me what it was that Kikuoka had said to trigger James's insecurities," Gil pointed out a moment later as he took a moment to look away from Kazuto to check on the handful of customers that were in the bar in order to make certain they didn't need anything.

Kazuto sighed and leaned back in his seat as he let his eyes drift towards the doors that led into the kitchen before he dropped his voice low enough that it wouldn't carry and stated, "He practically accused James of killing or hiring someone to kill the clients that he'd taken prior to the glitch due to the fact that three of the guilds he'd worked with had been wiped out and another had fallen apart after the leader had been murdered. That upset James enough that he shattered the tea cup he'd had in his hands and the damn thing shattered like an object from the game; red crystals and all. Kikuoka and I were both caught off guard by that even though I knew James had claimed things shattered around him still."

"I'm going to wring his neck…"

"He also tried to get James to tell him what had happened to that professor that he'd killed in self-defense," Kazuto continued as he ignored Gil's interruption. "James flat out refused to even talk about what had happened to the man despite Kikuoka's attempts to coax it out of him. I shut that line of questioning down and flat out told him that we'd need to confirm that he had permission to know about the magical world before we'd let him question James about anything that happened in the past four years."

"I don't care if he has permission or not; I refuse to allow that man a chance to badger James."

"That line of questioning actually wasn't sent James into a panic; it merely made him angry."

"I don't care," Gil growled in irritation. "I'm still not going to allow Kikuoka to grill him about it."

"I wasn't implying you would."

Gil brushed off Kazuto's rejoinder without even acknowledging it and demanded, "Are you ever going to tell me what triggered James's anxiety attack?"

"It was the mere mention of him visiting another virtual reality."

"Why would Kikuoka want James to go on-line again?"

"He doesn't as far as I know; he misinterpreted a comment that James had made about his SAO Game Log. James had been referring to the fact that his… 'gift' allows him to access his Player Menu but Kikuoka mistook his comment to mean that he could still access his SAO Game Log while visiting one of the Seed Worlds."

Gil stared at him for a moment before he wearily ran his hand over his face and muttered, "I knew handling his old Nerve Gear bothered him but I thought for sure he'd be pleased to know that he could one day return to Aincrad."

"If we'd been able to find him right after the game ended, he probably would have been eager to go back."

"I'll talk to him about it later."

Kazuto hummed an acknowledgement but was unable to comment further on the matter due to the customer seated at one of the booths on the other side of the room seeking Gil's attention. The arrival of several more customers saw the teen excusing himself since Gil would not have time to stop and chat with business picking up. He told the older man to call or e-mail him later if he still had questions before he left café and headed home.


Thursday, July 24, 2025 11:18 PM

Gil lightly rapped his knuckles on James's bedroom door before he opened it and stuck his head inside. He wasn't surprised to find his adopted son was still wide awake; the light peeking from beneath his closed door had been a rather large clue. Nor was he really all that surprised to see the teen seated on the floor, tucked up in the corner with his occamy half curled up on his lap. He'd been prepared for James to spend the night brooding or being plagued with nightmares after the way his meeting with Kikuoka had ended.

At first glance, the scene looked rather touching due to the fact that the reptilian bird was crooning gently while James ran his fingers through Hedwig's feathered scales. It was also kind of amusing to see the large creature attempt to curl up on James's lap when the occamy's total length was longer than James was tall. And the way Hedwig had wrapped her tail around James's shoulder almost made it look like she was giving the teen a hug.

It was on the second glance that the picture the pair painted turned rather tragic. James's green eyes that were normally full of life were dull and bloodshot. His complexion was pale and drawn and it made the scars on his face stand out rather starkly. Even worse than those though, were the tears coursing down James's cheeks as the fifteen year old cried without a sound and Gil felt a renewed urge to punch Kikuoka in the face for upsetting the teen with his careless words and intrusive questions.

Pushing down the renewed anger he felt towards the government employee for triggering his son's fears and insecurities with his insensitivity, Gil pushed the door the rest of the way open and quietly crossed the room. James started in surprise when his shadow fell over the teen and Gil felt his heart grow heavy when he saw a flush of shame creep into his son's cheeks before the gaki ducked his face to scrub away his tears. Heaving a mental sigh, Gil leaned down to scoop James up off of the floor (much to the occamy's displeasure) before he carried him over to the bed.

Once he had James settled on the mattress and half tucked beneath the covers, Gil sat down beside him and studied the teen's profile for several seconds before he stated, "Kazuto told me what happened during your interview with Kikuoka this afternoon." James cringed in response to the reminder of that disastrous meeting and Gil patiently waited until the teen to stop visibly floundering before he asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"

"I don't like Kikuoka-san," James admitted after a brief hesitation. "He was a bigger jerk than Kibaou*."

"I'm not all that fond of him either."

"I know; Kiri… er Kazuto told me that one of the reasons you didn't go with us to the meeting was because you didn't like the man."

Gil ignored his son's slip regarding Kazuto's name as he let a wry grin twist the corners of his mouth up for a brief moment in response to the slight understatement Kazuto had given James regarding Gil's dislike of a certain government official before he grew somber once more and asked, "Are you upset with me for not being there for you?"

"No, I know you've got more important things to do than babysit me all the time."

"James, there is nothing more important to me than yours and Mayumi's health and happiness," Gil lightly admonished as he tried not to be frustrated with James's skewed sense of self worth; it was an on-going (if subtle) battle he'd been fighting with the gaki since the moment they first met but most especially after his adult avatar had been scrubbed.

"I don't want to be a burden."

"We've had this conversation a hundred times before, James; you are not a burden."

James gave a wordless reply that was somewhere between a grunt and hum and Gil let out a soft huff when he realized that the gaki was going to remain stubborn. Rather than butt heads with the teen over that particular matter right that moment, Gil returned to the original topic in order to get James to open up about what was bothering him.

"So, I know why I don't like Kikuoka but what exactly is that he said or did this afternoon that is still bugging you now?"

"He thinks I killed my old clients," James dully replied as he averted his face away from Gil.

"We both know you didn't and while it is terrible that those people died, it is in no way your fault that they died."

"I know that… but I'm worried he's going to blame you or one of the others next. You guys were always so quick to defend me from those that were unhappy with me running amok in the dungeons and he'll try to accuse you of killing my old clients because they were against me leaving the safe zones or something."

"It's true that he might try to insinuate that that was what happened; but there are a few things you're forgetting."

"What do you mean?" James asked in confusion as he snapped his gaze back to Gil's face.

"First and foremost; Kikuoka had access to our game logs through the backup copy of the server. On top of that, he'd questioned each of us extensively and we were all cleared since we hadn't gone on any killing sprees. The small handful of lives that our group took were taken in self-defense or in defense of another. We also didn't instigate the fights that led to the deaths of those individuals. And finally, most of the confirmed murders that took place in SAO have already been solved and the culprits identified and punished for their crimes. So, Kikuoka will have no reason to accuse us of murder since we've already been cleared and the case has been officially closed."

"Then why did he try to blame me for them?" James asked in a bewildered tone with a lost look on his face.

"Because Kikuoka is an ass who likes to test people," Gill bluntly replied without hesitation as he pulled James into a hug in order to offer the teen a measure of comfort. "He's also frustrated because until now he'd been completely unable to find any information on you outside of what he learned from those of us who remembered you. It wouldn't surprise me if he purposefully set out to knock you off balance in order to drag as much information from you as possible in order to solve the mystery surrounding your disappearance from the server files."

"I think it would have worked if Kirito hadn't been there to keep me from saying anything stupid," James admitted in a small voice as he clung tightly to Gil. "I almost told him about my status as an Immortal Object after I described what had happened the day I glitched out at level thirty. I accidentally let slip that my player classification changed but Kirito stopped me before I could say anything further and he wouldn't let Kikuoka-san ask me any questions about it."

Gil briefly tensed over James's admission (Kazuto had not mentioned that little tidbit during their earlier conversation) before he forced himself to relax as he murmured, "Try not to stress yourself out over being goaded into divulging as much as you did. And try not to worry about him trying to force you into spilling all of your secrets; we will not allow it. Nor will I allow him to take advantage of you."

"So, you aren't mad at me because I wasn't being careful of what I revealed?"

"I'm angry with Kikuoka for playing his little mind games with you in order to trick you into revealing things that are none of his business but no, I'm not mad at you."

"He didn't really play any mind games. He was just asking me a bunch of questions that brought up bad memories. I'm also a bit mad at Kir… er, Kazuto for giving him my relatives' names just because I wasn't going to."

"Why? Why are you so determined to protect them, James?"

"I'm not. I just…"

"Just what…?" Gil prompted when James trailed off.

"Nothing. It's not important."

"James…"

"It's stupid."

"Yet, whatever it is you think is stupid and unimportant is obviously bothering you and I can't help you deal with what it is that is bothering you if you don't give me something to work with here, gaki."

For a brief moment, Gil thought James was going to stubbornly refuse to talk. There were some topics that his adopted son just absolutely refused to talk about and one of those topics just happened to be his relatives. Gil couldn't count the number of times that he'd wished the kid would trust him enough to open up to him about his so-called family during the years they'd been trapped in SAO. Sure, he could have tried harder to get that information but at the time he'd been worried that James would disappear on him if he pushed too hard.

Just when he was ready to resign himself to once again being stonewalled by the teen, he felt the tension bleed out of James's small frame a split second before James unconsciously slipped into English as he quietly admitted, "I'm scared."

Gil gently rubbed circles on James's back and held his breath while he waited to see if his son would continue on his own lest an attempt on his part to coax the teen into saying more drove him to clam up instead. His patience and silent support would be rewarded just a couple of minutes later when James hesitantly continued speaking.

"I'm not afraid of the Dursleys. They never hit me or even really touched me because they didn't want my freakishness to contaminate them. The things they said used to hurt me when I was little but I'd mostly grown used to their nasty remarks about me and my parents and so ignored the things they said. I'd even grown used to being blamed for anything and everything that went wrong and ignored their threats because they never actually followed through on them. That was just they way things were."

"Not that I was happy about that or anything. I hated living with the Dursleys. I hated the way they treated me. I really hated my stupid cupboard too. I even hated the fact that they were my relatives but no matter how mean they were, I couldn't bring myself to hate them the way they hated me; I didn't want to be like them. But the thing I hated the most about living with the Dursleys was the way they made me feel so small and insignificant and trapped. And I was so afraid that that was never going to change and that I would never amount to anything because I was just a stupid freak."

"Everything changed the day I stole Dudley's game console out of the trash. I broke so many rules that night but I couldn't stop myself. I didn't want to stop myself. I needed to know what was terrible about the 'magic' that Dudley had been using in the game that it made Uncle Vernon toss Dudley's most prized possession into the rubbish bin. That was the first and only time I'd ever seen Dudley being punished for something. It was also the only time I'd ever seen Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon ignore Dudley's demands to have his things given back to him."

James paused for a moment and when he continued, his voice was filled with an echo of the wonder and excitement that Gil had often seen in James's eyes each time the teen had stumbled upon another of the many hidden wonders that had filled Aincrad, "I fell in love with Aincrad the moment I first set foot inside Hajimari no Machi. The town and the people inside of it were everything that my relatives hated. I spent hours just exploring every single inch of the town the first few times I could sneak on-line to play. I didn't even care about the game; I just wanted to see everything. It was bright and disorganized and colorful and just so… so different. Aincrad was brilliant. It was the home I always wanted."

"But best of all, in Aincrad, I was free," James proclaimed as he leaned back to meet Gil's gaze with glittering green eyes that desperately begged for understanding and acceptance. "Free to be whoever and what I wanted to be. Free to go wherever I wanted to go any time I wanted. And free to do whatever I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. There were no spiteful relatives breathing down my neck, no stupid made-up rules that only applied to me, no ridiculously long list of stupid chores to bust my ass on, and no bloody damn cupboard to double as both bedroom and prison."

Tears gathered in James's eyes at that point and the pint-sized wizard took a shuddering breath as the desperation in his eyes morphed into abject terror and his voice dropped to a whisper as he continued, "Kayaba tried to steal that freedom from me when he trapped all of us in the only place I'd ever thought of as my home. I refused to let him and refused to play by the rules everyone else made because they needed to feel like they had control of a situation in which they had no control. It was easy to pretend I was still free that way because there were no Dursleys and I could still be James."

"It was harder after the glitch. Everyone kept trying to lock me up again and force me to go back to being Harry just because I was a kid. If not for you and the others standing by me and helping me, I probably would have been locked up no matter what I did. And then… after Kirito beat Kayaba, the world shattered around me and I found myself locked up in Hogwarts where a bunch of people I thought were NPCs were trying to force me to be Harry again. They wanted me to be Harry and Harry, to me, is small and weak and helpless and nothing more than a prisoner and servant."

"I don't ever want to be Harry again," James insisted in a voice that cracked beneath the weight of his fear. "Harry had nothing; no home, no magic, no hope, and no family. And the Dursleys are everything that made Harry so weak and pathetic. They bound his heart and soul in a little box and he was content to keep his head down and let them walk all over him because it was safer. I can't and I won't let anyone stuff me back in that box. The Dursleys are part of that box and each time someone else ties me to the Dursleys, it feels like they're trying to stuff me back into the bloody box I escaped from each time I set foot in Aincrad."

Gil felt a wave of weariness sweep through him as he wrapped his son up in another hug. It hadn't been hard for him to follow the twisted logic that James had used to reach the conclusion that being associated with the Dursleys in any way, shape, or form equated to being weak and helpless. He also found himself understanding the fierceness with which James had fought to keep every last inch of independence on a whole new level now that he had a slightly clearer picture of what the teen had experienced at the hands of his relatives.

It wasn't the physical abuse he had suspected and feared James had endured at the hands of his relatives (he could still vividly remember the bruises on James's SAO avatar when he'd first discovered James was a child) but in some ways, the mental and emotional abuse he'd suffered through had left far deeper scars. Being trapped in Aincrad for two years immediately followed by another four years of what amounted to house arrest in Hogwarts hadn't exactly done his son any favors. The teen had more issues than a magazine stand and that wasn't even touching on the physical problems that stemmed from the magic that had preserved his body while he was trapped on-line.

"Is that the only reason why you avoid mentioning the Dursleys by name?" Gil gently inquired after giving his son a few minutes to collect himself; the man purposefully switching back to Japanese in order to help James ground himself firmly in the present rather than allow him to get stuck in the past.

"Ano… mostly…?" James half asked and Gil held back a snort as he poked the teen in the side for the partially evasive answer. James squeaked and wriggled away from his finger before he sighed and muttered, "I don't want anyone going to the Dursleys and asking them questions about me because then they'll know that I broke all of their rules."

"You're still afraid that you will end up back with them," Gil deduced the moment he connected the idea of broken rules to punishment for the breaking of said rules.

"Yes… no… I don't know. It's not that I want to believe that that will happen. It's just that… being here with you seems like it's too good to be true because I spent four years trying to get here and I failed so many times because I never once allowed myself to consider that this world my be real until Hermione ambushed me at the start of fourth year. And even then, I stubbornly clung to my belief that I was locked in another game because it hurt to much to think that I might have locked myself in a trap of my own making. I was so stupid, tousan; if I had just sent you a letter when I first woke up, I could have been here four years ago!"

"Except you had no reason to believe that this world was real back then due to your magic twisting things," Gil gently pointed out in an effort to get James to stop beating himself up for not knowing what he knew now back when the Death Game had first ended. "And don't forget, you had a number of people trying to tell you that your entire life had basically been one big lie thanks to all of the lies that the Dursleys had fed you through the years. That's not even touching on the fact that the people who rescued you from the Dursleys had no knowledge or understanding of SAO and what you had been put through during the time we were trapped in the game."

"I know that, tousan," James retorted in a strained voice. "That doesn't make it hurt any less to know that I stabbed myself in the foot because I refused to stop and consider the possibility that there might be a single grain of truth in any of Dumbledore's claims about this world being real."

Gil closed his eyes and dropped his chin down to rest on James's head while he tried to think of a way to lessen the guilt and regret that the teen was beating himself up with. He knew just telling James it wasn't his fault wouldn't convince the stubborn teen; he'd already tried that. After a couple of minutes, he came to the conclusion that the best way to get James to see that he wasn't to blame for their four year separation was take the blame himself and allow his son to either or agree or disagree with his claim.

He didn't think James would agree with him taking the blame though. Gil was ninety percent certain that James would completely disagree with the mere idea simply because James agreeing with him being to blame would mean that James secretly blamed him for not finding him sooner. And that would have equated to James being angry with him and there had been no indication that James was even just a little bit angry with him. Sure, the teen could be hiding his anger but Gil didn't think he was since there was no real reason for him to do so.

Well, it was still possible that James missed him too much to allow any anger he felt to show just yet but Gil was fairly confident that James had convinced himself that he and he alone was to blame for their four year separation.

There was only one way to find out.

"Actually, if anyone is to blame for it taking so long for us to find you; it would be me," Gil announced with more than a little sincerity; he had always felt in his heart that he wasn't doing enough to find James even if he knew, logically, that he'd done everything he could do based upon the limited information he'd had on hand at the time. "I'm an adult and I had access to far more resources than you did; it should have been easy for me to track you down even without knowing you'd never once set foot in Japan."

James went completely still in his arms. After a few minutes of tense silence had ticked by, Gil grew a little concerned when he realized that the teen had been holding his breath during that time. It was at that point that he began to suspect that he might have miscalculated the way James would respond to his attempt to use reverse psychology to guide him into realizing that he didn't need to beat himself up over the decisions he'd made in the past while under a considerable amount of stress on the heels of the SAO Incident.

When James finally did respond it was not quite in the way that Gil had predicted he would.

The young wizard let out the breath he'd been holding in an explosive sigh before he latched onto Gil for all he was worth and murmured a contrite, "I'm sorry. If I'd told you about the Dursleys the first time you asked, then you would have known where to find me or at least known where to start looking for me. I was just… too ashamed of the Dursleys and didn't ever want anyone to know about them. And I didn't want you or the others to actually meet the Dursleys because if you met them, then they would tell you all sorts of terrible things about me."

Gil sighed in exasperation even as he returned James's hug. After a moment he dryly stated, "You are one stubborn gaki, you know that, ne?"

"So you've told me once or twice."

Gil chuckled in response to the cheeky, if hesitant, reply before he grew serious again as he pulled back so he could see James's face as he asked, "Why do you insist on shouldering the blame for everything?"

"I don't blame myself for everything," James countered as he frowned at Gil. "It was only every the Dursleys who blamed me for everything even when I didn't do anything. I only blame myself for the stupid things that I know were my fault."

Gil let out a hum of dissatisfaction over the fact that his attempt to convince James to let go of the guilt he felt backfired on him. Instead of trying to force the issue at the moment and potentially upsetting his son further, Gil let the matter drop for now as he attempted to bring the conversation back to the original topic.

"Aside from Kikuoka-san learning about the existence of the Dursley and his attempts to make you feel guilty about the deaths of those players you'd worked with during the first six weeks of the game; was there anything else he brought up that is still bothering you?"

James scowled fiercely in response to the question before he snapped out a terse, "I'm not doing it!"

"Not doing what?"

"I refuse to log onto another server!"

"Not even for a chance to visit Aincrad?" Gil quietly inquired as he watched a dozen different emotions swirl through the depths of James's eyes.

"There is no Aincrad to return to; it collapsed around me after Kirito beat Kayaba four years ago," James flatly countered as he blanked all emotions from his face.

"Aa, the Aincrad that we were trapped inside of for two years was destroyed when the game was won," Gil agreed as he tried to ignore the way his heart ached at seeing that particular look on James's face. "That version of the game was hardly the only version of Aincrad that existed though; the beta version of Aincrad had not been lost and there was a backup copy of Aincrad taken just prior to the official launch of the game. So, it is possible to visit Aincrad or a hundred other worlds that were based off of Aincrad."

A small spark of interest filled James's eyes for all of two seconds before it was smothered beneath a blanket of fear as James warily uttered, "You're talking about those seed worlds that Kikuoka-san mentioned."

"Aa."

"I won't go."

"Will you at least tell me why you don't want to see Aincrad again?" Gil asked in an effort to find out what it was about going back on-line that frightened his son; aside from the obvious, that is. They had spent two years trapped on a server, after all.

"I don't want to loose you again, tousan," James confessed as he burrowed his face against Gil's stomach. "It was hard enough the first time I lost you and I can't do that again. I just can't."

"I'm not going anywhere, musuko," Gil promised and he reflexively tightened his arms around the teen when James snaked his arms around Gil's waist in response to his promise.

Gil would stay with James until the teen fell asleep some thirty-three minutes later. He then eased the pint-sized wizard back down onto the bed. James's familiar would climb up onto the bed just as soon as he stopped fussing with the covers and Gil felt a ghost of a smile tug at his lips as he watched the occamy protectively curl up next to the teen. He would then spend another ten minutes just watching James sleep before he turned off the light and slipped out of the room; his thoughts swirling with everything he'd learned about his adopted son that evening.


Translations: Japanese to English

Aa – yes
Ano – um/uh/er
Gaki – brat
Hai – yes
Hajimari no Machi – Starting City or Town of Beginnings
Musuko – son

Game Terminology:

Aincrad – An Incarnating Radius (the name of the Castle that is SAO)
NPC – Non-Player Character

Notes:

* Kibaou – is a canon character, a member of the Aincrad Liberation Force (ALF) Guild which was often referred to as The Army by the players, and one of the SAO survivors. He made a cameo appearance in this story back in 'Chapter 3: Experience'; he was the ALF Member that attempted to stop James/Harry from leaving Hajimari no Machi at the start of the game. He was also one of the more vocal players that spoke out against the Beta Testers in Canon & one of the fighters that faced both the Illfang the Kobold Lord (1st Flr Boss), an unnamed two headed giant (25th Flr Boss), and the Gleam Eyes (74th Flr Boss).

Harry's Behavior – For those who are upset by Harry's brief breakdown in both this chapter and the last chapter, please keep in mind that he is still struggling to cope with everything that has happened over the past six years and that he is only fifteen years old. And while he has talked with Gil, Sirius, and the others about everything that has happened, he hasn't really dealt with anything yet. He's been suppressing a LOT of negative emotions because he's still riding the high of being reunited w/ Gil and the others.

Kikuoka's mini-interrogation then forced the cap off the bottle that those emotions were stored in and the result was that Harry got tripped up with everything. It is going to take time and a few visits to a psychologist/psychiatrist for him to work through everything; so you can expect him to have issues every now and then in the mean time. And before you tell me that Harry's old enough to handle everything just fine, I've known grown men and women that were unable to handle even half of what I've put Harry through in this story; and this story is tame when compared to some of my other stories.

That said, Harry will not remain quite so emotionally charged forever. Nor will he sink into a constant pool of angst for the rest of the story.


AN: I finally managed to get this chapter finished earlier this week! You have no idea how long I'd been butting heads w/ Gil in order to get this chapter written. The guy just did not want to cooperate with me. James was being a little pain too but I can forgive him for being an angsty little brat in this chapter. Anywho, now that this chapter is complete, there's only 3 more chapters left in the summer arc. All three of those chapters are outlined; I just have to finish writing them out. Not sure when I'll be able to get to them though as I expect I'll be without my computer for all of next week since I don't want to leave the PC running for another 24/7 after having done that this week to get as much done as I did.

The good news though, is that I believe that I managed to solve my monitor issue with the help of one of my readers and will hopefully have a replacement monitor here in a short while. I'll most likely make an announcement on my author's page once I know for certain what day I'll have the replacement monitor on hand.

Next, for those of you who are not following my story 'The Unbound Soul', I recently opened a account due to our extremely tight budget being threatened with implosion due to our landlord feeling the need to raise our rent. So, now we're facing a choice; pay our new increased rent or keep our phone & internet service. I don't think I need to explain what would happen if we took either choice since the end result for both would basically equate to no more story updates from me for who knows how long.

So, I am swallowing my pride and asking for your support. You need not worry that I will suddenly hold chapters hostage for tips though as I am not offering up my writing or my stories as my creations. I chose, instead, to use my photography since I refuse to force myself to write on demand. I will, however, offer up scene cuts, omakes, incomplete projects, and original drabbles/shorts as rewards in addition to other photography and graphic related rewards. If you are interested in helping a starving author continue sharing, you can find me on by searching for Jennifer Rasch.

For those who do follow 'The Unbound Soul' and read my initial announcement regarding and were interested in becoming a patron but found yourselves unable to search my profile at the time I first posted my note, the search block on my creator's page was removed around 24 hrs after I updated 'The Unbound Soul'.

And last, but by no means least, I'd like to give a huge thanks those individuals that made pledges to my creator's account on ; your faith and support are very much appreciated and I hope you've enjoyed the rewards that I've posted for you to date. I'd also like to thank the rest of you for your patience and for taking the time to read/review my stories! ~ Jenn