Chapter 18

May 18th, 2024

Kazuto collapsed onto the couch, his arms and legs burning. "Ugh..." he groaned. "Physical therapy suuucks."

"Don't complain," Suguha said as she took a seat next to him. She sat properly for a few seconds before slumping to the side, laying her head across his lap. He smiled down at her, and she grinned back. "You're not the one who has to get back in shape for kendo."

"I'm doing the same workout you are," he protested, running his fingers through her hair. "So you don't have an excuse either."

"Yeah, well, I still have further to go."

The two siblings sat on the couch, nursing their exhausted muscles. Kazuto kept playing with Suguha's hair, stroking it idly. After the two of them had their reunion in the hospital, nurses rushed into the room. When he'd gotten out of bed, he'd detached some electrodes or something, and it was sounding an alarm. Since their hearing hadn't quite returned, the siblings hadn't noticed. Fortunately, it wasn't anything serious, and the only thing they'd had to do was suffer being separated and put back to separate beds. They were still in the same room, at least.

Suguha was still really upset when the nurses wouldn't let her cuddle with him in one bed together. 'The beds are too small, and we don't want any of the tubes tangled', apparently. Not even her best pouts would get them to agree.

He couldn't help but chuckle at the memory of his sister in the bed next to him, arms crossed in a thoroughly disgruntled pout, and Suguha looked up at him. "Something funny?"

"No, no," he said. "Just thinking about how much I love you, that's all."

"Mm... Same here," she said with a grin. He watched as she lifted her head up a bit, then fell back to his lap. "...Uh. Hnn!" She tried again, getting a little bit more height before falling back. "Hnnn!" Her cheeks puffed out in an adorable pout.

"What are you doing?"

"Trying to kiss you!"

"Just sit up like a normal person, you weirdo..."

"But it was gonna be cute and romantic," Sugu complained. "This sucks."

Kazuto smiled and leaned down. His sister giggled and managed to lift her head just enough to steal a kiss from his lips. "There, happy now?" he asked. Sugu nodded happily, her cheeks red, and he shook his head. "And you were cute even without that," he muttered, his own cheeks burning.

"Really?" Sugu giggled. "I'm glad to hear that... I thought I wasn't going to like leaving my hair this long because it would get in the way during kendo, but if you like it..."

Naturally, his sister's hair had grown way too long during their time in Aincrad, so the siblings had gone to their favorite hairdresser to get it taken care of. That was, of course, Asuna, who'd thoroughly enjoyed cutting the siblings' hair back before SAO. Plus, it was great to see Asuna again. Kazuto had asked her to return him to his usual style, ignoring Suguha's sly teasing comments that he should leave it long so they could pass as sisters, but Suguha had chosen to leave it a little longer, the ends of her black locks brushing her shoulders. She still wore her favorite metal clips to keep her bangs out of her face though.

The haircut had taken a while, Asuna's hands lingering on their heads and gently caressing their cheeks from time to time, but Kazuto wasn't sure if that was because she was just as weak as they were, or because Asuna had shown signs of Kirigaya withdrawal...

"Hey, breakfast is almost ready!"

Kazuto and Suguha both twitched, looking towards the sounds of their mother's voice. "Huh?" Kazuto said. H-He hadn't realized she was in there! Did she see the two of them kiss, he wondered. Then again, if she had, she would have said something, so she must not have caught them. That was a close one, he thought.

Midori smiled at the two of them from the kitchen, where delicious smells were wafting their way. His stomach growled, and he realized that he was starving. "Go ahead and get clean," their mom said. "Breakfast will be on the table when you don't stink."

"I don't stink!" Suguha protested. "...Do I, Kazuto?" He looked away, scratching his cheek instead of answering. "Wh-wh-why didn't you tell me?! You jerk! Ugh, stupid rehab and stupid physical therapist..."

"Be glad the Yuukis helped cover the cost of the hospital and insisted that their daughter's best friends get the best treatment," Midori told her. "You'd be in a lot worse shape otherwise."

"I know, I know..." Groaning, Suguha pushed herself up to a properly seated position. "C'mon, Kazuto! Let's go take a bath. I'll wash your back for you..."

The seductive tone in her voice was totally unnecessary; he would have agreed even without her saying anything like that. "Yeah, let's go take that bath," he said. He pushed himself to his feet, his slightly stiff muscles burning with the effort. His sister looked up at him with pleading eyes and he sighed before extending a hand that she used to pull herself up. Naturally, she 'lost her balance' and clung to him for a second, burying her face in the crook of his neck; Kazuto coughed when he felt her hands drifting lower down his back and Suguha pulled away with a knowing grin.

"I'll go start filling the tub," she said, walking away, and Kazuto wasn't ashamed to admit that his eyes followed the swing of her hips as she disappeared upstairs.

As he was about to follow her, though, Midori coughed. "Kazuto," she said, "can I talk to you for a second?"

"Huh? Yeah, sure Mom." After rounding the couch, he sat down at the dining room table. "What did you want?"

His mother started chopping something on the cutting board, focusing on that task for several silent seconds. Kazuto couldn't help but imagine Asuna was standing there, cooking for him and the others - "You know she's not your sister," Midori said.

Kazuto froze, but then relaxed. "Yeah," he said. "And she knows too."

"I'm the one who told her," Midori said. Kazuto blinked. He'd never actually thought about how Sugu learned the truth, come to think of it. It made sense that it was Mom, he thought. "But I can't see you two acting the way you've been acting if you didn't know yourself."


Midori smiled. "Oh, did you two think your mother wouldn't notice when her son and daughter started dating?" Kazuto blushed at the frank statement. "Please, I knew you two were an item the instant we got home. Sugu hasn't complained about not getting to sleep in your bed for years, and now she's making a fuss about moving back into your room as soon as you two come home from the hospital? Besides, your eyes are way too honest, boy."

Kazuto blushed harder. "I, um..."

"Kazuto, breathe," Midori said with a smile. "If I had a problem with your relationship, I would have said something earlier. I just wanted you to know so you stop trying to sneak around."

"...Thanks, Mom," he said. But he'd thought they were being subtle! Kissing only in the dojo where Midori didn't go, and making sure that she was asleep before climbing in bed with each other. Sure, there were the occasional moments when they lost track of where they were, like earlier, but they didn't happen that often!

"Thank me by taking a bath, brat," she said with a grin. "I can smell you from here." Kazuto rolled his eyes and stood up, making his way to the door. "And Kazuto," Midori called out. "I may be okay with this, but that doesn't mean I want to be a grandmother until you two are out of college!"

"M-Mom!" he protested, before fleeing upstairs as his mom laughed in the kitchen. At least he could relax a little bit in the bath - or, well, relax a little bit. He had a feeling he knew what was waiting for him once he went into the bathroom, a feeling confirmed when he noticed Suguha's workout clothes tossed into the hamper for dirty laundry.


"Haah..." Kazuto sighed, rubbing a towel in his hair to dry it. "That was nice."

"Hmm hmm!" Suguha nodded happily, blow-drying her hair. The siblings were standing back to back to get out of the bath quicker, not really bothering with awkwardness around each other's naked form. Suguha was using the mirror to make sure she got her hair dry properly; Kazuto had lost the rock-paper-scissors match earlier, after all. "I love taking baths with you, Kazuto."

"Me too," he said, before wrapping his towel around his waist. "I'm dried off. Did you keep a spare set of clothes here, or do you want me to grab you something once I'm done changing?" Kazuto knew that his sister would take a lot longer to fully dry her hair, so this was a routine question for the siblings.

"Umm... Can you get me some underwear and my red shirt? I think I only have one, so it should be obvious," Suguha said. "And a skirt."

"Yes ma'am," he said with a smile, heading out of the bathroom. He visited his room first, long enough to get dressed, then headed into his sister's room to get the articles of clothing requested. This wasn't the first time that he'd seen it recently, but he smiled when he saw the stuffed animal collection displayed proudly on her desk and dresser.

After both siblings were decent - or, at the very least, dressed - and well-fed, they collapsed on the couch again. "I'm stuffed," Suguha said. This time, the positions were reversed; Kazuto's head was comfortably on her lap, and she was playing with his hair.

"The doctors said we have to eat a lot to make up for the nutrition deficiencies," Kazuto said, eyes half-closed from the pleasure of her fingers lightly scratching at his scalp. "So that's why Mom's making a lot of food."

"I know, I know. Wanna play a game?"

"Co-op, or versus?"

"Mmm... Co-op, but the person with the lower score has to obey an order from the winner."

"You're on," Kazuto said with a grin. It hadn't been long before the two of them were back to playing games together, he thought as Suguha got up (ruining his comfortable pillow) and started fussing with the wires. They'd lasted maybe a week or two before the itch got to be too much and they broke out the consoles. But not the NerveGears; Kazuto had managed to keep his by answering questions of a government agent that came to talk to him, though Asuna had it at the moment. Still, he wasn't going to be putting that helmet on for a long time...

Kazuto and Suguha were both laser-focused on the game, their scores neck and neck, when someone knocked on the door. Kazuto reflexively looked over, only to realize his mistake when Suguha let out a cheer. "Yes!" she crowed, and he looked back to see that in that brief moment of distraction she'd managed to win the level. He was never going to be able to come back from this... "I win!"

"Yeah, yeah, I'll do whatever you say later," Kazuto groaned. "Let me get the door, first."

He pushed himself to his feet and walked over. Peeking through the nearby window was enough to confirm who'd knocked, and he opened the door. Asuna stood there, absolutely beautiful even despite how she was leaning on crutches. The siblings each had a pair of their own, though they weren't necessary for walking around the house. "Asuna!" he exclaimed, and stepped back. He offered her a hand, and the beautiful girl accepted his help to step inside. "I didn't know you were coming."

"Wha- Sugu didn't warn you?" Asuna blinked. "Sugu!"

"Eheh... Sorry, Asuna," Suguha said. "It slipped my mind."

"Honestly..." Asuna shook her head. "Well, it's good to see you again." She smiled at him and leaned forward; Kazuto didn't need more prompting, and he eagerly kissed his girlfriend.

Suddenly Suguha gulped. "Um... Hi Mom," she said. Kazuto froze and pulled away; Asuna let out a tiny mewl of irritation, before blushing as she realized what she'd just done. He looked to the side to see his mother staring in undisguised shock, eyes wide at his display of affection.

"Kazuto Kirigaya, what on Earth do you think you're doing to that girl -"

"Mom, wait, it's not what you think!" Suguha exclaimed. "Kazuto's dating both of us, so it's okay that he's kissing Asuna! It's not like he's cheating on me or anything."

Midori blinked at Suguha's... blunt explanation. Kazuto just sighed and shook his head. "I'm... glad you all care about each other... I'm going to go watch some TV until my children's relationship starts making sense."

"...Are you going to tell her about the other girls?" Asuna whispered quietly as Midori went into the living room.

Kazuto looked at Sugu, and his sister immediately said, "That's my order, you have to be the one to tell her." His sister was brutal!

Asuna giggled. "Oh, before I forget, my parents wanted to see you later. I don't know why, though. I'm sure it's nothing bad."

"Um, if you say so," Kazuto said, scratching his cheek. "I really wish you knew if I was in trouble or anything like that…"

"You're fine," Asuna said, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. "That can wait, though. I brought a surprise first."

"Oh yeah, you mentioned that when we were texting yesterday," Suguha said. "What is it? I wanna see, I wanna see!"

"Here!" Kazuto stared at the object in Asuna's hands. "Well?" she said. "Go on, take it, Kazuto!"

"Why are you handing me your phone?"

Asuna sighed and shoved it at him. "Just take it, silly."

"Uh, okay." Kazuto accepted her phone gingerly, staring at it. "So, what am I -"

Bzzzt bzzzt.

Kazuto jumped as the phone suddenly vibrated in his hand. The caller was unknown, so it wasn't one of the girls... "Well, answer it," Asuna said. "It's for you."

He stared at her, but his girlfriend simply smiled at him. The phone kept vibrating in his hand, and he reluctantly answered the phone call. What the heck was she talking about? How would the phone call be for him, when it was her phone? He wasn't sure. "Hello?"

"Hi Papa!"

For a second his heart stopped. And then it started up again, and he couldn't stop a goofy smile from spreading across his face. "Yui?" Suguha's eyes lit up at the name. "Yui, is that you?"

"Uh huh! I missed you, Papa."

"Put her on speaker, quick!" Kazuto hurried to comply with Suguha's request. "Yui, are you there?"

"Leafa-mama! I missed you too!"

Suguha whirled on Asuna. "How?! Yui's data... It was only compatible with the Cardinal System, wasn't it?"

"Well, yes," Asuna admitted, twirling a lock of hair around one finger, "but my father runs the company that took over maintaining the SAO servers while everyone was trapped in the game. Once we beat it, he decided to take the engine and make it into something new."

"Asuna-mama's right!" Yui chirped. "Right now, I'm running as a helpful navigation pixie!"

Asuna giggled. "She's really cute in her fairy form."

"Fairy? Navigation pixie?" Kazuto asked. "What are you talking about?"

Asuna smiled and grabbed his hand. "There's a new game coming out," she told him. "And we're all gonna play it together. It's called ALfheim Online, and my father's company is producing it for the new AmuSphere. You get to fly through the air on your own set of wings!"

"Whoa... That sounds amazing!" Suguha's eyes were practically sparkling. "I can't wait to play it!"

"Then let's go! The others are meeting us at the Dicey Cafe."

"Agil's place?" Kazuto asked her.

Asuna nodded. "Yep! That's where the first strategy meeting for the new Royal Blades is going to be held. You don't want to be late to your meeting, do you, guildmaster?"

Kazuto smiled. Suguha hugged him from the right, wrapping her arms around his elbow without disturbing Yui's phone, and Asuna embraced his left side. "Alright, let's get to it!"

And with that, we're done!

Before anything else, I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone that read this story. It means a lot to know you all enjoy reading my writing.

Anyway! That's out of the way. This was deliberately written to be similar to the first chapter, with its focus on just Kazuto, Asuna, and Suguha (though, since I want it to be fair, focusing on Sugu over Asuna). Though, there are a few small differences between then and now… Sugu's hairstyle was inspired by some fan art I saw of her with Kazuto when both of them are older, so I figured she'd take this chance to change her style a bit.

Also, Yui is back! Of course she'd be fine.

Other things that happened off-screen: Yuuki and Ran are perfectly happy and healthy, no problems there; Sugou got hit by a car and is in a permanent coma, so the Yuukis are looking for a new fiancé for Asuna; and Kayaba uploaded his brain to the network. But that didn't matter to these idiot children and their flirting, so we've moved past it! I left the end fairly open-ended for a reason - I don't think I ever will, but if I want to, I can use this as a launching point for a sequel.

(Speaking of sequels: At the moment I have no plans to continue with it into Alfheim or Alicization. Sorry to everyone that wanted to see Yuuki or Alice, but that's probably not happening. And the more you ask, the less likely it becomes.)

Again, I just want to give a huge thank you to everyone that's read this, whether you left a review or not (though bigger thank you's to the people that did, obviously). You're all amazing, and most of the time I love reading the reviews I get, positive and negative alike.

I really like how this story came out, in the end. I'd like to think I got better about the mistakes I made during Sister Overload (namely, abruptly killing off characters for no reason at all other than ~drama~ and actually having the harem ending not be out of nowhere) and have continued to improve.

This story was more or less started at the drop of a hat, out of a whim, and for the most part it went well, I hope. I tried to keep the focus tight on the characters, tried to make sure their character arcs all ended at the late stages of the plot, tried to make sure the harem ending was believable… Hopefully I succeeded, and this is something you don't mind rereading from time to time.

Many thanks to everyone that favorited, followed, and reviewed!

Also check it out, there's a TvTropes page for the story now! Thanks to anyone who helps fill it out!