Moments like these aren't rare in their world. Every once in a while, they take a step back from the frontlines to enjoy the world that is their deadly prison. Whether it is a picnic with their friends, a rendezvous to a past floor, or sitting together underneath the artificial moon and sharing their real lives, the Crimson Warrior and the Kindred Assassin can always be found together enjoying their time from the advance team and you wouldn't know that they're two of the strongest players in Aincrad outside of a guild.

"Ahh," the boy says, dropping on his back to the cool grass. "Koharu, this might be heresy but I believe you have surpassed Asuna's cooking." Closing his brown eyes, the dark-skinned gamer rested her black-haired head on his left arm, his right hand patting his stomach. "That was delicious."

"Really?" his female companion says nervously. "I just took her teachings and added my own spin to it. All in all, it's just ramen." The short-haired, green-eyed girl looks from the fire to her companion below her, growing a smile at the sight of him. "You really mean it?"

"Of course. Have I ever lied to you?"

"Yes, Jaymes, you have. 18th floor? On my birthday?"

"Oh. Wait!' Jaymes sits up, a frown on his face. "How else was I supposed to surprise you? And technically it wasn't a lie, just a diversion."

Koharu clicks her tongue playfully. "If you say so." She looks to her hand, seeing the golden ring on her right hand. A blacksmith friend of theirs, Lisbeth, created it at Jaymes' request, though he hadn't diverged the details of how he got Lisbeth to do it for free. He gave it to her on her birthday back in February, yet she had given him nothing on his a month earlier. Of course, during that time, they were deeply engrossed in advancing up the first ten floors of the game and the events of the Elf War, so Jaymes didn't bother to celebrate his day that much. However, Koharu's was a big deal to him and she still feels bad for never returning the favor.

So much of her survival in Sword Art Online is due to Jaymes. They met on the last day of beta testing when he taught her how to fight, They promised to meet again once the game officially released and that they did, just in time to learn they were trapped in a game of life or death. Though it was her idea to join the frontlines, it was he who was truly responsible for their early achievements. It wasn't until they started the Elf Quest and met Kizmel (an NPC) that Koharu made herself worthy to stand at Jaymes' side as his partner, not as his worry. Now, look at her, one of the game's strongest players and a known figure on the frontlines. If Jaymes is her Kirito, she's his Asuna. It's been a long year, a year defying death and defining herself while slowly falling in love with her partner.

A year? Koharu opens up her menu and checks the date. "Today's November 6th, 2023. Hey, Jaymes, we've been in the game for a year now.."

"Is that so," the stretched out warrior says. "43 floors in a year… Don't quote me on this, but if we keep up this pace, we might escape by your 17th birthday. Hmm...wonder how much the world has changed."

"Yeah… You ever think about those left in the real world?"

"Every once in a while. I try not to focus on what's not in this world since we're on the front, but yes, I do. I think more about what I will like to do once we return, to be honest."

Interested, Koharu lies down on the log, hanging her head about a yard above Jaymes'. "What will you do?"

"I would like to meet everyone, the real us. Kirito, Asuna, Lis, Silica, Klein, and, of course, you." Koharu's cheeks heat up as Jaymes opens his eyes. He notices the pink spots on her face as the moonlight illuminates the quiet plains. "Are you blushing?"

"No!" Koharu says as she quickly hides her face.

"You're lying. I thought you hated liars."

"Well… You should know the effect of your words!" Sighing, Koharu shows her face again, this time with a small smile. "I would like to meet the real you too. We already know our looks and enough of our history, though."

"We both live in Tokyo. So it should be easy if we set a date and location. I think there's no other place but...Shubayi?"

Koharu chuckles. Jaymes is part Japanese, part American, and English is his stronger language. He can understand and read Japanese fluently, but speaking it is another story. Having moved to Japan shortly before SAO released in beta form, he didn't know much of the local area besides "whatever Persona taught me" as he once quoted. Thankfully, Koharu is knowledgeable of her hometown. "Shibuya. "


"Okay. I know a great restaurant nearby, so we can meet there once we're able to."

Jaymes smiles. "I'll love that," he says softly. He suddenly gazes up to Koharu, their eyes making contact, and the swordsman feels a soft heat in his face. This isn't the first time he felt it when looking at Koharu, it has been going on for weeks now since she saved him from a powerful, fatal blow against the 40th floor boss. Of course, he had always found Koharu attractive (and thankfully it stayed that way when Kayaba forced the avatars to copy the players' actual body) but it wasn't until then that it went deeper than that.

When he moved from America to Japan, he left an entire life behind. Of course, he wasn't the most popular kid or even had many people he could call friends, but still leaving a country for a foreign one was scary. He expected everything in his social life to stay the same, but to a severe case; he's American and he's dark-skinned, usually not well-liked in some Japanese people.

Yet, he was wrong the very moment he met Koharu. A strange girl he randomly encountered in a dungeon who wanted to play with him. On a whim, he agreed, and a year after being trapped with her, he hasn't regretted it once. Because of her, they made many friends of the likes of Kirito, Asuna, Silica, Argo, Lisbeth, and many others. Because of her, he found another reason to not stay behind in the Town of Beginnings and fight on the frontlines. Because of her, he has a reason to stay alive and keep getting stronger. He was already a pro gamer before SAO and might have been strong, yet he cannot take Koharu's influence for granted.



"Thank you. For everything this past year."

She smiles. "I should be thanking you. Without you, I would still be a nervous wreck on the first floor."

"Without you, I might be dead. Or like Kirito, a solo player except with no one to call on." Rising up, he takes a seat beside Koharu. "Even if everything to this moment turned out the same for me without you, I, I know that I like this reality. Me, a powerful swordsman and you, my just as powerful but so much kinder and beautiful partner."

Silence ensues for a moment, then Koharu covers her mouth. It proves futile; the laugh she tries holding in bursts forth. Jaymes is left speechless as Koharu tries to calm herself. "Wow, who wrote those lines? Argo?"

"What? No!... Well… She told me to spruce it up. 'You got to do better than tell her who you feel. Warm her up, dummy! Make her feel special!'"

Koharu smiles and places her hands in Jaymes'. "She's right, but you don't have to. Every day, whether we're on the frontlines, doing a quest, or relaxing and enjoying the game, you make me feel special. When I wake up to see your name on the side, your health bar green and full, it makes me happy to know that you are still with me. You still protect me even though you don't need to, and that makes me happy. And when you deal with all the trouble I get us into trying to help others, that makes me happy. You could have left long ago, yet you are here now, and that makes me the happiest girl in SAO." Koharu leans forward and kisses Jaymes on the cheek, then cuddles up with him by laying on his shoulder. "I want to be with you for as long as possible in this game...and if we make it out, in the real world as well."

Jaymes nods as he holds her. "Deal. But when do I get a real kiss?"

"I'm saving it for your birthday."