After more than 6 years of writing for this website, I've finally reached my 200th story. Since SAO holds a special place in my heart, I've decided to dedicate this special story to one of my favorite couples of all time. It's completed, 6 chapters long, and I will update regularly every week for the next month.
Thank you all so much for all of your support over the years! Please enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Sword Art Online. Spoilers for volume 4 and the end of the anime.
Chapter 1. Promise
A light snowfall flurried down from the white skies, as though the clouds had burst and overflowed with frozen crystals.
They floated, spiraling, to the town below known as Saitama, blanketing the bustling streets in a refreshing layer of downy fluff.
Dozens of cars passed by one another on the streets, sending up splashes of slush as they went.
A single bike skirted the sidewalks to avoid the spray, swerving left and right in order to keep from sliding on the occasional patch of ice. The boy in control of the handlebars pedaled harder as he saw his destination in the distance. His black coat fluttered slightly behind him as the cold air blasted his face, tugging his raven-colored hair back as well.
He normally would have welcomed the harsh chill for its rejuvenating side affects, however there was one particular spot of his exposed skin that stung at the contact.
The night before, Kazuto's left cheek had been sliced by the blade of a madman he fought for his very life, as well as for the sake of the person he held dearest in this world. Every gust of wind at present brought a stinging pang of bitter remembrance of the previous night, when he had struggled with Sugou in the parking lot to the very place he was heading to now.
Although when examined, the knife-wound had been declared not deep enough to leave a scar, Kazuto felt he would always remember the feeling of that cruel metal cutting through his skin.
A part of him cringed at the memory, yet the other part of him mustered an ounce of pride from it, as it proved what Kazuto had been fighting for that night in the final battle, and he had won it.
Unknowingly, his lips curled up into a tiny grin as his bike came screeching to a halt at a crosswalk with a red light. He had run the very same red light the night before on his way to the hospital, so as he stopped there now, the scenes from ten hours ago replayed in his mind.
The most prominent emotion that had overwhelmed him at the time was an immense anxiety. He remembered the pulsing fear as he thought of all the possibilities of what he might find waiting for him in that familiar hospital room.
But more than anything, he now remembered the gentle smile she had worn on her pale lips, those tired, yet shimmering hazel eyes that contained her half of their lifetime spent together in the past few years in another world, and the warmth he had felt for the very first time, yet was somehow so perfectly familiar.
He kicked off instantly as the light turned green again, coasting down the snowy sidewalk and around a corner, until he was mere seconds away from the hospital parking lot. Braking, he slowed to a stop near the bike racks and swiftly chained it before adjusting his coat and fixing his hair a bit to appear more presentable. He then dashed for the entrance, the automatic doors allowing him entrance as he hurriedly bounded into the waiting area.
The room was half full of people, young, old, and in-between, but none were presently at the information desk. Kazuto quickly headed toward the open window where a woman in a white outfit sat, typing at a computer.
"Ah, excuse me?" Kazuto raised his voice to be sure that she heard him, and the woman looked up.
"Oh, you're the young man from last night!" Her shocked eyes proved that she had been one of the people in the building when Kazuto had stumbled in after his dangerous scrimmage with Sugou. "I assume you're here again to see Yuuki-san, correct?"
"Yes please." His voice was level, but firm.
The woman at the desk looked him over briefly; she had been working there several years and had seen many kinds of people before, which included frantic boyfriends. She had seen people with all sorts of expressions in their eyes from bored to grave to excited. But she could not ever remember seeing a person with a demeanor such as that of the boy standing before her now.
His eyes were a terrifying mixture of calm and stern, as though he had prepared a list of reasons as to why he should be allowed to the desired room if she were to refuse him. She had only seen him twice before, but she already knew enough about him, the main point being that he would somehow find a way into that hospital room even if she called security on him.
Therefore, she decided to spare herself the trouble and let out a sigh as she leaned forward toward him.
"Her parents are presently visiting to discuss important matters with the nurses." She informed him. "I'll give you the keycard, but you absolutely must not interfere with their conversations."
"Thank you very much." Kazuto bowed his head in deep sincerity as she slid him the card. He clutched it in his palm and let out a long breath, fishing out his resolve, before he took off toward the stairs.
He dashed up the steps as quickly as he had last night, and the memories came rushing back to him yet again as he found himself standing in the hallway that led to her. He did not even need to count the rooms as his feet automatically led him to hers.
However, just before he could slip the key card into the slot on the handle, he heard voices coming from within. Kazuto raised his fist and was about to knock instead, but managed to cease his movements at the lasts second as his ears began to distinguish the words they were speaking.
"The rehabilitation process could take up to three months." The unfamiliar voice was professional and certain, which suggested to Kazuto it was a nurse.
The second voice to speak was a man's voice, and one Kazuto knew quite well by now.
"That won't do." Shouzou Yuuki sounded conflicted. "The new school term for the students involved in the defective games begins in five weeks. She won't be able to begin classes on time."
"Starting late would only mean more work piled up on her when she does begin classes." A third voice spoke next, one Kazuto had heard less often, but knew to be Shouzou's wife, Kyouko. "However, I'm sure she can catch up with the curriculum if she studies hard."
Kazuto had always known this woman to be the strictest in the region. However right now, her voice betrayed the emotions she could simply not suppress, as the concern for her only daughter's well-being manifested itself in her uncertain tone.
"She can do it." Another male voice spoke next. "If there's anything I know, it's that she's the most studious person in town."
"Thank you, Onii-san..." Finally, the fifth and final voice spoke.
It was almost inaudible, and her words were raspy, but upon simply hearing that voice, Kazuto's eyes welled with tears; it was unmistakably the voice of the person he had loved so dearly for over two years.
"But..." here she cut off with a cough, causing a concerned murmur to fill the room, almost concerning enough to have Kazuto rush through the door, but he only just stopped himself. "I'm fine." She said in her familiar reassuring tone, weighed by the sureness of her iron-clad will. "But what I meant to say is... Mother, Father, I will make it in time... for the new school term."
"Don't be ridiculous." Her mother said in a soft scolding voice. "There is no way you could halve the designated rehabilitation time."
"Mother." Her quiet voice may have been scratchy, but it was clear and direct above anything else. "You may not believe me... but I've become stronger over the past two years. I know I can do it."
"Now look here-"
"I'm not being rash, Mother. And I'm not delusional or saying things because I'm tired." Kyouko's daughter refuted her before she could even finish scolding her. "I know I can do this... Please... at least allow me to try."
A long moment of silence followed her genuine request, as though every person in the room was debating the consequences of the girl's words.
Kazuto, too, thought her words were a bit hasty, yet it was precisely something he knew he should have expected from her. Of all the things he knew about her, above all else was the fact that her passionate perseverance was second to none on the planet.
Kazuto was silent as he waited for the responses of her family members and the nurse.
He knew the Yuuki's were practical people, and that they would prefer to heed to the requirements of the hospital's restrictions. However, Kazuto imagined they were feeling the same way he was; as long as she recovered without the risk of any harm, none of them would oppose her trying to cut the recovery time in half.
Another minute passed by in silence, and Kazuto could picture the serious look she must have been giving all of them at that time.
Finally, her elder brother stepped in to support her. "I think she can do it." He said to his parents.
Kazuto assumed the ensuing silence meant they had already decided on their answers.
"I do not think the recovery process can be completed within only five weeks," the nurse spoke in a skeptical voice. "However, if she can recover to a certain point by that time, it's possible to have her attend classes, even if it's in a wheelchair or on crutches, if need be."
Kazuto felt the smile break out across his lips.
Yet another moment passed as the two parents who had yet to speak contemplated their options with their two children eagerly awaiting their replies.
At last, Shouzou spoke in a cautious tone.
"Very well." He agreed.
"But if even the slightest aspect is to hinder the process, it must be called off immediately." Kyouko cut in quickly.
Kazuto could practically see the thankful glimmer in her hazel irises.
"We would need to begin as soon as possible." The nurse finished.
"I can start today." The girl rasped.
"Perhaps tomorrow." Shouzou suggested.
"Indeed, I think that would be most beneficial." His wife agreed. "For now you should rest and prepare yourself for the long weeks ahead."
"Yes!" Her daughter replied happily. "Thank you..."
Kazuto stepped away from the door as he heard shuffling about on the other side. A moment later, the nurse stepped out into the hallway, followed promptly by the other three members of the Yuuki family.
"Ah, Kirigaya-kun." Shouzou nodded politely when he saw Kazuto. Kazuto instantly bowed back and respectfully addressed him.
"Good morning, Shouzou-san." He then greeted Shouzou's wife and son with just as much respect and courtesy as he could manage. Kyouko returned his greeting with a nod rather than words, but the look in her eyes shielded by her glasses, made Kazuto feel that she approved of his actions of proper greeting as well as coming to visit her daughter. He had only met her a few times, but he liked to believe he was starting to gain her favor.
"Please keep your visit short today." The nurse with glasses and the name tag of 'Risa' requested of him. "However, you're more than welcome to assist in the recovery process for the next several weeks."
"Pardon?" Kazuto was surprised at her words. He had assumed the hospital staff would deter visitors from intruding on such an important procedure.
"It's been proven that patients tend to recover quicker when assisted by someone close to them, rather than strangers on our staff." She explained.
"I know it may be asking much of you," Shouzou addressed Kazuto. "But we would be extremely grateful if you could assist our daughter in this crucial time."
"I have already taken as much time off from work as is allowed." Kyouko added in, sounding almost ashamed. "And my son is supposed to be at University at the moment, and could only take the time to come home until tomorrow."
"We're very sorry to ask this of you," Shouzou spoke again. "But Kirigaya-kun, if you could come to see her, even a few times a week during the day, we would be very appreciative."
Kazuto could hardly believe the words he was hearing.
That entire morning, he had been mentally preparing a discourse for these people. Countless times, he had arranged what he intended to say to them in order to convince them that he was worthy enough to visit their daughter every day for the next five weeks until classes began. He had suppressed his feelings of nervousness until now and prepared himself to do anything necessary in order to convince them.
But for them to directly offer him exactly what he was so prepared to earn... he was honestly dumbfounded for a moment. Yet as he got his bearings, Kazuto realized three expectant pairs of eyes were still on him.
"Ah..." he quickly straightened up, raising his chin proudly as he replied in a serious tone. "Of course I will." He announced. "I'll be here every day from opening till closing hours, and I'll do everything I possibly can in order to see to it that your daughter recovers as quickly and safely as possible." His hands which were clenched into fists at his sides shook slightly as he awaited their replies, praying the truth in his words had reached them.
"Well said." Shouzou nodded in approval.
"It will be a significant burden lifted from my mind in knowing she'll be in capable hands." When Kyouko muttered these words, Kazuto felt almost as though it were a dream.
"T...Thank you for allowing me to stay by her side." He bowed again.
As the two of them offered their gratitude one more time, their son Kouichirou then stopped briefly before Kazuto. He appeared to be several years older, and had a mature look to his refined face.
"Take good care of her, okay?" He gave a friendly slap on Kazuto's shoulder.
"Right!" He replied quickly.
After reminding Kazuto to keep his visit brief, the nurse Risa then led the three of the Yuuki's away toward the staircase. Kazuto watched them go, sending them silent thanks with one last bow of gratitude for putting their trust in him.
At last, Kazuto inhaled deeply as he gripped the key card in his hand. Then, stepping toward the door, he knocked twice.
"Come in..." A very thin voice answered, granting him permission to enter.
Kazuto slid in the key card and quietly stepped into the room.
She sat propped up in bed, leaning back against several large pillows. An IV drip traveled from her left wrist to a machine that tracked her pulse beside the bed. Her long, chestnut hair was smooth and thin as it pooled into tiny puddles at her sides. Her pale hands were folded into her lap, thin and frail.
But despite the state of the rest of her body, her smile was still lively and pure, and her hazel eyes shimmered with affection as she saw him enter.
Kazuto spoke her name on a relieved sigh. His entire body was instantly filled with a fluttering warmth upon seeing her again, and he felt almost dizzy for an instant.
Similar to last night, he truly needed to remind himself that he was actually in her presence, and the only proof at the time was the solid ground he stood on. Tapping his shoe on the ground for confirmation, he raised his head and could only pray that his own gaze reflected the same deep emotions that hers shown for him.
His ears seemed to instinctively pick up on the sound of her voice; the way she spoke his name as she had been doing for the past 2 years, and how he had listened to those words felt as natural as breathing.
Sliding the card into his pocket, Kazuto tentatively walked forward. The vase full of colorful flowers was exactly as it had been left the night before, only now the sunlight filtering in through the window made them twice as brilliant as the moonlight had.
The same was true for Asuna's smile.
Just as he had only ten hours ago, Kazuto carefully sat on the bed beside her, but stopped his hand in midair as it reached for hers.
He knew he had embraced her last night, but even doing so had concerned him greatly. He could remember how delicate she felt, like a newborn fawn, almost breakable.
Being able to view her in the stronger lighting now, he could see just how emaciated she was, her white hospital robes proving to be far too loose on her petite figure.
He forced the unpleasant thoughts from his mind as he convinced himself enough to let his hand rest upon hers.
"How are you feeling? Have you eaten anything yet?" He asked in a tone slightly louder than usual, as he knew her hearing was still inadequate.
"Not yet..." Asuna shook her head from left to right ever so slightly, as if anything more than that was still beyond her physical capabilities at present. "Everything still feels...odd. But somehow it's just... so familiar... so right... " A glimmer of a tear formed at the corner of her eye, but it was almost as though there was not even enough force within her body to allow it to fall. "I still can't believe I'm back...after so long..." she whispered.
Her shoulders sagged slightly forward then, and the smile Kazuto had been wearing swiftly transformed into a frown. He excepted her speech to be unsteady still, but somehow it sounded even less sturdy than last night.
"Are you okay? Did something happen?" He longed to squeeze her hands, but the second he applied even the slightest amount of pressure other than simply lying his hand on hers, he could feel the bones all too easily.
"Ah...just..." her breath hitched even more than before as her reassuring countenance faltered into an expression of pain for one second too long. "Before... they helped me sit up and... ever since, my chest... has felt so tight..."
Just as she had finished speaking, her body gave out on her and she slumped forward. Kazuto hastily reached out to catch her, despair washing over him from head to toe.
"Asuna! Oy! Are you okay?" He asked, panic flaring in his chest.
For a moment, her only response was labored breathing, and Kazuto could only remain helplessly still as he continued to hold her. She had been sitting up last night when he had arrived, and he had embraced her lightly then, but it was apparent to him now that it would be an extremely risky and delicate process for her to do such things that were so unthinkably easy to other people.
It took a great deal of restraint for him not to embrace her as he had longed to do for so long, lest he injure her further. He could only settle for placing his hands on her back and trying to have her sit up as straight as possible. "Asuna! Asuna, please..."
Her breaths were becoming more ragged now, and the beeping of the IV machine increased in speed. Kazuto felt utterly helpless as he supported her.
These past two years, he had been able to protect her. He could fight her enemies with weapons, he could reassure her with words, he could defend her with his abilities. But here now, in his own world, he could do absolutely nothing for her as she suffered in his own arms.
I can't lose her... His mind could form no other words as his hands shook on her back. I can't lose her again...
His teeth bit into his lip as he desperately attempted to hold back the sobs that threatened to slip forth. But just as Kazuto felt he was about to lose himself, the beeping sounds from the machine began to slow again.
As he calmed down a little, he could feel her pulse drop back to a more normal pace, although it was still slower than it should have been.
By the time Asuna could breathe easily once more, five painful minutes had passed by, and tears wetted Kazuto's cheeks as he held her against him.
He did not want to let her go anymore. He was resolved to staying that way with her forever, as long as it meant he never had to be apart from her again.
Asuna's entire body trembled as she inhaled deeply several times, until she could muster her voice again. "Kirito-kun..." her words were so quiet he almost missed them, even though she was so close to him. "I'm sorry. I'm alright now. I'm sorry..." He did not need to see her face to know she was crying. "Actually..." she rasped. "I might not be alright just yet..." her voice hitched. "But I will be soon... I promise... just you wait and see... I'm going to go to school with you... I'm going to eat lunch with you... I'm going to... walk home with you every day... just you wait..." Between the sobs that raked her body, she managed these words.
Even as she spoke of the tentative future, Kazuto could image all of it happening. He imagined taking classes with her during the day, studying together in the evenings, and going out together on weekends... but that was only a distant dream at the moment.
However it was partially his responsibility to make sure he could help make that dream a reality in only five weeks' time.
Taking a deep breath, he held back more tears as he carefully started to rub her back, barely making contact as though he were touching a delicate doll.
"We'll make it happen. I promise..." This was all he could manage to say before his throat closed up.
Time passed by unbeknownst to them as they continued to hold one another. Asuna was still almost unable to believe she was finally within his arms. She could finally feel his warmth again, his real warmth, and his strong arms on her back made her feel secure, as if nothing could ever harm her again. There was love in that embrace, in the cautious way he touched her, in every motion he made and every expression he showed her. Even the air around him seemed to be giving off a caring aura toward her alone.
For a while, she focused on her breathing, slowly willing away the suffocating tightness in her chest. The nurses had warned her about moving too much, as it would likely put a strain on her body, particularly her lungs and heart. Asuna never imagined that something as simple as sitting up in bed would cause such a long-lasting reaction from her body.
However, Kazuto's presence alone seemed to heal her, his warmth encompassing her. Before very much longer, the painful throbbing in her chest began to subside, ebbing away until it was almost unnoticeable.
She attempted to inhale, but a stinging prickle caused her to freeze, gritting her teeth as she tensed her shoulders. Kazuto sensed her discomfort instantly and spoke in a cracked voice.
"Asuna?" He longed to support her further, but stopped himself from moving her too much, sliding back himself so he could glimpse her expression.
"I'm okay now. Really." She lifted her head, her hair still a bit frizzed as she met his gaze. "I'm going to do this, Kirito-kun. And I know with you by my side, I can complete the recovery process within five weeks. I know it's going to be difficult, and it's probably going to be painful, for the both of us," she added, knowing full-well that it was just as hard for him to see her like this. "But I know we can do it. Together."
Although she could not manage much, she put a great deal of energy into focusing on moving her right hand. Her fingers shook, but after a burst of effort, she managed to turn her hand over, moving it slightly toward his. Even just flipping her hand over took a substantial amount of energy, and the dismayed look on Kazuto's face told her she had concerned him deeply in just doing something so small.
But the shine in her eyes as she watched him patiently reminded him of one of the countless reasons he had fallen in love with her in the first place; her perseverance. Even if it meant hurting herself, she would do everything within her abilities to accomplish anything she set her mind to, no matter how reckless the idea.
Kazuto was torn. He wanted to tell her to use the three required months in order to recuperate. He wanted to tell her to just get some rest after all that she had been through. He wanted to tell her that it was all right if she did not start school with him.
And yet he said none of these things.
In truth, he knew she could accomplish what she suggested, and since she had already committed to it in her heart, it was impossible to change her mind, and there would be no stopping her.
His lip trembled, but no words came out to oppose her wishes. He unclenched the fists he had balled his hands into, and gently slipped his left palm beneath her hand, covering it with his right in the gentlest, most endearing manner possible.
"Asuna." He murmured, looking directly into her hazel irises. "I promise I'll see this through with you. I'll come here every day. I'll come as early as possible and stay as late as I can. I'll help you with everything, no matter what. I'll always be here cheering you on and supporting you. I promise to make your dream into a reality. I promise."
Leaning forward, he brushed his lips against her cheek, her soft skin pale, but warm again. More than anything, he longed to kiss her as he had last night and stronger, and he longed to hold her tightly, tighter than before.
But for now, he would only allow himself this much.
Another tear made it's way down Asuna's cheek, and Kazuto gingerly reached up to wipe it away.
"Thank you, Kirito-kun. I love you."
For only the second time ever, but for the very first time in this world, Asuna showed him that perfect smile.
Kazuto froze time and engraved that smile into his soul.
"I love you, too, Asuna. I love you so much..." He held onto her hand, tracing his fingers over her smooth skin.
Then, for the first time in what must have been nearly thirty minutes, Kazuto looked away from her, directing his gaze to a clock on the wall. It was only a little past noon, but he knew tomorrow would be a major day for her.
"I should go." When he spoke these words, Asuna felt a small spark of panic ignite within her chest. "Don't worry." Kazuto quickly added when he saw her stricken expression. "I'll be back first thing tomorrow morning. I might even just sleep outside and pester them until they let me in again." This earned a tiny giggle from her, and it gave Kazuto a pleasant chill to hear her laugh for the first time.
"Silly..." she rasped.
She admitted she felt nervous, anxious about the notion of him leaving so soon, but she reminded herself that this was the real world again. On top of the fact that Kazuto had never broken a single promise to her, no matter how seemingly insignificant it might have been, she was certain within her heart that he would always return to her.
"You should get some rest. As much as possible. And eat whatever you can." He said as he got to his feet, regrettably letting her hand slip from his. "We have a long five weeks ahead of us."
"Yes. I understand." She whispered with a bit of a sad smile. "I'll eagerly wait for you until tomorrow. You're all I dreamt about last night, and I'm sure tonight will be no different."
"I dreamt of you, too." He said. "I've been dreaming of you for the past two years, of finally being able to meet you... and that dream's come true." Her eyes shimmered as she listened to his words. "Now I have a new dream; to go to school with you, to play games together with you, to go out and have picnics with you. I want to be with you in this world, much more than I have been for the past two years."
As he spoke, he gently helped her lean back, fixing her pillows so she could lie down. He lowered her body ever so carefully, slipping his hands underneath her back. He pulled the covers up to her chest but made sure to leave her left arm out so the IV cable could run properly. "Is there anything you need?" He asked, still holding her hand lightly.
"No." She breathed, closing her eyes briefly. "Just... promise me one more time..." She reopened her eyes and looked up at him with a silent plea.
Kazuto smiled and leaned down once more. "I'll help make our dream come true, I promise." He kissed her cheek one more time. "See you tomorrow. I love you, Asuna." He softly tucked a strand of chestnut hair behind her ear.
"I love you, too." She told him again, wishing there was some way she could prove it other than in words.
Kazuto let his fingers linger on her cheek and she closed her eyes blissfully.
He did not know how he managed to bring himself to leave her, but eventually he forced his legs to move.
"Get some rest. I'll be back before you know it." He promised.
"Okay. See you tomorrow." Asuna said again, having trouble with the thought of parting with him already. It was as if she believed that if she kept talking, time would go by faster. But at last, she accepted the hours ahead of her and closed her eyes willingly, encouraging thoughts of him to form in her dreams and calm her mind.
Kazuto closed the door behind him and let out a long breath. His body was shaking with anticipation as he thought about the weeks to come. We'll make this dream come true, Asuna. I promise.
"I love you, too, Asuna. More than anything, for the rest of my life, and beyond that, too."
A/N: I'm sure many things about this story will seem unrealistic to you, such as letting Kazuto help her recover rather than the hospital staff. I can only apologize and request you overlook such things.