“So… I don’t have the right to be recognized or praised. You don’t need to cry for…”
An impact against my right shoulder cut me off. Asuna was clenching her fist. “I’m the one who decides who I should cry for!” she shouted, her face a mess. She used her other hand to rub at her eyes and attempted a smile. The hand still pressed against my shoulder opened up and grabbed the surface of my coat instead.
“In that case… I’ll be the one to praise you, Kirito. I’ll do whatever I can for you… whatever you say.”
Later—much, much, much later—Asuna would confide to me, “ A part of me was worried about the possibility that you would say something really crazy ,” with a gentle, beaming smile.
But at this moment, I wasn’t capable of saying anything crazy. The best I could do was offer her a very awkward smile.
“…Just you saying that is enough for me. I don’t want you to do anything for me…”
“Then, sit down!” she ordered abruptly, pushing hard. I gave in to her force and lowered myself to one knee.
Suddenly, her hand left my shoulder. It circled behind my head and pulled me against the light steel plate covering her chest.
Her left hand slowly, gently, tenderly stroked my hair. She repeated the motion over and over and over.
The softness of her hand. The scent like spring sunshine. The warmth of her body touching mine.
As I soaked in these sensations, I eventually came to the realization that tears were brimming in my own eyes.
The exhaustion that had set in over the fifty-five-day battle that had taken me from the first floor through the fifth.
And the support, healing, and courage that the fencer’s presence had brought me throughout that time.
These things kept me locked in place, submitting to Asuna’s embrace for a long, long time. And throughout, the movement of her hand never, ever stopped.
from Sword Art Online Progressive Volume 4: Scherzo of Deep Night, Chapter 11; Reki Kawahara; illustration by abec
Me: They’re in love with each other. But they just don’t know it yet (at least during this time).