Well, Asuna thought with a bitter twist of her mouth, Klein had said he was a loner.

Of course, Asuna had already known that herself, but that didn't make it any less frustrating. Because, if there was something else she knew just as well, it was that he needed someone. Just as she needed him.

But, even now, now that they were "married," he was still too stubborn to reach out and ask for support.

Which was why Asuna had made him promise, the next time the nightmares came, he would come to her, no matter how late, no matter how much he thought "she needed to sleep."

A promise he was currently breaking.

Asuna had been jolted from her own slumber when Kirito woke with a gasp in the bed across from her. She had almost held her breath, waiting to see what he would do.

He'd taken a few deep breaths, gotten shakily to his feet, picked up his sword, which he'd left leaning against the wall in the corner, and slid, quiet as a cat, from the room and from the cabin. Now, she could hear him hacking at one of the many trees that surrounded their home on the 22nd floor of Aincrad. Liz was going to kill him for treating his weapons like that, if there was anything left when Asuna was done with him.

The fact that he didn't hear her coming was testament to his muddled state of mind. When she whapped him on the shoulder, he must have jumped a foot in the air.

"A-Asuna!" he stammered, sword clattering to the ground when he saw it was her, "what're you doing up?" At her answering glare, he took a half-step back, ducking his head slightly. "Okay, okay, I know. I promised, but…" When her hand moved toward her sword hilt, he scrambled back a few more steps. "Okay! I'm sorry."

All he got in answer was a small "humph!" But, at least her hand fell back to rest on her hip.

"It was just…the same as always," he said quietly. "It's nothing. I didn't want to bother…" His excuse died on his lips when Asuna's glare hardened slightly once more.

But, her eyes softened when she moved forward and took his hand. "Remember? I promised you I'd do anything to protect you. I can't stop the nightmares from coming but, whenever they do, why won't you let me be there for you, just like you're there for me?"

Asuna looked so sad as she spoke; Kirito looked down to avoid those searching eyes, letting the silence stretch out between them. His head jerked back up however, when he caught sight of a tear falling to the grass near his feet.

"A-Asuna!" he found himself stammering again. "No, don't cry! I'm sorry, honestly!"

"When you said we should get married, I thought you understood what that meant, what it meant to me at least," she said, a few frustrated tears leaking from those soft brown eyes. "It means we work together, in the good times and the bad. But you still want to do everything on your own! Why do you still not trust me?"

"I do!" he shot back. "I'd…"

"Don't say that," she cut in, voice dejected. "Yeah, maybe you'd count on me in the middle of a battle, but not with anything else."

Silence hung between them for another long moment then. Asuna had taken the words right out of his mouth.

How had he ended up like this? The boy who kept his own sister at arms' length, "married" to this girl who could read him like a book? Since when did he let himself get this close to someone? Especially after the disaster, not only with Sugu but with Sachi? The thought of that awful day only sent another wave of terror crashing over him. What would he do if Asuna…?

He shook that thought away before it could be finished. No matter how she'd pulled him in, and whatever the future might hold, one thing he knew for sure. He couldn't stand to see her cry. He had to say something. But, what?

"My parents died…when I was really young," The words tumbled out of his mouth suddenly. He knew better than most, 'you aren't supposed to talk about real life in the game.' But, the words kept right on tumbling out, slow at first, until they became a steady stream. "I went to live with my uncle after that. He used to beat me a lot, my sister too, sometimes. I had to protect her. So, I learned how to keep his focus just on me.

"Then, I found out my sister wasn't my sister. She's my cousin. I felt like I was an intruder, this was their home, their family. I didn't belong. So, I pulled away, away from my sister, my aunt, the few friends I had. I buried myself in gaming, thinking, 'You can pretend other players are just characters in the story, no need to get too attached.'

Then, I got stuck in this death game. And, I met this beautiful girl. And she drove me up the wall every time I talked to her, but she just wouldn't leave me alone. And, before I knew it, I was in love with her.

"Only, I'm not so good at it. 'Cause, when you love someone, you have to trust them. Trust that they won't hurt you, that they won't figure out how stupid and stubborn you are and just give up on you, that, when they hear about all the awful things you've done, they won't walk out on you. My aunt used to say, 'When you love someone, you give them your whole heart, and trust that they'll keep it safe.' I'm not even sure I have a whole heart left to give. But, even the thought of giving what little I do have scares me half to death."

All these words surprised the speaker as much as they did the listener. Kirito had no idea where all of this had come from, but it was true just the same. Unfortunately, it seemed to have the opposite effect from the one he'd hoped for, as, when he dared a glance back up at Asuna, even more tears were streaming down her cheeks.

In a flash, she had wrapped her arms around him, holding so tightly that she was rapidly squeezing the air from his lungs. Until, just as suddenly, she let go and whacked him upside the head again. "Idiot!" she said, scrubbing at the tear tracks on her face. "I already told you, I'm not going anywhere. Clearly, you're too stupid to look out for yourself. So, I've decided to do it for you. And," she added in a softer tone, once again pulling him to her in a tight hug, "in case you didn't know, I'm just as scared as you. My heart might have a few pieces missing too. But, if we have to be broken, wouldn't it be better if we were broken together?"

Slowly, Kirito brought his arms up to return the hug, his answer murmured into Asuna's long hair. "That does sound…pretty good to me."