Kazuto snorted awake from where he'd fallen asleep on his desk and blinked blearily around as he looked for what had woken him. His phone buzzed again, jittering around angrily on its charger. Bzz-bzzz bzz-bzzz.
"Oh shit," he mumbled to himself, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he picked up his phone. "Must've fallen asleep before telling her goodnight. Probably checking up on me." He opened his messages.
Hey, you. You alright? He smiled as he typed his reply.
Hey! Yeah, I just fell asleep doing some studying last night. Sorry for passing out on you. He went to put the phone down, but started when it buzzed again in his hand, nearly dropping it. He opened his messages again.
So diligent! Probably some really complicated robotics and technology stuff again, huh? He glanced at the textbooks on his desk. He'd left a drool mark on the copy of "Teach Yourself Piano!" that he'd borrowed from the library. He offhandedly hoped he wouldn't be fined for it as he took a sip of the now cold coffee from the mug on his desk.
You know it, haha. Anyway, what's up? Aren't you usually teaching a class right now?
Well, that's the thing! It's a little complicated, so is it okay if I call you? It'll be easier that way. He choked on his coffee, spitting it out onto his book. He coughed loudly as he tried to clear his throat and get some air. When he'd finally managed to settle himself, he took a deep breath.
Yeah! I'm free right now, so you can call. He fidgeted in his desk chair, the seconds seeming to drag on. Finally, the phone rang. He steeled his nerves, then picked up the line.
"Hi, Kirito?" a voice asked. His heart swelled at the sound. Her voice was every bit as beautiful as she was. It was strong, bright, and clear, like a struck chord.
"Hi, Asuna. What's up?"
"I've got a bit of a problem. You see, the academy just got an upgrade to all of its classrooms with these new state of the art projectors, but mine is on the fritz. Normally we'd call the company that made them to have a technician come in and fix the problem, but they said the soonest they could get someone out to fix mine is next month. I know it's completely out of the blue and asking a lot, you're probably busy toda-"
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes," Kazuto said with no hesitation.
"Oh, you're the best! Thank you so much! I'll text you a passcode that will let you in through the front gate. After that, talk to Sinon in the security office, she will let you into the building and point you to my classroom."
"Alright, sounds great. I guess I'll see you soon?" Asuna made a soft, pleased sound.
"Yeah, I'll see you soon." Kazuto clicked the phone off and stared at it in his hand.
"Ah man, this is just too much," he mumbled to himself. "Better get cleaned up."
He staggered to his feet, wincing as the cramped muscles in his back complained from how long they'd been bent over in the chair. He hopped into the shower, letting the hot water revive him. He shaved the stubble from his face, taking extra care to make sure he looked his best.
He threw on a pair of dark jeans and a button up shirt, unsure of how well he was supposed to dress since he was going to a private academy. Grabbing his keys and jacket, he dashed down to his bike, double-checking that his electronics repair kit was still in the saddlebag before swinging into the seat and gunning the motor.
The early morning traffic was a lot lighter than Kazuto was used to, but the late winter air still bit at his exposed hands on the grips of his motorcycle. It didn't trouble him much though, as his heart was racing fast enough to keep him plenty warm. The ride to Sacred Oath Academy was blessedly quick and in no time at all, Kazuto found himself in the parking lot, flipping out the kickstand of his bike and staring up at the towering marble structure with a mix of trepidation and excitement. He strolled over to the large security gate after grabbing his tools from his bag and found a small keypad on the smooth concrete wall next to it. Using the code that Asuna had texted him, he swung the gate open and slowly made his way up the sidewalk to what he assumed to be the lobby. He stopped abruptly as he felt something hard press against his back.
"Freeze," a cold female voice commanded him. He froze. "Let me see your hands. Slowly, now." Kazuto slowly set his tools down and placed them over his head. "Okay, now turn around. No sudden movements."
Kazuto complied and found himself face-to-face with a woman a few inches shorter than him with bright blue-green eyes and hair, garbed in black combat fatigues, who was also holding him at the end of a rather wicked looking extendable baton. When she saw his face however, her icy demeanor lessened noticeably and she lowered her baton.
"Ah, you must be Kirito," she said. "You can put your hands down now."
"I suppose that would make you Sinon, then. The security agent? Asuna said you'd be in your office."
"Hard to keep an eye on everything cooped up in an office," Sinon remarked cooly as she twirled her baton in her fingers. "Lucky for you Asuna showed me a picture of what you looked like. Almost clobbered you there for a second." Kazuto gulped as he scooped his bag back up.
"Thank you for your consideration. Um, could you show me the way to Asuna's classroom? She needs me to fix the projector."
"Ahh right, right. Come on, this way."
Sinon led him into the expansive labyrinth of towering marble buildings. The white interiors and hallways shimmered in the light of gentle LED lamps accentuated by tasteful red pennants that were artfully spaced in exact increments along the pristine walls. As they passed classroom windows, Kazuto could see glimpses of young students sitting at futuristic looking desks staring at teachers in front of computerized white boards; all clothed in immaculate white uniforms that were piped with what looked like red velvet that shimmered in the lights.
He slouched, feeling increasingly out of place in his long black leather coat. No wonder Sinon was able to find me so quickly. I scream "outsider" here, he thought to himself.
"So how do you know Asuna?" Sinon asked him.
"Oh, uh, I wash her windows." One of those bright green-blue eyes regarded him curiously as she turned her head slightly to look at him over her shoulder.
"And you know how to fix these things?"
"Window washing is just keeping me fed until I can find something more in line with what I want. I study robotics and technology and stuff."
"Hmmmm." That jewel-like eye gave him a reassessing once-over. "You seem like more than you appear."
"Uhhh...thank you?" She turned to face in front of her again.
"It wasn't a compliment. Just an observation," she replied. A moment of tense silence passed as they continued their journey. "You had better be good to her, you hear me?"
Kazuto was about to ask what exactly she meant by that when a sound reached his ears. Singing. The sound of children singing. It grew louder and louder as he and Sinon rounded a final corner and approached a classroom door at the end of the hall. When they reached the door, he could see that it was much different from the other doors he had seen in the building so far. This one was the same shape and color, however, it was covered with volumes of multicolored paper hearts. Each seemed to have something different written on them. Kazuto squinted and leaned in to read them.
Thank you Ms. Yuuki!
You're my favorite teacher ever!
You make learning the bestest.
Thanks for being so nice to me when I cried last week…
Your cupcakes are the best!
The messages all seemed to contain similar sentiments praising and thanking their teacher.
"What are these?" Kazuto asked as Sinon rapped on the classroom door.
"Those are Appreciation Hearts. The school gives them to the children to give to teachers who they like or think do a good job," she replied, standing at attention as the sound of singing inside stopped.
"But I didn't see anyone with so many of these on their door." Sinon raised an eyebrow and gave him a sidelong look.
"For a computer guy, you don't seem all that smart."
Suddenly the door opened, making Kazuto jump. He looked down to see a young girl in her Sacred Oath uniform staring up at him with wide eyes. She looked over at Sinon, then back at him.
"Ms. Sinon! Did you catch a bad guy? He looks scary!" she asked in a squeaky voice, hiding herself behind the door. Sinon simply smiled and shook her head.
"Not today. Could you get Ms. Yuuki? This man is her friend and she's waiting for him." The girl glanced at Kazuto skeptically but nodded and dashed back inside the classroom. Sinon turned around and began strolling back up the hallway. "I've got work to do, so don't go causing any more trouble, okay?"
"Didn't cause any trouble in the first place, but sure," he mumbled as he watched her saunter away.
"Kirito?" He felt his chest squeeze and his heart jumped into his throat. He slowly turned back around to find Asuna standing in the doorway.
She was just an inch or two shorter than him in the heels she was wearing with her usual white blazer and red skirt, and her red wire-rimmed glasses sat perched at the end of her petite nose. Behind them, her copper eyes danced in the light. Kazuto felt as though he were being drawn into them as they looked at each other in silence, almost as a spell had been cast over them. He finally managed to unite the knots his tongue had managed to twist itself into and spoke.
"Asuna." Well, it was a start.
"Wow," she breathed, looking him over from head to toe. "You're…..tall."
"Uh, thanks?" She blinked, as if suddenly realizing what she had said and a faint heat rose to her cheeks.
"I-I mean, you're taller than I thought you'd be! It's just so hard to tell when you're hanging in your harness from outside and all, so I couldn't really get a good idea of what you'd be like-" she stopped and shook her head. "Let me start over. Hi."
"Hi," he replied, breaking into a wide grin.
"I really can't thank you enough for this, you know. A lot of my students are visual learners, and so without a projector, I'm really in a bind."
"Anything to help you out."
"Please, come in." Asuna stepped to the side and gestured into the interior of the classroom.
Kazuto entered, aching to reach out and grab her hand as it passed by him on its way to close the door after him, but resisted the urge, flexing his fingers and balling them into a fist as he stepped into the classroom. He couldn't stop himself from catching a whiff of her as he squeezed through the doorway, however, and his vision swam as he breathed in what smelled like a mixture of jasmine blossoms and various other scents that was nothing short of absolutely intoxicating. In an attempt to distract himself from becoming an absolute hot mess, he looked around the classroom.
The desks in this room were not lined up in perfect rows like the others he had seen. Instead, they were all curved into a large semicircle that was centered on the whiteboard in the front of the classroom. At the desks, about two dozen or so children sat regarding him with wide eyes as he made his way to stand awkwardly in the front of the classroom where the projector was hanging from the ceiling.
"Alright class!" Asuna called out as she came and stood next to him, smiling radiantly. "This is my friend Mr. Kirito! Everyone say hello!"
"Hello, Mr. Kirito," the class chorused.
"Hi there," he replied, halfway raising his hand in a little wave.
"Mr. Kirito is very smart and knows a lot about computers and technology, so he's going to help us get our projector fixed, so be sure to say thank you, okay?"
"Thank you!" the class chorused again. One of the children to the left of the semicircle raised his hand slowly into the air.
"Yes, Yusuke?" Asuna said. "What is it?"
"Mr. Kirito looks like Dark Rider!" Yusuke shouted excitedly. A wave of agreements rang out from several other young boys in the classroom.
"Who's Dark Rider?" Kazuto murmured to Asuna, who was rolling her eyes in an exasperated manner.
"Apparently he's the hero of a popular TV series that airs after school. The boys like to take turns playing pretend as him during recess." She looked up and smiled at him. "You are going to be asked about a million questions if I don't distract them with something here soon, and I wouldn't want to keep you from your work-"
"Actually, it's fine," he said. "I like kids and talking while I work usually helps me focus anyway." He smiled back down at her. "Plus I'm sure a hardworking teacher like you could probably kill for a cup of afternoon coffee right now, so just catch your breath, okay?" She clapped him gently on the shoulder and let her head sag for a moment as she giggled to herself.
"My my, maybe you really are a hero like Dark Rider after all! I'll take that offer. Thank you so much. You're incredible."
"Ah, don't mention it," he replied, rubbing at the back of his neck, trying to let out the jolt of energy that had coursed through him when she touched him.
"Mr. Kirito! Do you have a motorcycle?" Kazuto spoke around the bolt he had in his mouth.
"Why, yes, I do." The answer drew an impressed oooooohhhhhh from the students.
"He really is like Dark Rider! Wait! Mr. Kirito, are you Dark Rider?" one of the students called out.
"Dummy! He couldn't tell you if he was, remember? Dark Rider keeps who he is a secret!" Kazuto smiled to himself as he took out his battery powered soldering iron and reattached two wires to a power terminal that had come loose.
"Shouldn't be too long now," he called down to Asuna from his place on the small stepladder she had given him. She looked up from her desk in the corner of the classroom and beamed up at him.
"Ah, that's great news! What was the problem?"
"Well, it looks like you had a few of your wired connections come loose from the circuit board. You're lucky that all of the major components still work fine, because if any of those had gone out, you'd have had to wait for the manufacturer to mail them out and send a technician to replace them, and who knows how long that would have taken."
"See, he even knows high tech gadgets and stuff like Dark Rider! Plus he has the long coat and the motorcycle! He's gotta be him," another student chimed. "He's even helping out Ms. Yuuki! Dark Rider always helps out people in need."
"Well, I don't know if Mr. Kirito is or not, but he is pretty heroic, huh?" Asuna asked the students, a warm smile gracing her lips. Another rumble of agreement rolled through the children as Kazuto returned his attention to the projector.
"Ms. Yuuki?" A girl's voice called out.
"Oh, yes, Aiko? What is it?"
"Do you love Mr. Kirito?"
Kazuto sucked in a breath of surprise and coughed as he nearly choked on one of the bolts he had clamped between his teeth.
"Aiko!" Asuna cried, scandalized. "Why on Earth did you ask that?!"
"Well, because whenever Mommy goes to get something out of the cabinet at home, she stands on a little ladder too, and Daddy always stares at her butt just like you were just doing and he says he does that because he loves her!"
"W-well Aiko, that's very different for people who are married, b-but-"
"But I saw you looking!"
Kazuto blushed furiously and hid his face behind the high collar of his coat, wondering how these kinds of things always seemed to happen to him. His fingers flew with nervous energy and before he realized it, he'd reconnected all of the contacts on the circuit board. He flipped the power switch and the bulb in the projector sprang to life, shining an image of something that looked like sheet music onto the white board.
"Oh thank God," Asuna murmured as she rose from her chair. "Alright class, let's thank Mr. Kirito for fixing our projector so quickly!" As the class echoed her instructions, Kazuto resealed the panels on the projector and stepped off of the ladder, making sure his tool kit was properly stowed on its sling before he followed Asuna to the door and out into the hall.
"Anyway," she said, brushing a stray strand of hair behind her ear as she averted her gaze from him. "Thanks so much again. I have no idea how I'm going to repay you."
"All in a day's work for a superhero," Kazuto joked, cracking a wry grin.
"Wow," she replied, looking back up at him with her own smile. "I'm flattered you'd trust me with your secret identity like that."
"Well, you make it easy."
"Ah...well...thank you." They stood there blushing and not quite looking at each other.
"Well, I'd better not hang around too long," he said. "I think Sinon wants to see just how fast I can run and I don't want to tempt her." He went to turn and leave.
"Dinner!" Asuna blurted out. He turned back to look at her. She stood there, her face hot but determined; her hands balled into fists at her side.
"Uh, what?" he asked.
"Would you…..come to dinner? With me. Friday night, at my place. To say thanks," she elaborated falteringly. He blinked, taken back as a wave of emotions washed over him that caught him completely off guard. Excitement, happiness, nervousness. Oh god the nervousness. He took a deep breath and looked her in the eye as he gave her a coy smile.
"Does eight o'clock work?" Her face lit up bright enough to make the overhead lights seem dim by comparison.
"Eight o'clock would be perfect!"
"Then it's a date."
"It's a date," she repeated, her eyes glimmering.
Sinon's sharp gaze scanned over the security monitors again. She squinted as something caught her attention. Out in the parking lot….looked to be that Kirito guy in his big scary black coat, skipping towards his bike, grinning like an absolute idiot while glancing back at the building.
"I don't get what she sees in that guy," she said, rolling her eyes before continuing on with her watch. She clicked over to the camera that watched over the entrance to Asuna's classroom. She saw her friend leaning against a wall and fanning herself in the hallway, also grinning like a complete idiot. "Then again," she said, smirking to herself. "If he can make her act like that, I suppose he can't be all bad."