Chapter 2: An Idol Enters The Stage; Or, Why I Need To Control My Teleportation


April 25th, 2025

Once more, I sat down at my desk for lunch and tried to ignore the whispers around me.

"I can't believe Asuna Yuuki eats lunch with him." "I know, he's not even popular." 'But he's kinda got a girly cute look to him, though...' 'Man, that guy's so lucky! Getting to eat lunch with our Princess!' 'I should talk to him and see if he's interested in joining the Asuna Yuuki Fanclub as a probationary member...'

Seriously. Some people are just... the worst.

It had been about three weeks since the start of school, and Asuna had been coming down to eat with me every day for two of them. I didn't mind all that much - she brought sandwiches with her, so it's not like I really wanted her to stop - but it was annoying how every person in my class couldn't tear their eyes or thoughts away from me and her.

And hey! I don't care, but popularity isn't that big a deal! I could probably be popular if I wanted, all things considered. It was just knowing who to talk to, how they reacted, and how to dress. Dressing wasn't that hard, I could always ask my sister for help and the brocon of the century would have no problem picking out things that would look great on me. As for the other two, I'm the most powerful psychic in the world. I can't help but know exactly what everyone else wants to hear.

Well, whatever. It's not a big deal. ...Better than the comments about my face being girly. I don't look girly. I don't.

Asuna smiled at me from the other side of my desk. "What's wrong, Kazuto? Is the sandwich - oh, you already finished the first one."

Had I? I hadn't even noticed when I finished eating the sandwich she'd given me. But there was the aftertaste of something amazing in my mouth, so I must have eaten it...

"I brought a lot today, so help yourself!"

Don't mind if I do.

While I chowed down on the second sandwich that Asuna produced, she sat back after placing her chopsticks with her bento. She'd eaten primly and delicately, unlike the rest of my classmates who were more likely to shovel their food in their mouth than savor it. At least she hadn't tried to talk with her mouth full. Even if I could understand what she was thinking, it was still gross.

Asuna giggled as I polished off the second sandwich. 'I'm so glad he enjoys the sandwiches!' "Have you heard that there's a new girl in the third years, did you know?"

I might have heard about it, but I wouldn't know for certain. Unless I paid attention, of course.

"I guess that makes sense," Asuna replied. "I don't think many people have heard about her, yet. She just transferred in a few days ago."

Really? Neat.

Asuna's eyes lit up as she leaned forward. "Apparently, some of the girls were gossiping a lot with her, and she said she doesn't have a boyfriend."

Uh huh. That's interesting.

"But I saw her in the halls when I left for lunch, and she's so pretty! That's strange, right?"

Yeah, strange.

"It turns out," Asuna said, "when they asked her, she said she's been in love with someone for years! She's been pining after him for years, isn't that romantic?"

That seems weird more than anything, to be honest.

Asuna pouted at me. "Ugh, you're such a boy, Kazuto. It's cute that she's held someone in her heart, and don't you forget it!" 'I wonder if I'll ever feel that way about someone...'

Yeah, yeah. I won't forget. It's really plastic –

I flinched when Asuna's foot collided solidly with my shin, just a half second after she thought about kicking me. "It's romantic, not plastic," she said, and then folded her arms and let out a quiet huff. It was always a surprise when Asuna did things like that. A thought races through her head and then she acts on it.

I looked down at the pile of crumbs laying on the cloth napkin and let out a quiet sigh. These sandwiches always disappeared so quickly... Oh well. Asuna's cooking was delicious, so I never minded. Now that I'd finished the best part of the day, I got out the smaller lunch that Sugu had packed for me. My sister was a pretty good cook, but... she just wasn't up to Asuna's level.

The problem with listening to Asuna's routine gossip was that I already knew all of it. Because my telepathy was powerful enough that I could hear my sister's thoughts from across the country, I knew every dirty little secret of the students in the school. I knew that one girl in my class was trying desperately to be an idol; I knew that two students in the class next to me, 1-B, were going out together but trying to keep it a secret from their mutual friend; and I knew that Ms. Ryoko was currently eating lunch in the teacher's room with Asuna's homeroom teacher (Ms. Ryoko was interested in him, but he seemed too preoccupied with his work to notice).

I also knew that the girl up in class 3-C, the one that Asuna was probably talking about, had finally managed to convince her father to let her transfer to this school instead of the all-girls high school she'd been attending before. Apparently, the boy she's interested in lives here, and she's going to try to find him soon.

I just knew that somehow this was going to make my life more complicated. It's almost like being the MC of a story sucked a lot, right?

"That was a good lunch," Asuna sighed, just before the bell rang. "Oh, Kazuto, I -"

"There you are!" 'Jeez, girl, I've been looking all over for you. Sheesh.'

Asuna and I looked over at the slightly-too-loud voice coming from the entrance to my classroom. A brunette girl was standing there, hands on her hips; she was cute, with freckles dotting her face and her bangs held out of her face thanks to a silver hairclip. "Rika?" Asuna asked. "What are you doing here?"

The newly-named Rika sighed. "Did you lose track of time? We have that meeting with the teacher, remember?"

'There's no way I lost track of - oh no!' Asuna's eyes widened as she checked the watch on her left wrist. "I totally forgot, I'm so sorry, Rika!"

"Don't apologize to me, you're the one who asked to meet up." Rika shook her head as Asuna gathered up her bento and hurried over. "Let's go."

'But it was her idea, I'm just the one who talked to the teacher... And I know Rika will just tell her everything whether I'm there or not! That's just how she is, after all...'

I had no idea what they were meeting for, and I didn't particularly care, either. If I wanted to, I could use my telepathy to listen in on the conversation, but I hated it. It was hard enough to filter out the incessant chatter of high school drama on a daily basis without me actually trying to pay attention to any of it in particular.

Fortunately, once the two upperclassmen had left the room, the rest of my classmates calmed down and went back to normal. At least they were getting used to seeing Asuna with me. Soon enough, they won't even bat an eye as she comes and goes, leaving me with a relaxing life...

Wait! Isn't that just the same as Asuna bothering me so much that the class is immune to the charms of such a beautiful girl?! No! N-O! I refuse.

...

Sugu wasn't waiting for me at the entrance of the middle school, something that was ominous in how against the norm it was. Frowning, I 'listened' a little bit harder, scanning across the mental voices of her classmates before realizing what a stupid idea that was -

'I want to Oooh, check this I think he likes me! No way, my teacher gave Gotta get to nails look great, how did she club -'

I sighed. The place was just too crowded. There were too many voices all at once, and unless I knew exactly where Sugu was I couldn't listen for her unless she was thinking about me in particular. It was a lot like trying to tune a radio, only the station I was listening for was a brocon ranting about how much she loved her big brother.

Sometimes I wish I wasn't this used to my sister.

In any event, I headed into the campus and started walking up to her class, to see if she'd just gotten delayed or something like that. Who knows what could possibly have happened? Maybe she had made a friend and was talking with - pffft. I can't even think that with a straight face. Sugu, making a friend that's willing to put up with her constant talking about me? That'd never happen.

While I walked, I kept a mental ear out just in case Sugu thought about me; and naturally, right on cue, her thoughts popped up.

'I hope Kazuto is okay walking home alone today...'

Huh? Why would I be walking home alone? But, at the very least, I knew where she was, now.

The middle school was built almost exactly like the high school, only just a little bit bigger; it was four classes per floor, instead of three. Pretty much everything else was the same, though. Plus, I'd gone to this school for three years, so making my way to the kendo clubroom wasn't very difficult at all. Not that I'd ever been there myself, of course.

Our grandfather had tried teaching us, but I'd given up after a bit. I still didn't know how to properly control my strength at the time, and replacing the shinai had gotten very expensive. Besides, my computer was way more interesting than swinging a stick around. In the end, I just never got back into the habit of picking up kendo even after I learned how to not smash the swords every time I swung, and so the kendo dojo had (oh so sadly) not been a destination during my middle school years.

Plus I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I just know that if I'd gone there, my life would have turned into some shonen manga or something like that.

It wasn't hard to find the dojo, at least; unlike the rest of the gym area it still looked pretty traditional, with the slanted roof and wooden pillars on the outside. I slid the door open and stepped inside to see a line of students swinging their shinai rhythmically on the wooden floor. They'd swing and step forward, then swing and step back. I looked around, not sure where my little sister was -

'Kazuto's here! Hooray, he came to see me!'

I guess she sees me.

Sure enough, after I waited a few seconds for them to finish their current drill, one of the girls bowed and ran towards me. I knew it was Sugu before she even turned to face me because of a few things; her chest being one of them, nearly bursting out of her kendogi as she moved, but more important was the long, drawn-out, 'Kazutooooooo!' as she ran.

"What are you doing here?" Sugu asked. 'I hope he's going to stay!'

I just came to pick you up.

Sugu frowned. "I thought I told you, kendo practice started today. I told you on the way to school, weren't you listening?"

...I was listening, you just didn't tell me.

'I-I thought I told him... Maybe I didn't...?'

Part of me felt a little bit bad lying directly to my sister's face like this, but anything would be better than her worrying that I didn't listen to her on the way to school. I tuned her out most of the time, if only so that I didn't have to listen to her thoughts constantly.

"A-Anyway," Sugu muttered, looking away from me and shifting her weight back and forth, "I'll walk home on my own, so you don't have to wait for me." 'Please say no, please say no, stay and watch, stay and watch...'

Alright, I'll head home early then.

'Nooooo!' "I'll see you back home. And it's your turn to cook, so don't make me do all the work! Oh, and pet the cat for me on the way home if you see her!"

I turned and headed back out the door, sliding it shut behind me. Through the slatted window to the left, I could hear the instructor start up the calls again, the boys and girls in the kendo club swinging again.

I'm just... going to go home. Fortunately, I can teleport, so as soon as I sensed I was alone I focused -

- and I appeared in the living room. I wobbled and collapsed on the couch. Stupid teleportation nausea... It's not usually that bad, but I forgot to close my eyes before I teleported. Oh well; it passed after a few seconds of slow, deep breaths. It was a lot worse when I was a kid, but by now I've gotten used to it.

Grudgingly, I rolled off of the couch and trudged up to my room. Unfortunately, I still had homework to do. Despite being able to read the teachers' minds whether I wanted to or not, my homework was something I actually had to turn in - though before anyone complains, I don't cheat even when taking tests. I have more self-respect than that, even if it's a pain and takes a lot of time.

About a half hour later, I took another potato chip and ate it before I wrote down the answer to the math problem. The music I could hear was soft and soothing, more just background distraction than anything I was actively listening to. I didn't even remember putting it on, but it was really -

Knock knock knock.

Sugu, get the door!

I crunched down on another potato chip and started working on the next question. ...Hey, wait, I didn't hear Sugu's thoughts, or hear her feet head to the front door, or even some sort of shouted irritated complaint that I was so lazy and should get the door myself, since she was exhausted from kendo practice. (I know my sister very well.) So -

Knock knock knock.

Ugh... I'm coming, I'm coming.

The music floated through my mind as I headed out of my room and downstairs to the front door. Wait, why would I still hear it? Come to think of it, I never turned any music on in the first place.

Still trying to figure out where the phantom of the pop idol was playing from, I opened the door.

"Kazuto!" I blinked and stared at the girl in front of me for a second before she lunged forward, wrapping me in a huge hug. "Long time no see!"

What... what was Yuuna doing here?!


Eh? What's… oh, it's a flashback. Joy.

November 8th, 2020

I hummed happily, scrolling down the page. Mom's newspaper had just published an article about Akihiko Kayaba and I'd spent hours pouring over it, trying to figure out everything I can. The world's first VR hardware, the NerveGear, was in development, and he was the mastermind behind it all.

VR was something I was really interested in, because it might be able to help me control my powers. I was the world's most powerful psychic, but that really wasn't good or anything. If anything, it really, really sucked because all of my powers had awful downsides. Like my telepathy; I could barely control the range, and that meant I got bombarded by people's thoughts constantly, no matter how far away they were. My range had been shrinking as I got more used to my powers, but it would still jump from time to time.

My teleportation was almost subconscious, too. I had a little bit of control, but my telepathy was more of a focus. The most dangerous one to me, though, was my super strength. I had to be very, very careful when picking things up or putting them down; I'd gotten good at that part of it, though it felt really awkward some days. If I'm really lucky, VR will let me walk around without feeling like everything I touch will break.

Since the article with Kayaba mentioned that he was working on a game, I wanted to learn everything I could about him -

'This dream... I'll see it come true. The floating castle, where players will fight and die for real...'

What?! What kind of person would want people to die? That's... that's horrible! What an awful person!

Abruptly, I was in a different place entirely. Instead sitting in my room at my computer, I was seated in what looked like some sort of computer lab. It was pretty chilly, and there was a dull roar in the background that sounded like my computer when I was doing something intensive. I sat on a pretty comfortable chair, starting at a blank computer monitor; it looked expensive, way better than what I had at home. I looked behind me to see a row of tall black cabinets made of metal, with lots of blinking green lights. They looked like they were the source of the roaring, and it didn't take long before I realized it was a rack of computers.

The entire left wall of the lab was a whiteboard, with black writing and diagrams on there. There were fainter marks there, like they'd been from the whiteboard after the writing had been there for a long time. It didn't make any sense to me, but there was a small doodle of a bowl of what looked like noodles in the corner. The other side was filled with shelves of books, all of them creased with age and use.

It was almost drowned out by the hum of the computers behind me, but I could hear the familiar tak-tik-tak of someone typing on a keyboard. I turned back to the front of the lab, since I'd been distracted by looking around earlier, and saw someone typing away, staring at the only computer monitors in the lab that were lit up. He (I assumed it was a he, since the short brown hair didn't look very girly) was wearing a white lab coat, but I couldn't see his face.

He didn't seem to have noticed me, so I closed my eyes and tried to focus on my bedroom. If I could just somehow teleport back, nothing would have happened. It would be like nothing at all happened; I wouldn't have been ripped out of my warm room into this loud, chilly, cold -

Hah-choo!

I couldn't stop the sudden sneeze from ripping out of me, and it echoed loudly in the room. Abruptly the sound of the typing stopped and the man said, "Professor Shigemura, is that you?"

I sniffled and rubbed at my nose before I stared at his back. I... recognized that voice.

"Professor?" The man sighed and raised a hand to rub at his face. "Did you come to visit with your daughter?" The man turned around in his chair to look behind him. "I'm working on - who are you?"

That voice... That's Akihiko Kayaba!

"How did you get in here?" Kayaba repeated as he rose from his chair. "This is a secure zone, how did -"

I don't know how I got here! I just sneezed and teleported and now I'm sitting in this chair -

Suddenly, I realized what I'd just admitted, and clapped my hands over my mouth. "Teleported?" Kayaba reported. I shook my head. "You just said you teleported."

No I didn't.

Kayaba sighed again and sat down. 'This is why I hate dealing with children...' "I'm going to call security unless you tell me exactly how you got here."

I-I don't...

I took a deep breath and let it out. I'd already accidentally told him I'd could teleport, so... why not the rest?

"Well?" Kayaba's hand hovered over the phone. "Security is one press away from storming this room. Unless you stop lying and tell me how you got here, I'm pressing this button."

I bristled when he called me a liar. But I really did teleport!

"Teleportation exists only in games -"

I, I, can prove it, because I can read minds! Because I'm psychic!

'...What?' Kayaba shook his head. "Don't lie to me. That's not possible. Psychic abilities don't exist."

I frowned. Yes they do!

"There is no such thing."

Yes there is!

I concentrated hard, doing my best to control my strength just like Grampa had told me, back when I started practicing kendo - and despite how hard it was, I lifted the pen on Kayaba's desk with my mind. It wobbled in the air, lurching up and down as my control wavered, but it was hovering in the air with nobody touching it.

Hah! See?

Kayaba stared at the pen, then stared at me. 'How is he... That's not possible.'

It's totally possible!

Suddenly the pen fell from the air as I lost my concentration and landed in his lap. Kayaba picked it up and stared at it. I couldn't tell what was going on in those eyes of his... "Amazing," he said finally. "All these years, and I never dreamed..."

I rocked back and forth in my seat. He was really interested in the pen, but I couldn't exactly leave or anything like that. I didn't even know where I was...

After a second, Kayaba looked up at me again. "So, you really did teleport," he said. "Why haven't you teleported back?"

Because I can't... really control it.

'A psychic child who can't control his powers... Is this some sort of manga?'

My eyes widened again when I heard his thoughts clearly. He's... the one who wanted to trap people? Watch them fight and die?

"How do you know that?" Too late, I realized he'd heard that. Kayaba's eyes had changed as he asked his question. They were scary, now, with a weird empty hollowness that I didn't like looking at. "I haven't told anyone my plans. They're hidden deep in the code, and that's something I know nobody has seen."

I heard your thoughts earlier! And, I... accidentally teleported here. But... do you really want to kill people?

Kayaba looked at me. "...Have you ever had a dream, young man?"

I guess, but I usually forget them when I wake up -

"Not that kind of dream. Something that you desire, more than anything else. A goal you strive for." I'm just a kid! How could I know what I wanted to do when I grew up? I shook my head, and Kayaba did the same. "Then you could never understand."

I totally could! I just can't understand why killing people is what you want!

"I -"

A knock at the door made me jump in my seat. I'd been so focused on trying to control the pen and then argue with Kayaba that I had totally missed the thoughts of the two people approaching.

The door opened. "Akihiko? Are you here?" a man asked. "Oh! Forgive me. I didn't realize someone had already come to visit."

"Uncle Aki! Hi!"

I stared at the two people standing at the entrance to the door. One was a tall man in a nice brown suit, wearing glasses. He had a neat goatee and had a few grey streaks in his hair, both of which gave him a 'professor' look. The younger girl beside him smiled widely as she pushed past him. She had short brown hair, the bangs braided to the left where it hung on her shoulder. She was dressed a lot like Sugu did whenever the two of us went out to go shopping with Mom - a simple white T-shirt and a cute skirt.

She met my eyes, let out a squeak, and immediately ducked back behind the man. She peeked out from behind him while she clutched at his pant leg protectively.

"Yuuna, what are you doing?"

"But it's a boy," Yuuna protested, pointing at me.

I frowned. Hey, it's better than being a girl.

The man sighed and patted her head. "Let go, Yuuna. I have to speak with Akihiko about the development of the NerveGear."

"But Dad..."

"Now, Yuuna."

"Okay..."

The girl looked at me shyly, and then walked over to one of the chairs on the other side of the room and sat down. Kayaba stood up and walked out of the room, probably to speak with the older man.

Yuuna and I sat in silence for a bit. 'Who is he? I wonder why Uncle Aki let him in here.' Uncle Aki? Is Kayaba her uncle?

"...Hi, I'm Kazuto. Kazuto Kirigaya."

Yuuna looked at me and frowned. 'I don't know him, but it would be rude to not reply.' "My name is Yuuna Shigemura. It's n-nice to meet you."

She bowed quickly and then went back to staring at the ceiling while her legs kicked idly. Well, that went nowhere... I frowned. Why did she have to be so quiet?

A minute into the awkward silence, and Yuuna started humming to herself quietly. It was really nice, and I relaxed and just listened to the music. It was so much easier to drown out the rest of the thoughts crowding at my mind if I just focused on the girl's humming.

After about thirty seconds, it ended abruptly. Aww, why did you stop?

"Stop what?"

The humming.

"I wasn't humming." Yuuna stared at me as if I was crazy.

Yes you were! It went like this...

I tried my best to mimic the melody I'd been listening to, and Yuuna gasped. "I was just humming in my head! How did you know that?!"

I cocked my head to the side. But I was listening to it...

All at once, I realized what had happened. "Can... Can you hear my thoughts?" Yuuna asked, and I nodded. "That's... That's so cool!"

It's cool?

"Yeah!" She smiled. "Oh! Can you hear this?" A different melody started up, and I nodded.

Yeah! It sounds really good!

Yuuna's cheeks tinged pink. "Thank you," she said. "I really want to be a singer when I grow up. So I'm always trying to practice, even in my head! But, um... i-if it bothers you, then I can stop."

Actually, I'd like it if you hum or something. It makes it easier to block out the other thoughts.

"Okay, then, um... Here I go, then."

...

When Kayaba came back into the room, it was to hear Yuuna telling me all about how she really wanted to play the game he was making. "...and Uncle Aki told me that there's going to be a skill all about singing, so I'm going to work hard to make sure I get that one!"

That sounds cool.

"Uh huh!" Yuuna smiled and popped one of those candies she carried around in her mouth. "Uncle Aki! Welcome back."

Kayaba watched her with a small smile. "Did you draw something on my whiteboard again?"

Yuuna pouted. "I've been good! And besides, I was talking with Kazuto the whole time."

"I see."

"Yuuna," the other man - her father, according to what Yuuna had said - said by the doorway. "Come on, it's time to go."

"Aww..." Yuuna sighed but didn't complain too much. Out loud. 'I wanna talk with Kazuto more... Wait, can you hear this?!' I knew her dad wouldn't understand why she stared at me and went a little red. "C-Coming!"

Kayaba sat down in his chair and watched her as Yuuna left the room at her father's side. 'So, she wants to play Sword Art Online... I never even imagined she'd be interested in it.'

And you're going to kill Yuuna?

The genius frowned at me. "Of course not, don't be absurd," he snapped.

But if she plays the game, and you trap players and make them kill, then won't she die?

"I..." Kayaba stared at me for a few seconds, before turning back to the glowing monitor in front of him. He rubbed at his chin and sighed as he stared at it.

I shifted awkwardly and tried to focus on anything else, other than how Kayaba was acting -

- and jumped as I realized I was back in my room.

That... was weird...

...

The flashback isn't over yet? Ugh…

December 10th, 2020

'I wish Kazuto was here today...'

I looked up from my computer screen as Yuuna's voice floated through my head. She was thinking about me again, huh? I kinda wanted to see her -

"Waah!"

- and I blinked, my arms still raised like I was holding my mouse. I was back in Dr. Kayaba's lab, and Yuuna had just fallen off of her chair.

Are... you okay, Yuuna?

"You can teleport?!" Yuuna yelped. Kayaba shook his head.

"How do you think he got here the first time you met him, Yuuna?"

Yuuna blinked. "...Oh, I guess that makes sense. But why didn't you tell me?!"

Because I forgot.

"You..." Yuuna crossed her arms. "How do you forget something like that!"

I was listening to your singing, and then I didn't think about it until after you left, sorry.

The girl's cheeks pinked as she looked away and muttered, "...Well, I guess it's okay, then. Oh! Uncle Aki, tell Kazuto what you told me!"

I turned to look at Kayaba. The man in the white lab coat dutifully nodded. "Due to certain considerations," he said, "the NerveGear will be undergoing a redesign. As such, the first commercially available virtual reality will be developed by a different company using the same concept, from what Yuuna's father has told me."

Oh. ...What about -

"Sword Art Online is designed to work best with the NerveGear," Kayaba said. "So the game will be delayed as well, while the redesign is finished." My eyes widened. 'I... hadn't fully considered what I was planning. After what we talked about a month ago, I took a second look at my designs and...' His mental voice trailed off as Kayaba shook his head.

...I'll look forward to playing it when the NerveGear comes out, then.

"Kazuto, Kazuto!" Yuuna said. I looked at her. "I have big news too!"

What is it?

"I'm going to be an idol!"

...Congratulations? Did you pass an audition?

Yuuna paused. "Well, not right now, but I'm going to practice my hardest until I can convince my dad to let me audition. It's going to be wonderful. You'll come watch when I perform, right?"

Sure. I'll be your biggest fan.

The promise didn't really mean much to me, just something I felt like I should say, but it made Yuuna smile so happily I didn't mind. "Thank you, Kazuto! Just wait, I'll be the best idol ever!"


April 25th, 2025

What... what was Yuuna doing here?!

Yuuna giggled. "I came to see you, silly. My transfer paperwork finally went through last week, so today was my first day at our school. I didn't have time, but... you're on the first floor, right? We should definitely eat lunch together."

I sighed, even while Yuuna hugged me and kept talking. Right. Of course, the girl that Asuna had been talking about would be my childhood friend, transferring into my school. Why wouldn't it be? If it was just some girl that had nothing to do with me, then my life wouldn't nearly be complicated enough.

Yuuna sat on the couch while I poured a cup of tea for both of us and collected a small tray of cookies from the kitchen; fortunately, Sugu kept the pantry well-stocked with sweets, so finding them wasn't hard. "It's been so long, I almost didn't recognize you, Darling," Yuuna said as I sat the plate in front of her. "You've grown up a lot from the young boy you were when I met you, you know."

It's not like she's stayed the same either. The girl sitting on the couch next to me was dressed casually; she must have gone home to change first before coming over. Instead of the regular school uniform, she was wearing some sort of layered outfit with a light-blue button-down shirt under what looked like a loose white sweater with a music note of some sort on the left breast, right over her heart. It looked maybe a little bit too warm for May, but she seemed perfectly comfortable, so I didn't say anything. Maybe the pleated navy-blue skirt she wore helped? But she was also wearing calf-high white socks with her black shoes, so who knows.

I can read her mind, but I'll never understand women's fashion.

Yuuna giggled. "Fashion isn't that hard, Kazuto. You just always want to wear black."

Black is a perfectly acceptable color. Look at your shoes.

Her nose wrinkled. "Not when it's all you wear. Honestly, you haven't changed that much after all..."

I chose to just ignore the comment and snag a cookie. If she wasn't going to eat any, I would.

After swallowing the crumbs, I frowned again. This timing didn't really make any sense. If she'd wanted to transfer, then wouldn't it have been better to start at the beginning of the year?

"Ahh, that hits the spot," Yuuna sighed as she sipped at her tea. "My throat was feeling a little dry, but the tea was perfect. And... ahmm!" With a smile, she pulled a wrapped candy from her pocket and popped it into her mouth. She looked at me. "Lozenge?"

I'm fine, I'm fine.

"Suit yourself, then. So... Actually, I didn't come by just to say hello." 'I bet he's really gonna like this present!' "I know you want to ask, so go ahead!"

I sighed. Alright, I'll play along. It's not like I didn't already know the answer already or anything like that.

Why else are you visiting, Yuuna?

Yuuna giggled. "I bet you're gonna be super surprised when I show you!" Then she blinked. "Oh, shoot, I left it outside! I'll be right back."

While she got up and headed out to the porch, I sighed. Yeah... Somehow, I doubt I'm going to be surprised at all.

"Okay, I've got it!" Yuuna burst back into the living room, carrying what looked like a fabric tote bag. I blinked; it was clearly holding a box of some sort, big enough that the bag was straining to hold its shape. "Here you go! C'mon, open it, open it!"

She was so excited I couldn't resist as she pressed the bag towards me. I picked it up and reached inside, and frowned when my fingers brushed cool plastic. I peered inside and then pulled out -

"Tada!" Yuuna cheered as I held the box in my hand. "A NerveGear! They're going to be released soon, but I had to deliver yours now. So? Are you surprised?"

Oh. Oh, I'm taken aback by the shock. There's no way I had any way of knowing what was in this bag until I looked inside to see the image of the helmet staring back at me. After all, it's not like I have telepathy or anything and could read your mind.

Yuuna stared at me for a few seconds, then pouted. "You were nicer as a kid, too. You're so grumpy now, Darling."

I had dealt with less idiocy as a kid, too. That sort of thing tends to drag on and on.

"But still, we've known each other for years. Even if you never visited more than a few times, or texted me, or..." Yuuna paused. "Wait, why are we still friends again?"

I really had no idea. But... a NerveGear? They were going to be really expensive, if what Mom's thoughts about the article she was writing on it were any guide. And... there was still something else in the bag... Some sort of folded piece of paper?

"Oh, I know," Yuuna said with a sunny smile. "We're still friends because we're best friends, and that means we're best friends forever, right? And because we're best friends, you should be nicer to me."

Yeah, yeah, whatever. I pulled out the paper and unfolded it, glancing at it. It was actually a letter.

'Kazuto,'

'It's a little early, but -'

'I knew Kazuto wanted to be best friends with me! This is great! I'm one step closer!' Yuna's thoughts interrupted my concentration, which was an unfortunately common occurrence. ...Wait, what? Best friends?

Whatever. Not a problem. Back to the letter.

'It's a little early, but you might enjoy playing around with this before it comes out. Consider this a thank you for everything. I also hope you'll enjoy the world I've created.'

'Kayaba Akihiko'

My eyes scanned over the letter. The world he's created, the game he'd been working on the entire time I'd known him. So it's finally coming out, huh? Sure enough, as soon as I reached into the bag one more time, I pulled out another colorful box with a conical castle prominently displayed on the front of the box. Sword Art Online…

"I was going to just look for you in a few days to say hello," Yuuna said, "but Uncle Aki asked me to give you this, so I had to come right away to see my bestie!"

"I didn't know we had guests coming over...?" 'Who is this girl?! And why is she drinking from MY mug?!'

I looked over at Sugu; my sister was standing in the living room, staring at us with wide eyes. I wasn't sure how I'd missed her coming home, since she had to have been thinking about me in her head constantly, but she had just returned from kendo practice in time to meet Yuuna.

I wasn't quite sure why Sugu made her first statement sound like a question. In fact, if 'benign confusion' hadn't been better than 'offended irritation that I was talking to a girl other than her' (since not even Asuna had received the Sugu Seal of Approval despite walking to school with us from time to time) I would have complained. ...And did I actually give Yuuna Sugu's mug? I stole a glance at my friend. Sure enough, she was holding Sugu's favorite pink mug, the one with a little bear face on it. I gave it to her as a birthday gift this year. Since my sister is the world's biggest brocon, of course that was the only mug she ever used.

Yuuna smiled and stood up politely. "Nice to meet you. My name is Yuuna Shigemura. I just moved to this area, and since I'm very good friends with your little brother, I thought I'd come say hello."

Sugu blinked. "Little brother?" 'What is she... Oh!' "Oh! No, Kazuto is my big brother. My name is Suguha Kirigaya."

Yuuna blinked as well, and then stared at Sugu's chest. 'What does she EAT?!' "I'm very sorry! I just assumed..."

So, what do you want, Sugu?

"I just got back from kendo, so I was going to grab a snack." 'But I don't want to leave him alone with her... That's my spot sitting next to Kazuto!'

I sighed. This was such a pain...

In that case, Yuuna, let's go up to my room. I don't want to disturb Sugu.

"Sure," Yuuna chirped as she followed me out of the living room and up the stairs.

On the face of it, Sugu didn't seem to care, since she was already rummaging through the fridge for one of her juice boxes. I could hear her thoughts, though, and they told me exactly how Sugu felt about this sudden change in situation. Not that it really mattered, since she couldn't show off how much of a brocon she was in front of others. '…I wanna go up to Kazuto's room too, this isn't fair!'

'So this is your room...' Yuuna looked around. "It's kinda plain..."

Well sorry for not being an interior decorator.

"That's not what I meant! I meant you don't have any pictures or decorations or anything." Yuuna smiled and clapped her hands together. "We'll have to take a picture together sometime."

Whatever. How was your move?

"It was fine, though I still have to finish unpacking all my boxes for my room," Yuuna said. "Oh, I almost forgot! The whole reason I transferred in the first place!"

Which was...? I'm pretty sure it wasn't to deliver the NerveGear.

Yuuna grinned and stood up from my bed. She spun around and posed, winking at me. "You're looking at a member of the newest idol group! I auditioned, and they finally picked me!"

Oh. That's actually great news, congratulations. You've been working hard, huh?

"Yep!" Yuuna giggled. "We don't have any concerts for a bit, but you'll come to the first one, right? I'll even get you and Suguha great seats!"

Yeah, yeah, I will.

"It's a promise," Yuuna told me with a smile. "You'd better not forget, got it?"

I just rolled my eyes. Like you'd let me.

Yuuna giggled and sat back down on the bed, fussing with her skirt idly. "Hey, Kazuto? Are you still having problems with your powers?"

Not really. I've more or less figured out how to control them.

"That's good. I was pretty sure when you stopped teleporting -"

Shh.

Yuuna stared at me. 'Huh? Why is he -'

"Can I come in?" I opened the door after Sugu knocked politely. She was holding the tray of cookies, as well as the cups of tea we left on the table. "Sorry, you left these." 'She's sitting on his bed?! He hasn't even let me in his room!'

That's because you'd be all weird about it, Sugu. But I do feel a little bad, so I'll make her favorite food for dinner.

"Thank you very much, Suguha," Yuuna said with a smile.

Sugu nodded and glanced at me again before heading out of the room. 'Ugh, this is so unfair!'

I made sure to close the door. When I sat down, I sipped at my mug of tea. "Did you not want me saying something about your abilities because Suguha doesn't know?" I nodded. "Kazuto!" Yuuna said. "How have you not told your family?!"

Because it just hasn't come up. And besides, Kayaba said I shouldn't tell anyone, no matter what.

"Uncle Aki did say that..." Yuuna sighed. "I guess. But you should really think about telling her now! It's not fair to keep a big secret like that from her."

...It's not like I'm not keeping other secrets from her. But that one was the biggest by a long shot.

"Anyway." Yuuna stood up, munching on a cookie. "I can't stay too long, or I'll worry Dad. See you in school, Kazuto!"

I'll walk you to the front door.

"Thanks!"

Really, this was just to prevent Sugu from doing or saying anything unnecessary that would give Yuuna the wrong idea. But it seemed to make Yuuna happy, at least.

After the door closed behind her, I turned back and headed to the kitchen.

Sugu, I'm getting started on dinner!

"Okaaay!" she called from wherever she was resting. Probably on her bed.


I've lived my life as quietly as possible. I didn't make waves, I didn't stand out at all. Aside from the occasional incident beyond my control, like when I accidentally teleported into Kayaba's lab as a kid, I was the very picture of a normal kid.

And yet I'm the main character of this stupid story, so of course things like this are going to happen.

"So, how do you know Kazuto, Miss Shigemura?"

Yuuna smiled sweetly. "Please, Asuna, honey, call me Yuuna. You're the friend of my best friend, so I'd like to get along with you too."

Asuna's answering smile was just as sweet as Yuuna's. If I couldn't hear their thoughts, I might have been fooled into thinking that they actually were getting along.

...

The day had started off so great, too; I'd been able to wake up without Sugu trying to sneak into my bed, wash my face without Sugu 'accidentally' running into me after her morning bath from kendo practice, and even walk to school without a girl running into me or some gang member deciding to pick a fight with me or something bizarre like that. But, then lunch happened.

Like usual, Asuna came into my classroom a minute or two after the bell rang with some sandwiches; she sat down, gave me the food, and everything was right with the world. ...And then the door slid open again, a minute or two later.

"Kazuto! There you are, I've been looking for you!"

Immediately, the sight of Yuuna sent more whispers and murmurs through the classroom. "Is that a third-year?" "She's looking for that boy that's always with Asuna, right?" 'She's pretty!' 'I wish I could look like that...'

As Yuuna sat down with us, Asuna's smile became very fixed on her face. "Kazuto, who is this?"

This is Yuuna Shigemura. She just transferred to the school a week or so ago.

Asuna's eyes lit up in recognition. That's right, she'd just been talking about the rumors floating around the school yesterday, hadn't she? So she'd know who Yuuna was. "It's nice to meet you. My name is Asuna Yuuki. I'm Kazuto's good friend."

"Is that so?" Yuuna smiled, but it felt cold to me. "How strange that he didn't mention you yesterday, when I visited his house."

...

So, yeah, things were going... swimmingly.

"I've known Kazuto for years," Yuuna said.

"Oh really?" Asuna asked. "That's very interesting."

"Oh, take a look at this," Yuuna said, and held out her cellphone for Asuna to look at. "See? We're such good friends that this is my phone's background."

'Is that Kazuto in the picture with her?!' "Oh really?" Asuna asked, nearly biting the words off. "That's… very interesting."

In the end, I decided that it would be better to just eat my sandwiches and let the girls sort themselves out. This would all blow over in the end, I was pretty sure. At the very least, their thoughts were pretty civil:

'This girl, claiming to be Kazuto's best friend when he hasn't said a word about her...'

'Asuna, huh? Well, she is really pretty. I'm glad that I came by to say hello or she might have... W-wait, do you eat lunch with her every day, Kazuto?!'

Hopefully this weirdness hurries up and gets done with, because it's exhausting - and definitely not a way for me to get back to my beloved peaceful life...


Enter Yuuna, the idol! This is my first time writing her, so hopefully she comes off well. I took the basic idea of handling Kayaba/SAO from SaintInfernalNeos's Lusus Naturae (with his permission) but decided to change a few things up, so here comes Kazuto, teleporting on his own, and here's the Childhood Friend! Just gonna mark that checkbox on the 'List o' Cliches'... If I have left one box unfilled at the end of this story then I have done something wrong.

Other important things: Kazuto really isn't that good at emotional stuff, is he? He can read their mind, but not their heart, after all. Besides, it's more fun to watch Asuna and Yuuna butt heads. (All the while, poor Sugu wails and complains in private that she doesn't get to cuddle with her big brother!)

Many thanks to everyone that favorited, followed, or reviewed.


(thanks to Joshua the Arcanis for making the cover to this story, it's rad)