July 25th, 2025, Joshua

"Did you finish your homework?" Rika asks Keiko as we and Asuna wait on the Kirigaya siblings to show up to school. We're on summer vacation, but due to Suguha being unable to swim and Kazuto having to come here for counseling, the girls decided that the school pool will serve well to teach Suguha the ropes of swimming. Why not my pool? Easy answer.

I haven't had it cleaned and treated yet is what I've told the girls. Technically true, because it has been two weeks since we used the pool since Nijika was in town and had free time. But the real reason, known only to Rika, is that my family is coming over this weekend, and just in case they show up today, I don't need four girls in swimsuits trotting around. If it was just Rika, who will meet my family during this time, we would be there. Maybe with the addition of Keiko, I'll still be home. But here we are, 10 A.M. on a Friday during summer break, dressed in our school uniform, just to teach a girl to swim so she can join us on an ALO quest.

"What? No, not yet."

"You'd better get it done, or summer vacation will be over before you know it. But at least you're not brainiac over there getting it done early." I stick my tongue out at Asuna just as we notice the siblings approach.

"Sorry, everyone," Suguha apologizes. "Making you all gather here for me."

Keiko waves off her apology. "Oh, come on, don't be a stranger! But you know, I was a little surprised. You seem so athletic, Suguha."

"Whether it's the real world or virtual reality, I'm not good at water sports."

We chuckle as a group as Rika continues the conversation. "But really, to have provisional counseling on a perfect swimming day like this… How unlucky is that?"

Kazuto sighs. "Tell me about it! And after I hit the books fairly seriously during the first semester…"

"Too bad for you, missing out on seeing us in our swimsuits," Rika teases before she 'lovingly' holds my arm. "I guess poor Joshy-poo will get to see us all by himself and tell you about it. Oh, but that doesn't give you free rein to let at that gorgeous counselor!"

"Wh-Where's the harm in that?"

"Kirito," Asuna says sweetly but knowing that tone in combination with his name all too well, it makes Kazuto come to his senses and retreat towards the school building.

"Sugu, everyone's here to coach you so be sure to practice hard!"

"Okay!"

"Lucky bastard," I say under my breath, but so happy to get pinched by Rika. It doesn't hurt, but it gets her message across. It doesn't change the fact that Kazuto is the lucky one here.

"Compared to the sea in Alfheim," Asuna tells Sugu. " the school pool is really shallow, so just have fun and practice without stressing out. Kazuto, we'll see you later!" He waves back."

"Say hi to the gorgeous gorgeous counselor!" Rika laughs as Kazuto stumbles on his feet as the girls and I head for the locker rooms.

"Hey, Sugu, if you didn't know how to swim, why didn't you say so when we had the party at my house?"

Suguha bows her head. "i...didn't want to be a burden, plus we weren't really swimming in the pool, so…"

I nod. "I see. Well, by the time we leave here, you should be good enough for ALO. At least mentally, since that's what matters." I pat her on the shoulder to give her some confidence, which she shows with a smile.


Done with my stretches, I walk along on the side of the sectioned pool, staring at the pristine waters as I hear my girlfriend's happy voice come from the locker rooms. "Yippee! Nothing like a deserved pool!"

"There's something really refreshing about this, huh?"

"You can say that again." I turn to Keiko and Rika as we join together. The swimsuits they wear were bought months ago, but it is the first time since then I've seen them wear them. Rika wears the red and black swimsuit while Keiko dons her yellow and orange two-piece. They walk up to me, wearing black and grey swimming trunks.

Rika nods approvingly. "Still wearing black, but at least we stopped with the red. Now… I'm first!" Rika leaps in the pool, creating a big splash. Not wanting to be left behind, Keiko and I jump in after her.

"Hey, you two!" Peppermint-patterned Asuna calls out to the girls. "You have to stretch before going in, remember?"

"Hey!" I hide behind Rika as Keiko splashes water at us two. "You don't want this fight, Keiko. Ask Rika how serious I am about water!"

Rika scolds us both. "What are you splashing water around like that for, and why are you boasting like that? If I remember, you lost that water fight."

I shake my head. "Impossible."

"Oh wow, it's cold." We turn to Suguha, the only girl in a blue school swimsuit (thank the heavens) using a float to hold her up. She bashfully giggles as we stare blankly at her. If you must know… Keiko, the shortest of the five of us, is standing in the pool. It's only 3 feet (0.9144 meters for the rest of the world) which does not require a float.

Rika crosses to the adjacent lane and opens the seal on the air of the float. "When did you sneak this thing in? In the first place, you can't practice swimming with a float!"

"Wait! You can't do that! I'll sink without it!"

"No worries!" In a move that I thought I'll never see past 'control-shift-N', Rika goes behind Suguha and grabs her breasts. I'm torn between removing my mischievous girlfriend from poor Sugu and.. there's no nice way to say 'enjoy the show', huh? "After all, you've got two of these fine things. No way you're gonna sink!"

As Rika continues to grope Sugu, the face of the teasing victim turns pink. "Stop it! Do you know where you're touching?"

"I can't imagine what you're eating to plump them up this much. Shame on you! Honestly!"

Rika continues to play until she's pinched on her neck by Asuna. "Lis," she sternly says.

"Sorry…"

"Okay, why don't we start by having you put your face in the water? Josh, will you help hold her?"

I nod, now that I'm feeling better. Throwing the deflated float away, I reach out to Sugu. "Take my hands. Asuna, stretch her legs out. Rika, take your mean self over there."

As Asuna goes to the other side of Sugu and grabs her legs, Rika comes behind me to my ear. "You like that? Bet you wish it was you, huh, Jaymes?"

I instantly clamp my lips shut and steel my nerves before I happen to drop Sugu. However, I'm not going to let Rika be the only tease between us. Dating her the last three months has improved my wit, after all. I turn my head to her, whispering. "Keep messing around Lis and I'll show you how it feels."

"Hmm...nice." Rika simply smiles and kisses me on the cheek before rejoining Keiko.

"Okay," Asuna says, "Joshua, since you can easily move around the pool, lead her along the pool back and forth down the lane. Suguha, keep your face in the water as long as possible and kick. Not too hard, but not too gently. Got it?"

We nod before we face each other. I see Suguha is nervous, but who wouldn't be? I was once in her position long ago. "Don't worry. I won't let you go, else Asuna will kill me. Besides, you're my favorite person here."

Suguha smiles and takes a deep breath before placing her face in the water. I nod to Asuna and walk towards the other side of the pool, the brown-haired girl releasing her boyfriend's sister. Suguha stumbles with the kicking at first, and she raises her face out of the water twice before we make it to the end, but a few minutes and three or four cycles between the ends of the pool later, she only comes up once per trip.

As Suguha brings her head up as I come to a stop, Asuna comes to us. "Well? Are you starting to get used to being in the water?"

"Yes. I can somehow manage to put my face in the water now, but I still can't open my eyes."

"No need to rush it. Just try to get used to it little by little."

"Yeah," I say. "You're doing great. Better than I did as a kid, hehehe. So Asuna, what's next?"

"Why don't we take a break now?"

"Roger!"


The five of us sit along the side of the pool, basking underneath the hot summer sun. "Now this is what you call summertime," Rika says joyfully.

"It totally is, isn't it?" Keiko responds.

"The area we're heading to on this quest, isn't it summertime there all year, too?"

"It's way in the southern part of the Sylph territory," Asuna answers, "so I hear it's pretty hot there."

"And they say it's loaded with traps we've never seen before, so that's something to look forward to!"

"We have to make sure that Kirito doesn't get too fired up and rush off on his own, right? Or worse, both boys."

I snicker. "True that. It sounds like fun."

"I've been meaning to ask you all this," Sugu suddenly says, "how did you all meet my brother?"

Keiko answers first. "Well, I was under attack by a bunch of monsters when Kirito rescued me. When I asked why he was going to help me revive Pina, he said that I reminded him of you, Sugu."

We chuckle at the thought of Kirito saying those words. "Who else but Kirito can say something like that with a straight face?" Rika says. After she's done laughing, she turns to Keiko. "Still… Suguha, you and Keiko don't really look alike at all, do you?"

Keiko turns pink as Lisbeth gazes at the most obvious spot of each girl's body. "Wh-What are you comparing?" As Keiko looks away, I pinch Rika's neck, silently reminding her not to tease Keiko about that area. I'm well aware Keiko is insecure about that part of her body, considering that the rest of the girls have them and she doesn't. "After that, Kirito went on an adventure with me to save Pina."

Rika clears her throat. "In my case, it's not like we had a dramatic encounter like Silica's. I've heard of him before from Jaymes, but it wasn't until he appeared in my shop that I met him. He comes in and snaps a sword for sale in two, so my first impression was absolutely awful."

I shake my head. "I had to gather those materials, what a pain in the ass he is."

Suguha apologetically laughs. "Sorry about that."

"Kirito tends to do the most outrageous things at times, huh?"

Rikers crosses her arms. "Another time, we fell into a dragon's burrow together, and then he tossed some dragon poop right at me, so I hardly have any decent memories of him."

"Sorry, Lis," Asuna says.

"Hehehe, but looking back now, they're all good memories! After all...when I couldn't get Jaymes to come to help us, he watched over and kept me safe until we escaped the cave. So I know that, if I couldn't get the red swordsman, I could call on the black one." Rika looks towards the school building, sighing. "I don't know… Wonder if he's making out with that gorgeous doctor right now. Damn him...but better him than you, huh?"

I scowl at the mere thought that Kazuto would be so lucky, but before I can retort, my stomach makes its presence known. Grinning I look down to Asuna. "Hey, my favorite friend! You know, I know we have our little spats but you know what I love about you most, Asuna?"

She shakes her head and gets up. "You're lucky I enjoy making food for everyone, else I'll let you starve."

I smile. "Big heart to you, Asuna. I will always cherish our friendship…"


"I made all kinds of things, so eat up, okay?" Keiko, Rika, and I go starry-eyed at the sight of Asuna's deliciously looking handiwork. It takes all of my power to not immediately dive in and take the food for myself.

"Oh, I brought lunch, too, so please have some if you like." We turn to Sugu, who carries a large bento box filled with food. For an athlete, that looks like a lot for her...and what Rika said earlier totally crosses my mind for a second.

"Let's dig in!" As the four of us begin to eat, Asuna picks up her phone to check it.

"Who is it?"

"Kirito. He says to start without him."

Rika smiles. "Then I'll have Kirito's share for him!"

As Rika reaches for another sandwich, Keiko pulls the basket away. "You shouldn't do something like that to him. We have to leave some for him."

"Sure," I say before taking the sandwich for myself and taking a bite. Keiko makes a mean face at me, but there's nothing she can do now as I break the sandwich in half and hand it to Rika. "Don't look like that, Silica, there's plenty for us and for him. But if Kazuto dies...fine with me."

She shakes her head at us. "You two have been together way too long. I thought Kazuto was your best friend?"

"I agree," Asuna says as she ruffles my hair. "Jaymes used to be so nice and kind, but then he became an asshole once...oh wait, you've always been one. Excuse me… Huh? What's the matter, Suguha?" We turn to the younger Kirigaya, the girl stuck in silence for the past few moments. She looks sad to me for some reason.

Yet she plays it off. "Oh, nothing. I was just wondering how you and my brother met, see. Actually, both of you," she directs to me and Asuna. "You two are closest to him." It seems the other girls are more interested in how Asuna met Kirito than I did.

"But…"

"Come on! We just told you how we met him!"

"That's right, you two are the only ones who haven't talked about it yet!"

Asuna looks to me for help, yet I have none to give. "Well, it is only fair we do so, right?"

She sighs. "Well, I guess I have no choice." As the girls cheer, Asuna clears her throat. "It was at the boss raid meeting in a town called Tolbana on the first floor that I first met Kirito and, by extension, Jaymes. At the time, all I could think about was clearing the game. I was eating a piece of bread, then Kirito offered me some cream to go with it. It was...delicious. Kirito showed me that you could enjoy life even in Aincrad… But it took a long while for it to stick, didn't it?"

I smile at a certain memory. "It took a very long nap for you to learn that."

Keiko and Rika frown at Asuna. "From what you just said, it sounds like you were the one who fell for Kirito first!"

"N-No, it wasn't like that-"

"Hey, hey, don't hide it! You came in to hone your sword one day and said, 'Well, it's still one-way!' Remember?"

"Yeah…"

"So how did you go about wooing him and telling him how you felt?"

"Um… Well, it was like this… He found an S-rank ingredient but had no way to cook it. So we met up and I prepared us a meal. I had gotten him to agree to party with me on the 74th Floor to map the dungeon, and of course our other favorite swordsman was brought along. Kirito at first tried to get out of it, but after a little persuasion, I got what I wanted."

"You put a glowing knife to his face," I say. "That's more than persuasion."

"That was more aggressive than I thought."

"Do you think maybe you have to be that aggressive for it to work out?"

"W-Well, what could I do? After all… I was in love with him."

Rika chuckles. "Okay, okay! Thanks, that was delicious. So how far did you two go? It might have been in-game, but you were married. So naturally...right? Or is what Jaymes said the truth?"

"What do you...no!" Asuna turns to me, ashamed. "Why do you know?"

I try to hold in my laughter, but this is my favorite story of the pair. "Kirito and I share stories, okay? So of course he told me how he confessed his feelings, just as you learn about me and Lisbeth's confessions from her."

"Dummy..." Asuna goes quiet for a few moments in which Rika waves a hand in her face to gain her attention. Poor girl is blushing hard. "Huh? Um, it's nothing! We didn't do anything, okay?"

Rika chuckles. "So what you're saying is that I almost did more with Jaymes in SAO than you did with Kirito? Hehehe. I mean, we shared a home before you, we knew how each other felt before you and him, although we didn't openly admit it until hours before the game ended. Though we never went that far either, I surely had my fun teasing him all those months. Made that last moment extra special...maybe we would've gotten married too, huh?" I shrug in response, not knowing what would've happened if the game continued past the 75th Floor. Probably would have gone that far, maybe not.

"Lucky you for getting married," Keiko says. "And you even have an adorable kid like Yui. I'm so envious!"

"Well, she is our daughter, our pride and joy."

"Well, well, for a teenager you're quite the doting parent, aren't you!"

"I'm going to take that as a compliment."

"All right, then, let's give it our all in today's quest so we can make Yui happy!"

"Right!"

"So Yui met you and Kirito inside SAO, then?" Suguha asks.

"Yes. Ever since then, she's been our child… Now, I think it's your turn, Joshua. I've never heard how you met Kirito besides it was in the beta."

I sit up, groaning as I think back to the first time I met Kirito. "Yeah. It was the last day of the SAO beta. It was right after I met Koharu and saved her from some monsters in a dungeon. In doing so, I got myself surrounded...then your show off brother arrives. Oh, by the way, his avatar used to be better looking...as did mine. But I wouldn't say that's the time I really met him. I wouldn't even say the time we reunited on that fateful day counts too."

"So when was it?" Suguha questions.

"More than a month later, when we went into the first dungeon. Us three beta players noticed a change in the boss's attack that was not like the beta version, as that was the info given during the meeting, and it would've cost someone else's life had I not intervened. So the three of us and Asuna managed to finish off the Kobold Lord and defeat the first floor. However, one of the players accused Kirito and other unknown beta players of withholding knowledge of the boss's attack, even though it wasn't the same. But instead of letting us all share the 'blame,' he burdened himself alone. Before he was the Black Swordsman, he was the Beater of SAO."

"Oh my."

"So that's how that started?" Lisbeth asks. "I never knew that was him."

I turn to the pool. "I hated that I allowed him to hold that to himself. So I promised that I will never allow him to shoulder any other burdens alone. He's the reason I was well-respected in those early days, the reason I grew stronger besides for Koharu. He'll never admit it, but I think he admired me too. That's why, despite him never wanting to party with others, we always tagged along with each other when we could. I think...that was his biggest regret. He wanted Klein to join him but Klein had his friends, and Kirito didn't know how to ask for all of them to group with him. Asuna was partied with him for a long while in the first third of the game and he even joined a guild, but I think after what happened to them he just couldn't bring himself to be with others. But I knew he regretted being alone, so after Koharu died and I returned to the front, I made an effort to be by his side because I was just as scared as him to be alone."

"Asuna," I hear Rika say, "I think we got competition. Who knew the boys loved each other more than us?"

"Maybe we should back off, Lis."

I scowl as I turn back around. "At least someone appreciates me after seventy-five floors together."

"How could you?" Asuna says dramatically while throwing a hand to her heart. "You know I do. More than you can ever think. I just don't care to show it at all times, my dear friend." Asuna giggles and stands on her feet. "Okay, why don't we resume practice now?"

"All righty, Suguha! Let's get you swimming like a fish, and knock Kirito off his feet!"

"Okay."

"Wait," Asuna says as she raises her phone. "Picture first." We huddle around the girl and smile as she takes the picture and sends it to Kazuto.