A/N = Author's Notes

Genres - Romance, Hurt/Comfort, Angst, Humor, Fantasy, Adventure.

Additional Tags: Friends to Lovers, Sexual Tension, Soulmates, Love, Domestic Fluff.

WARNING the presence of implied or explicit: sexual content, language, and violence.

TW/Trigger Warning: Recreational Drug Use, Drug Addiction, Alcohol Abuse/Alcoholism, Mental Health Issues, Self-Hatred, Suicidal Thoughts, Self-Harm, Eventual Smut, Eventual BDSM, Eventual Discipline, Kinks.

This story is an AU (Alternate Universe) where SAO wasn't a death game and background details are changed to be slightly different, along with minor-character changes.

Summary: Asuna woke up every day for five years with his name on the edge of her lips. Immediately wanting to go back to sleep, because that was the only place she knew she could find him. That was until the newly released VRMMORPG came out, and a swordsman clad in black saved a woman dressed in white, and Asuna found her gateway again.

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Gateway drug is a habit-forming drug that, while not itself addictive, may lead to the use of other addictive drugs.

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Long, false lashes fluttered across delicate cheeks, as she awakened her hazy slumber.

Asuna moaned miserably and lifted a pale hand to brush the hair out of her face.

Her body, ever so slowly, turned over. She looked at the wall and noticed the light cast it in an orange-red - obviously showing she had slept most of the day, yet again.

Today was Monday, and the only reason she was aware of this fact, was because she woke up in one of the many party dresses she owned. Not that she went out often, that was quite the contrary, to be honest. It was more so that every weekend she would go to the nightclub within the Eclipse Tower that she resides in; dancing and enjoying the night away until she couldn't remember her own name.

It helped that her glass penthouse was not far above it, sitting at the very top of the tower overlooking the water and the city of Minato.

Yuuki Asuna's family was wealthy, one of the top three wealthiest in Japan.

Owning multiple businesses, companies, stocks, banks, you name it. This building was just another project Asuna's father started that ended up being given to her; along with all of the establishments inside. The tower was a resort hotel, with restaurants, pools, spa, gym, and her favorite - the nightclub.

Her father had thought the responsibility would help her 'grow-up', as he said, but it only served to aid in annoying her and pushing her to cope even more in avoidance.

Thus, she's only hired more management to handle all the affairs and she's barely had to lift a finger. Besides not wanting to, Asuna's is in no way or in any shape or form, able to handle running a business this size or even one of them, let alone expected to behave even as an adult. She can't even take care of herself for that matter.

That's because she's an addict.

The twenty-four-year-old, Asuna, has been diagnosed with: depression, anxiety, and panic disorder for many years. Her family, who are from a socialite world where appearances and standing are everything, tried and failed for many years to 'get her under control' and to be 'normal'.

By most of these methods, it was taking her to professionals who weren't truly in it for her wellbeing and more so doing what her parents' wished. Such as just dowsing her with pills to maintain her well behaved doll-like behavior that she was so taught to be like for her whole life.

The catalyst, though?

One would think it was her whole-life bubbling up from being ignored and forced to be something she wasn't. To be left alone in her despondent world - both at school, home, and within her mind. She had no voice, no comfort, no solace, no heaven. She saw no future.

That was…until she met him.

Asuna turns her head and looks at the shelf above her dresser, stares forlornly at the NerveGear that collects dust around it. A wistful smile makes it way upon her dry and slightly cracked lips. She's missed those days. The days of her youth that made her worth looking forward to the next; to hearing his voice, to seeing his face. Oh, how she would give anything to hear his carefree laugh one more time and see those enchanting eyes of his.

Unfortunately, like everything else in her life, her family ruins that too.

Lifting off the bed, Asuna stretched as sat up and slowly stumbled her way across the house. She barely makes it to the kitchen without tripping into forgotten shoes and fallen papers that were probably knocked over in her high-daze last night.

She laughs self-deprecatingly, wondering with sluggish visions of scenarios of how she could have turned out different…..and maybe...happy.

Who would have guessed the best years of her life would be when she was fourteen through nineteen years of age? She didn't.

Now that she looks back on it, she's so thankful she decided for once in her life to break the rules that day. That day she snuck into her older brother's room while he was overseas on business, to borrow his brand new NerveGear and try out the gaming world.

Her mother never would allow her to have a gaming system. Stating that a lady doesn't need to learn how to use one. That it does nothing for her prospective future, among other things she can't even remember to care anymore.

She was a completely new player, having only ever played games on her mobile phone. Asuna fumbled her way through the game Sword Art Online. Had to look up tutorials after tutorials and failed so many times.

That was until he showed up.

She played a fencer class in a sword-based VRMMORPG, and it had been a particularly hard day at school as well at home. She was in a very depressive mood and going in a self-destructive manner of game-play.

With tears in her eyes, her vision went dark as she started to collapse after her probably fifty Kobold in a roll when a pair of black-clothed arms caught her before she fell off the dungeon pathway to her death.

After that day, with many awkward miscommunications, discussions, bickering, and laughter, both of them became game partners and journeyed the game together. They made it all the way to the hundredth floor, conquering the game together along with the rest of the world's first raid parties. The endgame content was just as enjoyable as the beginning. New raids, dungeons, PvP warfronts, and zone bosses kept them busy as well as seasonal event quests that they would always do together.

It was common for both of them to have at least five days a week meetups, scheduling to see each other at eight in the evenings to play. They would only reluctantly stop in the early hours of the morning, at sometimes two or four, when the need to sleep was prevalent for school the next day. While it wasn't good for them to be up so late when young, and having to be sneaky about it was a bit nerve-wracking, they both wordlessly felt it was well worth it.

It wasn't until a month after her nineteenth birthday, in the early month of November, that she made the biggest mistake she could ever do - leave her phone on the kitchen counter.

In the five seconds, it took her to grab a bottle of water from the refrigerator, Asuna hadn't noticed her mother walk up behind her and glance at her phone. Which at that moment, lit up with her partner's name. Of course, being that of a boy name, her mother did the only thing she could expect in the years she's known her: explode.

However, used to this kind of reaction, after momentarily fumbling, Asuna thought she did a decent job of answering vaguely while also not answering at the same time. With an uncertain and unsteady heart, that night Asuna went to bed with shaky nerves. Telling her partner goodnight with a text message and falling asleep, hoping everything would be okay.

Perhaps her mother sensed deceptions within her yesterday, maybe Asuna wasn't as good as she thought she was at schooling her features; because after she returned home from her private all-girls school the next day, her bedroom was ransacked and her NerveGear and games were confiscated.

The secret happiness Asuna had was immediately found out and taken from her.

For the first time in her life, she stood up for herself and fought back; she found the strength to do so for him.

However, the more she pushed, the more her mother did so, as well.

If she thought she was in a cage before, she very much was after that day.

No games, no phone, and no computer access unless someone monitored it.

She would try to use the school's systems, but they had anything that wasn't on their own servers already locked from being used and she wasn't computer savvy enough to figure out a way around it. And with her mother not letting her walk home and forcing a driver to take her to and from home, she was stuck.

Trapped.

She would try to run and escape during school hours, but even the security guards and supervisors would always catch her multiple times, and every time it would only make her monitoring more strict.

By the time graduation happened, Asuna spent what should have been a joyous day sitting next to her peers hearing her name called to receive her awards, instead of sitting inside in counseling and mental health rehabilitation center - a fancier word for the luxurious mental hospital - from the resulting nervous breakdown that followed.

Sighing, Asuna grabbed the last of the plain bagels in the bag on the counter and walked back to her bedroom, throwing them on the mattress before going into the bathroom.

After freshening up and changing into a more comfortable set of clothing, she sat down on the bed and picked up the bagel, chowing down on it as she checked inside her nightstand drawer. Pulling it open, she quickly moved the pill bottles around, checking to see what she had left and what was still filled up.

Making a 'tsk' noise, she shoved the drawer shut as she got up to the computer desk beside her bed and booted up her PC. Pulling out her phone, she sent a quick text, ordering more of her favorite vices of snow, molly, and xannies, before glancing up at the monitor as if flicked and glowed brightly to life.

It had been two months since the newest and most advanced VRMMORPG, Blade and Beauty, had been released. It was so complex and complicated that there were already books being sold in stores and online for just sectional tutorials on how to play and master it. It was the definition of what a 'grind' was, but it was also very rewarding and a lot of fun.

Blade and Beauty, along with the AmuSphere that replaced the outdated NerveGear, are both produced and made from her father's technology company R.E.C.T. industries.

While finishing her bagel, she quickly checked the game's official website and went to their online store, seeing if there were any new items or sales posted to splurge on. Not seeing anything updated she didn't already have, she laid down in her bed and put the AmuSphere headgear on. Making sure the strap around her head was secure before saying those magic words that sent her to a world she would rather be in than the real one.

"Link Start!"

In a flash of light, Asuna awoke to a world she was now very familiar with.

She blinked her eyes as she sat up and got out of the bed she was 'sleeping' within the Inn she paid for. Much like her previous game years before, to be safe when logging out, one needed to find lodging or a safe house, inn, their own apartment, or home residence. Since residential locations were locked to only a certain number per server and were ridiculously expensive, it was a hot commodity.

Even Asuna, for all the money she has at her disposal in her monthly trust fund given to her, couldn't afford it when it was initially released; mostly because she spent the majority of it on procuring her previous batch of drugs and paying off certain people she owed a tab to.

And mainly because mostly the automated bots got the plot of lands before the bots got banned by the game-masters; but, by then, at that point, they were already sold off to players on the unofficial markets online. And since she was an upstanding…citizen persay - kind of, she didn't go against that method that was against 'terms of service'.

After checking to see if she had any mail from within her HUD, not that anyone ever writes to her - it's more so to see if any of her auctions had sold. She made her way out of the building and into the plaza toward the teleporter, heading straight to the PVP headquarters.

It was a three-story structure that had different vendors from NPC to players, quests, bulletin boards, seasonal leagues, PVP ranking leaderboard wall, to bounties wanted sections. Outside of it had many practice dummies, courtyards for sparing, and arenas for player-held matches. Everything you needed to kill each other with for.

Having already completed all the PVE she could within the game, Asuna was now exploring the PVP factors of it. The competition was always familiar and rotating, seeing as on this specific shard/server she was on, out of a few hundred-thousand players here, Asuna was one of the only two-hundred players to reach max cap of level eighty.

She has already maxed out all her masteries and geared to the second-highest level status of 'epic', just one below under 'legendary' gear.

This is all thanks to her having nothing to do all day but sit at home and play the game to her heart's content. Zoning in and avoiding everything that makes her anxious or panic, and becoming the person she wants to be, or more importantly - who she used to be...

However, there is one thing different about her this time around, and that is she's a healer class.

No longer seeing herself as that strong fencer of a swordswoman she once was, not worthy to wield such a heroic weapon like he would. Not to mention, just remembering the past makes her heartache so terribly that she feels compelled to reach for a pill bottle.

Thus, she decided to be something completely different, because she was.

Dragging her left index and middle fingers down in the air, she opened her menu up and went to her Gear Sets options. Selecting: White Mage. She changed out of her Culinarian job gear she was wearing previously the day before, having used it to cook herself some food for their stat buffs.

In this game, you are only given the default of two sets of classes to have gear sets for. Rather than create alternative characters to play all the classes through the content, the game gives you the option to do so on the same character but allowing you to switch gear freely between with the click of a button. However, to level the other jobs or classes, you must start from level one at that skill again though. There is a way to buy two more gear sets for money, which she also did.

Asuna is a discipline of magic as a White Mage, the discipline of the hand as a Culinarian and Alchemist, and discipline of the land as a Botanist.

The discipline of the hand is for crafting items; as a Culinarian she can cook food for enjoyment or for stat buffs and boosts, and as an Alchemist she can create potions, dyes, antidotes, and elixirs. Discipline of the land jobs are for gathering materials for crafting, and Botanist is the gathering of plants, vegetables, timber, grains, and more.

White Mages use conjury to call upon the elements of earth, wind, and water and concentrates them to a potency at which spells can be weaved. Through practiced meditation on the essences of creation, conjurers draw forth and absorb aether from their immediate surroundings. Versed also in magicks that restore and strengthen, conjurers, are regarded as accomplished healers. Through sacred scrolls and unique skills learned, conjurers can attune to other elements based on whether they have a natural affinity towards them.

Asuna's attunements were currently wind and light magic; with the light element being a unique skill.

Standing at the pavilion, she looked down at her clothing and couldn't help but blush slightly.

Although she is now an adult of age, she still felt shy and bashful when it came to showing her skin. Too bad the game was very much catered towards men's preferences apparently, as most of the costumes and gear were very extreme for her tastes.

Which, she admits, at the start was very modest with the way she was raised, but she has grown to allow herself to be more relaxed. Or more to say, letting her inhibitions go wild along with style, as she adorns mini bodycon dresses and skimpy two-pieces on the weekends. That being said, there are quite a few outfits in-game that are just downright Victoria Secret model catalogs outfits worthy that belonged on the runway.

She sadly also owns a few of these pieces, herself.

Most - although not all - super rare gear drops with amazing stats do not allow you to glamour costumes over them. This is also true for certain races gear drops that can be equipped.

She's consoled herself that she's a 'different person' here and that whatever people are ogling or wolf-whistling at, is 'not her'.

So she's free to not care. Not that she usually does anyway, with keeping to herself, always soloing.

Today she was wearing one of her newest pieces, although it was her highest gear set with defense, it had a lot of skin exposed - especially so in the chest area. It was a tight, bodycon, white dress with red layered fabric underneath that looked more like petals.

Her breasts were in a sweetheart corset, minus the corset and was more just a straight-up deep 'v' cut from her belly button up with the fabric holding her game-recreated bosoms up. The dress reached her knees and fluttered out in layers and soft pieces that fluttered when she ran. Her arms were sleeveless but wrapped with white ribbons down to her wrists. With the game always pairing ladies with high-heels to wear as they battled.

Besides her fashion style and class job, everything else currently about her was the same within the game. Her height, knee-length chestnut-brown hair, amber-hazel eyes, and her body were all the same as her real-life one.

At the sound of a heavy da-ding noise in her ear, she was alerted to the PvP queue she had earlier, the alert letting her know there was a match ready.

With a pop-up box in front of her, she hit the accept button and was instantly engulfed in light and teleported to a warfront instanced zone where the objective is to collect 1,000 points by holding vital game designated positions and killing enemy players all within the allotted fifteen minutes.

Put into a small cramped waiting box with an invisible wall, the left side of Asuna's HUD vision shows eight HP bars, one of which is her's - at the very top. In Blade and Beauty a 'light party' is considered four players, a 'full party' is eight players, and a 'raid' is three full parties combined to make twenty-four players. In a raid setting each full party is given their own letter, either: A, B, or C.

Asuna's full party is labeled at the top of the frames as 'B' and with parties 'A' and 'C' as smaller green boxes shown under her main party's HP frames. With four other raid parties, she couldn't see the frames for, it brought their attendance of players to almost a hundred.

After sixty seconds had passed, the sound of a drum thrummed loudly and they have finally heard the doors open. Ninety-six players were set loose to clash with ninety-six others in opposition in a spark of light effects and the high pitch of screeching of metal.

Ten minutes later witnessed Asuna rushing through a low channel of water up to her knees being chased by three unshakable damage-dealing players or known as 'DPS'.

The life of a healer was tough; everyone always chooses to focus fire on you because you're the lifeblood of the party. You are target number one and the annoyance in the way of their precious kill ratio and bragging rights. In PvP, a healer can take as much damage as a 'tank' class player but only survive because they can heal themselves. So you're always wary looking over your shoulder and always in pain. Because the damage modifier wasn't as kind as SAO was, it was almost realistic to certain degrees.

The cold water splashed in her eyes, making her want to wince but she forced herself to keep them open. Needing to avoid tripping on the area of effects spells that the DPS was hurled from the bridge above as she crossed under.

She got separated from the small group she had conveniently been with. They had infiltrated the enemy side and were taking over a location control station when suddenly reinforcements came, and her team, instead of choosing to fight, ran for it without a single word. Leaving her, the healer with less armor and agility stat, in the backline to be snared and rooted to lag even further behind.

This is what she gets she supposed.

The life of a solo-player.

She was warned about this many times by her old-game partner. The risks. She knew it was bad back then, but she had no idea how bad it was as a solo-healer. SAO didn't even have a healer class, and sees now that was merciful on the developer's part.

As a White Mage, Asuna had attacks and crowd control effect spells in her arsenal, but she had used them all already and were on cooldown. And without risking to stop, she couldn't cast anything heavy enough to actually hurt or knock them back.

This is where her anxiety and panic would flare up with the one emotion she rarely felt in the real-world anymore: anger.

A cold, despondent fury; one that she directed at both worlds for leaving her alone.

To never have someone help her.

To only know with absolute certainty, that there will never be someone to remove that dark knife out of her as she falls into nothingness.

Feeling water splash against the back of her ankles, Asuna knew that someone was close. Too close. She was only a few blocks from the stone steps that led her back up the bridge and in the direction of the church base their team currently held.

She only needed to make it that far!

Too bad she knew she wouldn't, as the sound of air being split apart in a piercing cry entered her ears.

Closing her eyes, Asuna raised her left hand and casted her instant heal that had come off cooldown and was able to top herself back up to 20% HP. Not enough, but she wasn't going down without a fight!

With a sharp sting, she felt the burning pain of at least five knives sent into her back. The force of their impact sent her propelling three-feet and crashing into the water, tumbling before sliding across the cobblestone floor.

Besides the blinding agony buried in her back, the wind was knocked out of her and it enabled the water to freely enter her mouth. Asuna's exposed skin was scraped and torn with the torment akin to needles as her body had slid along the floor all at once. It was enough to make her want to scream out and cry.

The darkness that was her vision suddenly changed as the water lifted in splashes of color, and she noticed two pairs of feet had appeared to land in the water across at either side of her. Asuna couldn't see what they were doing, but with a blink of her hazel eyes, decides to take her chance before they can.

As a White Mage, Asuna has the option of a few weapons: wands, staffs, and the rarely used Conjurer Focus. Like the rest of her, she chose differently.

Considered a two-handed weapon, composed of highly ornamented planispheres, star and crystal power globes, and other star-reading and script-summoning devices. Like the solar system and the earth around the sun, three thin revolving layers were ever in motion around one another when active and channeling magic.

Her weapon, the Conjurer Focus, laid flat and dormant on her back was already brightly glowing and twirling off her as she pushed with all her strength. Before her shoulder blades could feel the cold stones against her body, she was precasting with her Conjurer Focus floating between her hands, activating her 'Assize' spell.

In a rush of rupturing wind and soft-light fused together, Asuna dealt unexpected damage to all nearby enemies and restored her own HP and the HP of nearby party members if near her. It's a lovely ability that only has a thirty-second cooldown and is a very annoying one for enemies. She felt the side of her lip tug slightly in a half-grin as her body wracked with pain in her fall.

She was down to 10% HP before the spell went off, and now she was back to 15%. However, with her global cooldown that prevents her from spamming abilities one-after-another, she can't do anything for another 1.5 seconds. This is more than enough time for a warrior or berserker whose abilities are faster than hers, it's enough to get two hits in immediately directly to her leg and arm.

Back under the water, bubbles exit Asuna's mouth in a frustrated gasp of breath. She didn't want to end it here. She had wanted to have a zero-death record this game, earning the slight Prestige bonus rewards for staying alive and or healing the most as a healer to level up in her PVP ranking status.

Not to mention, almost every time men kill her - a female-healer - like this. They like to stand there and gloat and taunt her. Even going so far as to send her private messages with exaggerating words of their triumph and misogynistic language. Like somehow being both a woman and a healer is two nuisances to them they can't forgive.

At this point, she was waiting for the next .5 seconds to hurry and pass by. To hurry up and send her to the bone-chilling air of the graveyard zone. With a bleak gaze, Asuna stared ahead through the transparent and ever so slightly blue-tinted water that refracted white light like a kaleidoscope to her hazel orbs.

Asuna knew her vision was supposed to go dark, but for some reason, it was only starting off as a small black dot. A dot that grew in size...and that was heading right towards her.

That's when it became clear to her.

This was not her death Asuna was watching approaching her, but a player who was actually jumping off the bridge from high above. In their rapid, plunging descent, their black longsword glowed with haloed darkness that drew a paint-stroke after-effect in its wake as it slashed in a swinging horizontal arc.

She smiled inwardly, wanting to almost laugh at this player for their foolishness. Why would anyone risk fall-damage when it's a percent of one's total HP in order to get the killing blow on one singular little healer, especially at the bottom of the city map in the dangerous waterway canals? In her opinion, she surely is not worth it; not when there are plenty of people grouped together to hack through up top. No, definitely not. No one is that honorable. Not anymore…

That's why when Asuna closed her eyes in acceptance and awaited the cold, empty darkness to claim her, she was shocked when she realized two seconds had passed and nothing had happened.

Logically, somewhere in her mind, she knew she had abilities that were off cooldown that she could use. That the 'player' in her should switch on and start healing herself out of the red status she was currently in - but she was too stunned to even move right now.

Because, to Asuna, the very concept that someone might even have wanted to try and save her, was not even a question of possible happenstance to her.

So when that darkness that was meant to be death instead turned into being her savior, and a strong but slender arm reached down to pull her out of the water and drag her out to stand, she still struggled to remember how to breathe.

"Are you okay?" Without looking at her face, the tall and unknown man in black asked as he turned his back to her. His longsword held in his right hand as his short raven-colored hair shifted slightly side to side, as he vigilantly scanned the corners and rooftops for any more players; they were currently too exposed and in a vulnerable open positioning.

She swallowed a mixture of dirty canal water and saliva, and somehow found her voice, "Y-Yes…"

"Let's go, then."

That was all he said as he kept his hold on her arm, and proceeded to pull her to the stairs, the same ones she failed to make it to earlier.

This walk gave Asuna the much-needed breathing room to finally let herself observe the details of the mysterious man who had just done the high-risk and dangerous act of saving her; and not just that, but somehow had taken on a three versus one fight and won within probably a two and a half-second window. It was unbelievable and remarkable.

The savior wore a long black coat with blue straps with a scabbard strapped across to his back. His boots, pants, and shirt were all different hues and shades of black. And even though it was hard to see from far away, there was fine detailing into the clothing with threads of grey and dark blue that made the outfit very mesmerizing to Asuna.

By the time the two of them made it up the stairs, the mysterious man pulled her gently along by the wrist and they wordlessly took off running. Making their way down the alleyways toward the group that wasn't too far out of sight.

Asuna was still staring at the dark-haired mystery man, feeling drawn to him and following him. She wasn't even sure how far they had run when his deep and rich voice broke her out of whatever casted spell this feeling was.

"Aren't you going to heal? Are you sure you're alright?"

Her hazel eyes glistened like jewels as they lifted to look at his head, noticing that he was taller than her by a good few inches, but her focus shifted quickly to the way the man's raven-colored hair seemed both messy and just perfect with the wind through it. Strange, this curiosity or whatever it is, she's never felt this entranced before, not since….. Usually, she feels nothing but emptiness, toward everything - everyone.

"I -" Asuna began to reply before her voice box suddenly stopped working as her throat constricted on her.

Because, at that moment, the black-haired man had turned around to face her.

After a heartbeat of locking gazes, they both went wide-eyed, and stopped moving so abruptly that they both swayed on the spot, dust kicking up from the stone ground under their feet. Her slender body shook with adrenaline and she felt the strong hand around her arm go slack.

As if the air around them had been vacuumed into a black hole, Asuna felt her breath forcefully ripped from her; while at the same time, she felt something inside of her crack and pull away into that space alongside it.

She wasn't sure what it was exactly.

There were too many emotions fighting for dominance inside both of her chest and her mind.

All Asuna did know, though, was that her eyes suddenly burned with tears that overflowed down her cheeks, and her broken heart yearned deeply for the man standing in front of her.

Both numb and hyperaware, Asuna willed her lips to whisper the name she's only dared to speak in the lonely nights of her bedroom since their parting five years ago.

The name that has been said as both a reprieve and prayer.

"Kirito-kun."