"The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex. Their estate was large*-"
"Wait," Suguha interrupted, placing the teapot on the coffee table and taking the seat next to him. "Shouldn't I be reading to you? You're the one recovering after all."
Harry shook his head. "That will never do," he said patiently, his green eyes softening when he touched her hand for a second before reaching for the cup. A lovely blush rose to her cheeks, but she continued to peel an apple for him without wavering. "It is my job and my pleasure to entertain you, to make sure you are content. I feel incompetent already being stuck in this wheelchair as it is. I can't properly take care of you."
"But you don't have to take care of me," Suguha said with a hard look in her eyes. "I can take care of myself just fine."
The wizard smiled patiently at her before sipping his hot tea. He let the bitter drink swirl inside of his mouth for a while before swallowing. "I know Suguha," he said softly, lovingly. "I can see it every day, every minute you are with me. You truly are spirited, little lady of mine."
Suguha's eyes softened as they watched him before she turned away, placing the small plate of apple slices on the coffee table for Harry to eat. It had been a hectic few months. Ever since his release from his virtual prison and later the hospital Harry had been making apologies to the families who lost their sister, brother, mothers, fathers, everyone they had lost to Kayaba's game. He hadn't tried to explain why his sensei had done what he had done. Harry didn't think he could live with the world knowing that it was basically Kayaba trying to save him from the system they had both created. But with Rinko by his side and the support of the Kirigaya siblings Harry made it through the gruesome time, allowed to pour all of his money into a school for SAO survivors – which already existed but was able to hire more staff due to his donations – and finally closing down the SAO and ALO projects. It was hard and terrifying and if Harry hadn't been exposed to harsh treatment before he was sure to have crumbled completely by now. He could see what it had done to Rinko – the lively and mischievous girl gone, transformed into a hard and betrayed woman.
Harry startled when Suguha placed a hand on his shoulder. "Maybe this book isn't really your thing," she said with a smile and a sparkle in her eyes which he had come to love. The raven head looked down at the book which had slipped from his fingers and he swallowed a curse. Had he fallen asleep on her again? "You know what? Why don't we safe reading for later? It's nearly time to meet up with everyone after all. If we go now we can catch Kazuto and Asuna-san."
Taking the small and slender hand into his own Harry lifted it to place a tender kiss onto her knuckles. "I guess this really isn't our style at all is it?" the wizard said with a smile before nodding. "It'll be good to meet with the other survivors." To know that I'm not completely hated by the world. "But will you be alright?"
The girl smiled down at him. "I'll be fine, besides it'll be good to meet the friends who helped you and Onii-san through SAO."
They set out together and while it annoyed Harry that he was still in a wheelchair, he couldn't hope to walk all the way to the café so soon. So he resigned himself to being pushed by the tender teenage girl who insisted she didn't mind at all and continued to tell her stories about the world he had once known. Whether Suguha believed it to be fiction or not, Harry didn't know, but he hadn't the heart to tell her the complete truth just yet.
Kazuto and Asuna joined them just as they reached the district and the four of them made their way towards the café. The Black Swordsman politely inquired about Rinko. It was sweet of him to do so and showed a lot of character, but Harry knew that the teen was nowhere near ready in forgiving the woman, mainly because she was still defending Kayaba's actions. Kirito just didn't know her as well as Harry did and still blamed her for events outside of her control.
"How is that project you are working so secretly on?" Harry asked tuning out the girls who were chatting softly behind him.
The boy looked ahead with a thoughtful expression and Harry wondered if this was what young teenagers should look like when they were deep in thought. He shook his head. No it was just a Kazuto-look. "I couldn't find anything special on it, but Agil connected it. I'm actually looking forward to seeing how it ended up working."
Harry could feel curiosity burning inside of him. He wanted to ask about this little project but knew that whatever it was had Kirito's full attention so it was probably something to do with technology. Should he offer to help? But part of Harry was afraid. What if he created another corrupt system? What if he got locked inside the system again? He didn't think he would survive it this time…
Someone brushed against his hand and Harry looked up to see those sparkling grey eyes again. "We're here Harry," Suguha said softly and a sense of dread filled Harry. He wanted to back away, to run and hide from the people inside, the people he had hurt so much. But he stayed because the girl who seemed to love him so much smiled at him as if to say that everything would be just fine. He nodded, took her hand in his and gave it a gently squeeze. He wasn't alone to face the storm.
Kazuto opened the door only to find Shinozaki Rika standing there with a smile on her face. She dragged the hero inside and everyone quieted when their party entered. Some looked at Harry in confusion before realisation made its way into their eyes. Other greeted Harry with a nod and a smile. Klein, or Tsuboi Ryoutarou, stepped forward and greeted Harry like a comrade in arms, a greeting Harry hadn't experienced since the war. "It's good to see you Harry."
"Thank you Ryoutarou," Harry said with a small smile. "It's good to see everyone alive and healthy."
The redhead nodded with a smile and turned to Lisbeth who had been dragging Kirito to the far side of the room. Harry smiled and congratulated Kirito on completing SAO together with the others. Under the watchful eye of everyone there Harry walked around the café, feeling light hearted for the first time in years. It made him remember those days in the Gryffindor common room when there was no thread of war or Voldemort in general, just studies and friendship. Yes, Agil's Café felt like that.
"Harry," Suguha said softly, shaking the wizard out of his reminiscing. He looked up to stare at the girl he had come to love and appreciate. Harry smiled, seemingly dazzling the girl in front of him. "I must bore you, little lady, I am sorry."
"N-no, not at all," Suguha replied quickly, placing her drink on the table between them while leaning towards him. "I was just wondering how you were doing, you grew silent so suddenly."
Harry took in the vision the teen made. She was so strong yet so gentle at the same it he was sure he didn't deserve her. Still she remained with him, returning to his side after school and practice just to speak with him if only for a little while. "Am I really that selfish?" he asked, clearly confusing the younger girl. "I keep you from your friends and family every day and still I don't feel satisfied. I just want to keep you with me forever, but I cannot. You belong outside, in the real world, with friends who love you and family that cares."
Grey eyes blinked and a frown caused her soft skin to wrinkle ever so slightly. "But I want to be with you. I choose to be with you."
"You are still young though, no hear me out please," Harry said patiently and he glanced at Liz and Asuna, who were clearly gossiping, before looking at Suguha again. "You're still in school and you have your sports but you have friends as well. Friends who will start feeling left out that you turn your back on them. They will start avoiding you, resenting you for shoving them aside. I understand you want to be with me, that you love me enough to spend all your free time with this old man, but soon your schools year will be done. All the friends you made before will have gone their own way and you will start resenting me for having spent so much time with me. I was forced to give up my friendships Suguha and I miss those friends every day. Now, no matter what, I will always love you whether you spend all your hours with me or just two minutes a week, but I will never forgive myself for having ripped you away from friends you already had or keeping you from friendships which could form with others."
"So you don't want me to come over anymore?" Suguha asked uncertainly.
Harry grabbed her hand. "Of course not," he said a little forcefully but still lovingly. "But don't you want to spend more time with your friends? Be honest."
The girl looked guiltily down at the hand which was holding onto hers. "But shouldn't it be enough that I wish to be with you?"
"It is," Harry replied with a patient smile. "I want you to live your life fully, friends and family included."
Before Suguha could reply though Klein and Kirito were trying to catch Harry's attention. The wizard squeezed the girl's hand one last time before slowly raising himself. His muscles were already tired and he gritted his teeth as he forced them to take his weight. It might not be healthy to put so much strain on his muscles so soon but he couldn't stand not doing anything. The raven head sighed heavily before raising himself fully. Suguha started to rise with him but Harry waved her back in her seat. "Give me a sec, I'll be fine." And with a wink he started to move towards the bar.
It took him a while to get there, but when he was finally able to take his seat next to the SAO heroes it gave him a sense of satisfaction and the wizard couldn't help but grin madly. Agil smiled and nodded at him while Klein and Kirito – he should really get used to calling them by their real names – continued to look at the small laptop they had set up. Thinker, or Mizushima Takahiro**, suddenly gripped his shoulder. He looked at Harry with something akin to curiosity but also a hint of uncertainty and fear. The wizard knew this look all too well. "You seem to be doing well."
"Getting there," Harry admitted and Takahiro smiled minutely.
"Have a look at this Harry," Kazuto said drawing the wizard's attention to the program they had running on the laptop. It looked familiar, a little too familiar.
"Where did you get this?" Harry asked his voice no more than a startled whisper. It was a Seed like he had known it from when they developed it. He thought it had been lost, destroyed when all the filed had disappeared and the system shut down. It was like seeing the idea come alive again, the dream which had turned into a nightmare.
He didn't notice the looks the others were sending each other Harry was that deep in troubled thoughts. Kazuto touched the wizards arm for a moment. "I-it was a gift," the Black Swordsman said hesitantly yet his eyes seemed to say so much more. Kayaba Akihiko. But why would Kirito accept a gift like that from Akihiko-sensei? It didn't really make any sense, unless…
Harry raised a surprised eyebrow and watched a small embarrassed blush spread across the teen's cheeks. "It's amazing," Andoryou said in his deep soothing voice. "It's like it continues to grow, reaching further and further so everyone can create their own world. Almost as if it wants us to make our own worlds, encourages us to create our own dreams and make them come to life."
"I don't understand how this works though," Takahiro said with a thoughtful expression. "Then again I was never all that interested in how it all worked and more in playing the game."
"Same here, same here," Ryoutarou admitted with an easy grin.
Green eyes softened a little as he continued to watch the Seed and its progress. "May I?" the wizard asked gesturing towards the laptop. Agil and Kirito shared a glance before the two nodded. For a moment his fingers hovered doubtingly over the keyboard but once they touched the keys it felt like coming home. With a speed he had thought to have forgotten Harry manoeuvred through data like the pro he was. A small, almost tender, smile appeared as he updated, uploaded and created. He had forgotten how empowering it was to work with something like the Seed.
After working for a few minutes Harry laughed suddenly. "He knew what he was doing as always," the wizard said, looking up at Kazuto. "I adjusted it a little so it should run a bit smoother now and when this update is done it should make uploading for others easier. Just let it do its work."
The other four looked relieved and Harry couldn't really blame them. He looked round, feeling quite at peace with himself. Sure there were still things troubling him and he often had nightmares about being locked inside the system again, but he was free now. Free to, for lack of a better word, recreate his life and possibly share it forever with a strong-willed young lady who didn't shy away from him or blamed him for what had happened to her cousin. Of course Harry felt bad for keeping her to himself, but seeing her sitting among the other girls, chatting away with a happy smile he couldn't help but feel warm inside. She was truly beautiful and he was lucky for having her. And while plans for a future together were still very much unmade, Harry knew that whatever happened he would love Suguha.
This was all that mattered.
A/N: could I write more? Yes, probably. Would I write more? No, I don't think so. Anyway, I wanted to thank everyone for following, favouring and reviewing. It really meant a lot!
*a line from Jane Austin's; Sense and Sensibility. My reasoning for using it? Because I love her works and had a Austin moment when writing the scene ;)
**since no real-life name was given for Thinker I used his voice artist's name :)