More Than Just a Slice of Life

Tolbana - Main Square

    Days have become very different for The Flash as of late. There's been this strange thing that has occurred since she and Klein decided to go well beyond boyfriend and girlfriend into becoming parents of an orphan. A routine has developed.

    Certainly there are still dungeons to run and forays against monsters to make, but every weekday it's been take Taka to the most convenient branch of the Links, the new school system/orphanage that supports Lander children, then pick her up later. Or sometimes stay and participate in activities with her. It wasn't something Asuna knew anything about, but it has been amazing.

    The routine goes beyond that, though. Night raids and really all the usual deviations that were the antithesis of predictability have slowly gone away.

    She's becoming a mother in schedule, certainly. If, honestly, a mother who is also sometimes unsure of herself.

    Tonight, though, it is not her own doubts that distract her, but a message. An actual letter, of all things, that was sent her way from Heathcliff. She hasn't shared its contents yet, but as she cleans up the dishes, her expression shows that it's bothering her.

Tolbana - Main Square

The weeks after the caravan raid has changed greatly for everyone involved. A Lander child locked away in a chest was saved and has instantly claimed Asuna's heart. What could have been something easily forgotten by dropping the child off at an orphanage has instead became a part of their daily lives, and Klein honestly wouldn't had it any other way.

What was meant to be a guest bedroom for other Players has instead turned into the personal space for a young girl, and while Asuna may have charged headlong into parenthood, Klein has been slower to adjust. Not out of any love loss of sweet Taka, of course not! No, the most 'plain' of the Scale Samurai is honestly scared. Scared of messing things up with a young girl and the most important woman in his life. Freakish gnoll abominations and snowmen out of nightmares? That's no problem! Trying to help bring hope to a young girl that can be traumitized? Uncertinity dogs his every step, though he puts up a brave face.

Brave face such as how Taka has a personal doll house and handmade dolls stitched together. He's just doing what he thinks can help Taka feel at home.

"Faster, faster!"

Taka cheerfully screaming and urging Klein on can be heard in his house as he runs as quickly as he could down the hallway. Honestly, Soujiro would be great at giving the young Lander piggyback rides, he would easily see it as training and she would have a blast.

Panting slightly, he comes to a stop in the living room and tosses Taka (gently) onto a well-cushioned chair. "Sorry kiddo, I have to take a quick break...hmmm?" Glancing into the kitchen, he looks over towards Asuna with a joke on a lips but pauses. Looking between the two women of the house for a moment, he leans down to Taka. "Hey, I just remembered. I think there's a new visitor at your doll house. You should go check!"

Thankfully distracting Taka for the moment, the young Lander girl rushes down the hallway as the redhead heads towards the kitchen and rests an arm on the counter. "...hey, everything okay, Asuna? You only frown like that when there's something you can't immediately stab."
Tolbana - Main Square

    The sounds of excitement from Taka do what they always do. Take away the stress and doubt. Asuna hasn't quite picked up on all of Klein's apparent struggle with confidence. Not yet, anyway. But she has meant to have a serious conversation on the topic. They rushed into this so quickly and things just took on a life of their own.

    She's happier than ever, but she's mature enough to know that it will stay healthy and strong if they talk openly about how things are going. Okay, she's not mature enough, but she got some good advice from someone who is.

    Klein's question gets Asuna to smile and let out a laugh. There is a tightness around her eyes, though. That little joke helped, but yes, Klein is right.

    "You are right."


    "I don't think stabbing the commander would be a great move. He sent me a message, and well..."

    She slides the paper over to where Klein can see it. Beyond all the normal polite openings and deep formality, it's quite simple. 'We are glad that you have found something that helps you find some measure of peace in our current predicament, however, we also want to stress the importance that you remain focused. As a well-known member of the Aincrad Liberation Front it is imperative that you remember all the players in this game look to you as a role model. We trust your number one prioritiy remains clearing the tower and helping everyone return to their families.'

    Asuna doesn't have to read it again. But she does. Not aloud, though. She might find it hard to avoid saying things she'd rather not have Taka hear.
Tolbana - Main Square

Leave it to Klein to always break the ice with jokes. Some people may consider it rude or impolite, but the sudden attempt at humor usually gets people's minds off a problem, even if for a moment. All part of his plan to keep morale up even in the bleakest of times!

Well, this certainly might be one of those bleak times, it seems. What Klein might have expected to hear, it wasn't that. Blinking in surprise, Klein scans over the letter once, blinks, and rereads it once again, slower this time. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he lets out a weary sigh and shakes his head. "Ugh, even in a messed up world like this, leave it to guild politics."

The big guilds always have this issue, at least in his experience. This is why he's used to running smaller guilds. Tapping the physical letter with a finger, he looks over. "It sounds fancy but...a reprimand. Seriously? He acts like people don't have lives outside the Tower." With a frown forming on his lips, Klein slides closer to to Asuna and wraps an arm around her to give her an one-handed hug. "...they just don't understand. Not everyone can run full blast all the time."
Tolbana - Main Square

    Asuna finds herself just leaning into Klein support. Initially, she feels a bit stiff, tense. But in a few moments, she is just comfortable, content, and relaxed. She lets her eyes fall shut and she turns and wraps her arms around him.

    "I don't like how he reduces our daughter to a thing that provides peace."

    Asuna can't quite make herself feel too much anger, though. Not when she's feeling safe like this. There's a long pause. Taka's playing can just barely be heard from her room. The distraction seems to have worked for the moment.

    "There's a central problem, though. He's hinting at it, but he doesn't say it directly. Is my 'number one priority' leaving this place now?" A pause and she pushes back just enough to smile up at Klein, "There's no way I'm leaving Taka. If she can't come, I'm going nowhere." Despite the smile, though, she's nervous. What she is saying would have been absurd to her just a few weeks ago. Before they met a monster raid. Before everything changed.

Tolbana - Main Square

'Our daughter.' That's something that still sounds so foreign to Klein's ears, and a shard of fear is felt before shattering quickly. He's not the only being comforted by being so close to the other. Still, his likely illogical concerns are nothing compared to what Asuna must be feeling. "Honestly...i'm sure a lot of people in Scale do feel that way. They keep trying to treat things as just 1s and 0s." Those kinds of people are just burying their head in the sand, pretending this world is fake.

Fake crowns wouldn't completely dominate the will of their wearers if that was true.

Leaning down, Klein rests his chin on top of Asuna's head, subtly teasing her with their height difference. It wasn't that much, but it was always fun to do. "Whatever counts as hell here is going to be frozen over before we leave her behind. We'll find a way to bring her, no matter what." Even as a small part of him starts trying to list just how impossible that is, it just rants to itself with no one else paying attention to it. "He is certainly right about one thing, though. People are starting to notice. We just have to make them realize the truth, one way or another."
Tolbana - Main Square

    The teasing about height is actually comforting. Being this close and being so in-sync on how to approch this new life grants Asuna strength and confidence that she doesn't herself possess.

    "I've seen people staring at us. I didn't notice it right away, but the A.L.F. has a lot of very intense members. Thinking about this and about how they look at Taka and I is making me nervous, Klein."

    Unspoken, but alluded to. Klein is right. There are many people in the guild and in the Alliance that see Taka as nothing but data. Data that is concerning enough for the commander to pay attention to it.

    "There are a lot of people who have been wonderful with her. Uta taught her to see shapes in clouds. And gave her a very... inspired explanation of poetry."

    Asuna keeps snuggled in Klein's arms. She murmurs, "I feel safe here." A nervous laugh, then, and she goes on, "And Daiyu helped find a book for Taka in the library."

Tolbana - Main Square

There were many people in Scale who are still single-mindedly working on scaling the Aincrad Tower, ignoring everything they could in this world that they preceive as a threat. Klein still wants to get home, and will be happy once he can finally order a cheap pizza once again. That doesn't change the fact that this world is far too alive to be a simulation. Hell, he still feels bad for every Wave he potentially causes, even if his part in it is small.

"Want me to start coming with you more often, then?" He's been busy with his dungeon running and loot selling, so he hasn't exactly been the best parent for Taka, unlike Asuna. But he'll happily drop that to give support to the person he loves, even if he knows that she can handle a lot that comes her way.

Hearing about the other Players who have found acceptance and care for Taka does warm his heart, and gives him a small idea. Pulling back from the hug with Asuna, he stares outside of the window, looking out on the setting sun just barely visible. "Well...honestly, if worse comes to worse, we could start looking out at the other alliances. Or even go solo if needed." Rubbing the back of his neck, he turns his gaze back to Asuna, someone who has changed his own outlook on life in the few months they truly been together. "I really rather not have to think about it, but...I mean, it -is- an option, if needed."
Tolbana - Main Square

    And Asuna will just use this chance to snuggle back into Klein's arms. If she adds a playful nuzzle of her head against his chin, well, that's just a reminder of who is the big, strong man of the relationship.

    "Well, I do like my Klein time," she admits shyly. Despite everything, saying that still makes her blush! "And I know Taka wants more time with you, too."

    It's around this time that Taka's distraction is clearly over. Like all little kids, she's magical and can simply disappear and reappear at will. In this case, slipping around the counter and suddenly being right nearby! Her bright voice asks curiously, "Is Asa not feeling well? Her cheeks are pink!"

    She focuses on Klein. Those bright eyes are curious. The scene of the two Adventurers holding each other has some gears turning in her clever mind. There's recognition.

    Naturally getting called out by Taka makes Asuna blush even more! And she laughs nervously.

    "Don't worry, I'm doing well! Just feeling extra... happy!"

    It's a poor explanation, but if there's one thing she's learned, sometimes you have to be flexible in explaining things to extremely curious five-year-olds. Still, she has to finish that earlier topic. Klein brought up a really big idea.

    "I think there are options if we want to shift like that. Honestly the others are probably both okay, though Olympus has the most flexibility. I just don't know. I don't think solo is safe."

Tolbana - Main Square

Asuna certainly knows how to make a man feel fulfilled with himself, saying it as bashfully as that. Chuckling and with a pleased blush on his face, he rubs his chin against Asuna, nuzzling her back.

Taka, like all five year old kids, have an impeccable sense of timing. Seemingly caught in the act, Klein leaps back and laughs nervously like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. This, of course, pairs up perfectly with Asuna's own laughs and just makes it more obvious. "Hahah, yeah, she's doing just fine. We just make each other happier when we're with one another, that's all!" Rubbing the back of his neck again in embarrasment, Klein has to scold himself for getting embarrased! They're just cuddling, it's nothing lewd.

Not like handholding. That's way too lewd for innocent eyes.

"Just the way I see it, it's just best to have ideas just in case. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes...I think that's how it goes, anyways." To be fair, the Imperial measurement system was just too weird. Why couldn't the Americans just stick with the rest of the world?

Walking over, he ruffles Taka's hair playfully and winks. "You know, for someone who ate nearly as much as me, you're not even the slightest bit tired."
Tolbana - Main Square

    Asuna would normally pretend to be busy with dishes. But unfortunately they are all cleaned, dried, and put away. So she just has to be shy and a bit awkward. But Klein seems to have no problems!

    She has to ask him how he can possibly handle this so smoothly. It's remarkable how blind she is to any of his little insecurities. Maybe her own are just too loud?

    With another laugh Asuna moves over with Klein to pay attention to their daughter. She pauses just a moment, though, to take in the sight of Klein ruffling her hair. It's a strong emotion. Complicated. So hard to put to words. The best her inward dialogue can do is to note that for just that moment, everything, everywhere was right with her world. Later on, she will have to face the full implications of that feeling. For now, though, she'll kneel down by Taka.

    "You know, she isn't tired at all! But I suppose we better do a test to be sure..."

    Asuna grins playfully and reaches out for Taka. It doesn't take more than a drumming of her fingertips on the little Lander's ribs to get her giggling and squirming.

Tolbana - Main Square

In Asuna's defense, she hasn't been using the same strategy he's been using for years: be the fool and don't think too hard about your fears. Doesn't mean he's immune to fear, far from it, but it helps to prevent linguring about what could be holding you back. And no, it's not your spine, either.

Taka manages to squirm free of his hair ruffling reach, but Asuna is quick to swoop in while her prey is cornered! Seeing the smiling Lander girl suddendly screech out with intermittent giggles tugs as his heartstrings. All of this, all of this work he's been putting in over the last few weeks has been all worth it.

Though, Asuna is focusing a bit too much on Taka, and a sly smile forms on Klein's lips. Stepping back slowly to not draw attention to himself, he waits patiently, waiting for Asuna to become fully focused on tickling Taka. Suddenly, he leaps in, wiggling his fingers against the auburn-haired woman's armpit, giving Asuna a taste of her own medicine. "I don't know, you have plenty of energy yourself!"
Tolbana - Main Square

    That's... that's not fair. That's not fair! That's not faaaaaaiiiir!

    She doesn't say it, but she thinks it! Klein pouncing her from behind! So yes, that is a ticklish spot for her. Which Klein would know. He's been gathering intel on her for months! She squirms, laughs, and gasps. She has to abandon her tickling of Taka, who is still laughing, but now in amusement, because it's funny to see Asuna someone else get tickled, too!

    The Flash has no choice but to address this attack, to stop the tickling now. But in the moment, she really doesn't have her entire situational focus. And so, her response-which is to throw herself at Klein and kiss him as thoroughly as possible-is done right in front of Taka.

    The little girl doesn't miss a beat, though. She looks at the kissing and lets out a sigh.

    "It's bed time already?"

    There's a little bit of a sulk in her voice, but not too much. She has been really happy here, honestly. It feels nice and safe here. Besides, even bed time means there is time for tucking in, and a story, and having two people shower her with love and attention.

    With Taka comfortably in her bed and asleep, Asuna slips out of the child's bedroom, shutting the door softly behind her. She cannot help but blush a bit as she slips her arms around Klein's neck.

    "So... where were we, again?"

Tolbana - Main Square

There's many things that can be said as slender arms wrap around his neck and he stares downwards into shining eyes. There's times when small moments like this feel so etheral, so impossible to be real. But it makes it all that much more important to Klein as he leans in. "I don't know. Perhaps you can refresh my memory...?"

Yes, it certainly is bedtime for Taka. No kid wants to see their caretakers kissing.