The bus finally reached its destination at midnight.
Everyone stepped out slowly, sleepy, fumbling for their luggage in a disorganized manner. Little groups were forming everywhere, and this is when the six of them finally gathered for the first time.
They all looked at each other, unsure of how to open the conversation.
“Yay! We’re all here!”
Emma suddenly burst out, full of energy. It broke the tension in a second, and Airi couldn’t help but smile at her.
“Oh. You’re… Emma Lovecraft, right? I suppose that wasn’t a dream, then…”
“Yep, that’s me! And nope, it was real!”
Rika stifled a yawn, then shook her head.
“You sound so sure of it… but I dunno, man. Maybe we had collective hysteria or whatever.”
“You know, like, when a lot of people have delusions about the same thing?”
“Mmm… Never heard of it!”
“Guys,” Ren suddenly spoke, “I think we need to talk about this whole thing as a group, first.”
“Here he goes again…”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re just gonna go on about that thing you told us on the bus, right? About how we could ‘ignore the rules’ of the game and simply keep on living?”
The quote marks he made with his fingers drove the point home. He was still skeptical.
The two sleepy girls looked much more awake now. Airi tilted her head and brought a finger to her lips, as if finally pondering that possibility for the first time.
“Oh… That would be possible now, wouldn’t it…”
Rika placed her hands on her hips, tapping her foot.
“Ignoring the rules, huh… You mean, not seducing the people Cupid assigned for us to seduce?”
Ren nodded. The dread he felt after talking to Yusei and Julius was slowly starting to dissipate, and a new ray of hope shone right in front of his eyes in the shape of two curious girls.
“If you think about it, that’s the most sensible solution to our problem. If we all agree to not approach whoever they are, then we all get to stay alive.”
Airi looked impressed. Unfortunately, Rika less so.
“Hmm... I dunno. That Cupid guy had like, magic and stuff. I’m sure he already thought of that before bringing us all back.”
Ren shook his head.
“I wouldn’t be so sure. Remember? He said Cupids sometimes revive people, but only one at a time, so maybe this got out of hand and he lost track of how it works.”
“I see…” Airi blinked. “So if we all stay away from the targets, we all get to stay…”
“That sounds like a great idea!” Emma jumped in the air with a fist pump.
Her enthusiasm must have rubbed off on Rika, who finally cracked a small smile.
“Not half bad…”
But that momentary happiness crumbled again as soon as Julius opened his mouth.
“And like I told him before, that won’t work.”
Ren glared at him, but Julius didn’t seem to mind, speaking calmly as ever.
“I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I for one wouldn’t make any promises yet— not until we find out who the targets are. For all we know, it could be someone one of us already liked before dying, and then what? Is that person supposed to stay away simply for the benefit of the group?”
Julius always knew what to say to make things worse.
Yusei had never been on board with Ren’s idea, but the thought of dying again simply because someone couldn’t keep it in their pants didn’t sit well with him, either.
“I get what you’re saying man, but if even one of us makes a move, the rest of us are doomed.”
Julius crossed his arms and looked at the other five.
“No offense, as I have nothing personal against any of you, but we were all supposed to be dead already. If one of us makes a move for their own personal gain, they should have the right to keep a clean conscience.”
Ren hissed quietly under his breath.
“I… I’m sorry to say, but I agree with him.”
Airi’s quiet voice suddenly cut through the tension. They all looked at her, and Emma, although not quite entirely sure of what was going on, still knew that Airi agreeing with Julius was not a good thing.
“Eeeh? You do!?”
Her pink bangs hid her somber expression as she avoided Emma’s eyes.
“I think… it’s a wonderful idea to stick together as the only six people going through this, but I… I also think it’s selfish to do so.”
“If I’m not attracted to any of our targets, but one of you is, should I still stick with the group simply because majority rules? What about that person’s feelings, then?”
Emma was speechless. So was Ren, clenching his fist.
Airi looked down at the dewy grass, glistening under the moonlight, holding her hands together.
“If even one of us can stay alive and find reciprocated love at the same time… I think we shouldn’t get in the way of that.”
She lifted her head to look directly at Ren with a sorrowful expression.
“So, I’m sorry. I appreciate you trying to find a solution to help us all, but I think actually pursuing it might not be the answer, Ren.”
Ren looked at her with his lips pursed in a thin line.
Of course Airi was right. Ren knew that. But the part of him that always looked for ways to please as many people as possible didn’t agree with that logic.
As true as Airi’s words were, they were only valid as a hypothetical.
If one of them finds love.
If one of them could make one of the targets fall for them.
It was senseless to worry about ifs in the face of reality– or at least, in the face of what could actually happen.
But before he could give his opinion, Yusei kicked a small pebble languidly and scoffed.
“This is bullshit. So in the end we’ve got no choice but to play by the rules? ‘Cause if even one of us wants to play, we all gotta do it, too?”
“And if we don’t play because we assume no one else is playing,” Rika adds, “someone could throw a sneak attack, seduce a target, and kill us all…”
Ren shook his head.
“I still think we should talk more about this…”
“What’s there to think of?” Julius crossed his arms and looked at him. “Miss Carroll already made her choice, didn’t she? You might think you’re the most noble of us all, Ren Dahl, but in her eyes, playing the game is the noble thing to do.”
He glanced at Airi, who was still looking at the ground.
Finally, it looked like all of them digested his words and the reality of the situation they were in.
Rika and Yusei started to grab their luggage from the storage on the side of the bus, silently, and it wasn’t until Ren looked away from him that Julius hammered the last nail on the coffin.
“...Your idea is utopic, but simply not realistic. It was never going to happen.”
Ren stayed quiet.
He wanted to say it— that this was all just under hypotheticals, that his idea was not a bad one if they thought about it, but Julius had already turned on his heel to walk away.
A second later he felt two cold hands slap his face on both cheeks, pressing in on them.
“Hey, cheer up!”
Surprised, Ren instinctively reached to pry her palms away, his face slightly blushed, but Emma wouldn’t budge. She beamed her fierce golden eyes at him and a smile with the force of a thousand suns.
“You’re alive! We’re alive! Even if it’s just for another day, or another minute… we’re alive!”
For a second, the world stood still.
He had been so worried over how to go about facing their strange, unique situation, that he completely forgot about the miracle that happened to them just a few hours ago.
They were alive— against all reason.
Even though they weren’t supposed to be.
Even though Emma’s face so close to his own and her hands so cold on his face would never have happened normally in a million years except by some miracle like this.
Ren’s face finally softened.
Emma snickered, victorious, then pulled her hands away from him.
Ren touched his cheeks instinctively with a sigh, trying to cool his head again.
“Still… I wish Cupid would have given us more information about this whole thing.”
“Why don’t we ask him, then?”
Emma beamed him a smile again, spreading her arms open in a grand gesture.
“He can hear everything! He’s an angel!”
Before Ren could formulate an answer, the bus driver suddenly walked out and stood at the door of his vehicle. His clothes - a traffic guard-like uniform he wore the entire trip, were still the same, but something about him wasn't right.
His face was different.
Also, he had a halo.
This wasn’t the guy that drove them here at all, but it was someone Ren and Emma recognized immediately... and he looked about to burst a vein.
“And who exactly are you calling an angel!?”
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