On the other side of the campsite, the guys were trying to figure out their own cabin arrangements, too. But unlike the girls, they weren’t on such good terms with each other despite having just met, so it wasn’t going too well.
“If I’m honest,” Ren said, “I don’t see much of a benefit to us rooming together. So if either one of you don’t feel up for it—”
“I’m also not interested.”
Yusei and Julius quickly gave their answers. Ren wasn’t expecting either of them to want to room with him, but their dismissal without prior consideration of any pros or cons did rub him the wrong way.
“...Fine. But there’s something we gotta discuss, first.”
Julius pulled out the handle of his luggage.
“It’s about you, Julius.”
“If you’re truly going for Adam Stoker, you’ll have an advantage if you room with him.”
Yusei was all packed up and ready to leave, too, but the conversation got him curious.
“Hah? Why would that be an advantage?”
Ren hesitated awkwardly for a moment. This wasn’t exactly a topic he was well-versed in, but at least he was good at thinking of it logically.
“Making someone fall in love with you… well. I’m no expert, but I assume it all starts with two things: first impressions, and getting to know each other.”
“Yeah, sure, but you heard Cupid. This Stoker guy’s a freak. I don’t think any amount of getting to know him will give Verne an advantage at all.”
Ren shook his head.
“Although getting to know Adam Stoker will be part of the process, the real advantage will come if Adam gets to know Julius.”
An amused smile crept over Julius’ face.
“I see? Would you kindly explain your reasoning, then?”
Ren turned to look at him hiding his nerves. Something about Julius’ confidence put him on edge every time they talked.
“...There’s something Cupid said that’s been nagging at me: he said he wants us to be ‘selfless’ and not prioritize our own feelings over someone else’s, right? That they need to fall for us, and not us for them? We keep thinking of them like targets we have to seduce, but…”
“Yeah,” Yusei interrupted. “Forcing someone to go out with you is shitty as hell.”
He spoke from experience with a shudder.
“I don’t think that’s what he meant, Yusei Wilde. Please, go on, Ren Dahl.”
“He also said love comes in many forms. So what if by ‘fall in love’ he doesn’t necessarily mean they need to have romantic feelings for us?”
“What if he means we just need to get them to ‘experience’ love, as he’s been saying?”
Yusei rubbed the back of his neck.
“Right… he’s been throwing those words around a lot.”
“If I’m right, and all we need is to give them the chance to be vulnerable and open with their feelings, we don’t necessarily need to ‘seduce’ them. We just need to show them we care— become their friends.”
“Huh. So if he gets to know Julius…”
“Yes. Even if Adam doesn’t open up to Julius, he might still end up caring for him.”
Julius’ smile widened behind the hand he was using to rub his chin.
“Hm. Interesting hypothesis.”
“I know you also thought about that possibility, Julius. That’s why you chose him as your target, didn’t you?”
His long hair gently flowed in the wind - a calm contrast to the cunning look in his eyes.
“...I won’t deny that. But you shouldn’t simply assume he’ll accept my friendship so easily. What happens when he doesn’t want to befriend me, despite me showing vulnerability and opening up to him?”
“Because that part won’t really matter, if you get him to care for you.”
Yusei threw both of them a confused look.
“Huh? Why would he care for a total stranger that just starts talking to him out of the blue?”
“Or what if he doesn’t want to talk to me at all, despite my efforts to show what an excellent friend I could be, should he give me a chance?”
This time, Julius didn’t bother hiding his grin. His question was simply aimed at Ren as senseless provocation, as if trying to test just how much he’s thought about this.
But Ren was simply thinking about Emma and her interests when he finally responded.
“Caring for someone you don’t interact with is actually not unheard of. Celebrities, internet stars, fictional characters, religious figures… These are all examples of one-sided relationships where people would give their lives over someone that doesn’t even know they exist.”
Slowly, in little drips, Yusei started to catch up on what Ren was trying to say.
“Damn… so this means…”
“It means Julius doesn’t even need to interact with him at all. He just needs to be close enough to observe what Adam responds to, and close enough to let Adam see him behave in a way that will make him want to approach Julius.”
“Man. That’s pretty unfair.”
“My, my,” this time, Julius didn’t bother hiding his grin. “I’m surprised you’ve given this so much thought, Ren Dahl. To think you were so against us playing this twisted game at the beginning.”
“No, I haven’t changed my mind. I think there’s still a solution somewhere to keep us all alive that we haven’t thought about yet. But those willing to play by Cupid’s arbitrary rules could sabotage it, so I have no choice but to consider those scenarios, too.”
Julius crossed his arms, and after a second of observing Ren’s face, finally opened his mouth.
“...Why are you so set on keeping us all alive, Ren Dahl? Why don’t you just play the game too and focus on yourself?”
That dreaded question.
Ren knew it was coming eventually, but he still didn’t feel prepared to answer. He simply looked away from Julius.
“...That’s… I can’t do that.”
“I see. It’s because of her, isn’t it.”
“Her?” Yusei squinted, looking at Ren who was avoiding both their stares.
“The only way to keep her alive is if you keep us all alive, too,” Julius calmly continued. “That’s why you can’t risk playing along.”
“Well, no matter. Play, don’t play, it truly doesn’t make a difference. To you, what I’m doing by getting close to Adam Stoker might seem unfair, but to me, this is the only way to move on.”
Yusei looked at Ren as if trying to decipher his hurt expression.
Ren didn’t answer. Julius took his silence as all the confirmation he needed, turning on his heel as he began to drag his luggage along.
Julius stopped to turn back and look at Ren.
To his surprise, Ren was bowing down to him, deeply. His voice was shaky with anger, nerves and humiliation, but his tone was firm and determined.
“Please, Julius. Don’t room with Adam Stoker. Don’t get close to him yet.”
“Please give me some more time to think. I’ll find a way to save us all. I promise!”
Julius was dumbfounded.
“I promise… so please…”
“Hey! You three over there!”
The teacher’s voice suddenly drew their attention. She was waving at them and heading in their direction.
“You’re the only ones left, you know!”
Ren lifted his head quickly.
“Dammit, we took too long!”
The teacher finally reached a good non-yelling distance from them, pointing her thumb at a shoddy cabin behind her.
“Sorry, but you dawdled too much. You’ll have to room together in the cabin no one picked. You know what that means.”
The shittiest cabin.
“Oh, right! And you’ll also be rooming with the two leftover guys.”
“That guy over there,” she said, pointing at a scary muscular guy with piercings - the most troublesome of the delinquents on the trip.
“And… Adam Stoker.”