Of course Adam was thrown off by Ren’s sudden question.
Ren pressed on anyway, albeit somewhat awkwardly.
“Angels. The… divine beings from Heaven.”
Stoker seemed to ponder this for a moment without taking his eyes away from the ceiling before giving his answer.
“Never met one.”
Well, Ren wasn’t surprised. He took a deep breath, and tried to sound as genuine as possible, because he knew just how crazy the next things out of his mouth would be.
Adam gave him an incredulous look, but listened to Ren patiently as he spoke.
“On our way here… do you remember going through a giant boulder on the road, bus and all?”
“...That wasn’t a dream?”
Ren shook his head.
“Mm. The truth is… we actually crashed. At that time, me and five others in the bus died. We were revived by an angel calling himself Cupid.”
Stoker remained quiet.
“He gave us all another chance to live, under one condition.”
Ren didn’t want to look at Adam and find out what kind of look he had on his face upon hearing such a ridiculous story. But after a few seconds, Adam turned on his side to look at him, seemingly interested.
“...What was it?”
“The condition Cupid gave you.”
“Oh… Uh, well, we have to make someone fall in love with us.”
Ren sighed, and he could feel his face heating up the more he heard himself talk.
“...I know this sounds crazy. You don’t have to go along with it if you think it’s too stupid. I know I wouldn’t believe it, anyway.”
“...I believe you.”
Ren felt relief, but at the same time, some concern over how easily Adam accepted his story.
“Thanks, I guess. Though, you don’t have to say you believe me just to be nice.”
“...You think I’m being nice?”
Adam looked back at the ceiling, but Ren could see through the dim light from the window that he looked surprised.
Almost as if no one had ever called him nice before.
But it could also simply be an incredulous look over hearing that an angel revived the guy lying next to him as he tried to accept it as fact, Ren thought.
Silence filled the room again before Ren armed himself with the courage to look at him once more.
“Everything I said… I was serious. It’s all real.”
He turned on his side this time to face Adam.
“And… the person Cupid asked us to attract… well… one of them is you.”
Stoker’s eyes went wide again, this time turning his head to face Ren, who looked much more solemn as he spoke.
“That’s why Julius is being nice to you. He was one of the guys that died on the bus, too.”
“I don’t understand…”
“He’s being nice to you because he wants to earn your trust— so you’ll care for him.”
Stoker’s stoic face turned sour for a moment, as if disappointed.
He opened his mouth, but not much came out.
Ren felt guilty for saying what he did, but he knew deep down this was the right thing to do.
“Sorry, I know how it sounds. But I thought about it, and I think telling you the truth before things start getting out of hand as soon as morning comes was better than throwing you into this blindly.”
After another long silence, Adam turned his eyes away from Ren.
“...I don’t know. Cupid said something about being in charge of you, too.”
At this point, Ren was expecting Adam to ask what he meant by that, but Adam looked like he was still hurting from the thing about Julius.
Not long after, his face returned to normal, and he finally looked at Ren again.
“...What about you?”
“Why are you telling me this? Are you being nice to me for the same reason?”
“No. No way. I’m not interested in playing Cupid’s game.”
Despite how disgusted Ren sounded at Adam’s question, Adam couldn’t help but look at Ren with a face full of skepticism.
“I’m serious. I don’t want to play his crazy games. Whoever achieves the goal first gets to stay alive, but everyone else will have to go back to Heaven. He basically handed us a guillotine that nobody wants to use… until someone does. Then that person wins.”
“So you’re just waiting to be killed?”
“I’m looking for a solution for all of us,” Ren frowned, frustrated. “I know none of us want to die, so there has to be something that can be done about it.”
Ren felt Adam’s silence as heavy as a brick. He rubbed the back of his neck with a sigh.
“...Sorry. I know you don’t want to hear this.”
“Very weird,” Ren agreed.
“...Do you have a plan?”
“A plan. To stay alive, along with everyone.”
Surprised to know Adam was showing interest, Ren turned his body again to face Adam, then shrugged.
“...I figured if nobody played, we could all stay alive indefinitely. But no one seems interested in doing that.”
Adam turned his body to face him as well.
“...If you’re telling me all this, it means you really aren’t interested in winning me over, are you.”
“Any time you’re nice to me, I’ll assume you’re doing it out of convenience. Are you okay with that?”
Adam cut him off suddenly, with a sharp look from his sharp eyes, but Ren wasn’t intimidated. He nodded.
“...I don’t mind. I knew it was a risk.”
“Or maybe you’re only telling me this to sabotage any of the other five that want to get close to me?”
“That would be a good plan, wouldn’t it?”
“I mean, I guess…”
“Not many people talk to me. If suddenly someone approached me and offered their friendship, I’d have no choice but to believe it’s with an ulterior motive now.”
Although Adam’s face didn’t emote much, Ren could hear the edge in his voice.
He was angry - and with good reason. Ren still felt guilty for bringing it up in the first place, despite knowing in his heart Adam had the right to know.
All he could do now was try to calm him down.
“I didn’t tell you all this to make you paranoid, you know. Look, I’ll tell you who they are, then you can rest assured nobody outside of those five that talks to you is in on this whole thing. Would that help?”
Adam was quiet for awhile and stared directly at Ren, who was feeling a drop of sweat forming on his forehead.
Nevertheless, he did not look away.
Instead, he waited. He knew Adam took his time to talk, and he knew he would give him an answer in a moment.
Instead, Adam threw him an unexpected curveball.
“Do you want to be my friend?”
Adam kept his sharp gaze on Ren, and it made him feel somewhat awkward.
The weird part was that, despite the brusque way he asked, part of him could tell Adam was genuinely interested in knowing if Ren had intentions of befriending him or not.
His eyes fixed on Ren’s like that… he really wanted to know why Ren was telling him all this, so this must have been the solution he came up with in his head.
“Stoker… that’s— not a question people normally ask, you know.”
Adam turned away from him at last, and back at the ceiling. Ren felt like he could breathe again.
Then he couldn’t help but think of the one piece of information he had about Adam before this whole thing: he had no friends, and nobody talked to him.
“Even if I said I wanted to be your friend, you wouldn’t believe I’m being honest, right?”
“...I guess not.”
“So, my answer doesn’t really matter, in the end.”
Adam’s eyes opened a little wider after Ren said this, but he didn’t look upset.
Instead, he pulled the sheets over himself and looked at Ren from the corner of his eye.
“...Are you friends with the other five, then?”
“Not really. I just met most of them through all this.”
“Then why do you want to save them?”
“Why are you working so hard to save five strangers who apparently wouldn’t do the same for you?”
Adam’s question had hit something inside Ren’s mind that Ren normally didn’t like to prod too much. The part of him that feels compelled to always find a solution for the benefit of everyone.
He avoided Adam’s gaze as he answered in a quiet voice.
“...I don’t know,” he sighed. “It just feels wrong to be responsible for other people’s lives.”
“That, and… one of the girls was really looking forward to this trip. She doesn't deserve to die so soon.”
That gets Adam’s attention. He’d heard that name before on the bus.
“...I’ve known her since we were five. Though I wouldn’t call us friends, exactly.”
“Do you like her?”
Ren winced at Adam’s sudden question.
“Ah— I see,” Adam interrupted, “If you don’t find a way to save them all, she’ll die along with everyone else.”
“Is she playing along, too?”
Ren was still avoiding Adam’s eyes, yet he couldn’t help but smile with endearment when he thought about Emma’s cold hands on his face, reminding him they’re alive, not too long ago.
“I don’t think so. She’s not the type.”
“She could be.”
Ren shook his head.
“No. You don’t know her. Her mind doesn’t work like that. She’s not crafty or conniving. All she wants is to have fun and help others like a superhero.”
“You said you’re not friends, but it seems like you know her pretty well.”
Ren was quiet as he felt a blush creep on his face.
He hesitated telling Adam more about her for a moment, but ultimately couldn’t help himself.
“She was my classmate when we were kids. When her parents died, she had no family to take care of her, so her dad’s mistress somehow got custody of Emma. I don’t know all the details, but she’s a mean woman who’s never shown her any love, and hates the fact that Emma exists in the first place.”
Adam looked at him with only his eyes peeking from the covers, listening patiently.
“This woman was also the headmaster of the school we both attended, so Emma did poorly at school because she never got any help at home or from her teachers, and the other kids would tease her over it, but… she never seemed to mind. She was always smiling.”
Thoughts of Emma from the past flooded Ren’s mind.
In every single memory, she’s shining as brightly as the sun itself, exactly as she still was, even after all this time.
“...Did you talk to her back then?”
“...Yeah,” Ren nodded. “I helped her with her homework as much as possible for a few years, though I doubt she remembers. After that, we went to different junior high schools, and I only met her again after we both entered Arrowheart High last year.”
“Sorry. I’m talking too much. You must be tired.”
“It’s fine, Adam yawned. “Nobody has talked to me this long in awhile.”
Something about how Adam heard these stories - the thing about Cupid, the thing about Julius, the thing about Emma - and still listened patiently without judgment made Ren feel like there was something amiss with Cupid’s assessment of Adam.
Sure, he was weird, but he wasn’t any weirder than the six of them, Ren thought.
Could this person really have done something so terrible?
I simply can’t imagine it.
I guess there is one surefire way to find out.
Here goes nothing.
Adam’s eyes were closed now, so Ren’s voice was even lower when he spoke.
“...Stoker? Can I ask you something?”
“Is it true? The incident from last year? Did you really push someone down a third floor window?”
Adam’s eyelids fluttered open languidly.
They locked eyes for a moment in the dark before Adam turned his back to Ren.
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