To the far right of the cave, a different pair made their way through the mysteriously illuminated tunnel, and these two were far more concerned about the nature of the strange glowing particles than their peers.
Airi reached to touch one of the slowly blinking embers, mystified by its nature, before Yusei swatted her hand away.
“Don’t touch it, you idiot! What if you get burned!?”
“But it’s glowing so pretty… like a firefly…”
“Well it ain’t a firefly, that’s for sure! There’s no way there’d be fireflies so deep inside a cave like this, anyway.”
“Is that so?” Airi tilted her head. “Do fireflies not live in caves?”
“Of course not!”
“Then where do they live, do you know?”
“Uh…” Yusei rubbed the back of his head with the hand not holding the torch. “I dunno. On trees, I guess.”
“Fufu. If you don’t know where fireflies live, how do you know they don’t live inside caves?”
“Shut up. You’re annoying.”
Airi laughed under her breath.
Despite their apparent high spirits, Airi and Yusei were both concerned about Emma more than they let on.
At the same time, it felt as if breaching the subject at all would make things more awkward than they needed to be.
Yusei wanted to keep Airi distracted away from any dark thoughts about what might have happened to Emma, but he was painfully bad at talking with girls.
Airi, on the other hand, was well-versed in social interactions and knew she had to take it upon herself to keep the topic from surfacing.
The warm, magical embrace of the glowing walls of the cave provided them both a strange sense of security as well.
“...This tunnel goes on for quite a long stretch,” Airi’s voice echoed quietly. “How long have we been walking for, I wonder?”
Yusei was relieved he didn’t have to be the one that cut through the silence.
“...Beats me,” he shrugged. “I use my phone as a clock and the teachers took ‘em all.”
“So do I. It would be convenient to have it as a flashlight as well.”
“Yeah. Never thought I’d be the type, but… I miss my damn phone.”
She stopped to look at him, so he also stopped, turning to look at her with his free hand in his pocket.
She tilted her head to the side.
“What do you mean, you never thought you’d be the type, Wilde?”
Of all things, that was a strange thing to question him about.
He snorted, then continued walking forward as Airi followed closely behind.
“I mean… people that depend on their phones for everything are losers ‘n shit.”
“Hm…” She seemed to acknowledge his answer, then trotted over so they’d be side by side. “This reminds me… there was once a study done that proved some people were genuinely in love with their smartphones.”
Her proximity made him uncomfortable, but he knew if he said anything she’d only make fun of him.
Instead, he focused on the stupid words that came out of her mouth.
“Pfft. In love with their smartphones? See? Losers.”
“...Is that what you think?”
“Mmm. Remember what Cupid said? That love comes in many different forms? I think if someone can love money above everything else, they could certainly love a tiny machine that lives in their pocket and provides them constant validation, no?”
“...I guess,” he said, shaking his head. “...But they’d still be losers.”
The way Airi pressed on with that sweet voice of hers and those big, droopy lavender eyes really unnerved him.
“Are you bein’ obtuse on purpose? Being in love with a thing, with a cartoon, with your job… that’s stupid as hell, isn’t it!? Those are just people bein’ cowards ‘cause they can’t get another human to like ‘em.”
“...My, you sound quite bitter, Wilde,” she smiled, used to his outbursts by now. “I don’t agree with that at all.”
“Yeah, well. I don’t care what Cupid said, that shit ain’t love no matter how you look at it.”
“Oh, my. You don’t believe an angel of love? …Rather, you think you know more than a Heavenly Being that brought us back to life?”
Yusei could feel a vein pop on his forehead.
“I’m sayin’ I don’t care what he says. It’s not gonna change the way I feel, or how I think about these things.”
“Fufu. You have a lot of pride.”
His face went red and he immediately looked away from her.
Yusei kept on walking with steady steps, then Airi stopped in her tracks again.
“...Why do you always say that?”
He turned around to look at her, exasperated.
“What are you naggin’ about, now?”
She was tilting her head to the side again, a finger pressed to her lips.
“...Why do you always tell people to shut up when you’re uncomfortable? Is it a defense mechanism?”
“Urk,” he winced, taken aback by her bluntness.
She continued without taking her eyes off of him.
“It’s an obvious way to end a conversation, and I’m sure you think it makes you look tough, but it actually makes you look… scared.”
He turned around completely, stepping into her personal space and backing her into the rocky wall.
“The fuck you said to me!?”
She blinked, impassive, then cracked a small smile as he loomed over her.
“There, see? Every time you’re uncomfortable you seem to resort to violence or aggression. You have confidence in your fists, but not so much your words, do you?”
Yusei slammed a hand on the wall right next to her head, fuming.
His grip on the torch with his other hand tightening furiously.
“Are you fucking picking a fight with me!? If you don’t think I’ll walk away and leave you here in the dark alone, you’re deadass wr—”
Before he knew it, her cold fingers were on his face.
She was cupping his cheeks delicately in her manicured hands, bringing their faces uncomfortably close as she whispered.
“There’s nothing to be scared of… Yusei.”
She called him by name.
Yusei was paralyzed. Her quiet words were slow and dragged, like a siren’s call.
“We’re alone right now. You don’t need to pretend to be someone you’re not. There’s no one here you have to impress.”
Yusei’s heart pumped so loud he could hear it in his ears.
Consciously, he knew the girl in front of him was Airi, but that wasn’t the girl that was reflected in his eyes.
Memories of his previous failed relationship—the yelling, the blood, the countless apologies, the neverending strings of texts in the middle of the night—they all flooded him at once and his breath started to feel short.
Before he knew it, he had harshly grabbed Airi by the arm and shoved her aside, tossing her onto the ground.