She let out a tiny yelp just before she cushioned her fall with her arms.
It was then that Yusei snapped out of it and realized what he had done.
The panic he felt before from his old memories was quickly overwritten with the panic of reality and what he had just done.
“Shit– I— Th…That was your fault! You suddenly said my name like that…!”
He rushed to her side and helped her up, the torch trembling in his hand as he tried to keep it steady while Airi got back on her feet.
Airi was silent, dusting herself off. It made Yusei more nervous.
“Shit, I’m sor—”
“—I’m sorry, Wilde,” she interrupted.
Of all things, Yusei was not expecting an apology.
He was the one that shoved her, after all. She could have gotten hurt.
At the very least, he got her clothes all dirty.
She fixed her sleeves over her wrists, avoiding eye contact as she softly spoke.
“I don’t know when to stop sometimes. The truth is, I have trouble measuring my closeness with others and realizing when I’ve taken things too far…”
Yusei felt a knot in the pit of his stomach.
He didn’t know how to respond, so he simply clicked his tongue and looked away.
“Tch. Don’t apologize to me, dumbass. I was the one that shoved you.”
“...But you didn’t mean to shove me, did you?”
He slowly turned his face to look at her, surprised.
Their eyes met, and he could tell Airi genuinely wasn’t upset.
In fact, she had pity in her gaze.
“...When you looked at me from up close… who did you see, Wilde?”
“Was it your ex-girlfriend?”
“You don’t have to tell me if it makes you uncomfortable.”
He took in a shaky breath, turning his back on her.
At the very least, he owed her an explanation, he thought.
The glowing embers on the cave calmed his nerves, and after a moment of hesitation and finding the right words, he gathered the courage to speak.
“...It’s… not that I don’t want to talk about it. It’s just fuckin’ embarrassing. A guy like me, having some lame trauma over being used by a girl— you can’t just bring that up with your friends or family without knowing they’ll fucking laugh at you.”
Airi took a step closer, looking at his back.
“...So when Cupid read your file out loud to us, was that the first time anyone else found out about it?”
He couldn't turn around to face her yet.
He’d never had enough courage to talk about this before. The possible danger posed by the embers was quickly forgotten, resting his free hand on the wall, looking at the ground.
“...I was young and dumb; she was pretty and she liked me. When she asked me out, ‘course I said yes. She made me lunch every day, she texted me all the time, she always wanted to hang out… It was awesome at first. All my friends were jealous.”
He almost sounded fond for a moment, but his tone quickly shifted after a pause.
“Things started to get really weird really quick, though. She would get super paranoid over petty things: I couldn’t talk to other girls, or young female teachers—I couldn’t even hang out with my friends without her crying about how I was abandoning her. She’d threaten to hurt herself, she’d call me names and berate me for hours, only to apologize later in a long text saying what a horrible person I must think she is. I always tried to make her feel better, y’know. But I also knew I was fucking trapped. There was no way out except breaking it up. I knew I had to, but I also dreaded her reaction.”
This was the most Airi had ever heard Yusei open up about himself.
It made her realize she truly didn’t know enough about him.
After letting him catch his breath for a moment, Airi took another step closer, asking her question in a gentle, soft tone.
“...Did you do it?”
She knew the answer, of course.
It just felt like Yusei needed to say it out loud.
“Yeah,” he sighed.
Slowly, he turned on his side to show her his left palm where a long, vertical scar ran in diagonal from the base of his index finger to his wrist.
“It ended as badly as you’d expect.”
“Did she stab you?”
Yusei gathered his thoughts again.
“...She grabbed a knife and threatened to kill herself. She was completely hysterical, so I took it from her before she got hurt—though I had to pull it from the blade. As soon as my blood started pouring out, she dropped to her knees, sobbing. I never saw her again after that.”
He took another breath to calm himself before continuing.
“Despite it all, I felt… guilty. Like somehow all of that had been my fault, and that I had done something shitty by breaking up with her.”
“...A few days later I transferred to Arrowheart High—and nobody asked any questions. A delinquent with a stab wound that suddenly moves to a new school? Hah. Everyone simply assumed I got it from a fight. How could I ever tell them what really happened? …Fucking sucks.”
Airi’s heart felt heavy.
It was true: finding a tough guy like Yusei was afraid of girls because of what one girl did to him once sounded almost comical the first time she heard it.
But the full story was worse that she imagined.
She clutched her chest in her fist, averting her eyes from him.
“It’s all in the past now, anyway,”
Yusei shrugged, trying to dismiss it as something irrelevant to his life now, but Airi knew there was no way that was true.
She looked at his palm, now lowered and hiding the scar.
Hesitantly, she reached for it and gently held it in her hands.
Yusei gasped, whipping his head to look at her.
She was caressing the scar carefully with the tips of her fingers—slowly, with a sad look on her face, as if she felt his pain.
It felt like time had stopped.
“...You’re a good person, Wilde. You’re too kind, and… you didn’t deserve what happened to you at all...”
His heart skipped a beat.
He could feel his face heat up as usual—the urge to tug his hand away as quickly as possible bubbling inside of him just as fast.
The embers glowed all around, giving Airi a sort of halo around her head.
It soothed Yusei’s fight or flight reflexes.
He sighed, sneaking a glance at her sad eyes before looking away again, letting her trace his scar as much as she wanted.
…Maybe it’d be fine to stay like this for just a little while longer, he thought.
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