Yusei finally dared to disturb the mood and opened his mouth.
“...it’s precisely ‘cause I know what crazy chicks look like that I don’t think you’re one of them at all.”
Airi lifted her head to look at him, her fingers stopped over his palm.
“C’mon, don’t give me that confused look. You know what they’re all sayin’ about you, don’t you? The other dead kids.”
Airi looked down, finally releasing his hand.
“Ah, yes. Dumas said something like that.”
“Doesn’t it bother you?”
She fixed her hair behind her ear as she pondered his question.
“...I don’t think I’m anything like your ex, but… I could see why they’d say that about me.”
She answered candidly, to Yusei’s surprise.
She also smiled helplessly.
“I fall for people easily, you see. If they show me kindness, I tend to believe they have feelings for me—I want it to be true so badly that I do everything in my power to be their ideal partner.”
“...Huh? Ideal partner?”
“I change my hair and my clothes, the way I speak, the shows I watch on TV, the food I eat… I’ll do anything for them. Ah, but I know it’s kind of weird. I’m pretty self-aware like that.”
“But eventually everyone catches on. They don’t normally think I’m crazy, but they do think I’m desperate.”
Her smile never falters, but she does avert her gaze, looking at a particularly bright ember on the wall next to her.
“I don’t have one specific incident that marked me like yours, rather… every single time I liked someone and I told them I did–and I do mean every single time, without fail– they assumed I was nothing more than a liar, so they all pushed me away very quickly.”
His silence didn’t make her feel any worse, but it did make her uneasy.
Her face didn’t show it, however.
“I always wondered what it would be like to be loved back. I wanted to feel that, but letting someone get close to you… It's scary, isn’t it? And what if they don’t like what they see? That’s why I’d rather become someone they would like instead. Even though it never worked… but at least they were rejecting the person I created and not me.”
She laughed under her breath, looking at him with her usual elegant smile.
“Are you thinking that’s dishonest? …Deceitful?”
Yusei grunted, rubbing the back of his neck.
“I mean… it’s… weird, but…”
Airi never stopped smiling, even though his words rang familiar; he’s heard them before, from everyone she’s ever liked.
She was sure she could tell where this was going, too, and resigned herself to Yusei tearing into her, just like everyone else.
Yusei, however, kept his usual cool tone as he shrugged.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to be like the person you like, y’know. Love without admiration ain’t love at all, I think.”
Airi’s eyes went wide.
She blinked a couple of times, watching Yusei’s back as he began making his way down the tunnel again.
Love without admiration isn’t love.
She’d never heard those words before, and she was positive there was no way that phrase wasn’t parroted from somewhere else.
But it didn’t matter at all, because his next words…
“Maybe what they didn’t like was that you changed yourself, y’know? ‘Cause you’re perfectly fine as you are.”
They definitely came from his heart.
She could tell.
Yusei responded on instinct, flinching when he realized he did what she had literally called him out on a moment ago.
He quickly turned to look at her, stammering his words for a second.
“...I mean, you don’t have to call me Wilde. Yusei’s fine.”
He turned back around, hastening his pace in embarrassment.
“If you want, that is. You can keep calling me by my last name if it’s better for you. I don’t care either way. In fact, I don’t care what you do at all, no matter what.”
She smiled again, trying to match his pace.
“Fufu. You’re cute when you’re nervous.”
Outside the cave, Agatha was sitting over a large rock under a tree with barely any leaves on it. It was the middle of summer, so it was a strange tree indeed.
This was definitely the sort of thing she’d like to investigate further under normal circumstances, but right now, her brain was elsewhere.
She was biting her nails furiously, squirming in her seat, making low, anxious noises over and over.
It was hard to keep herself from thinking the worst.
Emma had run inside a dark cave and quickly disappeared.
They were all there to stop her, and yet no one could. She felt incredibly guilty.
“Maybe we should have gotten a teacher… m-maybe it’s not to late to do so… maybe we should call the police, or tell an adult… a-at the very least, we should tell some other kids so they come help us find her, right? …Aaah… but if they find out we jumped the fence we’ll be in big trouble… Uuuuu… What should I dooo…?”
Her glasses were foggy with her own breath, and sometimes when she reached a painful part of her fingernails with her teeth, she’d switch to biting the tips of her braids instead.
She was barely holding onto her sanity, and in stark contrast…
Adam was calm and unperturbed.
He was sitting over a separate rock on the opposite side of where the tree was, near the cave’s entrance.
For the most part, he was looking inside, staring into the dark.
Until he turned his head to look at Agatha.
It took her awhile to notice she was being observed, but once she did, she flinched.
Adam said nothing, but didn’t take his eyes off her either way.
This is what finally took Agatha out of her own head filled with dark thoughts and tossed her into a different pit with a new reason to be anxious.
“I-Is something the matter?”
She asked with her trembling voice.
Adam shook his head.
Agatha gave him a minute to elaborate or say anything else, but Adam said nothing.
“A-Are you worried about Dahl?”
Adam blinked at the question.
It was barely anything, but it was a reaction, and it didn’t escape Agatha’s eyes.
“Y-You two became friends so quickly, didn’t you?”
She was trying to make friendly conversation, thinking that maybe Adam was just as worried as she was but wasn’t the type to show it— or even better, was holding back from showing his concern so he wouldn’t worry Agatha.
Now that would truly be something!
She smiled awkwardly at her own fantasy.
“D-Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll be back soon. He seems very smart and cautious—”
“Are we friends?” Adam interrupted.
Agatha adjusted her glasses, surprised.
“D-Do you mean, you and me!?”
Adam shook his head before Agatha’s brain went on another weird fantasy.
“Ren Dahl and I. You said we became friends quickly.”
“Oh,” she straightened her back, placing her hands on her lap.
“Y-Yes! Am I wrong? Did you know each other from before?”
Adam looked away from her and back into the cave.
Agatha tilted her head in confusion.
He barely noticed.
He couldn’t stop thinking of what Ren said to him at the cabin.
He wanted to believe Ren was different; that what Ren said to him he truly said out of the kindness of his heart, and not as another twisted ploy to manipulate the outcome of whatever game he and the others were playing.
But what if that wasn’t the case?
Slowly, he opened his palms to look at the little creature he’d been holding this whole time.
It was the horned beetle Emma had ‘rescued’.
“...Rika Dumas,” he said in a quiet, monotone tone. “Julius Verne, Airi Carroll, Yusei Wilde, Ren Dahl… and Emma Lovecraft.”
He lifted his face to look at Agatha.
“There’s something you should know about them, Fitzgerald.”