23 Walk Alone
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Ruan Gui Ying buttoned up his coat and wrapped the scarf around his neck, glancing out of the window. Snow was dancing in the air in thick flakes, slowly floating down to cover the branches of the nearby trees and the roofs of the cars that were parking next to the concert hall, giving the place a quiet and peaceful feeling.

Ruan Gui Ying couldn’t help but smile faintly. It really was a magical evening. A pity he’d have to walk home alone. Well, the sooner he did, the sooner he’d be able to snuggle up with his boyfriend. He turned back to the others and have a smile. "I’ll be leaving. Thanks for the hard work today!" He nodded and then left to their well-wishes.

Stepping out of the building and into the alley behind to escape the onslaught of reporters that had certainly gathered in the front of the building once again, he hunched up his shoulders and rubbed his hands together to keep them warm. It had already been cold when he arrived in the morning but now that he left, it had turned freezing.

He crossed his arms and stuffed his hands below his armpits, regretting a little that he hadn’t taken his gloves with him. And a hat. His ears got surprisingly chilly after just a minute out in the cold. Next time, he had to remember bringing them even if it didn’t look as if it would snow in the morning. You could never know how things would change over the course of one day.

"Ah, I’ll ask Ah Bai to warm me up when I’m home. I should probably write him a message to put on a kettle before I get there. Having some tea to warm up would be nice." And while he was at it, maybe he should also call for a taxi. Most of them would be in front of the concert hall right now, waiting to take the guests home. Since he hadn’t called one over up front, he would have trouble hailing one over here.

He fished out his phone while he went down the alley toward the next biggest road and pressed the power button to turn it back on. Unfortunately, the screen stayed dark.

Ruan Gui Ying stopped in his tracks and looked at it in a daze. He had switched it off before the concert. How could the battery be dead now? He sighed, his breath wafting into the air in a white cloud. So much for getting home comfortably and being greeted by a nice cup of tea. Well, at the very least, he could still throw himself into his boyfriend’s arms.

Thinking of that, Ruan Gui Ying cheered up. He slipped his phone back into his pocket and then continued. Who knew? Maybe he would get lucky and was able to grab a cab at the main street? It was only two more turns from the small road next to this alley so not that long anymore until he would get there.

The thin layer of snow on the ground was crunching with each of his steps, the sounds strangely dull this late at night. Other than that, nothing could be heard, making him feel strange. When he came here in the morning, there had been people bustling around everywhere. Now, none of that could be heard anymore. He didn’t see anyone either. It seemed that these back-streets were completely empty at this time of the day. Looking back, there was a distinct trail of footsteps behind him that got fainter the further he went. After a few minutes, most likely, nothing could be seen of it anymore. Then it would be as if he, too, had never been here.

Ruan Gui Ying glanced up at the sky above that had turned gray with only a sliver of sunlight still to be made out in the distance. It seemed he should hurry up a bit or it would become dark. In this kind of alley where half the street lamps were broken, it might be difficult going forward.

He hurried up and finally reached the end of the alley. Turning into the small street next to it, he slowed down again. Here, the light was slightly better so he didn’t need to rush as much. Anyway, hurrying through the snow was also uncomfortable with the snowflakes melting on his skin and getting caught in his hair.

Ah, he really hoped that there would be a taxi around over on the main street. It seemed as if it was getting even colder. At the very least, the wind had picked up in this street, making his skin redden and sting. He sniffed and raised his hands to rub his cheeks. He really needed to prepare better next time. Anyway, his chances of getting that warm and comfy cab shouldn’t be too bad, right? After all, it wasn’t like everybody would go to the concert. Although, he did have to say that it had drawn quite the audience this time. Definitely much better than the last one. If it continued like this, they could probably think about buying that house Shuang Bai had talked about before.

Ruan Gui Ying smiled to himself but his expression got slightly strained when he heard a sound from behind him. It was only faint but with how quiet the street was, it could still be heard. It should be somebody else walking down the road?

He wondered if maybe he should take a look over his shoulder but he was slightly scared to do so. This was probably nothing. Most likely, it was just one of the guests or one of the musicians that were on their way home as well. Not everybody wanted to go from the main entrance where there would be a crowd of people after all. Yes, that wasn’t anything strange. It wasn’t like he was being followed or anything. Yes, that definitely wasn’t it.

Even though he told himself so, he still hunched up his shoulders further and slightly hastened his steps. Ah, this really was stupid. Previously, he had never worried about this. But when he thought of the story that had gone through the news a few weeks ago, he just couldn’t help but be worried. He definitely didn’t want to turn up dead by tomorrow morning.

Ah, he could already imagine the kind of article they would write about him. And then all the speculations that would be made about how things had happened and the inquiries into his private life afterward … It wouldn’t be nice. His name would probably be smeared posthumously. He would never let that happen. Ah, no, he wouldn’t even let anything happen to himself.

Ruan Gui Ying strained his ears to listen for the sounds behind him, hoping that the person had already left. Unfortunately for him, that didn’t seem to be the case. There was still the sound of the snow crunching behind him and, in fact, it seemed to have gotten slightly closer.

He gulped. Ah, just why did his phone have to be dead today out of all days? If only he could call Ah Bai or maybe even the police if push came to shove … But now, he had to solve this himself.

Now, what to do? He didn’t know who the person was. He also didn’t know if they were faster than him so trying to outrun them might have the opposite effect and instead make the person rush at him even faster. Then what? Hide? He looked around to see if there was anywhere he could escape to.

Maybe he could already turn somewhere else? Or maybe there was a house he could enter? If it seemed as if he lived here, the person might not dare to follow him any longer. After all, if it was a resident who screamed at night, then it would be likely that somebody would come and help them, right? At the very least, it would be much more likely than when a random stranger turned up.

Ruan Gui Ying glanced around but none of the houses close by seemed as if they were open. In fact, with how quiet it was, he was pretty sure that most people were either asleep or not in at all. It seemed that he was on his own after all.

He bit his lower lip and finally tried glancing over his shoulder without being too obvious. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see the person behind him as if they were deliberately keeping in the shadow.

He cursed under his breath and then glanced at the junction in front of him. If he was a serial killer going after unsuspecting artists, he would probably choose a place like that to ambush them. On the other hand, it was probably the best place to get away from one as well.

If the other person didn’t know yet that he had already noticed them, he could turn around the corner and then rush ahead as fast as he could. That way, he might be able to outrun them since they might not run after him immediately. And when he reached the main road, it shouldn’t be a problem anymore. After all, that kind of crime certainly wouldn’t be committed in broad daylight, right? Uh, well, in broad street lights under the eyes of everybody who was still going about their days. But anyway, he couldn’t imagine it. And considering that he didn’t know how else to go about this, he might as well give it a try. If it didn’t work out, he just had to try and fight back as well as he could. Anyway, it was much better than doing nothing.

Ruan Gui Ying took a few deep breaths and made sure that he didn’t walk any faster than he normally would. He couldn’t give that person any indication that he knew about his presence or his plan wouldn’t work out. No, he had to be careful.

When he reached the end of the road, he dashed around the corner, breaking out into full jog as soon as he was out of sight. Only when he closed in on the end of that road, did he slow down and took another deep breath.

Ah, could hardly believe something like this was happening! Now that he felt that he was safe, he glanced over his shoulder to make sure that there really wasn’t anybody behind him anymore. Sure enough, the road was empty. It seemed that he wouldn’t need to worry for now.

Ruan Gui Ying heaved a sigh of relief and then continued to walk, still doing so at a brisk pace but at least he wasn’t running anymore. No, now, he should be out of danger. He had to catch his breath in case he wasn’t though.

Thankfully, the sounds behind him had stopped, and instead, he could faintly hear the sound of cars from the front. The lights of the main street could also be seen up ahead and a smile found its ways onto Ruan Gui Ying’s face. He had made it out alive!

Next time, he really would order a taxi to wait for him at the back of the concert hall though. But for today, he had managed to get out of there safely even without that foresight. That was worth a bit of a celebration. Feeling that he was safe now, he unwittingly started walking slower, continuing to adjust his breath.

Just when he stepped onto the sidewalk of the main street, his shoulder was grabbed. He screamed, striking out to hit the person in the face. Before his palm could connect, his wrist was grabbed though and he was pulled up against a firm chest.

"Ah! Ruan Gui Ying! What were you trying to do?! Is this the way a star behaves in public? Do I have to scold you for suddenly putting on airs and graces?!"

Ruan Gui Ying raised his head, staring wide-eyed at the person in front of him. "Ah … Ah Bai?" He slumped into the other man’s arms and hugged his waist, the previous tension leaving his body at once, almost making him collapse.

Shuang Bai stared at his slumped figure, any thought of scolding him forgotten. "What is going on? Aren’t you feeling well?" He grabbed his cheek and made him face up again, looking him all over. His boyfriend’s face was a little pale and his skin was cold but other than that, he seemed alright. So what was going on? "Did something happen?"

Ruan Gui Ying glanced around in all directions and then huddled up even closer to Shuang Bai. "You could say that. After I left the concert hall, there was somebody following me all the time. You have no idea how scared I was! And then, when I thought that I was finally out of danger, you suddenly grabbed my shoulder. I thought I’d get mugged or killed on the open street!"

Shuang Bai brows twitched. "The one following you from the concert hall was me." Seeing how scared his boyfriend was, he felt a bit bad about scolding him but who would think of a killer just because somebody was walking behind them. "Anyway, why didn’t you wait for me? Didn’t I text you that I’d come and get you? You left your gloves and hat at home again. What are you going to do if you become sick? It’s not good for your voice if you perform like that."

He shook his head and clicked his tongue. "Haish. Anyway, let’s not talk about that. You don’t have to be afraid. Nobody else was following you."

Ruan Gui Ying furrowed his brows and looked at him, aggrieved. "Are you sure about that? But if it was you, why didn’t you call out? You almost scared me to death!"

Shuang Bai felt a bit bad hearing that. "I’m sorry. I probably should’ve done that. Actually, I did think about it but I was afraid that I’d scare you. Who could have known that it would be worse this way? I’m really sorry." He leaned down and kissed his forehead, hoping that it would somehow calm him down.

Anyway, he probably should’ve expected this. Ruan Gui Ying often turned off his phone before his performances since he said that it would distract him too much if he got messages when preparing. Most likely, he had just wanted to go home fast after he was done for the day and hadn’t turned his phone back on because of that. Naturally, he hadn’t even seen his message if it was like this. Well, next time, they should talk about this kind of thing earlier. Now, it was only important to get him back. "Alright, let’s go then?"

Ruan Gui Ying looked up, still feeling a little out of sorts. "Are you sure that there wasn’t anybody else?" He peered back into the side street, still unable to shake the fear.

"Yes, I’m sure. Anyway, if somebody still sneaks up on you, I’ll scold them to death!" He leaned down and pecked his lips before grabbing Ruan Gui Ying’s hands and taking out the gloves he had been talking about. "Here. Put these on." He also took out a warm hat and put it on his boyfriend’s head, nodding to himself. Rubbing his cheeks to warm them up a bit, he motioned down the street. "Let’s get out of here. And the next time, I’ll already be there when the concert finishes. That way, you’ll have your very own personal bodyguard to bring you home. How does that sound?"

Ruan Gui Ying couldn’t help but laugh despite himself. "That sounds fantastic. I’ll depend on you then to protect me next time." He tiptoed and kissed his cheek before turning around and walking down the street together. Yes, the next time, he wouldn’t have to be afraid if his boyfriend was at his side.