It was drawing close to evening. The sun had begun to sunk beneath the horizon, casting everything in orange hues.
Rena pulled out her phone to check the time and then frowned. “It’s getting late… I should get going.” She put it away and looked back at Neol. “Thanks for everything today, Neol, but-“
“I’ll walk you home.”
Neol stuck his hands in his pocket and said, “I don’t want to wake up the next morning hearing that an unidentified young woman died on her way home on the news, so I’ll at least make sure you get home safe.”
Rena seemed hesitant.
Neol raised an eyebrow. “What? Are you scared of me or something?”
“Mm… I think I should be. I mean, you keep saying that I’m going to die before the end of the day… But I also know creeps when I see one. And you did save my life twice today and got me out of that situation too…” She frowned and then said, “Really though. Why are you helping me out so much?”
Neol shrugged. “Can’t a guy escort a beautiful woman home because he’s concerned for her life?”
“Coming from anyone else, I’d agree.” Rena frowned, staring at Neol. “But when you say that it sounds a bit off…”
“Well in that case, should I leave you be?”
“No!” Rena quickly shook her head. “I don’t mind. You’re just… more than a bit weird, you know?”
“I get that a lot.” Neol pulled his hands out of his pocket and stretched. “Now, where are we headed?”
“Um, I live over here…”
It turned out that Rena lived over an hour away from the campus. As a result, the pair had to walk for a while.
Fortunately, it seemed that the bad luck surrounding Rena had vanished. Or so it appeared.
But as Neol walked Rena closer to her home, his expression grew dimmer and dimmer and his eyes narrowed.
It was a run-down part of town. The place where the poor and the ones working the darker side of the world hung around.
Since Neol was there, and since he kept close to Rena, the shadier individuals hanging around ducked their heads away, pretending not to notice.
But it didn’t change the fact that this wasn’t a place that someone like Rena would be safe in.
Glancing over at the girl he was escorting, Neol muttered, “You really are a walking archetype of the misfortunate girl, aren’t you?”
Rena blinked. “Pardon?”
“It’s nothing.” Neol shook his head and focused on keeping an eye out.
Eventually, they arrived at a small apartment tucked away in an alley on the ground floor.
A street light from nearby lit up the area just enough to see, but it was still cloaked in shadows.
Standing in front of the door, an old wooden one with paint cracked and flaking, Rena pulled out a key from her purse and turned towards Neol. “Thank you for everything today-“
Before she finished, Neol grabbed the key from her and then pulled her back.
He placed a finger on his lips and shook his head.
Her eyes widened and she stepped back, confused but trusting Neol to act.
Neol stepped forward, putting the key into the door. After pretending to struggle a bit, he turned the lock and opened the door, stepping in.
The moment he did, a dark shadow blurred. A white cloth and the scent of chloroform.
But Neol was faster. Already expecting something like that to occur, he immediately lashed out with his leg, striking the attacker in their diaphragm. Then, while the person was staggering back, he stepped forward and spun behind him, wrapping his arm around the man’s neck and cutting off the bloodflow.
A brief struggle, but already lacking air, the figure quickly collapsed, going limp.
When that happened, Neol let the figure drop the floor and then dragged him over to the door. Once there, he pulled off a mask that the man was wearing and then looked up at Rena. “This your manager?”
Rena gasped, covering her mouth with her hands.
It was a large man with balding hair. He seemed a bit out of shape, but not overtly. Just an average middle-aged man… who decided to sneak into a young woman’s house for a night invasion, apparently.
Rena’s eyes were wide and she slowly nodded. “That’s… him, alright.”
“Thought so.” Neol rolled the guy over, making sure the man wouldn’t suffocate while he was unconscious, and then stepped back out, locking the door behind him.
Rena blinked. “Um.” Her gaze flicked from the door to Neol and she said, “Are we just going to leave him there?”
“Yes.” Brushing off his hands and wiping the door down, he grabbed Rena’s arm and started walking off. “And you’re going to stay at my place tonight.”
Rena flushed. “W-Wait a minute! N-Neol, you’re nice and all and I... You are pretty handsome, but this is... I'm not quite... This is too sudden, you know!? A girl has to prepare herself!”
Neol rolled his eyes. “I’m not interesting in you like that.” He paused and then said, “Well, that’s a lie. Anyone that can say that with a straight face is either swinging for the other team or is trying to get into your pants. But I’m more interested in why the world is trying so hard to kill you.”
Hearing that, Rena calmed down, the flush on her face fading away. But then she frowned. “You’re… serious about that, aren’t you, Neol? That the world is trying to kill me?”
"That, or it's trying really hard to turn your life to a tragedy. Either way, I'm not going to abandon someone else who's being screwed over by life. Now come on. It'll be a bit of a walk, but it's better that than risk getting involved in a car accident and dying that way."
The opposite side of the city. A place with posh apartments and modern buildings, near the commercial district.
Walking through a pair of glass doors after Neol swiped in with a card, Rena looked around in awe.
The welcoming area had a bubbling fountain and leather couches. A grand piano was in the corner of the room, softly playing automated music. And then there were a lot of people wearing expensive clothing around.
Rena looked at Neol and said, “You must be doing really well for yourself, Neol!”
He shrugged. “With high risk comes high rewards.”
The pair walked over to the left, stopping in front of a door on the ground floor. Swiping in with his card again, Neol opened the door and walked in.
Rena started to follow after him, but he shook his head. “Wait there for a bit.”
She did as he asked, remembering what at her own apartment. Standing in the doorway, she watched as Neol carefully peered around the corners, walking around the rooms, opening and closing doors. It didn’t take long, but she noted that he did it with a practiced ease and efficiency.
“…Alright. You’re good to come in.”
When Neol called out again, Rena nodded and walked in, closing the door behind her. As she did, she looked to Neol and said, “Do you… usually get ambushed coming home?”
“No. But it’s a useful habit.” Neol took off his bag and tossed it to the side. That done, he looked at Rena and said, “Grab a seat. I’ll make some drinks… Coffee?”
“Ah, that’d be great.”
Neol nodded and then walked off.
Rena walked further in, taking a look around.
As expected for a guy living by himself, Neol didn’t have much furniture… But even then, the place seemed pretty barren.
There was a table with some wooden chairs and a couch. There was also a laptop sitting in the corner of the room. But it wasn’t plugged in, the adapter carefully tied up and placed alongside it.
A few textbooks were lying on the ground, probably for Neol’s classes. But overall, the place was empty. Well organized, but meticulously kept and notably clear from any tripping hazards or other accidents that might occur. Even the arrangement was done in a way that a person couldn’t bump into anything walking around unless they tried to.
Sitting down at the table, Rena frowned, placing her purse on the ground beside her.
She got the impression previously, but Neol was really weird… Smart, and a bit nosy, but more weird than anything else. Like, who seriously goes out of their way to reduce chances of getting hurt this much?
“Having fun looking around?”
Rena flinched and quickly shook her head. “Sorry! I didn’t mean to pry…”
“It’s fine.” He placed a cup of coffee in front of Rena and took the seat opposite of her. “There’s nothing to see anyway.”
Rena nodded. “I noticed.”
Neol shrugged and took a sip from his cup of coffee.
Seeing that, Rena did the same.
It was… surprisingly tasty. Not too hot, not too cold. A bit lukewarm, but still hot enough to be cozy. And it was just the right mix of creamy and sweet while keeping the coffee’s natural bitterness.
Drinking that, Rena closed her eyes and let out a sigh. After the stress that accumulated today, a warm drink like that was perfect to relax…
“You’re awfully naïve, you know? If I put something in that drink, it would have been over for you. Not to mention people saw you willingly walk into my home.”
Rena’s eyes snapped open and she stared at Neol.
He wouldn’t… Right? After all that he did… but…
Neol rolled his eyes and waved his hand. “Relax. I told you already, right? I don’t have any intentions of that sort towards you.”
“Right.” Rena nodded, letting out a sigh of relief. After that, she took another sip from her coffee…
“Of course, if you’re offering I won’t refuse.”
Rena spluttered, causing some of the coffee to go down the wrong pipe. She coughed, smacking her chest to clear it, and then glared at Neol. “I thought you were trying to get me not killed!”
“You’re fine. I specifically kept the temperature so that you wouldn’t get burned even if you did choke on it a bit. And it’s not like you’ll suffocate from a sip of coffee.” Saying that, he took a sip of his own coffee.
Rena blinked, suddenly realizing Neol’s foresight. And then she frowned and said, “You… really go overboard and making sure there aren’t any dangers, don’t you? Just what kind of life do you live, Neol?”
Neol paused, giving her a blank look. “After everything that’s happened to you today, that’s what you ask me?”
She shrugged. “Well, I’m going to be staying over tonight, right? Since that’s the case, I’d like to know a bit about the guy I’ll be sleeping with.” Saying that, she let out a coy smile.
Neol rolled his eyes and said, “You’re awfully chipper for being in a random guy’s house late at night.”
“Hey, you saved my life. Take some responsibility!”
“I… don’t think that’s how it works. But fine. I guess I can tell you a bit about me since you told me your past already.” He took a sip from his coffee and then set it down on the table. “Where to begin…?”