The next morning, Rena had somehow managed to not drop dead. Since that was the case, Neol decided to walk her back to her apartment again to check on the situation there.
“…Are you sure that it’s alright, Neol?” Rena glanced around, more timid than before. Staring at the rundown area, even while in broad daylight, she seemed intimately more aware of the fact that it wasn’t a place someone like her should be in, especially after the incident before.
“It’s fine. Ah, but give me your key to go in first.”
She nodded and did as he asked.
Once again, they stood in front of Rena’s door.
She stared at it with caution, carefully holding the taser that Neol passed her before they left.
…Though why he had a dozen of those lying around, Rena didn’t know. But she was grateful to have it since it gave her a sense of security that she didn’t have before.
Neol unlocked the door with the key and walked in. This time, however, nothing jumped out at him.
Rena let out a sigh… though she was also confused. How did her manager get inside her house in the first place?
“Wait there and keep an eye out. I’ll give the place a once over first.” Saying that, Neol quickly entered the apartment and took a look around.
It was too fast for Rena to react, and by the time she did she realized that Neol would get to see her messy room and belongings.
But it seemed like the guy either didn’t notice or didn’t care since he returned a few minutes later with the usual neutral expression. “It’s all clear. Seems like that guy didn’t break in or anything and isn’t hanging around. But considering that, he probably has a copy of your key… or knows your landlord.”
Rena tightened her grip on her purse. “Then… what should I do?”
It wasn’t safe. She had been somewhat confident before that the lock would be enough, but…
Neol sighed. “Honestly… why are you even living in a place like this? You aren’t stupid enough to think that a girl like you’d be safe living here alone, are you?”
“Of course not! But…” Rena adjusted her purse and said in a soft voice, “I can’t afford anywhere else.”
“Can’t you take out a loan?”
Rena shook her head. “I tried, but the most I could get was a couple thousand dollars.”
“Haah.” Neol ran a hand through his dark hair and frowned. “What a messed up life you have…”
Rena huffed. “While sorry that I can’t be miss perfect!” Saying that, she marched into her apartment, pushing past Neol. But when she stood in the center of it, the realization hit her.
Neol was right. This place… really wasn’t safe for her. But… she didn’t have any savings and there wasn’t anyone she could rely on.
She bit her lips, wracking her mind.
Did she risk it? Maybe if she pushed her wardrobe up against the windows and blocked the door at night? But then, what if it happened like last time where she had to come home late?
She thought the area was okay since nothing bad happened since the few months she had lived there, but was that simply because people were waiting?
That’s… Then she…
A pit in her stomach. Nausea.
What… should she do?
While her head started to spin, a low sigh echoed.
“Honestly… you really are hopeless, aren’t you? What am I going to do about you?”
Rena’s eyes widened and she turned around. “You… didn’t leave?”
Neol raised an eyebrow. “Though I’m selfish, I’m not cruel enough to leave someone helpless behind on their own.”
Rena felt a sharp pang in her chest at being called helpless but couldn’t disagree with him.
Neol leaned against the wall and said, “You really need to move out. This place isn’t safe for you, both living here and walking around here.”
“You make it sound so easy. But do you know how much I have to pay to break the lease? And then there’s moving everything…”
Neol pushed himself off the wall and said, “It’s about two grand, right? And as for this stuff… honestly, you could use some new clothes and belongings anyway. It’s not like you have anything sentimental here, right?”
Rena paused. “That’s… true.”
Her mother hadn’t left anything behind when she died and Rena never had enough money to buy anything luxurious.
“So then what’s stopping you from just walking away?”
Rena rolled her eyes. “Do you want me to say it that bad? I’m poor. I barely have ten dollars in my savings account, and that guy probably isn’t going to give me my paycheck for this month or a severance pay either since it wasn’t really on the books…” She trailed off, realizing just how naïve she had been in that regard. “Even if I want to… I’m stuck here.”
“Then should I give you a lifeline?”
“Huh?” Rena blinked. “What do you mean?”
Neol shrugged. “Since the heavens won’t give you a way out, I might as well. Come on.” Without another word, he grabbed her arm and pulled her out.
“W-Wait a minute! Stop doing that!”
“Stop doing what?”
“That!” Rena huffed and glared at Neol. “You keep grabbing me and just dragging me along! That’s harassment!”
“Right… Then would you rather I left you back there to stew in misery?”
“Thought so. And you can yell at me later. For now, it’s important to make sure you have a safe place to stay and get back on your feet.”
Words said in a matter of fact matter. Not pity or trying to get on her good side. Just a matter of fact declaration that he would settle everything for her.
Realizing that, Rena bit her lip and said, “Why?”
“Hm?” Neol glanced back. “Why what?”
“Why are you doing all this for me? Why are you going this far for someone you never met before?”
Neol shook his head and turned back to face forward. “I told you, didn’t I? You’re interesting. Not only that, but it seems like my bad karma’s being blocked by whatever’s trying to kill you… I can’t just let go of a good luck charm like that, can I? Now, let’s hurry back. I’ve got some paperwork to fill out if we’re going to find you a safe place to live.”
A whirlwind of activity. After that declaration, Neol dragged her around to go shopping, refusing to let her pay for anything. A day that passed by in a blur.
Before she knew it, she was walking into an apartment next door to Neol’s, sleak and clean, completely unlike her rundown place that she rented with her own money.
Still in shock, the moment Neol handed her the keycard and paperwork, she slumped into the sofa, dazed. “Is… this for real?”
Neol closed the door and then leaned against the wall near it, keeping a large gap between him and Rena.
It seemed like he was being considerate even now.
Rena turned to look at Neol. “I… don’t get you.”
“I’m sure you don’t. Not many do.”
Rena shook her head and said, “This… is really too much. I mean… How can I ever repay you?”
“Well, you can start with your body.”
Rena huffed. “I’m being serious here!”
Neol held up his hands, “Fine, fine. I’ll stop joking around.” He paused and said, “You really don’t have to think too much about it. I really am just curious. How long you’ll last when being pursued like that, if being around you really causes my bad karma to get cancelled out because I’m doing some good deeds… You know. Trying to not die myself by being a good guy.”
Rena blinked. It couldn’t be that simple… right?’
“…Or maybe I just wanted to arrange everything to get you in my clutches. After all, since I’m subleasing this apartment to you and you signed off on everything, you couldn’t run away even if you wanted to.”
Rena tensed, but then staring at Neol’s blank face, she smiled and said, “You’re joking again.”
“Are you sure?” He pushed off the wall and stepped forward. “What if I’m serious?”
Rena’s smile widened and she placed a finger on her lips. “Oh, I don’t know… you’ve already given me so much that I can’t even think of how to pay you back…” She shrugged. “You might as well keep me.”
Neol froze, clearly not respecting that response. “Wha-?”
Rena grinned and jumped to her feet. Walking over, she poked Neol’s face and said, “So you can get flustered!”
Neol huffed. “You’re going to be the death of me, I swear.”
Rena laughed and laced her hands behind her back. “Better that you die because of a cute girl like me then randomly in an alley somewhere, right?”
Neol rolled his eyes and went to sit down on the sofa.
Rena followed after him, plopping into the seat beside him. As she did, she looked at him and said, “How are you paying for all this anyway? Aren’t you just a university student? You were carrying around a bag when I met you and I saw those textbooks at your place…”
Neol shrugged. “I am, but it’s more of a hobby to kill time. I’ve got a lot of money from careful investments… and insurance policies.”
Rena froze and then gave Neol a sideways glance. “Don’t tell me you’re the cause of all that…?”
“What do you take me for, some heartless bastard? Of course I don’t go out of my way to get people killed. But if the people who were taking care of me were going to die anyway, I might as well make sure that I was squared away when they did, right?”
“Uh huh. And people didn’t get suspicious after all your guardians mysteriously died in random ways?”
Neol shrugged. “I know a guy, so don’t worry about it.”
Rena shook her head. “Honestly… you really have a way of making the bad things in life turn out well, don’t you?”
He leaned back on the couch and said, “It’s a learned skill.”
“But anyway…” Neol leaned back forward and turned towards Rena. “What are you planning to do from here on?”
Neol nodded. “You’re… what, eighteen? Nineteen?”
“Eighteen,” Rena said. “My birthday was a few days ago actual- Oh.” She frowned, suddenly realizing the cause of the incident the other day.
“Right. So the perfect age to accidently get exploited because of how naïve you are.”
“I am not naïve!”
“Says the girl who let a guy lead her around all day and sign paperwork that could get her liable for more than she can pay off in her lifetime?”
Rena froze and then said, “W-Well you’re different!”
“True.” Neol crossed his legs. “But if it happened once, it can happen again. So to make sure that doesn’t happen, let’s have a chat about your career path. What do you want to do?”
Rena was quiet for a bit and shook her head. “It’s… silly. And nothing much either. To someone like you, it’s probably nothing at all…”
Neol shrugged. “I won’t judge. After all, my opinion of you can’t get any worse, right?”
Rena huffed. “Rude.”
Rena shook her head and then said, “I want to go to college. And… Well, I want to study programming.”
Rena nodded. “There wasn’t much that was good about my childhood, but I remember having a lot of fun playing RPGs.” She pulled up her legs and traced a circle on the sofa cushion. “I… think it’d be fun trying to make them. Maybe it’d make some other people as happy as I was, you know?”
“Mm, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Neol nodded. “Of course. I read trashy isekai and Chinese cultivation novels in my spare time after all.”
Rena laughed. “You? Trashy Isekai novels?”
“Yep. After all, I’ve been raising flags everywhere ever since I’ve been alive. I figured having a wide repertoire of events could come in handy, seeing as my life seems to be a crappy web novel.”
“Well, Mister Protagonist.” She smiled and said, “If your life is a crappy web novel, then what would you call our meeting?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Boy meets girl… Though to you, it’s probably more of a Shoujo manga where you get swept off your feet by prince charming, right?”
Rena flushed and swatted Neol’s arm.