Chapter 12:

Chapter 12: Shopping


The markets on the Iron Streets were where people from the slums bought food and supplies. Their wares consisted mostly of expired and spoiled goods from the city, but there were still higher-quality shops that could afford to buy premium merchandise. Nyk didn’t have much experience with those places, slum rats like him stuck to stealing from the poorer stands.

While Dyna went about her shopping, Nyk kept one eye on her while the other scanned the crowd. Without the Synchro Suit’s tactical scanner he had to rely on his own instincts for sensing danger. He watched their eyes. Who was looking their way? How many times? How focused were they?

Wariness kept you alive in this lawless pit. Wariness and a gun.

“Hey, Nyk.”

He turned his attention to Dyna, who was staring at him with a look of concern.

“What is it?”

“You hungry?”

He was starving, actually. As good as Rowan’s stew had been, his body had grown used to eating three full meals a day, and slum food wasn’t that filling.

“…It’s okay if you’re hungry, you know, you don’t need to give me that scary look.” She turned back to the food stall. “Yeah, two orders, please, thanks!” She returned with two skewers of steaming meat.

“What are you doing? I thought you came here to go shopping for ingredients?”

“Yeah, they’re in the bag. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stop and have a bite to eat, does it?” She asked, offering him one of the skewers.

“…I’m not paying for that.” Without Lulu’s backing, his 9000 silvs would have to last him the rest of his life.

“Yeah, I know, I bought it to treat you,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Come on, you can’t eat and walk with that gun, so let’s find a place to sit.”

She led him over to a small bench and sat down, prying the meat off with her teeth.

Nyk only felt suspicion when he looked at the food.

“Why are you giving me this? We already had a deal. I keep you safe, I join you for dinner, and then we’re done.” Was she trying to leverage this for another favor down the road? He wasn’t about to fall for that. He tried to see some trace of malice hidden behind her smile.

But either she was a very skilled liar, or his ability to smell a con had faded these past weeks. Hell, maybe it was never that good in the first place.

“I’m not trying to trick you or bribe you or anything like that,” she groaned, rolling her eyes. “I just thought that you might want a bite to eat. Seriously, no strings attached, just dig in.”

His hand shook and he nearly dropped the skewer. “I told you and your mother, I don’t need your fucking pity,” he had to remind himself to stay calm.

Finishing her food, Dyna set down her skewer and turned to face him. “This isn’t pity. It’s compassion. People can be nice to others without having to feel sorry for them, you know.”

“Only because they want something,” he counted. Compassion? What sort of fucking word was that?

Now she was the one getting upset. “Fine. You got me. That’s right, I gave you that chicken skewer not out of the goodness of my heart but because I want some guy who can’t even keep track of his belongings to do something for me, and then lie to his face about it. Yeah, way to go Scavenger, you’ve figured me out. Congrats.”

“That sounds about right to me.”

She made a face like she wanted to scream. “…Okay. So you’re telling me that you’ve never had someone do something nice for you without expecting anything in return? Never? Not once?”

Nyk flinched, and she smirked. “Ah-ha! See, there it is. Who was it?”

“None of your fucking business, that’s who,” he snapped.

Dyna rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. It’s obvious that something’s bothering you. Unless you’re just this much of a prick to everyone when they do something nice. So what’s the harm? You said it yourself, after tonight, you and I are done. You’ll never have to see me again, so if there’s anyone you can talk to about your problems, it’s me.”

“That’s… I guess. So you’re saying this skewer is payment for telling you about my issues, then?”

“…Huh?” She stared at him like he was an idiot. “What? No, are you stupid? I said ‘no strings attached’. I just thought that if you had someone to talk to, maybe you’d feel a little better, why’d you have to go and make it sound weird?”

His eyes turned back to the meat. It was cooling down, but it was still warm enough to smell delicious. He fought back the urge to drool. But he couldn’t do it, he didn’t trust the “compassion” she was offering.

But he could talk at least. She’d been right about one thing, he’d been desperate to talk with someone. He couldn’t tell Axel the truth, and neither Lulu nor Aud had ever given a damn about anything he had to say. Dyna was the first person who he’d had a real conversation with in months.

So when he finally let it out, the words just kept coming.

“I have a friend. W-Well, an older… friend. Sort-of. She used to take care of me and look after me, she helped me out when I didn’t have anyone else to rely on.”

Dyna smiled. “And she didn’t ask for anything, did she? See? There aren’t all bad folks out there.”

“But she only did it because she pitied me.”

It felt like a weight had been lifted when he said it. Finally after all these years it had been eating him away inside, it felt good to let it out.

“Let’s face it. I’m short, I’m weak, I look like a girl, I can’t even read or write, and I can barely even use a gun. The only thing I’m good at is running, and even then… the only reason someone like Mysha would ever do anything for a guy like me is because she felt sorry for me.”

“Huh. Wow, that sucks.”

“That’s it?!” Nyk exclaimed, his head shooting up to glare at her. How could she look so nonchalant about this?! He was fucking pouring his heart out here, and she didn’t even care!

“Oh, I’m sorry, did you want me to pity you after all, then?”

“W-Well, no, I just…” Okay, so maybe part of him was looking for someone to feel sorry for him, but those were two separate things!

Dyna let out a sigh. “Look dude, yeah, maybe she pitied you, maybe she felt bad for you, I dunno. I’m not her. Did you ever ask?”

“Wh-What? No, of course not! After everything she’s done for me?! I couldn’t do something so rude!”

“Well, maybe you should, then. Find out if that’s really what she thinks, instead of beating yourself up about it.”

Her words were harsh, but he couldn’t argue.

“It’s… not that simple. I became a Scavenger because I wanted to prove that I didn’t need her pity,” he confessed. “I guess I thought that if I could repay her for everything she’s done for me, and show her that she doesn’t need to pity me anymore, well…”

“Maybe you two could fuck?”

His brain stopped working for a second there.

“…I mean, that’s what this is really about, right? The two of you fucking?”

His face was burning. “NO! That’s NOT what this is about! I just… I…”

“So you don’t want to fuck her, then?”

How could she say something so vulgar?! He didn’t, he… Mysha was…

“It’s not like that!” He finally blurted out.

Not that she seemed to care. She just shrugged.

“So you want her to stop pitying you and looking down on you, even though you don’t know if she is? And what are you going to do if she really is pitying you?”

“Then I’ll prove it with my record as a Scavenger! I’ll do some impressive stuff, and then she’ll see that I can be respected as an equal.”

“…Cool… and if she doesn’t pity you, and was just being compassionate?”

He didn’t have an answer for that. He wished that were the case, but…

“Look, you’ve done nice things for people without pitying them, right? Or wanting anything in return?”

“That’s…” He knew he had. Absolutely, right? But the more he thought about it, the more he struggled to come up with an example of a time he’d helped someone for a reason that wasn’t one of those two things.

“And helping that Mysha girl doesn’t count, it can’t be someone you’re trying to fuck.”

“I’M NOT TRYING TO FUCK HER!” Why did she keep saying that?!

Dyna rolled her eyes and stood up. “Okay, fine. How about this?”

Then before he could say anything, she snatched the meat skewer back.

“Hey! Give that back!” Nyk exclaimed, jumping to his feet.

“Oh? Why should I? I paid for it, didn’t I?” She smirked, waving it tauntingly in front of him. “I only gave it to you out of the goodness of my heart, remember? Well, now I’m taking it back!”

She was goading him, but he was too upset to care. “Just give it back!”

“But that would be pitying you! And we wouldn’t want that. And I’d hate for you to think that I wanted you to do something for me as payment! No, it’s better for the both of us if I just eat it myself, wouldn’t you say?” She held it up to her lips. “Come on, better hurry before I eat it~”

“This is stupid,” Nyk grumbled rolling his eyes. He wasn’t going to let her make fun of him anymore. “Let’s just get back shop-“

She practically poked his eye out when she jammed the skewer back in his face.

“Changed my mind again,” she grinned. “You can have it back.”

She wiggled it in front of his nose for good measure. But when he tried to grab it, she yanked her hand back at the last second.

Okay, this was just stupid. “What’s the point of all this?” He grumbled.

“The point is that I can give you some food, or not give it to you, because it’s my choice, not yours. Sure, maybe me and mom were worried about you last night so we took you in. But that’s not pity.”

It sure as hell felt like pity.

Dyna sighed. “Just… Just take the stupid skewer, okay?” She slipped it back into his fingers. “I’m just trying to be nice. People can do that, just so you know.”

Nyk stared down hungrily at the food, but was too reluctant to take a bite.

“…If you don’t want it, I can always take it back,” she teased, reaching for it a second time.

He pulled it as far out of her reach as possible, like hell he was gonna let her steal it from him a second time!