Chapter 13:

Chapter 13: Decision


Nyk rarely ever went shopping when he lived in the slums. Whenever he needed to eat something, he would steal it. That’s why he wasn’t sure if shopping was supposed to take this long. They’d been out for hours, not even going to stands.

Dyna just wanted to talk to him. Even as they headed back to her mother’s shop, she didn’t stop asking questions.

“So how long have you been a Scavenger?”

Most of her questions were like that, rude and invasive and stuff he didn’t feel comfortable sharing. Why the fuck would she want to know that anyway?

“A couple months, I guess?”

Dyna blinked, surprised by that answer. “…Oh. Okay, yeah, that makes a lot of sense.”

“Wait, what? What’s that supposed to mean?!”

She shrugged. “Well, I mean, I thought I was pretty hot shit when I took you down this morning, but it turns out you’ve only been in the business a few months? Yeah, that makes way more sense now.”

“Hey! I’ve gotten rid a lot of Sentinels! More than I can count!” Nyk protested.

“Oh, you’re a big, bad Sentinel killer now, are ya?” Dyna smirked, her skepticism glowing on her face.

“Yeah, I am!”

“So it’s just cute girls you have a problem with, then.”

“Huh? No, I just-“

“You can admit it,” Dyna said, patting him on the shoulder and brushing back her bangs. “I stunned you with my feminine wiles, right?”

She was trying not to burst out laughing.

“You caught me by surprise, that’s all,” Nyk snapped.

Dyna stepped in front of him and turned on her heel, walking backwards as she flashed him a coy smile. “I was so surprised!” She said in a high-pitched squeak, “I didn’t expect to see such a pretty girl when I woke up!”

“I don’t sound like that!” He protested. “…And that’s not what I meant, I meant-“

“Oh, so I’m not pretty then?” She pulled to a stop and crossed her arms over her chest, raising her eyebrow.

“Uh… n-no, that’s not what I-“

Before he could make an even bigger fool of himself, the scowl broke on her face and she burst out laughing, nearly dropping her shopping bags.

“Sorry, sorry… I just… ha! That’s… that’s the perfect face, I just… I can’t!”

Nyk wasn’t amused.

“Okay, are you done making a fool of me? Can we get on with it now?”

“Geez, lighten up, I’m just teasing!” She grinned, socking him in the arm. “Big tough Scavenger can’t take a joke?”

“Do you see me laughing?”

“No, but I see you lightening up a bit.”

“Fucking what?” Lightening up? What the fuck did she mean by that?

“Look, all day you’ve been this gloomy, sour bore. Teasing’s the only way I’ve found to actually get you to talk back to me, that’s all.”

“Yeah, well, this isn’t exactly a social trip,” Nyk muttered, glancing past her. The sun was getting pretty low in the sky.

“Just make it back to the base by sunset tomorrow.”

Lulu’s warning echoed in his head, and he shivered. No, what are you thinking? You already decided she could go fuck herself. The fuck you’re thinking about actually going back to her.

“Nyk? Hello? You there?” Dyna snapped her fingers in front of his face, bringing him back to reality.

“Yeah. Let’s just get fucking going,” he muttered, storming past her.

“Hey! Come on, what’s wrong?” She asked, running after him. “I thought we were having a good time!”

He was so irritated he nearly lifted his gun again as he turned back to her. “No, you were having a good time. Fuck you.”

Dyna scowled. “What’s your fucking problem? I’m just trying to lighten the mood is all!”

“That’s precisely my fucking problem!” He exclaimed. “Look at where we fucking are! Look at this place!” He waved his hand wildly around the street. “Beggars and thieves, comfort women and deadbeats, not a single fucking smile in sight! Life fucking sucks around here, and your fucking jokes aren’t going to change fuckall! You want to know what my fucking problem is? It’s this fucking shithole!”

Nyk stalked towards her, trying very, very hard not to lose his temper, but he was failing. All that anger and frustration he’d built up from Lulu’s degrading treatment was rising to the surface, and he’d had an easier time holding back that swarm of Sentinels than he was trying to hold it back.

“So you can take your fucking smile and your fucking jokes at my expense, and shove them up your fucking cunt because I don’t want to hear them, okay?”

The smile was finally gone from Dyna’s face. She was upset now, but she didn’t look angry like he expected. She looked… ashamed. Like she was going to cry.

“…I just wanted to put you in a good mood,” she mumbled. “Sorry…”

A good mood? Like he had the fucking time to care about that, with Lulu out for his blood in a couple hours.

“A good fucking mood. Well, sorry, but not all of us can be so cavalier about our fucking lives,” he muttered. “We don’t all get to go home to a happy house and a happy mom and eat a fucking happy meal every fucking day, so sorry if my mood’s a little sour right now.”

He couldn’t even bear to look at her at this point.

“You could, you know,” she said softly.

“What?” The fuck was she saying now? He turned back to make sure he’d heard right.

“I said… well, you could,” Dyna said, too ashamed to look him in the eye. “You know. Have that stuff. If you wanted, I mean.”

No, that still made zero sense.

“W-Well, look, all I’m saying, we have an extra room above the shop, okay? And yeah, sure, maybe you’ve only been a Scavenger for a couple months, but I know I’d feel safer with you around, so…” Her eyes finally met his again. They were filled with hope.

“Let me get this straight, are you seriously asking if I want to live with you and your mom? What? As some sort of bodyguard?”

“Yes!” She blurted out. “…Well, no. I mean, only if you wanted to. We could definitely use your help around the store, but I mean… if you want to just use the room, you can. No charge.”

“Are you fucking real?” That had to be the dumbest fucking thing he’d ever heard. Who in their right mind would let a total stranger with a gun live in a house with two women? “Me? Live with you? After all the shit I just said?”

“Yeah, fuck that noise,” Dyna rolled her eyes, waving her hand dismissively. Her face softened. “Look. Nyk. My mom and I, we just want to help you. You’re a nice guy, I can tell.”

He snorted. “Me. I’m a fucking nice guy.”

She flashed him a smile. “Nicest guy I’ve ever tied to a chair.”

He burst out laughing. He couldn’t help himself.

“…Knew that one’d getcha,” she giggled. “So come on, what do you say?”

He didn’t even know what to say. Not like it fucking mattered though. No way would her mother fucking go for it.

“Why, I think that’s a lovely idea!” Rowan said as she portioned out the casserole onto three plates.

Dyna shot him a look and cleared her throat, holding out her hand in a “gimme” gesture.

“…I’ll get you the 50 silvs later.” Why the fuck had he agreed to a bet like that?

Nyk turned to Rowan, still unable to believe that she would be okay with this. “You’re really fine with it? Me staying here, free of charge?”

“Oh, please,” Dyna scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Weren’t you the one complaining earlier about how miserable life on the street is? How does that old proverb go? ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’?”

“I’ve got one of my own, and it’s ‘don’t trust smiling women offering you room and board’,” he dryly replied.

“That’s… very specific,” Rowan said, raising her eyebrow.

Nyk glanced down at his casserole. “You’d be surprised how often it can come up.”

“Look, Nyk, we’re being honest here,” Rowan said, her soft eyes drawing his in. “We patched up your clothes, and cooked you breakfast and dinner. We could have taken your belongings, but we didn’t.”

“And don’t forget the chicken skewers for lunch!” Dyna chimed in.

Rowan sighed. “What I’m trying to say is my daughter and I are good people. And I can see you’re a good person, too. If you want to know why we’re doing this, that’s why. Because in a harsh world like this one, good people need to look out for one another, or the bad people will take advantage of us. Every time.”

Nyk couldn’t find a single lie in her eyes. There was only warmth and kindness there. He had to look away before he broke down. He was NOT about to cry, he wasn’t. He jammed his fork into the casserole and stuffed his face to fight back the tears, but it only made it worse.

It was warm and soggy and tasted like half-spoiled meat. But it more delicious than anything Lulu had ever given him.

He could do it. He could. He realized that now. Rowan and Dyna were good people. For whatever fucking reason, they seemed to genuinely care about his wellbeing, and that was more than Lulu ever fucking did. More than anyone but Mysha had ever done for him.

Maybe he could stay here. Build a life with these two. He might even be happy with it.

But Lulu would come for him. If he stayed here, she’d fucking find him eventually. And given the total lack of shit she gave about him, he doubted she’d have any qualms about doing far worse to these two.

He couldn’t bring that on them. He just couldn’t.

Nyk finished his meal and glanced up from his plate, looking at the hopeful smiles on both women’s faces. His heart ached with warmth.

“Thank you,” he said solemnly, standing up and grabbing his gun. “But I have to go.”

“What?!” Dyna exclaimed. Her mother took is slightly better, nodding slightly. She stood and followed him to the door.

“Can I ask you why you’re leaving?” She whispered, placing her hand on his shoulder.

“This… just isn’t the right fit for a guy like me. That’s all.” He couldn’t tell her about any of it. Even after what Dyna said earlier today about being able to tell them anything, he couldn’t bring Lulu down on them.

Rowan smiled, her eyes filled with sad warmth. They brought back a long-buried memory of another woman with eyes like that, whispering goodbye as she hugged him.

“Well… if you ever change your mind, or just need a warm meal for the night, you can come on back, okay? You know where we live, after all.”

He’d never see them again, but he gave her the most reassuring smile he could. “Yeah. I will. Thank you.”

Without a goodbye he turned toward the sunset-stricken street, unsure of where his feet would take him.

What was he going to do now? He didn’t have enough money to get by for long. And he couldn’t keep working as a Scavenger, Lulu would certainly put a bounty out on him. He didn’t have anywhere to go, or anyone to turn to.

As he waded through the mire of his thoughts his feet carried him through the slums, as if they had somewhere to be that he wasn’t aware of yet.

By the time he’d sorted his thoughts out, he was there. And without a moment to spare, the final rays of sunlight fading over sand.

The door opened to reveal Aud’s emotionless face.

“You’ve returned.”

“Yeah,” he muttered, walking past her and back into the belly of the beast.