Hive 18-I

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Who’s The More Foolish?

A light dusting of snow had begun to fall from the sky, settling on the road and on my head and shoulders. It had been clear skies when I'd left the house, though, and I didn't have anything to cover my head with, and so when I arrived, my hair was well and properly damp. It did not help my mood one bit.

Kai was leaning against the side of a building, catching some suspicious-looking stares from the people walking by. I’m not quite sure why; she didn’t stand out too much. She still wore the same pair of mirrored sunglasses as before, despite the gloomy weather, and the same jacket too, but she'd changed out the jeans for a set of heavy cargo pants with too many pockets and even more holes and tears. A tartan beret sat on top of her jet-black hair, keeping the snow off her face and glasses, and I had to admit, even though I knew she'd probably either scavenged or stolen most or all of the outfit, it actually worked pretty well together.

Her eyes were invisible behind the lenses, but I didn't need to see them to read her mood. “Took you long enough,” she said as soon as I was close enough to hear.

“I was on the other side- excuse me, sorry,” I dodged around a middle-aged woman in a shabby suit as she powerwalked straight across my path. “Rude. I was on the other side of town. This was the fastest I could be possibly be.” I wasn't exaggerating. The docks where I'd been were south, right on the water, and address we were now standing at was on the north side, right near the edge of town. I could see, only a mile or two away, the forests rising up after the city ended completely. I was surprised it had only taken me an hour.

“Hmph.” She pushed off the wall and dusted herself off. “Well, if they're gone now, don't blame me.” With one hand, she made a flicking motion at me. “Come on, this way.”

I started as she began walking off, then hurried to catch up. “Wait, but you said-”

“I lied,” she said over her shoulder. “It's near here, I just figured that if I told you the real address you'd go charging in. That would be bad.”

I opened my mouth to object, then slowly closed it. “Hmm,” I said instead. “Where’s the real address, then?”

“You'll see in a second,” she replied. “It's easier to show you.”

“I very much doubt that,” I muttered.

“Oh, I'm sorry,” she said with an implied eye roll, “I didn't realize it was International Be A Horrible B**** Day.”

I managed to catch the biting reply before it leapt off my tongue, and bit my lip instead. “I'm sorry. Bad day.”

“Yeah, well, don't expect it to get better. Just two more blocks now.”

The street we were walking down was as narrow as it's possible to be while still being four lanes. A surprising amount of vehicle traffic rumbled and hummed past us in both directions. There was a surprising amount of the former compared to what I was used to: there were almost as many gas-guzzlers as electrics. Although I guessed that that could probably be explained by the area. Closely-packed, the buildings around us seemed to lean in over the street, looming over the pedestrians and vehicles below. Twenty years isn't really long enough to get a really good state of disrepair going, but they were certainly giving it a good college try. It wasn't too obvious at a glance, but if you looked, you could see small cracks, scuffs and chips and just general damage. Combined with the thin layer of grime that seemed to coat a lot of surfaces, and it gave the impression of somewhere that wasn't cared for, cared about.

“Try to act a little less like a tourist, please,” Kai said dryly from ahead of me, as she ducked underneath the swinging arm of a man gesticulating wildly into a phone. He barely seemed to even notice her passing, but when I reached him, I had to awkwardly sidle around him, getting a withering glare for my trouble.

Now that I was paying attention to her, I realized something. Before, when she'd been doing nothing at all, just standing there, she'd been catching angry and suspicious gazes. Now, though, while she was actively moving through somewhat-thick crowds of people, and no-one was giving her a second glance. It probably helped that she had a six foot two white girl bumbling through the crowd to draw attention away from her, but I didn't think that was all it was. It was in her posture and the way she moved, effortlessly sliding around and through the throng. There was an almost… captivating quality to it, like-

“While I appreciate the attention,” she said, cutting my train of thought short, “gawking at me isn't the best reaction either.”

I blushed bright red, and firmly fixed my eyes on a point one foot above her head. She glanced back over her shoulder and smirked. “Well, it's a start.”

We crossed a road, then turned right, walking until we reached the end of the block. The building there was shorter than the others, squatter, with double doors up a set of short steps. A faded sign above the door bore the word 'homeless’, the others too faded to be decipherable. I got the gist, though.

“A homeless shelter?” I asked Kai as she stopped at the foot of the steps. “Really?”

She sighed. “Yes, really,” she confirmed tiredly.

“Oh no,” I backpedaled, “I wasn't doubting you, I was just thinking that it's a bit incongruous for… them.”

“Well, maybe hold off on judging that until you've seen the inside.”

I rolled my eyes. “Do you have to be so cryptic?”

“No,” she replied, straight-faced, “but I enjoy it. Now, we've got to pass through somewhere first, and you are not going to say a word to anyone there, understood?”

I frowned, but nodded. “Why?”

She started up the steps, pushing open the double doors with a creaking groan, then turned back to me. “Pretty much everyone in there hates me.” She smiled, the first time I'd seen her do it. “Now come on. You might want to cover your face, though.”

I started, glancing down at my bag, and then raising a hand to my uncovered face. I didn't even think… I sighed, pulling my scarf out as I followed her up the stairs.

I'm not very good at this, am I?

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