(Author’s note: Usually, with stories, even with little moments in time that have a flavor that wants to be written, I have context.  I know who the people are, what they want, where they are coming from, where they are going.  I have some kind of an idea what the larger story would be, if I wrote the things before the beginning and after the ending.  For this, I have nothing.  I have no idea.  I know that both of them are pieces of me and people I have known, shot through prisms that are both harsh and just.  So I present it to you as it is in my head: out of joint, out of whatever world it belongs in, the players wandering in to live through something in front of our eyes, then disappearing again without ever explaining why.  In a lot of ways, I like it better without the why.  So remember monsters.)

“Live like any minute now, they’re going to figure out why no one else wanted you, either,” she said quietly, staring down the steps at the sidewalk, not meeting his eyes.  She huddled around the coffee he’d bought her, as if trying to save every bit of warmth and life it could provide.  She sipped it slowly, savoring it as they talked, and took drags off a cigarette she’d pulled from somewhere in the depths of her giant hooded sweatshirt.
“Why wouldn’t they want you?”  His question was innocent, caring, hopeful.  He wanted her; she could tell that.  He wanted, partly, to fuck her.  Mostly, though, he wanted to save her.  He wanted to be the man who saved her, and feel like he was worth more because he’d saved someone pretty who needed saving.  It was an old, old story, and he wanted to be an important part of a pretty story with a pretty girl who needed him.  She knew the look.
“Because I’m not someone people want, because I don’t want people.  You don’t know me, and I don’t care.  I don’t want to be understood.  I don’t want to be cared about.  The important word in that sentence is live, not want.  Live, so that when they figure it out, you can keep living.  Survive, so you can keep surviving.”  She looked up at him then, straight in the eyes, demanding.  He saw something in her that frightened him badly – something hard and reptilian, something that had no warmth or softness or prettiness in it.  The only beauty in the survivor’s eyes is the beauty of function, and he was not equipped to see it or appreciate it, not in someone he wanted to save.
“Look,” she said, standing up and dropping the butt of the cigarette, grinding it on the concrete stair beneath her boot.  Her voice was the same flat, quiet, pragmatic tone it had been since he’d first spoken to her.  “You’re a nice guy.  You want to find a nice girl down on her luck.  You want to be someone good to her, good for her, good with her.  Take it from me – don’t do it.  People who need saving once need it all the time, and nobody you save is ever going to love you for it.  All they’re ever going to do is need, need, need.  Eventually, they’re going to hate you for making them need you.  You don’t want a pretty girl to hate you, so find one who doesn’t need you but loves you anyhow.  Don’t pick up strays.  You don’t have to be a hero to be important.  And get a fucking haircut.”
He was confused, hurt, beginning to be angry.  He stood up to match her, topping her height by inches, trying to be intimidating, trying to look aggressive.  She laughed merrily, throwing her head back and howling with mirth.  It was the first time she’d been loud at all, or drawn attention to herself, and she was obviously beside herself with glee.
“Don’t posture with me, nice boy.  You are nice, and you’ll make a nice girl a nice boy sometime.  Now go back to your nice apartment and your nice things, and leave the monsters to our street corners and our steam grates.  Don’t try to save us.  We don’t need you, we don’t want you, and we’ll eat you if you try.”
Then she kicked him.  Not hard, not to injure, just knocked his knees out from under him.  He went rolling down the concrete steps, screaming as joints and head bounced off the unforgiving corners, skidding to a stop on the sidewalk, just shy of traffic.  She walked calmly down after him, and looked down at his form, sprawled ungainly against the black of the gutter.
“Remember monsters, nice boy.  Remember strays.  Stick to your nice life, and stop trying to save things that are surviving just fine on their own.”

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