Content Warning: Language and Violence

Kyle’s palms were sweaty as he checked his watch. Still 10:42. He gripped the case tighter, eyes bouncing around the dark alley. Looking everywhere but the small dark shadow near the dumpster’s lid.

This was his neighborhood. His choice of location. A door several feet away led to the back kitchen of the diner where his sister worked. Had worked. He tried not to choke on the thought. If things went sour he could duck through that door and be behind several inches of metal in moments. And things were going to go south. Kyle was going to make sure of it. For Lucy.

As he twisted his wrist looking at his watch again, a small shadow caught his eye. A shadow where one hadn’t been moments before. They were early. And it was all wrong, they were supposed to come in the front of the alley. How had they gotten behind him? He peered through the darkness.

A girl sat on the dumpster. He blinked. But the girl did not disappear, In fact, she seemed even more solid than she had a moment ago. This was bad. They were going to be here in less than fifteen minutes. The girl seemed to be watching him, although he wasn’t sure in the dark. Since there was no one else in the alley, it had to be him. Shit. He had to get her out of here.

“Hey!” he shouted, walking towards her. She was a skinny thing, he saw now that he was closer. Faded jeans, black t-shirt. She couldn’t be more than 10. Kyle closed his eyes. Now wasn’t the time to indulge in sympathy.

The girl watched him approach, her eyes wide – but not with fear. It kind of reminded him of his sister’s cat. The way it used to stare at him like it knew something. Like it could see into his soul. He almost froze under her stare, but then she blinked and he cursed. This was no place for a kid.

“Get out of here,” he continued stopping in front of her with a frown. He crowded into her space, using his larger frame to intimidate her. Anything to make her run from here as fast her legs would carry her. But she didn’t scramble away or back over the wall. She didn’t even shrink from him. Instead she just looked up at him with those huge eyes.

Kids had no fear anymore. They didn’t know when they should run. Damnit, his plans were not going to be messed up by some punk kid. He reached out to pick the girl up and toss her off the dumpster. He wasn’t sorry if he hurt her. He was trying to save her life. But his hand froze halfway to her throat. He ran his hand through his hair instead. His fingers shaking. What the fuck was that?

Then her eyes lit up as she stared past him, back toward the front of the alley. And now Kyle could hear the heavy steps of several people arriving. His heart stilled. Fuck, this was it. They were here. Kyle turned, the girl forgotten.

There were three of them. They stood framed in the single light that shone into the alley, like actors appearing on stage. Two of them flanked the third. The man himself. Kyle suppressed a grin. Gotcha. As soon Kyle moved forward, Tony and his goons stopped. And when Tony saw who it was, he grinned. Like the shark he was.

“Kyle,” Tony’s voice was smooth like butter. Just a trace of an accent. Italian, he claimed. But then, who wouldn’t want to claim Italian ancestry? Didn’t matter to Kyle. Not anymore. “You’d better have it after you led us on that goose chase.”

Kyle swallowed as he stopped, still five feet away from Toni, but he wasn’t coming any closer. Couldn’t come any closer if all his efforts weren’t going to be in vain. All the phone calls and false trails he’d laid this afternoon. All of it, to set up this moment right here. In this alley.

“Of course.” He lifted the case in front of him and popped the tabs to reveal the rows of cash inside. He wished his voice didn’t crack when he spoke. He cleared his throat. “I have the money.”

Kyle closed the case and held it out in his right hand, forcing his left to remain still. Not yet. He was far enough away that Toni had to take a few steps forward to get the case. Kyle waited. Please, he begged. One more step.

Tony scowled, but he toosk those precious two steps forward and reached for the case. Two steps forward into Kyle’s trap.

“I’ve had enough of your bullshit. I’ve let you yank me around this afternoon so you’d feel safe. That’s over now. Hand it over.”

Kyle pushed the case to Tony, moving slowly. He didn’t want to antagonize the goons. Sure enough they were watching him like a hawk, but as Kyle suspected they were watching the case. Not his left hand creeping slowly to the shadow near the dumpster. He smiled and let go of the case as Tony took it, bringing his left hand up as he did so. A hand that was no longer empty. His watch flashed the time as he brought the gun up to bear. 11:02. Right on time.

He fired twice before Tony had even completed a single step back. Before his goons registered the weapon the darkness had been hiding from them. That was why he needed this alley. The darkness hid him as it illuminated them.

“For Lucy,” he said as he continued to fire. Tears falling from his face at the memory. Falling as they hadn’t when he’d arrived at the scene that morning. Seen his sister tied to the chair in his living room. His sister whose only crime had been having the stupidest brother on the planet. I’m sorry, Lucy.

The bullets hit Tony squarely and with a muffled grunt, he fell backward onto the pavement. The case fell from his hand. His goons had already opened fire. Even before Kyle had spoken. Before their boss had hit the ground. And Kyle now went stumbling as a truck slammed into his chest. His breath caught as his mind tried to process the pain.

His knees buckled and he collapsed to the ground. Even if he’d run to the diner’s kitchen door the moment he’d fired, he wouldn’t have made it. He’d known that back when he’d been planning the escape route. It didn’t matter anymore. He’d never really thought he’d survive tonight. He didn’t need to. Tony was dead and that was all that mattered.

The girl. His mind still refused to work. She’d still been here when Tony’s goons had opened fire. As though the thought had conjured her, she appeared from the darkness that was gathering at the edges of his vision. “No,” he tried to say, choking. His words wet with blood. He felt her holding onto his hand. How could he feel that and nothing else? No! He screamed as the goons reloaded and bullets flew towards him again. Not the girl!

His body shuddered at the impact, but still there was no pain. Shock? His vision blurred and he sucked in a wet breath. Darkness was overflowing his view of the alley. Something was whimpering. Was it him? And then the darkness overtook his hearing completely. Muffling further gunshots that must be there. All he could see was the girl’s wide eyes. He could see stars in her eyes. Fathomless darkness.

The girl let go of the man’s hand. The arm fell wetly back onto the pavement. Blood pooled beneath his body. She looked over at the three men in alley beyond her. They didn’t spare her a glance.

The girl stood up.

“Get rid of it,” Tony’s voice said once he’d stood up and dusted himself off. He poked one of the holes in his jacket and frowned. One of his goons nodded and stepped forward.

She pulled a scythe from the nothingness around her as Tony picked up the case and checked it again. The money was still there. Nodding, Tony turned away from the alley. The girl jumped scythe flashing in the dull light and carefully cut Kyle’s spirit free. Blue light pooled in her hand as the goon bent to pick up the body.

She smiled faintly and faded back into the darkness.