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A Night of Guns and Feathers

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Karma has checked his watch three times already. It is definitely, officially, long past 6 o'clock. It is a quarter after, in fact, by his watch. It's a damn good watch too, sterling silver with the etchings of angel wings around the face, waterproofing, and automated winding. The leather strap fits his wrist like it was made just with him in mind. Karma loves his watch.

It was a gift from the guy standing him up at that very god damn moment.

Karma should have known better. A few months of java and jawing isn't a tried and true test of loyalty. He doesn't know anything about the guy. Months of subtle grilling and Karma doesn't know jack or shit about the guy.

...Okay, he knows a few things. He knows that his name is Nightmare. He knows that he likes a cup of joe. He knows that he's from out of town and impossible to tail. He knows he turns a real nice color with a little necking. Most importantly, Karma knows that Nightmare is never late. He's never minded when Karma was, but ol' Nighty is the kinda guy you can set your watch to.

Nightmare said he would come at 6 o'clock. So, either something real big is keeping Nightmare from coming, or he never intended to show up. No note, no message. Karma is sitting alone at a table for two like the sucker he is.

He checks his watch again: half past six. Karma fumbles for his wallet, tossing down some kale for the drink so he can storm out without having to fake pleasantries with the waitress. He moves so fast to get out of there he has to fix his hat twice before he's even out the door.

It's fine. He didn't really care anyway. It was only a coffee date. Who gives a damn about-

But the joke is that Karma does care. That is the punchline. That's why it feels like a punch in the gut when he gets to his house and sees that fluttering black cloak nailed to the door. He recognizes it even in the dim light long before he gets close, because it glows softly in the gloam with some kind of magic. When he gets closer, the lingering scent of apples and earthy musk hits him like a slap to the face. When he touches it, the warmth is already stolen from the fabric by the winter wind, and the slime that had always been liquid and ever-flowing is dried and crusting. It crushes to an azure-black powder that stains his hand when his fingers clench, a twitch of emotion making them curl into a fist around the stiffening garment, but that shifting reveals the clasp still clinging in its lonely duty, a now-familiar silver crescent shining pale against the night.

Karma knows he dissociates a little with the sheer level of his mind-numbing rage. What he comes back to is having ripped the fabric a little to tear it off the nail. In another moment he's opened his front door, and inside, a letter someone must have slid under the doorframe is waiting for him. Karma gently hangs the crusty, torn cloak on a chair, uncaring of the mess it made of his hands, and scoops up the letter to rip open.

He already knows the gist of what's in it: it's the same old story. "ransom." The word feels more real when he reads it aloud. "docks. midnight. $10,000 or else. what the hell makes them think i can get that kinda dough in four hours?" Oh, sure, he can, he's Karma Seraphim. But the sheer audacity to think he'd move that kinda money for a pretty face...

Karma tosses the letter onto his table and sits down to his phone. He has to make a few calls... Even as he talks, barking orders, making plans, Karma's mind keeps wandering without his consent. Nightmare never showed up, so they had to have had him for at least half an hour, if not more. Karma doesn't know where Nightmare is from, besides the vague 'out of town' generalization. He has no clue what his commute is like, where between there and the restaurant he got caught, or how long he was captured. He has no idea if he's even still alive, if he's hurt, if they're-

He doesn't know if this is a trap or not, if Nightmare is in cahoots or not, if-

Karma shakes his head. He isn't going to think about it. If this is a trap, he'll deal with it like he always does.


Karma arrives at the docks at midnight. He's exactly on time. The mists make it hard to see much of anything, but he can read his watch, and he can hear the soft creak of approaching footsteps on the wooden planks.

Finally, a figure starts to take shape in the mists. Karma recognizes the face when he's close enough, one of the higher-ups of a rival gang, cousin of the don. Karma is a tad insulted that the don didn't have the respect to come himself, but he doesn't say it yet. He'll get his revenge soon enough.

"You got the money?" The guy asks, lit cigar stuck between his teeth.

Karma fixes his hat with his free hand, playing like he doesn't even notice the briefcase in the other one. "where is he?" They weren't getting a cent if Karma didn't have proof that Nightmare was alive.

The mac grins like he has won the lottery. "Aw, don't trust me? Wanna see for yerself?" He sidesteps, gesturing to the warehouse behind him. "Got your moll right inside. Come look."

It's a trap. Karma knows it's a trap. He can see that it's a trap, and the fucker wants him to fall for it. Karma still doesn't know if Nightmare is actually in there. The weight of Karma's gun hangs heavy against his chest, hidden under his suit jacket. He smiles. "sure thing, lead the way."

The bozo whistles, and two more goons come out with guns in hand. The leader turns his back on Karma to show him inside, confident his men will keep Karma intimidated into compliance. Karma lets him think that, following quietly.

The warehouse is mostly full of crates, more goons than Karma, admittedly, anticipated, and weapons. There are a few scattered folding chairs, a card table, and an old couch with upholstery that had seen better days. On that couch, stripped of his cloak, is Nightmare, unconscious. There's a hole in his clothes that looks like he was stabbed with something, though the dark staining makes it hard to tell if there is any blood involved.

What makes it easier for Karma to breathe is that he can see Nightmare's chest is moving. He is breathing. He is alive.

"Who woulda thought the great Karma woulda gone soft and dizzy with a dame?" The leader joked, striding over to where Nightmare is. He puts his filthy hands on Nightmare's head, scooping up the oil that coats him to rub between his fingers. "And such a mess a one, too. She must be real good in-"

"get yer mitts off'a him," Karma snarled. "i got yer money." He's also got a bullet with his name on it.

"I know you do. Put it on the table." The guy gestured to the card table. His other hand settles on Nightmare's shoulder, pointedly flexing his fingers on it, appreciating the shapes underneath his tunic. "Louie, count it."

Louie, one of the goons, strides up to pop open the briefcase the moment Karma has stepped away. Karma isn't too worried they'll find fault with it. It's all there, every last dime.

"So, here's how it's-" The leader starts, only to stop at the sound of gunfire outside.

Karma swears, planning to chew out whatever dumbass got caught outside when he told them to wait for his fucking signal. Quickly, he pulls out his piece and pops first Louie (poor dumb bastard), then the other five goons he can make in the dim light. The leader yanks his own gun out, but Karma's already judged all of his men before he can take aim, and Karma ducks behind a crate to avoid the bullets sent his way.

There's still more sound of gunfire outside. Karma hears swearing and shouting. He didn't bring that many reinforcements, so the numbers are definitely not in his favor.

"Come out, or she gets it!" The human shouts. "You got 'till three!"

Karma only needs two more seconds to unload and reload his piece. Before they can finish saying, 'three,' Karma has come out from his hiding place, gun aimed for the man's head.

The bastard has his own gun pointed at Nightmares. "Drop it."

Karma hesitates. If he drops the gun, they're both dead. If he doesn't- if he doesn't-

"I said drop-" The fucker snaps again, only to be cut off by a soft noise from the couch.

Nightmare sits up, opening his one good eye socket. His eyelight is a narrow, vivid poison green, and seeing it sends a shudder through Karma's whole body. "...what is all this noise...?" Nightmare asks nobody in particular, as if waking up with his arms bound, in a warehouse, with a gun pointed at his head, is just some mild inconvenience.

"Don't move," The human orders, pressing the barrel of his gun against the side of Nightmare's head. "And you, I won't tell you again: drop the gun or she dies."

Karma drops the gun. There isn't any right answer now.

The human smirks. He moves to point his gun at Karma, just as Karma thought he would. Karma shortcuts out of harm's way, barely, getting behind the couch, Nightmare, and the thug who had the balls to touch what belonged to Karma. Karma then has a pretty good view of what happens next.

A tentacle extends from Nightmare's clothes, black and dripping. It extends down into the floor, disappearing into a shadow. Then the human, inexplicably, clutches his chest, dropping the gun and falling to the floor. Outside, the noise has stopped. The tendril comes up again from the shadow, like it had been down a deep well and only just once more surfaced.

Karma has no idea what the actual fuck happened, but with the gunman down he can vault over the couch and take the gun for safe keeping. "you alright, doll?" He asks, trying to sound more calm than he actually is.

Karma doesn't want anyone, least of all Nightmare, knowing how fucking terrified he's been for the past five minutes. That is a weakness he cannot afford to show, not when he still doesn't know-

When he still doesn't know.

Karma's watch says it is five after midnight when Nightmare says, "i would be better if you could get this rope off of me." Karma pulls out his switchblade (nothing fancy, not quite functional in a fight, but perfect for little things like rope and liquor bottles) and turns to make what should be short work of the ropes.

What Karma isn't expecting is the soft fluttering of something that glows just over Nightmare's shoulder. He ignores it at first, but as he carefully saws through the rope keeping Nightmare tied up, he can't quite keep his curiosity from piquing. He grabs Nightmare by the arm and turns him just enough to get a look at his back.

Nightmare gasps, immediately trying to sit up and put his back against the couch. "what are you looking at?!"

"wings, apparently." Karma murmurs. He lets a smile crack. "didn't tell me you had wings. hiding them for a reason?"

Nightmare is blue again, though he averts his eyelight as he always does when he is trying to avoid something. "that is none of your business..."

Karma is tired of avoiding things. That was what tonight was supposed to be about. He grips Nightmare's chin and makes him face him. "...and what if i want it to be?" Even the question is A Lot for Karma to ask. He isn't exactly fond of making promises, and that lack of fondness seeps all the way down to taint his idea of commitment in general...

But he already committed himself a little, didn't he? Karma doesn't exactly come to a ransom meeting with 10 grand for every Tom, Dick, and Harry. He can't keep running forever.

Nightmare's gaze is piercing, unsettlingly knowing. Karma thinks it must be how he makes others feel, exposed and vulnerable and seen like Karma hates being seen, but he's grown almost fond of that coming from Nightmare. What he's even more fond of is that smile, toothy and white and tinting his eyelight to a cool, soft purple. "then we can talk about that over dinner, yes?"

"...yeah, dinner..." Karma doesn't mean to lean closer, but he does. He's starting to think he's addicted to that earthy forest, sugar, and apple cologne that Nightmare is always wearing. He wonders if Nightmare will taste as good as he smells. He wonders if Nightmare will mind if he just leans in for a sa-

"Boss!" The voice of one of Karma's men ruins the mood. "Boss, they're all de-" The guy skids to a halt as he rounds into the warehouse, taking in the scene of Nightmare, still partly tied, even if one of the loops of rope is cut, and Karma, looming over him, their faces nearly touching. "Boss?"

Karma pulls back, snapping the rope open for Nightmare to untangle himself. "get cleanup on this. i want every last one of 'm sleepin' with the fishes come sunup."

"Yes'sir," the kid says, darting back out again. If he's smart, he'll do his job and keep his mouth shut. Karma finally lets himself light a cigar, taking a long, slow breath.

"tomorrow, then," Nightmare says. "same time and place."

"just don't get kidnapped this time," Karma replies low. He turns to offer his hand, fully intending to walk Nightmare at least partially home, but-

He's gone, only a few soft, wet feathers left where he'd been. Karma picks one up, turning it between his fingers. It's pink under the black ichor, the dark purple smearing his fingertips and showing the soft candied glow beneath.