THE ARCHANGEL

By: Thomas Waters

I

Livedt City. The place was once respectable, but now it and the surrounding towns of Powerston and Oceandale are as dark and corrupt as the man who rules it. Not directly, no, but in the shadows, his actions like shadows that creep in through everyone hole, every crack. He infects everything he touches, and everything infected becomes under his own control. This man is known only as The Boss, his name forgotten…or perhaps buried. It does not matter. All that does matter is that this man has changed a once prominent city into an urban nightmare, where everyone from the police to the mayor is corrupt. With his power unchecked, The Boss to this day rules over Livedt City and observes the people…his people…with barely veiled disdain. But all things such as this must come to an end, and that end was soon coming.

February 14th, 9:42 p.m.

Robert Stile, 17, awoke with a start. Sirens broke the sound of the nothingness that is night, and that was unusual for such a town as Powerston. Shaking off the shock one feels after being rudely awoken, Robert called for his father, a Sergeant for the Livedt City police department. He received no answer, so he put on the clothes lying in a heap on his floor, and, slightly running, went downstairs to the kitchen. Seeing the keys to the sole car of the household gone, Robert went to the garage, broke out his years old bike, and pedaled in the direction of the sirens.

It took Robert only a few minutes to find the disturbance. When he did, he saw fire trucks retreating from a merely smoking household. Robert guessed they had doused the flames, and with their job done were going back to the fire department for some booze. It took Robert a minute, but the young man soon realized the burned shell of a house was the one his best friend, Sarah Fallon, called home.

Robert saw his father struggling to keep onlookers away from the house with other officers, and rushed up to meet him. "What happened?" he asked, scratching his red hair, a nervous habit his father hated, but today ignored. In the period between the question and the answer, four medics pushed out four stretchers, each one supporting a dead body. Ducking under his father's arm, Robert ran to the stretchers, and when he saw the bodies took in a sharp breath.

On two of the stretchers lay Sarah's parents; on the other two lay Sarah herself and her boyfriend, Robert's other best friend, John Crowe. Both bodies had their fair share of cuts and bruises, but Sarah's body was littered with bullet holes, where John's body only had a single hole: through the heart.

Michael Stile, Robert's father, left control of the barricade to his fellow officers and approached his son. Composedly and calmly, Robert repeated, "What happened?"

Gulping, Michael ignored standard procedure and said, "The M.E. has to take a look at them, but from what we can tell it's a quadruple homicide."

Robert nodded and took in a deep breath and, surprising both him and his father, broke down crying and embraced the older Stile. Sobbing, Robert whispered, "I never even got to say goodbye…"

After comforting his son, Michael sent him home, telling him to get some sleep. He watched him ride away, and then approached his superior, Captain Nathan Black. Black was as corrupt as they came, and everyone knew it. Michael was the only one brave enough of the clean officers to actually debate with him on decisions, and it cost him promotions.

"What do you think?" he asked Black, who was lighting his fifteenth cigarette that day.

Taking a long hit from his death stick, Black coughed and said, "Pretty open shut to me." As soon as Michael got his hopes up, Black caused them to come crashing down. "Murder-suicide by the looks of it. The guy…Crowe, I think his name was…he killed the parents and then the girls. When he was done, he offed himself. Seems pretty standard to me."

Michael fought back his angry retort to that, and said rigidly, "What makes you say that?"

Black threw his cigarette on the ground, stomped it out, and said through grated teeth, "Last time I checked, you answer to me, not the other way around. Clear?"

Without waiting for a response, Black stormed off towards his car and drove off, blowing the stop sign. Rolling his eyes, Michael went back to blocking civilians from going to the burned home, knowing it was the only thing he could do.

Robert was sitting in his father's chair when Michael came home two hours later. "So what's the deal?" he asked, looking down at the ground, remembering. Michael threw his coat on the banister and sat across from his son, the dim light reflecting off of his bald head. Robert looked up to face him, his brown eyes staring at his father's, the one thing he seemed to have inherited from him.

"Despite evidence saying otherwise, Black's labeling the case a murder-suicide, with John being labeled the killer." To himself, Michael said that this murder was likely The Boss' doing. Or, rather, someone working for the crime lord. It would explain why Black was labeling the case what it was. But he couldn't tell Robert this, as The Boss was supposed to be promoted as urban legend to the young ones, even though his son was nearing adulthood.

Robert looked thoughtful. "Hmm…the theory, though out there, does have some back-up. John and Sarah fought earlier today. Do I think it would have caused John to go batshit crazy and kill her and her whole family? No. But it was a pretty big fight."

"Over what?" Michael asked. Robert shrugged. "Lover's quarrel." That statement triggered something in the cop's memory. He reached into his pocket and took out a small box. "I nicked this at the coroner's. Know if it means anything?"

He tossed the box to his son, who opened it. Immediately, his eyes widened. "What is it?" Michael asked urgently. Robert shook his head, and continued to stare at the silver and gold engagement ring.

II

Two years later…

The man known as The Boss stood at the window of his penthouse apartment that doubled as his base of operations early one morning, looking down at the people who unknowingly worked for him. Some had inkling, certainly, but most were stupid and foolish. The Boss stroked his night black goatee idly, relishing the complete control he has, be it choosing who gets a job where, or having the final say in whether something is put into the newspaper. This control was not just for a city, but for the neighboring towns. Soon his control would spread, and he would achieve immortality.

That would be a day to remember indeed.

As he began to reminisce on how he got such power, his right hand man, King, walked in. A man twenty years his senior yet with the ability of a much younger man, King, an Asian martial arts master was The Boss' one confidant, and the one man he called "friend."

"Underboss Masterson is here, sir," King said, his voice a gravelly baritone.

The Boss nodded. "Thank you. Kindly send him in."

As King went to retrieve the Underboss, one of twelve men and women who answered to no one but The Boss himself, and assist in controlling certain aspects of the city that The Boss finds himself either too busy or too disinterested to run himself.

The Boss sat at the head of his twelve foot conference table as Masterson walked in, and invited him to sit down with a smile that showed only warmth. Masterson did so, for to refuse the will of The Boss would bring some very heavy consequences with it.

When Masterson was comfortable, The Boss slid him an envelope that should contain ten thousand dollars.

Should.

Masterson opened it, and out fell a note, one that told the Underboss that the Lieutenant he had been selling secrets to, Lieutenant Young, was under the payroll of The Boss all along, and that The Boss knew everything of the man's treachery.

Masterson looked from the note to the Boss, who steadily aimed a silenced pistol at him and fired a single shot into his head, causing blood to wash onto the carpet. He didn't really need to use the silencer on the pistol, but he liked the sound it made.

He threw the pistol on the table and went for the exit. As he walked out, he passed King, to whom he said, "Bring in the maid to clean up this unfortunate mess. And kindly inform Lieutenant Young that he is being promoted to Underboss, as payment for his troubles."

As King watched The Boss enter his bedroom to entertain himself, he reminded himself to never betray him. Not that he would, anyway. King called in the maid, and a few minutes later she arrived, trying hard not to look King in the eye. As she passes him, he slapped her on the behind, and she turned to face him, revealing her bruised and bloody face, a souvenir from the night she'd spent with him. King winked.

III

Robert Stile, now calling himself Red, as that's what John and Sarah used to call him, awoke one Saturday. Unsurprisingly, it was dark and cloudy, as it had been for as long as Red could remember. Cracking his neck, Red threw on a worn Simpsons t-shirt and faded jeans, and went downstairs.

John had once told him, "Things change." Well, they certainly had for Red. Since John's and Sarah's deaths, he had become reclusive, and hadn't had a date in months. Where he was once fun loving, now he was empty. Where he once was friend to many, now he was alone.

Downstairs, Red went to the fridge and poured himself some orange juice, no pulp. He sat across from his father, who was reading the newspaper. Without looking away from it, he said, "G'morning." Red grunted in response, and fifteen minutes passed by in silence. Michael broke it by asking, "So…what are you doing today?"

Red took a long sip and said quietly, "You don't know what today is, do you?" Michael went to look at the paper, but his son stopped him. "Valentine's Day, Dad. It's been two years today since they were taken. So, in answer to your question, I'm going to visit them."

With that, Red got up from his seat and stormed out of the house.

As the door slammed in his son's wake, Michael sighed. He and his son had never exactly been close, the gap furthered when his ex-wife left them. Sarah Fallon's and John Crowe's deaths had merely been the icing on the cake.

Michael reflected on how he was the only clean cop left in the department, the other ones either bought off or killed. For a moment he considered quitting, but a small, firm voice in the back of his mind told him to wait for just a little while longer.

Dismissing the voice as a result of lack of sleep, Michael nonetheless considered its words as he put on his hat and left for work.

Red stood before the graves of John and Sarah. The people of Powerston never believed the official story that John killed her and himself, and thus buried the two side by side.

Red placed a rose on Sarah's grave, then turned to John's and said, "I would have gotten you one, too, but I know you were never one for the sentimental stuff."

As soon as the sentence left his lips, the ground shook, and then stopped as quickly as it had begun. Red looked around, wondering what the hell caused that. Earthquakes never happened in Powerston. No signs of the tremor were present.

Dismissing the earthquake as an oddity of the Earth, Red walked away, not knowing how significant an impact that tremor would have on his life.

IV

John Crowe suddenly found himself in a bright, sunny field where birds were flowers were blooming and birds sung happily. It was nothing like Powerston, the town he came from. Nor was it like Livedt City, the city Powerston bordered. No, it was not like those two places at all.

The young man looked around in confusion, wondering where this paradise like place was. He went to pinch himself to ensure he wasn't dreaming, only to find his arm was glowing.

In shock, he looked at his whole body. From the neck down, he was glowing an eerie white. John yelped in fear, and jumped as a hand grabbed his shoulder. He turned around slowly, dreading what he would see. His dread was not misplaced.

The hand belonged to a robed man whose age was hard to determine. His face was young and free of wrinkles, but his hair and short beard were gray, and his brown eyes showed much pain. But that was not the oddest part of the man. No, the weirdest part was the two large, white angel wings sprouting from his back. His expression was grim, but bemused.

"I apologize," he said. His voice was quiet, yet every word had a subtle intensity for it. Clutching his heart, John asked, "Who are you?" Instead of providing an answer, the being instead asked, "Who are you?"

John looked at him, as if he were a crazy man. He decided to play his game…for now. "John Christopher Crowe."

The being then asked for John's address. John tried to remember it, and it was on the tip of his tongue, but it wouldn't come out. This applied to his phone number, date of birth, and other details one should remember.

Yet despite all this, the being nods. "Hmm…yes. The amnesia you are experiencing is common among the spirits of the dead."

John did a double take. "I-I'm dead?" he coughed out.

The being again nodded. "For two years, now. Tell me John, what is the last thing you remember?"

John thought for a moment, and then shrugged. "Darkness…just total darkness."

"I see. Well then, I feel it is my duty to tell you everything. As you said, you were born to Frank and Mary Crowe some nineteen years ago. You lived on Jacob Street in the town of Powerston, which was on the outskirts of Livedt City. Your phone number was 547-985-0076. When you were five you met your best friend, Robert Stile. For the next eight years the two of you were inseparable. Then in eighth grade you met Sarah Fallon, and over the course of a year you began to develop feelings for her. The Valentine's Day of the next year, you planned to ask her out, but things didn't go as you'd planned…"

As the angelic man began his tale, the memory of the event started to play itself before John's eyes, as clear as the day it had happened.

Approximately six years ago, John, Robert, and Sarah were walking home from school on Valentine's Day, and Red (as John called him, because of his flaming red hair) and Red tried to bridge the awkward silence that was a result of John repeatedly trying and failing to ask Sarah out that day.

"So, uh, Sarah," Red said, "you want anyone to ask you out today that didn't?" John rolled his eyes. Real subtle, Red, he thought. Red glared at him, and unsubtly mouthed that John should ask her now.

As John tried to get Sarah's attention, Gerard Edgar, a drug addicted alcoholic fifteen year old swaggered to the group, Sarah in particular. John saw Sarah's shoulders slump in dread, and she put on a smile, one that didn't extend to her bright blue eyes.

"Hey Sarah," Gerard said. John saw her face wretch, and he could understand why. He smelt the alcohol rolling off of his breath from where he stood behind Sarah. "Wanna go out sometime?"

Sarah blanched, and when she recovered politely said, "I'm…sorry, Gerard, but…there's someone else."

Gerard immediately got angry, his already massive frame expanding as his anger grew. He growled inhumanly and lunged for Sarah. Ignoring what she'd said about someone else, John shoved her to the ground to knock her out of the way as Gerard tackled him onto the cement sidewalk.

The two wrestled on the ground for minutes, and Gerard had the upper hand thanks to his size and training. Breaking the rules of engagement, Gerard put his hands around John's throat and started squeezing the life out of him.

As shadows started to creep their way into John's field of view, Gerard leaned down to his ear and started to slur, "Sarah will be mine, and non one else's. There is nothing you can do about that."

The shadows crept out of John's eyes, and before he knew it John was pounding Gerard's face in the dirt. Not long after he'd started, Red pulled John off of Gerard, who slowly got off and ran away, crying. John breathed heavily, and looked in horror at the blood on his hands. Gerard's blood.

Sarah walked up to John and asked cautiously, "What did he say to make you so pissed like that?" Without hesitation, John told her everything Gerard had said. Sarah blinked and blushed slightly. "You did all of that…for me?" she whispered.

Still breathing heavily, John looked to Red for advice, not knowing what to do. His friend vigorously nodded his head, and so John nodded at Sarah slowly, fearing the worst.

Sarah nodded, and it looked to John that she was going to walk away. Then, out of the blue, she ran up to John and kissed him deeply and fully, the sun reflecting off of her golden hair.

They kissed for what seemed like forever, and not even Red's cry of "Finally!" could stop the two lovebirds.

V

John shook off the memory and asked, "What does that have to do with anything?"

The being surveyed John indifferently. "That was the first time you ever exploded like that, is it not?"

John spread his arms apart incredulously. "Yeah, the first and only time. I kept it in check after that, though come to think of it, that outburst caused Gerard to go to military school, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise…"

"Focus, John," the angel man said. John slapped himself on the back of the head and said, "Okay, focused."

"After that Valentine's Day, the two of you proceeded to go out for the duration of your high school careers, with little to no problems. Then, on the Valentine's Day of your senior year, she told you she loved you."

John shifted uneasily on his feet, and said slowly, "I didn't know what to say to that, so I said nothing. Upset, she ran away, and I didn't see her for the rest of the day."

The being pursed his lips and nodded sadly, though John didn't know why. "Do you remember what happened after that?" he whispered.

John furrowed his brow in concentration, trying to remember. After a minute, he shook his head. "No such luck."

The being exhaled, and said, "Very well, I will fill in the blanks for you. After school, you spent hours searching for an engagement ring, realizing you did love Sarah, but you knew that words were not enough to tell her how much. You spent your entire life savings on the ring, and then you drove to her house to propose marriage…"

Feeling the familiar sensation of a memory emerging, John closed his eyes, trying to remember…

John arrived at Sarah's house at 7:30 that night, listening to the radio (AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" was playing). John sat back and buried his face in his hands, wondering how exactly he was going to propose.

After five minutes of deep thought, John gets out of his car, thinking he has the perfect plan. Putting the engagement ring case in his pocket, the seventeen year old went to knock on the door, but realized with alarm that it was knocked off of its hinges.

Thinking with no regard for his safety, John rushed in to make sure Sarah and her parents were okay. He got into the living room, and found four men standing over Sarah's beaten body on the floor, with one standing off to the side, looking slightly disgusted.

"NO!" John yelled, running to his girlfriend's side, but is stopped in his tracks by a large, muscular, bald white man, who held him by the collar. All the while, John screamed in protest, and Sarah muttered, "John…"

Wordlessly, an average sized African American with a black afro pulled out a handgun and shot Sarah in the stomach multiple times.

John screamed an animal scream and elbowed the man holding him in the crotch, causing him to be freed. As the bald man lay on the ground in pain, a wiry white male with long, wild, frizzy blonde hair leaped at John and knocked him to the ground. Pinning him, the man clucked and took out a long butcher's knife. Instead of doing the merciful thing and merely stabbing John and ending his pain, he traced a line down the youth's left eye, clucking all the while.

John yelled, not so much in pain, but out of frustration that he could do nothing. A short, grinning man with mousy brown hair squeaked, "Let's get him, guys!" and started kicking and punching John.

All but the man off to the side took part in this. The gang responsible for this laughed merrily the whole time, and after minutes of that the man who refused to participate almost pleaded to the black man, who was apparently the leader. The man nodded, and he ordered the others to burn the place. His group nodded and addressed him as 'Ringleader.'

As this was happening, John, in agony, managed to crawl over next to Sarah's limp body and wrapped his hand around hers. As he remembered the fun the two had had together, he managed to say, "I love you" as he was shot directly through the heart.

In the realm of the angel being, the spirit of John Crowe fell to his knees and screamed in a combination of rage and sadness, saying, "I REMEMBER!"

VI

The being watches John vent his pain with pity, and when John could no longer scream he locked is red and puffy eyes with the beings deep brown ones. "Why?" he growled. "Why did you show me all this? Why didn't you just let me rest in peace? And who are you!?"

The being smiled despite all that was going on. "My name is Ajnev. I am the Specter of Vengeance. I pulled your soul from heaven because I have an offer for you: If you so desire, I can create a new earthly avatar for you, in essence restoring you to life to enact revenge on those that killed you and your love.

John stared at the Ajnev in disbelief, then in anger. "What is this, some kind of sick joke?" he whispered in incredulous anger. He lunged at the Specter of Vengeance, but phased right through him. Recovering from this, he tried again and again to attack Ajnev until he is tried out.

"I assure you, John Crowe, this is no joke," Ajnev said serenely. Feeling like he has no other choice, John said skeptically, "Fine…I'll listen. For now."

Ajnev smiled slightly. "Good. Now, as I was saying, I could create a new body for you, one almost exactly like your old one, though better in ways no human can fathom. This body will help you in your quest."

John stared at Ajnev silently before saying, "And what exactly is my quest? To merely find and kill mine and Sarah's murderers?"

After apparently having a silent conversation with himself, Ajnev said, "I can tell you no more. Anything else concerning your mission you must discover for yourself." A moment of tension filled silence passed between the two, and then Ajnev asked, almost nervously, "Do you accept?"

John hesitated, then asked, "Have you ever done this before?"

Ajnev shook his head no, saying almost excitedly, "No, John. You will be the first Archangel."

John, shocked and a bit flattered, asked why this is so, because there are surely better people out there than him who have been murdered. Ajnev smiled sadly and replied, "Usually when someone is murdered, they die with feelings of hatred, fear, and anger in their hearts. But you…you died with only love in your heart. They say that someone who dies with such selfless feelings inside of him will have a power that ordinary people know not: the power to change the world. That is why you were chosen, John. That is why you, if you so desire, can become The Archangel."

John stared directly into Ajnev's eyes, now not with hatred, but with determination. "Do it," he simply said.

Ajnev grinned, revealing pointed teeth. "The process is already beginning. You have five minutes to ask anything else."

Thinking hard, John queried, "Who runs the gang who killed me?"

Ajnev's eyes glow white. "A man called The Boss. He runs the city that your hometown borders. He is responsible for your deaths, as well as countless others."

John nodded, knowing this small piece of information will serve him well. "One more thing, if I may?" When Ajnev raised no objections, John asked, "Why did you wait two years to bring me back to right this wrong?"

At this, Ajnev did something remarkably human: he rolled his eyes. "Oh, that. Well, even one as powerful as I reports to a superior, and this superior is damn near obsessed with a young superhero over in Xavier City. It took me a year and a half to convince him to even consider this matter, and then when he approved this, it took me six months to prepare your avatar."

John started to nod, but as he did so his body started to fade away. Looking at Ajnev in alarm, the Specter of Vengeance merely smiled and said, "Be careful. If you die in this body, there is no other way to bring you back. You will die, and your soul will forever lie in limbo."

Wondering why he withheld this information, John Crowe vanished from Ajnev's paradise, leaving the winged spirit alone.

Thunder boomed in Powerston, and lightning flashed across the sky. After five minutes of this, a bolt of pure blue electricity struck John Crowe's headstone, destroying it.

The thunder kept booming, and the lightning kept flashing and striking the area between the grave of Sarah Fallon and the former grave of John Crowe.

Finally, an ultimate bolt struck the area, and the storm ended. But now something more than human stood where the lightning had struck. This individual wore dark sunglasses, a black leather jacket over a gray sleeveless shirt, black trousers, and combat boots. His black hair was streaked with silver, and running down his left eye was a scar.

Smirking, John Crowe, also known as The Archangel leaped into the air, laughing. He was back.

VII

Wilson Boothe was awoken from his un-fitful sleep by the sound of a thunder. Unlike most, he welcomed being rudely awakened. It saved him from his nightmares.

He had been part of The Boss' Enforcers, doing the dirty jobs so that The Boss wouldn't get his hands dirty. He was a powerful man, definitely, but he wanted all the power without any of the effort. That was where the Enforcers came in.

Two years ago he and the other Enforcers had been ordered to kill a girl because she had brought another of their victims to the hospital, which resulted in his life being saved. The Boss was a sore loser, and thus retaliated by ordering her killed. He made no mention that she was a teenager.

When they'd arrived at her house on Valentine's Day, his former teammates immediately killed her parents and started beating her. Disgusted at the thought of hurting someone so young, he said he just felt like watching that day. They didn't care.

Then her boyfriend showed up, and his comrades started to attack him. Boothe continued to watch from afar, and felt as if he was going to vomit. He asked them to stop, and they did, but not before shooting the two lovers. As he walked out of the house as one of his "friends" lit the place on fire, he took a final look at the two. The boyfriend, in his final moments, had wrapped his hand around the girls. His eyes were open, and to do this day they haunted his sleep.

After that incident, he'd requested to The Boss for a change of jobs, having a crisis of conscience he'd never experienced. He went to The Boss and asked to be placed in a company. The Boss, happy with his years of faithful service, agreed to it. He was now Vice-President of an independent software company.

In spite of this, Boothe's guilt had never wavered, and nightmares about that bloody Valentine's Day had plagued him every night since.

But Boothe takes solace in one simple fact: he knows that, one way or another. His death was coming. Soon.

Red awakens with a start to the sound of a storm. Since storms weren't uncommon around Powerston, Red tried going back to sleep. However, after not hearing the clickity clack tat of raindrops against his window, he gets out of bed and peeked through his blinds.

There was a storm all right, except all signs of it were focused on the cemetery. Suddenly, the storm ends. It doesn't slowly subside, it just ceased being. Very curious.

Red threw on his clothes from the previous day, took the car keys off of the kitchen table and drove to the cemetery.

When he arrived, Red walked around, looking for anything out of the ordinary. He found no evidence of such a thing. Taking advantage of his being there, the red headed lad went to visit John and Sarah, though he had been there hours before.

Red's jaw dropped as he approached the graves. Sarah's headstone was still fine, but John's was smashed. He walked towards the graves to see if there was any of evidence to discover who had done this, and found footprints in the dirt.

Following them, he came across a built man dressed entirely in black, save for a gray undershirt. "Hey!" Red called out. The man turned, startled, and before Red could jog up to him the man leaped far away into the night.

VIII

John/The Archangel landed on a rooftop half a mile away, assuming that this superhuman leaping was one of his new abilities. It was here he realized he knew none of his abilities, and that his leaping away was purely instinct.

John looked at the direction where he'd leaped from and found he could still see the graves perfectly. Standing about nine feet away from them was Red, looking at the sky in wonder. John blinked his eyes, and his super vision changed back into regular vision.

Red's arrival had shocked him. John was so caught up in his thirst for vengeance that he didn't consider the fact that his best friend was still around. Part of him wanted to go back to greet his friend, but a second, stronger part stopped him.

John leaped off of the building and landed perfectly. In life, John had been a clumsy fool, precise only when angered. Now, as The Archangel, he had greater skill than he could have thought possible.

All of a sudden, sound after sound after sound penetrated his skull, causing the Avatar of Vengeance to fall to his knees, his head pounding. After taking a few deep breaths, this is lessened, but not completely gone.

John silently decided that before his mission could begin, he needed to learn to control his vast power. He tried to think of a place where he would not be interrupted, and an image of his old house surfaced to the forefront of his mind.

Instantly, he ran there, and was amazed at the speed at which he got there. To an observer, he would appear to be nothing more than a black blur. Shaking his head in wonder, he walked in.

In contrast to the vibrancy of the house in life, the house where John Crowe now stood was devoid of life, dusty and filled with cobwebs. John's hearing picked up the patter of feet behind him, and as he turned a raccoon leaped at him.

Acting again on instinct, John dodged the creature. A crafty creature, the raccoon leaped at John again, and this time John caught it by the neck. The scavenger started to claw at John's hands, and in frustration John threw it at the wall. Interestingly enough, the raccoon did not hit the wall and fall to the ground, but rather made a hole in the wall and went flying through the sky. Watching it with his super vision, John observes the animal do the raccoon equivalent of a scream and land with a thud a mile away, dead.

John looked at his bleeding hands, and, acknowledging the fact that he can be hurt, spat in disgust. He killed an animal that was acting on pure instinct. Of course, he could argue that he was acting on instinct, and he wouldn't be lying.

Mostly.

I shouldn't be disgusted, John thought. If my mission is to succeed, I will have to kill much more, and not just helpless animals, but people. Living, breathing people.

John subconsciously wondered what became of his parents, but those thoughts quickly became forgotten when he entered his old room. Once filled with baseball and comic memorabilia, his old bedroom was now abandoned, and was the perfect place to wait for the time to strike.

Sitting on the floor, John began to meditate and control the vast powers that had been granted unto him.

IX

Sgt. Michael Stile sat in his office, waiting for action. Though he did not like the crime that plagued the city, he was admittedly bored and dying for something to do.

His wish was granted when Captain Black walked in and sat across from him, wearing a smug look.

"What is it?" Black asked coldly. In the two years since the murder, Black had only increased in corruption, and Michael really didn't want to deal with him. Though, considering Black was his boss, that was nigh impossible.

"You've been re-examining the Crowe-Fallon case. I know this for a fact. I also know that I told you you weren't to touch it. Do you remember?" Black sneered.

Michael nodded. "I remember. It's part of the reason I did so, to spite you." In response to that comment Michael was punched in the face.

"You are to stop this at once, or it'll mean your badge." Wiping blood off of his lip, Michael retorted, "Now, you know I won't do that. You made a mistake" (he said that word with careful deliberation).

Black walked to the door. With his back facing Michael, he said, "I'll be watching you, Stile."

Later, Black stood before The Boss, informing him about Michael Stile and his continuing persistence in investigating the Crowe-Fallon case.

"I believe that, given enough time, he could gather enough evidence to implicate you in the murders, sir," Black concluded.

The Boss nodded, absorbing the information given to him. "Hm, a valid worry you have there, Captain. But I cannot kill a man based on a mere worry." The Boss stopped himself and thought for a second. "Actually, I could, but I actually like to have reasons for my actions."

Black stood motionless, worried that The Boss was going to dismiss him. His fears were unfounded.

"Here's what you will do, Captain," The Boss began. "Put some of your best men on a tail, have them watch Stile at all times. If and when they find him doing something that could jeopardize our business-which he undoubtedly will-then, and only then, may you kill him."

Black bowed deferentially. "Sir."

The Boss motioned for him to stop bowing, which he did. "Now then, my friend, is everything in place for our next operation?"

Black merely nodded, knowing fully well enough what his superior was referring to. "Excellent," The Boss said. "Proceed with it, then."

Black again nodded and called a number on his cell phone.

X

John had meditated for hours, mentally learning to control his newfound power. He exhaled deeply and sped out of his house. The Archangel leaped onto a rooftop and began to prowl, looking for a sign of his pray.

As he leaped from rooftop to rooftop, he heard the sound of flames crackling. Interested, John determined the direction the sound originated from and used his vision to observe an apartment complex up in flames. To add to the sad sight of the burning building, John also heard two children screaming.

John debated with himself on whether to go to the building. On one hand, it would be the right thing to do. On the other, his mission was that of vengeance, not that of a savior. As if responding to his thoughts, an exterior image of Sarah's house aflame entered unbidden to the forefront of his mind. Without second thought, John dashed to the apartment complex.

The Archangel arrived at the building ten seconds later and jumped through a broken window. As he landed, he heard the murmurs of wonder from people watching the building helplessly. In other words, he was seen.

John set that thought aside and focused on finding those trapped inside. As he tried listening in, he felt the heat of the flames on his skin, but it seemed to roll off of him. He was immune to fire. Realizing this would make the job here a whole lot easier, John concentrated hard and dulled the sound of the flames, leaving only the sound of the screaming children. They were on the second floor.

Dashing there, John honed in on the cries even further and found them locked in a closet. He ripped the door off of its hinges and found two boys, one Spanish and one Caucasian huddled together in fright. When they caught sight of The Archangel, they screamed. The resurrected man realized he must look like some kind of demon to the children, so he used a warm voice and said, "It will be okay, boys. But you have to come me, all right?"

Looking at each other, they nodded, and John tucked one under each arm and ran out of the smoking room. Finding an open window, John leaped out of the inferno and landed on his feet.

Placing the stunned kids on the ground, John took a quick glance at the enthralled crowed and silently leaped away.

Observing the media circus from a rooftop blocks away, John heard many wonder who this masked man was. Despite himself, he smirked sadly. Then he saw something interesting. A police officer broke away from the crowd, looking frustrated, and jogged to an alley. His interest piqued, John followed him from the rooftops.

The officer was making a phone call to someone that John believed a superior officer, until the man (whose name was Black) said that the operation failed, and the children are alive. From what The Archangel's keen mind could gather, Black had ordered an agent of his to kill the two children's babysitter and replace her. The agent then lit the stove and left it unchecked, causing the building to erupt in flames. The two children were apparently extortion witnesses, and thus the man who Black reported to ordered them dead.

Shocked by this display of cruelty, John promised to visit this Black character tonight, where he was least likely to be seen again.

XI

Faces flashed across The Boss' television screen, each one describing The Man in Black (as the media had dubbed him) as a hero to the people. In a rare moment of frustration, the normally composed Boss threw the remote at the T.V., destroying it.

King ran in, looking concerned. When he saw the destroyed electronic device, he asked, "What is it?"

The Boss shook his head, and instead of replying said, "Get Black to put a bounty on the streets. This… 'Man in Black'… is not welcome in my city, and it's time he learned it."

King nodded, but The Boss stopped him. "Who do you think it is?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

"It was more than likely just some random citizen trying to be a hero," King said, saying the word 'hero' in disgust.

"But such a display of power…," The Boss pondered. "Tell Black to make the bounty only valid if The Man in Black is alive. "

"Will do, sir. But may I ask why?"

The Boss laughed, a cold humorless sound. "There's an old saying that I learned when I was abroad, my friend: When you kill a man, you absorb his pain, and by absorbing his pain, you absorb his power. I want that power."

King nodded, secretly scared of his friend and employer. The Boss, of course, did not know this, and as such told him to bring in the agent who was responsible for the fire to him. He wants her to learn the price of failure.

Bowing stiffly, King left, knowing that it was in no way the agent's fault the operation had ended in failure. But he wasn't going to argue with The Boss. To do so is to die.

As King left, the Boss went to his armory and perused his collection of weaponry, finally choosing a katana.

XII

That night, Black went into his office with a warm coffee while reflecting the day. He had, as ordered, put the bounty on The Man in Black. All officers had accepted it without question or objection, save for Sergeant Michael Stile, who believed The Man in Black to be a hero. The police captain could not wait for his tail to report Stile fucking up. That would be a fantastic day, in Black's eyes.

Flipping the lights on, Black gasped and dropped his coffee, its hot contents slowly leaking towards the feet of The Man in Black.

John sat behind Police Captain Black's desk, smiling coldly. "Captain Black!" he said enthusiastically, still grinning. "I was wondering if you'd ever show up."

Without answering, Black whipped out his pistol. In a heartbeat, John raced to the pistol, swiftly removed the clip, and sat back in his chair, all without Black noticing he had gotten up.

When Black tried firing, he wore an expression of incredulity that made John laugh inwardly. John presented the clip, and then snapped it in two. This action caused Black to take a step back in fear, his hand clutched over his heart.

"What do you want?" he whispered quickly.

John got up. "I'd like to have a quick chat with you, Black. First, a question; why are the Crowe-Fallon deaths listed as murder-suicides? I believe simple murder is the better term." When John had first read that, anger blossomed inside of him. The thought that he could even hurt Sarah was like a knife in his side.

Black asked, "What makes you say that? I was at the crime scene. I went by my better judgment, having not seen what happened inside the girl's house."

"The girl has a name," John said quietly. "Sarah Fallon."

His fear was temporarily overrun by frustration at The Man in Black. "Why do you care now, anyway? The bitch is dead now, and so is the killer."

John leaped at Black and grabbed his arm. "I care so much because the actual killers aren't dead. There were five men who killed Sarah Fallon and John Crowe, and I know you know who they are. I also know who they work for: the same man you work for."

Black's eyes widened, and he tried escaping John's iron tight grip. In response, John broke his arm. Black screamed, "What do you want?"

"Where do you find The Boss?"

"No one knows! When you're taken to him you're blindfolded and searched, so that no one can try to assassinate him. He also has sound dampeners placed around his whole base, so that no wiseasses can listen in on his business."

John found this information useful, but had more questions for the man. "Who are the ones who killed the two? Where can I find them?"

Black said he didn't know, so John squeezed his arm. Hard. Black grunted, and screamed, "I honestly don't know! They hide somewhere until The Boss calls on them, and then they do whatever he wants. I don't know anything, I swear!"

John brought Black's face directly to face his. "Then what do you know?" he asked deliberately.

Urinating his pants, Black said, "…There's a man…Wilson Boothe…he used to be an Enforcer…he can help you, I'm sure…he lives at the Sunset Apartment Complex, Apartment 100C…that's all I know, I swear! Now let go of me!"

Black began to sob, and John let go of his arm, sighing in disgust. Walking towards the window, he said, "You can't win against him, you know! He's got an army, where you're just one man!"

"We'll see," was John's only reply.

"Who are you, anyway?" Black called after John's retreating Black while holding his injured arm.

John turned to face him. "I'm The Archangel, but my friends called me John Crowe."

And like that, he vanished into the darkness.

Black stared at the window in horror. The Man in Black had called himself John Crowe, but he'd been dead for two years. It was obvious to him that this was a hoax, a friend taking vengeance for his companion.

But with the ease with which his arm was broken…how fast he moved…how much he seemed to care about the girl…

Using his good arm, Black got out his cell phone. "Sir? It's Black. We…have a situation. John Crowe is back from the dead."

XIII

Wilson Boothe stirred in his bed as a voice cooed into his ear. Assuming it to be the girl he had entertained the previous evening, he muttered, "Not now…"

"BOOTHE!"

Boothe sat up in his bed, alert and easily awake. He looked to the right. The girl was gone.

Looking around, he found the much discussed Man in Black standing at the foot of his bed, his face masked in shadow. Boothe felt a chill run up his back. This was his Angel of Death, here to kill him for all his past wrongs.

Not letting the thought show, Boothe evenly asked, "Where's the girl…Kennedy?"

The Man in Black spoke, his voice a harsh whisper. "I silently ushered her away. I didn't want her to see this."

"Who are you?" Boothe asked, oddly unafraid.

The Man in Black stepped out of the shadows completely, revealing his face, and Boothe drew an involuntary breath. It wasn't that the man was hideous. No, it's just that the eyes that were surveying him were the very same eyes that have haunted him for the past two years.

"I'm John Crowe?" he said, talking normally now. "Perhaps you remember me?"

Boothe merely nodded. John continued to stare at him with those eyes as he spoke. "You, Wilson Boothe, never took part in either my or Sarah's murders. You neither beat nor shot us. I would like to know why."

The words came easily to Boothe, much to his astonishment. "I never was one for killing. I was more of a bookworm growing up, if you must know. But my father was a hitman for the mob, and he couldn't have me getting smart on him, could he? Dear old Dad pulled me outta school and started teaching me the finer arts of the kill. Years later I was working for The Boss…as you well know."

Boothe stared at John uneasily, regretting mentioning The Boss as soon as he'd mentioned his name, but the young man didn't mention anything, so he continued.

"When I became an adult I became an Enforcer for The Boss, as per my father's dying wish. I killed for him many times, never getting the enjoyment out of it my former co-workers did. Yours and Sarah's deaths spurred me to quit that job and work at a company. And…that's where you find me today."

John again said nothing, so Boothe concluded, "Your murders have haunted me everyday for the past two years. If I could go back in time and stop it, I would in a heartbeat. You should know, though, that I'm sorry. My god am I sorry."

John looked down, again saying nothing. After a minute of silence Black asked, "…Are you here to kill me?"

John shook his head no. "No," he said hoarsely. "No…I'm here for information about The Boss and his current Enforcers. If you can give me anything that helps, your inaction will be redeemed in my eyes."

Boothe nodded and cleared his throat. "What do you need?"

"Anything you can give me."

"The current Enforcers as of now are Cluck-Cluck, an insane sociopath with a penchant for clucking; Brick, a former boxer who now serves to bully many for protection fees; Twitchy is a relative newcomer compared to the others, having only served for three years. He has ADHD, and constantly tries to impress the leader, Ringleader."

"Anything on The Boss?"

"Words cannot describe him," Boothe said with an involuntary twitch. "He's like…evil incarnate. He doesn't give a damn about anyone, except maybe King, his right hand man. King's a master practitioner of jeet kune do, and serves as The Boss' liaison to the outside world. The Boss never leaves his penthouse (his base of operations) unless something very important is happening."

Boothe took a deep breath.

"That's it?" John queried. Boothe nodded. "Well then, if your information helps, I'll be back to personally absolve you."

Putting sunglasses on, John looked out the window. Boothe also looked outside and saw the sun beginning to slightly lighten the sky.

"Thank you, Boothe." And like that he was gone.

Boothe sat at the edge of his bed, letting a smile creep across his face. Perhaps he could be redeemed, at least in the eyes of a man he had let die. And that was all that mattered.

XIV

John ran back to his old house. Dawn was approaching, and as he had learned last night, The Archangel worked best in the darkness.

He entered the house and went to his old room. Tossing his jacket aside and throwing his glasses on top of them, he began to meditate, before remembering something from his past.

John looked for a loose floorboard, and when he found it opened it. Inside was a "treasure chest" he'd bought in Connecticut. John opened it.

Inside were pictures of John and Sarah together: dancing at her Sweet Sixteen; posing together at Junior Prom; shoving cake in each other's faces during her cousin's wedding; and finally one of Sarah on John's back, with Red to their side.

John smiled sadly, and a tear drop fell onto the small pile of pictures.

The Boss contemplated his next course of action. Upon hearing from Black that John Crowe was back from the dead, he immediately disregarded it. But after thinking about it, he started to slowly believe. He'd seen weirder things in his lifetime.

"What should I do?" he asked King.

"Ignore it," King said promptly. "No one comes back from the dead. It's impossibility. This 'Archangel' character is most likely some vigilante who was close to John Crowe in real life. MY guess is it was his best friend."

"Hm," The Boss said. "Then we should kill him. Even if it isn't him, it will send a message. Who is it?"

King said, "Our contact at Powerston High said that when John Crowe attended the facility, he and Robert Stile were inseparable."

The Boss nodded, and told King, "Get Cluck-Cluck on the job."

King waited there, stoic.

"Something wrong, my friend?" The Boss asked gingerly.

"No, sir, it's just…Cluck-Cluck does have a tendency to be…enthusiastic."

The Boss grinned wickedly. "I know."

At The Hole, the underground bunker where The Enforcer's spent their free time, the phone rang. The one called Ringleader picked up, and in a baritone voice said, "Yes? Right sir. Will do."

Ringleader called out to Cluck-Cluck, saying, "The Boss has a job for you."

Cluck-Cluck replied, "CLUCK! I'm watching T.V. here, boss!" Cluck-Cluck, Twitchy, and Brick were watching a clip of a man wearing red-and-black coming out of nowhere to save a plane.

"NOW!" Ringleader yelled, eliciting a laugh from Brick and Twitchy as a defeated looking Cluck-Cluck left.

"What does The Boss want? CLUCK!" Cluck-Clucked asked in a small voice.

Arms folded, Ringleader said, "The Boss has offered you a chance to make up for your last mistake."

Cluck-Cluck clucked enthusiastically and asked, "What would he have me do?"

Ringleader said, "Sharpen your knife and ready your gun, my friend…"

XV

As John meditated into twilight, he heard a high-pitched voice (mixed with a familiar clucking sound) giving orders to (presumably) other men to come with him and go after Robert Stile.

Eyes snapped open, John tried honing in on the exact location of who he assumed to be Cluck-Cluck, but could not. Then he tried listening for Red, but could not hear him either. His heart pounding in his chest, he frantically listened for another familiar voice, and upon hearing grabbed his coat and glasses and left to find it.

Michael left the station just as night completely enveloped Livedt City. As he walked to his car, a harsh whisper said his name from the dark.

"Yes?" Michael said, turning. Behind him stood The Man in Black, whose attire made him darker than the night itself. Michael stared at the darkness, and despite believing this man was a hero was a little afraid that the Man in Black would kill him.

"Don't worry," the Man in Black said in that same harsh whisper. "I'm not here to harm you."

Despite looking the complete opposite of a Good Samaritan, Michael believed him. "What do you want, then, sir?"

"Do you know where your son Robert is?"

Michael winced in confusion. That was an odd thing to ask. "Why do you want to know? How do you know my son's name?"

The Man in Black was getting visibly irritated, but none of his irritation seeped into his voice. "It doesn't matter how I know who he is. Now please: Where is your son?

"At home, probably," Michael guessed.

"No, he isn't," The Man in Black said. "I checked. Call his cell phone, find out where he is."

Slightly offended by being told what to do by a complete stranger, Michael nonetheless took out his cell phone and dialed the number.

"Put it on speaker," The Man in Black said in atone that reeked of authority.

Rolling his eyes, Michael complied, and when Robert picked up he asked, "Where are you?"

"Out," was Robert's only reply.

"Out where?" Michael asked.

"Walking," Robert said shortly, before hanging up.

"Ugh," Michael grunted before turning to face The Man in Black, who was gone.

"Well…bye," Michael said weakly into the night.

XVI

Red walked down an empty street alone, hands in pockets, silently fuming at his father. Didn't he know how hard this time of year was on him?

As he continued to walk aimlessly, he heard a shrieking sound coming from a nearby alleyway. Assuming someone was getting mugged, Red ran to see if he could help.

As he entered the alley, he found neither signs of a mugging, nor any signs of people in general. Shrugging, Red turned to leave, only to come face to face with a group of men, who instantly started shoving him around.

"Hey!" Red yelled in objection, to no avail. It is now obvious to him that these guys faked the scream to get Red's attention. But for what purpose?

Their apparent leader was a wiry man with wild, frizzy blonde hair. The man approached him and clucked at him viciously. Red, held in place by two men, wretched at the man's halitosis, and widened his eyes as the man drew a knife and held it menacingly.

As Red prepared himself for the coming stab, he saw a shadow drop form the rooftops and quickly dispatch the thugs, including those holding Red. Rubbing his definitely bruised arms, he watched with a look of pure giddiness as the shadow ran to the leader and, displaying a fantastic amount of strength, threw him onto a rooftop.

In a harsh whisper, the shadow asked Red, "Are you all right?"

Red said, "I'm fine, thanks, just a little shaken up."

The shadow nodded, seemingly satisfied, and looked to Red as if it were about to leap away.

"Wait!" Red cried. The shadow turned to face the young man, curious.

"Yes?" it growled.

"I just…wanted to say thanks. No one's ever stood up for anyone around here, really."

The shadow said nothing for a moment, and as he readied himself to leap away said in a lighter, normal voice, "Things change."

And then he was on the roof.

Red watched the roof in a mix of puzzlement, marvel, and even fear.

"John?"

XVII

John silently commended himself on how he found Red. After seeing Red wasn't home, he'd listened for Sergeant Stile, and upon hearing and finding the man had him call Red's cell phone. When Red answered, John was able to discern where he was, and so he found him, though he'd arrived nearly too late. Sloppy.

Sergeant Stile recognized him, and neither had Red, though something had possessed John to reveal himself to his best friend. John mentally decided he'd figure out what to do later. For now, he had a bigger chicken to fry.

Cluck-Cluck groaned on the roof as John neatly landed. The Archangel walked over to the insane murderer as the man got up. John stopped where he was, assessing the threat from behind is glasses. His frame was skinny, which meant he was unlikely strong, but he could be fast. It didn't matter to John, though. He would take Cluck-Cluck down, one way or the other.

When Cluck-Cluck saw John, he asked wearily, "Who the fuck are you?"

Silently, John removed his glasses and snarled at Cluck-Cluck. Cluck-Cluck staggered back, pointing a quavering finger at John. "You-you can't be alive! Me and my friends…we killed you good!

John nodded and pointed at his scar. "You left your mark on me, Clucky."

Shaking his head, Cluck-Cluck reached for his gun, but John, moving as fast as the wind, ran up to Cluck-Cluck and yanked the gun directly from his thin hands before knocking him back onto the ground with it.

Images of Cluck-Cluck beating Sarah and himself race through John's mind as he readies himself to pull the trigger. As his finger hovers over what would certainly end Cluck-Cluck's life, an image of a gun barrel enters itself into John's mind, and he sees him and Sarah being shot from a third-person view.

Grabbing his head as if in agony, John walked to the edge of the rooftop and threw the gun miles away.

As he did so, Cluck-Cluck got up and threw his knife at John with deadly accuracy.

Cluck-Cluck was pissed. No one had ever beaten him, and this ghost would be no exception. So Cluck-Cluck waited for the dead man's attention to be turned elsewhere, and when it was, Cluck-Cluck took out his trusty knife and threw it.

His aim was true, which is why Cluck-Cluck was horrified when The Man in Black turned on his feet, caught the handle of the knife, and threw it back at it's owner.

Cluck-Cluck's eyes widened as the knife made contact with his throat, and he let out one final, feeble cluck.

The Archangel watched in satisfaction as Cluck-Cluck's dead body slumped to the ground. He searched the body's remains, and finding a cell phone, searched through the contacts list. Finding the name Brick as number seven, he smirked and pocketed the phone.

XVIII

The next afternoon, King walked in on The Boss, who again was surveying his city through the large glass window. "What is it?" The Boss inquired.

"They've found all of Cluck-Cluck, sir," King said, absentmindedly playing with his fingers.

The Boss turned to face King, eyes widened. "All?"

King nodded. "Our avenger cut off all of Cluck-Cluck's extremities and hid them all over the city. We only just found all of them."

The Boss laughed. "I like the way this guy thinks."

"There was a note, sir," King told The Boss, handing the note to him. The Boss opened it and read it out loud.

"To The Boss: I regret I could not give you this letter in person, but you are proving difficult to find. Just know that Cluck-Cluck is merely the first of your subordinates to perish at my hand. Your other Enforcers: Brick, Twitchy, and Ringleader are next. Followed by you. Yours most sincerely, The Archangel."

The Boss looked at the note before crumpling it. "Well, this is getting interesting."

"What I want to know is, who told him the identities of the Enforcers. Black?"

The Boss shook his head. "He's been in and out of consciousness for days. Ever since he met this Archangel he's been having panic attacks. "

The Boss stroked his goatee and un-crumpled the note. Reading it over again, he handed it to King and asked, "Does anything about this seem suspicious at all to you?"

King looked it over and said, "No sir…why, does something seem off to you?"

"One of The Enforcers present at the murders of John Crowe and Sarah Fallon is not present on this list," The Boss grated.

King looked over the letter again and saw Wilson Boothe's name missing. He exchanged a significant look with The Boss, whose phone rang.

After the conversation, The Boss says to King, "That was Black. He just woke up. He says his tail on Sergeant Stile has just reported something very interesting…you have a busy night ahead of you, King."

XIX

Red awoke with a start and looked at his clock. 2:00 p.m. He wasn't surprised he'd woken up this late, seeing as he'd fallen asleep at 5:00, wondering how John could still be alive. These thoughts had leaked into his dreams. In the dream, he'd seen John and Sarah, and when he went to approach them Sarah vanished in a puff of smoke and John morphed into The Man in Black from last night.

The differences between the two were startling, Red believed. John had always been laid-back and carefree, never taking anything except friends, family, and Sarah seriously. This Man in Black seemed focused entirely on hurting Red's assailants. And that skill! John had been a klutz in life. He knew it, too. But The Man in Black moved with a startling efficiency. He reminded Red of The Terminator.

Red looked at his dresser, on top of which was a picture of him and John, with Sarah hanging off of John's back. All three of them were smiling happily.

In his minds eye, Sarah vanished and the happy John morphed into the grim The Man in Black, and the change was quite extreme.

John banged his head against his wall, cursing himself for being so stupid. How could he have let Red know who he was?! Now his former best friend was likely to come looking for him, leading him into a shitload of trouble. Red was one distraction John didn't need. "Why!?" he yelled to no one in particular.

A voice in his mind told him he probably wanted his best friend to know he was back, if only to feel companionship again. A second, harsher voice said that was idiotic, and that John Crowe is dead; the mission is all that matters.

John shut the voices up and went to the old bathroom, right next to his old room. Thankfully, the mirror was still up. Looking into it, John found he no longer recognized the face in the mirror as John Crowe. To himself, he said resignedly, "John Crowe…is dead. There is only The Archangel."

XX

Boothe paced around his apartment. John had called him and, not stopping for chit chat, said he was coming by at seven that night. Boothe had agreed, and it was now that allotted time.

As Boothe looked out the window, wondering if John would ever show, a harsh whisper said his name. Boothe turned and found John leaning against the wall, frowning.

Walking to him, Boothe asked, "Why'd you call?" He stared directly into John's sunglasses and wondered why he hadn't taken them off, and why he was speaking in that odd, harsh whisper.

"Your information aided me greatly, though not in the way I'd originally thought," John said, using that same voice that slightly unnerved Boothe. "I killed Cluck-Cluck last night. Did you hear that?"

The news came as a shock to Boothe. "No…I didn't."

"Well," John continued, "it matters not. What does matter is that I'm here this night to personally relieve you of any and all guilt pertaining to that night." John held out his hand.

Boothe smiled gratefully and shook it. "Well…I am glad that I was able to help, however slightly." The smile weakened, slightly, as he said, "But you need to watch your anger, John. Because if you let that control you, whatever was left of that young man will be lost forever."

As John was about to reply, he tensed up, and a moment later a bullet passed through Boothe's head, and he died with a smile on his face.

King had listened to the conversation between Wilson Boothe and The Archangel, and was surprised to learn that The Archangel was indeed John Crowe, risen from the dead. Boothe, though many things, was not a fool, and King trusted his belief.

After hearing enough, King had killed Boothe, and now he stood face to face with John Crowe, The Archangel, who stared at him, though with his sunglasses covering his eyes Boothe found it impossible to read his emotion, though it was more than likely anger.

King shot at John's kneecaps, looking to disable him, but The Archangel managed to dodge the shots, and before King could stop him leaped through the window, causing the glass to shatter. The man ran to the window, and saw his target falling vertically to the cold, hard pavement below.

The Archangel did not know if he would survive the fall to the ground from such a high distance, but he jumped out of the window anyway to escape the man he assumed to be King.

At the last second, he flipped and landed safely on his feet. He listened up to Boothe's apartment, and felt a pang of sadness for the deceased. The Archangel felt that despite all his faults, he was not a bad creature.

As he listened, he heard King, frustrated, call some lackeys of his to hold Sergeant Stile at the police department area, preferably the alley, and he'd be there shortly.

Growling, The Archangel went to see if he could save Michael Stile, not realizing that it was the heart of John Crowe that spurred him to do so.

XXI

Michael was packing up for the night when three rookie officers ran up to his desk, looking visibly shaken.

"What is it?" he asked gently. "What's wrong?"

Looking at his two comrades uneasily, one of the officers said, "We…we found a body buried in a dumpster in the alleyway. We don't know what to do. Can you help us?"

Michael rolled his eyes. Bodies in dumpsters weren't uncommon here, but the three men seemed visibly shaken, so Michael said, "All right then. Lead me to the body."

They did so, but when Michael arrived and looked in the dumpster, he found no body. Turning to yell at the rookies, he found them standing with four armed men, all who looked at a fifth Asian male with reverence.

"You've been meddling in our affairs for too long, Michael Stile," The Asian man said in perfect English.

Michael looked at the rookies, who were now pointing their sidearms at him as well, grinning malevolently. It was here Michael realized he'd been tricked.

As the Asian ordered his men to open fire, a growling shadow leaped from the rooftops, landing in between the armed men and Michael. "Go home," the shadow whispered, and Michael realized that the shadow was The Man in Black.

"You'll need help," Michael objected. "I have my gun, I can help you."

"I'll be fine, I assure you. Now go!" The Man in Black urged.

Looking from the eight armed men to the solo Man in Black, Michael figured that he was saying he'd be fine for Michael's own benefit, but he could do nothing, as he doubted The Man in Black would let him stay. Thanking him, Michael ran for his car.

The Archangel had nearly been too late, again.

As Michael began to leave, King told one of his flunkies to chase after him. The flunky began to run towards the police officer, but on the way he passed The Archangel, who grabbed him by the throat and threw him into a wall, knocking him out.

The other six goons shot at the black avenger, who dodged the two shots that came close to hitting him. Letting his thirst for blood fill him, The Archangel attacked and easily dispatched the other lackeys, who had little to no combat training.

When all of them were dispatched, he turned to face King, who had adopted a fighting stance, prepared to fight. The Archangel did not deprive of him of his desire for combat, and though King had skill, his moves were fluid and dance-like, which, while practical against people like his henchman, was all but useless against a man like The Archangel, who had a high durability and was skilled at ending fights quickly, thanks to knowledge imparted unto him by Ajnev.

King fell, though not before drawing some of The Archangel's blood. The shadow of The Archangel fell over King, who accepted his fate with dignity.

"You know where The Boss' lair is. Tell me and I'll let you live," The Archangel declared.

King raised his chin defiantly and said, "I will not betray him. He is my master…and my friend."

The Archangel studied him, amazed that a man so evil could display such loyalty. "I will show you no mercy, then."

"I do not ask for any."

King never screamed, nor did he tell.

Black ran into The Boss' private chambers, his arm in a cast. As he did so, The Boss' consort left with a satisfied smile on her face.

The Boss, putting on a shirt, asked, "What is it, Black?" The police captain looked around worriedly, causing The Boss to say sharply, "Spit it out, damn it."

Black did so. "Some of my men found King badly wounded in the Financial District, pinned to a wall," he blurted out.

The Boss, in a rare moment of worry, asked, "Where is he?"

Black led him to one of the guest rooms. Pushing him out of the way, The Boss entered and found King bleeding from hundreds of wounds on the bed.

King looked up, grimacing as he did so. The Boss merely looked indifferent, his face not displaying the emotion he felt.

"Our…roles have been…reversed…," King said, coughing up blood. "the hunter has…become the…hunted…"

The Boss nodded wordlessly. Unexpectedly, King grabbed his arm and held it with an iron grip. "He can bleed…I know he can…I've seen it…John Crowe…can…"

King died before he could finish his sentence. The Boss' hand balled into a fist, and he silently pounded the bed, a single tear dropping onto the bed.

"It's personal, now."

XXII

At the old Crowe household, The Archangel perused Cluck-Cluck's old cell phone, looking for any other leads on how to finish his mission. He found none.

In frustration, the resurrected youth nearly threw the cell phone against the opposite wall, but caught himself just in time. The Archangel looked at his hands in alarm, and wondered what he was becoming.

The voice in the back of his head answered him: "A monster."

That night, Red went to the kitchen for a beer. Yes, he was still underage, but that didn't stop him. Believing it would help him think, Red reached into the refrigerator, pulled out a can, and went to go back to his bedroom. On his way there, a voice said to him, "Hey, Red."

Turning with his eyes widened, Red saw John sitting in his father's armchair, smiling slightly at his friend's expression.

"You mind getting me a beer?" John said. "I'm thirsty as hell, and I don't even need to drink."

Red's mouth moved wordlessly before he was able to say, "But we're underage…" To that, John motioned to the beer in Red's hand, still smiling. Blushing slightly, Red went to the kitchen and returned with a beer.

Red tossed the can to John, who caught it easily and drank it in under a minute. Red watched as he did so, enthralled. John saw this out of the corner of his eye and said, "It's rude to stare, you know?" Red quickly ceased doing so.

"Sorry," he stammered. "It's just…you're back! In the flesh!"

"So it would seem," John grunted.

Ignoring John's remark Red asked, "But how? I was at your funeral! I saw you and Sarah get…" Red stopped when he saw the pained look on his friend's face. "Sorry…"

John sat quiet for a while, and then said, "You want to know how I'm back? I was pulled from the afterlife by Ajnev, The Specter of Vengeance, who created the body you see before you and endowed it with incredible powers so I can avenge myself on the ones responsible for the deaths of Sarah and me."

Red's jaw hung open. "So…you're going to kill the people who killed you? Nothing against you, man, but that seems a little extreme."

John cocked his head to one side. "What do you mean?"

Red shrugged. "When you were alive, you believed in the sanctity of all life. You never even destroyed anthills when you were a kid, if I remember right."

"Death changes people," John replied coldly.

"There's something more to that," Red objected. "These…powers…they're making you into something you never were…an animal. A monster. Almost as bad as the men who killed you."

John's eyes narrowed, but then they softened a split second before he turned away from Red's accusing eyes. "You're right," he said softly.

"Of course I am," Red said matter-of-factly. When John didn't respond, Red asked, "So why'd it take you so long to come and see me?"

"It goes back to what you said before," John said, still not looking at Red. "Until a few hours ago, that monster that I was becoming was dominant…and I think a small part of me was afraid that that part of me would hurt you, somehow. In fact, the main reason I came here was because I have questions that need answering."

"I'll answer what I can," Red said.

"Where are my parents, and Mr. and Mrs. Fallon? My house was abandoned until I came along, and the Fallon's are gone. I know, I've checked."

Red paused, trying to find the right words, before nervously saying, "The Fallon's moved to Florida, to get away from all the pain. As for your parents…" Red hesitated. "Your father killed himself, and your mother went mad with grief, and is in some asylum in Xavier City, where her brother can visit her."

John gripped the arms of the chair, leaving deep indents in them. Red looked at his friend sadly. "I'm sorry, John, but…you did ask."

John nodded wearily. "When did all this happen?"

Red told him, "A month after the funeral, give or take. Now, I'm not suicidal or anything, but I can see why your dad did it. That day…it was so sad…I can't describe it."

John looked at Red and said, "You don't have to." He got up, and Red saw how much bigger he was then he used to be. "Just relax and focus on that day."

Obviously confused, Red did his best do so. As soon as he did, he felt light headed, and John saw his brown eyes glaze over. Looking deep into them, his mind left his body and went into the realm of the memory…

John's mind was taken back two years, and it was represented by a transparent version of himself hovering over a crowded church. Looking around at the crowd, he saw the weeping parents of Sarah and himself, Red, his cousin Kyle and his fiancée Briana (John absentmindedly wondered if they'd gotten married yet), as well as people he was friends with at school. His astral form then flew over to dual caskets, which became transparent. John saw himself laying peacefully in a tux, and Briana resting her final rest, looking beautiful in a gown. It was at this moment John felt wave after wave of sadness hit him. But it didn't come from inside his heart. No, it was coming from everyone in the room. The misery hung over everyone like a dark cloud, suffocating them all.

John Crowe's mental form was abruptly sent back to his body, and he immediately started crying. Red went to comfort his friend, who asked from behind the tears, "How do you live with all that pain?" Red's brow furrowed in confusion, so John said, "I felt it! The sadness, the misery, the pain. I felt it all, and it was just so…so hard to bear…"

Red patted John on the back. "I hate to say it, man, but…you get over it, for the most part, eventually."

John shook his head. "I can't, Red…I can't. It's been two years, and I can't let it go!"

Red tried to tell John he would, but John cut him off. "YOU DON'T GET IT! YOU WEREN'T THERE! YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE TO SEE THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE MURDERED BEFORE YOUR EYES! YOU…YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND!"

Red looked at The Archangel with immense pity. Composing himself, John said, barely hearable, "I have to go." He went to the window, but Red cried after him, "Wait!"

Red ran upstairs, rummaged through his doors, and, when finding what he was looking for, ran back downstairs, out of breath. He walked up to John and placed a small box in his hand.

John's eyes began to well up with tears as he opened the box and saw the gold and silver engagement ring that he'd meant to give to Sarah.

"I've been holding onto ever since…that night," Red said uneasily.

John held the ring for his palm and asked Red for string. Though he was confused, Red complied, and returned from the kitchen a few minutes later with a white piece of string, medium width.

John wordlessly fashioned a necklace out of the ring and string, and when he was done hung the makeshift necklace around his neck.

"You know, John," Red began to say delicately. "I'm sorry for everything that happened with you and Sarah. My god, I am so sorry."

To that, John gave Red a look so filled with sadness that it broke Red's heart. "You too, huh?" he asked sadly before vanishing into the darkness.

To no one but himself, Red whispered, "Yeah…me too."

An hour later, as he lay in bed, Red was still unnerved by the look John, his best friend, had given him. It wasn't the look itself, but rather the eyes the look had come from. For you see, the steel blue eyes weren't those of his friend. No…

They were the eyes of a dead man.

XXIII

John stood atop Livedt City's tallest skyscraper, silently reflecting over his conversation with Red. The memory of his funeral, along with the acquisition of the engagement ring that now hung around his neck and the wise words of his friend, had made John realize he was still human, more so than ever before.

He sighed sadly, wondering what he was going to do. Hands in his pockets, he felt the phone of Cluck-Cluck in his right one. Realizing he still had the mission to accomplish, he put his glasses on and called a number.

Brick pinned a raven-haired Italian beauty against a wall in a large back lot behind an Italian restaurant. Smelling her hair, he said, "Your daddy owes The Boss money. Since he refuses to pay in cash, you'll do, I guess."

The woman started to scream, but Brick put his large hand over her mouth. "Uh-uh," he said. "No screaming yet. Don't worry, there will be plenty of-"

The man was interrupted by the vibrating of his cell phone. Since only The Boss and the other Enforcers had his number, he knew he should take the call. "Excuse me," he said to the girl, and turned away for privacy. If the girl knew what was good for her, she'd stay.

Brick checked the caller I.D. It was Cluck-Cluck, much to Brick's surprise. He hadn't been heard from in days, and the Boss refused to release any information to him concerning this. He found it very odd.

"Hello?" he answered. No answer. "Hello?" he said again. Again, no answer. Frowning, he looked at the screen and saw "call ended" flashing. Confused, he pressed the redial button, only to hear Cluck-Cluck's signature Chicken Dance ringtone coming from behind him.

Swirling around, Brick saw The Man in Black leaning against the wall where the Italian girl once stood. Brick grinned cruelly. "Well, I was sent here to get the girl, but as The Boss has a plentiful bounty on your head, you're the next best thing."

The Man in Black inclined his head, and Brick charged at him.

At the last second, The Archangel flipped over Brick, causing the strongman to crash into the wall. Recovering, Brick lunged at John, who punched the man back to his starting point.

Licking his lips, Brick said, "You're strong, anyone can see that. But, unfortunately for you…I'm stronger." With that, Brick ran to a garbage can, lifted it, and with great strength threw it at John. Coming at him as fast as a bullet, John pulled a Neo (from The Matrix) and leaned back, dodging it.

"Strike one!' he yelled, getting up.

Growling, Brick ran towards the nearby dumpster, and easily lifted that without a sign of strain on his body. Brick launched it, and John rolled to the side as the dumpster crashed beside him.

"Strike two!" John cried. "I'm giving you one more shot, then it's my turn."

Roaring in fury, Brick darted to a (random) yellow SUV and, screaming in physical pain, lifted the motor vehicle and threw it at John. The truck came flying at John faster than the can or the dumpster had, and The Archangel said, "Ah damn," as the car crashed into him and exploded.

Brick watched the flames dance, smiling in joy. A part of him wondered who The Man in Black was, but he quickly realized he didn't care. He was rich, thanks to The Boss' gratitude for removing the nuisance.

As he went to leave and find the girl, he saw through is peripheral vision a figure coming out of the flames. His eyes widened as he saw The Man in Black walk out of the flames, apparently completely unharmed.

Before he could react, The Man in Black was directly in front of him. "I'm fireproof," he said casually. As Black was paralyzed with fear, he could do nothing to object when The Man in Black lifted him up while saying, "But I'm guessing you're not."

Black started screaming in fear, and with little apparent effort was thrown into the flames which he had created.

John watched Brick land in the flames satisfactorily, and was therefore surprised when the muscleman ran out, still screaming. His surprise was overtaken by humor, however, when he found that Brick was aflame.

Amused by the sight of Brick running around screaming, John cried out, "Stop, drop, and roll!"

Brick actually did, and John's advice actually worked, much to his disbelief. He had offered it as a sarcastic joke. Brick's appearance, however, was no joke. The red hot flames had mutilated his appearance, and he was uglier than before. The Archangel found this hilarious.

He walked over to the charred, writhing body of Brick, who was quietly moaning in pain. Looking at John with tears of pain in his eyes, he asked softly, "Who are you?"

Leaning down on his knees, John whispered his identity into Brick's ear, along with his plans for vengeance. To further the point, John removed his glasses, and Black's shallow breathing increased.

"But…but the dead don't come back…they can't…it's not….not possible…the dead don't come back…they can't…"

Brick continued to mutter that as The Archangel laughed maniacally into the night.

XXIV

Black walked into The Boss' audience chamber, where he found his chief looking over various reports and charts. Without looking up, the Boss said, "Brick is dead."

Black stopped in his tracks. "How do you know that?"

Still not looking up, The Boss simply said, "I was just guessing."

Looking at The Boss with a face of revulsion, Black continued. "Well, however you know this, you're right. Brick is dead. During their routine patrol, my men heard the screams of an elderly woman, who had found Brick's charred corpse. My men silenced the woman, and threw the body into the ocean."

"Good work, Captain. It was John Crowe, wasn't it?"

"I'd bet my life on it, sir. I wonder, though, why Black went out when he knew that there was a man out there killing his comrades."

"That's an easy question to answer," The Boss said. "He didn't know. Neither did Cluck-Cluck. Both were completely ignorant of John Crowe's resurrection."

Black was shocked, though he should have expected something like this from a man so cruel. "They were loyal to you, and yet you betrayed them by not telling them that their lives were in jeopardy."

The Boss slammed his fist on the table and finally looked up at Black, eyes displaying a wicked gleam, though when he spoke his voice was its usual calm tone. "They were mere pawns, Black, and their deaths serve a greater purpose: With each death, John Crowe comes closer to me, and his power comes closer to becoming my own."

Black, still surprised at the lack of empathy his master had for his henchman, asked, "Am I a pawn, too?"

"Yes," The Boss instantly replied.

Taking offense to this, Black retorted, "Did King's death serve a purpose?"

At this, The Boss calmly walked to Black and, grabbing him by the throat, slammed him into the wall. Black cowered under The Boss' glare, and as he struggled to breathe his assailant whispered, "Yes…it did serve a purpose…"

The Boss released the Captain, saying, "You do, however, have a point. Summon the surviving Enforcer's, if you would be so kind."

Rubbing his throat, Black stiffly bowed.

An hour later, Ringleader and Twitchy stood at attention before The Boss, who had just informed them about John Crowe/The Archangel.

"You will stay here in one of my guest rooms as my honored guests. Everything you will need is here, so you are forbidden from leaving this penthouse, merely for your own safety. When the threat of John Crowe, The Archangel, has ceased, you are free to leave. Am I clear?"

The two men nodded and saluted before leaving the room. As they left Black emerged from the shadows. "You think they'll listen, sir?"

The Boss smirked. "Actually, I'm counting on them not to."

XXV

John flipped off of a building and landed in front of an abandoned club known as The Hole. Before Brick had died, John had extracted the information of where the Enforcer's hung out when they weren't working. The Hole was that place.

John entered the building, and was disheartened to find it devoid of all life. Figuring that sooner or later am Enforcer would 'come home', John waited.

The Boss sat before a monitor that displayed Ringleader's and Twitchy's room, waiting…

Twitchy paced around the room, twitching, as Ringleader attempted to read Moby Dick. Soon enough, he was ultimately distracted by Twitchy's needless pacing, and so he felt justified when he yelled, "Twitchy! Sit the fuck down you inbred bastard!"

Twitchy gasped and made a show of acting offended at Ringleader's comment, though he knew it was true. When he was done, he whined, "I can't relax dammit! I need a beer!"

Ringleader arched an eyebrow. "Then get one from the refrigerator. Jackass"

Twitchy violently shook his head. "The Boss' beer is crap, not that I'd tell that to him." With that, Twitchy headed for the door.

Ringleader leaped out of his chair. "You heard The Boss. He said we can't leave here, especially for something as insignificant as beer. He'll kill you for this."

Twitchy said, "I'll risk it. You coming?"

Ringleader leaned back into his chair and resumed reading. "No way. I ain't risking my ass."

Making a derisive sound, Twitchy left, leaving Ringleader to shake his head in memory for his late friends.

Smiling widely, The Boss took out his cell phone and, after dialing the number, said, "You're on, Black."

XXVI

Michael watched Captain Black hang up the phone, a triumphant gleam in the arrogant ass's eye.

Black approached the sergeant, who in response asked, "What do you want?"

Black smiled, revealing his cigarette tainted teeth, and said, "There's a lead on The Archangel." At Michael's blank look, Black rolled his eyes and exclaimed, "The Man in Black, you fool."

Michael's jaw dropped slightly, not due to the fact that The Man in Black had an actual name, but due to the fact that Black was telling him this. "And you're telling me this…why?"

Black smiled even more widely and said, "I'm gonna need back-up on this. You're that back-up."

Michael didn't question this. Somehow, the knowledge of Black's fraternization with The Man in Black had become well known. That was more than likely Black's sole reason for involving Michael.

Seeing Michael's apprehension, Black said, "Do it for your son's sake. If The Archangel continues to run around unchecked, he might get hurt."

Michael picked up on the veiled threat, so he cursed silently. He was trapped. The Captain and the Sergeant hopped into the latter's car, and Black directed Michael to drive to an abandoned club called 'The Hole', which he begrudgingly did.

The two sat in the car for a half hour, silent. The enmity between the two could have been cut with a knife, or so Michael felt. Eventually, he saw a short figure practically bouncing into the hole, and so he shoved the drowsing Black and pointed this out.

Whatever Michael expected Black to do, he did not expect him to smile darkly and say, "Any minute now."

Not knowing what the hell the man was talking about, Michael continued to watch the entrance to The Hole. A few minutes later, the short figure again emerged, carrying what looked like three cases of beer.

Michael and Black continued to watch the figure skip down the streets, and then out of the blue the miniscule form was yanked into the air.

Twitchy was confused. One minute he was skipping out of The Hole, happy that he finally had his beer. The next, he'd felt a rope slip around his neck, and he was jerked into the air.

Twitchy faced a man in black, and he realized that this was The Archangel The Boss had warned him about. Ah damn, he thought, why'd I need to get beer? Now I'm gonna die!"

"You're…" Twitchy choked, "you're The Archangel! John Crowe! The one we killed!"

To Twitchy's surprise, The Archangel smiled at him. "Well," he said, his voice a harsh whisper, "It's about time someone recognized me without me having to remove my shades. It's almost refreshing. Almost. For it to be fully refreshing, I think you and I should go for a little swim, don't you?"

"But it's February!" Twitchy shouted. "The water will be freezing!"

"All the better," John Crowe muttered. With that, he threw Twitchy on the roof with him, and as Twitchy was relishing being able to breathe again, The Archangel approached him with more rope.

"Wha…what are you going to do with that?" Twitchy stuttered.

The Archangel merely grinned, and before Twitchy knew it he was tied up and moving at an immense speed, the air rushing past him.

Michael saw The Archangel run south as a mere blur on the rooftops, holding the little person under his arm. Unfortunately, so did Black.

"It looks like he's heading for the Docks," Black said thoughtfully. "Follow him."

Michael said nothing, and remembering the threat from Black towards Robert, sadly activated the ignition and drove.

XXVII

The Archangel arrived at the docks, the green-faced Twitchy under his arm. The midget vomited on the floor, and so The Archangel looked at him in revulsion and made a disgusted sound. At this, Twitchy looked up at him.

"Why are you doing this?" he wailed.

This set something off in The Archangel. When he killed Black and attacked Twitchy, he had done so while wearing a mask of cockiness and self-assurance to hide his sadness and anger. But the mask was a fragile one, and the mere thought that Twitchy didn't know why he was going to die enraged John greatly.

"You don't know?" John hissed. "Two years ago you and your amigo's attacked and killed me and my girlfriend remorselessly. Now I'm back to return the favor."

Growling, he threw the screaming Twitchy in the dirty, murky water, and using his super vision watched him drown and land at the bottom.

Fuming, he heard a door slam behind him, and sharply turned to find Sergeant Stile and Captain Black, the former looking sicker than Twitchy had been and the latter looked scared, yet happy.

"Sergeant Stile," The Archangel said. "What…"

He never got a chance to finish his sentence. Black fired repeatedly, and John, distracted, was unable to dodge in time. The bullets tore through flesh, through bone, and he twisted onto the ground, his vision already starting to darken. His last thought before he ultimately passed out was, "I'm sorry, Sarah…"

Michael watched in horror as The Archangel fell. Black turned to him and patted him on the shoulder. "Nice job distracting him, Stile. Maybe I was wrong about you after all."

Michael nodded as Black headed back for the car. Horrified by what he had done, indirectly or no, he reached for his sidearm, drew it, and fired a single shot into Black's abdomen. The Captain, more surprised than angry, made a gurgling sound and fell, much as The Archangel had.

Not stopping to relish the fact that his vindictive boss was dead, Michael rushed over to The Archangel's body and, with some difficulty, lifted him over his shoulders and brought him to his car.

Placing him as gently as he could on the back seat of the automobile, Michael looked at The Archangel oddly as the body kept muttering, "I'm sorry…"

Michael looked at the body in confused pity, but when he saw the extreme extent to which the man was bleeding he rushed to the driver's seat and drove him, breaking all the speed limits and ignoring all the traffic lights and stop signs as he did so.

Red sat upstairs in his room, reading comics when he heard the door slam open. Throwing the comic aside, he ran downstairs and as he came down the steps saw his father standing over the couch, where John lay unconscious, bleeding all over it.

"What happened to John?" he asked nervously.

Michael turned to face Red slowly. "Who's John?" he asked, eyes narrowing.

Huffing in exasperation, Red ran to John's body on the couch and ripped off the sunglasses. "This is John, Dad. The Archangel is John Crowe Reborn."

Michael shook his head. "No…it can't be. We saw him die…we were at his funeral…"

"Look harder," Red insisted.

Michael looked at the unconscious body, and after a little while Red saw his father's eyes widen in wonder. "But…how…" he whispered.

"No time," Red said. "Obviously, you brought him here for help, so let's give…"

Red's urgent message was cut short by John, who let out one final, "I'm sorry, Sarah," before letting out a slow, rattling, death breath.

Michael checked John's vitals, and then looked up at Red sadly.

"Not again," Red whispered.

XXVIII

The Boss stared at a map of the tri-state area in his office as Ringleader walked in, assisting wounded Black, who was bleeding all over the black tiles. "What happened?" he asked, not sounding particularly concerned.

Black weakly explained how he had found John Crowe right after he'd killed Twitchy, and shot him to wound. But he missed, and the shot pierced through a lung. After that, Michael Stile had given him the mortal wound from which his life was slowly dripping away. Black believed him to be dead by now, and right before he died he concluded, "My death…served a purpose after all…John Crowe's dead…and you can…rule…"

Black expired, and The Boss simply nodded. He unsheathed a knife and stabbed the corpse with cold deliberation.

"What was that for?" Ringleader demanded.

"I wanted to kill The Archangel for myself. Black robbed me of that chance."

Before Ringleader could respond, The Boss threw on a black overcoat and said, "Come. I think we should visit the Stile residence, and display our gratitude for his murder of Captain Black."

Red finished telling his father everything he knew about how John had returned. Michael merely sat there in shock, jaw slightly open and eyes widened.

"So, son, I'm assuming you had contact with him, if you know so much.

Red nodded. "Yeah, he saved my life."

Michael nodded. "Explains why he was looking for you," he muttered.

Before Red had the chance to question what his father meant, his door was kicked off of its hinges, and in walked a tall white male with short black hair and a black goatee, holding a cane and wearing a black overcoat. Next to him stood an average sized African American with a large afro.

Michael glared at the white man. "The Boss," he said with as much contempt as he could muster. The white male slowly clapped his hands. "Very good, Sergeant Stile."

Red looked from his father to The Boss. "You're The Boss?" he snorted. "I thought The Boss was some old lady. Not much difference between the two, though."

The Boss laughed. "Your son's a funny boy, Sergeant," he said, and Red knew he didn't mean it. Before he knew it, The Boss' cane whacked his head, and he saw no more.

Sergeant Stile ran for The Boss in retaliation for the assault on his son, but was stopped by a punch from Ringleader, knocking him out cold.

"Place the bodies in the car," The Boss said lazily. "And keep them alive. I want to have the pleasure of ending their lives personally later on."

Ringleader nodded and dragged the bodies to the car, looking disappointed at not being able to kill them.

As he turned to leave, The Boss saw the body of The Archangel, John Crowe, lying on the couch. Due to the fact he was pale and no signs of life were present, The Boss assumed him to be dead yet again. A quick check of his vitals confirmed the fact.

The Boss kneeled next to the unconscious body and started to gently pet it. "It's a shame that we never got a chance to meet," he said sadly. "You were a worthy opponent."

As he ended his sentence, the body of John Crowe faded away, leaving no trace of its former presence. "Huh," The Boss said, not really surprised. He took out his cell phone and dialed the number. "Underboss Masterson? Ready the other Underbosses. It is time to accelerate our plans to the final step."

XXIX

John opened his eyes to find himself back in the realm of Ajnev, who stood before him, fidgeting nervously.

"Ajnev?" John said. "What happened? What am I doing back here?"

"You died again," The Specter of Vengeance said shortly.

As he did so the memory of being shot by Black made its way to the forefront of his mind. With this, he remembered Ajnev's words: "Be careful. If you die in this body, there is no other way to bring you back. You will die, and your soul will forever lie in limbo."

Instead of becoming hysterical, a single tear rolled down John's cheek. "So I failed my mission then," he said emotionlessly.

Ajnev nodded sadly. "Both of them, technically." At John's confounded glance, he explained. "What appeared to be your sole mission were actually two missions, one dependant on the other. That mission was to save Livedt City."

John asked wearily, "How the hell was I supposed to do that?"

Ajnev continued. "By enacting your vengeance on The Boss and his Enforcers, you would save the city by removing the source of its dread."

"Well, that can't happen now," John said guiltily. He not only let Sarah down, but an entire city. Red…Sergeant Stile…he'd doomed them all. "I'm dead again. Just let me rest in whatever peace I can muster."

Ajnev shook his head. "I can't do that, not in good conscience."

"What do you mean? You'd told me I only had one shot, otherwise I was, forgive my bluntness, fucked."

Ajnev nodded. "Though at the time this was true, I came to be moved by your actions, your devotion to Sarah, and your determination to avenge yourself."

Ajnev chuckled to himself. "I'm ignoring my "boss's" order and giving you another chance. Though my power to resurrect you was good for that one time only, there is a way around it: I can merge my spiritual essence with your physical being, which would heal all the wounds you had sustained previously and amplify your other abilities, at the mere expense of my existence."

"No!" John started to object, but Ajnev cut him off.

"You don't much of a choice, I fear. Michael and Robert Stile have been taken by The Boss and Ringleader, and they will be killed before the night is done. If you want to save them, you will accept my offer."

John had made his decision as soon as Ajnev had said Red and Michael were in danger. But he still had to ask, "Why?"

Ajnev again smiled that smile of his. "You deserve a second chance, John. You have more than earned it."

The Specter of Vengeance held out his hand, and John Crowe shook it gratefully.

As soon as John's hand grasped Ajnev's, the former's body exploded into formless white light, and John was enveloped in its intensity.

A pillar of bright light struck the street outside of the Stile residence. John slowly descended from the sky down it, becoming more and more invigorated with each passing second.

He landed lightly on his feet, eyes shut, relishing the new power Ajnev had given him.

John's eyes snapped open, and in his mind's eye saw The Boss and Ringleader emerge from a black limousine outside of the apartment complex named Winters Towers.

Snarling, he ran for the building, not only for vengeance, but to save his friend and his friend's father. And maybe, just maybe, to save the city.

XXX

Michael slowly awoke, his head aching. He tried to rub his head to clear his thoughts, but he found he was bound to a pole. He looked around, trying to figure out where he was, to no avail. He was in a dark, hot room, but that gave him no clue as to where he was.

Michael saw his son bound to another pole opposite him and tried to call his name, but instead tasted cloth in his mouth. He was gagged.

Banging his head against the pole, Michael tried to remember how he'd gotten to this place. All he could remember was The Boss and an African American associate of his barging into his house…

With a pang he remembered John Crowe Reborn, now dead again. He didn't completely understand how he'd come back, but that didn't matter. All that mattered was that John…The Archangel…had helped him and his son. He was eternally grateful for that.

Michael tried for a few minutes to break free, to no avail. Cursing in his mind, he prayed to whatever God was out there that if he and his son are meant to die, that the death is quick.

The Boss entered the main chambers, Ringleader following him obediently. At the conference table sat the ten Underbosses, five on each side. The Boss sat in his ornate chair at the head of the table and observed the ten men. All of the Underbosses were men, as The Boss hated women, believing them to be mere pleasures who should be discarded once their usefulness ran out.

"Gentlemen," The Boss said warmly. "Welcome. Now, as you know I am not one for pleasantries, so I will get straight to the point. I am unsure if Underboss Masterson informed you of this, but I believe it is time for us to accelerate our final plans. As you know, for as long as I have held power I have desired to expand it's sphere, and bring the entire country under my personal influence. Nothing would happen without my personal blessings; no tax increases, no wars, none of that shit. These plans have long been in, for lack of a better term, "development hell." But the recent, ah, "events" concerning The Archangel have encouraged me to move forward with this plan. We have enough men here to make up a small army. We would first move against the tri-state area, and then continue to expand in all directions from that point. We would rule, and we would be remembered for all eternity!"

The Underbosses cheered enthusiastically, the promise of more power encouraging them to do so. When the applause died down however, it did not herald the silence The Boss believed it would. Someone was still clapping, slowly and deliberately. The Boss looked from Ringleader, who shrugged, to his Underbosses, who looked around frantically. None of them were clapping.

"Nice speech," a voice from the shadows said.

For the second time that week. The Boss felt fear as John Crowe emerged from the shadows, steel blue eyes blazing.

"So was that rant on the spot improv or did you spend all night thinking it up?" John said cockily.

The Boss stood up quickly, knocking his chair down. He pointed a finger at job. "You're…you're alive again? How?"

John waved his hands maniacally. "Magic," he whispered. "Now…where is Michael and Robert Stile?"

The Boss composed himself and hid his fear. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

John appeared in the blink of an eye in front of The Boss and lifted him by his throat. "I think you do. Now, you can tell me, or I can crush your damn throat. Choose."

To John's surprise, The Boss laughed. "You fool, if you kill me you'll never find your two friends, and then this entire room will open fire on you. I doubt even you are fast enough to dodge all of the shots."

John smirked and said, "We'll see." As if on cue, the lights went out.

John threw The Boss on the ground and ran throughout the labyrinth that was his lair, searching every nook and cranny for the Stile's. No luck.

Growling, John ran back to the main chamber, and found The Boss and Ringleader gone, replaced with fifty or so armed men in addition to the ten Underbosses. They were waiting for him, but as the lights were out didn't see him.

Readying his muscles, John leapt into battle, and the pained grunts from the first three thugs caused the others to open fire randomly in the darkness. Yet though they had strength in numbers, John had the advantage. His vision allowed him to see in the dark as clearly as day, and with his enhanced powers he easily dodged the few bullets that came close to harming him.

When what John assumed to be the back-up generators activated, the majority of the men in the room were dead. Only one remained, huddled in the corner. He wasn't an Underboss; his clothes told John that much. Walking towards the man, John picked up a knife that one of the other men had tried to cut him with.

"Please!" the man begged. "I just worked for them!"

"Prepare to die for them, then," John said coolly, stabbing the man in the throat.

Without stopping to watch the man slump to the ground, John left the apartment to track down his prey.

XXXI

John eventually found The Boss' limo on an abandoned road. Running to it, he ripped a backdoor off of its hinge and tossed it aside. The dead body of Ringleader rolled into John's arms. Looking inside the rest of the car, John saw the driver dead as well.

John examined the corpse of his final murderer, the image of his gun barrel shooting John and Sarah haunting John. A note was stabbed to the mans body. John read it, his eyes narrowing in anger as he finished: "Dear John, It is my greatest hope that you passed the test left for you back at my home. You should know I have denied your final vengeance on Ringleader, and that I wait for you at the cemetery, your friend and his father hostages. If you care about them at all, you will meet me there."

Ripping the note into confetti, John ran for the cemetery, noting the irony that The Boss would meet his end at the place that gave birth to his greatest enemy.

The Boss admired the genius of his plan: When John Crowe had left to search for the Stile's across the whole apartment; he had ordered Ringleader to retrieve them from the building's basement and meet him in the limo. The foolish Archangel didn't realize that The Boss was not stupid enough to torture people in his own home. Kill them, yes, but not torture them.

As Ringleader left to accomplish this task, The Boss ordered all of his troops, who were waiting in various rooms in the building, to come to the chamber to take care of John. He didn't believe they could, but it would be a test to see if John was truly worthy of facing The Boss in mortal combat.

As John undoubtedly battled his men, The Boss ordered his limo driver to follow him in the Bentley while The Boss drove the limo away. When they were a reasonable distance away from the apartment, The Boss killed both Ringleader and the driver, shoved the driver in the limo, and wrote a note explaining everything to John, amused by the fact that he had denied his vengeance on Ringleader. When he was done, he had taken the again unconscious Stile's, loaded them into the Bentley, and driven to the cemetery, which is where he was now.

The Boss, with two katana strapped to his back in preparation for the battle to come, finished tying up the youthful Stile, Robert. As he finished, he noticed the child trying to say something. Needing a laugh, he removed his gag, only to be spat in the face by a smirking Robert.

Not in the mood for this, The Boss took unsheathed one of his blades and went to stab Robert, only to be thrown into the air.

In the greater scheme of things, Red never thought he'd be playing the role of damsel in distress. He was, however, as relieved as Mary-Jane Watson when The Boss, about to stab him, was punched into the air.

Looking for his savior, he nearly urinated his pants when John ran up to him and ripped off the ropes that tied him to the tombstone. "How?" he asked in amazement.

"The same way as last time," John said, ripping the ropes off of Michael, who got up and appraised John.

"So, you're back again, John? Red and I thought you were dead."

Red nearly hit his dead at how blunt that sounded, but John didn't seem to mind. "Reports of my death were greatly exaggerated, Sergeant Stile."

Michael nodded curtly at John, who repeated that motion. John then turned to Red and shared a meaningful look with him, before turning to go clash with The Boss.

"Wait!" Red said. John turned to face him, eyes blazing with anticipation. "I mean…you could die again."

"There's a good chance," John said, and Red knew that there would be no changing his mind. He was stubborn like that. Red nodded, understanding.

Unexpectedly, John embraced Red, saying, "You were a brother to me, Red."

Red returned the embrace. "And you to me."

When they broke apart, John removed the engagement ring from his neck and placed it in Red's hand. "Listen…if something happens to me, I need you to bury this by Sarah's grave."

Red nodded and pocketed the makeshift necklace. Michael turned to Sergeant Stile.

"Sergeant, everything you'll need to know about The Boss and his operations is in the penthouse apartment of Winters Towers. I came across it when I was searching it. You'll have info on all the politicians in The Boss' pocket, everything he controls, all that stuff. Help to make this city beautiful…Michael."

Michael nodded, though it was more like a military bow. John took one last look at Red and Michael and jumped to where The Boss had landed.

Red looked down at the ring, not knowing what he was feeling. It must have shown on his face, because Michael asked, "Is everything okay…Red?"

Red smiled lightly. "Yeah…I think everything will be fine."

XXXII

John landed directly opposite The Boss, who had recovered from his fall and now stood, katana at the ready. "I'm glad you showed up. For a little while I was worried that my pathetic minions had killed you. I'm glad it was the other way around."

"I'm glad too," John said, and the two adversaries began to circle each other.

"Did you like my gift for you back in the limo, John?" The Boss asked mockingly.

"Actually, I loved it."

The Boss stopped pacing around. "Really? I confess myself surprised at this. Are you being honest with me, Johnny Boy?"

John chuckled. "Very much so…Bossy Boy. You see, now I'm gonna punish you two times over."

The Boss shook his head, smirking. "This is the part where I'd usually offer my enemy a job, but I don't think you'd accept."

"You'd be right about that," John agreed.

The Boss nodded and drew his other katana and tossed it to John, who caught it. "I assume you know how to duel?" The Boss inquired, and without waiting for an answer attacked.

John parried the attack and sliced The Boss' cheek. "Oh, I know enough to get by."

The two dueled ferociously for what seemed like hours. John admitted to himself that The Boss had great skill, which was proven when The Boss eventually broke John's blade and kicked John to the ground.

The Boss stood over John and went to stab his neck. Reacting fast, John caught the blade and snapped it in two, with part of the blade still connected to the hilt. Shaken by this, John was able to kick The Boss in the gonads and leaped up. He tackled the reeling Boss and started punching his head.

"For Michael!" he cried after one punch.

"For Red!" he yelled after another.

"For Sarah!" he screamed after a third.

"FOR ME!" he roared after a fourth, final punch.

The Boss moaned on the ground in pain, his face bleeding, which is why John didn't expect him to flip him over and pin him to the ground. The Boss reached for the broken hilt and traced it gently over John's throat.

"You know, John, they say that when you kill a man you absorb his pain, and thus you absorb his power. Your power…it will be assist me in ruling the country. Die knowing that."

The Boss went to stab John, but then stopped. "No…die knowing this: I am not prone to mistakes, but every so often I make one, such as that Valentine's Day two years ago. It wasn't Sarah Fallon that had helped that little boy, it was Sara Falone. You and your little girlfriend died needlessly. Die again knowing that."

The Boss went to stab John, yelling "For King!", but his last comment stirred something gin John. He caught the knife just as it was about to make contact with his throat, ripped it from The Boss' hands and tossed it aside.

The Boss stared at John open-mouthed as The Archangel rose and made eye contact with him.

"You want my pain?" John asked. "You want my power? It's yours. Take it."

John grabbed The Boss' head and stared deep into the black depths that were his eyes.

"TAKE IT ALL!"

Wave after wave of powerful emotion hit The Boss; imagine all of the world's collective pain and multiply it a hundred fold, and that is what The Boss felt. And he hated it.

The man started crying rivers. "Take it back…I can't deal with it…keep your power…just show me mercy!" he begged.

"You beg for mercy!?" John yelled. "After all the evils you've done in your life, you think you deserve mercy?!

"Please…", The Boss sobbed.

"Would you give mercy?" John continued to yell.

"I beg of you…"

John looked down at The Boss with utter, total hatred. "I'm not like you, he said. John Crowe picked up the broken hilt and stabbed The Boss in the heart. The Boss looked down at the hilt, then back to John before silently falling over, dying with a blank look on his face.

John dropped to his knees. That last psychic assault on The Boss drained him of most of his strength, and he felt as weak as a newborn baby.

Grunting, he crawled back to Sarah's grave and leaned against the headstone. Closing his eyes in relief, he laughed. His job was done.

John tried to sleep, but a chill prevented him from doing so. Opening his eyes slightly, he saw a fog crawl into the cemetery. His eyes widened as he saw the love of his life walk towards him and sit next to him.

"Hi," Sarah said, smiling, looking as lovely as she ever did when she was alive I a pure white sleeveless dress.

"Hi," John whispered, mirroring her smile. She leaned to kiss him, and so they did, passionately and fully for what seemed like eternity and more.

"I did it," John laughed. "I did it…"

Sarah nodded and placed a finger on John's lips and her head on his shoulder. The two lovers stayed like that for the duration of the night, and by morning they were gone.

XXXIII

Ajnev materialized before his boss, Sage, in the latter's realm. Sage, who bore the appearance of a middle aged man who looks like he'd been through a lot, looked visibly angry.

"I saved your spirit from destruction, removing your essence from John Crowe and reinstating it into the body you have now. Though I don't know why I did, with your breaking the terms of the agreement."

"I had to," Ajnev retorted. "John Crowe deserved it, as much as, if not more than, your 'pet superhero.'

Sage's normally blue aura turned a crimson red. "You played a very dangerous game by bringing him back to life a second time. Many more people than Robert and Michael Stile could have died if The Boss had gained The Archangel's power."

Ajnev spread his wings and batted them furiously. "When will you learn, sir, that every life is important, and that all games worth playing are dangerous?"

Sage looked as if he was about to do something to attack Ajnev, but held himself back and nodded. "Perhaps you're right."

Ajnev said, "I know I am." After a minute, he added, "Do you still foresee John playing a greater role in the future?"

"Yes," Sage said gravely. "Yes I do."

EPILOGUE

A week later, Red awoke in his bed. The Boss had been found dead in the cemetery the morning after John and he had had their final battle, but John had not been seen. Red guessed that he returned to his eternal rest, his job completed. And today, Red was going to the cemetery to fulfill John's last wish.

After getting dressed, Red went to the case where he'd kept the ring necklace, and when he opened it gasped in alarm. The ring was gone. But how…

Red looked inside the box. Inside was a note, saying one word: CEMETERY.

Without looking back, Red threw on a jacket and drove to the cemetery. When he arrived, he instinctively went to the gravesite of Sarah, and was shocked to find a headstone atop John's grave. Walking up to it, he read it. It was exactly the same as the old one, save for one addition: the words "Thing's Change" were scratched on it crudely.

Grinning, Red laughed in understanding. "Well…all right, then."

From the shadows of the cemetery, John Crowe watched Red leave. He knew his friend understood what had happened, and he silently thanked him for it. John absentmindedly fiddled with the ring hung around his neck.

When he and Sarah were together a week ago, she'd told him that Livedt City still needed him. How she knew this, John didn't question. He merely accepted it and believed her.

"I'll be waiting for you," she'd whispered in his ear.

The next morning John had awakened, his powers still intact, and his mission still clear: To save the city.

And so when night fell, John leaped from rooftop to rooftop, listening for any crime along the way until he reached the tallest building and stood at its peak, watching over the city. His city.

Breathing in the cool night air, John puts on his new pair of sunglasses, and listens for any signs of trouble. For he was Livedt City's angel. Its Warrior Angel…

Its Guardian Angel.

96