Hang 'Em High

Inspired by the song by My Chemical Romance

Wait until it fades to black
Ride into the sunset
Would I lie to you?
Well, I've got something to say
Grab your six-gun from your back
Throttle the ignition
Would I die for you?
Well here's your answer in spades

i.

She swung from a rope at the edge of town.

The sun was just rising over the desert sands, but already a small crowd of people was gathering to stare, eyes wide with fear and mouths whispering prayers. No one moved forward to take her body down, too afraid of the black cross on her forehead and the thought that whomever had damned her would damn anyone that touched her now that she was dead. She'd had a reputation in the town as a sinner, a witch, and a demon woman.

Johnny just knew her as Annie.

He leaned against his old, beaten Cadillac, and choked on the pain.

He couldn't seem to make himself look at her face, not wanting to see her features bloated and contorted with death. He wanted to keep the last memory he had of her, as she screamed at him that she never wanted to see him again and slammed the door in his face. At least then she had been vibrant and alive. At least she had cared about him enough to hate him. Now she was just a body hanging from a tree, an empty shell without a soul.

"Annie," his brother said softly.

Johnny didn't even glance at Ayden, who was still in the passenger seat of the weathered gray convertible. The younger man's blue eyes were locked on the swaying figure, his knuckles white from where he gripped the leather seat. There were tears brimming at the edges of his vision, and he turned his face away, the vision burning itself into his retinas. "Yeah," was all Johnny said in response, not looking at his brother. There was no emotion in his voice.

"We got here too late," Ayden whispered. The words seemed harsh, as if he had to pull them forcibly from his chest. For a moment he glanced at his brother, seeing the tensing of his muscles, the rigid cast of his back. He didn't bother to ask if Johnny was okay, because there was no reason he should be.

"No fucking kidding," he snapped, but there was no force behind it, and for once Ayden let it go.

They moved almost as one, Ayden hauling himself weakly from the Cadillac. There was a bandage wrapped around his upper thigh, red staining the white gauze like rose petals on snow. He limped after his older brother across the sands, ignoring the looks and whispers from the townsfolk who still wouldn't come near the swaying body. Johnny was first to reach her, and for the briefest of moments he let his burning gaze look upon her face. "Annie," he whispered, for an instant feeling his chest collapse.

Then he closed his dead eyes and held her while his brother cut her down.

He didn't even feel the weight of the body that fell into his arms.

He didn't feel anything at all.

ii.

Muzzle flashes blazed in the darkness.

Johnny found himself screaming because there was a white-hot pain on his face and he couldn't see out of his right eye. There was so much red coating his vision that he couldn't see, couldn't make out anything other than black shapes and they paled in comparison to the agony blazing through his skin. He stumbled back, one hand covering his face, trying to focus on anything. He raised his gun, aiming into the shadows and firing blindly.

He heard a howl and then a thump, and then he was sinking to the ground.

Then Ayden was there, dragging himself across the floor because his leg was torn to shreds.

iii.

There were six bullets in the gun.

He studied the revolver in his hand, eyes tracing the pearl handle. It was a good weapon, not his favorite, but it worked well and always had. It had been his first gun; the first bullet he'd ever killed a man with coming from this barrel. He hadn't seen it in years because the last time he'd ever held it he'd been pressing it into Annie's hand and telling her that if she had to, she should use it on him. He almost wished she had.

He twirled it once, before shoving it in its worn holster.

Then he reached for the shotgun.

"How do you want to do this?" Ayden asked. He was sprawled in the backseat of their car, his wounded leg stretched out in front of him. His fingers were toying with the rune strung around his neck, but his eyes were focused only on his brother who was laying out their weapons on the trunk of the car. Smoke hung heavy in the air, pouring from the cigarette hanging out of the corner of Johnny's mouth.

He cocked the shotgun, gray eyes cold and dead.

"I want to kill them all."

iv.

"Ayden? Talk to me, what do you see?"

The younger man's head jerked back, his eyes burning white as his body shook. His brother grabbed him roughly by the shoulders, trying to remain a steady link to reality even while the other brother's mouth opened in pain. He convulsed, gasping desperately for air. Bruises were blossoming upon his skin by an unseen force, and blood was trickling from the corner of his lips. "Johnny," he breathed, before another tremor wracked his frame.

"Ayden!" His brother shouted the name, fear suddenly clutching his heart.

"Look at me…"

But his white eyes only stared off into the shadows, his lips moving and quiet whispers escaping his throat. For a moment the vision seemed to be fading, his eyes slowly returning to their normal color, and Johnny's heartbeat slowed, his fingers releasing their death grip on his brother's arm. Ayden blinked, once, twice, a third time, and then his blue eyes focused on the other man's face. His breathing was still ragged, but the worst of it seemed to have past.

"Annie…" he whispered, surprise in his voice. "Johnny…I saw her…"

Then he threw his head back and screamed.

"Ayden!" Johnny sank under the weight of his brother's entire body suddenly collapsing, holding him as he fell to the ground. His back arched in pain, a ragged cry still pouring from him, every limb stiff and strained. He seemed unaware of his brother's voice as he shouted the other's name, unaware of the blood leaking from a fresh wound on his leg. His vision had gone white again, and it burned into his eyes, seeming to sear his skin under the intensity of it all.

He was unaware of the black cross flickering to life on his skin.

v.

He cocked the gun.

"I'm not going to ask you again."

Visions burned through his mind, Annie's face flashing before his one good eye again and again. He could see her smiling in the summer, hair and face and skin golden. He remembered their first date; the first time he'd had the courage to ask her out, the first time he had gotten up the balls to kiss her. He remembered holding her while she cried, remembered standing beside her at her father's funeral, remembered coming to her bloody and dying himself.

He remembered the door being slammed in his face.

"Tell me who killed her," he said, pressing the barrel hard against the man's temple. He was aware of begging and crying, of tears streaming down the man's face. He was aware of shaking hands reaching and pleading with him to put the gun down. He was aware of Ayden standing stoically behind him, face darker than his brother's had ever been. One foot slammed down on the man's chest. "One more chance, mother fucker," he snarled. There was blood on his hands.

"Gabriel," he sobbed, face coated in red.

"His name is Gabriel."

vi.

The sky was red.

A muffled curse came from Johnny's lips as he burned himself on the car's radiator, watching steam rise from the engine. He glared down at the convertible, as if his dissatisfaction would alone be enough to fix it. Ayden leaned on the dashboard, his leg still paining him. He resisted the urge to mess around with the bandage and instead focused his attention on his brother, studying him for the moment. Johnny had always been withdrawn, but ever since he'd had the vision two days ago he had been down right frozen.

In some ways, his brother was still a mystery to him. They had known each other all their lives, been through hell and back side-by-side, and Ayden knew he would without a doubt die for his brother. Yet at the same time, the other man seemed so much a stranger to him. They fought each other just as often as they did the beasts hiding in the shadows, and sometimes he honestly just couldn't stand Johnny.

This stupid war had torn them both to pieces.

Ayden had lost track how many wounds they'd both received, how much they'd both given up and how many dreams had been scattered to the wind. Johnny had already lost sight in one eye, though the only way he could tell was by the white scar across his face and the paler coloring of his iris. Ayden had broken both his arms at one point or another, at least once, and now his leg was fucked up beyond recognition. He couldn't help but wonder how much of this they could take.

Not that he would say any of this to Johnny.

"Is it fixed yet?" he asked, knowing it would piss his brother off.

Another curse tore itself from Johnny's lips and he slammed his hand down angrily on the grill of the car. "Does it look like it's fucking fixed? If you're so anxious to go, drag your gimp ass out here and you do it." He snarled the words at his brother, shooting him a perturbed look before turning his attention back to the still steaming engine. He wiped a hand across his forehead, leaving a black smudge in its wake.

"You're the one that overheated the engine, you dumb shit."

Johnny grit his teeth, one hand curling into a fist. "Forgive me if I'm just in a bit of a hurry. Last I checked it was Annie we were talking about here, and you'll have to excuse me if I think that's just a little bit fucking important." The words slowly turned into a shout, until he was almost shaking with frustration, and he once again reached for the cap of the radiator, only to burn his fingers again. A torrent of curses came from his lips as he shook the pain away.

"You're such a prick Johnny. Just because I wasn't fucking her doesn't mean I don't care."

Johnny froze. "Don't you dare talk about Annie that way," he said coldly.

"Why not?" Ayden snarled. "She was as much my friend as she was yours before you two started dating." He leaned back in his seat, kicking at the dashboard with his good leg and glaring through the windshield at his brother. Bitterness seeped into his voice like the blood trickling down his thigh as harsh words clawed from his throat. "Why don't you just fucking admit it? You would rather it was me who'd left you instead of her."

Johnny slammed the hood of the car shut. "You're fucking right I do!"

For a moment there was only silence as the two brothers stared at each other, both seething with silent emotion. Then Ayden's face turned to stone and he looked away. It was a long moment before Johnny realized exactly what it was he'd said, but when he did, his expression fell, and he ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "I'm sorry, Ayden, I didn't mean that." His voice seemed almost weak, and he couldn't look at his brother.

"Just forget it," the younger man snapped, staring off into the desert.

Johnny didn't move. "Ayden…"

"Don't worry about it, Johnny," he said coldly. "Let's just get out of here."

vii.

"Don't look back."

Ayden stared at his brother, confusion flickering across his face for a moment. He leaned heavily against the Cadillac, taking as much weight off of his wounded leg as possible. Dust swirled around them in thick eddies, as they stared through cast iron gates. The house towered over them, a mansion at one point in time, but now the windows were boarded up and vines and greenery were slowly claiming the house as their own.

The only thing marking it as a death house was the smell.

"What the fuck are you talking about, Johnny?"

His brother sighed, slinging the shotgun over one shoulder and placing his other hand on the gun at his hip. His eyes were cold and hard and everything that Johnny always was, except this time there was something subtly different and infinitely more vicious. "I'm just saying. If something happens, I don't want you to stop or come back for me. I know I've been a shitty older brother, and I'm sorry for that, but I don't want to see something happen to you."

"Do you think something's going to happen to you?"

Johnny tossed a glance away over his shoulder. "I don't think it matters."

viii.

"I don't believe in miracles."

"That's a shame," she snarled. "Because one day you're going to need one."

ix.

The door exploded inwards with one blast of the shotgun, pieces of wood shattering and flying across the ground. Johnny didn't flinch, his eyes narrowed and cold. With one kick he sent the last splintered pieces flying and stepped into the doorway, scanning the mansion for anything to move, anything that he could kill. Beyond him, all Ayden could see was a massive staircase at the end of an empty room of shadows.

That didn't mean there was nothing there.

"To your right," Ayden said.

The words were hardly out of his mouth when the shotgun was fired again, the flash of the gun outweighed by the deafening roar and the scream that followed. Something crumpled and fell to the ground, steam rising out of its corpse. If there was anything Ayden had learned from video games it was that a shotgun could kill just about anything, and his brother was a firm believer in that policy. The weapon fired again into the blackness, and another scream echoed in the room.

"Too easy," Johnny snarled, digging for shells and beginning to reload the gun.

"We're only just getting started."

He had been ready for swarms of anything, vampires, shape shifters, demons, maybe werewolves. There was nothing the brothers hadn't seen before, nothing they hadn't killed, and nothing that hadn't tried to kill them. They'd been torn to shreds in countless battles against things that most people didn't even believe existed. They had been prepared for a house of death, and it made him uneasy to have only found two shadow demons.

This was going to get so much worse.

They passed like ghosts up the stairs, Johnny blasting anything that moved and a few things that didn't. He kicked a pedestal over at some point, sending a marble bust crashing to the ground. Ayden stepped over the shattered pieces without looking down, dust swirling around his fee. He only had to fire his gun four times, barely able to see what it was he was shooting at. Johnny was being careless, not even wasting his time checking the bodies. He had lost all sense of caution, blasting through the house like a madman.

Something screamed and dived at them from the rafters, and his brother didn't bat an eye, slashing at it with the blade he'd drawn from his back. The steel glistened, even in the shadows, cutting a swath through whatever had attacked them and sending the splintered pieces tumbling to the ground. It resembled a bat in some ways, leathery wings now torn and tattered protruding from black skin. Johnny stared at it for a moment, before stepping on it's head and turning his attention down a darkened hallway.

Ayden swallowed a knot in his throat and followed his brother's lead.

They made their way cautiously down the corridor, but it seemed like a wasted effort. There was almost nothing to be found, only whispers of something in the blackness at the corners of Ayden's vision, but nothing solid. The farther along the hallway they walked, the easier it became to see what lay at the end of it. Even from fifty feet away, the younger brother could see a pair of massive, ornate doors, carvings swirling and moving upon its surface.

A shudder ran down his spine, every nerve tingling.

Whatever lay beyond those doors had killed Annie. He tried to hold that thought.

For a moment Johnny paused, staring at the doors and watching the figments of demons swirl upon them. Shadows were trickling from beneath the door out into the hallway, black tendrils that roiled like mist. Yet the thought of Annie's killer being just beyond them made his eyes grow cold. He reloaded the shotgun with short, vicious movements, his teeth grit and his back stiff and rigid. Ayden swallowed hard, gripping a machete in one hand and a semi-automatic in the other.

Then his brother slammed the door open.

Ayden had been braced for any number of things to lie beyond the door. He had imagined all kinds of possibilities, and yet what met his eyes was still daunting. A throne sat at the far end of the room, with what looked like a man sprawled easily upon it. He had the tall, slim build of someone born from aristocracy, blonde hair pulled out of a cold face that had a smile etched upon it. And around him stood a myriad of vampires, demons, and shadows that slunk around the outskirts of the room.

He seemed unperturbed by the brother's appearance, toying with a blackened rose held loosely in one slim, pale hand. His eyes were crimson red, and for a moment Ayden almost made the mistake of believing he was a vampire. He had all the characteristics of one, including the pale skin and the ageless look about him. Even the shadows and bats fit with the image. Then his breath caught as he realized what he was. "Johnny…" he breathed, but the man spoke first.

"You're late," he smirked.

"Gabriel." A growl escaped Johnny's lips, and he didn't even glance at his brother. "You killed Annie," he said, hands shaking around the weapons clenched in his fists. He was wound tighter than Ayden had ever seen him in his life, every fiber of his brother's being radiating hatred. His arms were shaking from violence that he barely managed to contain, his voice a sharp growl that echoed in the room. Ayden hoped he would never see that cold, vicious look directed at him.

The man laughed coldly. "I did what she wanted."

"You killed her, you mother fucker."

The man's wicked smile grew wider. "You stupid, stupid boys. You don't even know what you're dealing with, do you?" He rose to his feet, coming down one step off his pedestal, the rose now held between two hands. The thorns were piercing his skin, but he didn't even seem to notice, even when the faintest trickle of blood dripped from his fingers to the ground below. "I did her a favor. I gave her a gift that you couldn't possibly imagine."

Johnny smiled, a cold, thin-lipped smile. "Well I've got a present for you too."

The minute the shotgun was fired, the room became a swarm of black chaos. Every shadow and being that had been waiting in the wings was suddenly coming at the two, and Ayden had no time to think or even to blink. He cared only about the weight of the machete in his hand as he cleaved through one demon only to find another coming at him with unbelievable speed. For a moment he lost sight of Johnny completely, focused only on the fact that there was what looked like a vampire coming at him.

He fired a shot into her head, causing her to pause for only a moment before she brought her attention back on the younger brother, a smile on her face. "Fuck," Ayden muttered, firing into the shadow just over her shoulder as she leapt at him, fangs bared and dripping. He took a single step back, before slashing down at her neck. She seemed almost surprised when it cut right through her skin, steam rising in a hiss from her throat.

"Blessed with holy water, bitch," he muttered.

He lost track of how many demons came at him, all he was aware of was constant screaming and the firing of guns. Demons and vampires and shape shifters were all coming at him, shadows he knew were created by the one man he couldn't seem to find in the darkened room. All he knew was his gun, and when that clip was empty he grabbed a second gun out of his holster and when that gun was empty too, he put all of his weight on his good leg and clutched his machete with both hands.

His attention was focused on another, useless bat demon when the attack came.

Pain blossomed suddenly in his chest, and he stumbled, his bad leg almost giving out beneath him as he saw the blade protruding from his chest. There was something black dripping from the end of it, and he could already feel it burning at his skin like poison. Then it was ripped brutally from his chest and once again ripped through him somewhere near his shoulder. For the briefest of moments, he was numb with shock, and then he turned around slashing wildly at his attacker.

It screamed as the machete cleaved into its skin, but Ayden could no longer see enough to tell whether he had killed it or merely wounded it. He turned, blood dripping down his skin and he felt himself tumbling but he couldn't seem to catch himself. He opened his mouth to call out for Johnny, but he wasn't sure if any words were coming out. Something moved at the corner of his vision, and he lashed out, vision already growing fuzzy.

It wasn't supposed to end like this.

Then a single word rang out through the room.

"Stop."

A hiss escaped Gabriel's throat as he froze in his steps, hand clenched around the hilt of a sword and eyes fixated on Johnny. The blade was inches away from the man's chest, and yet Johnny didn't seem phased. His arm fell limp and heavy to his side, the other clutching a wound in his stomach. He had fallen to one knee, yet it was he who suddenly held all the power. His eyes were burning an unnaturally gold color and he struggled vainly to his feet.

"Drop the sword," he said. His voice had changed, vibrating with a power not previously there. Every time the words spilled from his mouth, it seemed as if ten other people were speaking at once, deep rich tones echoing in the room. He was gasping for breath between clenched teeth, but it did not seem to dim his fire any, fixated only on the man in front of him whose blood was on Johnny's hands. "Now."

And Gabriel did it.

"You cheated," the man snapped. "You didn't tell me you were one of the Godsent." Then he straightened, eyes blazing angrily and fiercely out of his head. He seemed to know that every second Johnny held on to that sliver of control he was weakening, and now he only waited for that next opening, the one that would give him the chance to rip the brother's throat out. "Alright then. You've got me. So now what? You take your vengeance? I told you, you stupid, stupid fuck, it was what she wanted. She wanted to be taken."

Johnny's heart leapt into his throat at the words, as he finally realized what had happened, as he finally realized what he was dealing with and what he had done to the woman he'd once thought he loved. The man could tell the instant the knowledge finally dawned on him, and harsh laughter tore itself from his throat. "That's right. You're finally getting the picture. No gun or sword can kill me, so what is it you want from me exactly?"

Johnny's eyes grew dead and cold. "I want you to die."

"Oh," Gabriel whispered, and then he shuddered, his body collapsing to the ground as his demons dissolved into shadows.

Johnny was shaking, blinking back tears as he turned, stumbling a few steps away from the throne. Then his eyes landed upon his brother and his heart threatened to tear its way from his chest. "Ayden?" he asked, hurrying forward. One of his knees gave out a foot away from the man, but he didn't care, forcing himself to his brother's side. "Ayden?" he asked again, grabbing the other's shoulder and wrenching him around. Blue eyes blinked once, staring up at him, as they began to glaze over.

"Johnny," he whispered, voice harsh. "I can't…see…" Black bile began to leak from the corners of his lips.

Johnny grabbed his shoulders, wrenching him forward. "Don't die!" he snarled fiercely.

"Don't you dare fucking die on me…"

x.

"The what?" Annie asked, rolling over onto her stomach. Her eyes were bright and curious.

Johnny smiled against the pain in his side and he placed a hand gingerly on the freshly bandaged wound. He wanted to curl up in bed and sleep away his wounds and his pains and the rest of this rotten day, but he couldn't argue with Annie when she was looking at him like that. She hated what he did, and he knew it, hated it every time he came home and she had to patch him up, but her curiosity was part of what he loved about her. Even with things she hated. "They're called the Taken. They're some of the worst we've ever fought."

"Why's that?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

He smiled faintly at the wide-eyed expression on her face, and then he took a breath.

"Because they aren't like anything else. They're not human, but they aren't demons either. They're…some mix of the two. They're people, just like you and me, but they've basically sold their soul to the devil. They're people who make a pact with a demon to basically give their body over for possession. They become two beings in one form. They have all the powers of a demon, the shadow summoning, the transformation capabilities…but they have no fear of sunlight or holy water or anything most fear."

"But why?" she asked, stunned. "Why would anyone do that?"

He shrugged. "Power. It's always about power."

xi.

The car sputtered once as Johnny put in park in front of the church.

For a moment he stared up at it, at the small steeple and the old, worn steps. He vaguely remembered going to a church like this once when he was a kid, before he realized that he was different. Before he realized that he could do things normal boys couldn't. It seemed like someone else's life, someone else's memories. He remembered playing in back of a church like this with a brother he never fought with and always tried to protect.

"Stay here," he said softly, glancing at Ayden.

His brother was situated in the passenger seat, but the seatbelt was the only thing keeping him in place. He tried to offer his older brother a smile, but it failed and all that came out was a cough that sent black blood splattering across the dashboard. His usually tan face was gray and ashen, and his eyes were sunken and dull. Johnny had forestalled his brother's death for the moment, but it was stalking the man like the clouds on the horizon.

"I'll find a way to fix this," Johnny said, placing a hand on his brother's shoulder. "I promise."

"Are you going to kill her?" He asked softly.

Johnny stared at his brother for a long moment, realizing for the first time in a very long time just how much it would have killed him if he'd lost his little brother. He never said 'I love you' and he never said 'Thank you' or 'I'm sorry.' The words hovered on the tip of his tongue, and then he swallowed them, trying not to choke. He smiled sadly and climbed out of the old, beaten Cadillac. "I'll be right back," he told Ayden, and then headed for the doors of the old, beaten church and let himself in.

The church was mostly empty, except for the lone pine box sitting below a painting of Jesus on the cross.

"Wake up, Annie," he said softly, walking the long aisle up to her casket. He stared down at her for a long moment, trying to remember her as she was, as she never would be again. He remembered thinking he would do anything to have her back, and now he would have done anything to have her truly be dead. Even death was a better fate than what she'd committed herself to now. It pained him that he would never in his life understand.

"Wake up. I won't ask you again."

The figure in the box didn't move.

A sigh escaped his throat, as he stared down at a face he thought he'd known once. She still had freckles dashed across her nose, her dark hair just as he remembered it. She'd changed in some little ways, and he didn't remember the scar that marred her cheekbone or the black cross that had been emblazoned across her forehead. The black and blue mark around her neck was new as well. Then he drew his gun, the revolver he had given her so many years ago.

He fired a shot, next to her head, blowing a hole in the pine box.

Then she blinked, red eyes sliding open and focusing in on his face. A smile flickered across her features, recognition dawning on her. She didn't say anything for a long moment, sitting up and putting a hand to her throat. Slim fingers wrapped around her skin, and when her hand fell away the marks were gone. It was only an instant until the black cross on her face faded out of existence as well, as if it had never been.

"Hello Johnny," she finally said. "Long time no see."

It was her skin, her words, her face, but it was no longer her voice. Everything he remembered about her was wrong or changed, and he could see it, the demon that she'd let in under her skin. His heart ached, seeing her again, knowing that at least in some form she was alive, but the rest of him died at the knowledge that he'd torn apart himself and his brother trying to avenge someone who had wanted what she'd gotten. "Annie," he whispered, his voice breaking. "What have you done?"

He was shaking as he said it, and he took a small step forward, wishing he could change what had happened. He had been looking for her for a while now, ever since she had disappeared however long ago it was now. The last time he'd ever seen her she was slamming the door in his face and now she was doing it again except he could never fix this, never open this door again and he wondered if it would have been better if she'd killed him all those years ago.

She smiled faintly at him. "Annie's dead, sweetie. Call me Black Mariah."

He should have killed her then. He knew it, deep in his gut, that with what was left of the women he remembered gone, he should have finished job and destroyed what was left of her. He knew if he left and she was still alive, it would only cause trouble later. She had become something less than human, something vicious that would cause only death and destruction, wherever she went. But she was wearing Annie's skin. And he knew himself better than that.

He left his heart at her feet, bloody and shattered, and then he turned to walk away.

"Hey Johnny," she said, drawing his one-eyed gaze back over his shoulder. She climbed slowly out of the pine box, for a moment staring at him like the woman he'd known forever ago. And the words she spoke brought back memories he was already telling himself he could never think about again. Thinking about them would only destroy him later, when he would one day have to find her and kill her. "You never answered my question. Would you have died for me?"

"Baby," he smirked coldly. "I already did."

xii.

"I want to know, Johnny! Answer me God dammit!"

She was screaming at him from the doorway, her things already packed behind her. There were tears running down her face, but anger in her voice, and Johnny didn't understand where this was coming from. He leaned against the doorframe, one hand clutching his side and trying to keep all the blood in before he bled himself dry. "What the fuck is this all about Annie? That you can even ask me that shows that you don't know the first thing about me."

"Just answer me. You'd die for strangers. So tell me, would you die for me?"

He stared at her, fear blocking his throat.

He'd faced down a werewolf just last night, watched his brother get thrown against a brick wall, had himself slammed through a dumpster, and had most of his insides almost torn out. Yet here he was, facing down a woman he loved and was too afraid to admit it to, and he found himself unable to answer because they were the scariest words he'd ever have to say in his life. So instead, he didn't say anything at all.

She swallowed hard. "Goodbye Johnny. You'll understand when I say I never want to see you again."

Then she slammed the door in his face.