Epilogue - The things that matter
Two weeks later
It wasn't a dark and stormy night. It wasn't hot and sunny, either. It was just another one of those New York City days, cool but not cold, looking like it ought to rain but never quite getting there. As far as the city was concerned, it was a day like any other.
For Mark standing at the grave of his mother, it was a few hours of release.
When he visited the cemetary, he didn't carry guns or armor. The entire protective shell that was "Paladin" peeled off him with frightening ease, leaving behind a grieving son. Nobody would die by his hands today, not now, not ever. Walking up to the headstone was like walking up to an abyss and thinking about taking the leap for a few hours. Up to now, Mark had always walked away from the edge with greater conviction, but it was a new struggle every time.
The soft steps of a woman closed in from the side. Mark didn't have to look at her to know her name. He felt her gaze pierce his skin, her shrewd mind trying to figure out this monster-sized enigma in black clothing. He took a few seconds to finish his thought - Mark favored doing the conversations in his mind, not knowing whether he was more or less insane than the people who talked to graves -, then turned his head towards the woman, acknowledging her presence.
The woman - thin, fierce, dangerous Assistant District Attorney Karen Ayers - nodded in reply.
"That time of the year again?"
"You know it is."
"You know it is."
This dance had been going on for three years now. She'd heard the rumors - Mark Simmons, bogeyman of the east coast, could be found at a certain spot once a year for a few hours, come hell or high water. She'd rode his case ever since she had gotten into the DA's office, trying to track him down. Calling a couple of cops on him would have been an easy solution to the problem - she knew he had no gear on him, and could likely be subdued with some effort. Arrested. Be made to stand trial for all the things he'd done.
Still, she said nothing. But her presence opened more options. He could just call the cops himself and go with them, help Karen out by giving her the victory of a lifetime. He could repent, swear to start a new life, and he knew that Karen would do her best to keep his case eternally unsolved. She looked at him with the gaze of a woman convinced of both the necessity of her job and the futility of it. There were very few things the criminal justice system could do to Mark Simmons that he hadn't already done to himself; those that were just waiting for death to come often turned out to be the greatest survivors.
He looked at her. It wasn't the Mark Simmons gaze that could level buildings. It was just him being sad.
Finally, he turned around and walked away. Karen stared after him, still deep in thought. She knew he wasn't doing this just to frustrate her. He wasn't intentionally being opaque, not now, not here. Beneath all the lies and falsehood, there was a wholely different layer of mystery. Something...alien.
Why didn't he surrender? Or, barring that, try to get rid of her? Nothing the man did made any sense in light of a rational long-term goal. What was his agenda? She knew that this wouldn't stop until she could figure that out.
Finally, he turned a corner and was gone. Karen stole a glance at the grave, trying to conjure another piece of the puzzle and failing again to come up with anything that fit together. She always felt the most frustrated about this case when she was closest to the conclusion, and just a minute ago she'd almost been close enough to touch him. She too turned away and started her way home.
Tomorrow, the hunt would resume.