I knew this day would come. But I can’t say that I ever really prepared for it.
It's a numb feeling...having your father pass away.
His very presence, now reduced to a series of half forgotten memories. His image...now reduced to a cold slab of stone, bearing his name proudly for strangers to walk by and ignore.
Staring down at it now...I couldn't help but to wonder if I could have been closer to this man. If I could have been more open. Let him in on who I am. He may have helped me to find myself on a level deeper than what I could have achieved alone.
And now here I am...left wondering.
A cool breeze blew through the silent stones of the graveyard as I remembered the many good times we shared together. I thought about how he had always been a rock for me to hold on to through the storm. How he always talked about honesty, and how he always gave it to me straight...even when it hurt. Even when he found out about my crossover, forsaking daylight and my humanity for all eternity...he was strong enough to still embrace me, and show me all the unconditional love that a father could muster for his only son. Heh...to think back on it, I think he had more trouble dealing with my sexuality than my crossover. I suppose sucking blood is better than sucking dick any day for some dads. And yet...even though I must have really tested him countless times from the day I was born, until the age of 17 when I was born into darkness...he never stopped supporting me. He stood at my side, held my hand, and did all he could to shelter me from the evils of the world.
Then I became one of those evils myself.
Forty two years. I can't believe it's been that long since I left the sun behind. I can't believe it feels so short. So fleeting. I came to visit him often in the beginning, but unfortunately I've been in hiding for nearly a decade now. So the visits weren't as possible as they were before. The first twenty years flew by like it was nothing, and he was always happy to see me. He used to say that I was the only person that would even think to come knocking at his door at that time of night. He always knew it was me. And he'd force himself to get out of bed, come downstairs to let me in...and then just talk with me. Sometimes for hours over multiple cups of coffee. Not that I needed them. Those late night visits meant everything to me. And now...I guess those nights are over.
I watched my father grow old over time. Brittle. Gray. It seemed such a subtle thing at first, but the last few years were hard. I didn't age at all and his body was...deteriorating right before my eyes it seemed. I won't lie...I once offered him the 'gift'. I could have bitten him myself. I could have given him all the time he wanted on this Earth. But he refused. Something about, 'having the grace to expire when his time was up'. That's how he put it. Grace.
He died at the age of 87. Peacefully, in his sleep. He was buried here less than a week ago. The mound was still fresh. Naturally, I couldn't have gone to the funeral. Especially during daylight hours. But that didn't mean that I couldn't come later and pay my proper respects. It would be an insult to do anything less.
I got down on one knee, and gently rubbed my hand over the smooth surface of his headstone. I think...something about actually touching the marker caused my emotions to move without warning, and my eyes began to tear up as I remembered the warmth and comfort of his smile.
"Well, Pop...you did it. You lived with grace...and you died with grace." I whispered. "I can't even describe what it feels like...to talk to you, and know that...you can't answer me." I began to sniffle some, and tears slid down my cheeks. "I don't know what life would have been like if things were different. Or if...I hadn't fallen in love and crossed over. If I had the chance to grow up to be the man you were hoping I would be someday. But...through it all...you were my idol. You will ALWAYS be my idol. You weren't just my father. You were my best friend. And I'm...really gonna miss you, Pop. I just hope you're still proud of me." I didn't bother to wipe the tears away, and let them roll freely down my cheeks as I leaned forward to lightly press my lips to his tombstone. "You were the best dad that I ever could have asked for. There are other kids out there who should be so lucky. I just wanted to say...thank you. Thank you for being my hero. If I live long enough to see the sun itself flicker out like a lit match...I'll still remember everything you ever taught me, and I’ll keep you in my heart forever. I promise, Pop. I promise." I sobbed. “I’m a good man. All because of you. All because of you...”
"My, my, my...how very touching." Came a sinister voice from the darkness around me. My tears seemed to shut themselves off instantly, my instincts already kicking in to tighten my body and sharpen my focus.
How did they know? More importantly, how did they sneak up on me? My distress had broken me down to a moment of weakness. I should have been more careful.
"Seven years, Mr. Prince." The voice said. "Seven years, we've been searching for you. Waiting for the great assassin, 'Flatline', to finally come out of hiding and show his face again."
"I'm not an assassin." I said, keeping my eyes focused on the headstone. "I never was."
"Come now, Jonathan. You killed people for money and helped countless others do the same. What do you think an assassin does?" He said again. And it was then that an entire army of other shadowed figures became evident. Mostly human, but I could always detect the nearly silent footsteps of a hunter when I heard them. "You know...I heard a nasty rumor a few years back. Did you know about this? Apparently...the Jonathan Prince that I knew supposedly went completely off the grid for a while. Vanished...into thin air. Then, after becoming weary from being on the run for so long, our informants all claimed that he had taken a sun quest to end his life. It was reported as being a 'great loss' to the art of murder itself. Such a talented killer...it seemed such a waste." The voice was moving closer, stepping a bit into the light. It was a familiar face that Jonathan remembered well. A voice that was unmistakable. Same black suit. Same dark sunglasses, even at night. Same loathsome human stench. "Every agent we had did their homework, and all came up with the same answer. But, you know...I never really quitebought the whole sun quest story. Something about your vampire suicide just didn't...'click' with me. You're not really a sun quest kind of guy. No...there's no honor in that. You're a soldier, Mr. Prince. A warrior spirit. You'd rather take a shiv to the heart and tough out the starvation period than catch a random sunrise like a coward."
I gritted my teeth, and told him, "Maybe you've got the wrong guy. Did you ever think of that?"
"Highly doubtful." The man replied. "Not to overlook the absolutely astounding amount of work that you put in to cover your tracks. Yes, we found your supposed sun quest location, gathered the ashes...definitely of vampire origin and adequate for a person of your height, weight, and age...we got word from all of our informants that you were dead and gone. But still...tsk tsk tsk...I JUST couldn't bring myself to believe it. So...while others let go of the search...I decided to keep it going. JUST to see what turned up in the old garbage disposal once the sink finished draining. And what do ya know? Here you are. Alive and well." Then, he added, "You did an expert job with the cover up, but, you see...sometimes...ashes lie."
Taking a look around me without moving my head at all, I detected maybe a total of 30 men surrounding me on all sides. All armed with guns and shivs. But they were nervous. I can hear the dirt under their feet quake as they step forward. I see that my reputation precedes me.
I felt the tears drying on my face as my body prepared itself to slip into an entirely different frame of mind. He had a lot of nerve tracking me down here. This man had no heart whatsoever. And they call us vampires the 'parasites' of humanity? "I don't suppose we could discuss this at another time, Agent Watts?" I said.
"Awww, sorry, no. I'm afraid that I can't really put much faith in your word anymore. We've been searching for you for far too long to just let you walk away from us now." Watts said. Once a professional 'handler' of mine...he's now the biggest thorn in my side. "It didn't have to be this way, Flatline. You brought this on yourself. And down upon the heads of everyone that you were ever connected to. Business or, uh...otherwise." He said with a wicked sneer.
I didn't let the emotion show on my face. I didn't dare. "How did you find me?"
"It wasn't easy. You might have been able to stay in hiding forever if it was just us chasing you all over the globe. We needed a different approach. We had to make you come to us instead. So, to be honest, it was your old man here that gave us the old 'moth to a flame' advantage. The old coot had to kick the bucket eventually, right?" Ok...now THAT struck a nerve. But I knew Watts well, and that's exactly what he was looking for. It was just another tactic to get me to lose my head and start thinking irrationally. I won't. I’m better than that. "Don't feel bad. You couldn't help it. You see...all vampires, even bonafide, kick ass, hunters such as yourself...have a common weakness. Vampires...they can cheat the odds, they can cheat the system, they can cheat the laws of physics in some cases...they've even learned to cheat death in exchange for near immortality. BUT...when it comes to weaknesses, there's one thing that your kind just can't seem to escape, no matter how hard you try. The haunted curse of nostalgia. Detachment. That's the one thing that we can always count on. Lonely vampires being uncontrollablypulled back to a life in daylight that simply doesn't want them anymore. No vampire can resist the golden allure of the life it left behind. At some point, you all HAVE to return home." He said. "Once your father's obituary popped up on our system of searches...it was only a matter of time. You should be careful who you talk to, Mr. Prince. Knowledge is, indeed....power." The sick son of a bitch. He deserves to be bled right here over my father's grave for being such a soulless bastard. But I kept my mind clear. Continuing the conversation as I mentally scanned all the possible outcomes of this situation. Gauging my position. Searching for any makeshift weapons that I might be able to use to defend myself. Then Agent Watts stepped closer, and my fist automatically tightened up in anger, shaking, as he was almost close enough to reach up and rip his fucking heart out. I think he knew he was too close. I think he danced on the line just for the sake of seeing me squirm. He did enjoy his little tortures. "I'm glad that most people ignored the random, unconfirmed, sightings of you all over the globe. I practically 'made' you, I wanted to be the one to catch you. I kept the books open, personally, waiting for this moment. You had a good run, though. Cairo, Beijing, Lima, San Paulo, Paris, Brisbane, Los Angeles, Berlin, Toronto, Seattle...I even have a blurry photo of you from Sierra Leone. You've been a *VERY* hard halflife to catch up to, Mr. Prince. But honestly...did you REALLY believe that you could hide from us forever?"
"That was the plan." I needed to find an escape route. Calculate the possibilities of an exit with minimal damage. I don't want a war...I want to vanish. I shouldn't have come. It was against my better judgement. I let my emotions get a hold of me. Just a few more seconds to think. Keep him talking. Once I'm gone...I'm gone for good. I'll burrow so deep underground that they'll NEVER see me again. "For the record...there was no honor in what I did for you. No honor in what you stole from me. My extra...you can't have it. The vampire population won't stand for the system of modern day slavery that your superiors are trying to put in place. They'll rebel against you. You're playing with fire. It’ll be all out war."
"It is not my job to question the will of the Elders. It's my job to tie up all of the loose ends that were left to dangle. You should have pushed your feelings aside and just done what you were paid to do. When they get you back to the lab, they're going to strip your extra from you with a level of pain that you cannot even IMAGINE. And when they're done, what's left of you will be sent to blaze in the light of day without a second thought. No fake ashes this time. That I can guarantee."
"There was a time that I believed that what I was doing might help bring justice to the growing violence in the streets amongst vampire kind. But they LIED to me, Watts! And they're lying to you too. You're just a 'pet' to them, don't you get it? It's all just a game. And you're simply another pawn on the chess board."
"Well, the game has come to an end, my friend. And the checkmate has been made." I could feel the others closing in. Cautiously tightening up their circle as they moved in to 'collect' me. "The Circle Nocturnus does *NOT* like to be made a fool of, Flatline. Vampire Elder Masato has expressed a special interest in overseeing your execution personally. Despite the dire circumstances...you should see this as a great honor. Masato wouldn't do that for just anyone. That makes you...a very rewarding catch indeed."
"I'm not going back, Watts." I said defiantly.
"You don't have a choice."
"But you do." I told him. "You can either walk away, let me be on my way back to obscurity, and forget that you ever saw me...or you can try your best to stop me...get all of these good men here killed, and end up getting slaughtered right alongside them. Choose. I'll give you fifteen seconds."
Agent Watts smiled. "You are still just as feisty as I remember. But I should warn you...we've got a few heavy hitters on our team tonight too. So be sure that sweet little poker face of yours isn't a bluff. I don't think 'Snakebite' and 'Shortcut' are going to respond well to idle threats. You might want to think twice about this. You've been out of the game for almost a decade. You were always one of the best...but I'm sure you've gone soft by now."
"Ten seconds, Watts."
"No last words for dear old dad? I'd like to think that you'd want to stay for a few more minutes, continue your little talk with him....before you JOIN him in the ether."
"I see we're going to have to do this the hard way."
"You're making a big mistake."
"Heh...you KNOW you can't win."
"TAKE HIM DOWN!!!" Agent Watts shouted, but it was already too late.
I looked up and stared him right in the eyes, piercing the dark lenses of his sunglasses to see the touch of fear revealed in his gaze. I said, "Remember this moment, Agent Watts...when you have to make calls to let the families of these humans know what happened to them!" Adding only, "You should have let me go. I was better off dead."
I didn't hesitate. Not for a second. Moving faster than his human eyes could register, I placed my hands on my father's grave, and flipped over it...my feet hitting the ground and charging North to try to get out of there with as little mayhem as possible. The gunfire started immediately, but it was more random panic fire than anything else. Bullets raining in every different direction. Watts should have trained them better before bringing them out after someone like me. A waste. SUCH a waste.
I wanted to leave the evil and the violence behind me. I wanted to be free from what they wanted me to be, and build the rest of my existence on love and peace of mind. But they just WON'T leave me alone! They'll chase me to the ends of the EARTH if they have to! So I've got to PROVE to them that it's unwise to continue to tangle with me this way. Once again, I've been dragged back down to their level. But this time, I hope to send a very clear message to the Elders. 'Flatline' is no longer for sale. Not at the expense of my brethren in darkness.
Father...please forgive me. I know that you wanted me to be a better man...but it has to be done. You always taught me to fight for what I believe in, and I just can't give up on this. Not with what they're planning...for both daylight and darkness. I'm sorry. There is no other way.
The barrage of machine gun fire tore through the scene around me without mercy. Holes in trees, ricochets off of headstones, tiny muffled explosions in the dirt at my feet. I put my back to one of the graveyard's stone mausoleums, and conserved my breath for a few short moments while out of the line of fire as Watts' goons rushed forward to pursue me. They won't kill me. They need what I've got. But they'll do all they can to immobilize and damage my body to the point where I can't fight anymore. I'll go as easy on them as I can...but if they push me, I'm gonna push back. Hard!
One of the soldiers came around the corner, and I grabbed the barrel of his gun, pushing it back to face the other members of his team, and set off a few short bursts of machine gun fire into their chests. Let's hope they were smart enough to wear bulletproof vests on this job.
The soldiers in front fell back from the blasts, and the others took positions to send more bullets whizzing past me. I ducked back behind the mausoleum again, and heard them approaching from both sides. So I reached my hands up to hold on to the top of the monument and flipped up on to the roof.
"He's up there!" They shouted, but I hardly gave them a chance to strategize. I cartwheeled over the side and landed right in the middle of their cluster. With lightning speed, I tangled them up, arms, legs, elbows, knees...moving back and forth between them so fast with calculated strikes that they could hardly get their footing straight. Staying in the middle kept them from shooting at one another, and that instantly put them at a serious disadvantage.
They continued to fight, even when I knocked them down or tripped them up with a touch of mercy. So I had to play a little 'rougher' with them to get them to stay down. I grabbed a soldier's hand, and bent his palm back until his wrist broke, then twisted it to send him spinning to the ground. Another soldier felt the impact of my side kick shattering his kneecap just before I flipped backwards to kick him in the chin as he reached down to soothe the agony. A front kick to the stomach of the man in front of me, then a low back kick to knock the man down to one knee. A roundhouse to connect with the jaw of the man behind him, then rolling over his back to mix it up with three more on the other side. My ears detect a 'click', and I lean back to avoid a gunshot that causes the soldier in front of me to take the blow. His head explodes in a shower of red liquid on contact. His blood stains my face. Stupid son of a bitch! Shooting his own teammate. He should have been more careful! This man didn't have to DIE for this!
I rolled behind a tombstone as more shots rang through the night air and they attempted to turn up the heat. So much for an easy escape.