Teen Titans Hiatus: Prologue - Parting Ways
By Walter C. Black
Looking at his room Beast Boy admitted to feeling a certain amount of fear, for the room no longer looked as if it belonged to him. The clothes were all freshly washed, neatly folded, and hidden away in the appropriate drawers. His TV, DVD collection, and Gamestation (with assorted games) had all been packed away and stored within the darkest recesses of his closet. In short, his room had been straightened and cleaned so thoroughly that neither he nor the other Titans (if they knew) could or would believe that Beast Boy had actually been the one to clean the room, much less that it was Beast Boy's room. Sadly, cleaning has room had done nothing but confirm that which he did not wish to acknowledge.
Once, long ago, he had heard that when one's mind is troubled, cluttered with thoughts and concerns, the act of cleaning one's dwelling place (his room, in Beast Boy's case) can often clear the mind and allow for a more objective, reasoned approach to the problems plauging oneself. Beast Boy had found that while it didn't work quite that way for him, it did allow him to actually think and find a solution or, at the very least, some course of action that would alleviate the problem. He had only had need of this method once or twice before, and once he had found his solution he had promptly trashed the room even more throughly than it had been originally.
This time things had been different. Instead of needing to isolate the problem and find a solution he had already known what the problem was and had, in his heart, known what the solution was, he just didn't want to admit it. The only thing cleaning his room had done for him, besides the obvious, was make it all to clear what he had to do. He needed to leave the Tower. To finally face up to his past, and he had to do it on his own strength alone.
He had, on some level, known this for days. Ever since Trigon had brought the shadows of Beast Boy, Starfire, and Cyborg to life and each Titan to fight his or her darkness incarnate Beast Boy had known that he would have to leave the Titans and face the past he had buried long before he ever met Robin or the other Titans.
When Beast Boy had fought his shadow he had taken some hard physical blows, yes, but the green skinned boy was used to physical pain on some level, and his desire to help his friends made his ability to ignore physical discomfort even more pronounced. No, where he had lost that battle was not on the physical front, but on the mental one. His shadow, a true evil-twin in the sense that it was a reflection of every last bit of cruelty, rage, hatred, and depravity buried deep within Beast Boy's soul, had taken great pleasure in ripping Beast Boy to shreds mentally and emotionally. Being a true reflection of Beast Boy it had known every single weak point in Beast Boy's psyche and had ruthlessly exploited every single one. It had reopened wounds long thought closed (though never healed) dug up memories long buried.
Beast Boy suspected that his shadow had known, deep down, that the Titans would win, and in an act of spite had made somehow made sure that Beast Boy would never again be able to forget its words or the old memories it had dredged up. It had wanted nothing more than for Beast Boy to suffer, and in that it had succeeded adimirably. Beast Boy's every waking thought had been haunted by greater and greater insecurities and his nightmares had been horrible twisted memories of his greatest failures made even greater, and no matter what he tried, it only continued to get worse and worse.
He had reached a breaking point, he could stand it no longer. He had to do something before he went insane (or more insane than he already was some dark part of himself whispered when he thought that). Potential courses of action had, in a way totally incongruous with his normal method of operation, been carefully weighed and discarded until only one course remained. But that course of action had not been to Beast Boy's liking so he had cleaned his room in hopes of having another potential course of action present itself to him, but none had. It was settled. Beast Boy was, for a time anyway, leaving the Titans. Now all he had to do was survive telling Robin.
Beast Boy sighed. This was not going to be easy. Not by a long shot.
Unbeknownst to Beast Boy another Titan was experiencing psychological trauma originating from the very same battle as his. Like Beast Boy, Starfire's mental trauma was not in truth new, but simply old, buried trauma brought to the surface once more. For Starfire the trauma had not resulted in nightmares or even the feeling of being a failure. By nature Starfire was a very hardy person psychologically, but then Tamaranian phsyiology and brain chemsitry made them much more emotionally stable (not to mention exuberant) than the typical Terran. For Starfire's people mental illness was extremely rare, and of the few dozen cases recorded in the last three hundred Earth years only one had not been caused by birth defects. Thus it was that Starfire was only experiencing a mild melancholy caused by feelings of homesickness.
Normally this would not be a problem, but for Starfire, who had been exiled from Tamaran years ago, there was no home to return to. She had tried to find solace in renewed attempts to get her friends to join her in the celebration of Tamaranian holidays, but not even their enthusiastic attempts to join her had cheered her. They had instead served only to remind her that she was stranger in an even stranger land. For Starfire this was unacceptable. She wanted, no needed, a home. She had thought long and hard and had decided, reluctantly, to put away the reminders of her old life on Tamaran and to fully embrace the customs and culture of this planet that had so graciously welcomed her with open arms. And the first step towards that would be a tradition she had seen countless other Terran youths engage in as they made their way from being children to adults. The tradition of the road trip.
Of course she could not undertake such a journey without proper preparation, but that had been relatively simple to take care of. She had first traveled to the mall of shopping and enlisted the aid of the helpful humans that worked there to instruct her in how to dress in the fashion of a native born Terran. Though there had been some rough spots (caused mostly by Starfire's incomplete grasp of the English language) she had come out of it with a brand new wardrobe. Next she had, covertly, enlisted the aid of Cyborg in coming up with a way to disguise her vibrant orange skin color so that she would not stand out quite as much and in helping her to more fully master English. Though Cyborg had been curious she had managed to persuade him to wait until she was ready to tell him. And tell him she would, just as soon as she told...Robin.
As the thought occured to her she swore. "X'hal, this is going to be hard." It wasn't that she didn't think Robin wouldn't be understanding of her reasoning. She was sure he would be very understanding, but she also knew that if he was also likely to feel a bit hurt and would blame himself for not noticing that something was wrong. Silently she resolved to make it up to him when she returned. She just wasn't sure how.
When Beast Boy rounded the corner and saw her nervously fidgeting in front of Robin's door he found that he wasn't half as surprised as he felt he should be. In truth though it wasn't uncommon to find Starfire nervously fidgeting in front of Robin's door. What was uncommon, downright unprecedented and slightly unnerving actually, was for her to be fidgeting nervously in front of Robin's door while dressed in normal clothes that were not only of an Earth based cut, but actually in style as well. Somehow this one visual clue was all it took for Beast Boy to figure out that she was there for the same reason he was.
"You're leaving too?" His voice was quiet, and despite the phrasing, matter of fact in its tone and delivery. Lacking the overly exuberant quality that he normally took such great pride in, it left not a doubt in the minds of anyone hearing it that he meant and believed every word he said. Strangely Starfire didn't even seem to realize that she had been spoken too for she showed no reaction to his voice or his presence.
With a frown he walked up to her and place his hand on her shoulder, but did not have the chance to say anything else as he suddenly found himself, for one brief moment, feeling the weightlessness of free fall before suddenly hitting the floor with his back and finding that the only thing his now crossed eyes could really see to be a large orange fist hovering bare centimeters above his nose. The fist was only there for a brief moment before he once again felt the disorienting sensation of involuntary movement as some force quickly picked him up and placed him on his feet. For a few moments all he could do was stand there dazed while Starfire babbled apologies at him, but finally he was able to regain his bearings and promptly placed his hand over Starfire's mouth.
"Starfire, it's okay. I've taken worse bumps getting out of bed. Now just calm down okay?" He grinned widely at her to emphasize that he was in fact fine. "Truly?" He nodded his head in answer to her inquiry. "So what brings you to Robin's door friend Beast Boy?"
"The same thing that brings you here," he answered as his smile turned just a bit sad.
Starfire blinked. "What? How?"
"Other than you finally working up the nerve to ask Robin on a date?" His smile returned fully as he watched her blush then continued. "It's really the only reason I could think of for you to be standing outside Robin's door dressed like a native. Unless there's some other explanation?"
"No. You are correct friend Beast Boy. I am leaving the Titans. I am going on a roadtrip to learn more about the Earth. Things that I cannot learn here in the tower. What I wish to know now is why you are leaving."
Beast Boy's expression turned sour. "My...shadow...It opened some old wounds. Wounds that never healed. I need to leave so that I can find a way to heal them."
"Why must you leave the Titans to heal your wounds? Surely our medical facilities are sufficient to fix any injuries you have sustained at the hands of your shadow. Though I also wonder how your shadow can injure you. Is it not simply the result of your body blocking the passage of the photons from the light source?"
Beast Boy couldn't help it. He laughed. "Starfire, I'm going to miss you. Even when you don't mean to you manage to get me to laugh."
Confused Starfire did the only thing she could think of. She returned the compliment. "You too make me laugh Beast Boy. But you have not answered my question, why can you not use our medical facilities to heal your injuries?"
With a sigh of defeat Beast Boy realized that she would not be defelected. "My injuries aren't phsyical Starfie. They're emotinal wounds. Things that have happened to me that I simply haven't dealt with. That's why I can't use the medical facilities here. As for my shadow injuring me. That's what I've taken to calling that weird evil version of me that Trigon created."
Starfire smiled sadly then hugged Beast Boy. "I do not truly understand your explanation, only your feelings, and if you feel you must leave then do so. But remember, the Titans will always be here for you. We are your friends."
Beast Boy returned the embrace with feeling. "No Starfire, you guys are more than that. You're family. And I will be coming back. I just don't know when." And the two stood there, drawing comfort and strength from one another, before telling Robin of their plans to leave.
A quick glance at the printout in his hand confirmed that it was still there. It being the news that he didn't want to accept, still hadn't fully accepted, but had to because he knew that he would never joke about something so serious. Closing his human eye and simultaneously shutting out input from his cybernetic eye, a trick he had only recently mastered, he placed his arm against the wall and let briefly let himself show the weakness he was feeling. But only briefly.
He knew he had to find Robin and tell him, but had brought the printout of the e-mail, secret identities be damned, because he knew that he would never be able to say it out loud. After all, as long as he didn't say it he could pretend that it wasn't really real. It was cowardly he knew, but still...he was only human, and there was some things that humans just couldn't handle. It just so happened that it was one of those things that he couldn't handle.
When he finally found Robin, the Boy Wonder was in the gym doing his best to beat blood out of the their brand new, super tough punching bag. And while he hadn't succeeded yet he'd managed to do enough damage that Cyborg was tempted to use the security footage to send back with the remains of the supposedly indestructible punching bag. In fact, the kind of intensity Robin was showing was usually reserved for Slade himself, an individual whom Cyborg had decided ranked far, far above Satan, the Antichrist, and every demon from here to the depths of hell in terms of sheer evil and annoyance value.
While such a display would normally inspire Cybord to attempt a joke or even just lend an ear if Robin were willing he couldn't summon the will to do so this time. All he could do was stand and watch as Robin treated the bag to an amount of punishment that would be hard for any of the Titans to match, powers or no powers. It wasn't until a particularly vicious kick tore the bag into spilling the sand all over the floor that Robin spoke.
"You're leaving too aren't you?"
"Yeah, how'd you...," the gears in Cyborg's head finally caught and his tone turned accusatory, "You been reading my mail dawg?"
"Wha? No! I'd never do that Cyborg, not without your permission." Robin's protests were so fervent and real that Cyborg realized that the other boy most likely hadn't been reading his e-mail, so that left the question...
"How did you know I was leaving then? You develop some sort of mind reading power you failed to tell us about?"
The attempt at mirth fell flat both because Cyborg's heart really wasn't in it and because of Robin's fairly obvious displeasure at the reason why he'd known that Cyborg was leaving. In fact, the dark haired boy's face took on an extremely dark look as he answered Cyborg's question in a voice that was so steadfastly neutral and level that Cyborg knew without any shadow of a doubt was as false as his own left hand.
"Starfire and Beast Boy came by my room a few hours ago. They were leaving for 'an indeterminite amount of time.'"
Cyborg was flummoxed. Then he was confused. Then he was incredulous. "They're LEAVING?" His shout was so loud that it rattled the windows of the Tower and caused two particular to Titans to look down at the floor guiltily as they realized that they had failed to tell their friend in person. His next words however would only be heard by Robin. "And they're doing it together? Man that's...crazy. I mean I never woulda guessed that...I mean I always thought Star was sweet on...," he trailed off nervously after noticing Robin's face. The other boy was in fact glaring with Cyborg with such force and venom that that the half-machine recoiled in fear. The nervous tic that had suddenly developed over Robin's left eye only served to increase Cyborg's sudden desire to find a very, very deep hole to hide in for the only time that tic appeared was when Mt. Robin was about to explode.
Suddenly the glare (and accompanying tic) vanished and Robin's face was as smooth and emotionless as any wall leaving Cyborg even more fearful for his life. But the Boy Wonder wasn't interested in maiming at the moment. Instead he spoke. "No, they are not leaving together. And whether or not Starfire and I have any feeling for one another or have any sort of relationship outside of our current working one is between the two of us and the two of us alone. They both stated personal reasons for their leave of absence but failed to elaborate much beyond that. Understand?"
Speechless at the rebuke Cyborg could only not his head in agreement as the thoughts swirled through his head threatening to carry him away. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Cyborg would never be able to decide which, Robin chose to interrupt his thoughts. "So, why exactly are you leaving? And when?"
Cyborg handed Robin the e-mail. "That's the why. The when? As soon as possible I guess."
Robin nodded absently as he perused Cyborg's e-mail then looked up at the other boy. "Cyborg...," words failed him then, but then what just what does a person say to a friend when they discover something like this.
"I know man, I...I haven't quite accepted it yet, so just...just don't say anything. As long as it's just words on paper it's not quite so real. You know what I'm saying? I can...I can still hope, yeah? Hope that when I get there I'll find out that it's been some big mistake like in that movie - you know the one, the one where the guy who's perfectly fine has his x-ray's swapped with another, terminal patient's..." Cyborg's rambling finally stopped as his voice cracked. He was standing there in front of his leader, his teammate, his friend, all choked up and fighting back tears that would just ruin his tough guy image, but for some reason just couldn't summon up the will to care.
Robin, not knowing what to do simply acted on instinct and placed a green gloved hand on Cyborg's shoulders and the older teen in they eyes. "Take as long as you need Cyborg, I'll hold your room for you."
Cyborg smiled wistfully knowing that technically his room would always be there since the Tower deed was actually in his name, but that reminded him of it and it was simply too much to take. The damn broke and he could no longer hold back the tears or hide from the truth as he cried. Not bawled, not sobbed, he simply cried. As he let the tears run freely from his biological eye he managed a weak smile and nodded once towards Robin. "Thanks man," he uttered softly as he left the training room where Robin was once more alone with his thoughts though they were now of a considerably different nature.
Having told Robin and Starfire of his plans Beast Boy now had to choose between who to tell next, Cyborg or Raven? It wasn't as easy a choice as one might think for despite the quarrels he was almost constantly engaged in with both parties he felt that the two were his closest friends. He agonized over the choice for some time until he finally noticed that his wanderings had taken him past Raven's door several times and the he was now, once more, standing in front of her door. With a sardonic smile on his face he couldn't help muttering to the empty air. "Huh, guess my subconscious has been making more of my decisions than usual lately. Thanks a freaking lot."
Now as he stood there in front of the plain, unadorned doorway he found that he lacked the ability to raise his hand from his side, curl it into a fist and bang it on her door. It wasn't that he was afraid of her reaction to his knocking, he had long ago abandoned his fear of her though he would often play at still being afraid since he knew that she found it amusing even if she wouldn't admit to it, no it was a different kind of fear. A fear that she perhaps might not care that he was leaving. Or that she might be upset at his leaving. He held, as he always had, an irrational fear of being rejected by his friends though for some reason it always seemed to be strongest around Raven. He supposed it was because it had taken him so much longer, so much more effort to be able to confidently say that she was his friend. Thus it was that he found himself staring at her door vacantly when it opened without any prompting from him.
While Beast Boy had been agonizing, first over leaving, then over who to inform of his decision, Raven had been in her room reading. Since her father had been defeated and no longer held influence over her she had been free to not only acknowledge her feelings, but to express them as well. This new found freedom was something she reveled in, but it did not come without its downsides. Before she had allowed herself to feel she had almost always been certain of her actions and reasoning, but now...now she was not. The sudden intensity of her feelings had left her dazed and confused. She felt as if she were no longer in control of herself. The simplest, easisted solution would have been to resume the rigourous meditation and emotional control/suppression that she had known for most of her life.
For Raven this soltion was simply unacceptable. She had lived that way for her entire life up to this point of necessity. Not once had she enjoyed it. Now she was free to feel and she would sooner die than give that freedom up without a fight. To that end she had raided every bookstore she could find in the city and was now swiftly working her way through numerous psychology texts. Everything from introductory books for college students to thesis papers published by doctoral candidates. She would learn how to cope with feeling things she had never felt before.
Today though she was unable to concetrate. In the aftermath of her father's assault on the Earth she had found that her powers had undergone something of a metamorphasis with some aspects growing weaker such as her telekinesis and other aspects growing stronger. Namely her empathic senses which were the source of her distraction. The amount of trepidation, uncertainty, and various forms grief in the Tower this morning was so much greater than anything she had ever felt from her friends before. Not even when it appeared that Robin had gone over to Slade's side two years ago tomorrow had she felt such a large concentration. And one of the largest sources of it was heading straight towards her door.
When it stopped she waited patiently for nearly a quarter of an hour, but when it became apparent that the person on the other side was not going to knock she became slightly irritated and placed her feet upon the floor and walked to the door, her finger marking her place in the book she held in her left hand.
Opening the door lead to quite a bit of shock for both parties. Raven because she almost never felt anything other than a vague sense of confusion from Beast Boy, and Beast Boy because he hadn't been expecting an irate Raven to suddenly open the door. As was usual, Raven was the first to speak. "What are you doing?"
Grinning nervously Beast Boy said the first thing that came to mind. "Waiting outside your door trying to gather the nerve to knock."
Raven almost smirked as she saw Beast Boy wince once he realized what he'd said, but held off knowing that doing so would only make it harder for her to get to the bottom of Beast Boy's impromptu visit and his reluctance to not only intiate contact but obvious desire to keep the reasons for it a secret. "And why, pray tell, would you need to gather the nerve to knock on my door? With the exception of apologies you've never had a problem in the past."
Beast Boy was not stupid, something that Raven had concluded long ago, just ignorant about some things, but not in this. He knew that Raven was trying to get him to tell her why he was there, but he was desperate to delay the inevitable and so his eyes darted quickly around the hall hoping to find something to divert Raven's attention (a futile effort he knew) and found her book. Noticing the title he couldn't help but be genuinely intrigued. "A psychology book Raven?"
Despite knowing that it was a half-hearted attempt to divert her attention on Beast Boy's part Raven knew she had to answer. He'd only make a total pest of himself until he learned what he wanted to know otherwise. "Yes Beast Boy, a psychology book."
Something crosssed over Beast Boy's face before he softly said a name. "Garfield."
Puzzled Raven looked at him. "What was that Beast Boy?"
He blinked then looked her in the eyes with an intensity that was rare for him. "Garfield, it's my real name. I'd...kinda...like it if you'd call me by it when we're not fighting the bad guys."
Raven couldn't help the smile that crossed her face. "I'd like that too. So, Garfield, are you going to tell my why you were loitering outside my door trying, but failing, to knock?"
Suddenly he grinned charmingly and Raven got a sinking sensation in her stomach. "I will..."
"What do you want?" she sighed.
"I want you to tell me why you're reading Psychology texts."
"How did you...?" the 'I knew it!' expression playing across his face told her that Bea – Garfield, had tricked her. "You tricked me! You tricked me?" Her suprise was understandable. Rarely had the boy managed to pull one over on her, and never with such ease.
"Yep. I tricked you!" his smile was infectious, but she convinced herself that she was too irritated to return it though that seemed to do little to deter his smile. "So seriously, why are you suddenly interested in the modern day hoo-doo voo-doo of psychology?"
"Hoo-doo voo-doo?" she looked askance at him but he only shrugged and grinned sheepishly. With a sigh she decided to comply with his demands. Who knows maybe sharing her troubles would make them lessen? She could only hope. "Come on in and make yourself comfortable. This could take a while."
And it did. She explained, at length, about the problems she was having with her emotions. How they were coming thick and fast and in such confusing combinations that she didn't know what she was feeling most of the time, much less how to deal with or express them. She then told him of how her powers seemed to be changing and, surprisingly, divulging worries about how those changes would affect her standing on the team, worries she hadn't even been aware she had before she told him, worries that he quickly waved away by telling her that even if her powers should fade away altogether her other skills were invaluable to the team.
When she finished Beast Boy simply sat there for a while digesting everything she had told him. Then he did the last thing she had expected. He reached over and grabbed her up in a warm comforting embrace and whispered in her ear. "Welcome to the human race Raven. The sperm donor no longer has anything to do with you."
His words and actions brought a smile to her face and, despite not being a very tactile person, she returned his embrace tightly. This time he didn't pull away as he had the only other time they had shared a hug like this, and privately she was extremely pleased. But soon she disengaged from the hug and fixed him with her sternest gaze, not glare, but gaze. "Now that I've shared its your turn."
Beast Boy heard Raven's words and acknowledged them with a nod of his head before standing up and turning away from her as he began to pace while gather his thoughts. Suddenly he couldn't take it anymore and simply blurted it out. "I'm leaving."
"You're what?" Raven was shocked by Beast Boy's pronouncement.
Now that it was out in the open Beast Boy found that it was easier to talk about it. "I'm leaving the Titans for a while."
"Why?" he heard a plaintive tone in her voice and winced. He hated causing that kind of uncertainty in Raven, and he knew that she hated feeling that kind of uncertainity. But he knew that she deserved answers and he needed her understanding if he were to be able to go through with his plans.
"Recently I've been...out of balance, maybe even a little unhinged though you couldn't tell it." With a hint of self-depreciating sarcasm he summed it up in a single sentence. "It's my turn to have to past come back to haunt me."
Raven was confused. Beast Boy never spoke of his past true, but then few of the Titans did. Of all the Titans however she never would have pegged Beast Boy as having a past that could haunt him or the others. "What do you mean?"
Once again showing a self-depreciating smile, a smile Raven was quickly coming to hate, he answered. "I've had things happen to me and those around me in the past, but rather than dealing with those issues I've supressed them. Everything about them, including the memories. Only now, I've had everything dragged up from the depths and shoved in my face. And I can't suprress it anymore, and I can't get my head straightened out here. I've gotta go out, away from the Titans and pretty much everyone in general, and figure things out. Otherwise I feel like I'm going to go crazy."
Raven didn't quite know what she was feeling at the moment. She wanted Garfield (how quickly she had taken to using that name for him) to stay, to let her and the others help, but she also understood that there are some things that you have to do for yourself. By yourself. Apparently this was one of those things. So..."Take care of yourself then Garfield. And you'd better come back in one piece or," she grinned deviously, "I'll rip your spine out and beat you to death with it."
Beast Boy smiled and nodded even as he proceeded to joke with her about her threat, something only he had the balls to do (or perhaps he was just the only one crazy enough to do it). "What, no threats to send me to some sort of hellish alternate dimension?"
"No," her voice was deadpan, "You've already met my father."
Beast Boy couldn't help it and cracked up. Raven allowed herself a small smile as she watched her friend laugh and realized why he was always trying to make her laugh. It made you feel good inside when somebody laughed at your jokes.
When Beast Boy caught his breath he looked up at Raven and smiled s small, genuine smile at her. "Thanks Raven, for everything."
"Anytime Garfield. Anytime."
Of course the two could never have a moment without it being interrupted or ruined, and this time it was Cyborg that did it as his cry of "They're LEAVING!" floated into Raven's room. This caused her to look at Beast Boy in a sort of shocked disbelief. "You haven't told him yet?"
All Beast Boy could do was laugh sheepishly.
The next morning the Titans had gathered outside the Tower with their bags as Cyborg locked the place up tight. With three of his team members leaving for an unspecified amount of time and one of them in the midst of experiencing an emotional upheavel (Robin still wanted to kick himself for not noticing Raven's problems dealing with her emotions now that she was finally free to feel them) Robin had made the call that the Titans would, for a period of six months, disband while everyone dealt with their personal issues. None of the Titans had offered much protest since even Raven admitted, if only to herself, that the time off would do everyone some good.
Somehow they had all managed to be up and outside, dressed in civilian clothes (or disguised by a new pair of holo-rings in Cyborg's case) and carrying a small duffel bag full of clothes each, before sunrise. Silently they stood together and watched the sunrise before each leaving the island. During this entire time not a word was said, not even a goodbye. After all, goodbyes weren't needed. They'd all be coming home in six months time, no matter what happened during their time apart.