Chapter 1: Shock
"Mors venit velociter quae neminem veretur."
I never thought I would be here. Somehow I was idealistic or naïve enough to believe I would go through life without experiencing the lingering numbness that accompanies loss and sorrow. I suppose I figured I was above it all, that I was too powerful to be defeated. After all, heroes don't fail; they come through when it matters most and rescue those in need. But it was different this time. The enemy was too swift to be detected and too destructive to be contained. I was brought to my knees before I had a chance to throw a punch and now I'm sitting here with nothing but regrets and 'what-ifs' for company.
I dig my foot into the beige carpeting and gnash it around roughly, paying particular attention to the gold-trimmed floral border. The more I study it—its roses bent slightly to the right, its lilies wide, staring skyward—the deeper in thought I sink. How could I have been so blind? So stupid? How could I have neglected to look at the most obvious causes and the most direct leads? I always knew this day could come… Why wasn't I more prepared?
Shadows dance along my line of sight, spilling across the floor like ink over a canvas. My eyes pull to a group of men and women walking to a large room opposite me. Some acknowledge me with a curt nod; others pay no mind. As they enter, they are immediately greeted and received by the sizable throng gathered inside. Mingling in clusters, they speak in hushed tones; I cannot hear what they are saying, but their expressions—some smiling broadly, others weeping openly—help fill in the blanks. I look on until my interest in their conversations is outweighed by guilt and remorse, which creeps through my veins and settles like tar in the pit of my gut. For an instant, I feel sick, like the contents of my stomach are about to be strewn across the floor. Fortunately, the feeling subsides. Unfortunately, my unfocused mind is blitzed by a deluge of unbidden thoughts and recollections. I bury my head in my hands, digging my fingertips into my forehead hoping the discomfort will serve as a point of concentration. Again, it doesn't help.
Memories are funny things. Life is but a series of moments linked together in sequential order. The majority of these are too mundane to warrant recognition; so camouflaged by the commonplace that it is near impossible to distinguish one from the next. Yet, there are certain events that are so impacting and momentous that we remember everything down to the slightest detail.
In my case, this occurred a week ago. I was putting a crumb-covered, yolk-smeared plate into the sink when the phone rang. Undeterred, I turned on the tap and began drawing dishwater before I grabbed a hand-towel, patted my hands dry, and answered. I immediately recognized the voice on the other end as Raven's. She said she had something important to tell me. At the time, I thought nothing of it. I figured she was going to fill me in on how the family was doing in Africa. I was wrong.
"You may want to sit down, Victor."
Once I heard my name, I knew whatever she was about to tell me wasn't good. I braced myself against the kitchen counter, watching the steam rise from the basin like a ghost to the heavens.
"What is it, Raven?"
She drew a breath to speak, but hesitated.
"It's Gar…" Her voice quavered uncharacteristically, "He's…"
She fell silent, unable to finish. She didn't need to. I had known Raven long enough to understand her verbal cues. She was always even-keeled and rarely, if ever, flustered. Only tragedy could explain why her words would fall so heavily laden with emotion. I dropped the phone to the floor; it smashed against the linoleum, cracking the receiver. The dishwater overflowed. I sank to the floor, entirely numb. It was as though my world stood on the head of a pin and one wrong move would send everything tumbling down. For the longest time, I stared ahead at my kitchen wall, trying to make sense of it all.
It's terrible to say, but the first thing I felt after the initial shock evaporated was anger. I had a million questions and no answers. I had innumerable worst-case scenarios race through my mind and no way to disprove them. I wanted to know what happened to Beast Boy. Heroes don't simply fall. Especially not one of his caliber. Something…or someone caused his death. I paced back and forth, inconsolable. At times, I broke down; a memory would sneak up on me and my tears would freely flow. Then, a maelstrom of frustration and anger would rise within me. I punched holes in my walls and battered my fists against the floor. I wanted someone to blame. I wanted someone to suffer like I was suffering and I wanted to put all of my hurt and pain into them. For a few days, I seethed. I held on to every negative thought that crossed my mind. I guess staying angry was easier than confronting the harsh reality of it all: My best friend was gone and there was nothing I could do about it.
When Raven stopped by, my anger faded. My eyes met hers and I saw anguish roiling within them. If anyone knew what I was feeling, it was her. Without a word, she wrapped me in her arms and held me as I cried.
"Thank you, Cyborg. I'm sorry, too. Your loss is just as great as mine."
I invited her in and she took a seat at the kitchen table as I put a kettle of water on the stove. She looked around the room—at the holes in the walls and the piles of drywall debris piled beneath them—but did not say a word.
"I didn't take it well." I said.
"That is partially my fault." She rasped. "You deserved to find out in person. I shouldn't have told you over the phone. That was distasteful of me."
"It's okay. You were halfway across the world when this happened and I'm sure you were just as upset as I was. Besides, you had Mark to think of. He comes first in all of this. It's not easy to lose a parent, especially at his age. How's he holding up, anyway?"
She glanced down at the table and ran her fingers over the wood's glossy veneer. I slid her cup of tea in front of her and took a seat.
"Not well. He hasn't spoken much to me or anyone. I think he is still in shock…"
My heart sank, anchored by the notion of a fourteen year-old left to face the world without his father, with whom he was especially close.
"Raven… I don't know if it is right for me to ask, but… what happened?"
She took a sip of her tea and placed the cup back on the table, holding it with both hands.
"At first we didn't know. Gar had been getting headaches regularly for a couple of months. At first it was maybe once a week, but they became more frequent. He always just shook them off and said 'It's nothing. I'm okay.' Around the same time, I noticed that he was sleeping more. He was tired all of the time. He would work with the villagers—digging wells, building homes, things of that sort—and he would come home and pass out on the couch. I figured maybe he was just working too hard… pushing himself too much. We're not kids anymore, after all."
I nodded in agreement, thinking of how swiftly the years had passed. It seemed like just yesterday we were the Teen Titans, fighting to protect Jump City from criminals. It was hard to believe that over twenty years had gone by since then.
"The night it happened was like any other. Gar came home looking absolutely terrible. I asked if he was okay, but he just told me not to worry. At dinner, he barely ate. After, he said he was going to lie down for a while. After an hour or so, I asked Mark to see if Gar needed anything... and that's when…"
She trailed off. She brought her cup of tea to her lips as a tear slid down her cheek and onto the table.
"The coroner's office told me that all results were inconclusive…until the bloodwork came back in. The medical examiner told me that Gar's DNA unraveled, that the amino acid chains themselves deteriorated. He said the frequent headaches were a result of his central nervous system not getting enough oxygen-rich blood and that this also led to his bouts with exhaustion. He said that Gar probably fell asleep and slipped into a coma before he died. He also mentioned that it was highly irregular for someone with a degenerative disorder not to seek immediate medical attention after experiencing chronic pain and fatigue…"
Instantly, I felt hollow. I thought that hearing the details would bring me a sense of closure. All it did, though, was make both Raven and I feel helpless. As silence settled between us like an unwelcome guest, I wondered if there was something I could have done. Maybe, had been there to catch it in time, I could have worked toward a cure or at the very least a way to abate the ill effects. As I glanced across the table at Raven, I could tell she was torturing herself in a similar manner, wondering whether she could have saved Beast Boy's life.
She stayed with me for a long while, through half a dozen cups of tea and hours of reminiscing. We talked about Beast Boy and about life. We laughed from time to time, recalling fond memories. At times, we choked up, on the verge of tears. Before she left, she asked if I would feel comfortable serving as a pallbearer and saying a few words at the service. I accepted without a second thought.
Now though, as I find myself sitting in a Victorian-style armchair in the foyer of the funeral parlor, it occurs to me that I have no idea how to deal with this entire situation. Everyone is out of sorts, emotionally ravaged, or hiding their pain behind a smile. Though I know what caused Beast Boy's death, I have barely begun to come to terms with the prospect of life without him. My profound sadness is rivaled only by the remnants of bitterness and resentment that I feel toward the Powers that Be. How can I hope to assuage the pain of others when I feel like an emotional vortex? How can I stand before so many as a pillar of strength when I can't even bring myself to approach the casket? Part of me wants to turn tail and run, but I know that people are counting on me to be reliable and composed. To honor Beast Boy and the promise I made to Raven, I must stay. For the first time in my life, I must look death square in the face and declare that I have no fear. For the first time in my life, I must acknowledge my own mortality to make sense of a tragedy.
A/N: Hello everyone. I'm back for the moment. I felt compelled to write this piece for cathartic purposes. I have been going through some personal stuff lately and I suppose that is where this comes from. I plan on this story being short, maybe two to three more chapters, each about this length. Normally, I would make this a one-shot, but since I am working seven days a week, keeping the chapters short helps me stay focused and motivated, so I hope that no one minds too much. As this is my first published piece in about six months (and the first set in story format in about eight to ten months) honest and candid feedback is welcomed and appreciated. Thanks, as always, for reading!