Chapter 3: Chasing a Shadow
"The hardest thing to govern is the heart..."
For the longest while, I sit motionless, numb; unsure of what to do or how to move forward. In my time, I have experienced great sorrow and yet I still feel entirely unprepared to cope with the loss of my best friend. As I look back on years past, I am only reminded of the memories we shared, the things we'd done, and all the times we helped one another navigate the often perilous landscape of life. While these memories make me smile for an instant, once that moment has past I feel worse than before; after all, how can I know for certain that my best days aren't behind me?
As I lift my gaze from the ground, I see him from the edge of my vision: Mark. He is sitting on a wooden bench down the hall, his charcoal suit looking too big for his body. His hands are folded under his chin as he stares vacantly at the carpet, seemingly entranced by it. His shoulders slumped forward, he pays no attention to the scores of people filing passed him. Some pause for a moment, realizing who he is and what he has lost. They offer words of comfort, words of reassurance; empty platitudes to a fourteen-year old whose life has changed forever. Like his father, he is not unkind; he flashes a brief smile, nods in acknowledgement, and offers a nigh-inaudible "thank you" in response, but from where I sit I can tell he feels imprisoned, bound by obligation and social convention.
Without a second thought, I move toward him. Before I know what to say, I find myself standing beside him. I open my mouth, prepared to say something both uplifting and soothing, but silence prevails. Defeated, I thrust my hands into my jacket pockets and lean against the wall.
"Hey Mark." I barely manage.
"Hey Uncle Cy."
"How are you holding up?"
I swallow hard, hoping to drown the butterflies flitting around in my stomach.
"What brings you out here? I'm sure there are a lot of people who would like to talk to you."
"Yeah, I know. I talked to Aunt Star and Uncle Robin for a bit, but when all of these people started to show up, Mom needed them. It's okay; I kinda wanted to be alone anyways."
"I know how you feel." I remark. Losing someone you love is painful enough without the unease of hundreds of pairs of eyes fixed on you in sympathy. "I've never really cared for these things… Do you want to go for a walk? Maybe get some air?"
He turned to me with a brightness in his eyes.
He stands, buttons his jacket, and together we step outside, squinting as our eyes adjust from the dim light of the funeral parlor to the radiance of the sun. We exchange a quizzical glance; neither of us entirely sure of where to go or what to do next. I gesture for him to lead on. We walk down the front steps and sidewalk to a small gazebo sitting under a canopy of silver maple trees. Neither of us speaks. The sharp clack of our footfalls against the concrete and the rustle of the leaves in the breeze fills the void. I look to Mark; he stares off, studying the buildings nearby.
"Did I ever tell you about the time your father and I got sucked into your mom's meditation mirror?" My words stir him from his reverie and his eyes pull to me. "He managed—as only he could—to irritate your mother and he went to her room to apologize; I just happened to be there to make sure he went through with it."
At that, he smiled.
"Well, we ended up getting into her room, getting sucked into her mirror, and having to endure all of these weird—but nonetheless deadly—trials to free ourselves. That was the first time I ever saw your Mom and Dad share a sincere moment together, where they weren't bickering or getting on each other's nerves. That day, they developed a newfound respect for one another and I am proud to be able to say that I was there to witness it."
"Really?" His brow furrows incredulously. "I've never seen Mom and Dad argue…or even disagree."
"Well, this was years ago… In what seemed like an instant to the rest of us, your Mom and Dad went from barely being able to be in the same room, to respecting one another, to enjoying each other's company, to liking one another, and then to falling in love. If you would have told me when I first met both of them that they would wind up getting married, I would have laughed you out of the state."
"What changed?" He asks, shifting in his seat, leaning forward.
"That's hard to say." I quickly think of a way to tell the story without revealing too much. "After your Mom's sixteenth birthday, she changed quite a bit...mainly for the better. She had greater control over her emotions and a higher tolerance for your Father's antics; I think she started seeing the sweetness behind them rather than judging them at face value."
Mark nods, a wide grin spread across his face, as though visions of Beast Boy pulling pranks on Raven are percolating through his mind. "What about Dad? How did he change?"
At that, I can't help but laugh.
"Well, I think things were a little bit different for him. For your Dad, I think the feelings were always there. I believe he always cared for her. I think the greatest factor for him was emotional maturity. There were times that…to me, anyway…he tried to hard. He wanted her to notice him and to like him, but he didn't always go about it the right way. As time went on, though, I think he started to understand that there were times that she needed her space…and times when she needed him desperately. Once he figured how to tell the difference, they became inseparable."
Silence falls between us.
"Inseparable…" He whispers, his smile fading. It is then that I realize that I may have unwittingly poured salt into an open wound. He covers his face with his hands, shielding himself from me.
"I'm sorry." I offer sliding over more closely to him. I throw an arm over his shoulders. "I… I didn't mean to…"
He breathes in and out heavily a few times attempting to hold back his tears before burying his head into my shoulder and sobbing softly.
"It's okay…It's okay…" It becomes my mantra. I say it over and over as I hold him tightly, trying to convince myself it's true. "Everything'll be alright."
As I hold him, everything within me cries out. My grief is like a river flowing over a cataract; it appears under control when, in fact, it is as unstable as the cataract itself. My human eye stings and wells with tears. It takes all of my strength to hold myself together.
"Don't worry, Uncle Cy." Mark says, his voice still trembling. "I'm fine…really. In fact, this is the first normal conversation I've had since…" He couldn't bring himself to say it. "F-for a while…"
I take a deep breath and clear my throat. "We can talk about whatever you'd like."
He bites his lower lip as his eyes narrow in concentration.
"There is something I want to talk about…" He manages. "But I want you to promise me something first…"
"No matter how upset I get…" He looks up at me, his eyes still red from crying. "Please, just stay and hear me out. Everyone—even Mom—has been walking on eggshells around me. Everyone keeps telling me how sorry they are for me and covering up how they really feel with a fake smile. I know they mean well… But if I'm going to get through this, I need to talk about it… not avoid it."
"You have my word."
"Ok…" He wipes his eyes with his shirtsleeves and nods approvingly. "Here goes. Do you think that my Dad stopped being a hero because of me?"
"What? That's crazy. What put that idea in your head?"
"Well," He draws out the word as he forms his thoughts. "It's just a feeling I get from some people, I guess. You know, they way they look at me and the way I feel when they look at me. It's like…" He falls silent, dropping his gaze to the floor.
He stands and walks over to the other side of the gazebo. For a second, I wonder if he is about to leave and consider going after him, but instead, he leans against the railing and looks out at the skyline. After a minute or two, he turns back to me.
"Like…Here was my Father, Beast Boy—a remarkable superhero—and here is the untalented, ordinary son that he gave up crime-fighting for. I dunno… it's just…" He pauses and runs his fingers through his hair. "I can't help thinking that my Father gave up something he really loved too soon because I came along… That he gave up being a hero and disappointed everyone who was counting on him for someone like me…"
"Someone… like you?"
"You know…" He rolls his eyes as if the answer is obvious. "Someone normal…a nobody…"
"Don't talk like that, Mark." I say a bit more harshly than I originally intend. "Never say something like that!"
"Why? You know it's true. Everyone knows it's true. All my life I've heard stories from people all over the world about things Dad did—how he helped them, how he saved them—and all of the stories end the same way… With the sheer joy of the person remembering the event being replaced with the gut-wrenching reality that Dad was retired and I was the reason why."
"C'mon, you know that's not true."
"Why sugarcoat it, Uncle Cy? No one wanted Dad to quit. He was great at what he did. He made a difference. He helped people. What am I? I look a bit like him, I guess but I don't have powers. I can't save the world. I'm not a hero. No matter how hard I try, I'll never be like Dad…"
I stand, walk to him, and put a hand on his shoulder.
"He never wanted you to be…"
His expression fades like footprints in the sand at high tide.
"You weren't this burden to your mother and father. You weren't some cross to bear. You were—and still are—their world. Gar especially. You'll appreciate this a bit more when you're older, but let me tell you… people's recollections of things grow particularly favorable with age. I think that people look back to a specific time and only see the good… Was your Dad a great hero? Absolutely. No question. Did he help and save a lot of people. You betcha. The real question you should ask yourself is this: Was he happy?"
Mark's face is a blank slate; he listens intently, however, taking in every word.
"At first? For sure." I continue. "When he was your age and we had just formed the team, crime-fighting was a thrill. Heroism was great fun. He was good at it and it was something that he enjoyed doing… But he had already been doing it for so long… since he was nine or ten… that by the time he was in his early twenties, he wanted to settle down. He wanted out. I think when you came along, the timing worked out just right..."
"Then why do people look at me like I am the biggest disappointment since McDonald's got rid of the McRib?"
Despite the gravity of the moment, I laugh heartily. He may not have BB's powers, but his jokes are way better.
"I think people have a very lofty notion of what being a hero is like. They think it is great—that it's easy and the perks of the job make it lucrative. All they see is the media attention, the accolades, the fans…. They only see the good things. They don't understand what it is like out of the public eye. The high-intensity training, the sleep deprivation, the loneliness, the uncertainty—not knowing if you'll come back home after the next battle. For people who only see the positives, understanding why or how someone could just give it up is difficult."
"I never thought of it that way." He admits, shaking his head. "I guess I don't even understand how Dad could just give it up… Everyone wants superpowers… Everyone wants to be special…to be admired…"
Before his waxes philosophical and gets too nostalgic, I cut him off.
"It's easy to wish things were different; people without powers wish that they were superheroes but most of their dreams are self-centered or short-term. They don't see the bigger picture. They don't understand that, if you are using your powers for the good of mankind, it isn't a fairytale. You wouldn't believe it, necessarily, but there isn't a hero out there who doesn't—at least from time to time—dream of being normal. Besides… Your Dad didn't quit; he just changed venues."
His brow furrows. "What do you mean?"
"Well," I sit down and gesture for him to join me. "Sure, Gar wasn't a Titan anymore. But a few times a year we still called on both him and your Mom to help us with missions. They were both still affiliated with the Justice League. Outside of that, your Dad did a lot of very important work in Africa. It may not have been the sort of thing that makes the front page of the paper, but ridding regions of warlords and militants and making improvements to the nation's infrastructure is no small task. Make no mistake, he saved lives everyday."
Mark smiles wide, his expression swimming with pride.
"When you put it that way…it makes a lot of sense." He shrugs his shoulders. "I guess it was easy for me to overlook it because…well, what he was doing just seemed normal to me. It was just his daily routine. Everyone was always grateful for his help…"
I nod in agreement.
"If people don't understand why Gar moved to Africa and dropped out of the public eye, then they weren't that close to him. If they suggest that you are to blame, then they REALLY didn't know him. He would have gotten very upset if someone ever said something like that to him…"
I turn to Mark, making sure I have his complete, undivided attention.
"Look, Mark," I state directly. "Your Dad wanted you to find your own path, your own place in the world. He didn't want you to follow in his footsteps. He didn't want you to constantly compare yourself to him. He just wanted you to be happy. He wanted you to have a happy childhood; the childhood he didn't get to have. Most of all, though, he didn't want you to have any doubts…"
"His priorities." I feel myself choking up, me emotions getting the better of me. "You were second to nothing. If something would have happened to you or your Mom, he never would have forgiven himself. You were more important to him than anything, Mark. And I know for a fact that he was proud of you"
At that, he begins to cry. He buries his face in his hands and for the first time all day—and probably since Gar's passing—he doesn't try to hold back his tears. I pull him close. Eventually, he pulls himself together and dries his eyes with his sleeve. The sun, which hid behind the clouds momentarily, reemerged. The breeze, which to that point had calmed, picks up once more; its warmth soothes us as the branches of the trees around us dance and sway in response. The world, which seemed subdued, brightens before our eyes. For the longest time, neither of us say a word.
"I'm really gonna miss him…" Mark murmurs weakly. He stares straight ahead, his eyes misty. I pull him close.
"Me too, kiddo." I reply, my voice an echo of itself. In an instant, all of the years spent with Beast Boy filter through my mind. I think of first time we met and how he helped me overcome how I felt about my cybernetic parts. I think of the night the Beast first emerged and how scared I was of losing him. I think of the silly things we did—playing videogames until 3 a.m. and holding stankball tournaments. His marriage to Raven… Mark's Birth… and on and on…
Tears come to my eyes again.
A/N: Well, this has certainly been a long time coming. I have had a difficult time getting myself motivate to write as of late; it seems every time I sit down, I can't keep myself focused. Hopefully this installment didn't seem too rushed or disjointed. Please, as always, tell me what you think.
Also, a big thanks goes out to Sir Alwick for this chapter. His most recent story, "All Beast Boy Wants" helped me get back in the mood to write this chapter. Go to his page and check it out!
Anyway, until next time, thank you for reading!