Special thanks to Tarah21300 for reading this before I posted it and providing some very helpful feedback. The story is better because of it.
Disclaimer: I do not own Teen Titans.
His head hurt.
That was the first thing that occurred to Beastboy.
It was not a thought. The incessant pounding precluded thought. It was simply his existence. His head hurt. A painful staccato played inside his skull, unforgivably bright and sharp behind his closed eyes. He lay there, not moving, not thinking, barely breathing, hoping it would go away, that the concussive symphony in his mind would end.
He lay there for a long time. Eventually, though, he began to notice other things, his dim awareness the first indication that the pain was receding at a glacier's pace to simply excruciating. The thoughts were simple at first, little more than raw sensory perception. His head still hurt. His eyes were closed. He was on his back and something hard was digging into his left hip. He was nauseated, his stomach pitching and roiling like a ship tossed into a hurricane. He was cold; goosebumps pimpled his flesh. It was quiet, even to his sensitive ears, but perhaps the continued pounding drowned out external noise. His mouth was foul with a vile, unfamiliar flavor. The pungent aroma of blood hung in the air. His head still hurt.
He forced his eyelids open, squinting against the sudden invasion of light. Not electric light, not daylight. The moon. From it's high perch, nestled in the twinkling stars, the bright lunar eye shone down, it's penetrating gaze piercing the feeble cover of the bare, black branches that clawed upwards into the night.
Beastboy carefully sat up and glanced at the trees around him. It was a small forest or a large grove, he wasn't sure which. There was no one else in sight. Beyond the trunks he could see what he hoped was Jump City shining in the distance. He was at least a couple of miles away, with no clue how or when he had gotten there.
He groped in his pocket, his hands searching for his communicator before his mind even thought to want it. It wasn't there. The pocket was barely there. His uniform was in tatters, shredded beyond recognition. What remained was covered in a thick, dark mess that was just beginning to harden. Blood. Blood everywhere. It crusted his skin as well. He stared blankly down at his hands, pressed the tip of his middle finger to the pad of his thumb and drew them apart, felt the congealing liquid tug at his skin as it reluctantly released it's sticky grip. He repeated the action, mesmerized, until a thought penetrated the dull fog of pain which clouded his wits; the blood came from somewhere.
He started with his head, gently running his hands along his scalp, certain that the pain and the blood must be connected. He checked his chest, his arms, his legs. His body was covered in scrapes and small cuts and bruises, but nothing that explained the copious blood. His hands moved up his throat, his chin, his mouth, encountering more blood but still no wound. With a shudder he understood the rancid taste in his mouth. His seeking hands reached his nose, also caked in blood.. Beyond it, though, above it, the upper part of his face and head were relatively clean, with only a few stray spatters. He reached to the back of his neck, craned his head to look at the back of his uniform. Those areas, too, were free of blood.
He raised his hands, stared at them, idly wondering if it was possible to lose that much blood in a nosebleed. It was the only explanation that made sense to his confused mind. If it was possible, though, it wasn't good. Loss of consciousness and memory, the intense pain, the cloudy head, the heaving stomach, it all pointed to something seriously wrong. He needed help.
Cradling his head with one hand, Beastboy stood. He used the trees around him for support and staggered to the edge of the grove. He leaned against a trunk, marshaling his strength, trying to clear his mind, before stepping away and morphing into an owl. The change came slowly, reluctantly, his body rebelling against the act. The pounding in his skull increased tempo. He stood a few moments more, a groggy green owl swaying precariously on the ground, before he took off, sluggishly winging his way home.
Beastboy stumbled through the automatic doors of the living room, exhausted. The morphing had been more difficult than usual, slower to respond, harder to maintain. The effort intensified the pain, deepening the pounding rhythm.
He flopped onto the couch, leaning his head onto the armrest. Rest. That's what he needed, a respite from the pain, the nausea, the fatigue. He closed his eyes, melting into himself, floating on the edge of dream...
Robin's gonna freak if I get blood on the couch.
Beastboy's eyes snapped open, the stray thought snatching him back to reality. The blood. He needed help, needed to figure out where it came from, what was wrong.
He sat back up, taking note of his surroundings for the first time. There was a cold drink on the coffee table, beads of water clinging to the sides. The television was on, volume turned low. A half-eaten plate of something was on the kitchen table. The dishwasher door hung open, the top basket pulled out, still mostly full with clean dishes.
They had left in a hurry, that much was obvious. But why, and to where? Beastboy thought hard, tried to concentrate, to remember, but came up blank. He needed his friends.
He grabbed the remote, intending to activate the main communications console. He pointed it at the screen, but stopped before pressing any buttons. His attention now focused, he finally began to hear and see what was on the television.
There was a pretty, brunette woman in a pants suit, her over-styled hair waving in the breeze. In one hand she held a microphone. The words "Breaking News" scrolled across the bottom of the screen.
"...just received word that one of the Titans, the young woman known to us as Raven, is unconscious, but her condition has been upgraded to stable. She will remain at Jump City Municipal Hospital, where she is being treated for multiple gunshot wounds."
Beastboy's mouth dropped open, a stream of questions parading through his mind. Raven got shot? She's in the hospital? He was frozen, hand still holding the remote pointed at the screen. It took the sound of his own name to shake him from his stupor.
"...Beastboy's whereabouts are still unknown. If anyone has any information regarding his location, they are advised to contact Jump City Police Department immediately."
He tossed the remote back onto the coffee table and stood up. The hospital. Raven's in the hospital. I bet the rest of the team is there, too. They're probably worried about me. He started towards the exit, intent on joining his team so he could check on Raven and let them know that he was ok, maybe even get checked out himself, get something for the pain in his head. He turned back to the television for a moment, curious if there would be any more information forthcoming. It was a decision he would regret for the rest of his life.
"...an amateur home video of the attack. Parents, be advised that it is very graphic in nature."
The woman disappeared from the screen and was replaced by a less clear shot. It was a little dark, and the whole frame jumped and shook, obviously held by an unsteady hand, but none of that diminished the impact of the bloody, gory affair.
Beastboy stood in shocked silence, unable to tear his gaze from the screen, from the screaming and running and blood. Lots of blood. From somewhere deep within himself, he heard the echo of a primal, victorious roar that threatened to split his head, blasting it with searing pain, the churning of his stomach coming to a boil. The video was short, the amateur cameraman lasting less than a minute before turning and running. As soon as it was over, Beastboy did the same. He sprang towards the kitchen, barely managing to make it to the sink before vomiting.
Once the heaving finally stopped, he opened his eyes, dragging the back of his hand across his mouth, and saw the contents of the sink that had just moments before been the contents of his stomach.
That's when he passed out.
Beastboy collapsed into the cheap, cushioned chair. He leaned his elbows onto his knees and cradled his head in his hands, breathing fast and hard. Had anyone walked into the hospital room at that moment, they would have thought he was a patient out of bed instead of a reluctant visitor.
Earlier, when he had awoken, there were a precious few seconds when everything had been forgotten, when he was himself again, wondering why he had fallen asleep on the kitchen floor. It didn't last long. His memory was quickly restored by the renewed pounding in his head and the continued news report on the television. That one moment of remembering, of resurrected disgust and shame and self-loathing and pain, was one of the worst moments of his short life. A frenzy had descended on him; he ripped the remains of his uniform off and frantically scrubbed his skin raw in a scalding shower. The hot water had actually helped a little, easing the pain in his head and giving him something else to focus on.
Whatever solace he had found, though, was lost on his slow trip across the city. The pain came back with screaming ferocity when he morphed into a hawk to get to the hospital, and had intensified even more when he changed into a fly to infiltrate the hallways.
Now he sat in a 9th floor hospital room, trying to slow his breathing and force the pain away. After a few more minutes, he mastered himself enough to raise his head and look around the room.
It was plain and boring, the walls painted pale green. Like all hospitals, it had the stale smell of antiseptic and alcohol, though Beastboy could detect the scents underneath, the aromas to which a normal person would be oblivious, the reek of blood and urine and sepsis and suffering and death. He hated hospitals.
There wasn't much to the small room. A large window that overlooked the street. A dresser, a couple of chairs, a television mounted on the wall, the various instruments and machines used by the doctors. And a bed...
Beastboy stood and stepped slowly over to the bed, staring down at its occupant. Raven floated a few inches above the mattress, her eyes closed. Someone had pulled a sheet across her, covering her from the neck down. It hung over her sides, giving her an odd, ghostly appearance. Her hands were folded neatly on top of the sheet across her abdomen. The overwhelming silence in the room was broken only by the steady beepbeep of the heart monitor.
Beastboy, his voice ragged, whispered, "Hey, Rae. I guess it's been a pretty rough day, huh?" He paused for a moment, as if waiting for a response, and then continued. "Yeah, that's kinda an understatement."
He took a step closer to the bed. "Um, I-I'm sorry you got hurt. I know you'd say I'm bein' stupid, and that is wasn't my fault and all, but I'm still sorry. I kinda... I kinda wish it had been me instead, ya know?"
He reached a tentative hand out and placed it on hers, squeezing gently. "I really wish I could be here when you wake up, just so I know you're gonna be ok. But I won't be. I have to go away for awhile, Rae. I, uh, I don't know how much you saw after you got hurt, but..." He trailed off, swallowing heavily. "You know that thing we talked about once, that thing inside me? Well, it got out again. And it... it made me..."
He had to stop, had to steel himself to the truth he was about to admit. He took a deep, shuddering breath, tightening his grip on her hand. "I did something, Raven. Something bad. And now I have to go someplace where I can try to get control of it." His eyes and voice hardened. "I can't let it take over again. Never again. I-"
The door opened, cutting him off mid-sentence. He jumped away from Raven, dropping her hand, and jerked his head around, the sudden movement deepening the dull thudding in his skull. A nurse stood frozen in the doorway. He watched as her wide, scared eyes scanned his fangs, his ears, his green skin. Slowly, she backed out of the room and closed the door again.
He stared at the door for a moment, then turned to the bed and stepped closer. "She's probably calling the cops. I guess I better get goin'."
He took two steps away from the bed, stopped walking, and then moved back to her side and leaned close. "I don't know if you can hear me right now, Rae, but I hope you can. Would you do me one favor? I know it won't change anything, but... I'm sorry for what I did. For what I am. Would you tell everyone that I said that?" He gave her hand one last, soft squeeze. "Goodbye, Raven."
"You know, you could just tell us yourself."
Beastboy closed his eyes and took a deep breath, releasing Raven's hand and turning towards the doorway. "I wasn't really planning on seeing anyone else, Cy. How did you get here so quick?"
The cybernetic teen stood leaning casually against the wall next to the door. "We've been searching the whole city for you. I was taking a break to come by and check on Raven. When I got off the elevator I heard the nurse on the phone telling the police you're here. So you were just gonna take off without even telling your best friend?"
Beastboy shrugged nervously. "I didn't want to have to fight anyone."
"Fight? Why would we fight you, BB? We've all been worried sick about you."
With a bitter snort, Beastboy replied, "Oh, yeah, that sounds just like Robin. I remember how worried he was last time. Did he give you the speech? The whole 'I know he's our friend but we have to do our duty blah blah blah' speech?"
Cyborg stood straight and took a step towards Beastboy, glaring at him. "Screw Robin and screw his speech. You're my friend, and right now my only 'duty' is to you."
The two boys stared at one another until Beastboy broke eye contact, ducking his head and shoving his hands into his pockets. "Thanks, Cy."
"Don't mention it, man."
They lapsed into a short, awkward silence. Finally, Cyborg spoke. "So, you ready to head back to the tower so I can check you out?"
"No." Beastboy shook his head. "I can't go back, I can't stay in the city."
"BB, I know you're scared right now, but running away isn't going to fix this."
"Damn right I'm scared, Cyborg! You should be, too, after what I did to that guy."
Cyborg opened his mouth to respond, but hesitated. He watched his friend carefully, asking, "How much of it do you remember?"
Beastboy sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Not much, really. A few flashes, some screams, that's about it. But...I saw it, Cy. On the news. Someone had a video camera. I saw what that thing... what I... did to that poor guy."
"That 'poor guy' was a criminal who had just pumped three into Raven."
"And that makes it ok? Yeah, the guy was scum, but what I did-"
"BB, it wasn't-"
"I threw up. After I saw the news, I threw up in the sink, Cy." Beastboy appeared as if he would be sick again at the memory, his skin turning pale. "I'm a vegetarian because I don't like to hurt anyone, not even animals. But what I saw..." He shuddered in revulsion.
Cyborg placed a sympathetic hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Beastboy, I really am. You are the last person that should have to go through something like that. Look, why don't we just head back to the tower, let me scan you, and see if I can come up with a better antidote this time?"
Beastboy shrugged off the hand, shaking his head. "No, Cyborg. There's not going to be an antidote for this. We were stupid to think there would be. It's not a disease or a poison. It's something inside of me. It's a part of who I am. I have to go somewhere else, someplace where there's nobody to get hurt and I can learn to control it."
"BB, that's not-"
"What would you do, Cy? What would you do if your arm cannon thingy messed up and someone got hurt?"
Cyborg blinked, as if the question had never occurred to him. "I don't know. I guess I would take it offline until I could figure out the problem and fix it."
"Exactly. That's what I'm trying to do. But this isn't some gadget I can just turn off. It's part of me. I can feel it. Ever since I woke up, I can feel that thing inside me, pounding inside my head, trying to get out. When I morph, it's like having to wrestle for control of my own body. Its trying to take over, Cy, and I don't know how long I can fight it. I have to be someplace where it can't hurt anyone if it gets loose, at least until I can get it under control." A look of iron determination flashed on his face. "I won't hurt anyone again. Never again."
Cyborg watched the changeling, his best friend and teammate, carefully. Finally, shaking his head, he let out a long breath. "Alright, BB. If that's what you need to do, I won't try to stop you."
Cyborg fisted his hand and raised it towards the changeling. "You are gonna keep in touch, though, right buddy?"
Beastboy knocked his smaller fist against it. "That might be kinda tough. I sorta lost my communicator."
Cyborg grinned as he opened a compartment on his arm and handed something to his friend. "I guess it's a good thing that I always carry an extra, then, huh?"
Beastboy managed a weak chuckle. "Yep, good thing."
"Yeah... I guess I better be going now."
Beastboy started walking for the door, but was stopped when Cyborg reached out an arm and pulled him into a hug. "Take care of yourself, grass stain. You're the only best friend I've got."
Beastboy hugged him back, then pushed himself free and swiped at his eyes. "You hug like a trash compactor. You squeezed my eye-juice out."
Cyborg laughed and let him go. Beastboy smiled, his first in what felt like years, and turned towards the door. Before he could reach the handle, though, it swung open on its own. There, standing in the doorway and blocking the animorph's exit, was Robin.
The Boy Wonder held his staff across his tense body, eyes quickly scanning the room before landing on Beastboy. He didn't look away as he spoke. "Cyborg, are you and Raven ok?"
"Yeah, of course we are. Why wouldn't we be?"
Robin didn't answer, instead addressing the green boy. "Beastboy."
"I think it would be best if you came down to the police station and answered a few questions."
Cyborg began to protest, but Beastboy cut him off. "What would be the point? We both already know the answers to those questions."
"So you're going to come quietly, then?"
The pounding in Beastboy's head had never quite gone away, but it had faded into a background noise during his talk with Cyborg. Now it came roaring back with a vengeance, the beast inside him screaming it's defiance to a perceived challenge. Beastboy shook his head, trying to ignore it. "Sorry, Robin, but I can't. Not yet. I have to get out of the city until I can-"
"I can't let you leave, Beastboy.
"I can't stay, Robin." Beastboy swallowed nervously. "I'm sorry for what I did, I really am, but I have to leave. At least for a while."
Robin paused as if considering it, but then shook his head, his voice weak but determined. "Sorry doesn't cut it, Beastboy. I wish it did, I really do. I know we haven't always seen eye to eye on everything, but you're my friend and my teammate. It's killing me to do this, but I have a duty to the city. I can't let you just walk free. I have to take you into custody. I don't want to fight you, Beastboy. But I will."
Beastboy clutched at his head, breathing hard. He couldn't respond, instead trying to control the pain.
Cyborg stepped in front of him, placing himself as a barrier between the two Titans. "Now hold up just a minute, Robin. I seem to recall us not 'doing our duty' when you were stealing tech as Red X, or when you voluntarily became Slade's apprentice. Not even when Raven," he waived a hand at the unconscious girl, "became the portal for her father and ushered in the end of the world."
"This is different, Cyborg, and you know it. You were there. You saw what happened. There was no greater good, no good intentions. I understand if you're not willing to help me, Cyborg, I really do. But the Titans have a duty to the city and it's citizens. I'm going to make sure it's carried out. Don't stand in my way. I'm taking Beastboy into custody, even if I have to go through you to do it."
Beastboy staggered back against the window, doubled over in pain, as the other two Titans continued to argue. He could feel it. He felt the beast.
His fingernails grew longer, sharper. His fangs extended a little further from his lips. His senses became more acute and he became aware of everything. A tiny, fraying thread hanging off Robin's cape. The two boys arguing. The smell of hospital, of fear, of regret, of anger, of determination. The wail of a delectably helpless infant two floors below in the maternity ward. The beepbeep of the heart monitor. Raven's slow, steady breaths. His own fast, ragged breathing. The pain in his head.
Beastboy fought it, fought against himself. He couldn't let the beast take over. Not here, not again. Never again. He held a picture of his own body in his mind, willing himself not to morph. Don't change. Don't change. Don't change. It became his one overriding thought, his mantra, his whole reason for being.
"...care what you think your duty is..."
"...not above the law..."
...don't change, don't change, don't change...
He felt it coming, felt his face elongating and arms lengthening. He had to stop it, couldn't let it take over, not again.
"...know he's our friend, but..."
"...way more complicated than just..."
"...thinking with your heart..."
"...pull your head outta your..."
"...safety of the people has to be..."
"...important than our friend..."
The sound instantly stopped the argument between Robin and Cyborg. They both turned towards the source and saw the jagged shards of the broken glass. Without another word they were both at the window, staring down from the 9th floor. They waited for him to morph into a bird or a pterodactyl, a bug or a bat, or even a flying squirrel. They watched and they waited.
Beastboy didn't change into a bird, a dinosaur, or an insect. He didn't change into a bat or a flying squirrel or any other manner of flying creature. And he didn't change into the beast.
A/N: This has been sitting on my hard drive, half-written, for about six months. A combination of laziness, lack of free time, and writer's block conspired to keep me from finishing. I finally made myself sit down and get it done.
This began as an attempt to write a horror story, just to try something new, but didn't really end up that way. Horror didn't even make it into the genre designation. Still, it is quite different from the other stories I have done, and I am more or less pleased with how it turned out (even if it did end up much, much longer than I expected).
Anyways, I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you very much for reading, especially if you take the time to drop me a review. I always appreciate feedback of any sort. I will reply to all signed reviews, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask.