He had always wondered what death was like.
Was it cold? Did it feel like the very first day of winter? When it's kind of in between seasons; when there's no snow, leaves are still all over the ground, but, there is a distinct bite in the air that wasn't there just the other day?
Or was it like winter at its peak? Gale winds that frost over windows and freeze water into peculiar shapes?
Either way, he had the idea that death was cold, frosty…numb.
However, as Beast Boy held the pulsating explosive into his chest, almost affectionately, he could only remark on how it burned into him. How it scalded him. How the heat was unbearable. Maybe it's just that, right now, at this point, he wished death was cool. Cool as a balm.
Could it be Beast Boy was looking forward to death?
He wondered over that.
He could only reason that it would be a lot better than hearing the loud, pleading cries of his friends.
Although, as he flew into the sky, bringing along the destructive orb, away from them and the city he swore to protect, those pleading cries grew fainter and fainter. So faint, even his ears couldn't hear.
It was quite a distance.
Or maybe he was already dead.
He was persuaded that he was still alive- at least for the moment- when light escaped through fissures that began to form over the orb and shone into his eye. Smoke billowed into his nose. He absently noticed this would be the last thing he smelled, acrid it may be.
He realized the gentle curve of the earth would be the last thing he saw. He reminisced as his eyes glazed over the faint lines of city limits and the dotted patterns of city buildings. He thought about all the time, all the pain, all the effort he put in protected those few little lines and specks. It was so little.
Was he that little too? He wondered.
What filled his ears was the whisper of wind in the stratosphere, and the dangerous hiss of a bomb.
'But the sun is so bright,' he thought. And against all reason…he laughed.
Later, as his friends mourned together, they would reason that he died with a smile on his face, that only Beast Boy could smile- would smile- in his last moments.
And smile he did, right through his bittersweet end.
That day, those who were there, in the city, looking into the sky, would remember how woefully beautiful an explosion it was.
2 Years Earlier
Beast Boy hated team meetings.
He hadn't always. Usually he was only passive aggressive when it came to these things. He would struggle to stay awake through the briefings. He let the battle strategies pass through one over-sized ear to the other. He would nod in the appropriate places and at the end he would give his 'Yes sir!' And that would be it.
Today, Beast Boy hated team meetings. Today, Robin was on a rampage.
Robin froze at another still image. It was a hectic-but familiar- scene. Another battle between the near brainless monster Cinderblock, out on another of his rampages, and the Titans (no longer 'Teen').
"Look here. Here is another missed opportunity. While Raven was occupying the front, there was a perfect chance for a pincer tactic. Notice Cyborg at Cinderblocks 7 o'clock and Beast Boy at his 3." He paused as he zoomed in at an empty space on the screen. "Except there's the 3'o'clock…but no Beast Boy…"
Beast Boy's ear twitched at the patronizing tone.
"We took him down didn't we?" Beast Boy offered nonchalantly as he leaned back in his chair.
"Where can we find Beast Boy?" Robin continues, not acknowledging the statement. He zoomed into the sky, where a green falcon could be seen diving into the fray opposite of Starfire's position. "Here we find him, completely out of position, completely exposed, and right in Cyborgs line of fire."
"And I had a sweet shot bro," Cyborg added.
The glare Beast Boy shot him went unappreciated.
"If you could enlighten me, what was going through your mind?"
"Well I-," Beast Boy began to respond.
"Wait," Robin interjected, "let me rephrase. After you were knocked through the front AND back wall of the community center, were you thinking, 'Yup, went exactly as planned?' Or… maybe, 'Nailed it?' Because, correct me if I'm wrong, that must have been your plan from the beginning. Am I wrong?"
Beast Boy crossed his arms and let out a sigh powerful enough to rustle a lock of his hair.
He was not happy.
"I repeat, we took him down didn't we? Why so uptight?"
As a rebuttal, a stack of papers, all with words typed in tiny font, were tossed unceremoniously in front of him. He didn't even have to look down, documents like that had a smell, he swore.
"Know what that is?"
"Lawsuits. Know from who?"
Beast Boy rubbed his tired eyes.
"The community center?" It was more of a statement than a question.
"The community center. Apparently they weren't too happy with the renovations you made… with your face."
Cyborg snickered a little at this.
Beast Boy brushed them aside, uninterested.
"The mayor always takes care of this stuff since we, oh, I don't know…save his city on an hourly basis? What's the big deal?"
He looked around the table for a little support. Starfire was making an obvious attempt to casually ignore his gaze, whistling some shriek Tameranian tune. Cyborg shrugged his bulky shoulders, and Raven…did what Raven did best.
"Beast Boy, here's the bottom line: You have orders. Follow them. We are a team, if anyone of us steps out of line, doesn't follow the plan, then things get out of hand -like they have. And yes, that includes me as well. Understood?"
Beast Boy suddenly felt itchy. Furiously he scratched his hair, his eyes closed in frustration. It was like his blood was itching, he was so frustrated.
Mentally, yes, he understood. He understood he should have been there, that he should have followed the plan. Heck, even during the fight he knew he was out of place. He wasn't sure why, but the fact that he even had a place is what had irked him.
He also doesn't know why, now, Robin's tone was getting under his skin. He wasn't yelling, he never yells. Not usually. Really, this wasn't even the first time he's been reprimanded for stuff like this. But for some reason, right now, Beast Boy was pissed. And growing more pissed.
'Just say yes Beast Boy. It's a three letter word. It's all you have to say…' Beast Boy reasoned.
"Understood?" Robin insisted, growing impatient.
Subconsciously, Beast Boy gripped his arm rest. It wasn't a big gesture; it went unnoticed by everyone else. Slowly he brought his fingers together and clinched his fist, able to get out a strained, "Understood."
"Good." Robin nodded, his long hair jostled by the sharp movement. "Then that will conclude the meeting. Be sure to be on time for extra-curricular training 5AM sharp. We need to iron out some kinks in our offense, and to up our response time defensively. Raven, I noticed you take a hit out there you that could have been avoided. I want to make sure that doesn't happen a second time."
"Yes, my captain," Raven exaggerated with a sigh.
Raven's quip unofficially signaled the end of the meeting, and everyone got up to leave.
It was a barren room, devoid of any real decoration, any real sense of identity; it was windowless with white walls and a stainless steel table, slightly rounded and rectangular in shape. The chairs were fairly comfortable: moderately cushioned, on a swivel, and with two adjustable arm rests. They were all oriented around a large LCD screen that dominated over half of the room.
It was curt, simple, and completely uninteresting to the eye. So it was quite outstanding to Raven to see four jagged claw marks on the arm rest of Beast Boy's chair.
Raven looked up to see the rest of the Titans filing out of the room; the tear went unnoticed by anyone else, apparently, even Beast Boy himself. Thinking ahead, Raven placed her petite hand gently over the marks. She could feel familiar warmth flow into her fingers and coat over the fabric. After a moment she lifted her hand to the welcome sight of smooth, unaltered, leather.
The room was boring once again.
But as she walked behind the rest of the team out of the room—specifically behind Beast Boy—she couldn't help but muse that the conversation she was about to have would be anything but.
The sound of another victim filled the room.
"PLAYER 1 WINS!" went the overly baritone voice of the announcer.
Beast Boy entered the digital lobby to find another willing sacrifice for the deity of his frustration. Before long, there was a volunteer.
"ROUND 1! FIGHT!"
The jagged melody of furious tapping over tiny plastic buttons began again.
Beast Boy had a lot of venting to do. He was playing more aggressive than usual, taking bigger risks, taking more hits. But he didn't care; his mind wasn't really on the game to begin with. His mind was in a fluster, a cluster of thoughts biting at him:
Why was he so upset?
Why did Robin's tone bother him so much?
Why has he felt so…caged lately?
The questions running amok in his mind carried real weight, real importance. None were as so pertinent as the one that weighed most heavily:
'Why the heck is Raven watching me play?!"
Just a couple feet away there was Raven, sitting on the couch, avidly watching Beast Boy in his virtual fighting frenzy. Weird. This was weird. It wasn't odd, per say, that she was there on the couch—the couch was amongst her favorite places to read—it was that she was actually watching him play!
The thought distracted Beast Boy so badly he was completely trounced in his match. Seven golden letters adorned the screen.
"PERFECT! PLAYER 2 WINS!"
Beast Boy was sent a message in-game. He opened it already knowing what to expect. And there it was, three simple letters: "nub"
Perhaps a little too forcefully, Beast Boy hit the reset button, and was brought back to the title screen.
"Why did that guy call you a nub? Like, what, an amputee?"
Beast Boy grimaced at the question.
"It's the highest compliment you can get in the gaming community Raven."
"But you lost, why would he compliment you?"
"Listen…it's complicated, ok?" She scoffed at this.
"There's nothing 'complicated' about this. It's just some silly game."
Beast Boy gave her a blank stare. He didn't expect her to understand, so he wouldn't go into the details. What he did volunteer was, "It's more complicated than you think," and offered her his patented boyish smirk.
Satisfied with his remark, he proceeded to start a match. It was before he could press the button to begin that Raven asked him:
"Do you want to tell me why you've been so angry lately? Or is that too 'complicated' as well?"
It stopped his thumb in its tracks. He didn't offer a response, or even turn his head away from the screen. Raven took this as her queue to continue.
"I'm an empath, remember? Feelings feeler? Lately, when I'm around you my foot starts tapping; my fingers clinch a little bit. But, what really tipped me off was the claw marks on your chair in the meeting room."
Beast Boy's eyes darted around the room. He already knew they were the only ones in the room; it was a nervous gesture.
Beast Boy was worried about the claw marks, sure. But what he was really worried about was that he didn't even remember putting them there. How had that happened? Was it still there?
"I took care of it." Raven offered.
Maybe she was a mind reader too.
She didn't badger him. She just waited for his response.
He had to stall.
"Well, you see, with all this crime fighting I guess I forget to clip m—"
"No." She interrupted.
"E-Excuse me?" Beast Boy stammered.
"Try again." She sat poised with her arms crossed, clearly waiting for a better explanation.
"Well, I sneezed and—"
"What happened was—"
"One more time."
Beast Boy huffed through his nose. She just wasn't giving up. Curse her empathy…and that little red thing on her forehead— what was it, shaka khan? Whatever. He knew she wasn't going to give up. What he needed was a way out, some kind of distraction or…
His eyes darted back to the controller in his hand. He was struck with a brilliant idea.
"Ok Raven, I get it. You deserve to know. But if you want to hear me out, how about playing me for it?"
He held the second controller out to her. It might as well been an alien artifact the way she looked at it.
'Did it bite? Is it poisonous?' That's what her eyes were saying. So he sat there, offering the device in awkward silence. After the second minute passed, however, it had officially moved from the awkward, into the embarrassing side of things. He made one more last ditch effort.
"After all, 'how complicated could it be?'" He said with a smirk. He knew Raven hated to have words thrown back at her (incidentally, she loved to do the actual throwing herself) and would probably back off because of her pride.
So it was to Beast Boy's everlasting shock when she deftly said: "Fine"
His mouth was still open when she grabbed the controller from his hand.
She held the electronic above her head, looking underneath it in wonder. She then rolled it around in her hands, feeling the smooth plastic roll around her fingers. Idly, she tapped a few buttons, realizing some were stiffer than others. Two joysticks protruded from the front, their purpose she could only wonder.
"Alright, let's get on with this."
"Y-Yeah." It was all he could get out.
He reset back to the main menu once more, this time clicking on the 'Multiplayer' option. With a flourish the character select screen appeared.
She cycled through the combatants with nonchalance, none of whom caught her eye. That is, until her eyes fell on one of the female characters; One of the scantily clad, insanely voluptuous, female characters.
She looked at Beast Boy. Her eyebrow rose.
Beast Boy flushed a little.
"Do I really have to say it?"
"Ok…but what's so bad about her outfit?"
"That it doesn't exist, for one."
"This coming from a lady that wears spandex every day?"
"…and a cloak," Raven said with narrowed eyes. Beast Boy cleared his throat.
"Alright, alright. What I'm trying to say is: what's the big difference? Like half of the female heroes in the League dress like that."
"Feasible proportions? Or maybe body parts that are actually affected by gravity. I could go on, it's a big list."
"One that I will, undoubtedly, hear about later. For now, why not just pick your character?"
Silently, she acquiesced and continued her search.
"This guy looks strong."
He was a study in muscle and vascularity. Ever move he made, every breath, was accentuated by a bulge or a twitch of rock hard muscle. His square and rugged face bore a constant snarl, his face twisted with barely contained rage. He towered over his opponents and his hands were would clench with brutal anticipation.
Beast Boy couldn't help but laugh.
"What?" She wasn't a fan of being laughed at, especially for reasons she was unaware of.
"Him? Seriously? I have to say, never saw that coming. Never."
"He seemed like the best choice."
"Ok! Let's get this started," Beast Boy announced, startled by the excitement in his own voice, "and then later we can address the idea of it being okay to pick a male character based on his looks, and not a female one."
She just rolled her eyes.
"Because, you know, every guy I've met looks exactly like that," he added.
He was happy to oblige.
"MATCH START! BEGIN!"
Beast Boy knew—he knew- the moment he hit the start button, that there was no way this was going to end with him not feeling like a jerk. He knew there was no way.
What he didn't know was that it was going to be this bad.
Playing against Raven was the exact equivalent of: kicking a puppy, pushing an old person over, and robbing a blind man…all at once.
He tried to be cavalier, to take a bow in at least one round. But how do you lose to someone who's looking at their controller, and not the screen, almost the entire time? Someone who has yet to discover that, yes, you can move and attack at the same time, and, yes, those buttons can also be used to hit the other person? Taking a dive would have been more insulting to her than the pummeling she received; it was a rock and a hard place and he had a soft, bare tushy with no place to sit.
So it was with no satisfaction that he heard: "PLAYER ONE WINS!"
What happened next could be described as—Beast Boy supposed—a stalemate.
He dared a peek at Raven. She was frozen in place, her face contorted in concentration, as if they were still playing. Her eyebrow would twitch from time to time, her shoulders tense, her thumb still tapping the only button she had ever hit. If he had to take a guess at her thoughts at the moment, he would say they were: 'What?'
"Um…good match?" He tried.
"What?" Same tone, same pitch.
"Well, this game is pretty hard; I think you did well…considering…"
Her head turned sharply to him.
"Again." It wasn't really a question, or a request. It sounded more like a fact.
And so he started it again.
"PLAYER ONE WINS!"
It was even faster this time.
She was frozen. Yet again, her thumb still attacking the only button she ever hit. To her credit, it was a different button this time. Her brow twitched more violently than before, her eyes closed in a barely controlled temper.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap, went her button.
Beast Boy chose his next words with more care than he has ever exhibited in his life.
He placed his controller back on the table.
"Thanks for playing with me Rae, it means a lot. Seriously, it does."
Her shoulders lost their tension, her brow relaxed. She looked at him with her characteristic indifference, though her eyes held a question in them. Beast Boy could read it like a book.
"We had a wager, you beat me, and I'll tell you about what's been going on."
He let the statement hang in the air.
Taking the hint (a beggar she was not), she placed the…device…back on the table, and, with a sigh, got up to leave. If he wasn't going to talk, then she shouldn't waste her time.
She started to make her way to the door.
It was then, an unearthly sensation spread all through Beast Boy's body, a feeling of want that he had never experienced before in his life. He could feel it in the deepest part of his bones; it was an ache, a yearning, as strong as his need for air. His eyes unfocused as he frantically wondered what was causing this unsettled feeling.
He didn't see, as much as hear Raven begin her march. He could hear each fold of her cape sway with her movements, the fabric grazing his leg as she smoothly begun to walk past him. Each footfall from her petite, booted foot sounded off in his ears, fueling his mania.
What was it? What did he need?
His breath hitched in his throat. This was not normal, this was not okay. He needed…he needed…her smell?
That tipped the scale. Her scent….it was…. His forehead had begun to glean with a thin layer of sweat.
Her scent…was…he needed it! He needed…!
"Ouch!" Raven let out with a yelp.
She looked to her wrist to see Beast Boy's hand painfully gripping it, stopping her in her tracks. Her pained and confused expression met his frantic one. He was taking shallow breaths; his eyes were dilated to pins.
He looked…desperate to her.
"Beast Boy, wh—,"she started.
"I'm sorry!" He released his hold on her, surprised to see how tight it was. "I'm sorry Rae. I'm really sorry. I-I….please sit. Don't leave."
A still moment passed.
She sat down, ignoring how close she was to him.
He took time to collect himself, the threat of Raven leaving now over.
"Ok…ok. You should know that I don't really care about that game Raven. I just used it to avoid talking about…whatever this is. You're my friend Rae, y'know?"
She was able to keep the flush from her cheeks and give a nod.
"Yes, I am."
Beast Boy gave her a small smile. It was such a "Raven" response. Spill your guts out and Raven—she nods.
He brought his mind back to matters.
"Exactly, and that's why you deserve the truth, game or no game. And the truth is…I…don't know..."
"You don't know?"
"Dude, I don't have a clue!" His voice raised an octave. "Lately, I've been feeling so…trapped! Like I live in a cage! Like I need to break out and go…go…anywhere! But I love being a Titan. I love being a superhero, I don't want to go anywhere else or be anything else. But I feel…stuffy. I feel…"
"Angry?" Raven finished.
"Tense. But I don't know why."
"Then what about 'who?'"
He fell quiet at this. A face flashed before his eyes the moment she asked.
"Are you mad at Robin?"
His hair bristled. She sensed his distaste at hearing the name.
"No! Yes? I don't know…I don't even have a reason to be." He gave a deep sigh. "At this point Rae, I'm mad at myself more than anyone. And for you to notice…I'm slipping. I'm changing, Rae, and it's making me all kookoolabanza."
Raven took in his form. His lean frame sagged with heavy emotion. His emotions rolled over onto her in torrents. Their knees were touching and their feet tapped to the same frustrated beat. It was with a herculean effort that she had to keep her emotions in check. Frustration, confusion, desperation, and wanting scrapped at her psyche. She needed to comfort him.
"I'm surprised that, of all people, you'd be afraid of change,"he couldn't help but scoff humorously at the idea, "and I'm liable to agree with the 'koo koo' part."
"Kookoo-labazna," he corrected.
"My mistake," she offered- along with a complimentary roll of the eyes.
Uncharacteristically, she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, effectively stealing every bit of his attention.
"Beast Boy…no—Garfield- I'm not sure what you're going through, as you yourself aren't, but we are here. I am here."
Their eyes met.
"I am here Garfield. Until you can figure this out, you can talk to me, if you want. I'm not usually much for talking, but as much as you talk, I've become a pretty good listener."
"Raven…" Beast Boy was surprised, and he was touched.
"There was a guy I knew once. He was small, green, and annoying. Actually, you remind me of him a lot."
Beast Boy laughed.
"So I take it he was also devilishly handsome and generally irresistible?"
"Not really, but you could never tell him otherwise."
"Anyway, like I was saying, I knew this guy once who, despite having every reason-every right-to be upset and afraid of me for something I once did, he wasn't. Do you want to know what that guy did?"
"While all the others were resting from a hard won battle—or making 'stank balls'—he was the only one to think about how I was feeling. He was the only one that knocked on my door and asked me if I was ok. And of course I wasn't"
"Oh yeah? Sounds pretty nice of him."
"It was. But then, of course, he called me creepy. Actually, he called me—and I quote—"waaaaay creep,'" she deadpanned.
Beast Boy laughed nervously. "Oh, did he?"
"Yes, but then he said something of real importance. Would you like to know?"
Her response was a warm smile. So she continued.
"He told me, in one of my lowest and loneliest hours, that even if I feel like I'm alone, even if I think I want to be alone, I never really am; I never will be. To this day, because of that scrawny and slightly annoying guy, I vowed that no one else will ever have to feel alone as long as I'm around."
A very warm smile found its way to his face, along with a soothing silence.
So of course he had to break it.
"Oh yeah, I think I've met that guy before. If memory serves, he was something else—a sight for sore eyes I'd say."
"All I remember is he had a knack for ruining a good moment."
"Aaaand at that…," she said as she got up to leave.
This time uninhibited, she casually made her way to the double doors of the common room; it hissed open at her proximity. As she lifted her foot to leave she was halted but a quiet, almost indiscernible: "Thanks."
Without response she took her leave. The doors slid shut on her departure. Beast Boy would never see the smile that adorned her face.
With a sigh, Beast Boy deflated on the couch. So many thoughts ran through his head.
The match he played with her.
Her hand on his shoulder.
Her kind words.
Deep in his stomach, he was overcome with that shattering sensation. His core rocked with the intensity. His breaths grew shallow; his thoughts were rapid—but focused.
All his thoughts focused on one thing: An overwhelming desire to own Raven.
He wanted to own her.
He wanted her to be his…possession. He wanted to bite the back of her neck.
Tears pooled at the corners of his eyes. He bent over his knees with his hands cupping his face.
My god, what was wrong with him?
Time until explosion: 1 year, 11 months, 30 days