AN: This one comes from an idea by Kryalla Orchid on Tumblr. It was giving me a lot of trouble as I wrote it, but I'm not too disappointed with how it ended up.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything discussed here, but if I can have one thing for Christmas, I'll take Beast Boy.
The Quiet Voice
Feet drumming against the floor of the Batcave without any particular rhythm as he sat in front of the gigantic computer monitor, Robin yet again questioned his mentor's choice in seating. Billions of dollars in state-of-the-art experimental tech lay within arm's reach, yet Bruce couldn't find anyone to engineer a chair with a bit of lumbar support?
A distinctive tone from the laptop on a rolling table to his left drew Robin's attention, and he turned to answer the video call. He could have just as easily taken the call through the Batcomputer, but there was just something a little creepy about talking with someone whose head was four feet tall.
Punching the button to start the video feed, Robin found himself face to face with Beast Boy, hair unkempt and large dark circles under his eyes. Ah, the changeling was discovering the joys of leadership…
"Hey, Boy Wonder," a gravelly voice squawked through his laptop speakers, "How's week three of the Great Robin Switcheroo going?"
Robin shrugged. "Not bad. I'm sort of monitoring police chatter right now, but the algorithms take care of that anyway. Got some down time while Batman's out running a patrol with the new Robin, so I'm taking the opportunity to relax."
"How's that whole shebang going, by the way?"
Robin grimaced. "He's… got some things to work through."
Coughing politely, Beast Boy nodded. "Yeah, you might say that. Kid Flash brought by a paper the other day. When the new guy's violent enough to make headlines in Central City, that's kind of a big thing."
"Don't remind me," the masked vigilante said, massaging his temples for a moment before returning his gaze to the screen in front of him. "And how's everything in Jump, Fearless Leader?" He smirked. "Wow, that's kind of fun. Now I can see why you say it all the time."
The grin Robin had been expecting was nowhere to be found. In its place was an expression of desperation and self-loathing. Time and again Beast Boy opened his mouth, only to close it and avert his eyes before summoning the courage to try again. "Look… I know you're busy in Gotham now, but you need to call in someone else to lead this team. I can't do it."
Robin cocked his head. "What're you talking about? You're doing just fine. If you're worried about—"
"Cyborg lost his left arm today." Out of a fanged mouth the words tumbled, jerky and guttural. The boy's breathing had changed and his eyes shone with a manic light, as if he were keeping himself from vomiting by sheer force of will.
Robin froze for only the briefest of moments. So Beast Boy had sustained his first minor casualty as team leader; it was understandable that he was shaken up. Grateful for Batman's training in hiding reactions, Robin gave a slow nod. "I know it's a scary prospect, especially the first time it happens when you're in charge," he began, "But we've gone through that before. He's got plenty of spares."
The image on the screen blurred as the shapeshifter gave his head a vehement shake. "No, no… I mean the whole thing's just… gone, it's gone up to the shoulder, the whole thing's gone."
Cold shock pinned Robin back to his seat. "How?"
Beast Boy swallowed hard. "It was a bank robbery; no metas, even. We've done the same thing a million times. I sent Cyborg and Starfire in the front to distract them and draw fire while Raven and I teleported in to get the hostages out of trouble… but one of them had a flamethrower. I never thought ordinary bad guys would have that kind of stuff, and…" He trailed off, hands fisting in his hair as he looked down. "I should have had them wait. I should have turned into something small and scouted it out first. But I didn't. And now…"
Not for the first time since landing in Gotham, Batman's protege wished he could reach through the computer screen. "I understand, Beast Boy. It's hard when someone gets seriously hurt—"
"No, you don't get it!" the changeling yelled, face mere inches from the camera. "This is his worst nightmare, and I just made it come true."
"What do you mean?"
Beast Boy slumped back in his chair, chewing his lip as he looked from side to side. "Cy doesn't have many non-robotic parts left: just half his head and two—" He winced and swore under his breath. "One upper arm. He's terrified that bit by bit, he's going to lose the last pieces of humanity he has left, and he won't behim anymore. And because I wasn't a good enough leader, that just got one big step closer to reality."
Try as he might, Robin couldn't seem to come up with any words. His teammate had called out of a dire need for something to make this all right… and now Robin was failing him.
"He's my best friend," the changeling said, looking up at the ceiling in an attempt to keep the moisture in his eyes from spilling over, "And my mistake just cost him something he can never get back. How the hell do I keep on leading with that hanging over my head?"
Robin let out a sigh. "I wish I could give you some magic advice to make it all work out, but there isn't anything like that. This is going to happen, no matter how well you plan things out, no matter how many hours you train. Someone's going to get hurt, something's going to go wrong, and the consequences will haunt you. You'll always second guess yourself after the fact, obsess over what you could have done differently. Sometimes there's a lesson to take from it, but other times you just have to accept that you did your best and move on."
"Dammit, Rob," Beast Boy growled, "Why did you put me in charge? I neverwanted to be the leader. I don't have what it takes to do this."
With a bitter laugh, Robin shook his head. "There's where you're wrong, Beast Boy," he replied. "Being a leader isn't about always knowing the right thing to do, never messing up, having some endless source of wisdom. Most days I don't even want to get out of bed because I'm scared that today will be the day something horrible happens on my watch. The only thing that makes me a leader is that I get out of bed anyway and keep going, because I know it's what has to be done." He gave his friend a reassuring smile. "And that's something you've always been even better at than I have."
"No, I can't do this, Robin. Please, send someone else." the changeling begged.
"Even though you don't believe it right now, I know you can handle this, Gar. And you will." Interlocking the knuckles of his two fists, Robin leaned forward, staring into the camera, hoping the mask over his eyes would still convey his regret. "I didn't want to put this weight on anyone, but you're the one I know won't quit no matter what. That's what the Titans need while I'm gone. I'm so, so sorry, but it has to be you."
Terror and sorrow and a hint of selfish desire glistened and swam along Beast Boy's lower lids, then silently spilled over as he closed his eyes. One, two, three deep breaths, and his eyes opened once more, uncertainty replaced with grim determination and acceptance. "Okay," he murmured. "Just… come back soon, okay?"
"As soon as I can," Robin promised. "I'm sorry… and I'm proud of you, Beast Boy."
The smile on Robin's computer screen was wobbly and fleeting, but it was genuine. "Thanks," came a whisper.
Klaxons blared and Beast Boy's room was bathed in flashing red. "Sounds like the phone's for me," he said, voice betraying his trepidation.
Robin nodded. "Go get 'em." With a wave to his teammate, Robin pressed the button to end the call.
Courage Doesn't Always Roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow." — Mary Anne Radmacher