Hiro chewed his lip nervously as he watched Tadashi, sitting on his bed between his crutches, slip on his favorite Ghost Ninja shirt and green jacket. “Are you sure you want to come with?” he asked. “Technically, you already introduced me to the campus, and you’re still healing. Maybe you should stay in bed. The gang’ll be there with me, I’ll be fine!”
Tadashi only shot him a wide, toothy grin. “Of course I’m going with you! This is your first day of college, Hiro, I can’t miss that. Besides, I’m cleared to walk around, not on permanent bedrest anymore.”
Hiro winced. No, his big brother wasn’t on permanent bedrest orders anymore, but he was still recovering from his injuries.
The fire had left him with deep scar tissue that ran from the back of his neck to his calves, and around his sides. In addition, a beam had fallen on top of him in there, crushing his lower back, and hindering his ability to us his legs. By the time the firefighters had found him, he was hanging on by a thread. Since then, he had been through a spinal and several skin surgeries - all in a matter of weeks. The exposition had been in early August; it was now close to mid-September. He was lucky the medical world was so far advanced these days. Nevertheless, that didn’t mean he was all better.
Tadashi still didn’t have full control over his legs. He had started physical therapy almost immediately after his spinal surgery, and while he was expected to eventually regain full control, that wouldn’t be for a long while. He would be on crutches until November, at the earliest, but that didn’t mean he could run marathons once he got off them. His legs tired out easily. It wasn’t recommended he be on his feet more than two hours at a time right now, excluding his therapy sessions. His scars were also an issue; the constant surgeries hadn’t rid him of them, only patched them up. There were small sections of his right side and mid-left of his back he couldn’t feel at all due to nerve damage. None of the tissue liked significant cold or hot temperatures, and they dried out easily due to large patches being unable to produce sweat. They, along with the muscles beneath them, ached regularly, requiring the use of prescribed medication. Unlike his legs, much of his scar side effects would last forever.
Hiro couldn’t shake the heavy weight over his chest that this was his fault. If he hadn’t built the microbots, Callaghan would never saw an opportunity and started the fire. If he had held tighter onto Tadashi’s arm, he would have never been able to go in there. If he had called Tadashi’s name as he ran up those stairs, begged him to stay, he might have come back down instead of running in there.
Tadashi didn’t see it that way, as his fault. They’d already had this conversation before; he had nothing to feel guilty for over the microbots and there was no stopping him from going in there. Tadashi’s choices had been his own, and while he regretted leaving Hiro there by himself, was mortified at the possibility his little brother could have potentially watched him die, his actions were all on him, not Hiro. It didn’t relieve the weight much, though.
Hiro had spent the remainder of his summer at his brother’s bedside, helping Aunt Cass and Baymax care for him. He even put off registering for school so his classes wouldn’t get in the way of caring for him.
Tadashi had taken it all in stride, it had seemed, wearing his usual, warm smile as Aunt Cass brought him up food, yanked Hiro into bed with him to cuddle and tease him (glad his sense of humor was still in tact), and professed excitement that he could personally test out Baymax as a full time healthcare companion now. His friends (their friends now, Hiro guessed) came by frequently, and it almost felt like life was on its way back to normal.
Still, the guilt hadn’t let up.
And then Callaghan happened.
Hiro found one of his microbots in his jacket pocket. Baymax, who had also taken note of Hiro’s emotional state as well as Tadashi’s physical state, had decided follow his ‘tiny robot’ while Tadashi napped (one of his painkillers caused drowsiness). Hiro chased after him to an abandoned warehouse, and well, everything spiraled from there. He discovered the man in the kabuki mask, he tried to turn Baymax into a crime fighter to take Yokai down, Tadashi woke up and realized he was gone and sent their friends after him (Hiro would never understand how his brother always knew exactly where he was when he was in trouble; big brother senses must be killer), and Yokai tried to kill them all. They found out Fred was rich, Tadashi blew up everybody’s phones and demanded to know why Hiro had been in the ocean after speeding through downtown (seriously, killer senses, how!?), and Hiro convinced all of them they had to become superheroes.
Well, almost all of them. Tadashi, then still on bedrest orders outside his PT sessions, had been a beast to convince. He only relented letting Hiro go as long as he had his own eye in the sky able to help (read: able to protect his brother at all times). So while Hiro and the gang developed their suits and weapons, Hiro and Tadashi also built a small, rectangular drone that contained a high powered camera, audio devices, and two rotating stun blasters. Tadashi controlled it from home on his computer.
Their trip to Akuma Island had been...less than spectacular at the start, but it all went to hell when Yokai’s mask came off.
Tadashi had gone radio silent. He stayed that way as Hiro expressed disbelief, told Callaghan everything Tadashi had been through, how he could have died trying to save him, and saw red when informed his injuries - and death, had he died - would have been solely Tadashi’s mistake. The drone only moved after Hiro removed Baymax’s healthcare chip to stop his creation, and to follow Hiro and Baymax off the island.
Tadashi had been waiting in the garage, sitting on the couch by the indoor door when they got home. Hiro had thrown himself in Tadashi’s arms in tears. He was angry, enraged, bitter, and seeing Tadashi there made him realize he had gone too far with Baymax, a robot he designed to heal, never kill. How could he have done that, when it went against everything Tadashi stood for? He apologized to them both, begged forgiveness. Tadashi held him tight, told him it was going to be okay, that he wasn’t mad. Baymax hugged him, assured him it as all right. Soon the gang showed up, Gogo joined in on the hug, and they all agreed they’d apprehend Callaghan the right way.
So they did. And they saved his daughter’s life.
And lost Baymax in the process.
Hiro’s heart felt like a tangled mess. Baymax was Tadashi’s project, meant to make a huge difference in the world, and now he was gone. All of his hard work was gone. On top of that, he had been Hiro’s friend. In the weeks they had cared for Tadashi, he’d gotten attached to Baymax, kind of like he was a second brother. They even did their own version of his fist bump with Tadashi. Losing him had hurt in so many ways.
In typical Tadashi fashion, he didn’t blame Hiro. He claimed to have had a heart attack when he watched them go into that portal. He was so proud of Hiro’s selflessness (selflessness he had learned from him, Hiro had added silently), but he had been terrified he’d lost him forever. He could rebuild Baymax, he had said. Not the same Baymax, not his friend that he was so sorry Hiro had lost - he made it clear he knew how much Hiro loved him and didn’t deserve this - but his project nonetheless. Tadashi couldn’t rebuild Hiro. If he could only get one of them back, Tadashi would always choose his little brother. (Funny how he and Baymax had that in common.) He was so incredibly happy and grateful Hiro was safe.
But the weight on Hiro’s chest was not relieved.
He was tired of hurting his older brother. He was tired of hurting the people he loved (Tadashi, the gang, Baymax…). He just wanted to everyone to be all right.
Hence why he was nervous to bring Tadashi with him to campus. Tadashi might have been cleared to walk, but he wasn’t cleared to go back to class full time.
SFIT had offered him the semester off for his recovery, but unlike Hiro, Tadashi hadn’t wanted to miss class. So instead, he was doing what he could online, and would make up what he couldn’t via extensions when he returned to class in November. Crutches or not, his doctors and physical therapist agreed he should be well enough to attend classes in person by then.
It was not November yet.
“Hey,” Tadashi knocked his shoulder lightly. “Quit making that face. I’m fine. Wasabi’s gonna bring me home in his rental after you get to your first class. I promise not to overdo it.”
Hiro gave him a tiny smile, though none of his nerves had disappeared. “Sorry. It’s, uh, just a big campus, right? You’re going to walk all around it.”
Tadashi ruffled his hair. “It’s not that big. Come here!”
Hiro had to laugh as Tadashi yanked him by the SFIT hoodie into a one armed hug, putting his weight on his other crutch and squeezing him tight. He laughed harder as the first crutch fell over against the bed, then crashed on the floor. Tadashi chuckled, too.
“So this is what it’s like to have your own personal worrywart,” he joked, loosening his arm. “Mind helping me, wart?”
“Nah, you can pick it up yourself,” Hiro joked back, already bending over to get the crutch.
When he stood up to full height and adjusted the crutch under his older brother’s arm, he found Tadashi beaming at him.
“I’m so proud of you,” he said, voice lowered. “For a little while there, I was afraid the fire and Callaghan had scared you away from college forever. Not just SFIT. Now it’s your big today. Is it bad that I wish I could sit in all your classes with you like I did in high school?”
Hiro flushed at the praise. “Heh. Well, uh…” he thought about joking how weird that would be, as if they were joined at the hip. He decided otherwise. “No. I kind of wish you could be there with me all day, too.”
“Aunt Cass and I are gonna be there to pick you after your last class. You don’t mind, do you?” he asked. “We wanna hear all about your day as soon as possible.”
Hiro huffed good naturedly. “Like you two aren’t going to be blowing up my phone between all my classes. You made a copy of my schedule for that exact purpose, didn't you, or that was just my imagination?”
“Stop it, you’re making me feel like a mother hen,” Tadashi gave Hiro’s head a playful shove. “Come on, let’s get downstairs. At this rate, we’re gonna have to skip the tour and drop you off at your first class instead.”
“Heh, yeah,” Hiro agreed.
He made a move to turn around, only to stop short. He lunged for the top of Tadashi’s dresser. “Wait, we can’t forget this!”
Tadashi made an amused noise in his throat as Hiro reached up to place his favorite San Fransokyo Ninjas hat on his head. “You’re absolutely right, we can’t forget that. Now come on, don’t wanna be late!”
Hiro smiled to himself. Regardless of the weight on his chest, his older brother could always brighten his mood.
The breakfast rush was always a mess in the café, but Tuesdays, oddly enough, contained the quietest of breakfast rush messes. In fact, despite it being seven-fourteen in the morning, Cass would say business was only steady. Steady meant it was manageable enough that she could get away for a few minutes to pack Hiro’s lunch, a task she had set herself to last night only to completely forget about by bed time. She hated doing that.
Luckily, she wasn’t too late; it looked like her boys had found their friends’ table in the middle of the room by the time Cass returned to the counter. She watched with a smile as they gleefully greeted her boys, exclaims of “Hiro!” “Tadashi!” and “Hey, man!” chorusing over the noise of the other customers.
Cass nearly jumped for joy as they rose from their seats. It was Hiro’s first day of college! It felt like yesterday had been Tadashi’s first day. Now both of her nephews were attending San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, one of the best scientific universities in the country. Oh, if only her sister and brother-in-law were here to see them. They would be so, so proud. She knew it in her heart.
Of course Tadashi wasn’t heading off to classes today; his were online until mid-November, when his doctors and physical therapist anticipated he would have healed enough to resume most every day physical activities. He was going along with the gang to see Hiro off and give him a personal tour of the entire campus, something she couldn’t do because, unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to justify closing the café during the breakfast rush (even if Tuesdays were always quieter); The Lucky Cat kept them reasonably afloat, but they weren’t that well off. She was glad he could go, though. Ever since the fire, Tadashi had been all but confined to his bed. Cass knew he was getting restless, that his body was itching to move despite the scars and damaged spine, and if he hadn’t been granted the margin of freedom he had been last week, he’d likely be on his way to losing his mind. He needed this outing more than she did.
Tearing her gaze from Hiro and their friends to her oldest nephew, Cass’ smile slipped from her face. His body, hunched over his crutches, was turned away from the group, staring at the TV by the window. On the screen was the latest news report of the Krei Tech incident, displaying footage of the the mystery heroes fighting against Hiro’s microbots.
"Reports are still flooding in about a group of unidentified individuals who prevented what could have been a major catastrophe,” the news announcer said. “The whole city of San Fransokyo is asking: Who are these heroes and where are they now?"
At the bottom of the screen read the words, “RENOWNED ROBOTICIST DR. CALLAGHAN IN CUSTODY” repeating over and over below the images.
Cass’ stance softened. Her poor baby. When Callaghan had set that fire, stolen Hiro’s microbots, and became responsible for Tadashi’s injuries and near death, he had done more than committed arson and theft; he had broken her oldest baby’s heart. Cass was the first person to admit she wasn’t mother material, and while she had done everything she could for her sister’s children, she knew she couldn’t do everything in the world for them. Tadashi might have been just another student to that monster, but to him, Callaghan had been a decade long role model and idol integral to making Tadashi the young man he was today. When his role in the fire had come to light - oh, her baby had been crushed all night. He had been hiding it since, putting on a normal, I’m-happy-to-finally-get-outside front, but she knew he was still hurting inside.
As the others began to head for the door, Hiro turned, and noticed Tadashi’s gaze glued to the TV. Cass immediately leaped into action.
“Oh, I just wanna squeeze you both!” she cried as she pulled the two of them into a bone crushing hug. “I can’t believe my little men are off to college at the same time! Where did the years go!? I swear, yesterday you were in a high chair, Hiro, while you were coloring at the kitchen table, Tadashi. When did you get so big and smart!? What did I feed you!?”
“Hey, we’ve always been smart,” Hiro laughed, squirming out of her grip.
Cass lowered her arms, taking a step back. She settled her attention on him first, holding out his lunch bag.
“I made you a lunch, sweetie,” she told him. Then a thought struck her, and she yanked it back. “Wait, do you pack lunch for college? Tadashi started packing his own lunches in seventh grade, do people still that after graduating high school? Or do you only eat what’s in the cafeteria? I don’t know, is this not cool?” She held the brown bag up to her collarbones. You know what, who cared. “Oooh, I’m so proud of you! Come’re! Last hug!”
She wrapped her arms around Hiro, nuzzling her face in his hair. Her youngest baby, off to college! She couldn’t believe it. Tomorrow, they’d be moving out, PhD holders forcing her through empty nest syndrome. They were simply growing up too fast!
Cass must have been hugging him too tight, though, because in an instant, fingers were tapping her back and Hiro was croaking out, “Aunt - Cass - I !”
She released him with an apologetic grin and handed him his lunch. “Sorry, sorry. Okay, you guys better go. You don’t want to be late on your first day!”
“Yeah, we don’t,” he agreed, and spun around on his heel towards the others, who were watching as they filed one by one out the door. Hiro turned around again, however, and raced back into her arms.
“Last hug,” he repeated her words.
Cass cooed, hugging him gentler this time. “I wish your mom and dad were here to see this. They’d be so happy to see how far you’ve come.”
“Heh, yeah, I guess,” Hiro replied as they let each other go. “You and Tadashi are picking me up after my last class, right?”
“Six-thirty,” she nodded. While Tuesday mornings couldn’t be justified, Tuesday evenings were so dead Cass often closed up shop early to spend the night with her nephews. That was why movie nights were often Tuesday nights. “Take your time coming out. No need to rush from all the amazing stuff you’re going to do.”
“Gotcha,” he laughed. “Okay, I’ll see you later, Aunt Cass. Love you!”
“I love you, too!” she called out as he raced for the door, now not bothering to look back at her.
Tadashi chuckled. “He’s really growing up, isn’t he? Where did the years go?”
Cass placed a hand on his upper arm. “You two are growing like weeds all the time.”
“I’m twenty-one, Aunt Cass.”
She patted his sleeve. “Don’t remind me. I look at you and still see a puffy alien baby in diapers. Sometimes I’m shocked to remember you’re taller than me now. When did that growth spurt happen again?”
Tadashi scoffed playfully. “Uh huh. Well, we do gotta go. Wasabi’ll have me home by nine. Want me to help you down here while we wait to pick Hiro up?”
“Sounds like a plan!” She slid her hand up to squeeze his shoulder. In a smaller voice, she stood up on her toes to whisper, “And you know you can talk to me any time about anything, my sweet boy?”
Tadashi’s face melted a fraction. His eyes darted to the TV, then to her. “I do. I’m fine, Aunt Cass.”
She gave his shoulder another squeeze. “I’m always here for you boys.”
“I know,” Tadashi leaned down to kiss her cheek. “Thank you. I love you, Aunt Cass. I’ll tell you about the tour later! Bye!”
With that, he quickly hobbled off to catch up with the group.
Cass sighed to herself.
Yes, he did know. Although she felt the need to remind him, because he seemed to be closing off when it came to that monster and what he did, they had always been close. Cass loved her nephews equally, loved them both to ends of the universe, but she would lying if she said she was equally close to them.
Tadashi had been her sister’s first pregnancy. While they hadn’t known Cass would one day take up guardianship of him and his future little brother, she remembered being so excited to be a cool aunt. Then Tadashi was born, and it was love at first sight. She might as well have been an honorary third parent (albeit, a bumbling third parent who instantly handed the baby away the moment things got rough or icky). She had loved babysitting him, taking care of him, and playing with him each chance she got. By the time Hiro was born, Tadashi was already thoroughly attached to her side.
When their parents died in that awful car accident, it had been her Tadashi leaned on the most. She remembered with a pang in her heart how often and hard he’d cried, how he spent several nights in her bed because it hurt too much to be alone by himself, how just thoroughly devastated he had been emotionally. They talked so much in those first few months, and it ended up cementing a new facet of their bond.
It was a facet she didn’t share with Hiro; he hadn’t been old enough to understand death at three years old. His reaction to moving in with her had been to scream, cry, kick and punch his way out of her arms, and sob cheek against the floor, wailing for his Mommy and Daddy to come take him home. It wasn’t so easy to talk to him, to make him understand the horrible, undeserved reality their family had been forced to live in. And as he grew up, his memories of them faded to the point talking about them made him uncomfortable at worst and roll his eyes at best (or maybe it was the other way around). She didn’t know how to fix that.
The point was, from that time on, Tadashi always came to her when he needed to sort his feelings out. Hiro didn’t. Hiro was the average teen who hid in the corner of his room until the tough got too tough. Tadashi, however, saw her as his rock.
Maybe that was why it was so frightening to finally watch him close off instead of talk to her. Callaghan had broken his heart to pieces, she was certain. She couldn’t begin to imagine the pain, anger, and guilt he felt inside. Oh, if she could have a solid minute alone with that monster in her kitchen, just one solid minute, her and the stove top…
Cass shook her head. No, she shouldn’t think like that. Even if he deserved to feel an ounce of the pain he had inflicted on her baby, it was neither here nor there. He was in jail, would likely be sentenced to life in prison due to his assault of a billionaire, much less all the other damage he had done. What she needed to focus on was her boys.
Her boys, who were going off to college together.
Cass felt the tears prick her eyes. No, no, she couldn’t have this either. Tuesdays might be slow, but she had work to do.
She would see Tadashi in an hour and forty minutes, Hiro this evening.
It was time to get back to work. She would see them later.
If there was one regret Tadashi had, it was that he didn’t have his phone out to snap a picture of Hiro’s face the second his eyes caught SFIT’s gates. He had been so afraid the fire and Callaghan had tainted his view of the university, that the association alone would push him away from further education forever. That he might eventually return to bot fighting to fill his time instead. Luckily, Tadashi had been wrong. Hiro had enrolled not two days after the portal incident, and he now looked at the gates with genuine eagerness in his eyes - not the false kind he put on to fool well meaning adults. So far, so great.
He realized too late, however, his friends were mistaking Hiro’s awed silence for hesitation.
Honey Lemon brushed her fingers against Hiro’s shoulders. “Are you nervous, Hiro?”
“No way!” Hiro clutched the straps of his backpack happily. “I want this. Why would I be nervous?”
“You’re fourteen and going to college,” Gogo reminded him, sagging her shoulders.
Tadashi flinched. That...that was true.
Hiro had also been nine when he started high school. Tadashi recalled all the bullying his little brother had had to suffer for being younger than everyone else - for being smarter than everyone else. He didn’t think that would happen at SFIT. People were more mature in that regard; and even if they weren’t, Tadashi promised himself he’d nip all bullying in the bud faster than he had in high school. No one was going to harass his brother on his watch.
“Your brother is like a legend here,” Fred added, ever so helpfully.
At that, Tadashi frowned. He kind of was a big name on campus, he supposed. He was known for being an outgoing guy, one of the first people to go for a tutoring session, and his impressive tech. A lot his teachers absolutely adored him due to his manners and work ethic. Nearly all traits Hiro either lacked or didn’t indulge in.
His chest tightened.
Wasabi lifted a hand over the side of his face, as if to block the conversation to just between them. “I hear the new dean is a hard case,” he mumbled.
Tadashi wrinkled his nose. Professor Granville, Callaghan’s (that monster’s) replacement. He had read her emails and been sent classwork from her, since she was also filling in for a thermodynamics I, II, and III professor that was out on maternity leave. Yeah, the hard case rumors seemed true in his book. And while Hiro was turning a new leaf, he WAS still fourteen and therefore prone to mischief.
His fear transformed into a fierce glare, however, as Hiro suddenly appeared unsure of himself. “I - hadn’t thought of any of those things.”
Honey Lemon jumped up. “Keep not thinking of them!” she suggested merrily as she shoved him towards the campus gates.
Tadashi relaxed a bit. Good ol’ Honey Lemon. She may have started it, but at least she had some sense.
Tadashi rounded his glare on his remaining friends. “Seriously. You had to bring that stuff up?”
Fred and Wasabi averted their eyes, sheepish.
Gogo popped her gum, nonchalant. “Sorry. Wasn’t trying to scare him.”
Tadashi closed his eyes, fighting the urge to groan. ‘Please don’t let this be a bad omen.’ The last thing he wanted was Hiro getting cold feet on his first day.
The four of them moved to catch up with Honey Lemon and Hiro. They made a stop at the administration building, where Hiro had his photo taken and was given his student ID.
Wasabi was quick to put it in a lanyard and slip it over Hiro’s neck.
“Don’t ever lose this,” he warned sternly. “Seriously, it’s like twenty dollars to replace.”
“I have to get mine replaced,” Honey Lemon moaned. “Everyone got new IDs this year. Somehow, they printed my nickname instead of my real name on mine. I still haven’t gotten my fixed one yet.”
“Yeah,” Tadashi added. “They switched out the old kind for these updated ones. This ID is going to be your key to locked doors from now on.”
“Good thing your old ID wasn’t your key,” Fred slapped Tadashi on the arm. “Can’t believe you lost of all people lost it. Hey, did you ever find it over the summer?”
Tadashi shook his head. “Nope. Don't be like me; hang onto yours, Hiro.”
Hiro opened his mouth to say something, then abruptly closed it.
Gogo raised a skeptical eyebrow. “What?”
Hiro laughed nervously. “Um, I may of, uh, ‘found’ it?”
Tadashi stood straight. “Found it where?”
Hiro hesitated. “Um, you know, in a place you would have normally left it...in your wallet.”
Tadashi gawked at him. “You STOLE my school ID!? Hiro! I had to pay a ten dollar fee for losing it to get it replaced! The week after, they announced they were replacing all student IDs in the fall! You cost me ten bucks for nothing!”
He scratched the back of his head. “I’ll pay you back. I mean, turning over a new leaf, no more petty crime for me!”
Tadashi scowled. On one hand, part of him was glad Hiro had admitted it. He was maturing, which was wonderful. On the other hand - “Give me back my ID,” he ordered.
“But it’s useless now!”
“Don’t care. Where is it?”
Hiro’s shoulders slumped. “I’ll give it back when I get home, okay.” He held up his phone. “Hey, look at that! It’s seven-forty-three. I have thermodynamics I in less than hour. How about that tour?”
“We’re not done with this,” Tadashi told him.
“I agree with Hiro, it’s tour time!” Fred rushed forward to spin Hiro around, and off they went.
Tadashi rolled his eyes. He still wanted his ID back. It was a matter of principal (and getting the twerp back later).
Nevertheless, the tour began. Since he was so enthusiastic about it, they allowed Fred to lead the group.
The first place he decided to show Hiro, he introduced as, “This is the room where people wear goggles and do stuff!”
“Virtual reality,” Hiro corrected, eyes lighting up as he looked around at the students in their VR sets. “Ha, nice!”
“Yeah, that,” Fred said. He yanked Hiro away. “Come on, next stop, less than hour left!”
“Hey!” Hiro yiped.
Tadashi had to chuckle at that. Fred loved the campus and wanted to show off as much of it as possible; Hiro likely wouldn't get a good look at anything until he was settled in.
“This is the quad!” Fred announced as they left through another exit, entering a small field between the buildings. “Named after someone with the last name Quad, one would presume.”
Gogo suddenly threw an arm out in front of Hiro, pushing him back. An orange frisbee flew hurtling by, except it wasn’t an ordinary frisbee. A robotic face and limbs extended from its sides mid-air, and it tossed a real frisbee on his stomach back to it’s creator, a brunette in a pink shirt. Tadashi knew her from one of his classes last year, but couldn’t remember her name. She had had some awesome ideas, and this was one of them.
“Awesome, you got it working!” he shouted over to her.
The girl paused before she could throw again. She waved across the quad. “Thanks, Tadashi! Glad you’re back!”
“I’m just visiting!” he yelled. “It’s my brother’s first day! Wanna meet him?”
Hiro elbowed his crutch. “Bro, no!”
Tadashi jolted. “What?”
“You can show off your amazing baby brother after the tour, dude,” Fred started to lead Hiro away. “Next stop!”
Wasabi nudged Tadashi’s shoulder. “I think he’s nervous about meeting people,” he offered when Hiro was out of earshot. “Let’s take it one step at a time. He’s gonna meet a lot of new people in his classes anyway.”
Now it was Tadashi’s turn to be sheepish. “You probably have a point.”
Regardless of everything else, Gogo was right; Hiro was a fourteen year old college student. In a way, despite his excitement, this had to be worse than high school. Scarier. He really doubted any adult on SFIT’s campus would pick or look down on him, but Hiro was fourteen years old. He didn’t know that, nor did he have pleasant past experiences with older classmates to make him anticipate any other treatment. He had only given the nerd gang a chance because they were Tadashi's friends and had been nice to him their first meeting.
Well, great. Now Tadashi really wished they could sit side by side in class together again, like they had before he graduated high school. He wanted to protect him, even if it was from nothing.
“You guys gotta watch out for him while I’m not here,” Tadashi told Wasabi, Gogo, and Honey Lemon, and made a mental note to tell Fred when he got the chance. “It’s not just that he’s fourteen. Hiro started high school when he was nine. A lot of people hated him. It killed me to watch him try to make friends, offer to help with assignments, ask if he could PLAY with people, and get called names, laughed at, told to get lost. Some kids got angry because they knew he was smarter than them; they happily took that anger out on him. High school left its mark. It’s why he doesn’t really have friends his age now that he is a teenager. He doesn’t know how to talk to people, and they kind of...not scare him, but make him think there’s something wrong with him.” He sighed at the memories. “The faculty only took the bullying seriously after I, their favorite goody-two-shoes who could do no wrong, beat up a kid for picking Hiro up by the collar. And even then, kids still picked on him when there were no teachers around and they thought I wasn’t looking. You can imagine how rough he had it after I graduated, and there was no one there to frighten all the bullies away anymore.”
The three exchanged worried glances.
“You never told us about this,” Honey Lemon said quietly.
“You actually beat someone up?” Gogo asked, startled.
Tadashi shrugged. “He’s my little brother. You guys are his first real friends outside the family since - well, since forever. He never got along that great with kids his age in elementary school either. You can guess why.”
“You want us to keep him safe,” Wasabi reiterated. He put a hand on Tadashi’s shoulder, smiling gently. “Don’t worry, we got your back, man.”
“We won’t let anyone mess with him,” Gogo assured him.
“You can count on us,” Honey Lemon clapped her hands together. “We’ll fill Freddie in, too.”
Tadashi smiled. “Thanks, guys.”
Tadashi lifted his head. Hiro was racing back their way, Fred following with a pout.
Hiro came to a halt at Tadashi’s side. “Are you okay? We noticed you guys weren’t coming, so I thought - do you need a break, big brother? Do your legs hurt? Is it your scars?”
“Oh, how sweet!” Honey Lemon cried in delight. She threw her arms around Hiro’s neck, bending down to his height. “You’ve gotta be the sweetest brothers I’ve ever met, always looking out for each other! It’s giving me cavities!”
“Uhhh,” Hiro froze in her embrace, “w-what?”
“Nothing,” Gogo replied in a tone that read, drop it. “We’re fine, just talking.”
Tadashi nodded. No need to reveal what they were discussing - Hiro would go nuts in embarrassment.
Fred threw his arms up. “UGH, talking! The number one source of procrastination. Guys,” he gestured to an imaginary watch on his wrist, “we have approximately thirty-seven minutes before Hiro has to be seated in thermus dynamite 101, let’s get a move on! The tour has barely begun!”
Wasabi huffed in annoyance. “We’re coming, Fred. Geeze. Calm down.”
“I’m all right, Hiro,” Tadashi ruffled his little brother’s hair. He was sweet. “Let’s go so Fred doesn’t have an aneurysm.”
“Thank you,” Fred slung an arm around Tadashi’s shoulder. “Glad someone understands! Now, to my FAVORITE place on campus!”
Which turned out to be the cafeteria.
“Welcome to the fooding zone!” Fred exclaimed, tossing his arms out in ta-da fashion. “As a non-student, this is undoubtedly my fa- Oh!” In his excitement, Fred stepped backwards as he spoke, and knocked into a student behind him, making the guy lose his drink on the floor. Fred scratched his cheek. “Sorry, bro. I shoulda been watching where I was going.”
“It’s okay,” the guy waved him off as he picked up his cup. “It was an accident. Not a big deal.”
Wasabi wrapped an arm around Hiro’s shoulder, sipping his own drink he had grabbed on the way in. “Watch this. There’s sensors in the floor that detect spills just like this.”
“Whoa,” Hiro face lit up in amazement as four cleaners the size of dog bowls came zooming from their stations to soak up the dumped liquid. “I need to get that design for the café. Aunt Cass would love it!”
“She would,” Tadashi agreed. "Maybe we can ask maintenance some other time."
Hiro nodded rapidly.
Fred scratched the back of his head nervously. “Great, great plan. Anywho, half an hour left. Moving on, people!”
They did a quick run of the nearby buildings, visiting the astrophysics department, biology and chemistry labs, and the student lounge. Time flew by, unfortunately, and before they knew it, it was twenty after eight. Hiro’s thermodynamics I class was in ten minutes, which brought them to the Ito Ishioka Robotics Lab.
“I never realized this place was so big,” he said as they walked down the hall near the nerd lab. “And you said it wasn’t that big, Tadashi.”
“Eh, I’ve been here three years. I’m used to it, so it’s not so big to me anymore,” Tadashi replied, playfully flicking Hiro's temple.
“Don’t be intimidated,” Wasabi advised him. “Just take it one class at a time.”
Gogo, who had pulled out her tablet to double check her own schedule, gagged. “Ugh. Applied particle physics first. Nine AM. Fantastic. So glad I switched out of astronomy I for this.”
Honey Lemon’s eyes sparkled. She leaned down to Gogo’s level, squeeing. “Ooo, me, too! Yay! You have Asakawa, don’t you?”
“Sadly,” Gogo grumbled. “I heard she gives out the worst homework.”
“I actually enjoyed her class when I had her last year,” Wasabi mentioned. “The homework is awful, though, that’s true.”
“You looking forward to your first class, Hiro?” Fred casually asked.
When no answer came, the group stopped, and craned their necks behind them.
Hiro was standing outside Tadashi’s lab, staring up at the nameplate.
Tadashi winced, a pang of empathy shooting through him. Baymax. They had left what remained of his armor in his lab after the battle with Callaghan (monster, Yokai) . They had figured it was the best place to hide it.
It was hard to accept that he was actually gone, lost in another dimension thanks to that portal. All of his hard work, years of sleepless nights and countless malfunctions, over ten thousand medical procedures worth of programs and more gone, lost in a matter of minutes. That knowledge alone was devastating. Add on all the astounding help Baymax could have done for the world as a healthcare companion, and it hurt more. Then add on what this Baymax had meant to him and Hiro, who had become Baymax’s primary and co-primary patient since the fire - a choice Tadashi had chosen to see the bright side in since Hiro accidently activated him, one of the few positives after the fire, he could personally test his project’s capabilities on himself. Losing him had almost felt like the end of the world.
Hiro felt responsible for his loss. Baymax had become a close companion of his while they (and Aunt Cass) took care of Tadashi between and after his surgeries. And he was well aware how high Tadashi’s hopes for Baymax’s future were. The guilt was crippling. Tadashi wished there was a way he could make it better. So far, Hiro didn’t take much stock in his reassurances. That hurt more than losing his project.
Unfortunately, while he could build another body, another model - which he planned to as soon as able, because the world needed Baymaxes - the healthcare chip had been one of a kind. Tadashi could create another one. He had the files backed up to do so. But it would be a brand new Baymax without the additional memories and downloaded information of the first. It wasn’t the same.
Walking over to him with the rest of the gang, Wasabi placed a hand on Hiro’s shoulder. “You okay? We miss Baymax, too.”
Hiro lowered his eyes. “Uh… I’m fine. Can I, uh, be alone with Tadashi? I’ll catch up with you guys later, when thermodynamics is over.”
The group looked to Tadashi for confirmation. He gave them a nod. “I’ll meet up with you in a bit.”
The gang was reluctant to leave, but smiled all the same as they went.
Wordlessly, Hiro turned the handle and entered the lab.
Tadashi hobbled in after him, shutting the door. No one passing by needed to overhear them.
He watched Hiro take the wrist armor out of its container, heaving it onto the desk.
Hiro kept his head down, face out of view. “Do you hate me for leaving him behind?”
Tadashi furrowed his brow. “No. No, never. Hiro, you had no choice. Besides, he wanted you to, and it saved Abigail’s life. If you tried to bring him back with you, all three of you would have been trapped forever. Who knows if another portal could have been made in time to get you back alive?”
Hiro hadn’t been in hyper sleep like she had been, and even with the incredible technology within the pod, hypersleep couldn’t keep the body going forever. Tadashi would have worked night and day to reassemble another portal had it closed on them, but he couldn’t deny he probably would have went mad at the results he’d have likely found on the other side by then. At the very least, Hiro could have died in there.
“He was your project. He was gonna help so many people.”
“I can build more Baymaxes,” Tadashi reminded him. “I can’t build more of you.”
“Hiro, you have to understand,” he tried to explain for what felt like the hundredth time, “when you disappeared into that portal, I was at home. I was watching you through my drone’s camera. There was no way I could physically get to you. I love Baymax, I do, and I’m equally as upset he’s gone, but please understand: I will always choose you over him. You’re my only little brother, my only Hiro Hamada. I’d rather have just you here than neither of you. I’ll say it a million times if that’s as many as it takes to get you to believe me. I don’t blame you. I don’t hate you. Not for leaving him, not for going in there.”
Hiro’s form seemed to shrink into itself.
Tadashi hobbled across the room. He layed his crutches against the window, and drew Hiro into a close hug from behind. “I love you. I can’t lose you, too.”
Hiro shuddered, not responding.
“I will never blame you. I’m glad you’re safe. I’m proud of you for saving Abigail’s life. Honestly, the part I’m most upset about is that he was your friend. You lost him as much as I did - more than I did. You don’t deserve this.”
Hiro straightened in his arms. “I’m sorry.”
Tadashi nuzzled his cheek against his hair. “There’s nothing to be sorry for. I’m the one that’s sorry. You didn’t deserve to go through that. You don’t deserve this at all. I’ll keep saying it until you believe me.”
Hiro half-heartedly wormed his way out of his grasp, sighing. He handed him his crutches. “You know what? It’s all right. I’ve kind of already been through this before, haven’t I?”
Tadashi cocked his head. “Huh?”
“When Mom and Dad died. I’ve lost people before,” Hiro explained.
Tadashi’s heart shattered, partially from his own memories of their deaths, but mostly from the fact Hiro felt that much pain from losing Baymax. “I thought you didn’t remember them.”
Hiro shrugged. “I’ve heard the stories. I know I was a terror for you and Aunt Cass.”
“You were a grieving three year old,” he argued.
“My point is,” Hiro ran a hand over the armor, “I got through it. I can get through it again. I’ll be fine. As long as you don’t hate me,” he ended with a meager laugh.
If possible, Tadashi’s heart shattered into tinier pieces. “I could never hate you, Hiro. Please.”
A fake smile on his lips, Hiro shifted his attention to the armor. The smile transformed into a sad one. He gave it a light fistbump. “Ba la la la la.”
Tadashi wondered if this was his way of saying goodbye. His heart ached.
(Monster. This was his fault. This was all HIS fault. Yokai.)
Hiro took a step away from the armor. "S'pose I better get to thermodynamics 'fore - "
He stopped mid-word, neck snapping around.
Tadashi lurched forward. “No way!”
The fist was loosening open. Between the fingers and the palm revealed a sliver of green, and a sliver of sharpie marked tape.
Hiro hurried to force the fingers entirely open. “Oh my god. Your chip. Baymax!”
The brothers looked at each other in astonishment - Tadashi shocked and Hiro grinning.
“I have to figure out how he did that,” Tadashi murmured. “How - ?”
“We can rebuild Baymax! The real Baymax!” Hiro exclaimed. “Tadashi, do you see this!?”
“Unbelievable,” he breathed.
All the original data, including the new data, was in there. Hiro was right; they could rebuild the their Baymax. Not just a second model.
Hiro bounced up to his older brother, chip clasped in his small hand. “We can do this! We gotta do this! We can make him from scratch, only we’re definitely updating him with super capacitors - ”
Hiro jumped. Tadashi’s neck shot up.
Standing in front of the door was a woman in a black sweater and grey skirt, adorned with an intricate golden necklace. Her expression was stern.
Tadashi recognized her from her teacher page on the SFIT student website. “Professor Granville!”
“Mr. Hamada,” she returned, voice bordering on a growl, “and Mr. Hamada. Neither of you are supposed to be in here.”
Hiro regarded her cooly. “Uh, this is Tadashi’s lab. Who are you?”
Tadashi whapped his shoulder. “Callaghan’s replacement, genius, and our thermodynamics professor.”
“Oh.” Hiro didn’t sound enthused.
“‘Oh’?” Professor Granville raised an eyebrow. “Is that all you have to say? After you’ve been caught skipping your first class? It’s five past eight-thirty, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“I’m not skipping!” Hiro argued. “Wow, five minutes! It’s the first d- OW!”
Tadashi rapped the side of his head. “YOUR first day. Not everyone else’s. I am so sorry, professor, he was supposed to get to class on time, but we, um, were having a moment.”
“I see,” she replied slowly. “So what, pray tell, are you doing here, Mr. Hamada? The last I was informed, you were not returning to SFIT full time until mid-November.”
Tadashi grabbed the back of his head, flushing. “J-Just giving Hiro a quick tour so he doesn’t get lost. I’m really sorry he’s late. We’re heading out now.”
Granville took a step to the side, blocking the door. “You have quite the reputation, Mr. Hamada.”
“Which one of us are you talking to?” Hiro questioned, tone mockingly cheerful.
Tadashi almost him him again.
“Tadashi,” she narrowed her eyes at Hiro.
He did hit him again.
“Ow! Knock it off!”
“Be quiet, Hiro.”
“As I was saying,” Professor Granville continued, “you have quite the reputation. Excellent grades, a dedicated work ethic, phenomenal project end-results. I trust you will set the type of example for your brother that we expect here at the university.”
“Absolutely,” Tadashi said. His heart sunk as he spoke.
Now was not the time to make comparisons, but this was his first true meeting with Callaghan’s replacement. It wasn’t fair to put her on the same pedestal he had him, nor did he want to. Yet for the past three years, it had been so easy to talk to and get along with Callaghan. This felt like he was walking on needles.
Not to mention, with Callaghan...while it was no less true he was a hard worker and had kept their relationship professional, Tadashi had hero worshipped the man. More so than Hiro ever had. After their parents died, after their dad died, there hadn’t been any close male role model in their lives. Tadashi had accepted from the age of ten he would have to be Hiro’s male role model at home, but he himself was left with none. Instead, he had a figure on a screen that he looked up to, that helped build his dream of going into robotics to improve the world. And when he got to SFIT, where he could study under that figure? It had been a dream come to life. With Callaghan, however professional their relationship had been, Tadashi could drop the role model role for a little while and let himself relish in having his own.
It wasn’t like he expected Granville to fill those shoes. He didn’t. Yet to hear her tell him to do exactly as he done for the past decade...somehow, it reminded him of how empty those shoes were.
(Monster. He could rot in hell.)
“If you’re going to set such an example,” Professor Granville raised her chin, “I suggest starting with being where we should be at the appropriate times. Hiro in class learning, you at home recovering.”
Tadashi let the admonishment roll off his back. It wasn’t the worst thing he had ever heard, and she had a point about Hiro.
But Hiro looked at him, uncertain.
Tadashi stood up straight. “Again, I’m so sorry he was late. It won’t happen again. You have my word.”
Professor Granville paused, as if waiting for more.
“I’m going home anyway.”
She didn’t look impressed. Nevertheless, she nodded. “Good. We want you in the best shape when you return, Mr. Hamada. I can already gauge from your online assignments that you have a bright future ahead of you. Get all the rest you need.”
If Tadashi got any more rest in bed - even if he did still need to lie down, yes - he was going to explode. He wanted to walk, he wanted to work, he wanted to get on with his life. That was neither here nor there, though.
Hiro stared up him. “We’re still going to rebuild Bay- your healthcare companion project, aren’t we?”
Tadashi smiled down at him. “Duh. You gotta get to class, though. We can talk about Baymax when we’re home.”
Hiro suppressed a sigh, then turned to Professor Granville, wearing an adoring smile. “You’re right, I should be in class. Sorry. Won’t happen again, like he said.”
“Then I suggest you get moving, Mr. Hamada,” she warned, stepping aside.
“Okay. Bye, Tadashi,” Hiro spun around on his heel on his way toward the door. “Love you!”
Six months ago, Hiro never would have added ‘love you’ in front of a non-family member. Since the fire, however, he said it nearly every time he left Tadashi’s side.
Tadashi smiled. “Love you, too, little brother.”
Granville’s eyes followed Hiro out the door, then refocused on Tadashi. If his vision was correct, they appeared to soften a bit.
“Rebuild Baymax?” she inquired.
Tadashi scratched his cheek. “Heh. Yeah. He had an accident of sorts at home. Hiro’s only helping me repair the damages, not do anything new. It’s still my project, not his.”
“Hm-mm.” Granville folded her hands behind her back. “Mr. Hamada, may I be frank with you for a moment?”
He blinked. “Sure?”
“My predecessor,” she began, and Tadashi instantly regretted giving her permission, “committed atrocities and deceit no one expected him to. I was already hired before it was revealed he was alive. Of course, by then, it was clear he would never be welcomed back on school grounds if he were ever to be released from prison. But the staff here knew him. Twenty years ago, in a different teaching position, I had the opportunity to get to know him as a colleague. I can assure you, we are all horrified to learn what kind of man he really is.”
Tadashi stayed silent. He didn’t know why she was telling him this. All he knew was that his jaw locked as she spoke.
“From what I’ve gathered,” she continued, “you two were close.”
He didn’t mean to snap, though that was what he did, “No closer than any other student was to him.”
‘He tried to kill his students. He tried to kill them on the road, he threw them in the ocean. He sent my brother and friends to the bottom of the ocean.’
“Yes, but he took particular interest in you, your abilities, and your projects,” she stated. “On top of that, you were the one who ran inside a burning building to save his life - a life that did not need saving.”
“Are you trying to paint our relationship as something it wasn’t?” Tadashi bit, unable to hold back. “He was my teacher. That’s it. I didn’t know what he was up to, and I didn’t - “
She held up a hand to stop him. “Quite the opposite, actually. I don’t mean to imply what you’re thinking. Only that you were surely hurt in more ways than one by that man.”
“I hope,” Professor Granville said, “we can one day establish a trust between us similar to what you had with him. I am strict and expect nothing short of the best from my students, Mr. Hamada, but I am fair. I understand if you have mistrust for me due to my position. I don’t expect to replace him in your eyes. I do want you to know, however, that you may come to me with any concerns, and if there’s anything I can do for you - within reason, of course - to help you, let me know.”
Tadashi swallowed. “Thanks,” he said, tongue feeling like sand. “Thank you. For the record, I don’t hold anything against you. Taking his job doesn’t make you him.”
Professor Granville nodded slowly. “I have high expectations for you and your brother. You’re both gifted young men. I hope you’ll meet them. So far, you, at least, seem to be.” She turned to face the door. “Have a safe trip home.”
Tadashi swallowed again. “Have a...have a safe trip back your classroom.”
Without another glance, Professor Granville took her leave.
Tadashi levied himself down in his chair. He had to take a breather.
The news. Aunt Cass. Now Professor Granville. No one could let him forget, could they? Not even for two hours. He hated that so much. He just wanted to forget. What that monster, Yokai, had done to him - not his injuries, what he’d really done - Tadashi was never going to forgive him for. God, he wanted to forget so badly.
...He couldn’t wait to get started on Baymax.