Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Hiro watches the bot fight from the back of the crowd, hood pulled up to avoid drawing attention to himself. It had taken him forever to work his way up through the ranks of the illegal gambling ring, testing his bot against every decent fighter in the city until he felt it was ready to take on the big leagues. And tonight was that night--tonight, he was going to take on the most well known (and most dangerous) bot fighter in the city--Yama.
Maybe he would have been a bit more afraid if he hadn’t know that Megabot was completely unbeatable--and if he hadn’t know that, should things go wrong, he had his magic to help him. It had gotten him out of all kinds of scrapes before, and an angry mob boss was the least of his worries after everything he’d experienced in his training with Aunt Cass.
Hiro could still remember the day that he’d discovered he had magic like it was yesterday. He and his older brother, Tadashi, had been out running errands for their aunt when Tadashi had stopped to talk to a cat on the side of the road. Yes, talk--as a kid Hiro had thought that his older brother (or nii-chan, as he sometimes liked to call him) was pretending whenever he told him that he was talking to cats. What neither of the boys realized at the time was that Tadashi had inherited one of the family gifts--one of the few that he had. Hiro, as they were about to discover, had inherited quite a lot of the gifts, even if the boys hadn’t been aware that there were such things as family gifts until then.
It was talking to the cat that had saved their lives, or at least protected them from some serious injury. It turned out that there was an angry dog on the loose, and the cat had only just enough time to warn Tadashi and sprint off before the dog came right into their patch.
The dog didn’t even give them a second to prepare themselves before charging. Tadashi had moved in front of Hiro, shielding him, and Hiro had been terrified that he was about to lose his older brother. And that was the first time that Hiro’s magic had manifested itself. Without even knowing what he was happening to him, Hiro had felt an enormous power welling up inside of his body, and then it had burst out of him like a bomb going off. The next thing that he’d known he was waking up lying on the sidewalk, a large crater in the concrete around him and Tadashi leaning over him, shaking him by the shoulders and calling out his name.
Hiro had found out later that he hadn’t actually hurt the dog, just given it a hell of a scare and caused it to turn tail and run (which was good, he didn’t like the idea of using his magic to hurt anyone.) Tadashi had carried him home on his back and then, as soon as they could find Aunt Cass, told her exactly what had happened.
The pure look of terror on their aunt’s face had placed a fear in Hiro’s heart that he’d yet to fully forget--the fear that he was a freak, and that even people he loved would turn away when they found out about his then newly discovered abilities. But in this case, at least, he’d found out that Aunt Cass’s fear wasn’t of him--it was for him.
She’d sat the boys down in the living room and carefully explained to them about their family’s hidden history--a long history of powerful witches. Years ago the family had been greatly sought after for their abilities, but as time passed people became afraid of their powers and the family was forced into hiding, still secretly training but making sure that no one outside of the family was aware of it. Aunt Cass went on to explain the dangers of their secret--it had been exactly the type of intolerance that had forced the family to go into hiding that had been the result of Hiro and Tadashi’s parents’ deaths. That was why Aunt Cass had never told the two boys about their family history--as both of them were male, and full witch powers usually only ever came to fruition in girls, she’d hoped to spare them the burden of the family secret. But now that it was clear Hiro had somehow inherited them, she explained that this meant Hiro would need to begin training in order to keep himself and the rest of the family safe.
Hiro could remember how terrified he’d been at the time. It was one thing learning that he was a witch, it was quite another finding out that people very possibly would want to kill him for his powers. That’s why, when Aunt Cass had told him he would need to train, he’d eagerly thrown himself into his lessons. They were hard, but he wanted to believe that they’d make him safe, and Tadashi had been by his side every step of the way, encouraging him and helping him as much as he could.
Unfortunately, as he’d gotten older, Hiro had become much more disillusioned with the world. He’d quickly discovered that no amount of hiding was going to keep the world from seeing him exactly as they wanted to--as a freak. No matter how hard he’d tried to fit in, to keep a low profile, everywhere he went people avoided him like a disease-carrying vermin. Extremely intelligent for his age, much like his older brother, Hiro had graduated from high school with honors at the age of 13. But instead of teachers and fellow students being drawn to him for being a high achiever like they were drawn to Tadashi, they just used his intelligence as a reason to ridicule and bully him because they needed some name for his strangeness and “otherness” that their pitifully ordinary minds couldn’t fathom.
Hiro couldn’t blame Tadashi for this--if anything, Tadashi was his rock in the middle of everything, supporting him and encouraging him and loving him when no one else did. He made a point of daily telling Hiro how proud he was of him and marveling over every new spell and potion that Hiro learned. It was probably only because of Tadashi that Hiro had continued his training at all (well, that and the fact that Aunt Cass wouldn’t let him quit even if he wanted to.)
But in more recent months, Hiro had finally found a place where he belonged--a place where everyone else was such an outcast that even he could fit in, and people respected him purely for his talent in bot building and fighting in the ring. The back alley bot fights, due to their unregulated and slightly illegal nature, weren’t exactly safe, and it was mostly older teenagers and adults who came to the fights.. But if anything, the danger was even more of a draw for Hiro. He’d spent his entire life being told to play it safe and hide his abilities. Here, he could be whoever he wanted to be, and even if he didn’t openly flaunt his magic (he didn’t have a death wish, after all) his unexplained and narrow escapes when he’d pissed off a fellow fighter had made him something of a legend in the ring. And that’s why tonight’s fight with Yama was easily going to be the biggest of his bot fighting career--he was planning to leave tonight as a legend.
Hiro waited until all of the other bot fighters had squared off with Yama before making his move. As soon as he saw the remaining fighters purposefully disabling their bots as an excuse not to fight he knew it was his time to shine.
“C-Can I try?” Hiro asks, moving to the front of the crowd, making his voice sound nervous and shaky, as if he’d never been to a bot fight before--the more sweet and innocent he acted, the easier time he had throwing other fighters off their game. Was it playing dirty? Maybe. But everyone played dirty here, so he didn’t feel any real guilt about it.
“I-I have a robot… I built it myself,” Hiro says when Yama turns around, holding out Megabot, his prize fighting bot. Megabot was part of his act too--the robot looked clumsy and insubstantial, with a goofy yellow smiley face painted onto it’s head to make it seem like a child’s first foray into bot building. Little did anyone know just how powerful the bot really was, much like Hiro himself.
When Yama and the other fighters burst out laughing, Hiro shrinks back into his oversized hoodie, trying to appear scared and frightened, but inside he was smirking--good, his act was working.
“Beat it, kid,” the lady with an eye patch who seemed to be running the fights tells him, looking slightly pitying but mostly annoyed at a child showing up and interrupting things. “House rules--you gotta pay to play.”
“O-Oh…. Is this enough?” Hiro pulls a crumpled wad of bills out of his pocket--while it was actually quite a large sum of money (earnings from his previous fights), making it look like money that a kid had been socking away in a piggy bank made him look like a complete amateur.
“What’s your name, little boy?” Yama asks with a mocking grin.
“Hiro? Hiro Hamada?” Hiro answers with what he hoped looked like a frightened smile.
“Prepare your bot, Zero ,” Yama snears, and just like that, the fight was on.
The first round of the fight, Hiro let Yama’s bot slice Megabot to pieces, and he pretends to be completely crushed when he loses.
“T-That was my first fight… Can I try again?” Hiro asks, making his voice tremble..
“No one likes a sore loser, little boy,” Yama sneers, stuffing his earnings into his tracksuit. “Go home.”
“I-I’ve got more money!” Hiro holds out a large, professionally bank wrapped roll of bills this time.This was always a gamble. The fact that he, a supposedly completely inexperienced teen, had so much money on him was sure to raise a lot of people’s suspicions, and he had to weigh the risk of people catching on to his game with his knowledge that bot fighters’ greed usually outweighed their common sense. Fortunately, Yama didn’t disappoint him.
The money from the previous fight goes back into the house pot, along with Hiro’s latest offering. The woman in charge announces the start of the battle while Hiro reassembles Megabot, and then the fight began. Only this time, Hiro completely drops his act.
“Megabot,” he says, unable to hide a grin as he extends the robot’s controller out to allow himself full controlling capabilities, “ destroy .”
The fight was almost too easy--Hiro was bored halfway through it. And here he’d thought that Yama would actually be a formidable opponent. But no, he was as under Hiro’s league as every other self-important hack he’d faced until now. Still, at least he was going to be making bank off of this fight.
“No more Little Yama,” Hiro says with a smirk as Megabot destroys the other robot, collecting his winnings from the house pot.
“T-This is not possible!” Yama cries, staring down at his never before defeated bot in shock.
“Hey, I’m just as surprised as you are!” Hiro answers, trying not to sound too cocky. “Beginner’s luck! Do you want to go again-- Yama?”
He freezes when he sees the mountain of a man that he’d just utterly humiliated towering over him. Shit, this had escalated a lot more quickly than he’d expected.
“NO ONE HUSTLES YAMA!” Yama shouts, throwing Hiro against a wall and confiscating Megabot before turning to three men Hiro could only assume were his goons. “Teach him a lesson!”
“H-Hey fellas! L-Let’s talk about this!” Hiro says a bit nervously, hoping that he could find an easier way out of this but preparing a repulsion charm in case he was going to have to blast his way out of here, which it definitely looked like he was going to have to as the guys continue to advance, one of them cracking his knuckles for good measure.
Just as Hiro was about to let loose his magic, a bright light fills the alleyway and the goons have just enough time to leap out of the way as a red motor scooter screeches to a halt in front of them.
“Hiro, get on!” the man driving it shouts.
“Tadashi!” Hiro cries, eyes lighting up as he sees his older brother and quickly hopping onto the back of the scooter. “Oh, good timing!”
Without answering, Tadashi jams a helmet onto his head before taking off down the alleyway. Hiro quickly pushes the visor out of his eyes and uses his controller to call Megabot back to him. As soon as he has the bot in his hands, he focuses on hanging onto his older brother.
“Are you okay?” Tadashi asks, not fully turning around so he could keep his eyes on the road ahead, but even without seeing his face Hiro could hear the panic in his voice.
“Yeah!” Hiro reassures him.
“Are you hurt?” Tadashi presses.
“Then what were you thinking?! Knucklehead!” Tadashi reaches back to punctuate his reprimand with what even Hiro had to admit were a couple well deserved blows.
“Look, I’m sorry, okay?” Hiro answers, not feeling in the least bit sorry but trying to keep up appearances. “How did you find me, anyways? That creepy magical homing beacon you claim you have on me?”
“All witches can locate each other when they’re in distress, so it’s not creepy, and no, I actually got tipped off by Mochi because a few cats saw you heading into a dangerous part of town!” Tadashi shouts back. “And it’s a good thing that they did, you could have been killed!”
“Wait, you have your citywide cat information network spying on me now? That’s even more creepy, bro!” Hiro cries. He still wasn’t sure sure how Tadashi had what seemed like over half ot the city’s cats answering directly to him, but he suspected there was a lot of bribery going on. (Tadashi called it showing them kindness to earn their trust, but Hiro wasn’t going to be so generous when it meant he couldn’t go anywhere in the city without being snitched on.)
“We’re getting off the subject!” Tadashi tosses back--damn, Hiro had been hoping to distract him, but no such luck. “You graduated high school when you were thirteen, and this is what you’re doing? Bot fighting is illegal, you’re going to get yourself arrested!”
“Bot fighting is not illegal!” Hiro protests. “Now betting on bot fighting… That’s illegal. But so lucrative!” He pulls his night’s winnings out of his pocket to illustrate his point. “I’m on a roll, big brother! And there’s no stopping me!”
That is, there was no stopping him until Tadashi jerks to a stop to avoid crashing into the police cars that were blocking the exit to alleyway.
“Oh no…” Tadashi whispers, sounding completely horrified as officers start to get out of the cars.
“Shit…” Hiro whispers--no, tonight couldn’t end like this! He had one option, and he knew that Tadashi wasn’t going to like it, but he doubted Tadashi would prefer going to jail so he hurriedly whispers, “Tadashi, hang on.”
“Hang on? What do you mean-- Oh no. Oh no , Hiro, don’t you dare--!”
But before Tadashi could protest any further, Hiro squeezes his eyes shut and, rapidly chanting the spell, teleports himself and Tadashi from the alleyway out onto a main street a ways from the bot fight. He would have sent them all the way home, but even his magic (powerful as it was) had limits, and just doing this much had seriously drained him.
“Hiro, what the hell?!” Tadashi cries, and he knew that Tadashi had to be pissed because he rarely heard his older brother curse.
“What?” Hiro gasps out, clinging onto his brother’s back and trying to catch his breath. “I-I got us out of there, didn’t I?”
“Hiro, you just did major magic in front of the freaking police ! And we’re technically evading arrest right now! They saw our faces, they’re going to be looking for us!” Tadashi shouts.
“Quiet down, will you?” Hiro hisses. “Look, they didn’t have time to see us clearly, and even if they did you know now stupid normal humans are--are they really going to believe that they saw two guys on a scooter vanish into thin air? No! Of course not! They’re just going to tell themselves that they imagined it and arrest the guys who actually deserve it, so as long as you keep your mouth shut we’re going to get off scot-free!”
“I’m not sure that some jail time wouldn’t do you good,” Tadashi grumbles, although Hiro could tell he didn’t really mean it. “Maybe it would get your head on straight and stop you from going to these stupid bot fights. When are you actually going to start doing something with that big brain of yours?”
“What? Go to college like you so people can tell me stuff I already know?” Hiro fires back.
“...Unbelievable,” Tadashi sighs, shaking his head.
“Look, Dashi, as much as I’d love to keep having this conversation out in the open where the rest of the world can hear it and the police can come find us, do you think we can go home now? I’m pretty worn out from that spell,” Hiro says, partly to try to garner Tadashi’s sympathy and hopefully get himself out of the hot water that he was in and partly because he truly was drained from the spell.
“Fine,” Tadashi says after a moment’s pause. “But I’ve got to stop somewhere on the way home to pick something up and since you’re the one who decided to go bot fighting you have to deal with it and come with me.”
“Fine…” Hiro groans. “Let’s just get this over with…”
Hey everyone! Just a quick note: This chapter pretty much exactly follows the movie because there wasn't really a way to make any changes to the original scene ^^; But next chapter the action really begins!
Hiro should have known that something was up when Tadashi gave in so easily, but he was too tired to notice where they were until they drove past a glowing sign announcing that they were entering SFIT--the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, a.k.a. the college that Tadashi went to and had spent years trying to convince Hiro to go to as well.
“What are we doing at your nerd school?” Hiro groans.
“I told you, I’ve gotta grab something!” Tadashi answers, parking the scooter in front of a building and starting to head for the door.
Hiro, not knowing what else to do, begrudgingly follows after him.
“Is this going to take long?” he grumbles as he follows his elder sibling through the building.
“Relax, you big baby, we’ll be in and out,” Tadashi answers, opening a set of double doors at the end of a hallway and stepping inside. “Besides, you’ve never seen my lab!”
“Oh great, I get to see your nerd lab!” Hiro says sarcastically at he steps inside, only to have to instantly flatten himself against the door as a blur of yellow and black races past, accompanied by a female voice calling out,
Hiro was prepared to yell at whoever had almost run him over to watch where they were going, but his angry words fade away as he sees a girl getting off of a bike that had--were those maglev wheels?
As he glances out into the rest of the lab, his eyes go wide as he takes in an array of similarly awe inspiring tech--a robot that was playing table tennis, a cat hovering on rocket boots, even a small robot that was carrying a guy standing on top of it around the lab.
Curiosity overcoming him, Hiro heads over to check out the currently unsupervised bike, waving one hand between the wheel and the frame, just to make sure that this wasn’t an optical illusion. But no--the wheel really was only being suspended by magnets! How sick was this?!
Hiro jerks back when the bike’s rider comes back over, sounding angry that he was messing with her tech.
"Who are you?" she demands
“I, um--” Hiro starts to try to stammer out an answer, but then he felt Tadashi’s hand on his back.
"GoGo!" Tadashi greets the woman. "This is my brother, Hiro."
The woman pauses for a moment before pulling off her helmet, looking thoroughly unimpressed with Hiro as she pops her gum. "Welcome to the nerd lab,” she finally deadpans before turning to set down the helmet.
“Heh heh.. Y-Yeah…” Hiro stammers out, hating feeling like stupid little kid but wanting to try to make a good impression on the girl who had made such awesome tech. “I-I’ve never seen electro-mag suspension on a bike before!”
Gogo seems to be checking over the bike, spinning on of the wheels. "Zero resistance. Faster bike,” she answers curtly before adding, “But, not fast enough." She grabs the wheel and tosses it into a box with what looked like other discarded bike parts.
Both incredibly impressed and slightly intimidated, Hiro starts to back away. In search of new tech to check out, he starts to head into a nearby cubicle, only to be immediately stopped by a man in gloves and safety goggles.
“Whoa! Whoa whoa whoa! Do not move!" the man cries. "Behind the line, please!" He indicates a striped yellow and black line on the ground, which Hiro quickly moves behind.
"Hey, Wasabi!" Tadashi says, coming to stand behind his younger brother. "This is my brother, Hiro."
"Well, hello Hiro," Wasabi answers with a smile, adjusting his protective goggles as if to see Hiro better. "Prepare to be amazed! Catch!" He grabs an apple off of the table and tosses it towards the space in between two vertical conductors. To the naked eye, there was nothing there, and yet somehow after passing through them the apple was split into a hundred tiny, paper thin slices.
"Wow..." Hiro breathes, reaching out to grab one of the apple slices, marvelling out how perfect the cut was. "Laser induced plasma?” he guesses when Wasabi flips a switch that causes a network of thin green lines to appear between the conductors.
"Oh yea," Wasabi agrees with a proud looking smile. "With a little magnetic confinement for ultra-precision." As he says this, he straightens one of the tools on his already immaculate desk.
"How do you find anything in this mess?" Hiro wonders aloud as he looks at the rather intricate office setup, picking up one of Wasabi's tools
"Ah ah ah!" Wasabi quickly snatches the piece away and puts it back into its perfectly outlined spot. "I have a system," he explains. "A place for everything, and everything in its place!"
Gogo suddenly appears in the office, snatching up a wrench. "Need this!" she calls before racing back out.
"Wh-You can't do this!" Wasabi cries, taking off after her. "This is anarchy! Society has rules!"
As he runs, he just barely misses being run over by a blonde girl rushing past, a gigantic ball of metal rolling ahead of her.
"Excuuuse me! Coming through!" she calls loudly, rolling the metal ball into a stand inside a nearby office, only seeming to notice the two brothers after it was in place.
"Tadashi!" she cries, her eyes lighting up as she leans backwards over the metal ball, her hands over her heart. Then, if possible, her eyes grow even wider as she spots the younger Hamada. "Oh my gosh! You must be Hiro!" she shouts as she removes her headphones (explaining why her voice had been so unnaturally loud before.) "I've heard so much about you!"
Hiro was about to confirm that he was, in fact, Hiro (seriously, had Tadashi told everyone in the lab about him?) when he finds himself being kissed on both cheeks by the girl.
He blinks, stunned--he’d never been kissed, even on the cheek, by anyone outside of his family before--but before he could overthink it, he found himself being dragged along by the blonde woman.
“Perfect timing!” she cries, flipping a switch that caused the metal ball to be lifted up into the air on its stand.
“That’s a whole lot of tungsten carbide,” Hiro observes, not quite sure what she was planning to do with it.
“Four hundred pounds of it!” the blonde agrees eagerly before dragging him over to a table where a very elaborate chemistry set was set up. “C’mere, c’mere, c’mere! You’re gonna love this!”
She rattles off a whole series of scientific-sounding terms that went right over his head as she mixes chemicals, finally spraying the resulting bright pink concoction over the ball. It hangs in a cloud over the metal until she flips yet another switch which seems to cause the chemicals to bond with the metal because the entire ball suddenly became the same vivid pink as the concoction.
“Ta-da! It’s pretty great, right?”the woman says eagerly.
“Wow, it’s so… pink?” Hiro says, not sure what to think of it.
“Here’s the best pa-aart!” the woman sing songs, going over to to touch the metal. Instantly, it explodes into a million particles of pink dust.
“Whoa…” Hiro gasps, half wondering if this woman was a witch herself--what else could explain the exploding metal ball?
"I know, right?" she squeals happily. "Chemical Metal embrittlement!"
"Not bad, Honey Lemon," Tadashi says with a slight smile.
Honey Lemon. So that was her name--Hiro was glad to know what to call her now. Still, he couldn’t quite help but wonder what was up with all these strange names.
"Honey Lemon, Gogo, Wasabi?" He looks to Tadashi for an explanation
"I spill Wasabi on my shirt one time people! One time!" Wasabi cries, stalking past and slamming the lab door closed as he leaves.
“Fred is the one who comes up with the nicknames,” Tadashi explains with a fond smile, and, was Hiro imagining it, or was he actually blushing slightly?
“Uh, who’s Fred?” Hiro asks, deciding that he definitely needed more information about this person.
But instead of getting a direct reply from Tadashi, he hears a voice from behind him calling out, "This guy, right here!"
“Aahh!” Hiro lets out a cry as he comes face to face with what looked like a creature from the black lagoon.
“Ah ah! Don’t be alarmed! It’s just a suit, this is not my real face and body!” An arm pushes back the mouth of what indeed turned out to be a mascot suit and the head of a man with shaggy blonde hair pops out of it.
"The name's Fred!" The man in the suit reaches out an arm to Hiro, who a bit hesitantly shakes it.
“School mascot by day!” Fred continues to introduce himself as he picks up a large sign and twirls it around. “But by night...I’m also a school mascot!"
Hiro noticed that Tadashi was grinning and seemed maybe a bit overly amused by Fred’s antics, and he quickly deduces that, for reasons beyond his comprehension, Fred was probably one of Tadashi’s close friends here at the school. Well, if that was the case, it wouldn’t hurt to get to know him better.
"So what's your major?" Hiro asks.
"No no no no no!" Fred responds, shaking his head. "I’m not a student. But I am a major science enthusiast!” He holds up a comic book that had a man transforming into a giant lizard monster on the front. “I’ve been trying to get Honey to develop a formula that can turn me into a fire breathing lizard at will, but she says that's 'not science'." He uses the mascot suit hands to make air quotes.
"I-It's really not..." Honey Lemon sheepishly tells him.
"Oh sure-- and I guess the shrink ray I asked Wasabi for isn't 'science', either?" Fred asks, finger quoting the word again.
"No," Wasabi said, having returned to the group and seeming unamused by the conversation.
"Well then, what about, invisible sandwich?" Fred asks, pantomiming eating a large sandwich. "Imagine eating a sandwich, but everyone just thinks you're crazy!"
"Just stop," Wasabi sighs, shaking his head.
Hiro tries to take in all of this--okay, so Fred seemed slightly eccentric, but overall not a bad guy. And the fact that he seemed to be pretty into comics probably explained why he and Tadashi--who was also a huge nerd--were such good friends. Speaking of Tadashi…
Hiro realizes that Tadashi had disappeared, and he looks around to try to find his older brother. Finally he spots him standing by a door which seemed to lead into a smaller lab, and when he sees Tadashi signaling with a nod of his head for him to join him Hiro eagerly follows after him. In spite of himself, he was getting swept up into the excitement of things.
Hiro had to admit that Tadashi’s lab was pretty cool--it was a lot bigger than the other students’ (which he felt probably said something about how well Tadashi was doing here at the school) and it was full of a lot of awesome tech.
"So, what have you been working on?" Hiro asks, playfully shaking a robotic hand that was sitting on a table. Tadashi was so closed lipped about his projects until he felt that they were, as he put it, “ready to show the world”--was he finally going to find out what his older brother had been up to all this time?”
“Oh, I’ll show you.” Grinning, Tadashi goes over to the desk drawer and pulls out a roll of duct tape, cutting a strip loose with his teeth.
"Duct tape?" Hiro incredulously asks before shaking his head and saying melodramatically, “Hate to break it to you bro, but that’s already been invented.”
Tadashi did not look amused, so maybe he should have seen this retribution coming. But he didn’t get a chance to do more than let out a surprised, “Hey!” as Tadashi, without,warning, pushes back the sleeve of his hoodie, slaps the duct tape onto the bare skin of his forearm, and then rips it off without mercy.
"DUDE, OW!” Hiro protests. He wanted to demand an explanation (and an apology) but before he could his attention was diverted by a red case leaning up against the side of office opening to reveal an inflatable white robot which waddles forward and introduces itself as Baymax.
Baymax, as it turned out, was a nursebot. A very, very advanced nursebot which could diagnose a myriad of health problems with a single scan. Even though he didn’t want to seem overly impressed, Hiro felt his respect for his older brother (if it was possible) growing even larger than it had been before.
“He’s going to help a lot of people,” Tadashi says with a proud smile once Baymax had finished putting antibacterial spray on Hiro’s minor wound and returned to its case.
Hiro was just starting to give him feedback on some ideas he had for improving Baymax when a man with with grey hair pokes his head into the office.
“Burning the midnight oil, Mr. Hamada?” he asks, and Hiro could only assume that he was referring to Tadashi since he himself had never met this man before in his life.
“Hey, Professor,” Tadashi answers with a smile. “Actually, I was just finishing up.”
A professor. Got it. Boring, Hiro decides. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder if maybe this professor wouldn’t be as bad as his high school teachers had been considering there was apparently some pretty cool stuff being taught here--not that Hiro was actually actually considering going here.
“You must be Hiro. Bot-fighter, right?” The professor says, taking notice of Hiro and this time convincing the teen that Tadashi had apparently been raving about him to every living person at this school.
“When my daughter was younger, that's all she wanted to do,” the professor continues, breaking into Hiro’s thoughts, before gesturing to Megabot. “May I?”
“Sure,” Hiro answers, nonchalantly handing the bot over, knowing that the professor would probably be prejudiced against his bot as it was one built for fights. But, to his surprise, the professor actually seemed to be impressed as he looks Megabot over.
“Hm… Magnetic-bearing servos,” the professor observes.
“Pretty sick, huh?” Hiro gives him a cocky smile. “Wanna see how I put 'em together?”
“Hey, genius!” Tadashi knocks on the glass window off his office to get his attention, a smug smirk on his face. “He invented them.”
“Y-You're Robert Callaghan?” Hiro stammers out as he looks back at the professor, his world flipping on its head. “Like, as in, the Callaghan-Catmull spline? Callaghan's laws of robotics?”
“That's right,” the professor answers with a smile, handing Megabot back to Hiro. “Ever think about applying here? Your age wouldn't be an issue.”
“I don't know…” Tadashi says as he exits his office, closing the door behind him. “He's pretty serious about his career in bot-fighting.”
“Well, k-kind of serious,” Hiro amends, trying not to let on that Tadashi’s words were getting to him. True, he hadn’t wanted to go to school here before. But that was before he’d known that Robert Freaking Callaghan taught here! How could Tadashi have kept this a secret from him?!
“I can see why,” Professor Callaghan says dryly, and something about his tone cut Hiro right to his core. “With your bot, winning must come easy.”
“Y-Yeah, I guess…” Hiro mumbles.
“Well, if you like things easy, then my program isn't for you,” Callaghan says as he opens the elevator at the end of the hallway for Hiro and Tadashi. “We push the boundaries of robotics here. My students go on to shape the future. Nice to meet you, Hiro. Good luck with the bot-fights.”
It was that disappointed look on the professor’s face as the door closes that finally clinches it for Hiro. Callaghan was his idol . There was no way that he could let him down!
“I have to go here!” Hiro cries as soon as he’s outside, turning desperately to his older brother. “If I don't go to this nerd school, I'm gonna lose my mind. How do I get in?”
It was clear for the smug expression on Tadashi’s face that his older brother could tell that he’d finally won this battle.
“Every year, the school has a student showcase. You come up with something that blows Callaghan away, you're in,” Tadashi explains once they’re back in their room later that night, stapling a flyer for the expo over Hiro’s desk for inspiration. “But, it's gotta be great!”
“Trust me,” Hiro answers, flexing his fingers and pulling out a pencil to start sketching out ideas. “It will be.”
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Trigger warning: Severe fire related injuries, nothing graphic but just a heads up.
Two very long months later, Hiro couldn’t believe it. He’d done it. He’d actually done it--he’d made it into SFIT!
After putting in his application for the expo, he’d devoted every spare minute that he’d had to creating his own invention that he’d hoped would secure him a place at the university. His entire family had helped support him through the process--Aunt Cass had even let him off of magic training, agreeing that focusing on his project was more important than learning new spells, at least for the time being. There would be plenty time to continue his practice once he’d actually gotten admitted to the university.
It had meant many late, sleepless nights in the garage, working hard to try to get everything just right, but Tadashi had been right there by his side the whole time, offering him advice when he needed it and, more often, providing him with coffee and meals to give him the energy to keep going. And on the night of the big showcase where he was to present his invention Tadashi had been there to talk him out of stage fright and to convince him to go out there and show everyone just how amazing and revolutionary his microbots were.
Even though the young witch had been terrified when he’d first stepped out into the spotlight and seen all the pairs of eyes staring up at him and boring into what felt like his very soul, when he saw his nii-chan standing out in the crowd, reminding him to take a deep breath, somehow he’d found the courage to actually start, and almost as soon as he’d begun all of his nerves had absolutely melted away. He’d absolutely wowed the judges (without cheating by using magic, no less!) and by the time he got off the stage he was confident that he’d gotten in. Still, it wasn’t until Professor Callaghan actually gave him his entrance letter that it had all become real--he was actually going to be going to college here with his older brother!
All of Tadashi’s friends (who were kind of his friends too now, although he still didn’t know how he really felt about that) had been there to congratulate him--right after Tadashi, of course, who had scooped him up into a big bear hug the minute that he was off the stage that had almost squeezed the life out of him. Once things had calmed down a bit, Aunt Cass had announced that she was going to be making them all a special dinner back at the Cafe, and everyone knew better than to turn down her magical cooking (although only her two nephews knew how truly magical it was.) Everything was perfect--that is, until the unthinkable happened.
Tadashi had pulled Hiro off to the side, promising their aunt that they’d catch up before taking his little brother to a balcony that overlooked the campus. They didn’t say a whole lot--mainly Tadashi just being a ridiculous nerd and getting overly sentimental, but it was in a way that Hiro really didn’t mind. It felt amazing knowing his nii-chan was so proud of him, and he found that he couldn’t wait until classes started and he’d be coming here with him every day. But then the sirens had started going off, and, before Hiro could stop him, Tadashi raced off in the direction that they were coming from to see what was going on and if anyone needed his help.
Stupid, selfless Tadashi! Why did he have to be such a good person? Hiro had wondered as he’d chased after his older brother. By the time that he caught up with him, he found the entire Expo hall in flames, with people running away from the building in droves. Hiro had no idea how the huge building had ignited so quickly--the fire trucks hadn’t even shown up yet! But he doesn’t have long to think about it--Tadashi was asking a woman running past if she was okay, if she needed any assistance. Forever after that, Hiro wished a curse upon her and her family, although in the days to come Aunt Cass would have to talk him out of actually creating a curse many, many times. Why did he want her to suffer so badly? Because she’d told Tadashi that Professor Callaghan was still inside the building.
How had she even known that? And what had she expected Tadashi to do? Apparently exactly what he did--run right into that damned burning building to try to save his professor.
Hiro felt like the entire world had slowed down to almost a standstill as it happened. He saw his brother running up the steps--saw his cap flying off of his head as he ran, and instinctively picked it up, knowing that he couldn’t lose it because Tadashi would want it back when he came back. He had to come back. It didn’t even occur to Hiro that Tadashi wouldn’t return.
But then there had been the explosion. The force of it sent Hiro flying back, landing hard on the pavement and almost knocking him unconscious. By the time that he picked himself back up, his heart was almost beating out of his chest. No--Tadashi had been there! He couldn’t have-- He couldn’t be--
Before anyone could try to stop him, Hiro ran up the steps, not caring that he might be putting himself in danger. He had to find Tadashi! He had to save him! But what he finds at the top makes his heart stop in his chest.
Hiro felt his stomach churning as he looks down at what was left of his brother, only just barely managing to battle down the overwhelming urge to throw up. Tadashi-- No. No, this couldn’t be happening! Oh God, was he even still breathing?
Panic overpowering his fear, Hiro desperately grabs his brother by the arms, starting to drag him down the steps, needing to get him away from the fire. He hears a weak moan that momentarily gave him hope--if Tadashi could still react, he was still alive! But he was so badly burned, Hiro could only imagine the type of agony he was in, and his vision blurs with tears as he finally reaches the bottom of the stairs. Ambulances wouldn’t get here in time. If Tadashi had any hope of surviving this, he would have to do this himself.
Trembling, barely managing to get the words out, Hiro stammers out the spell for his invisibility shield to protect them from the eyes of anyone who would get in the way of what he was trying to do. It takes a couple tries, but he finally manages to get up a shaky one, and then he starts casting every healing charm that he knew over Tadashi, putting every ounce of magic that he had into them. Every spell landed, and for a moment he would think that they were working, but then the magic would vanish, as if he’d never even cast it. Why? Why wasn’t this working? Why wasn’t his magic saving Tadashi?
Finally he breaks down in tears as he runs out of spells to try. No. No, this couldn’t be happening! He had magic, why couldn’t he save his brother? There had to be something he could do! Desperately he holds onto his brother’s hand, panic filling his chest at how weak Tadashi’s pulse was becoming, at how labored each breath he was barely managing to take in was.
“Dashi, no,” Hiro whispers. “No, you can’t leave me… Please, please, hold on, when Aunt Cass gets here--”
But he knew the truth--Aunt Cass wouldn’t get here in time. He was going to have to watch Tadashi die right here in front of him, and there was absolutely nothing that he could do to save him.
His vision blurred with tears, and he was just about to give in to despair when he feels something small and soft pressing down on his knee. At first glance he can barely see what it is, but then he blinks and manages to make out Midnight, Tadashi’s favorite stray cat that lived on campus. Had Midnight sensed that Tadashi was in pain and come to try to help him? Hiro didn’t know, but even if he had there wasn’t anything that the cat could do.
“Midnight, I’m sorry,” Hiro whispers to the cat, not knowing what else to say at this point, feeling that all hope was lost. “I-I can’t do it. I can’t save Dashi…”
He half expected the cat to bow its head in respect to its fallen benefactor or just to leave, knowing that there was nothing that could be done. But instead, to his utter shock, the cat started meowing insistently at him, as if trying to communicate something to him.
“W-What?” Hiro asks, wishing that he’d actually picked up on the family ability of being able to understand cats. “What are you trying to tell me?”
Midnight places one paw onto Tadashi’s chest, and then raises the paw and places it against its own chest, yowling meaningfully up at Hiro, an urgent look in its eyes. Hiro only managed to catch one word of what it had said--“switch”.
“Switch?” Hiro whispers, desperately trying to make sense of what the cat was trying to tell him. What kind of switch was it talking about? And then something that he’d read in one of the forbidden books in Aunt Cass’ library comes floating back into his mind.
A switch--a body switch. It was said that when a witch was in grave danger of or close to dying, the witch could move their spirit into another, willing body in exchange for the spirit of the occupant of the body they were to possess. If the witch couldn’t do it themself, another witch could do it for them. Tadashi wasn’t a full witch, so Hiro didn’t know if it would work, but it was definitely worth a try if it had any possibility of saving his life. Still, it was an extremely difficult spell--something that the book had warned could have dire consequences if it went wrong. Could Hiro really risk attempting the spell and hurting Tadashi? But what other choice did he have? If he didn’t try, he was going to lose his brother anyways. Still…
“A-Are you sure?” Hiro whispers, looking into Midnight’s eyes--was the cat really willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to keep his brother alive?
The cat didn’t show even the smallest hint of fear, just nodding and meowing a clear, “Yes.”
“T-Thank you,” Hiro breathes, unable to believe that the cat was actually going to do this. But he couldn’t pause to fully express his gratitude--if he didn’t hurry, there would be no Tadashi left to save.
Closing his eyes, he forces himself to focus on his mental photograph of the spell page, knowing that if he got even the tiniest part wrong and had to start over that he might not get another chance. Slowly he starts chanting the words, focusing every ounce of power that he had left into it. He had no idea if he was doing this right--was terrified that he was doing it completely wrong. But he became very aware of Tadashi’s presence--warm and, while extremely weak, alive. Hiro cracks his eyes open, gasping when he sees the golden sphere in his hands, dully pulsing with a soft light. Was this Tadashi?
The idea of holding his older brother’s soul in his hands was terrifying. But he couldn’t focus on that now--even though Tadashi’s spirit appeared safe for the moment, he didn’t think it could last very long without a body. Already the light in it was starting to dim, and he anxiously turns towards Midnight, knowing that if they were going to do this then they needed to do it quickly.
He half expected the cat to run away in fear, to have changed its mind on all of this. But no. Midnight was standing right there, a determined expression on his face as he presents his chest to the young witch.
“Thank you,” Hiro whispers gratefully to him one last time before taking a deep breath and, carefully as he can, gently pushing Tadashi’s spirit into the new body.
He had no idea if he’d done it right at first. When he saw the cat’s body go rigid and then limply fall to the ground, he was sure that he’d made and awful mistake and that, because of him, Tadashi and Midnight were both gone for good. But then after one terrified minute, he hears a soft moan coming from the cat and sees its whiskers twitch, and Hiro quickly scoops it up into his arms, whispering tremulously, “D-Dashi?”
“H-Hiro?” he hears his brother weakly answering.
It was beyond strange to hear his brother’s voice coming from a cat--it was wrong, almost. But in that moment, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Tadashi was alive, in some form, and that’s all that Hiro really cared about.
“Nii-chan!” He hugs his older sibling close to his chest, automatically stroking the cat’s fur and trying to convince himself that Tadashi really was okay.
“H-Hiro?” Tadashi repeats, sounding much more alert and, understandably, terrified this time. “W-What’s going on? What happened? W-Why am I--?”
“You’re okay,” Hiro answers, quickly turning away so that Tadashi couldn’t see his lifeless body lying on the ground, knowing that that was the last thing that his brother needed right now. “Y-You’re going to be okay. Y-You’re alive. That’s all that matters. You’re alive, Dashi.”
He feels Tadashi trembling against him, but the older man doesn’t even question what’s happening. Growing up in a family with magic, he’d been on the wrong end of spells gone wrong before, and Hiro knew that he was desperately hoping that this was one of those cases, that Hiro could just say the right words and make this okay again. But Hiro knew that he couldn’t, at least not right now. He could only pray that, until Aunt Cass could help him find a solution, Tadashi would find a way to manage living in this form.
Hiro barely even hears his aunt’s voice over the sound of his own heart beating in his ears, his brain still not able to process everything that had happened and half wondering if he was going into shock. When he finally registers the sound of his aunt calling out to him, he turns around in time to see her horrified expression as his invisibility shield finally gives out. He knew exactly what this looked like, and it was almost as awful as it appeared. Tadashi’s human body was destroyed, and his older brother was stuck inside of a cat. Neither of those were something that, under any circumstances, could be considered even remotely good. But there was an old saying: “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” And Hiro was going to cling onto the goodness of the fact that Tadashi was still alive with everything in him.
“T-Tadashi…” Aunt Cass was whispering, staring in horror down at the hollow shell that had once been her nephew, clearly having no clue of what had just transpired.
Summoning his last bit of strength, Hiro staggers to his feet and holds the real Tadashi out to her, saying, “No. He’s here.”
“H-He’s what?” Aunt Cass gasps, looking between Hiro and the cat as if this was some kind of sick joke.
But then Tadashi pitifully mews out, “A-Aunt Cass?” and her eyes go wide with understanding.
“O-Oh my God,” she whispers, shakily reaching out to touch Tadashi’s face, her eyes staring into the dark brown ones of the cat who had become her nephew. And then she wraps her arms around both Hiro and Tadashi, pulling them into a tight, almost crushing embrace.
“It’s okay,” she whispers, holding them both close. “It’s going to be okay. W-We’re going to make this okay.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
After that, Hiro went numb, his brain finally overloading from everything that had just happened, not able to accept anything more. He only vaguely came to when he became aware of Tadashi’s friends arriving at the scene. He didn’t even have time to try to soften the blow or warn them--Honey Lemon’s piercing scream was enough to signal that the damage had already been done.
Hiro was oddly disconnected from what was happening around him as the next few minutes unfold and yet acutely aware of everything at the same time. He saw Honey Lemon turning away from Tadashi’s burned corpse, clutching onto GoGo, who looked as much in shock as Hiro, although her expression was almost completely blank and void of all emotion. Wasabi had gone completely rigid except for his labored breathing, each shaky gasp of air only just barely passing his lips, and the pinched expression on his face indicated that he was on the verge of either crying or throwing up. But Fred-- Fred was the worst.
Fred, who was always smiling. Fred, who could always put a positive spin on things. Fred, who was always so full of life and laughter. In that moment, it was like all of the color and joy had completely drained out of him, leaving behind only a pale ghost that could have been blown away by the smallest puff of wind. His entire body was shivering, even though it was mid July, and he kept shaking his head, as if trying to convince himself that this wasn’t true--that it wasn’t really happening.
“Dashi, no,” he finally whispers, dropping to his knees next to Tadashi’s fallen figure, taking one of the burnt hands in his own as the others cling to each other. “Dashi, please, no, you can’t-- You have to be here. Y-You can’t be gone. You promised that after tonight, that we-- That everything was going to be okay, that we were finally going to tell everyone… Tadashi, NO!”
His cry of agony, punctuated by a heart-wracking sob as he slumps over Tadashi’s corpse, completely inconsolable, was enough to send a spasm of fear and confusion through Hiro. He had known that Tadashi and Fred were close, maybe even best friends, but he’d never thought that Fred had cared so much about Tadashi. What did he mean that tonight they were going to tell everyone something? Unless…
Hiro looks down at the real Tadashi, who was meowing in distress in his arms, stretching out his paws imploringly towards the other man. Just like that, the last puzzle piece fell into place.
Holy shit. Fred and Tadashi had been secretly dating. There wasn’t any other explanation. But why? And how long had this been going on without his knowledge? Had the two really been planning on coming forward tonight? Why had they waited so long?
Realization dawns on Hiro as his eyes numbly scan the still burning Expo building, which by now was being doused by fire hoses, to little effect. Tadashi had been trying to keep from stealing Hiro’s spotlight with the exhibition coming up. Of course he had--stupid, angelically perfect nerd. And now Fred thought he was dead and they’d never been able to be together publicly as a couple, never been able to enjoy going on dates together around campus and receiving the well wishes of their friends and families.
Only Tadashi wasn’t dead. Hiro shakes himself, reminding himself of the truth. Tadashi was still very much alive, he was right here in his arms! Hiro had no idea how Fred would react to the fact that, at least for the moment, his boyfriend was in feline form, but he knew that anything would be better than thinking that there was absolutely no hope, that Tadashi was gone for forever.
He was just about to carry Tadashi, who at this point was thrashing in his arms and looking very close to actually biting him in order to get free, over to the fanboy to deliver the news to him, but then he feels Aunt Cass’ hand on his shoulder, stopping him and holding him back. The young witch looks up at her in surprise, only to feel a small spasm of terror at the look in her eyes as she shakes her head, her lips forming a straight line.
“I think I need to take Hiro to sit down,” she says to anyone who was listening before starting to march the boy down the steps and towards a bench a short distance from the building.
“A-Aunt Cass, what are you doing?” Hiro asks in surprise.
“Yes, what are you doing?” Tadashi cries, looking almost livid. “They need to know that I’m okay, that I’m not--!”
“As far as they know, you are dead!” Aunt Cass looked surprisingly close to snapping, and both boys immediately feel any arguments that they had drying up in fear.
“I’m sorry,” Aunt Cass says more softly when she sees the terrified expressions on her nephews’ faces, pushing her bangs back off of her face with one hand in a very agitated manner. “I hate to see them suffering as much as you do. But at least for now, they cannot know what’s happened to Tadashi.”
“Why not?” Tadashi argues back. “I know them, they’d understand! They could take it! Anything is better than this!”
“You know why we can’t let anyone know the truth about our family!” Aunt Cass fixes him with a piercing stare. “It’s dangerous for normal people to learn about magic--or have you forgotten what happened to your parents?”
“It wasn’t Mom’s fault that people were so intolerant of Dad marrying someone with a magical lineage,” Tadashi quietly grumbles, but the rebellious fire was fading from his eyes.
“But do you want to risk your friends facing the same dangers?” Aunt Cass asks softly.
“...No,” Tadashi finally sighs, slumping in Hiro’s arms in defeat. “I-I don’t…”
“Then we’re agreed.” Aunt Cass also sighs. “Unless we can find a way to turn Tadashi back human, no one can know of this.”
“What do you mean ‘unless’?” Hiro looks up at her in shock. “T-There are plenty of spells that can fix this, right? There are tons of spells to turn people into animals, and it’s super easy to reverse the effects, it shouldn’t be that hard!”
“That is very different case.” Aunt Cass shakes her head. “This wasn’t a simple transformation spell, Tadashi’s soul has been transferred and bound to an entirely new body. Any connection he had to his old form is gone for good--this is who he is now.”
“B-But you showed me that spell that you used to turn Mochi human once, and he’s a cat--couldn’t we use that?” Hiro cries, grasping at straws now--there had to be a way to fix this!
“Mochi is my familiar, I can do magic on him that I couldn’t do on other animals because of our magical bond,” Aunt Cass explains, looking like she was very much trying to hold herself together but her patience was starting to wear thin.
“Isn’t it worth a try?” Hiro presses desperately. “Isn’t anything that could possibly make Tadashi human again worth exploring? I-If you don’t want to do it, you could teach me so I could perform the spell!”
“Not only is there the possibility of the spell going entirely wrong and hurting Tadashi, even if it did work you would be creating a magical link between yourselves that could never be undone!” Aunt Cass answers, a bit of anger edging its way into her voice. “Tadashi would become your familiar, he would never be fully free to live his own life! Is that what you want for him?”
Hiro shrinks back, icy fear flooding through his veins. No, of course he didn’t want Tadashi to be stuck as his familiar--he’d never want something like that for his older brother! But what was Aunt Cass saying? To abandon all hope of normalcy ever returning to their lives?
“I would be willing to try it,” Hiro hears Tadashi say, and the teenager looks down at him in surprise.
“Y-You would?” Hiro asks in disbelief. “Y-You would want to be my familiar?”
“Well, if it just means looking out for your safety and helping you with your magic, don’t I already do that?” Tadashi returns wryly. “And anything is better than being stuck in the body of a cat…”
“See?” Hiro feels his hopes rising as he turns to Aunt Cass. “He said he’d be okay with it! So can’t we--?”
“NO.” This time it was obvious that Aunt Cass had completely lost her patience--anger was pouring out of her aura in waves of heat. “I absolutely forbid you from even attempting it! We have almost lost Tadashi once, I am not letting you two do something so foolhardy that could result in us losing him for forever! That is my final word on the subject!”
Hiro shrinks back, and he could feel Tadashi shivering too--they’d never seen her like this before, except the time that she’d told them about the real cause behind their parents’ deaths. It was almost impossible to believe that she was the same aunt who woke them up with breakfast in bed on their birthdays and sang silly 80’s rock songs while she was cooking in the kitchen. But it was quite obvious at this point that trying to cross her would result in the type of punishment neither of them would ever fully recover from, and so they just numbly nod in response, making it clear that they weren’t going to try to disobey her.
“Good,” Aunt Cass sighs, a good deal of the anger going out of her. “I’m sorry, I just--I can’t risk losing either of you… Not after I’ve already lost so many others…”
“We understand, Aunt Cass,” Tadashi says in a soft mew. “I-I’m the one who should be sorry. I-It’s my fault I’m like this, isn’t it? If I hadn’t tried to run into that building… If I’d stopped to think about what I was doing…”
“Oh, sweetie…” Within moments, Aunt Cass was taking Tadashi into her arms, hugging him tightly. “Please, please don’t blame yourself, honey. You couldn’t help it. Heroics are in your blood--you should know from the stories I’ve told you about your mother--and you were trying to help someone in need.”
Tadashi silently nods in agreement, but Hiro could see from the look in his eyes that he was, indeed, starting to blame himself for what had happened. A small part of Hiro almost couldn’t help but agree with him--why had he tried to save Professor Callaghan when it had been such a lost cause? And hadn’t he stopped to think about how it would affect his family if he’d actually died? But deep down, Hiro was also starting to blame himself--if he’d just known the right healing spells, or if he’d just held on and kept Tadashi from running up those steps, then they wouldn’t be in this mess. He should have been looking out for his brother, just like Tadashi always looked out for him! It was all his fault that Tadashi was stuck as a cat and might be for the rest of his life.
“Come on, you two,” Aunt Cass says softly, putting a hand on Hiro’s shoulder while using her other arm to cradle Tadashi. “Let’s get you back to the truck. I-I know that I’m going to have to stay here and deal with… Things.” She winces, as if the arduous amount of paperwork and questionings that she was going to have to go through were already exhausting her. “But I think that the two of you should at least go sit down for now. Hiro, sweetie, if they need you then I’ll come at get you, okay?”
“O-Okay,” Hiro agrees, not even attempting to smile to reassure her that he understood. A dark, heavy cloud of guilt was starting to settle over him, accusing voices whispering in his ear in a taunting melody, “ Your fault, your fault, all of this is your fault.”
He didn’t even realize that tears were starting to fall down his face until he feels a rough tongue licking them off of his cheeks. Feeling startled, he looks down to see Tadashi looking pleadingly up at him, saying softly, “Hiro, please, don’t do this to yourself. You saved my life. I’d be dead now if it wasn’t for you. So please don’t blame yourself for this.”
“I-I’ll try,” Hiro mumbles, although he didn’t really mean it and he knew that Tadashi could tell from the concerned frown on his face.
Almost as soon as they reach the truck and Aunt Cass opens the door for them, Hiro collapses onto the seat, too weighed down by the events of the evening and his part in them to attempt to stand even a minute longer. He hears Aunt Cass saying something, but he’s so far gone that he can’t even understand the words. He’s vaguely aware of something soft and warm curling up underneath his chin, nuzzling comfortingly into his neck, before the world goes black around him.
The next thing that Hiro knows, he was waking up as the truck pulls to a stop in front of the Cafe. He’s only half awake, but he sees Aunt Cass sitting in the driver’s seat and realizes that she must have driven them all home from the Expo.
“Dashi?” Hiro mumbles as he sits up, yawning and trying to figure why it felt like there was something heavily sitting on his stomach. “Dashi, I just had the weirdest dream… For some reason there was a fire at the university, and you got turned into a cat… How crazy is that? ...Dashi?”
It was when he looked down and saw the small black cat sitting in his lap that the events of the evening all came flooding back to him.
“...Shit…” he whispers as all the crippling guilt from before lands squarely on his skinny shoulders again.
“Swear jar,” the cat sitting on him promptly scolds him. It was such a Tadashi-ish thing to say that Hiro almost smiled. Almost.
“How you feeling, sweetie?” Aunt Cass asks as she comes around to open the door on his side of the truck.
“‘M’okay…” Hiro mumbles, automatically hugging Tadashi close to his chest. “Why are we home?”
“I was able to take care of most of the stuff that the police wanted,” Aunt Cass answers gently. “They want you to come to the station to make a formal statement about what happened, but I convinced them that what you really needed tonight was to be at home and try to get some sleep in.”
“I-I have to go to the police station tomorrow?” Hiro repeats, his stomach sinking.
“Only if you’re up to it,” Aunt Cass quickly amends.
“And I’ll come with you if you want,” Tadashi adds, gently rubbing up against him.
“That would be nice,” Hiro admits, feeling the tiniest bit better.
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Tadashi reassures him.
“C’mon, you two.” Aunt Cass swings the door open wider. “It’s been a long night for all of us. Let’s go inside and try to get some rest. We’ve got a long day tomorrow.”
“What happens tomorrow?” Hiro asks, frowning at her. “I mean, anything other than me going to the station?”
“Well…” Aunt Cass and Tadashi exchange a look that Hiro doesn’t exactly like before the older woman finally admits, “We have to--well, we have to start planning the funeral.”
“The what ?!” Hiro was completely caught off guard by that. “F-Funeral? But Tadashi’s not dead! He’s right here!”
“I know that, honey,” Aunt Cass answers quickly. “It’s just that--we have to do something with the body that they found, out of respect, if nothing else. It would also look very strange if we didn’t hold a ceremony of some sort when everyone thinks that Tadashi died. And beyond that… Well, we have to give everyone else a chance to say their goodbyes.”
“But Tadashi. Isn’t. Dead,” Hiro carefully enunciates.
“I know that, and you know that, but they don’t--and at least for now, with the way that Tadashi is, they can’t know,” Aunt Cass states, looking like her patience was, again, wearing thin. “Tadashi and I have already talked about this, and we have to let them grieve properly--it’s healthy.”
“Bull crap it’s healthy!” Hiro felt anger rising up in him. “You’re really going to make all of them suffer, just so we can protect our ‘precious secret’? That is not okay!”
“Hiro!” Aunt Cass gasps, frowning angrily at him. “I know that you may not like it, but I am both your and Tadashi’s guardian and I’m doing what I think is best for both of you!”
“Best for us? Or best for you?” Hiro challenges before scooping Tadashi up and stalking towards the door, muttering darkly as he goes.
“Hiro…” Tadashi looks up at him with a worried expression on his face. “Please, don’t take this out on Aunt Cass…”
“You’re taking her side on this?” Hiro snaps in disbelief. “You’re okay with all of your friends thinking that you’re dead?!”
“Of course I’m not okay with it,” Tadashi answers softly, looking hurt. “I’m nowhere near okay with it. But what choice do we have? We can’t go against Aunt Cass--in case you forgot, she lets us live here, and in my position right now I can’t exactly support us if we get kicked out. And besides that--tell me honestly, if you were in their shoes, how would you feel if you thought that I was dead but then just showed back up as a cat?”
“I’d be relieved to know that you were alive,” Hiro tells him with a tiny growl as he works his key into the lock, although deep down he knew that, as much as he hated to admit it, Tadashi did have a point.
The older man sighs. “I know how you feel. And you have every right to be angry. But for now, can we please--please, just try to keep the peace until we can figure out a better solution?”
Poor Tadashi looked so disheartened that Hiro couldn’t find it in his heart to argue with him--at least not right now. “Okay,” he finally says softly, hugging his brother close as he nudges the door open with his foot. “For now, we’ll do it your way. But I promise, first thing tomorrow morning I am going to start tearing the entire library apart until I can find a spell that will change you back into a human.”
“I know you can do it. I have faith in my little bro.” Tadashi nuzzles up against him and, to his younger sibling’s great surprise, actually started vibrating as a soft rumbling sound started emanating from his throat.
“A-Are you purring?” Hiro asks in disbelief.
“I guess I am,” Tadashi chuckles, looking slightly embarrassed. “That’s going to take some getting used to…”
It’s not something you’ll have to get used to if I have something to say about it , Hiro thinks firmly as he turns on the lights and carries his brother into the house. Tadashi was counting on him, and he wasn’t about to let him down.
A few steps into the house, Hiro sees a familiar calico colored puffball walking lazily into the living room. For a moment Mochi just surveys the sight of his mistress’ nephew with his usual good grace. But then, to Hiro’s great surprise, the cat starts hissing and spitting angrily, arching his back and looking like he was about to attack.
“Mochi, what the hell?!” Hiro cries, taking a startled step back. “What’s gotten into you?”
“I-I think it’s me,” Tadashi answers in a small voice, cowering back against Hiro and apparently too scared to even call his little brother out on his cursing. “H-He thinks I’m another cat invading his territory…”
“The fuck?” Hiro knew he’d gone a little bit too far with the language when he feels Tadashi not so gently poking him with his claws. Still, he had more important things to deal with right now. Feeling emboldened as his brother’s protector (wow, things had sure changed quickly, usually Tadashi was the one protecting him...) Hiro marches over to Mochi and, still holding Tadashi with one arm, scruffs the spitting Japanese bobtail with the other.
“Mochi, STOP IT RIGHT NOW,” he commands, giving the cat his dirtiest look. “This isn’t a random stray cat, this is Tadashi . He has had a very rough night, and you will treat him with the proper respect or so help me you will be sleeping out in the alleyway tonight! Understood? ”
Wow--that had actually been oddly empowering. He’d never talked to anyone like that. It was only a cat that he was talking to, but still!
Mochi, for his part, was looking both frightened and more than a little shocked. He looks at Tadashi and lets out a rather questioning meow, which Tadashi answers with an embarrassed smile.
“I-It’s me, Mochi,” he tells the other cat.
Mochi stares at him with a rather dumbfounded expression as Hiro looks to his brother for answers. “Is he going to behave now?”
“I think so,” Tadashi answers, seeming a bit uncertain.
“Mochi, are you going to behave?” Hiro gives the cat another dirty look, daring him to try to make trouble. Mochi just humbly nods in response, and the teenager finally lets him go with a final threatening glance. “You’d better, or I will make you regret it.”
That settled, Hiro finally puts Mochi back down and starts to make his way up the stairs, keeping Tadashi held firmly in his arms.
“Are you ever gonna let me walk again, bro?” Tadashi asks with an attempt at a playful smile, gently kneading one of his shoulders with his paws. “If you don’t, you know I’m gonna end up looking like Mochi, right?”
“I--yeah, eventually,” Hiro mumbles. “It’s just--I can’t let you go right now, okay? I-I’m scared that if I let you go…” He can’t even finish the sentence.
“Oh, Hiro…” Tadashi nuzzles into his neck, giving him a tiny cat kiss with his rough little tongue that probably would have made Hiro laugh under any other circumstances. “I promise you, I’m not going anywhere. Didn’t I promise to always look out for you? I’ve got to make good on that promise.”
“But I almost lost you tonight because you--” Hiro doesn’t even realize how hurtful the words are until they’re almost all the way out of his mouth.
“Oh my gosh, Dashi, I’m so sorry!” he instantly apologizes, but he could already tell from the way that his brother’s ears were drooping that it was too late--they’d already done their damage.
“No, Hiro, you’re right,” Tadashi whispers. “Y-You’re completely right, all of this is my fault. I was such an idiot, and I almost got myself killed. H-How could I have almost left you like that?”
“Dashi, it’s okay.” Hiro squeezes him tightly. “Please forget I said anything! All that matters to me now is that you’re here. You’re here, and I love you, and I don’t want you blaming yourself for what happened. I-I don’t remember much of what happened after Mom and Dad died, but I remember you locking yourself away from me for so long. And I couldn’t stand it if you did that again. I need my nii-chan.”
“Okay,” Tadashi whispers, nuzzling again. “I promise I won’t do that to you as long as you don’t do that to me. I don’t want you blaming yourself for me being a cat for now, okay? We will find a way around this like we always do. And I need that big brain of yours focusing on finding a solution instead of using up energy on feeling guilty for something that isn’t even your fault. Deal?”
“Heh. Deal.” Hiro lets out a small laugh, gently rumpling Tadashi’s fur and wondering how his brother always managed to know exactly what was going on in his mind.
“Hey!” Tadashi protests, lightly swatting his hand away. “Don’t do that!”
“It’s payback for all the times you’ve messed my hair up, bro!” Hiro answers with a grin.
“But your hair always looks like a mess and you like it that way! I actually care about my appearance,” Tadashi whines.
“Well, sorry to break it to you, bro, but this isn’t exactly the best body for that,” Hiro admits with a wry smile. “Midnight always kinda looked like he was having a bad fur day.”
“Except on the days that I brushed him, then he always looked very dapper!” Tadashi protests, although he looked a bit concerned as he forces his way out of Hiro’s arms and hops down onto the dresser, looking himself over in the mirror. And then Hiro’s words seem to sink in as he stares into his reflection and he looks up at his brother in silent horror.
“W-Wait… W-Why are you talking about Midnight? What does he have to do with anything?” Tadashi asks, his voice trembling, although it was obvious that he already at least suspected the truth.
“Bro, I-I’m sorry,” Hiro apologizes, wincing and realizing his mistake. “I-In order to save you, I had to have another body to move you into. Midnight showed up out of nowhere--I guess he must have sensed that you were in pain and wanted to help. H-He was actually the one who suggested the idea--he wanted to save you, and he volunteered to give you the body that you needed in order to live.”
“Then what happened to him?” Tadashi whispers, looking on the verge of tears. “I-If I’m in his body, then where--?”
“I-I think he’s at peace, bro,” Hiro answers gently, gathering his brother up into his arms. “He had a good life, Dashi, and it was all thanks to you. He was just a stray that no one cared about, but you gave him love and affection when no one else would. I think he wanted to finally be able repay you for all your kindness to him.”
“Oh my God… Oh my God, Midnight…” Tadashi cries, burying his tiny face into Hiro’s chest.
“Dashi, I’m so sorry…” Hiro tells him, not knowing what else to say. “H-He would have wanted you to be happy. And I think he’s looking down from cat heaven and he’s very proud of the fact that he was able to save the human that he loved the most in the whole world.”
“You think so?” Tadashi sniffles.
“I know so,” Hiro reassures him, automatically starting to stroke his brother’s fur.
Tadashi silently nods before saying softly, “I-I’ll try to be worthy of his sacrifice.”
“I know you will,” Hiro answers, gently pressing a quick kiss to the top of his head.
“Yeah...” Tadashi offers him a small smile before tentatively looking at himself in the mirror again, as if trying to adjust himself to his new reflection. A small furrow forms in his brow as his observes, “I remember Midnight having green eyes. A-Are you sure it was him?”
“Yeah, he definitely had green eyes when he came to me,” Hiro answers, frowning thoughtfully. “I guess when you transferred over, his--your?--eyes changed color to the same color they were when you were human.”
“That’s… Definitely different,” Tadashi observes, but he doesn’t question it any further.
“So--what do we do now?” Hiro asks, trying to get his brother’s mind off of things.
“I dunno,” Tadashi admits, looking up at him. “I mean--I’m technically dead, so I guess I should do whatever ghosts are supposed to do?”
“Tadashi, that’s not funny!” Hiro cries, looking alarmed.
“Sorry, sorry, that was in bad taste,” Tadashi quickly apologizes.
“‘S’okay,” Hiro mumbles, although he still was a bit concerned by his brother’s words.
“I guess maybe now is as good a time as any to try to get used to this body…” Tadashi observes, starting to squirm in Hiro’s arms. “Can you put me down on the floor? I think I should try practicing walking on all fours…”
“Maybe the bed would be safer?” Hiro observes, feeling extremely protective and thinking about the fact that the floor of their room was panelled in hardwood. “I mean, it’s softer so if you fall down it won’t hurt so much!”
“That’s true…” Tadashi says thoughtfully. “But, on the other hand, it’s not as even a surface to walk on as the smooth floor.”
“It’s not as slippery, though!” Hiro challenges.
“...You have very strong feelings about me practicing walking on the bed, don’t you?” Tadashi observes with an amused smirk.
“Yes?” Hiro answers with an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I just don’t want you hurting yourself!”
“And I appreciate that.” Tadashi gratefully nuzzles up against him. “Okay. If you really want me to practice on the bed first, I’ll practice on the bed.”
“Thanks nii-chan!” Hiro gives him a grateful smile as he walks over to the bed and carefully sets him down on it. “How does that feel?”
“A bit weird,” Tadashi admits as he carefully balances on all fours. “And yet kind of oddly natural at the same time?”
“Well, I guess your body is kind of set up to stand like that,” Hiro gently reminds him. “Think you’re ready to try a few steps?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Tadashi admits, carefully lifting one paw, placing it down in front of him, and then the next. It took him a few tries to get the right coordination of front leg and back leg in each step, but after a few minutes of practice he was actually doing pretty well with it.
“You’re doing great, nii-chan!” Hiro cheers for him as he walks with increasing confidence around the perimeter of the bed.
“Thanks,” Tadashi chuckles, grinning up at him before looking curiously down at the floor. “Huh…”
“What are you thinking?” Hiro asks, not quite liking the look on his face. But before he can stop him, Tadashi was launching himself off the side of the bed.
“So cats do always land on their feet!” Tadashi says with a grin as he lands neatly on the ground.
“Dude!” Hiro protests, heart pounding in his chest. “Don’t do that to me! You almost gave me a heart attack!”
“Aw, and I don’t have any defibrillators handy,” Tadashi jokes.
“I’m serious!” Hiro glares down at him. “You can’t just jump off of stuff like that! You could hurt yourself!”
“Hiro, need I remind you that I’m a cat right now?” Tadashi replies evenly. “How do you expect me to get down from places?”
“Ask me for help!” Hiro argues back.
“You won’t always be around to help me, bro,” Tadashi tells him more gently. “I’ve got to learn to be able to handle myself when you’re not around.”
“When won’t I be around?” Hiro challenges.
“When you’re at school? You just got into SFIT, remember?” Tadashi answers.
Hiro feels a twisting in his gut at the reminder. The only real reason that he’d wanted to go to that stupid nerd school in the first place was to be with Tadashi. If Tadashi wasn’t there, he didn’t even see the point in going. But he knew that that wasn’t what his big brother wanted to hear right now, so he just says confidently, “Well, by the time that classes are back in session, we’ll have you back to normal so you’ll be coming with me!”
“Yeah. Sure I will.” Hiro didn’t like how Tadashi didn’t look as convinced by his words as he should have. Still, before the younger boy can question it, he sees his brother give a large yawn and say softly, “Hey, Hiro? It’s getting kind of late and it’s been a--well, really long night for me. Do you think maybe we could go to bed now?”
“Sure, Dashi,” Hiro reassures him, realizing just how exhausted he was himself. He gently scoops Tadashi back up into his arms, with no protests from his brother, saying softly, “C’mon. Let’s go get some sleep in.”
“Yeah--better sleep now than have to take a cat nap tomorrow, right?” Tadashi replies with a smug smirk on his little cat face.
“NO. Bad Tadashi!” Hiro chides him, rolling his eyes in disgust. “No cat puns!”
“What? I thought that one had purrfect timing!” Tadashi answers innocently.
“Tadashi, I swear on every red gummy bear in existence, if you make one more cat joke I will get the squirt bottle,” Hiro declares, glaring down at him.
“Fine…” Tadashi sighs, rolling his eyes and looking disappointed. “Take away my awesome excuse for using puns…”
“Thank you.” Hiro shakes his head before placing Tadashi down on one of his pillows and pulling back the covers. He was too tired to change into pajamas or even brush his teeth and so he just kicks his shoes off before crawling up onto the bed, a wave of exhaustion overwhelming him.
He was just starting to pull the blankets up over himself when he feels Tadashi’s warm, furry form curling up against his chest, and he can’t help but smile slightly as he wraps the covers around both of them, glad that he didn’t even have to ask for his nii-chan to know that he needed him tonight. Feeling safe and warm with his older brother cuddled up against him, he allows his heavy eyelids to slide shut. Tomorrow, he would start his search to find the way to turn Tadashi back, and soon everything would be okay again. Yeah. Everything was going to be okay.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
“Okay, I really think this one’s going to work! It’s supposed to return anyone under a spell to their true form,” Hiro announces, carrying the latest spell book that he’d been poring through out of the library and into the living room, letting it fall onto the coffee table with a loud “thud”. Tadashi, who had been comfortably curled up in the window seat, jerks awake, his ears twitching rapidly at the loud sound.
“Hiro…” he quietly moans, shaking his head to clear away the cobwebs of sleep. “What time is it?”
“Don’t know, don’t care!” Hiro states cheerfully. “C’mon, bro, let’s give it a go!”
Tadashi sighs before getting up and jumping down to the floor, crossing the room to his brother and staring disapprovingly up at the clock when he sees the the time.
“Seven am? Hiro, last time you woke me up it was five am,” he says, looking up at his younger brother. “Did you sleep at all last night?”
“No,” Hiro admits, flinching slightly under his brother’s stare. “But it’s okay!” he quickly continues. “I can sleep when we’ve got you cured!”
“Hiro, you can’t keep doing this to yourself…” Tadashi sighs, frowning at the deep bags under his sibling’s eyes. “You’ve barely slept in two weeks, you’re always locking yourself up in the library with Aunt Cass’ spell books, and I swear the only reason you haven’t collapsed is that you keep spelling yourself awake!”
“I’m fine,” Hiro quietly scoffs, trying to ignore the fact that he actually did have a headache dully pounding in his head and that his vision was a bit blurry.
“No. You’re not.” Tadashi leaps up onto the chair behind Hiro and from there up onto his sibling’s shoulders, nuzzling up against his cheek. “I’m really starting to get worried about you…”
“Just this one last spell,” Hiro pleads with him. “One last spell, and then I promise that I’ll go to sleep, okay?”
“Fine,” Tadashi sighs, unable to resist his younger sibling’s puppy eyes. “Just one more spell, and then you have to get some sleep in.”
“I swear it,” Hiro promises.
“All right then.” Tadashi gently licks his cheek before hopping down onto the floor.
“Okay, here we go!” Hiro picks up the spellbook, confident that this was going to work. “Ready, Dashi?”
“Might as well give it a try,” Tadashi answers with a wry smile. Hiro didn’t like the lack of confidence in his voice--it almost sounded as if he had given up. But no, that couldn’t be right! Dashi couldn’t give up--there were still so many spells to try, and Hiro was confident that one of them was going to work. So even if his brother was starting to lose his faith, Hiro was determined that he would have enough belief for both of them. And if he was right, he finally had a solution to all of their problems with this spell that he was about to try!
“All right, brace yourself.” Hiro picks up the spellbook and, after taking a deep breath, starts chanting the words of the spell that was supposed to turn Tadashi back human. He could feel it working--could feel the familiar buildup of magic in his veins, bubbling just under the surface of his skin like water boiling in a pot and begging to be released. And then he says the final words to the spell and the magic is released in orange and golden spirals, curling around Tadashi’s tiny cat body and suffusing him in a warm glow. Hiro holds his breath, sure that at any moment he would see his brother finally returning to normal. But instead of changing, all that happened was the golden light slowly dissipating with no noticeable change to his brother’s appearance.
“W-What?” Hiro stammers, guilt churning in his stomach at his latest failure. “N-No! That should have worked! It was the perfect spell! I-- I must have said it wrong! Yeah, that’s it! Let me just try it again!”
He starts to stammer out the words again, but all the words on the page start going blurry and he feels himself swaying on his feet.
“Hiro, no!” Tadashi cries, hurrying over to him and putting his paws up against his leg. “You’re exhausted! Please--you need to take a break and get some sleep!”
“B-But I thought it was going to fix you,” Hiro whispers, horrified as he feels tears starting to pool in his eyes. “I-It should have fixed you! Why didn’t it?!”
“Maybe because you’re so exhausted that your magic is depleted,” Tadashi answers soothingly. “I really think that if you tried getting a few hours sleep then you might have a better chance.”
“...Fine,” Hiro finally sighs in defeat, laying the book back down onto the coffee table before scooping Tadashi up into his arms. “I’ll go to bed--but you have to promise to wake me up in a few hours, okay?”
“I’ll wake you up when I think you’ve had enough rest,” Tadashi counters, and the younger teen was too exhausted to argue with him.
Hiro was just starting to head towards the stairs leading up to their room when he sees Aunt Cass walking into the living room and stiffens, clutching his brother closer to his chest. Things had been strained, to put it kindly, between them for the past two weeks. Aunt Cass had been spending most of her time planning a funeral which Hiro still felt was a sick and twisted charade, and almost daily now they were having rather explosive arguments about the familiar spell which Hiro was convinced was the best way to save Tadashi but Aunt Cass insisted would cause more harm than good. Tadashi wasn’t taking sides, just trying to keep the peace, but needless to say their once so happy and loving home had almost begun to feel like a battleground.
“Oh, you’re awake.” Aunt Cass looked slightly surprised to see Hiro in the living room. “I didn’t expect to see you up this early.”
“I was up late going through the spell books,” Hiro mumbles, refusing to meet her eyes.
“I see.” Aunt Cass purses her lips. “Well, I’m just glad to see that you’re awake. I do hope that you’re planning to change your clothes before we leave? You look like you’ve been wearing what you have on for a week.”
The truth was that Hiro had been wearing the same outfit for a week, not really seeing the purpose in changing his clothes since he wasn’t even leaving the house, but he wasn’t about to admit to that. Plus he had more important things on his mind at the moment.
“Leave? Where are we going?” Hiro asks, frowning in confusion.
“To the church,” Aunt Cass answers, frowning back. “Please tell me that you didn’t forgot that the funeral is today.”
Hiro’s tired brain finally registers the fact that his aunt was dressed all in black and the reasoning behind it. Still, in spite of the revelation, he finds himself scowling as he growls out, “I’ve already told you. I’m not. Going. So you can forget it.”
“Honestly, Hiro,” Aunt Cass sighs, looking like she’s at her wit’s end. “It’s going to look extremely suspicious if you’re not at your own brother’s funeral. I need you to at least try to make an effort.”
“I have been making an effort!” Hiro snaps. “I’ve been trying to save Tadashi while you’ve been planning a stupid funeral, pretending that he’s dead instead of trying to help him!”
“Aunt Cass, please,” Tadashi quickly cuts in before either of the two witches could say anything that they’d later regret. “Hiro’s exhausted, I don’t think he’s in any condition to go anywhere. I just finally convinced him to go to bed. Please let him sleep--he really needs it.”
“...Fine,” Aunt Cass finally sighs. “I guess if anyone asks, I can say that Hiro’s sick and that he couldn’t make it.”
“Thank you, Aunt Cass.” Tadashi gives her a grateful smile before gently tugging on his brother’s hoodie with his teeth, indicating that it was time to make their exit.
Hiro, for his part, was livid as he makes his way up the stairs. “Can you believe it?!” he snarls under his breath. “She’s acting like I’m the bad guy when she’s the one getting in the way of me trying to save you every time that I turn around! What is wrong with her? Does she want you to be stuck as a cat for forever?!”
“Hiro, I’m sure that she’s just trying to do what she thinks is best,” Tadashi tells him gently, nuzzling his arm even though he looked a little conflicted himself. “And for now, you have a promise to keep to me,” he quickly adds, looking meaningfully up at his younger sibling. “C’mon. Into bed with you.”
“Fine…” Hiro sighs, crossing the room to his bed and almost collapsing onto it. He was too exhausted to move at this point, but he couldn’t help but feel grateful as he feels his brother grabbing the bunched up blanket at the end of the bed in his teeth and dragging it up over him to give him some cover.
“Thanks, Dashi,” he whispers, gratefully sinking into the soft mattress. Oh, this felt so good…
He becomes vaguely aware of the sound of rain starting to patter against his window, but he wasn’t even awake long enough to properly register it. Sleep claimed him, and his exhausted body was finally ready for some much needed rest.
Fire. There was fire everywhere. Hiro didn’t even know where the floor or ceiling was of the dark room he was in, all he could see was the burning flames, growing ever closer. Crying out in panic, Hiro takes off into the darkness, desperate to get away from them. But then he hears someone screaming, and he turns around, hearing his heart pounding wildly in his ears. Tadashi!
He starts back towards the fire, desperate to find his brother, only to gasp in horror when he sees his brother’s charred form, completely covered in flames, face twisted in agony.
“Hiro--why did you do this to me? Why didn’t you save me?” Tadashi whispers, his eyes burning coals of betrayal. “Why are you letting me suffer?”
“Dashi, no!” Hiro tries to cry out, but the words are snuffed before they can even leave his mouth, a strangled feeling in his throat. “Tadashi, please, I tried! I tried to save you!”
And then he sees his brother crumbling into dust, consumed by the fire, and he can’t even scream to express his agony.
Hiro jerks upright in bed, heart feeling like it was going to pound right out of his chest. Tadashi! Where was Tadashi?!
He looks wildly around the room, feeling himself relax by just the tiniest fraction when he sees the black cat sitting on the end of his bed, facing the door. Thank goodness! Tadashi was okay--he was safe, and that’s all that mattered.
“Dashi,” Hiro says softly, feeling more awake but still greatly shaken by the dream and stretching his arms out to his elder sibling. “Dashi, I had a really bad nightmare...”
He knew from experience that saying this would usually result in Tadashi turning into a complete mother hen, snuggling him and asking him if he was all right. It was something that he usually hated, but right now he really needed the comfort. Only this time, to his great surprise, Tadashi didn’t turn back to look at him. Instead his entire form stayed completely rigid, his eyes still trained on the door and only his ears moving slightly every so often, almost like someone moving a radio antenna to try to get a better signal. And then, before Hiro can even process what’s happening, he sees Tadashi standing up on all fours and leaping down from the bed, taking off towards the door the moment his paws connect with the floor.
“Dashi? Oh my gosh, Dashi, what are you doing?” Hiro cries, throwing off the covers and chasing after his brother. What had gotten into him? Why was he acting so strangely? He had no clue, but the only way to find out was to catch up with Tadashi and ask him, hopefully before the older man got himself into some kind of trouble.
If Hiro had been paying more attention, he might have picked up on the soft sound of many hushed voices before he reached the bottom of the stairs. As it was, he was so caught up on keeping up with Tadashi that he didn’t realize until he was in the living room that the entire lower floor was filled with people.
Shit . He had completely forgotten that Aunt Cass was holding the reception here after the funeral service. How could he have been so stupid? Part of him just wanted to make a beeline back up the stairs to his room and avoid all of these people. But the other part of him knew that he couldn’t just abandon Tadashi, not when he was acting so oddly. So, taking a deep breath, Hiro starts through the crowd, trying to keep his head low in hopes that no one would spot him, all the while scanning the room for any signs of his elder sibling. Every second down here among the mourners of his supposedly deceased brother felt like an eternity, and he was almost about to give up when he finally spots a flash of black fur through a gap in the crowd. At last!
Grinning in relief, Hiro darts towards his elder sibling, only to come to a screeching halt when he sees who Tadashi was with.
“Fred…” Hiro whispers softly, watching the fanboy who was clutching the black cat to his chest as if it was a lifeline. To be honest, Hiro had cut off all his communication with his college friends for the past couple weeks, too focused on trying to save Tadashi to waste his time with useless communications. Now, though, he almost regretted his decision. He’d thought that Fred had looked devastated at the scene of the fire. He looked a thousand times worse now. His eyes, red and swollen from crying, were glassy and lifeless. The fanboy had always been on the thin side, but now he looked positively gaunt, his sunken cheeks a sallow, almost ashen color. And his hands, usually always so full of energy, gesturing and punctuating the air as he spoke, looked almost frail as they tremblingly stroked Tadashi’s fur. It seemed like the tiniest nudge could make him collapse like a building that had been devoured from the inside by fire and was only holding together by the very thinnest of fortifications.
The younger teen stands frozen, unsure of what to do. He didn’t know if it was safe to leave Tadashi here--Aunt Cass had made it clear that she didn’t want Tadashi having any communication with his old friends, afraid that he might slip up and give everything away. But on the other hand, Fred just looked so completely and utterly broken that Hiro couldn’t find it in his heart to take away his one source of comfort. Hiro was just about to make his way back up to his room, hoping that Tadashi would manage to make his way back up there safely later, when he sees Fred look up and, for the first time, his eyes actually seem to come into focus as their gazes unintentionally meet.
“Hiro?” Fred says softly--his voice sounded as bad as the rest of him looked, raw and rough from crying.
“Um, yeah,” Hiro answers, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck and hating that he’d been caught. It was too late to run away now. “H-Hey… How’s it going?”
Okay, that officially counted as the worst question of the year, and he instantly regrets it, especially when he sees Fred’s shoulders just barely rising and falling in response, as if the effort was almost too much for him.
“I’ve been making it,” he answers, his voice almost husky from crying, before asking in a barely audible voice, his eyes full of concern, “How are you holding up? Is there anything I can do for you? Do you need anything?”
Wow. Fred was officially a saint. He was almost wasting away with grief, and here he was trying to make sure that his departed lover’s younger sibling was all right, wanting to help him if he could. Hiro felt a guilty twisting in his gut--he wanted so badly to relieve Fred’s suffering, to tell him the truth. But he knew that Aunt Cass would murder him if he did, and so for now all he can do is just smile weakly at the other man and say, “I-I’m doing the best I can.”
Fred nods in response, a shadow of a smile making its way onto his face, before looking back down at the cat who was curled up in his arms. “I’m a little surprised to see this guy here. I hadn’t realized that you’d adopted Midnight.”
“I-I thought it was the right thing to do,” Hiro answers, trying to think of a convincing story. “Y’know, since Dashi loved him so much? It felt like a good way to honor his memory--to help keep him close.” Closer than anybody could possibly imagine.
“That’s good.” Fred gives him another ghost of a smile. “I-I’m really glad that someone’s taking care of him. I’ve been trying to keep up with the other cats on campus, but it’s just… hard. Going without Tada… Well, without him.”
“I can imagine,” Hiro says softly, wishing that there was something he could do to comfort the other man but completely at a loss.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to take Midnight from you,” Fred apologizes, looking a bit guilty. “I-It’s just when I saw him coming towards me, it almost felt-- Felt like Tadashi had sent him here. To let me know that he was okay.”
“I-It’s okay!” Hiro quickly reassures him, seeing the tears starting to fill the fanboy’s eyes and knowing that he couldn’t handle it if Fred started crying. “I-I’ve been holding onto him for this long, I’m sure that Midnight wouldn’t mind spending some time with you. Right, Midnight?”
The little black cat looks up at Hiro, a grateful look on his face as he quickly nods in agreement.
“All right then. I’ll just-- Um, I’ll leave you two to it.” Hiro awkwardly starts to back away, not knowing what would happen if he stayed too much longer but not wanting to stick around to find out. “J-Just bring him back up to my room whenever you’re done, okay?”
“Okay,” Fred agrees, sniffling a bit but looking relieved. “Thanks, Hiro. You have no idea how much this means to me…”
“Yeah, of course.” Hiro awkwardly nods and waves before quickly making his escape through the side door leading off of the living room into the library, locking the door behind him. At this point, he didn’t want to risk meeting up with any of Tadashi’s other friends--he didn’t think he could handle seeing any of the rest of them in their grieving states, it was too painful. But one good thing had come out of seeing Fred. Now, more than ever, he was determined to find a way to save Tadashi, and he was going to put absolutely everything that he had into the search.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
“Nothing. No ideas. Stupid, empty brain!” Hiro slams his head into his desk with each word, the pain he felt from his forehead coming into contact with the wood barely noticeable in comparison to the raging headache that never seemed to leave him alone these days. It had been four weeks since the day of the funeral, and he was no closer to finding a way to fix his older brother. He had been spending every waking moment poring over every spell book in the library that he had access to, hoping against hope that he’d find a spell that would fix Tadashi, but nothing was working. He was running out of spells to try, and, as much as he tried to convince himself otherwise, he was starting to believe that there really was nothing that could be done to save Tadashi.
He was about to open yet another spellbook, hoping to find something that he hadn’t seen in the last hundred he’d gone through, but just then his stomach gurgles painfully and he realizes that, as much as he’d been putting it off, he really did need to eat something before he passed out.
“C’mon, Dashi,” Hiro sighs, pushing his chair back from his desk. “Let’s go get some lunch.” When he doesn’t automatically receive an answer, he glances over to his brother’s bed, the last place that he’d seen his brother, only to frown when he sees that it was empty.
“Dashi?” Hiro frowns and gets up, heading over to his brother’s part of the room. “Dashi, where are you?” There was no sign of his brother anywhere. And then he looks up and notices that the window was cracked open and he lets out a quiet groan of frustration.
“Dammit, Tadashi…” He shakes his head. Of late his brother had been taking to sneaking out the window while he was going through his spellbooks. Tadashi claimed that, as a cat, he just had the instincts to go exploring and needed to get out for some fresh air (playfully throwing in a jibe about how he especially needed it with how badly their room smelled given Hiro had been becoming less and less mindful about taking regular showers), and while it was a bit unnerving to Hiro that his elder sibling kept going missing at all hours, he didn’t know what he could do to stop it, especially not if it was something that gave his elder sibling some form of release from the unpleasantness of being stuck as a cat. And, as frustrating as it was that Tadashi had flown the coop again, Hiro couldn’t stick around here waiting for his brother to come back. He would just have to head downstairs and make food for both of them and hope that Tadashi was waiting for him by the time that he got back.
It was with a few misgivings that he made his way down the stairs--he was pretty sure that Aunt Cass was down in the Cafe right now, but he hated the thought that he might end up running into her. Things hadn’t exactly been going smoothly between them lately, as evidenced by the fact that she was spending more and more time in the Cafe while Hiro was increasingly refusing to come out of his room at all except to get books from the library and stock up on food supplies from the kitchen. It had been weeks since he’d accepted the meals that his aunt would leave outside of his room, too busy with work and too sore at the fact that she was still refusing to give him the familiar spell to eat whatever she made for him. Eventually the food had stopped coming (except for small portions for Tadashi, who wasn’t willing to give up his nutrition just to side with his younger sibling), and so Hiro was pretty much living on a strict diet of instant ramen cups and junk food (when he actually did choose to eat.) And none of Tadashi’s arguments could do a thing to change his mind.
As Hiro had hoped, he found that the downstairs floor was deserted when he reached the bottom of the stairs. Good, that made things that much easier for him. He crosses to the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and pulling out ingredients for sandwiches. Cup of noodle was getting a bit old and he needed some sort of variation in his diet, plus he wanted to make something that Tadashi would actually consider eating when he actually came back (which would hopefully be soon.)
While he works, Hiro finds his eyes drawn to the living room, and with a slight start he realized just how grey it was starting to look, a thin layer of dust covering everything in its state of disuse. A bit of guilt churns in his stomach as he remembers all the fun movie and game nights that he’d used to spend here together with his family. They’d all been so close once. Why had that stupid fire come along and ruined everything?
Angrily, he shakes his head to clear away the tears pricking at his eyes, hastily starting to throw the sandwich ingredients back into the refrigerator, not even bothering to make sure that they went back into their proper places. If Aunt Cass would just give him the stupid familiar spell, everything would be all right! He could stop living like a madman locked in the attic, trying spells that deep down he knew were never going to work, Tadashi would finally be back to being human, and they could finally be a family again! Why didn’t Aunt Cass want that?
Grabbing the stack of sandwiches that he’d made off of the counter with a bit more force than was necessary, Hiro stomps across the living room and back up the stairs, anger and frustration bubbling in his stomach, the injustice of it all making him see red. To make matters just that much worse, when he reaches his bedroom, Tadashi wasn’t back yet, which deprived him of the one source he’d had for venting in all these long, emotionally exhausting weeks. He had no one outside of the family that he could talk to about this, and Tadashi had been his steady rock through all of this, keeping him calm and encouraging him to keep trying. But now his brother was going AWOL, and it was like the last straw on his already towering stack of sources of anger and frustration.
Sick and tired of what his life had become, Hiro roughly shoves all of the spell books off of his desk and onto the ground, taking satisfaction in the loud “thumps” that they made as they hit the floor, and then forcefully slams the stack of sandwiches onto the space he’d cleared, grabbing the first one off the top of the stack and viciously ripping into it, needing a physical way to burn off some of his frustrated energy.
He’d almost made his way halfway through the stack when he finally sees a familiar furry form at the window. At this point, he was so worked up that he was more annoyed than relieved to see his elder sibling, and he was about to go off on an angry tirade at him for abandoning him without even telling him where he was going when he notices the deep, scarlet scratches across his brother’s face.
“Tadashi!” Hiro cries, leaving the sandwiches behind and racing over to scoop his brother up. “What happened to you? Are you okay? Who did this to you?”
“I’m fine, Hiro!” Tadashi looks away, not meeting his eyes and an almost guilty expression on his face. “I was just out for a walk in the neighborhood and accidentally got on the bad side of a stray cat. But I got away from him, and I’m fine now, so you don’t have to worry about me, okay?”
“...Are you kidding me?” Hiro glares down at him before marching over to the bathroom that they shared, all of his pent up frustrations coming to the surface and bubbling out of him like hot lava. “You’re the one who has a heart attack if I so much as sneeze or scrape my knee! And you expect me to ‘not worry’ when you come home looking like you just got clawed by Wolverine?”
“It’s not that big of a deal!” Tadashi answers, flinching as Hiro less than gently slaps him down on the counter and starts cleaning the wounds with antiseptic. “I promise, I’m fine, so don’t worry about me!”
“Don’t worry about you?” Hiro snaps, unable to stop the angry words that were continuing to flow out of him. “Okay, fine, I’ll stop worrying--when you tell me why you’ve been sneaking out!”
“What?” Tadashi looks up in disbelief.
“Why do you keep leaving?” Hiro demands. “Where the fuck are you going that is so important that you’re okay with letting yourself get injured?”
“Hiro, that’s my business, not yours!” Tadashi hisses, for the first time since before the fire actually looking mad at him. It was almost enough to make Hiro back down since it was obviously something the older man was so sensitive about--unfortunately, his ridiculously stubborn brain didn’t choose to go with that route.
“It is my business because right now it’s my job to take care of you!” Hiro cries. “And I can’t take care of you if you’re running off at all hours to only God knows where! Now you are going to tell me where you are going, or so help me I will lock you in this room for your own safety!”
“You can’t keep me a prisoner in my own home!” Tadashi protests.
“I can if it’s for your own good!” It didn’t even occur to him how much he sounded like his older brother and how much his brother was starting to sound like him--when had their roles switched around?
Tadashi, looking thoroughly disgusted, leaps off the counter, heading towards his side of their room with his tail held high in the air, a clear show of defiance.
“Tadashi, don’t you dare walk away from me, we are not done here!” Hiro shouts chasing after him. In response, Tadashi breaks out into a run, going underneath his bed and hiding behind the random bits of clutter that had accumulated there over the years.
“Real mature, bro!” Hiro growls, starting to pull the junk out in order to reach his sibling and drag out from underneath it. “Come out here and talk to me like a real adult!”
“Hiro, you are acting insane right now! Leave me alone!” Tadashi answers. His warning yowl should have been a clear sign that the younger was about to go too far. But Hiro kept angrily digging his way towards his elder sibling until he feels sharp claws tearing at his hand.
“OUCH!” Hiro cries, instantly yanking his arm back and staring down at the wounded appendage in complete and utter shock. Tadashi had scratched him. Tadashi had actually scratched him.
Tears start to pool in his eyes, both from the pain of his injuries and from the betrayal. It was in that moment that every dark, painful emotion that had been haunting him for the last six weeks finally came to a head.
His family was completely falling apart. He was fighting with his aunt all of the time and hardly ever even saw her anymore. He was even starting to avoid his brother, the most important person in the world to him, because he felt so guilty every time that he was near him, knowing that he was failing him. And now Tadashi was lying to him and he was starting to fear that his brother was actually turning into a cat. It was too much for one fourteen year old to handle. And so, for the first time since that awful night at the Expo hall, he sank down to the floor next to Tadashi’s bed and started crying. And not just a few small tear drops that managed to escape. No, he fully broke down and started crying like his heart was breaking--which it was.
Everything was wrong. Everything was so, so wrong. What had happened to his perfect life that he’d loved so much? What had he ever done to deserve this? No, what had Tadashi done to deserve this? He didn’t deserve a screwup little brother who wasn’t good enough at magic to have rescued him. He didn’t deserve to be stuck in the body of a stupid cat. And he didn’t deserve to be the one trying to make things right for his whole family when he was the one suffering the most.
When Hiro feels a warm muzzle against his cheek, he at first pushes it away. He didn’t deserve to be comforted when Tadashi was the one who was hurting. But his nii-chan was insistent, and in spite of himself he finally allows Tadashi to crawl up into his lap, saying softly,
“Hiro, I-I’m so sorry… This is all my fault, I shouldn’t have yelled at you when you were just trying to look out for me! Please, talk to me…”
“I-It’s not your fault!” Hiro argues, pulling his brother closer. “A-All of this is my fault… I-If I’d been able to save you at the fire, none of this would be happening!”
“Otouto, no… Oh, Hiro, please don’t say that…” Tadashi nuzzles against him in a distressed manner. “Hiro, you saved my life! If it weren’t for you, I would be dead right now! I have never blamed you for what happened. I am so, so grateful to you for saving me! If anything, I feel like I’m the one to blame. I’m the one who ran into that dar--oh, hell with it, that damn fire in the first place. A-And I don’t blame you if you hate me for it…”
Hiro lets out a small gasp--had Tadashi actually just cursed in front of him? It was both shocking and somehow amusing at the same time. Somehow his brain, in its exhausted, emotionally burnt out state, decided that it was something to laugh over, and before he could stop it a giggle made its way out, and then another, and then yet another until he was laughing somewhat hysterically.
“Hiro, I’m not trying to be funny here!” Tadashi cries up at him, an extremely cross look on his little cat face, which somehow only made Hiro laugh that much harder. Tadashi continued to try to remain serious, but somehow his little brother’s laughter became contagious and he found himself laughing too until they both found themselves collapsing into an exhausted heap on the floor together, trying but failing to suppress the remains of their giggles.
“W-Why did you start laughing?” Tadashi demands once he manages to get his breath back a bit, giving his younger sibling a slightly accusatory look.
“I don’t know,” Hiro admits, rolling over to look at him. “I guess I’m just so tired that my brain will find anything funny at this point.”
“You little knucklehead.” Tadashi reaches out and fondly places a paw on Hiro’s nose.
“But you still love me, even though I’m a knucklehead, right?” Hiro asks, grinning at the contact and feeling relief at actually having a reason to smile after all this time.
“Of course I do.” Tadashi smiles back. “You may be a knucklehead, but you’re my knucklehead.”
Hiro rolls his eyes at the sappy sentiment, but he couldn’t help but feel relieved inside--this was much more like the old Tadashi that he knew. It had been so long since they’d done something like this that he’d almost forgotten what normal felt like.
“I’m sorry for getting mad at you,” Hiro says softly to him. “I-I was just really worried when you came back and you were hurt, I just couldn’t stand the thought of you going out and doing something that’s hurting you…”
Tadashi lets out a quiet sigh, going serious for a moment, before saying softly, “Will you forgive me for worrying you if I told you what I’ve been doing?”
“Yeah, of course,” Hiro answers quickly, more than eager to finally get some answers.
“All right.” Tadashi takes a deep breath before admitting, “I-I’ve been going to see Fred.”
“You’ve what?! ” Hiro sits up abruptly, heart beating loudly in his chest. “Y-You’ve been-- Aunt Cass would kill you if she knew! What about all that stuff about protecting the magic?”
“Don’t worry!” Tadashi quickly tells him. “I haven’t been talking to him--at least, not using human words. I’ve just… I’ve just been going to check up on him. To make sure that he’s doing okay.”
“Oh…” Hiro says softly, feeling a twinge of guilt--he’d almost forgotten that the was someone else who had been almost as affected by all of this as he was.
“Yeah.” Tadashi offers him a small smile. “It started out with me just sitting outside his window sometimes, just watching him for a couple minutes to make sure that he was actually eating and taking care of himself. If I saw him coming towards the window, I’d take off and head right back here. But then… He started leaving the window open for me. When it first happened, I started sitting across the street instead to make it less obvious what I was doing, but then I’d see him just sitting there at the window watching me, and finally I just gave in and went in. It was the first time that I’d actually seen him smile in weeks, and it felt amazing getting to see him actually look even a tiny bit happy again.”
“W-Wow…” Hiro says softly, shaking his head as he thinks it over. “So you’ve been walking all the way from here to Fred’s place almost every day?”
“Well, usually I manage to hitch a ride on the streetcar most of the way--cats ride free, after all,” Tadashi tells him with a wry smile before ducking his head and admitting, “But--yeah. I have.”
“...You must really love him, huh?”
“Wait, what?” Tadashi’s head jerks up and Hiro was pretty sure that if he was human his cheeks would be bright red right now. “W-Why would you say that--? I-I never said that I--!”
“Bro, give it up.” Hiro playfully rumples his fur, something that he knew annoyed Tadashi to no end but that was still incredibly fun to do all the same. “I may be dense, but even I can tell when my older brother is in love.”
Tadashi avoids his gaze and starts petulantly licking his fur back into place, but after a bit more playful prodding from his younger brother he finally admits, “Okay, yes, so I’m in love with him! I-Is that weird to you?”
“What? That you’re in love, that it’s Fred, or the fact that you’re in love with a guy?” Hiro asks.
“Uh--all three?” Tadashi answers with a sheepish look.
“Okay then, answers for all three it is.” Hiro settles more comfortably against the bed as Tadashi curls tentatively up in his lap. “First one--no, it’s not weird to me that you’re in love. You’ve always had a really big heart, I’m almost surprised it took you this long to find someone to fall in love with--although, to be fair, I know you told me that you’ve known Fred since you met at a convention during high school so I guess it wasn’t that long after all, depending on when you fell in love with him. I’m a little bit mad at myself for figuring this out before now, but to be fair you have a really good poker face when you’re trying to hide something. As for the second one--I guess it’s a little bit surprising to me that you’re in love with Fred just because I always saw him more as your best friend than a love interest and I figured someone like Honey Lemon was more your type. But it sounds that he really cares about you, and obviously you really care about him, and that’s all that matters to me. And for the third one--I really never thought of you as gay, or bi, or whatever you are? But I don’t really think about romance and relationships in general that much, so it wasn’t really something that ever crossed my mind. And hey, if you’re happy being with a guy, then I’m happy for you.”
A relieved smile crosses Tadashi face as he gratefully nuzzles up against his younger brother, and Hiro can actually feel his body pulsing with a steady purr.
“Thank you, otouto,” he says softly.
“What are you thanking me for?” Hiro asks, frowning in confusion.
“For being so understanding,” Tadashi clarifies. “And for--well, everything else. I-I know how hard you’ve been working to try to turn me human again, and even though I worry about you exhausting yourself, I really, really am grateful for everything that you’ve been doing for me.”
“T-Thanks…” Hiro mumbles, cuddling his brother close to his chest. “I just wish that I was having more success with actually turning you human again.”
“Hey.” Tadashi stretches up and playfully puts a paw on Hiro’s nose. “If anyone can do this, it’s you. I have faith in you.”
“Yeah.” Hiro grins down at him before adding, “And now I have even more motivation to try harder because I need to get you back together with the love of your life!”
“Hi-ro!” Tadashi meows, looking embarrassed as he buries his face into the teen’s shirt.
“What? I’m just telling the truth!” Hiro laughs, enjoying getting to lovingly tease his brother again after all this time. It felt great finally doing something so utterly normal . “Besides, I want to be officially reintroduced to Fred now that I know he’s your boyfriend!”
“Shut up!” Tadashi cries as he looks up at his younger sibling.
“Nope!” Hiro grins mischievously down at him. “My nii-chan’s in lo~ove! He’s--”
“No, seriously, shut up!” Tadashi puts both paws over Hiro’s mouth, his ears twitching uncontrollably.
Hiro frowns, realizing how serious he’d gone. “What is it? What’s wrong?” he asks, gently pushing Tadashi’s paws away.
“I-I hear something,” Tadashi answers, frowning in concentration, his eyes darting around the room.
“Hear something? Like what?” Hiro listens hard, trying to pick up on whatever his brother was.
“I don’t know,” Tadashi tells him, his nose wrinkling as he leans towards the underside of the bed. “But it’s coming from under there!”
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
“What is it?” Hiro asks, watching with interest as his brother crawls underneath the bed.
“Can’t be sure--give me a second,” Tadashi answers, starting to dig through the rubbish that was piled up. “You really need to clean out from under here, bro.”
“I’ll clean out under my bed when you clean out under yours,” Hiro responds with a tiny smirk.
“Fair enough.” Tadashi smirks back before returning to his search. After a minute he comes out from under the bed, Hiro’s favorite blue hoodie clasped in his teeth.
“Whoa, I’ve been looking for that everywhere!” Hiro cries. “How did it get under there?”
“I don’t think it’s necessary for me to make another point about your organization skills,” Tadashi says wryly before pawing at one of the front pockets. “Whatever I’m hearing, it’s in here.”
“All right.” Hiro nods and picks up the hoodie, carefully reaching into the pocket. Tadashi was right, there was something in there, and it was moving, at that!
“The hell?” he mutters, closing his hand around the object and pulling it out. Once he has his hand out of the pocket, he opens it to reveal--
“One of my microbots?”
“How did one of those get in there?” Tadashi mutters, frowning in confusion, before his eyes go wide with understanding. “I-Is that the one that Mr. Krei tried to take from you?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Hiro agrees, remembering--right after he’d made his presentation, one of the leading names in robotics, Alistair Krei, had offered to buy Hiro’s microbots and develop them at his company. Hiro had turned him down, both because Professor Callaghan had warned him that Krei wasn’t to be trusted and because the truth was that he’d rather go to school with his older brother than work for some stuffy rich guy any day. Krei had almost walked off with one of his microbots, probably planning to try to take it apart and steal his idea, but at the last minute Tadashi had managed to stop him. Hiro had shoved the tiny robot into the pocket of his hoodie and completely forgotten about it until now.
“Why is it still moving? The neurotransmitter and the rest of the bots were destroyed in fire,” Tadashi mumbles, surveying the robot critically as it moves in short, jerky movements in Hiro’s hands.
“I dunno,” Hiro answers, grabbing a small petri dish off of his desk and trapping the microbot inside of it. “The dumb thing must be broken.”
“It kinda looks like it’s trying to go somewhere,” Tadashi observes, seeing the bot repeatedly ramming up against the edge of the dish in a singular direction.
“...You think?” Hiro asks, looking doubtfully down at the tiny robot. “I think it’s just malfunctioning.”
“But why would it be moving without a reason?” Tadashi presses before declaring, “I think we should follow it!”
“You what ? No way!” Hiro cries. “We need to stay here and keep working--”
“Hiro.” Tadashi places a loving but firm paw on his chest. “You have been cooped up in here way too long. Even if this is nothing, you need to get out of the house before you turn into a vampire. And we both know how you feel about vampires.”
“...Fine,” Hiro sighs, standing up. “We’ll do this your way. But only because I don’t want to glitter in sunlight and have creepy girls hitting on me and wanting me to drink their blood!”
“That’s the spirit!” Tadashi chuckles, eagerly heading towards the door. “C’mon! We’ve got a bot to follow!”
Hiro chases after him, trying to keep up--wow, for something so tiny Tadashi sure could move fast! “Wait for me!” the younger cries.
“Sorry!” Tadashi apologizes sheepishly, slowing down just enough so that he could catch up.
“All right, so, out the living room door?” Hiro asks when they reach the bottom of the stairs.
“Maybe.” Tadashi frowns slightly. “Or maybe we should let Aunt Cass know that we’re going out first.”
“Do we have to?” Hiro groans, not exactly in the mood to see his aunt.
“It would be the nice thing to do--if we don’t, she might think that we’ve just up and vanished and have a heart attack,” Tadashi gently reminds him.
“Fine…” Hiro sighs dramatically. “But what are we going to tell her that we’re doing? She’ll never let us out on a wild goose chase!”
“Just leave that to me,” Tadashi answers with a knowing grin.
“Aunt Cass? Aunt Cass, you in here?” Hiro asks as he enters the Cafe’s kitchen, Tadashi riding on his shoulders.
After a moment of searching, he spots his aunt standing at the sink, washing dishes, and he’s briefly caught off guard by how different she looked than he remembered. It wasn’t any one large thing that really stood out. It was the small things, like the extra silver hairs in her chestnut hair, the slump in her shoulders, and the dark circles under her eyes. She looked exhausted. No, more than that--she almost looked old . And that scared him more than anything, realizing what a toll these last weeks had taken on her. It was almost enough to make him feel guilty about being mad at her.
“Hiro, Tadashi?” Aunt Cass looks up from the sink, a shocked but almost relieved expression on her face as she sees her nephews standing just inside the door. “Y-You’re up! What are you--?”
“Hiro thought that it was finally time,” Tadashi quickly answers, lightly whacking his brother with his tail to keep him from asking questions.
“Time?” Aunt Cass repeats before her eyes go wide with understanding. “H-Hiro, are you registering for school?”
What? No! What was Tadashi doing? But Hiro knew that his brother had something up his sleeve and so he just smiles awkwardly and answers, “Uh, yes?”
“He thought about all the stuff we’ve been saying about how he shouldn’t let all of this keep him down and how he really should start working on his future, and it really inspired him,” Tadashi adds with what Hiro would definitely classify as a shit eating grin.
“Oh, honey, that’s so great!” Hiro stiffens as his aunt abruptly pulls the two of them into a tight hug.
“Uh huh, sure…” he answers helplessly--he was going to absolutely throttle Tadashi when they were alone. What was he thinking making up all this stuff about him planning to go to school?
“Okay!” Aunt Cass was beaming now, pulling away but still keeping her hands on Hiro’s shoulders. “Special dinner tonight! I’ll whip up some chicken wings with the sauce that makes our faces numb!”
“Okay, sounds good…” Hiro agrees, trying but failing to resist the feeling of wanting this--wanting his family to be normal again, wanting them to be able to just have dinner and joke around and enjoy spending time together. But they couldn’t. Not until Tadashi was human again, and right now the biggest obstacle in the way of that happening was Aunt Cass so he couldn’t get all happy and cozy with her again when he was still incredibly angry with her.
He was just starting to back up and head towards the door when his aunt reaches out and pulls him in for another embrace, whispering softly, “Last hug.”
What the hell was Hiro supposed to do with that? He just sort of lets himself go limp, not returning the hug but not being rude enough to push her away, until she finally lets go, and then with an awkward smile he waves and heads for the door.
“What was that all about?” the teen demands as soon as they’re outside, glaring over at his brother. “School? Seriously?”
“I figured it was the best way to get her to let us out of the house, no questions asked,” Tadashi returns with a shrug, looking incredibly smug. “And if after we solve the mystery of the microbot you happen to feel inclined to go by the school and actually apply for classes…”
“No way, bro. Not happening.” Hiro shakes his head in disgust. “The only way that I’m going back to that school is when you’re human again and can go with me.”
He hears his brother sighing, obviously not pleased with his answer, but at least he didn’t fight him on it.
“Come on!” Hiro says, trying to get his brother’s mind back onto the task at hand. “Let’s find out where this little guy wants to take us!”
“Right!” Tadashi agrees, his smile returning, and together they start off down the street.
They use the tiny microbot like a compass, changing direction whenever it did. It led them on quite a winding path--across busy streets, through the bus terminal, and finally down some deserted alleyways in the rougher part of the city. Hiro felt perfectly comfortable here--he’d spent many a night navigating these streets back in his bot fighting days and they were a lot less intimidating during the daytime--but he could tell his older brother was starting to feel a little bit concerned by their surroundings and so he keeps up a brisk pace, hoping that they would be out of this part of the city soon for Tadashi’s sake. In spite of his hopes, the trail grows cold at an old abandoned warehouse. There was no way around it--the bot’s destination wasn’t on either side of it or even behind it, the bot wanted to go inside.
“Well, that’s just great,” Hiro quietly grumbles to himself as he tugs on the heavy padlock holding the chains on the door together. “We can’t get in. It’s a dead end, Tadashi.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Tadashi frowns thoughtfully. “We just have to look for a new angle…”
“What new angle? I don’t see any new angles,” Hiro groans--why did his brother always have to be so gosh darn optimistic all the time? Couldn’t he ever admit that something was a lost cause? Well no, because he was Tadashi and Tadashi never gave up. Which is exactly how they found their entrance.
“I see a window!” Tadashi eagerly declares, pointing to a square opening near the top of the building. “And it’s propped open, we can get in through there!”
“Okay, but how do we get up there from here?” Hiro asks. “That’s really high up!”
Tadashi gives him a disbelieving look. “How do we get up there? Hiro, are you a witch or not? How many times have you put a levitation spell on yourself to get to the top shelves in the kitchen and given me a heart attack in the process?”
“Oh, right!” Hiro finds himself turning pink with embarrassment. “Levitation spell it is! I’ll carry you so we can get in together, okay?”
“All right,” Tadashi agrees, allowing his brother to scoop him up.
“Okay,” Hiro says, holding the cat tight. “Here we go!”
He casts the spell, and within moments they slowly start rising through the air.
“Genius!” Hiro declares eagerly when they reach the window and he grabs hold of the frame to keep them from going any higher. “Awesome work, Tadashi!”
“I try!” Tadashi laughs, climbing in through the window before moving off to the side so that Hiro can climb in next. “Now c’mon--let’s see if we can figure out what all this fuss has been about!”
“Right!” Hiro pulls the microbot compass out of his pocket where he’d put it for safekeeping and holds it out in front of him. The bot was still indicating for them to go forward, into the heart of what had turned out to be an abandoned factory of some sort. The dark, murky interior was enough to give anyone the creeps, and by silent agreement both boys keep completely mum as they start down the rickety stairs leading down to the floor from the catwalk that they were currently standing on.
“Looks like something out of one of Aunt Cass’ old monster movies,” Hiro observes, trying to lighten the mood as they follow the microbot across the dusty floor.
“Ugh, don’t make it worse!” Tadashi, who was looking not at all at his ease, hisses up at him.
“Sorry!” Hiro apologizes, putting his hands up in mock surrender.
“Thank yo-- Wait. What’s that?” Tadashi whispers as they round a corner and spot a glowing screen in the distance with dark shapes moving behind it.
“I don’t know!” Hiro whispers back, coming to a stop and glancing down at the microbot in his hands. “But I think it’s where this little guy wants to go!”
“Do you think it’s safe?”
“...You’re going anyways, aren’t you?”
“...Fine. But we need some sort of protection!”
“Uh, bro? I’m a witch, remember? We’ve got magic!”
“...Right. Duh. How did I forget that?”
“Now who’s forgetful?” Hiro teases.
Tadashi glares up at him. “Shut up! Let’s just get this over with--I’ve got a bad feeling about this, and the sooner we get out of here the better!”
“Right!” Hiro agrees before silently starting forward, Tadashi tagging along at his heels.
As they finally reach the screen, Hiro leans closer, trying to see through it. He could see mechanical arms and what looked like an assembly line of some sort, but he couldn’t tell what they were making from his current vantage point.
“What do you see?” Tadashi whispers.
“I don’t know--I’ll have to get closer to know for sure!” Hiro whispers back, continuing forward.
What he found as he rounded the corner was the end of the assembly line, a grey conveyor belt that was dropping small black objects into what was already an almost full bin. Hiro stepped forward to get a better idea of what this strange setup was making, only to feel a spark of alarm as he realized what he was seeing.
“What is it? What’s going on?” Tadashi asks, unable to see from his position on the floor.
“My… Microbots?” Hiro answers, digging his hands into the bin and feeling the familiar form of his invention sliding through his fingers. And then he looks up and sees the tens, if not hundreds of bins lined up in rows in front of him, filling almost half the factory’s empty floor space, each one filled with copies of his creation.
“Your microbots?” Tadashi repeats, eyes going wide with shock. “What are your microbots doing here?”
“Someone’s been making more,” Hiro whispers, glancing around the empty factory and having the unnerving feeling that they were being watched. After a moment, though, he almost forgets the feeling as he notices a wall covered in bits of paper--pictures and news clippings and hastily written notes covering a gigantic map of the city--all connected by red string held in place by thumb tacks.
“This looks like something out of one of those crime dramas Aunt Cass loves,” Tadashi mutters, tentatively moving towards it to get a closer look. “What do you think it all means?”
“I have no clue,” Hiro admits honestly, following after him. He was about to take a closer look when he sees the microbot in the petri dish he was holding going haywire.
“Uh, Hiro?” Tadashi turns back in the direction they’d just come from, his expression quickly morphing into one of horror. Hiro glances up and feels terror coiling in his stomach as he sees the hundreds if not thousands of microbots in the waiting bins rising up into the air as if of their own accord.
“ Run !” Hiro shouts, racing back in the direction of their only exit. Tadashi was right behind him, meowing in terror as the microbots started chasing after them.
“Hiro, what the hell?! Why are they doing this?” Tadashi cries.
“How should I know? I’m not the one controlling them!” Hiro shouts back.
The bots continue to chase them through the factory like an angry swarm of killer wasps, the two brothers just barely managing to stay ahead of them. At one point some of the bots start going under the panels making up the floor, and before the brothers can even realize what’s happening they find themselves being catapulted through the air and up onto the catwalk above. When they both land safely, it seems like a miraculous stroke of luck. Only, as they pick themselves up, they realize maybe it was less luck and more of a plan as they see a dark robed figure in a red and white kabuki mask staring at them from further down the catwalk. It quickly becomes evident that he must be the one controlling the robots as the microbots swarm right along with him as he starts walking towards them in slow, measured steps.
Hiro had so many questions. Who was this guy? How had he gotten ahold of the designs for his microbots and started making more of them? More importantly, why was he making more of them? But now wasn’t the time for questions. Tadashi’s panicked yowling brought him back to the reality of the situation and together they race towards their exit with everything that they have in them. With great relief, they reach the window--only to realize that they hadn’t exactly thought about how to get down from here.
“H-Hiro…” Tadashi whispers, eyes wide with terror as he looks back and sees the microbots and the masked man drawing ever closer. “Do something!”
“Hold on tight, Dashi!” Hiro grabs his brother and then, taking a deep breath, jumps out the window, chanting a softening spell as they fall, praying that it would make the ground squishy enough that they wouldn’t break multiple bones upon impact.
By some miracle, the spell works--when they make contact with first the tin roof below them and then the concrete of the sidewalk, they actually bounce a little. Hiro silently rejoices that they had made it out of there alive. But he couldn’t celebrate just yet--they still had a madman after them! Keeping a firm grip on Tadashi, he takes off running down the street, praying that he knew these back alleyways better than whoever was after him and could actually manage to get them out of here alive.
Half an hour later and almost ten city blocks away from the factory, Hiro finally dodges into small enclosed bus stop, feeling like his lungs were about to give out and his heart was going to burst right through his skinny rib cage.
“D-Did we lose him?” he barely manages to gasp out as he collapses onto a bench, knowing that they were done for if they hadn’t because he couldn’t take another step at this point.
“I-I think so,” Tadashi answers, looking frazzled but all the same lovingly (and worriedly) nuzzling up against his younger sibling. “Oh my gosh--Hiro, you just saved our lives!”
“I-I guess I did, huh?” Hiro says weakly, giving his sibling the best smile that he can manage before letting his head fall back against the bench. He was so exhausted. What he wouldn’t give for just five minutes of sleep…
“Rest,” Tadashi tells him firmly, putting two paws on his chest to make sure that he didn’t get back up. “I’m pretty sure that we’re safe now, so you need to get your energy back up.”
“But if that guy comes after us again--” Hiro starts to protest.
“I’ll keep watch--if I see even the smallest sign of him, I’ll wake you up, okay?” Tadashi answers, gently nuzzling his face.
“All right…” Hiro finally concedes, too tired to argue and letting his eyes slide shut as his heartbeat ever so slowly returns to normal.
The next time he opens his eyes, the sun is much lower in the sky--it looked like it was almost sunset.
“Tadashi?” Hiro groggily whispers, sitting up on the bench. “Tadashi, where are you?”
“Right here, little bro.” Hiro looks down and smiles gratefully when he sees his elder sibling next to him, although he was a bit surprised to see him nudging a plastic water bottle towards him. “Here, drink this, you’re probably super dehydrated right now.”
The younger teen accepts the drink without even questioning it, screwing the lid off and then starting to gulp it down. It was a testament to how water depleted his body was that he downed the entire thing in just under thirty seconds, wiping away the remaining wetness as he pulls the now empty container away from his mouth.
“T-Thanks, Dashi,” he manages to get out, offering his brother a small smile before looking back down at the bottle and asking curiously, “Where did you get this?”
“I… May have nicked it from a cooler in the park where someone was having a barbecue,” Tadashi admits, ducking his head and looking a bit ashamed of himself.
“Tadashi Hamada. You mean that you actually stole something?” Hiro felt a mischievous grin crossing his face and he couldn’t resist the urge to rub it in just a little bit.
“It was for a good cause!” Tadashi argues, the fur on his back rising up slightly. “I didn’t want you dying on me on the walk home!”
“I know, bro,” Hiro hurries to reassure him, realizing that he had hit a nerve. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to upset you. Seriously--thanks. I’m really grateful that you were looking out for me like that.”
“You’re welcome.” Tadashi offers him a small smile, seeming appeased, at least for the moment.
“So--any sign of the crazy kabuki guy?” Hiro asks, glancing around them.
“No, none, thank goodness,” Tadashi answers with a tiny sigh of relief. “Hopefully that’s the last we’ll ever see of him.”
“Maybe…” Hiro frowns, biting his lip and frowning.
“What do you mean maybe? Hiro, that guy is obviously very disturbed, promise me that you are not going to try to track him down!” Tadashi cries, looking alarmed.
“It’s just--I’m still trying to figure out how that guy got my microbots in the first place,” Hiro tells him. “The only place that I took them in public was the Expo, and all of them were destroyed in the fire! He would have had to have grabbed one of the bots while he was running out of the building in order to get one of them and figure out my design from it. But who would try to steal something while they were running for their life? Unless…”
“Unless?” Tadashi presses, trying to keep up with his little brother’s train of thought.
“Unless that guy in the mask was trying to steal my microbots and set the fire to cover his tracks!” Hiro cries, all of the pieces sliding together.
“W-What? No! That-- That’s impossible!” Tadashi cries, eyes going wide. “No one would do something that drastic just to steal an invention!”
“This guy just tried to kill us with an army of my microbots! Who knows what he’s capable of?” Hiro argues back.
“...All right, I see your point,” Tadashi finally admits after a minute. “But what are we supposed to do? Call the police? I doubt that they’d listen to us if we told them that we were just attacked by an army of tiny robots being controlled by a guy in a kabuki mask using ESP!”
“...Sadly, you have a point,” Hiro quietly groans. “But we can’t just let him get away with this! He set the fire that killed Professor Callaghan, and he’s the reason that you’re stuck like this! And we don’t know what he’s planning to do with my microbots! We have to find a way to take him down!”
“But you saw what happened today--we almost died in there!” Tadashi weakly protests even though he could see that his brother had already made up his mind.
“Because he caught us by surprise,” Hiro counters. “Next time, I’m going to be ready for him! If I have enough spells and potions prepared, I’ll actually stand a chance against him!”
“Oh no.” Tadashi frowns and shakes his head. “There is no ‘I’ here--if you’re going to insist on going after him like a crazy person, then I’m coming with you!”
“Uh, bro?” Hiro gives him a pitying look. “I really appreciate the sentiment, but you’re kinda… tiny right now. And I’m afraid you’ll just be putting yourself in danger if you come along with me like that.”
“Fine. Then I won’t come along like this--I’m going to come along as your fully human older brother!” Tadashi declares, a determined glint in his eyes.
“But Dashi, how? We still haven’t found a spell that’s worked,” Hiro reminds him, frowning in concern--had his sibling hit his head at some point in the chase and had a few gears knocked loose?
“There’s one spell that we know will work,” Tadashi answers. “And I say that we finally use it, Aunt Cass be damned. I’m not letting you do this on your own, and if we have to break some rules, well, so be it.”
“Wow--I like this side of you, bro!” Hiro declares with a grin. “Okay, let’s do it! We’ll break into the restricted section of the library and steal the spell that we need!”
Tadashi nods his head in agreement, looking very determined. “We’ll go after she’s asleep tonight, we’ll have less of a chance of getting caught that way. I’ll talk to Mochi, see if I can convince him to let us in so that we don’t set off the alarms.”
“And if we do set off the alarms, we just take the book and run,” Hiro continues. “We’ll find someplace where we can do the spell and by the time she finds us it’ll be too late for her to stop us!”
“Exactly.” Tadashi offers him a small smile.
“Should I ask who you are and what you did with my perfect older brother who would never dare break a rule if his life depended on it?” Hiro jokes wryly.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Tadashi shrugs in reply. “And protecting you is the most important thing that I can think of.”
“Thank, bro.” Hiro gives him a grateful smile.
“You’re welcome.” Tadashi smiles back at him before his ears perk up. “Oh, I hear a trolley coming! C’mon--let’s try to catch this one so we can head home. The sooner we get home, the less suspicious Aunt Cass will be, and the less suspicious that Aunt Cass is the easier time that we’ll have getting away with this.”
“Sir, yes sir!” Hiro gives him a mock salute before standing up, his heart thumping eagerly in his chest. They were actually going to do this. They were going to get the spell. They were finally going to turn Tadashi back! By this time tomorrow, come hell or high water, he was finally going to fully have his nii-chan back. And he absolutely couldn’t wait to finally feel his brother’s strong arms around him again, telling him that he was okay and finally having the burden of being the responsible one lifted off of his shoulders. He was going to have his Dashi again. And that thought was more than enough to scare away any lingering thoughts that he had about the creepy guy in the mask.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
“Remember--act natural!” Tadashi hisses as he and Hiro enter in through the side door. “If Aunt Cass asks, we were at school all day, got it?”
“I know, I know,” Hiro sighs, knowing that Tadashi was the one of the two of them who was going to be struggling with acting natural.
“Maybe we should have made you a fake class schedule--what if she asks what classes you’re planning to take?” Tadashi asks worriedly.
“Tadashi, if she asks, I’ll just make something up!” Hiro quietly groans--yep, Tadashi was already failing at this horribly.
“You’re terrible at making stuff up!” Tadashi argues. “Whenever you try to make things up you get that really stupid fake smile on your face and you always do that thing with your hands!”
“What thing with my hands?”
“Where you kind of snap and point right before you tell a lie!”
“I do not do that!”
“Yes you do!”
“Hiro? Tadashi? You home, sweeties?”
Both boys freeze as they hear their aunt calling their names. Busted.
“Uh--yeah, that’s right!” Hiro answers, starting to feel the pressure of the moment (stupid Tadashi making him all self conscious!) as he reluctantly climbs the stairs to the upper floor.
“I thought I heard you!” He sees Aunt Cass leaning out of the kitchen, a huge smile on her face. “Hey!”
“H-Hey, Aunt Cass!” Tadashi offers her what was supposed to be a casual smile but he clearly has guilt written all over his face. Fortunately, the majority of her attention didn’t seem to be on him.
“Oh, look at my little college man!” she gushes, actually seeming a little bit misty eyed as she looks at Hiro. “I can’t wait to hear all about it! Oh, and the wings are almost ready!”
She turns away to get back to her cooking, both Hiro and Tadashi trading nervous looks and wondering if she could smell the deceit on them a mile away.
“Those sound great!” Hiro tells her, trying to sound completely genuine.
“All right, get ready to have your faces melted!” Aunt Cass was beaming as she carries the plates of wings over to the table, adding with a playful chuckle, “We are gonna feel these things tomorrow, y’know what I’m saying? Okay, now sit down and tell me all about it!”
Hiro glances desperately down at Tadashi, silently communicating, “Help me!”
“Uh, the things is, Aunt Cass,” Tadashi quickly puts in, “since Hiro registered so late, he’s got a lot of school stuff to catch up on.”
“Oh.” Aunt Cass deflates slightly, some of the happy sparkle gone from her eyes. “Hiro, is that true?”
“Yeah, it is!” Hiro quickly agrees. “That darn homework, y’know?” He didn’t realize until after he’d said it that Tadashi had actually been right--shit, he did do a weird snap-pointing thing when he lied! He could practically feel the smugness rolling off of his brother in waves, but he refuses to meet his gaze and give him the satisfaction of acknowledging that he had been right.
“Well, at least take your plates for the road, okay?” Aunt Cass says, picking their plates up off the table and carrying them over to the boys. “Don’t work too hard--”
“Thanks for understanding!” Hiro quickly cuts her off, knowing that if he stayed down here much longer he was going to blow his cover and she was totally going to know that something was up.
“Love you, Aunt Cass!” Tadashi adds quickly as they dash up the stairs, letting out a sigh of relief when Hiro slams the door shut behind them.
“That was way too close,” Hiro breathes, leaning up against the door.
“It felt like she was looking right into my brain and seeing exactly what we were planning!” Tadashi cries.
“Do you think she laced these chicken wings with some kind of truth telling potion?” Hiro asks as he looks desperately down at the food that he was holding.
“I don’t think so,” Tadashi sighs, finally letting his shoulders relax. “I think we’re just overreacting. She seemed to really think that we were at school. I mean, why would she have any reason to believe that we actually spent the afternoon being chased by a guy in a mask with an army of robot and then creating a plan to sneak into her secret store of magic books and steal a forbidden spell? There’s absolutely no reason for her to think that! Right? Right?!”
“Uh, you’re starting to sound a little hysterical, bro,” Hiro notes as he hears the ever increasing pitch in his brother’s voice.
“ Well maybe I feel a little hysterical at them moment !” Tadashi cries.
“Will you keep it down?” Hiro desperately shushes him. “Or do you want the entire neighborhood to know our plan?”
“Sorry, sorry,” Tadashi sighs, finally seeming to get ahold of himself. “I’m just--majorly freaking out. We’ve never done something this much in defiance of Aunt Cass before and I think I have a right to be a little nervous…”
“A little nervous?” Hiro repeats wryly.
“A lot nervous,” Tadashi amends.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay.” Hiro puts the plates of food down onto the bed and then pulls his brother close, gently starting to stroke his fur. “We’re doing this for the greater good. Sometimes you have a to break a few rules to do the right thing. I know that maybe in your nice little black and white world that isn’t the case, but the truth is that’s just reality. And I know it’s hard for you, but you’ve got to trust me on this one. What we’re doing is the right thing. Aren’t you tired of being stuck as a cat?”
“A little bit, yeah,” Tadashi confesses with a small smile.
“And don’t you want to be able to actually hug me again and cuddle with me like we used to?” Hiro adds, going for what he knew was his brother’s sweet spot.
“Yeah, of course!” Tadashi answers, nodding eagerly. “Okay, you’re right. We can do this. We can do this!”
“That’s the spirit!” Hiro agrees with a grin. “And until it’s time to break into the library--er, go get the spell that we need to make things right again,” he quickly amends when he realizes that his original wording would only feed his brother’s anxiety, “we can enjoy this awesome dinner Aunt Cass made for us, right?”
“Right,” Tadashi agrees with a smile before experimentally sniffing at the chicken. “You don’t think that she really put truth potion on this stuff, do you?”
“Only one way to find out,” Hiro answers with a small shrug, hunger winning out over paranoia as he picks up a wing and bites into it.
As it turned out, the wings weren’t laced with truth potion, or at least if they were neither boy felt the compulsion to go downstairs and spill their plan to their aunt. Hiro did have to race downstairs to grab two glasses of milk for them because he’d forgotten just how spicy the wings were, but other than that the two spent the rest of the evening in their room, trying to pass the time until their aunt had gone to bed. They’d started out talking about ideas that they’d had for inventions that had gone by the wayside during all of this trouble after the fire, which quickly morphed into them listing all of the things that they would do once Tadashi was human again.
“The first day after we’ve got you back to normal, we’re gonna lock ourselves in the garage and invent until we drop!” Hiro declares eagerly.
“That sounds awesome,” Tadashi chuckles warmly, his eyes dancing with excitement at the prospect. “And when we’re too tired to invent anymore, we’ll curl up on the couch and have a movie marathon until we fall asleep.”
“We’ll go by the store and stock up on junk food before we start--we can get that five pound bag of gummy bears so we have enough sugar to keep us going through the night!” Hiro laughs.
“Yes, we are totally doing that!” Tadashi agrees before adding wistfully, “I can’t wait to finally have sugar again. I know it’s not usually good for cats so I was trying to avoid it, but what I wouldn’t give for even a bite of chocolate…”
“We’ll get you all the chocolate that you want,” Hiro promises him. “So, what about you? What’s first on your list of things you want to do when you’re human again?”
“Obviously an inventing night is way up there,” Tadashi answers. “But other than that? Well… Is it weird that I have this mental fantasy of going to Fred’s place with a bouquet of flowers to let him know that I’m still alive and before sweeping him off of his feet and taking him out for the most romantic night of his life?”
“Well, I mean, it’s a little bit weird to me as your sibling?” Hiro admits. “But I’m sure Fred will love it!”
“I’ve just missed him so much…” Tadashi sighs, the longing clear in his eyes. “I really, really like him, Hiro. I-I think I might even be in love with him…”
“That’s sweet, bro.” Usually Hiro would have felt uncomfortable talking about his brother’s love life, but the truth was that he didn’t particularly mind the thought of Tadashi and Fred together--he actually really liked Fred and, if anyone came even close to deserving his amazing older brother, it was him.
“I just really hope that he doesn’t hate me…”
“Wait, what?” Hiro was a bit caught off guard by his brother’s next words. “Hate you? Why would he hate you?”
“I mean, I let him think that I was dead all this time,” Tadashi says softly, the pain evident on his face. “I put him through so much suffering… Would you take me back if I’d done something like that to you?”
“It wasn’t like it was your choice! You’ve been doing everything that you can under the circumstances!” Hiro cries. “I mean, you’ve been traveling halfway across the city as a cat just to see him and make sure that he’s doing okay! And if he can’t understand that, then he doesn’t deserve you!”
“Thanks, Hiro.” Tadashi gives him a grateful smile, gently nuzzling up against him. “I really needed that.”
“Of course. And if he ever breaks your heart, I will make him pay for it,” Hiro swears.
“I appreciate that, but I don’t think violence will be necessary,” Tadashi quickly reassures him.
“Just sayin’,” Hiro answers with a tiny shrug before looking at the clock on the wall. “Huh, it’s almost ten. Do you think that Aunt Cass will be asleep by now?”
“She might be,” Tadashi replies, also looking at the clock. “I could probably sneak downstairs and check to see if she’s in her room, at least. If she’s not, I can just say that I was looking for a snack and just come back up here.”
“Good plan, bro,” Hiro agrees with a grin, getting up to go open the door to their bedroom. “Good luck!”
“Thanks!” Tadashi grins up at him before starting to make his way down the stairs.
Hiro goes to sit down on his bed as he waits for his brother’s return, absently swinging his legs back and forth over the side of the bed. He wasn’t too worried when five minutes passed--he figured that Tadashi was either doing a thorough check to make sure that Aunt Cass was truly asleep or else that Aunt Cass was actually awake and he’d gotten stuck talking to her (most likely about how things had gone at the school since supposedly that’s where the two boys had gone.) But then five minutes stretches into ten minutes, and ten minutes stretches into twenty minutes, and he starts to feel more than a little concerned. At twenty-five minutes he was just about to head downstairs to investigate what was going on (sincerely hoping that Aunt Cass hadn’t caught on to their plan and was forcing a confession out of Tadashi) when he hears a slow thunk, thunk, thunk sound coming up the stairs.
“The hell?” Hiro mutters, jumping up off of his bed and racing over to the door to find out what was going on. What he found was Tadashi, a leather bound book clenched firmly in his tiny cat jaws, painstakingly making his way up the stairs.
“Oh my gosh, Tadashi, what are you doing?” Hiro hisses, racing down the stairs and grabbing the book from his brother. “You’re going to break your teeth doing that!”
“Sorry,” Tadashi apologizes with a slightly guilty smile. “I just didn’t want to leave this in the living room in case Aunt Cass woke up and found it before I could come get you to help me with it.”
“Wait a minute…” Hiro whispers as he looks down at the book in his hands, gasping quietly when he notices the image of the raven and the black cat stamped into the leather, ancient runes printed in gold across the top spelling, The Book of Familiars .
“Holy-- How did you get this?!” He just barely manages to remember not to shout and risk waking up Aunt Cass, but his excitement still makes its way into his voice.
“I talked to Mochi, and he agreed that it was finally time that we tried this,” Tadashi answers with a pleased grin before adding a bit apologetically, “But he insisted that I was the only one of the two of us there when he lifted the barrier long enough for me to get this. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but he said that he didn’t exactly trust you with learning how to properly lift the barrier spells after some of the things you’ve done with restricted spells…”
“You use magic to put rocket boots on a cat one time…” Hiro sighs before shaking his head and focusing back on the matter at hand. “All right, forget what Mochi said. The important thing is that we have the book now! So c’mon, let’s get back up to our room and get this thing started!”
“Yeah!” Tadashi agrees, his eyes shining with excitement. “Let’s!”
As soon as they’re up in their room again, Hiro eagerly drops the book onto the desk and flips the pages open, scanning through the ancient pages for the spell that they needed. “Let’s see… A spell to make your familiar grow, a spell to make your familiar shrink, a spell to let your familiar speak in a human tongue--man, why hasn’t Aunt Cass used that one on Mochi yet? That would make my life so much easier!”
“Focus,” Tadashi gently reminds him.
“Right, sorry,” Hiro apologizes. “Back to the book--spells to turn your familiar into inanimate objects, spells to turn you familiars into other animals… Ah ha! The spell to turn your familiar into a human! Perfect!”
“Does the spell require anything special?” Tadashi asks, leaping up onto the desk and peering down at the page apprehensively. “Do you have to make a potion of some sort to make it work?”
“No,” Hiro answer, scanning the page. “You just need the words. Only-- What does it say here?”
He leans in closer to inspect the page, his heart sinking a tiny bit as he reads the words of the warning at the top of the page aloud. “‘This spell will allow your familiar to switch back and forth between animal and human form at their master’s discretion. Note: This spell will only work on animals with whom the witch has performed the familiar bonding ceremony. Attempting this spell on non-bonded animals can result in bodily harm or even death.’”
“Wow. Okay, so it definitely sounds like we should do this ‘bonding ceremony’ first,” Tadashi says, looking up at Hiro and trying to smile to lighten the mood. “Do you know how to do that?”
“I-I think that spell is probably in the beginning of the book,” Hiro answers, feeling a bit uncertain about this. Before, he’d thought that they could probably get away with doing the spell without Tadashi having to become his familiar--that there was only a slim chance of it happening as a side effect and that Aunt Cass was being overdramatic. Now, though…
“Hiro? What is it?” Tadashi asks, frowning up at him in concern. “Is something wrong?”
“Not wrong, exactly,” Hiro mumbles, shaking his head. “I just--I don’t know if us performing the familiar bonding ceremony is the best idea…”
“Why not?” Tadashi flicks his tail impatiently. “I already told you that I’m willing to go through with it. I don’t mind helping you out with your magic when you need me--I already do that anyways, so it’s not like there would be much of a difference just because we’re giving me an official title for doing it.”
“But it’s not just helping me with my magic!” Hiro answers, anxiously pushing his bangs back up and off of his forehead. “There’s a reason I don’t have a familiar already--that I didn’t ask Aunt Cass to just take me to the animal shelter to pick out a random cat. When you bond with your familiar, it’s like this really, really strong connection--your familiar can sense your emotions and your thoughts and it can really affect them. And there’s, like, this weird level of control--your familiar has to do to what you want and pretty much always follow your orders, no matter whether they want to or not. Most witches don’t force their familiars to do things that they don’t want to do, but if they want to, they can pretty much override their free will. And I hate the thought of doing that, or of the idea that I might get so drunk on power that I would actually want to do that. A-And I definitely don’t want to risk ever doing anything like that and ending up hurting you!”
“Hiro.” Tadashi reaches out and gently places a paw on his brother’s knee. “Hey. It’s okay. It’s totally okay for you to be scared about this. I think it’s even normal to be scared. But you know what?”
“What?” Hiro mumbles.
“I believe in you,” Tadashi answers firmly. “I believe you when you say that you would never want to do something to hurt me, and I also believe that you are strong enough to fight off any temptations that you might have to misuse our bond. You are my amazing, wonderful, caring otouto, and I know that, if we do this, you’re going to be able to do the right thing.”
“Y-You really believe in me that much?” Hiro asks softly.
“Enough to tell you right here, right now that I am willing to go through with this with you,” Tadashi answers firmly.
“O-Okay then,” Hiro agrees after another minute of internal conflict. “I-If this is what you want, then let’s do this.”
“Awesome” Tadashi grins proudly up at him before nudging the book forward with his nose. “Now c’mon! Let’s get this started--I’ve spent long enough in this cat body, I’m ready to finally be human again!”
“Right,” Hiro chuckles, grinning in spite of himself as he starts flipping back towards the beginning of the book. “All right--bonding ceremony, bonding ceremony, where are you…”
It took him a minute to find what he was looking for, but finally he comes across the right page. “Okay, let’s see what we need for this. Huh. It doesn’t look like much, just… Oh man. Seriously?”
“What is it? What’s wrong now?” Tadashi asks, starting to look a little anxious about all of these unexpected interruptions.
“It’s just--well, this is a blood bond ceremony,” Hiro answers, wincing at the words.
“Blood bond?” Tadashi repeats. “What does that mean?”
“It’s gross, but we both have to, like, prick a finger or something to make ourselves bleed a little bit and then hold the wounds together while I recite the bonding spell,” Hiro sighs. “I don’t know why no one’s come up with a better way to do this, it’s so nasty--not to mention unsanitary--but supposedly spells sealed in blood are the strongest ones…”
“Okay, so, that is a little gross,” Tadashi admits, somehow looking just the tiniest bit pale underneath his dark fur. “Still, if it’s the only way, then I guess we shouldn’t waste any time and just get this over with.”
“You sure?” Hiro asks, feeling a little bit queasy at the prospect.
“Yeah.” Tadashi offers him the most confident smile that he can muster. “Let’s do this.”
It takes Hiro a minute to find a sanitary tool that he could prick himself with, but finally he finds something that works and, after thoroughly washing it in the bathroom sink, he manages to use it to draw the tiniest bit of blood from his finger, hoping that it will be enough for the spell because it’s all that he can handle. Tadashi, for his part, had apparently use his claws to create his own shallow cut on his front left leg, and Hiro is greatly relieved that he isn’t going to have to harm his brother in any way because he just couldn’t stomach the thought of that.
“A-Are you ready for this?” Hiro asks as he desperately scans the page for the bonding spell one last time, terrified that he was going to do this wrong and do something horrible like accidentally put a curse on his brother.
“Yes, I’m sure!” Tadashi reassures him before not-so-gently urging, “Now c’mon, we need to hurry and do this before the platelets cause the bleeding to stop and we have to start this whole thing over again!”
“R-Right!” Hiro nods nervously in agreement and then, taking a deep breath, carefully places his own cut against Tadashi’s. Both momentarily wince, but this was the only way to do this and pulling away would just mean going through the pain all over again, so Hiro doggedly holds the small wounds together while reciting the bonding spell.
At first he was afraid that it wasn’t working--that he’d gotten the spell wrong or not made a deep enough cut and that this was all a complete waste of time. But then, as his continues to chant, he feels his magic rising up to the surface and then, instead of exploding outwards into a magic spell like it usually did, starting to flow into Tadashi like an electrical current running through a completed circuit.
“A-Are you okay?” Hiro asks, breaking off his chanting when he hears Tadashi letting out a soft gasp. “S-Should I stop?”
“N-No.” Tadashi shakes his head, his face screwed up in what could either be pain or concentration--Hiro sincerely hoped for the latter. “I-I’m fine. Just finish it.”
“O-Okay…” Hiro felt incredibly guilty for actually continuing, but he knew that there wasn’t really a better option and so he picks back up with his chanting.
When the final words of the spell leaves his lips, he feels one final surge of magic leave him in a rush and push into Tadashi. And then all was still.
“D-Dashi?” Hiro quietly pants, finally removing his hand from his brother and desperate to make sure that his elder sibling was all right. “A-Are you okay?”
“I-I’m fine…” Tadashi looked slightly woozy and was swaying slightly on his paws, but after a moment he shakes himself and offers his brother a weak smile. “Did it work?”
“Pretty sure,” Hiro answers with a small nod. “It felt like it did.”
“Good.” Tadashi nods, looking relieved, before straightening and saying, “All right. Now on to the next spell.”
“Are you sure that you’re up for it?” Hiro asks, feeling a little concerned for his brother--he’d already been through one major magic spell tonight, would he be able to handle another one?
“Yeah, I’m fine!” Tadashi declares, not at all looking “fine” but so determined that Hiro didn’t know how to tell him that he felt they should probably stop and rest for a bit.
“A-All right…” Hiro nods, starting to flip back through the pages to find the familiar to human transformation spell again. “Hopefully this one won’t be so hard on you since it’s a simple transformation spell.”
“Right.” Tadashi nods, his jaw set and looking like he was preparing himself for something a lot more serious--Hiro hoped that this didn’t mean that the bonding spell had actually hurt him and he was expecting this one to be painful as well. He would never forgive himself if he had somehow caused harm to his elder sibling.
“Okay, here it is!” Hiro smiles in relief when he finally finds the correct page again.
“Perfect!” Tadashi smiles back up at him. “Are you ready to give this a go?”
“Definitely,” Hiro agrees, his heart starting to beat a little faster in his chest. This was it. After all these long weeks, he was finally going to have Tadashi back for real. But he couldn’t let himself get too excited--he had to concentrate in order to do this spell correctly.
Just to be safe, he carefully moves Tadashi down to the floor (he didn’t think it would be wise for Tadashi to be standing on the desk when he turned back into his human form), and then, praying that he had actually found the right spell, he starts chanting the words from the book.
He could immediately tell that this one was finally working--almost as soon as the black and blue spirals of magic coming from his hands as he casts the spell reach his elder sibling and wrap around him, he could see his sibling starting to change shape, growing taller and more human-like by the second. Finally he says the last words of the spell, and, with one last flash of magic, his work was complete.
“Oh my gosh, Dashi!” Hiro cries, looking up from the book and grinning. “We did it! You’re-! ...Y-You’re…”
His words die in his throat. N-No--this couldn’t be right! It couldn’t be! Before him was standing a man--but it wasn’t Tadashi. The stranger had dark, spiky hair, not unlike Hiro’s own but maybe even a bit longer. His build was thin and compact, like the lithe body of a cat, and he was a good three inches shorter than Tadashi had been.There were three parallel scars running across his face, as if he’d been scratched by the claws of a bear or some other large animal, and the cuts didn’t appear to have healed properly yet. But the most startling thing about the man was his clothes. He was dressed all in black, from the black strip of fabric tied around his neck like a collar and the v-neck shirt that dipped much lower than Hiro knew Tadashi would have ever allowed, all the way down to the dark, ripped skinny jeans and the completely black high tops on his feet. Hiro had no idea who this was, but it definitely wasn’t his brother. Tadashi would never look or dress like this! It was all so, so completely wrong. Had he accidentally summoned a demon instead of changing his older brother back? If so, where had Tadashi gone?
He was just about to demand that this stranger tell him exactly who he was and what he’d done with his brother when he hears the other man saying weakly, “H-Hiro? Did it work?”
“D-Dashi?” Hiro gasps in disbelief, unable to believe that he was hearing his beloved older sibling’s voice coming out of the stranger’s mouth. Could this really be Tadashi? He looked closer, trying to find anything recognizable about the man in front of him, and finally he sees the eyes behind the dark bangs that were desperately in need of a trim. Those were Tadashi’s eyes--there was no mistaking them.
“Hiro,” he hears the other man saying softly, taking one unsteady step forward before losing all consciousness. Hiro has to race forward to catch him, supporting him and then doing his best to carefully maneuver him onto the bed. Fortunately the stranger--Tadashi?--had already been in front of the bed, so all he really had to do was gently lower him down onto it and then pull him up a little bit so that his legs weren’t dangling off the edge. When Hiro finishes his work, his heart was racing in his chest, both from his exertion and from the shock. He had so many questions--what had just happened? Was this really Tadashi? The eyes and the voice made him think so, even if everything else about him seemed completely wrong (even the nose no longer had the squashed look that it had had since they were ten and Tadashi had broken it trying to get Hiro down from a tree, although upon further inspection the large ears were actually the same, albeit a bit more pointed than they’d been before.) And if this was really Tadashi, what had Hiro done wrong that had caused him to change so much? There were too many questions whirling around in Hiro’s head, and he needed a chance to put them all to rest. So, without even thinking about the consequences and just needing the comfort of his elder sibling, he finds himself climbing up onto the bed next to the man in black, curling up against him and gently inhaling his scent.
Instantly, a flood of relief washes through Hiro as the familiar wave of cherry blossom shampoo and cinnamon fills his nose. This--this was right. This was the way that his brother was supposed to smell--the smell that Hiro had been missing since the night that his brother had been turned into a cat. And that one bit of familiarity made him feel that maybe, just maybe, things were going to be okay. He still had a lot of questions that needed to be answered, and he knew that Tadashi would be more than a little freaked out when he woke up, which was something that he would have to prepare for. But right now, when he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine that everything was back the way that it had been before everything had gone so wrong. And, even if it was just pretend, he was going to let himself enjoy this, if just for a few minutes.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Hiro didn’t sleep much that night. He sort of faded in and out of consciousness, always jerking awake after dozing off for a few minutes to check to see if his brother was awake yet. Finally around seven in the morning his fitfullness seemed to awaken Tadashi, but only just long enough for him to reach over and wrap his arms around Hiro, pulling him him close to his chest before instantly falling back to sleep. Something about Tadashi’s instinctive protectiveness was enough to give Hiro a bit of peace and, with a grateful smile on his face, the teen finally drifts off.
He doesn’t know how much later it is when he hears Aunt Cass’ voice calling his name from the staircase, asking permission to come up. He groggily lifts his head up, wondering why it felt like he had just run a marathon--he was exhausted and every part of him was sore, as if he’d used muscles that he hadn’t even known had existed. He rolls over to check the time on his clock, only to let out a terrified shriek when he saw a complete and total stranger lying in bed next to him.
“Hiro? Hiro, are you okay?” Aunt Cass voice cries and then, not even waiting for a reply, adds, “I’m coming up!”
SHIT. Hiro’s still only half awake brain had finally remembered the events of the previous night and he realized that he had a very much human Tadashi (or, who he at least thought was Tadashi) lying in his bed who Aunt Cass could not, under any circumstances, be allowed to see or else she’d know exactly what he had done. He had maybe fifteen seconds to figure out how to hide the evidence of his deeds and that definitely wasn’t enough time to figure out how to turn Tadashi back into a cat. So, desperate for a solution, he summons every pillow and cushion in the room and drops them on top of Tadashi only seconds before his aunt walks in.
“Hey kiddo! I just wanted to see if you were-- What happened to your bed?” Aunt Cass asks, frowning when she sees the state of disarray that it was in.
“Pillow fort!” Hiro quickly answers, hoping that it wasn’t obvious that he was making this up off the top of his head. “Dashi thought it would be fun to make one like we made when we were kids! Only it kind of fell apart, so…”
“Well… All right. I don’t mind as long as you clean this up,” Aunt Cass tells him, raising an eyebrow. “I just wanted to see if you were awake. Don’t you have classes today?”
“Classes? Oh! Yeah, classes! I, um--I don’t start classes until next week!” Hiro quickly lies. “I mean, since they still have to put in all my paperwork and stuff, they thought I should just start fresh on Monday?”
“Oh. Okay, that makes sense.” Aunt Cass nods slowly. “I just wanted to make sure that you didn’t need to be up--it’s after noon already!”
“It’s what?” Hiro looks at the clock in slight shock--3 pm? How had he slept in that late? All that magic must have really taken a toll on him last night.
“Were you up late with your spells again?” Aunt Cass asks with a small frown, looking concerned.
“Uh--yeah, something like that,” Hiro mumbles.
“Sweetie, you really should consider taking a break,” Aunt Cass says softly. “I know that you want to help you brother, but you can’t exhaust yourself, you have school to think about now--”
“Uh huh!” Hiro quickly agrees, panicking when he sees the pillows on the bed starting to shift--shit, Tadashi was waking up! “I promise that I’ll definitely think about it, okay?” He hurries over to his aunt and not-so-gently starts pushing her towards the stairs. “Thanks for checking on us, I really appreciate it!”
“Hold on a second--where is Tadashi?” Aunt Cass asks, glancing around the room.
“Call of nature!” Hiro quickly supplies. “Definitely needs some privacy!”
“Oh, gotcha,” Aunt Cass agrees with a wry smile, finally heading down the stairs. “Well, if you need anything, I’m right down in the Cafe--”
“Thanks, got it!” Hiro tells her, giving her the best smile that he can manage before quickly shutting the door, leaning against it and breathing out a sigh of relief when Aunt Cass’ footsteps fade into the distance.
“Hiro? Hiro, what the heck?! Where am I?” he hears Tadashi crying from the bed.
“Oh my gosh! Sorry, Tadashi!” Hiro apologizes, running over the bed and starting to throw the pillows off, praying that he hadn’t suffocated his elder sibling.
“Thank goodness!” Tadashi breathes when he’s finally out from under the cushions, shaking his head. “What the frick were you thinking burying me like that? Were you trying to suffocate me?”
“Sorry!” Hiro repeats guiltily. “Aunt Cass came up here unannounced and I had to figure out a way to keep her from seeing you!”
“Keep her from seeing me? Why would you--? Holy. Shit.” Tadashi stares down at his hands, slowly turning them over as if not able to believe what he was seeing. “I-I can’t believe it… I thought it was a dream… Hiro, you DID IT! I’m human again!”
“Yeah you are, bro!” Hiro agrees, beaming as his brother scoops him up into a hug while at the same time trying to figure out how to break the not-so-good news to him.
“Oh my gosh, this is incredible! Hiro, thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t believe that I’m actually-- I can’t believe… Hiro, why does it look like someone painted my fingernails black?”
Hiro sees his brother breaking away from him and looking in trepidation down at his hands. The younger teen glances down at them and realizes that, indeed, Tadashi’s nails did appear to be covered in black nail polish, making them almost look like claws.
“Huh, must have missed that with everything else last night…” he quietly mutters.
“Everything else?” Tadashi repeats, trepidation turning to panic. “W-What do you mean, ‘everything else’? What does the rest of me look like?”
“Tadashi, it’s really no big deal! I’m sure I can find a way to fix this--” Hiro starts to try to tell him, but, before he could stop him, his elder sibling was already racing for the bathroom, letting out a terrified squeak as he gets his first look at himself in the mirror.
“Hiro, what did you do to me?!” he cries as soon as his little brother catches up with him. “I look like-- I don’t even know what I look like!”
“You kinda look like a human version of a cat?” Hiro supplies before understanding finally dawns on him. “Holy shit. That’s what happened. When I used the spell on you, it didn’t turn you back into you--it turned you into a human version of Midnight!”
Tadashi seemed to be on the verge of a total meltdown as he quietly whimpers, “Can you fix it?”
“I-I don’t know,” Hiro admits, a heavy sense of guilt settling on his shoulders. “I mean, there are glamour spells, sure, but those dissolve as soon as anyone touches you… And I don’t know if there’s anything more permanent that I can do to fix this, especially since we performed the familiar bonding ceremony which pretty much means you’re permanently bound to the form that you were in when you completed it… I’m so sorry, Dashi… I-I didn’t mean to mess this up so badly...”
“I… I-It’s okay, Hiro.” Tadashi takes a deep breath, trying to calm himself. “I know that you did everything that you could. And hey--at least I’m not on four legs and covered in fur anymore, right? That is a huge improvement! And I’m so, so grateful to you for getting me this far! This body might take a little getting used to, but I think I’ll figure it out soon enough. So don’t you worry about a thing, okay, little bro? We’ll work through this together.”
“Yeah?” Hiro asks, not fully able to process how quickly his brother had come to some degree of acceptance about this (and not sure that he actually believed his “I’m completely fine with this” act), but the words were comforting, at least.
“Yeah. Now c’mere.” Tadashi holds his arms out to him and, grinning, Hiro rushes into them, pretending at least for the moment that everything was okay. The hug didn’t feel quite the same as the ones that he was used to, but it was close enough and the fact that it really was Tadashi was all that he cared about.
“I love you, nii-chan,” he mumbles, burying his face into his brother’s shirt.
“Love you too, otouto,” Tadashi answers, and Hiro practically melts with gratitude when he feels gentle fingers stroking through his hair--he’d missed this almost as much as he’d missed the hugs.
“So--how are we going to break this to Aunt Cass?” Tadashi asks softly when they finally break apart.
“I--I actually don’t think we should tell her yet?” Hiro admits, feeling a bit guilty when he sees the confused expression on his brother’s face.
“Hiro, if you’re worried about getting in trouble, I swear that I won’t let Aunt Cass be too harsh with you--I’ll take the blame, tell her that it was my idea,” Tadashi tells him, putting his hands on his shoulders.
“No, it’s not that!” Hiro answers. “I mean, yeah, there is that, obviously. But we still need to figure out what really happened at the fire, and right now we have the perfect cover to get out of the house ‘cause Aunt Cass thinks that I’m focusing on getting ready to go to school. If she finds out that you’re human again, she’s going to probably ground us for eternity, which means that we won’t be able to figure out who that guy in the mask was and what he’s doing with my microbots!”
“You… Actually have a point there,” Tadashi admits with a quiet sigh. “Okay. We’ll keep it a secret for now. But as soon as we’ve figured out who that guy is, we’re telling her, all right?”
“I accept your conditions!” Hiro agrees with a nod--the truth was, he was almost terrified that Aunt Cass would be so mad at him that she’d find a way to permanently turn Tadashi back into a cat, both as punishment and because she was still so stubbornly set on “keeping the family secret” (and Tadashi not only being alive but looking completely different was sure to raise some questions.) Still, he couldn’t think about that right now--first they had to handle the guy in the mask, then he could think about possibly kidnapping his elder sibling and taking him somewhere where Aunt Cass could never find him.
“All right, so, I guess our first order of business if heading back to the factory to look for clues,” Tadashi says, having no idea what was going on inside of his brother’s head, before glancing in the mirror and amending, “Well, no, first I think I need to do something about all… this. I’m definitely going to need to get changed. And how hard do you think it is to cut hair?”
“Actually, I think you should keep this look, at least for now,” Hiro answers, considering his brother’s appearance.
“Are you crazy? I look like I hang out in back alleys and hold up convenience stores for fun!” Tadashi protests. “No offence to Midnight, but just because he was a scrappy little street cat who enjoyed getting into fights doesn’t mean that that’s me.”
“I’m not suggesting that you keep this look permanently!” Hiro hurries to reassure him. “We’ll definitely see what we can do about getting you back to normal--or, as normal as possible--as soon as we can. But right now, since we’re heading to the rough side of town and dealing with a guy who has only God knows what going on in his head, it wouldn’t hurt for you to look a little, well--more intimidating than how you usually present yourself.”
“I… Guess you have a point,” Tadashi says after a moment, chewing worriedly on his lip. “Okay, fine. I’ll stick with this look for now. But this hair is driving me nuts and I definitely need to do something about it before we leave the house!”
“Leave that to me, bro!” Hiro hurries over to his desk and, after a few moments of digging, returns with a rubber band.
“A ponytail? Seriously?” Tadashi looks doubtfully down at it.
“Do you know of a better option?” Hiro answers, gently pressing down on his shoulder to make him squat down low enough so that he could reach his hair. “Besides, it’ll look awesome! You’ll be like--like Bill Weasley, from Harry Potter! You always thought he was so cool, didn’t you?”
“If by cool you meant I had a huge crush on him, yeah, I guess you’re right,” Tadashi responds with a wry smile.
“...Seriously, bro?” Hiro looks down at him in disbelief.
“What? I did!” Tadashi chuckles, and something about the laugh still had something of a low rumble to it, almost like he was purring--that was apparently something that was still going to be hanging around for a little while.
“It was bad enough finding out that you apparently have a boyfriend, I don’t need to know about your fictional crushes! I liked you better when I was under the comfortable impression that the thought of romance never even entered your head!” Hiro quietly groans as he snaps the rubber band into place with a little more force than was necessary.
“Sorry,” Tadashi apologizes, not looking entirely apologetic, before turning to the mirror and observing Hiro’s handiwork. “Huh--not bad, actually. Not exactly something I want to get used to, but it’ll serve its purpose for now. Thanks, little bro.” He smiles and lovingly ruffles his brother’s hair.
“Now all you need to complete the look is some guyliner,” Hiro jokes, playfully batting the hands away.
“What, it’s not like you have any on you?”
“...Hiro, should I be asking why on Earth you own eyeliner?”
“It was a phase, okay? I thought it made me look tougher at the bot fights!”
“How did I never notice this?!”
“I’d wash it off before I came home!”
“...You know what, I don’t think I want to ask any more questions because I don’t know if I’ll want to know what I might find out, so let’s just forget we ever had this conversation.”
“Okay, but that doesn’t answer the question--do you want eyeliner or not?”
“Okay, okay, jeez! Don’t bite my head off!”
“I’m not! Let’s--Let’s just get going, okay? Today has been weird enough as it is, I don’t think I can handle any more of this.”
“Right! So, are we taking the Mystery Machine since we’re going to hunt down a bad guy?” Hiro jokes, trying to lighten the mood as he slips the petri dish with the microbot in it into his pocket--it was their only way of finding the guy if he’d somehow moved his whole operation since yesterday (which, for their sake, Hiro seriously hoped that he hadn’t.)
“No, not the Mystery Machine,” Tadashi answers, a grin making its way onto his face. “Something even better.”
“Man, it’s been too long since I’ve been on this baby,” Tadashi says, beaming as he maneuvers his way through downtown San Fransokyo traffic on his motor scooter.
“You love this thing a little too much, bro,” Hiro teases him as he holds onto him, although he was also greatly enjoying the feeling of having the wind in his face again as they cruised down the street. “You sure this thing isn’t your boyfriend and not Fred? You did name it ‘Bae’, after all.”
“Hey, show Bae some respect, he’s saved your ass a few times!” Tadashi tosses back at him.
“I’m just saying it isn’t natural--should we be expecting a happy announcement sometime soon?” Hiro asks, lightly elbowing his brother in the side.
“Don’t listen to him, Bae, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Tadashi sweet talks the moped, making Hiro roll his eyes but grin all the same. It had been way too long since they’d done something like this, and it was amazing beyond words to finally have their old banter back.
It took significantly less time than yesterday to get to the abandoned factory, mostly because it was a lot faster to travel by motor scooter than to travel by foot. By the time that they reached it, Hiro was feeling ready to take on anything that the masked man had to throw at them--he had his brother by his side and this time he knew what he was up against, so there was nothing that the kabuki guy could throw at them that they couldn’t handle! Tadashi was looking less sure of himself than Hiro did as they pulled to a stop outside the door to the factory, but his stance and posture said that he was also ready for a fight should it come down to that.
“So how do we get in this time?” the elder whispers to the younger. “Do you levitate me up and then you levitate yourself up?”
“Actually,” Hiro gives him a slightly sheepish look, “I was thinking I could just use a lock picking spell…”
“...You have a lock picking spell. And you didn’t think to use that yesterday when we really needed it?!” Tadashi cries.
“Keep it down!” Hiro quickly shushes him. “But yes--and I’m sorry, but I was under a lot of pressure yesterday and it totally slipped my mind!”
“Fine,” Tadashi sighs, his volume greatly decreased. “Let’s just get in there and get this over with.”
“Right!” Hiro agrees, getting to work on using his spell on the padlock. After a little bit of coaxing, it finally fell open into his waiting palms, and he quickly pulls the chain holding the doors together loose.
“Okay, ready?” Hiro asks, looking up at his elder sibling.
“Think so,” Tadashi agrees, nodding and then moving so that he was in front of his little brother. “Stay behind me, okay?”
“But I’m the one with ma--” Hiro starts to protest.
“Just--do it, all right? I’ll feel safer knowing that I’m at least somewhat protecting you even though I’m letting us potentially walk into a death trap,” Tadashi tells him in a slightly strained tone.
“...Okay,” Hiro finally agrees, knowing that he wasn’t going to be changing his brother’s mind anytime soon. Still, he was prepared to jump in front of Tadashi should the need arise--he wasn’t going to risk losing his brother again, no matter what. Maybe this really wasn’t such a great idea after all. Maybe it was a bit too risky, all things considered. Was he being as stupid as Tadashi had been running into the burning building, taking on a mentally unstable thief before either of them had any idea what he was capable of?
But before Hiro could think the matter through, Tadashi lunged forward and, instead of just pushing the doors open, kicked them open with a loud “bang”--apparently he’d decided to go for a show of force to intimidate the masked man instead of trying to just sneak in. Hiro tenses himself, ready to start casting spells should an attack start. But after a few moments of utter and complete silence, he leans around his brother, frowning in confusion when all he saw was an empty warehouse--all signs of the machinery and microbots from yesterday were completely erased, as if they’d never even been there in the first place.
“Damnit!” Hiro curses, shoulders slumping in disappointment. “We’re too late!”
“Maybe it’s for the best,” Tadashi says gently, actually looking relieved. “That guy was clearly unbalanced. If he ever tries to do anything publicly with your microbots, then the proper authorities will take care of it.”
“Nnng…” Hiro grimaces--he hated the idea of that guy running free with his microbots, and after his time as a bot fighter he was strongly of the opinion that you could never count on the police to focus on the real problems instead of hassling people doing something not even dangerous in back alleys to make a little extra cash for their robotics projects.
Hoping for a miracle, he pulls his petri dish out of his pocket, praying that the microbot would start moving again and show him which direction to go in to find the thief like it had yesterday. But to his frustration, the bot stayed stubbornly silent, refusing to move so much as even a millimeter.
“C’mon, c’mon,” he quietly pleads, letting out a sigh of defeat as he feels his brother’s hand on his shoulder.
“You just have to let it go, Hiro,” Tadashi gently. “Come on. Let’s head back, okay?”
“I--I’m not ready to go back yet,” Hiro mumbles. And he wasn’t. He couldn’t go back yet. Not when he felt like this was still far from over. And definitely not to face Aunt Cass--he still needed to perfect his plan for getting Tadashi out of there should things go wrong, which they very well might.
Seeming to sense his distress, the elder boy says softly, “Maybe we can go get some food, then, huh? I don’t think either of us have eaten yet today, and I don’t know about you but my stomach is definitely saying that it needs something in it.”
“Gummy bears?” Hiro asks hopefully, giving his brother his best puppy dog eyes.
“How about some pizza first, and then you can have some gummy bears,” Tadashi bargains.
“Deal!” Hiro beams up at him. This might actually be a good plan. Their favorite pizza place was across the city, and it sometimes took a while to get a table, let alone have the food get to your table. It was so good that the wait was definitely worth it, and it had the benefit of giving Hiro some much needed time to formulate a plan for what to do next.
“Okay then.” Tadashi starts gently directing him towards back towards Bae. “Let’s go feed that hungry brain of yours!”
Hiro gives him the best smile that he can manage, trying to make it seem like he was totally fine with this, that everything was okay. But inside his brain was racing a million miles an hour, trying to figure out how to find the madman who had stolen his invention and how to keep his beloved nii-chan safe. He could only hope that, for once, his smarts might actually come to his aide by helping him figure out the solutions to both problems.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
“How are you feeling? Better now that you’ve got some food in you?”
“Much better, thanks.” Hiro offers his brother a grin before going back to eagerly devouring his slice of pizza. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until he’d actually gotten here and his nose had been hit with the delicious smell of Italian food. It had almost been torture having to wait the forty-five minutes for their pizza to be made and cooked, and he’d torn through at least a whole basket of breadsticks in the meantime.
“Someone’s hungry,” Tadashi lovingly chuckles, reaching over to ruffle his hair.
“What? I’m a teenager, our stomachs supposed to be never ending pits!” Hiro tosses back with a playful glare.
“I know,” Tadashi reassures him. “If anything, it’s a good thing that you’re hungry--maybe it’s a sign that you have a growth spurt coming up.”
“Yeah?” Hiro perks up at that. “You really think so?”
“I don’t see why not!” Tadashi grins at him. “That was usually what happened to me right before growth spurt--I would end up eating everything in sight.”
“Good to know!” Hiro laughs, feeling like he was grinning all the way from the top of his head to his toes, and not just because he did like the idea of growing taller. Just sitting in his favorite pizza place with his bro, joking and bantering like in the old days--it was almost possible to imagine that the fire had never even happened. Almost.
“Is there anything else I can get you two?” The waitress who had been taking care of them walked up to their table, oddly enough looking a little bit skittish. She’d been acting that way the entire time they’d been here.
“I don’t think so.” Tadashi glances over at his little brother. “Hiro, do you need anything?”
“Nah, I think I’m good!” Hiro reassures him.
“Just the check, then, please.” Tadashi turns back to the waitress with a smile.
“A-All right, I’ll have that right out.” The waitress gives him a fleeting smile in return before hurrying off towards the kitchen.
“What was that all about?” Hiro quietly grumbles, although he had some idea and, if he was right, she completely deserved the nasty glare he was sending after her.
“Maybe it’s her first day?” Tadashi answers, frowning at his brother’s reaction.
“I don’t think it’s that…” Hiro mumbles--he was pretty sure that he remembered seeing her on previous visits.
“Then what do you think it is?” Tadashi asks. “You obviously have some idea or else you wouldn’t be looking at her like she’d kicked Mochi. Unless that’s your idea of what flirting looks like, little bro, in which case I think there are a couple things I need to explain to you.”
“What? NO! I’m not trying to flirt with her, get that out of your head!” Hiro groans before quietly admitting, “I-I think…. I think it’s maybe that she kind of feels nervous around you because of how you look?”
“...Really?” An almost crushed look crosses Tadashi’s face. “But I’ve been nothing but nice to her!”
“I know, but some people decide to judge based on appearances instead of by actions…” Hiro reaches over to gently squeeze his brother’s hand before sending another death glare towards the kitchen where he could just make out their waitress whispering to two other servers.
“I… Wow…” Tadashi whispers before finally shaking his head, a determined look in his eyes. “Well, I’m just going to have to try to be extra nice to her! And when we get home, I am definitely at least changing my clothes.”
“That’s fair,” Hiro agrees, almost feeling bad now for refusing to let Tadashi change earlier and putting him through something like this. But, on the other hand, the waitress shouldn’t be making snap judgments about his elder sibling so technically this was her fault!
He was about to try to say something more to try to comfort his brother when he feels something moving in his pocket. “What--?” he mutters, reaching in and pulling out the petri dish, only to gasp when he sees the microbot ramming up against the glass again.
“Oh my gosh! Dashi, we have to go!” he gasps, heart hammering in his chest--yes, they had a lead!
“What?” Tadashi frowns in confusion at first and then his eyes go wide as he sees the microbot.
“Come on!” Hiro jumps up out of his seat. “We’ve got to go before the trail goes cold again!”
“R-Right!” Tadashi stands up too, just as the waitress returns.
“Here.” Tadashi doesn’t even wait for the check, just sliding a few bills into her hands. “Please, keep the change for your wonderful service.” He gives her his best smile and then races out after Hiro.
“Was that sarcasm , bro?” Hiro smirks as he jumps onto the back of Bae.
“More like killing her with kindness,” Tadashi laughs as he fumbles in his pocket for his keys. “I actually gave her a pretty good tip.”
“You shouldn’t have done that, she was being a jerk!” Hiro cries.
“Jerk or no, we both know what it’s like working in the restaurant business so I always like to try to show a little extra kindness to people who are in the same position,” Tadashi answers with a small shrug.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Hiro sighs. Usually he did the same thing, but he wasn’t exactly feeling kindly towards someone who had hurt his beloved older sibling’s feelings.
“What’s taking so long to get your keys?” he asks, bouncing impatiently on his seat.
“I’m sorry, but these skinny jeans make getting things in and out of my pockets almost impossible!” Tadashi gives him a small glare. “And since someone wouldn’t let me bring my bag…”
“I love you, bro, but a purse kind of takes away from the whole intimidating thing.” Hiro sticks his tongue out at him.
“It is not a purse! It is a satchel ! It’s very different!” Tadashi protests.
“Whatever! Just get your keys so we can get going!” Hiro complains.
“Fine! I’ve got them!” Tadashi finally manages to get his keys out of his pocket and climbs onto Bae. “I’ll drive, you navigate!”
“Sounds good!” Hiro agrees as his brother turns the keys in the ignition before glancing back down at the microbot. “You need to go left!”
“Right!” Tadashi steps on the gas, and they were off.
“Fred? Fred, focus!”
“What?” Fred looks up from his mug of mint cocoa, blinking a bit owlishly up at his friends.
“We just asked you ten times if there’s anything that you wanted to do tonight,” GoGo repeats, rolling her eyes in frustration. “It’s your Friday to pick what we do.”
“Oh… Um… Y’know, I’m really good with anything? You guys go ahead and pick,” Fred answers with a weak smile.
He sees the worried glances that his friends were exchanging, and usually he would have tried to make them think that he was okay but right now he was just too emotionally exhausted to try to put up a better front. He’d been trying to do better recently--he really had. And, for the most part, he was back to acting like his old self, even if the smiles and the jokes were just a cover for the fact that he was barely functioning after losing his best friend of five years and lover of six months. He still hadn’t opened up to anyone about that--he had no idea how he was even supposed to try to tell the others the truth. He thought that Honey Lemon might have suspected, but he’d always fended off her kindly meant questions with excuses and vague answers. He didn’t want any of his friends pitying him for his pain--he’d already had more pity than he could stand and the idea of anyone else telling him that he was “going to be okay” or any of that kind of crap was enough to make him want to throw up.
So he’d started putting up a front--a very convincing front, apparently--to get people to stop trying to make him “talk about his feelings” or to open up to them about the mess that he was inside. For the most part, he felt like he was doing a good job of fooling everyone. But some days were harder than others. Days like today. For one thing, Midnight, who had been making regular visits to his house, hadn’t shown up today. He’d waited for the cat all day, but it had never come crawling in through his open window, and finally he’d had to give up and had left the house with only just enough time to not be late for meeting up with his friends.
That had been painful enough. But, to make things worse, tonight was his Friday night on the rotation--to make things fair, the friends had early on made it a rule that they took turns picking what they did on Friday nights. The only problem was, it wasn’t really his rotation--or, it shouldn’t have been. Tadashi’s turn had always fallen been right before his, but since he obviously wasn’t available to choose what they wanted to do, silently his spot on the rotation had been removed. Just like everything else about Tadashi. It felt like everyone was just trying to erase any sign that the deceased man had ever existed, and it was enough to make Fred want to scream and rage at the world for the injustice of it all. Tadashi didn’t deserve to be forgotten! He was the bravest, purest person who had ever lived, and he deserved to have a statue raised in his honor in the park and have a whole comic book series detailing his incredible accomplishments created so that everyone would know how amazing he had been!
“Fred, it would really be better if you picked something that you want you do,” Honey Lemon says gently, laying a hand on his shoulder and bringing him back to the present. “Something that would make you happy.”
The fanboy offers her a miserable sort of smile, knowing that she was trying to make him feel better. He really appreciated the sentiment, but going out to see the latest superhero movie or to visit their favorite comic book shop wasn’t going to repair his broken heart. Not even close.
He stares out the window, trying to make it at least appear like he was trying to think about what he wanted to do, only to blink in surprise as he sees a familiar figure racing out of the pizza parlor across the street.
“Hiro…?” he whispers, frowning in confusion.
“Oh, you want to go see Hiro? I think that would be a great idea!” Honey Lemon says brightly.
“No, I mean, Hiro’s right there!” Fred answers, pointing out the window to where the young boy was climbing onto a red motor scooter that looked suspiciously like Tadashi’s.
“He’s what?” Honey Lemon turns and lets out a tiny gasp of surprise when she also spots the teen. “Oh my gosh, you’re right, that is Hiro!”
“Who’s that guy he’s with?” GoGo asks, frowning when she spots the rather rough looking man that the the younger boy appeared to be arguing with.
“I don’t like the looks of him.” Wasabi was also frowning him. “He looks like--”
“He looks like he’s either giving Hiro trouble, or like he’s helping Hiro get into trouble.” GoGo was scowling now. “Just going by how he’s dressed, he’s probably a bot fighter. I don’t like this. This is the first time we’ve heard of Hiro leaving the house since--” She doesn’t finish her sentence, just standing up and roughly shoving her chair back. “Come on. Let’s go find out what’s going on.”
“Right behind you.” Honey Lemon also gets up, clutching her purse tightly. “We need to make sure that he’s safe.”
Wasabi follows them and, not wanting to get left behind, Fred does the same, unable to shake the unsettling feeling in his stomach that he’d seen the stranger before. But no, that wasn’t possible--he definitely would have remembered running into a guy like that. Still, he was curious to find out who he was, as well as seriously hoping that Hiro hadn’t gotten himself tangled up in some kind of trouble.
Just as they got out of the coffee shop, Hiro and the stranger took off down the street on the moped, leaving the small group of nerds in the dust.
“What do we do now?” Wasabi asks, watching them go with a worried expression on his face.
“What else? We follow them!” GoGo answers, racing towards the older man’s van. “C’mon! Let’s go before we lose them!”
“Are you sure this is where it’s telling us to go?” Tadashi asks, glancing back over his shoulder at Hiro. “We’re almost back to the factory!”
“Yeah, that’s where he wants to go!” Hiro answers, keeping his eyes glued onto the tiny microbot. He only looks up when he feels the scooter slowing to a stop.
“What are you doing? Why are we stopping here?” Hiro asks, frowning in confusion.
“Because if we drive any farther we’re going to end up in the bay, genius,” Tadashi answers, gesturing to the dark expanse of water in front of them. “I think your little bot is confused, or else--”
“WHOA!” Hiro feels the microbot give an almighty tug, and he just barely manages to keep it from flying out into the darkness.
“What is it?” Tadashi asks. “What happened?” He squints out into the fog, only to have a sharp intake of breath when he sees a figure taking shape out over the water.
“I think we found our guy!” Hiro tells him with a grin.
“Well we’re not waiting for him out here in the open! C’mon!” Tadashi quickly starts the scooter back up and maneuvers it over behind some shipping crates where it would be less visible.
“Whoa…” Hiro gasps again quietly as he gets off of the bike and peeks around the edge of the nearest container, watching the masked man coming onto the dock from the water, supported by an army of microbots that were almost functioning like the legs of a gigantic octopus, before lifting what looked like a piece of a gigantic metal structure out of the water..
“Hiro, I don’t like the looks of this,” Tadashi whispers fiercely to him as he joins him. “I think we’re getting in over our heads, we should probably go before something happens that we can’t get ourselves out of!”
“No way!” Hiro hisses back. “That bastard stole my invention! All I need is one good stunning spell and I can take him down!”
Tadashi looks like he’s about to argue when suddenly they’re both blinded by a pair of headlights shining on them. Hiro puts an arm up to cut out the glare, his heart pounding in his chest--what the hell was going on? And then the lights shut off and he sees--
“ Shit .” It was Tadashi who actually cursed this time as he sees all of their friends from the university piling out of Wasabi’s van. Hiro could perfectly understand his reaction--not only was this definitely not the time for a reunion when they were hot on the tail of a masked criminal, this particular reunion was one that was going to take a lot of explaining that he didn’t think either of them were ready for yet. They hadn’t even discussed how to explain things to the others, and from the looks of things they had absolutely zero time to try to cobble together a coherent story.
“Guys, you can’t be here!” Hiro cries, hurrying forward to try to keep the others from coming any closer. “Get out of here! Go! It isn’t sa--”
“Hiro, what are you doing out here?” Wasabi demands. “Don’t you know how dangerous it is to be in this part of the city after dark?”
“Yes, I know, but--”
“And who is this guy who apparently brought you here?” GoGo asks, cutting him off and scowling as she looks Tadashi over. “If this is your secret bot fighter boyfriend, he’s got a lot of explaining to do if this is his disturbed idea of a date, bringing you to some dimly lit alleyway to do only God knows what to you! You can’t be that naive, Hiro! Didn’t you have sex ed in high school that warned you about date rape situations? This is a textbook example!”
“B-Bot fighter?” Tadashi sputters, looking completely affronted by the accusations being leveled at him.
“ Boyfriend ?!” Hiro cries, unable to believe that they actually thought that he and Tadashi-- Okay, no, he didn’t even want to go there! And besides, now wasn’t the time for having this discussion.
“You guys need to go-- now !” he tells the others, starting to seriously fear for their safety. He didn’t want them all getting mixed up in their dealings with the masked man--he could defend himself and Tadashi, but even he didn’t have enough magic to protect all six of them!
“Don’t push us away, Hiro,” Honey Lemon says, reaching out to put a hand on his shoulder. “We’re here for you. You don’t have to go back to bot fighting just to try to bury your feelings--it isn’t what Tadashi would have wanted. Please, come back with us and we can talk about this somewhere safe!”
“But we’re leaving this deadbeat,” GoGo adds, scowling at Tadashi. “I don’t trust him farther than I can throw him.”
“Guys, please, you’ve got to listen to me!” Hiro groans. “You really need to--”
“HOLY MOTHER OF MEGAZON!” Before he can finish his sentence, Fred, who had been oddly silent in the back, cries out, having seen something that none of the others had noticed going on behind them--namely a gigantic shipping crate being lifted by two towers of megabots.
“A-Am I the only one seeing this?” Fred asks as they all stare up it in various stages of horror.
Honey Lemon, for reasons beyond Hiro’s understanding, actually chooses to pull out her phone and take a picture, which unfortunately seems to alert the masked man to their presence. Before any of them can react, the crate being lifted by the microbots was thrust right towards them. It looked very well like they were done for--Wasabi started screaming in terror, probably thinking that he was about to be squashed to death on the pavement. But before the crate can make contact, Hiro manages to shout out a barrier spell that keeps it from being able to come any further.
“The hell ?!” GoGo cries, mouth falling open in complete and utter shock as she sees the crate floating in mid air.
“No time to explain! Just run !” Tadashi cries.
The others don’t even question it--as a group they race back towards Wasabi’s waiting van, Tadashi dragging a protesting Hiro along with him by the arm.
“What are you doing?!” the teen cries.
“Saving your life!” Tadashi answers as he pulls Hiro into the middle seat, slamming the car door behind them as the last of the group piles in.
“But I can handle that guy!” Hiro protests.
“I am not letting you take that chance!” Tadashi tells him before shouting, “Wasabi, get us out of here!”
“H-How did you know--?!” Wasabi sputters, looking back at him in shock.
But before he can get his answer, Honey Lemon cries out, “ Wasabi!” as they masked man on his tower of microbots towers over them, and Wasabi snaps into action, backing the car quickly back down the road and away from the imminent danger.
“Hiro, explanation, now ,” GoGo demands.
“That guy stole my microbots--he started the fire, and I don’t know who he is!” Hiro answers in a panicked voice--this was not how he’d planned things to go!
“Hiro, there’s more coming!” Tadashi shouts, seeing a gigantic tower of microbots heading right for them.
Hiro reacts on instinct, casting a shielding spell around the van which, when the bots came into contact with it, causes the vehicle to spin around wildly to face forward but otherwise remain unharmed.
“How do you keep doing that?!” GoGo cries, but before Hiro can even try to answer, she turns back around and shouts to Wasabi, “Hard left!”
Wasabi follows her instructions, sharply turning at the corner and causing everyone who wasn’t belted in (which was most of them) to be thrown against the side of the van.
As the vehicle continued careening down the road, the cloaked man continued to give chase on his wave of microbots. Fred, who was keeping watch out the back window, mutters, “That mask… The black suit. We’re under attack from a supervillain , people!” For the first time in longer than Tadashi could remember, there was a genuine smile on his face as he continues eagerly, “How cool is that? I mean, it’s scary, obviously, but how cool?!
“Oh Fred…” Tadashi whispers, unable to keep a fond smile from slipping onto his face at his boyfriend’s reaction. It was just so… Well, Fred .
Everyone is jerked forward as the van slams to a stop at the next intersection.
“Why are we stopped?!” GoGo demands.
“The light is red!” Wasabi answers in a panicked voice.
“There are no red lights IN A CAR CHASE!” GoGo shouts at him as, mercifully, the light changes to green and Wasabi starts the car again.
“Why is he trying to kill us?” Wasabi whines, looking like he was having the worst possible day of his life, before leaning out the window and, to Hiro’s disbelief, actually shouting back at the masked man, “Why are you trying to kill us?”
“It’s classic villain! We’ve seen too much!” Fred cries.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions!” Honey Lemon protests. “We don’t know he’s trying to kill us!”
“CAR!” Fred shouts as another vehicle comes flying through the air towards them.
“ He’s trying to kill us !” Honey Lemon shrieks as Wasabi turns the car just in time to avoid the projectile, which smashed to the street just where they’d been only seconds earlier.
“Did you just put your blinker on?!” GoGo spits at Wasabi, looking down at the dashboard in disgust..
“You have to indicate your turns! It’s the law !” Wasabi argues back.
“That’s. It.” GoGo pulls the gum out of her mouth and sticks it to the dash and then, a determined look on her face, pulls the lever to push Wasabi’s seat back before jumping into the driver’s seat and taking control of the van. Hiro would have been impressed if he wasn’t so terrified for his life. He could only hope that his protection spell was as strong as he thought it was.
Everything sort of happened in a blur after that, with GoGo doing what was probably some incredibly illegal and dangerous driving but somehow managing to keep them just ahead of the masked man. Hiro, feeling his frustration at the criminal for constantly trying to kill them with an invention that rightfully belonged to him rising, starts to climb into the front seat, telling GoGo, “Stop the car! I can take this gu---AAAHHHH!”
He lets out a cry of terror as the passenger side door is ripped off and he finds himself falling out and almost becoming roadkill. The only thing that saved him was Tadashi lunging forward just in time and grabbing his arm, yanking him back into the vehicle before desperately strapping him in with the seat belt.
“Put your belt on, you knucklehead !” Tadashi shouts at him, looking equal parts panicked and angry. Hiro just mutely nods in response, his brush with death making him too terrified to be able to form a coherent answer.
The car chase continues, with the car almost flying over the road as GoGo clears a hill and then smashes back down.
“What are you doing, what are you doing, whatareyoudoing?! ” Wasabi shrieks in terror as they approach a train crossing which had its gates closing, the train already close enough that they could hear its whistle on the track. But GoGo showed no sign of slowing down. By some miracle, she manages to shift gears in such a way that the car goes flying sideways across the track, just barely avoiding being smashed into by the engine car, before continuing off down the road on the other side of the tracks. Hiro could see the masked man following along on the other side of the train, but he was unable to cross the tracks, and as soon as she can GoGo takes another sharp turn off onto a side road.
“Did we lose him?” Honey Lemon asks hopefully. But she had hoped to soon.
“ Watch out !” Wasabi cries as they’re blindsided by a thick wall of the microbots, which quickly turns into a tunnel of darkness around them.
“Hold on!” Tadashi shouts to everyone, clinging in terror to his seat.
“We’re not gonna make it!” Wasabi shrieks as GoGo races towards the opening at the end of the tunnel.
“We’re gonna make it!” Honey Lemon answers as GoGo presses down on the gas.
“We’re not gonna make it!”
“We’re gonna make it!”
Just then, they burst out of the tunnel onto solid road.
“ We made it!” Wasabi cries in relief, and everyone momentarily relaxes. But they shouldn't have let their guard down yet.
The road that they were on abruptly ends, and they found themselves heading right off the edge of it and into the bay. Impact with the water causes the windshield to shatter, and they all scream in horror just before they go under.
The van sinks like a rock towards the murky depths, and everyone has just enough time to take a breath before water fills the car completely. They finally settle with a harsh “thump” to the bottom, and they all try without success to get their seat belts to release. Hiro starts panicking, convinced that they were all going to die down here at the bottom of the bay and that it was going to be all his fault. But then he sees bubbles rising towards the surface outside the car and he has a desperate plan form in his mind that just might actually work. If it didn’t work, he was a goner, but he was a goner if he didn’t try it anyways and so, using the tiny bit of air that he has left in his lungs, he casts a levitation charm.
At first he thought that it hadn’t worked--that his words, garbled by the water, hadn’t landed. But then slowly, slowly, the van starts to rise in the water, back towards the surface. He wasn’t sure that it was going fast enough, but he didn’t have the breath to cast another charm to speed the process. Dark spots were starting to dance in his vision and he was pretty sure he was about to pass out when the van bursts out onto the surface.
All around him, the others were gasping and choking, but as the teen looks around as the van bobs at the surface of the water, he sees with great relief that everyone was still conscious and breathing.
“I told you we’d make it!” Honey Lemon, ever the optimist, declares with a sunny smile.
“Yeah, we made it,” GoGo agrees before turning to look at Hiro with a look of disbelief that borderlined on mistrust on her face. “I just don’t know how we made it. Care to explain, Hiro?”
“Now isn’t the time for that,” Tadashi quickly steps in for his younger sibling. “We need to get out of this water and go dry off somewhere warm before we all catch pneumonia.”
Everyone still seemed in too much shock to really be able to come up with a solution. But then Fred, a determined look on his face, speaks up. “I know a place.”
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
The walk to wherever Fred was taking them was mostly silent. Everyone was too busy shivering from being doused in the cold bay water and in shock over almost dying to be able to really form coherent sentences. But Hiro knew that, once they were all wherever they were going and warm and dry again, he had a lot to fess up to. Part of him debated using a memory charm to make the others just forget everything that had just happened. But that was a lot of memories to erase, and there were four people that he’d have to perform the spell on, and he didn’t think that he near had the energy to do that. And, beyond that? He wasn’t sure that he really wanted them to forget.
Ever since he’d found out about his magic, he’d been forced to keep it under wraps from everyone but his family. Maybe he was finally tired of having to pretend like he didn’t have these awesome abilities and was ready for his friends to finally know the truth about him. And letting them in on his secret would also finally mean letting them know that Tadashi was alive. And letting Tadashi finally be back with his friends and ending their suffering was totally worth whatever punishment Aunt Cass could give him. He’d already broken the rules big time by turning Tadashi into his familiar and then using a forbidden spell to turn him human again. It wasn’t like there was much he could do to make things worse at this point, which was an oddly comforting thought.
“Hey.” He was startled out of his thoughts by Tadashi reaching over and gently squeezing his shoulder. “We’ll figure this out, okay?”
“Yeah.” Hiro smiles up at him. “We will.”
“Where are we?” Honey Lemon asks, keeping them from having any further conversation.
Hiro looks up and realizes that they were in an incredibly fancy neighborhood. What were they doing here? And then Fred suddenly started walking up the front sidewalk to possibly the fanciest mansion in the whole neighborhood like he owned the place.
“Fred? W-Where are you going?” Hiro asks, fearing that their earlier dip in the drink had caused his friend to go more into shock than he’d realized and was causing him to hallucinate a bit.
Fred looks back at him in surprise, as if confused by the question, before a look of understanding crosses his face. “Oh…”
For a moment, Hiro thought that he’d finally snapped out of his daze and realized his mistake in bringing them here. But instead, to his complete and utter shock, the fanboy announces, “Welcome to mi casa !” Apparently in case anyone hadn’t understood that, he adds, “That’s French for ‘front door’!”
“It’s really… Not,” Honey Lemon sighs, and Hiro could tell that she was lamenting the fact that all her hours spent trying to teach Fred Spanish had apparently gone to waste.
“Listen, nitwit!” GoGo looked completely and utterly done with what she clearly thought to be bullshit. “A lunatic in a mask just tried to kill us. I am not in the mood for any--”
What she wasn’t in the mood for, she never actually got to say, because the door to the mansion opened to reveal a butler who looked like he’d stepped right off the pages of some period drama. If he was at all surprised to see a group of dripping wet teenages standing in front of the house, he didn’t show any sign of it, just calmly turning to Fred and saying, “Welcome home, Master Frederick.”
“Heathcliff, my man!” Fred beams at the butler before turning back to his friends, who were all experiencing various stages of shock, and telling them, “C’mon, guys, we’ll be safe in here!”
As he starts to walk through the door, he offers his butler his fist for a fistbump, saying cheerfully, “Gimme some!”
The butler didn’t seem at all phased by his request, merely returning the fistbump before turning his focus back to greeting the other teens who were cautiously making their way inside.
“Did you know about this?” Hiro hisses to Tadashi as the other express their disbelief over the fact that Fred actually lived in a place like this.
“What do you think? We’ve been best friends for five years,” Tadashi answers, an amused look on his face.
“Then why didn’t you tell me?!”
“Because it wasn’t my secret to share.” Tadashi shrugs slightly. “Fred--he’s had some problems with people treating him differently just because of the fact that his family has money. Either they think he’s stuck up--which you and I both know he’s not--or they try to take advantage of him. So now he tries to keep it private as much as he can. It took him two whole years to finally tell me the truth.”
“Oh…” Hiro felt any malice that he’d felt at being kept out of the loop for so long quickly dissipating at that as they walk into Fred’s room which, as it turned out, was just as if not even more nerdy than he ever could have imagined it. He could understand why Fred would feel like he couldn’t tell anyone the truth if he’d had that happen to him before. If anything, now he felt kind of honored that the other man had actually brought them here tonight when he probably thought that it might mean having his friends turn on him once they knew the truth. Still, fortunately everyone seemed to be taking this well, aside from maybe being a little freaked out about just how over-the-top the room they were standing in was, and Hiro was glad to see that, at least for these guys, Fred’s fears were completely unfounded.
Hiro was just starting to relax--it was nice and warm in here, and he couldn’t imagine the masked man being able to break into a place like this, which seemed about as well fortified as Fort Knox--when GoGo walks up to him and, crossing her arms over her chest, tells him, “All right. I let you have the walk over here in peace, but it’s time to start talking. I want some answers, and I want them now. Who was that guy who tried to attack us? How the hell did you keep doing that stuff like making the van float up from the bottom of the bay? And don’t try to say it wasn’t you, every time you started shouting Latin or whatever it was you were saying, weird things would happen! It was like you were-- Like you were using--”
“Magic,” Fred puts in, which made Hiro realize that all the others were now gathered around them--there was no way for him to get out of this now, even if he wanted to.
“Magic isn’t real, Fred.” GoGo glares at him. “He must have been using some kind of tech--”
“No, actually Fred’s right,” Hiro cuts in, giving the others a sheepish smile. “I-I was using magic. The truth is… I’m a witch. Just like my aunt and my mom.”
There’s a full minute of stunned silence as the other stare at him like he’d gone completely crazy.
“T-That’s not-- No way. No WAY. That is not possible!” GoGo splutters. “There is no such thing as magic! There has to be some kind of scientific explanation behind what you were doing!”
“I thought the same thing when I first got my powers,” Hiro answers with a shrug. “I thought I was going crazy when I was suddenly causing things to happen that never should have been possible. But I can’t change the fact of who and what I am, and the only thing I’ve been able to do is try to learn to control it.”
“T-This is a lot for you to expect us to believe, Hiro,” Honey Lemon says softly. “Do you have any proof?”
“I mean, I could do spells all night if you wanted me to,” Hiro answers with a tiny shrug. “But you guys all saw what happened in the car chase, so if you don’t believe after that, I don’t know what much more I can do.”
“Maybe just one more spell--something we can all clearly see? It was a little hard to pay attention to what was happening when we were running for our lives,” Honey Lemon asks.
“That’s fair.” Hiro looks up at Tadashi, who nods encouragingly to him. “What do you guys want me to do?”
“Ooh! Ooh! Pick me!” Fred eagerly cries, waving his hand in the air like an over eager student trying to get their teacher’s attention.
“Uh, yes, Fred?” Hiro chuckles slightly--he should have known that Fred was going to be the most excited about all of this.
“Can you turn me into a fire breathing lizard?” Fred asks, excitement shining in his eyes.
“Sorry, no, my magic isn’t that advanced,” Hiro apologizes.
“Then can you shrink me?” Fred tries, not at all deterred.
“Yes, but it wouldn’t be advisable,” Hiro sighs, fondly shaking his head. “I don’t want you getting accidentally stepped on.”
“Invisible sandwich?” Fred begs.
“Tell you what, how about I just levitate you?” Hiro suggests, realizing that things would only get more out of hand the longer that he let Fred go on like this.
“That works!” The fanboy beams at him.
“All right--you ready?” Hiro asks, preparing to cast the spell.
“Hit me!” Fred answers eagerly.
“Okay.” Hiro takes a deep breath and then casts the levitation charm. It took only seconds for Fred to start floating up and off the floor.
“Holy mother of Megazon--this is so cool !” Fred was grinning like he’d just found out they were finally producing another season of Firefly.
“H-How are you doing that?” GoGo cries, eyes darting around for any tech that might be causing this.
“And is it safe ?” Wasabi asks, seeming slightly terrified by the sight of Fred happily suspended in midair with absolutely no support.
“He’s fine,” Hiro reassures him with a wave of his hand. “I do this spell all the time, I’ve gotten really good at it.”
“So--you really are a witch?” Honey Lemon asks, eyes wide as the spell begins to wear off and Fred slowly starts floating back down to the floor.
“Yep,” Hiro answers, awkwardly laughing as he rubs the back of his neck. “Sorry I didn’t tell you guys sooner, but my aunt… Let’s just say that she has some pretty strong feelings about not letting the secret get out--for good reasons, but still.”
“So how does this guy fit into things?” GoGo jerks her thumb at Tadashi, who’d been silently watching the whole exchange. “Is he your witch boyfriend or something? Is that why he apparently knows a lot more about all of this than us and you’ve been spending time with him while completely blowing us off?”
“Will you stop calling him my boyfriend?” Hiro groans. “We’re brothers, that is just weird!”
It took him a full thirty seconds and four shocked expressions to realize what he’d just admitted to out loud. “...Shit.”
“Hiro, it’s okay. They had to find out sometime.” He feels Tadashi gently squeezing his shoulder, and he looks gratefully up at his elder sibling who appeared to be taking charge here. The elder gives him a quick smile in return before looking up at the others, a slightly nervous look on his face. “Um, hey guys… It’s been a while…”
GoGo, as usual, was the first to respond. Shaking her head violently, she starts to back away, saying, “No way. There is no way-- That is not Tadashi! I don’t know what kind of sick prank you guys think this is, but you need to cut it out right now!”
“GoGo, it really is Tadashi!” Hiro cries, seeing the hurt look on his brother’s face. “It’s kind of a long story, but I promise, it really is him!”
GoGo looked like she was still in total denial, and both Honey Lemon and Wasabi looked somewhere between wanting to believe that it was true while on the other hand not quite able to process that such a thing was even possible. It was Fred who finally steps forward, all his excitement from earlier gone, his voice small as he says softly, “D-Dashi? I-Is it really you?”
“Y-Yeah…” Tadashi looks almost scared as the other man approaches him, as if afraid what his reaction was going to be. “I-It’s really me, Freddy…”
Fred tentatively reaches out with a shaking hand to brush the bangs out of Tadashi’s face, and Tadashi lets him, sea blue eyes meeting chocolate brown. After a moment in which it seemed the two were silently communicating in a language only the two of them understood and Fred desperately searched Tadashi’s face for any sign of his former boyfriend, a look of relief breaks out onto the fanboy’s face, and he almost looks like he’s about to start crying.
“O-Oh my God… Dashi, it really is you!”
Seconds later, he has his arms wrapped around Tadashi, pulling him as close to him as he could possibly bring him, and, only seconds after that, the fanboy was pressing a kiss to the other’s lips so fierce and passionate that Hiro had to look away, his cheeks burning, feeling that this was something that probably should be happening in private but not faulting Fred for it. The fanboy had thought that the love of his life was dead for over a month, he could be excused for his enthusiasm at having him back. And Tadashi certainly didn’t seem to be minding it at all so he didn’t feel the need to try to break this up for his brother’s sake like he would have if Tadashi had seemed at all uncomfortable with it.
Trying to find somewhere to land his gaze aside from the kissing couple, Hiro looks over at the remaining three to judge their reactions. Both GoGo and Wasabi seemed to be completely at a loss as to how to take all of this (Wasabi actually looked a little bit on the freaked out side.) Honey Lemon, though, actually looked like she was starting to believe. Still, she didn’t seem fully convinced.
“I’d really like to believe it’s you,” she says softly when Fred finally pulls away from Tadashi just long enough to allow both of them to breathe again. “But it’s asking a lot for us to just accept this without any proof…”
“What can I do to prove it to you?” Tadashi asks, turning towards her as best he can with Fred still holding onto him like he was never going to let go of him again.
“Tell me something only Tadashi would know,” Honey Lemon answers. “Something I never would have told anyone else about.”
“Gladly,” Tadashi reassures her with a relieved smile. “Does after finals spa day ring any bells?”
“Oh my gosh!” Honey Lemon squeaks, her hands flying to her mouth. “That’s definitely something only Tadashi would know about!”
“Bro, you went to a spa?” Hiro looks up at his elder sibling in disbelief.
“More of a Japanese bath house.” Tadashi shrugs his shoulders. “It’s not that weird--it’s relaxing, and you know how high strung I am during finals. I need something to help me come down from all of that, and when Honey Lemon invited me to go with her after our first semester was done I actually ended up enjoying it so we kind of made it a tradition.”
“That may prove it for Honey Lemon, but that doesn’t prove it for me,” GoGo puts in, still scowling suspiciously. “You’re going to have to try harder if you want me to believe it’s really you.”
“All right--how about the time I helped you replace that broken window that you smashed during one of your earliest tests of your bike and we only just barely got it fixed before Callaghan noticed?” Tadashi answers before turning to Wasabi and adding, “Or how I helped you get that stain out of your shirt after that infamous sushi incident?”
“N-No. No way. No. Way. You could know that,” GoGo stammers out.
“I-- What--? H-How?!” Wasabi cries, looking completely shell shocked.
“We saw you body at the fire! We saw it being buried in a casket at the cemetery! How can you be alive?” GoGo demands.
“I’ll try to explain,” Hiro answers, seeing that Tadashi was looking too overwhelmed by their reactions to be able tell the story properly.
“I can’t wait to hear this one,” GoGo tells him dryly, crossing her arms over her chest.
“All right, where to even begin? I guess the night of the Expo?” Hiro mumbles to himself, trying to figure out how to explain this all to them. “So, you guys know what happened leading up to me and Dashi heading off on our own, and, just to clarify, everything that you were told about Tadashi running into the fire after Callaghan is true. What you don’t know is what happened after the explosion.” He bites his lip--even now it was a bit hard to talk about. Tadashi was alive, thank goodness, but seeing his brother’s mutilated body and thinking that he had lost him for good was still something he had nightmares about.
“We’re listening, Hiro,” Honey Lemon gently encourages him, and even Fred had finally managed to tear his eyes off of his boyfriend for long enough to listen.
“Basically, I ran up the steps and managed to pull Tadashi away from the fire,” Hiro continues quietly. “But he was really badly hurt--you guys saw the body, you know how bad off he was. I-I didn’t even know if he was still even alive when I got him to safety. But he was, thank God. Only he was hurt so badly that I knew he wouldn’t make it if he stayed in his current body. So--I kind of had to move him into a new body.”
“You what ?” GoGo stiffens. “Are you telling me that you put Tadashi into someone else’s corpse--or worse, into the body of some random passerby?”
“No, nothing like that!” Hiro answers defensively. “It was a cat, and the cat volunteered!”
“...That doesn’t even make sense!”
“It was one of the stray cats that I would feed on campus,” Tadashi puts in, sparing Hiro having to explain this part of the story. “Midnight--he apparently felt that I was in pain and came to try to help me.”
“How would Midnight know that you were in trouble?” Honey Lemon asks with a small frown.
“I guess I kind of have a magical bond with cats? I didn’t get most of the powers in my family--usually those only go to the females, Hiro somehow just got lucky--but I’ve always been able to talk to cats and they’re kind of just naturally drawn to me,” Tadashi explains sheepishly.
“You can talk to cats?” Wasabi asks in disbelief.
“That is awesome!” Fred grins at his boyfriend before his eyes go wide as the realization sinks in. “Wait a minute… Midnight… H-He was at the funeral, and he kept coming to my house after that… But if you were in his body…”
“That was all me, Freddy,” Tadashi answers with a shy smile.
“Oh my gosh… You were trying to look out for me all that time, even though you were stuck as a cat…” Fred was back to staring at Tadashi like he was the most beautiful thing in the whole world, and Tadashi, in turn, was blushing bright pink under his gaze.
“Hold on, back up--are you trying to tell me that Tadashi has been a cat this entire time?” GoGo asks.
“Pretty much, yeah,” Hiro answers with a small shrug. “Sorry we couldn’t tell you guys earlier, but Aunt Cass wasn’t allowing it because of the whole ‘no talking about magic outside of the family’ thing. I’ve spent the last six weeks trying to find a spell that would turn Tadashi back to normal. But last night we decided that we needed to speed up the process and we kind of used a couple forbidden spells to get Tadashi human again.”
“Human, I can see--but why does he look like that ?” GoGo gestures to Tadashi’s current appearance.
“Because apparently this is Midnight’s human form,” Tadashi sighs. “It’s at least better than having paws and a tail, even if it doesn’t look much like me…”
“Is there any way to fix this?” Honey Lemon questions, looking Tadashi over. “No offense to you or Midnight, Dashi! You don’t look bad or anything! It’s just…”
“Yeah, I know,” Tadashi reassures her. “It’s a lot different than what I’m used to. But I think I may be kind of stuck to this since I’m kind of permanently bonded to Midnight at this point after Hiro and I performed the familiar ceremony last night.”
“The what now?” Wasabi, who appeared to still be having a hard time processing all of this, finally pipes up, looking more lost than ever.
“In order for us to get the cat to human spell to work, first Tadashi had to become my familiar,” Hiro explains. “It wasn’t ideal, but we kind of needed to get him into human form fast after we ran into the crazy masked guy and Tadashi said he wasn’t going to let me go after him by myself.”
“Who is that guy in the mask, anyways?” GoGo asks, seeming glad to be talking about something that seemed relatively normal after all of this talk about magic. “And why does he have it out for you guys?”
“We don’t know much,” Hiro admits. “We just know that he stole my microbots, and we’re pretty sure that he set the fire at the Expo in order to steal them.”
“That’s crazy!” Wasabi cries. “Why would a guy burn down an entire Expo hall, putting all those people in danger, just to steal your invention?”
“I don’t know, but it’s the best explanation that we have!” Hiro tosses back, feeling a bit frustrated by all of the interruptions. “And Dashi and I need to apprehend him before he hurts someone else! You saw what happened tonight--he tried to kill us just because we saw him with the bots! Who knows what else he’s capable of? And I’d hate to think of what he’s probably planning as his endgame!”
“Apprehend him?” GoGo repeats, looking at him like he’d just said something incredibly stupid. “Just you and Tadashi? Are you nuts?”
“No, I’m not nuts!” Hiro protests. “And I have magic on my side, in case you haven’t forgotten! We can totally take that guy down!”
“Not on your own, you can’t, no matter how much bippity boppity boo you claim to have on your side.” GoGo gives him a stern look. “If you’re serious about taking this guy down, you’re not doing it without me.”
“Wait, what?” Hiro was caught completely off guard by her words after how she’d been acting up to this point.
“N-No way, you can’t get involved! You’d probably just get hurt!” he protests once he finally has his voice back.
“Not involved? We’re already involved up to our ears after tonight!” GoGo snaps back. “And I’m not letting you do this on your own, that’s my final word on it!”
“If GoGo’s in, I am too!” Fred declares eagerly.
“I-I don’t know what I can do to help, but I’ll do whatever you need me to do!” Honey Lemon says with the bravest smile she can muster.
Wasabi finds himself with the other three all staring at him meaningfully, and after a moment of hesitation he finally mutters, “I-I guess I’m in too…”
“W-Wow guys… I-- I don’t even know what to say,” Hiro mumbles, feeling warmth rising in his cheeks. He’d never expected everyone to volunteer like this, but he had to admit that he did like their chances better with the six of them all working together.
“You’re family, Hiro,” Honey Lemon tells him with a warm smile. “And we take care of our family.”
“And we especially want to put a stop to someone who hurt one of our best friends,” GoGo adds, finally giving Tadashi a smile which he gratefully returns.
“So, where do we start?” Fred asks eagerly.
“I don’t know yet,” Hiro admits. “I didn’t even think I’d get this far. Give me the night to think on it, okay? Hopefully I’ll have some better ideas in the morning…”
“It is getting late,” Honey Lemon agrees, glancing at the clock on the wall. “We could probably all use some sleep.”
“Any idea how we’re getting home?” GoGo asks. “I mean, we got ‘Sabi’s van out of the drink, but I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna be ready to drive until morning, if it survived it’s little swim at all. Plus it’s all the way back at the dock.”
“And my motor scooter’s back where you guys found us tonight, provided it didn’t get destroyed by the army of robots last night,” Tadashi sighs.
“No problemo!” Fred quickly pipes up. “I’ve got it covered!”
“You think Heathcliff would be willing to give us all a ride home?” Tadashi asks hopefully.
“Better--nerd sleepover!” Fred declares. Seeing the doubt on the other’s faces, he urges them, “C’mon! It’ll be awesome! My room’s big enough for all of us, and we’ve got plenty of air mattresses and stuff for everyone to sleep on!”
“I… Guess it could work,” Tadashi finally agrees with a slight smile. “I mean, Hiro and I weren’t exactly looking forward to having to go home and explain all of this to Aunt Cass.”
“It could be fun,” Honey Lemon says brightly.
“I suppose an air mattress is about as comfortable as the bed in my dorm.” GoGo shrugs.
“Please tell me that you at least have some clean sheets here?” Wasabi quietly whines.
“Don’t worry, the servants can help us set everything up!” Fred reassures them. “I’ll go talk to them right now! And while we’re waiting, we can totally go have some snacks and cocoa in the kitchen--we could all probably still use something to warm us up, right?”
“That sounds perfect, Freddy,” Tadashi agrees, happily squeezing his hand.
“All right then--let’s go!” Fred declares with a grin.
Hiro follows the others out of the room, his head spinning slightly at everything that had just happened. It was almost impossible to believe that he hadn’t dreamed all of this up. And yet, as he looks around at his group of friends, he had the feeling that maybe--just maybe--with all of them working together they could take down the guy in the mask and get Tadashi the justice that he deserved.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
“Spread out and grab whatever looks good, okay?” Fred says as they enter the kitchen. “Everything’s open game! I think we’ve even got pizza in the freezer. Unless you guys want fresh, in which case I know a place that’s still open and will deliver!”
Tadashi watches as the others spread out in search of sustenance--after the crazy night that they’d had, all of them were in need of some food to replenish their energy (and if some of them needed to indulge in a bit of stress eating, well, there was no shame in that.) He was half tempted to go search the pantry himself in hopes of finding something loaded with sugar (hey, he was back in a human body at least, even if it wasn’t his own, and he was more than ready to finally get to eat something that didn’t have to be safe for a cat’s stomach.) But Fred had yet to release his hand from the almost death grip he’d had it in since they’d been reunited, and even though the fanboy was trying to act as normal as possible around the others, standing next to him Tadashi could feel him trembling.
“Hey.” Seeing that everyone else was distracted with foraging for food, Tadashi decides to take advantage of the quiet moment to try to get Fred off on his own so that they could do things properly, and he lightly squeezes the other man’s hand to get his attention.
Fred looks down at him, seeming a bit startled for a moment, but his expression quickly softens and he answers gently, “Hey. Everything okay?”
“Mm.” Tadashi nods, feeling oddly shy, before asking quietly, “Can we go somewhere… private?”
“Of course.” Fred agrees, squeezing his hand before starting to lead him out of the kitchen.
They didn’t even make it as far as Fred’s bedroom. They end up in the small library just off the living room, and Fred carefully locks the door behind them as they enter it.
For a moment they just stand in silence, having finally broken contact and looking at each other from a few feet apart, neither of them seeming to know quite what to say or how to make the first move. Tadashi was secretly terrified that the truth was that, in spite his initial reaction, Fred didn’t actually want him anymore. He wouldn’t have blamed him--not only did he look completely different now and was technically still a cat, he’d let his boyfriend think he was dead for all this time. Fred had every right to not want to date him anymore. Hell, he wouldn’t blame him if he hated him for putting him through everything he had.
Tadashi was about to try to choke out the words that were swirling around in his head, to let Fred know that he understood if he didn’t want to be his boyfriend anymore, even though the very idea of doing so was enough to make him wish he was actually buried in that coffin with the body he’d lost in the fire.
But just before he could tearfully try to get the words out, he found Fred reaching out for him, pulling him close to his body and wrapping his arms tightly around him before reaching up to run his fingers through his hair, to gently trace the curve of his face with his hands, seeming intent on memorizing every inch of him.
“F-Fred…” Tadashi whispers guiltily, not able to meet his eyes. “I-I’m sorry…”
“Sorry? What for?” Fred asks, stopping with his hands on Tadashi’s shoulders, a bewildered expression on his face.
“D-Do you hate me like this?” Tadashi cringes away from him. “I-I know I look nothing like the guy you started dating…”
“Oh, Dashi, no!” Within moments Fred was drawing him back in, gently kissing the top of his head as he does so. “Do you really think the reason I started dating you was because of how you look?”
“I thought it was a part of it…” Tadashi mumbles, although he allows himself to melt into the comforting embrace.
“All right, so it was a part of it,” Fred admits. “But it definitely wasn’t the main reason. And no matter what you look like, you’re still you. You’re still the amazing, selfless, caring, sweet nerd that I fell in love with, and no amount of magic or changing of bodies could ever change that.”
“Yeah?” Tadashi asks softly.
“Definitely,” Fred answers, pulling away slightly so that he could smile down at him. “And besides, it’s not like I have a problem with how you look right now. Sure it’s different, but you look incredibly handsome no matter what body you’re in.”
“O-Oh...” Tadashi ducks his head, trying to hide the blush he could feel growing on his cheeks.
“And I must admit, the fact that you’re shorter than me now does have a couple advantages…” Fred continues with a playful grin, reaching down to gently tilt Tadashi’s face back upwards.
“What kind of advantages?” Tadashi asks, fighting back a smirk of his own.
“Mm… How about this?” Fred reaches down and, before Tadashi can even react, scoops him up into his arms and starts peppering his face with kisses.
“F-Fred!” Tadashi laughs, trying to sound like he was protesting but enjoying it too much to really mind.
Beaming at his success and still kissing him, the fanboy carries him over to the couch in the middle of the room and gently lays him down on it before climbing on top of him. Tadashi felt his heart beating like a hummingbird in his chest, but he more than willingly sinks down into the soft cushions, waiting to see what exactly his boyfriend had in store for him.
He could feel the fanboy’s hands playing with the hem of his shirt, but before actually starting to remove any articles of clothing Fred softly asks, “Is this okay?”
“F-Fine,” Tadashi breathes. He felt oddly delicate and vulnerable right now, the reality of how much smaller in stature than his boyfriend he’d become finally sinking in. But instead of making him uncomfortable or scared, it was actually somehow really turning him on, and as Fred gently removes his shirt he finds himself shivering, not just from the cool air of the room but from excitement.
“See?” Fred whispers when he finally has the shirt off, his eyes appreciatively roaming over his lover’s naked torso. “What did I tell you? Still ridiculously handsome.”
“You think so?” Tadashi purrs, only to realize that he could feel a soft thrum running through his body from it like he had whenever he’d started purring in cat form.
“Well, that’s new,” Fred lightly chuckles, making Tadashi turn scarlet.
“S-Sorry,” he mumbles. “I-I didn’t mean to…”
“Oh, Dashi, no, don’t apologize!” Fred gently pecks his cheek in apology. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make it sound like it was a bad thing!”
“You don’t mind?” Tadashi asks, still feeling embarrassed.
“Of course I don’t,” Fred reassures him, kissing him again. “It’s different, but different isn’t bad. I actually think it’s kind of useful.”
“Useful?” Tadashi repeats, raising an eyebrow.
“Yep!” Fred agrees with a grin. “It’s the perfect way for me to know that I’m doing a good job turning you on.”
Tadashi was about to stammer out some sort of protest, but the words were quickly swallowed in a soft moan as his boyfriend presses a kiss to his throat, causing the purring to start again in full force. Normally Tadashi would have been more embarrassed by this, but he was enjoying it far too much to be able to bring himself to care at the moment.
“I love you, Dashi,” Fred whispers huskily in his ear when he pulls away, hands trailing over and caressing every bump and curve Tadashi’s torso. “I love you so much, and don’t ever doubt that, okay?”
“I won’t,” Tadashi gasps out, trembling under his boyfriend’s touch, starting to feel the results of it and knowing from the fanboy’s grin that he could too.
“That good, Dashi?” Fred asks, his hands trailing lower on his boyfriend’s body.
“Y-Yes…” Tadashi quietly whines, instinctively arching up against him.
“Y’know, maybe it’s time I got a chance to look at all of your new body…” Fred playfully purrs, starting to fiddle with the button of the other man’s jeans.
Tadashi was about to let him know how exceedingly okay with that he was when he hears knocking on the door and Hiro’s voice calling, “Tadashi? Fred? You guys in there? Why did you run off? And why the hell is the door locked?”
“I think we’re going to have to continue this later,” Fred sighs, reluctantly sighing and climbing off of the couch.
“Y-Yeah…” Tadashi agrees, his entire body protesting but knowing they couldn’t very well continue the way that they were going with his little brother standing right outside the door.
“Finally!” Hiro was looking slightly impatient when a minute later Fred opens the door after giving Tadashi a chance to get his shirt back on. “What took you guys so long? And what were you doing?”
“We just needed some alone time together to talk some things over,” Fred answers smoothly when Tadashi gives him a rather deer in the headlights look. “But everything’s fine, we’re totally good!”
“You sure?” Hiro looks over at Tadashi for confirmation, as if doubting the truth of Fred’s words.
“We’re great,” Tadashi reassures him, reaching over to squeeze his boyfriend’s hand. “Really, really great.”
“Good to hear.” Hiro’s expression softens slightly, seeming pacified by his brother’s words, before adding, “C’mon, everyone’s pretty much gotten what they want from the kitchen, we kinda need to know what we’re doing next since this is Fred’s house and none of us have ever been here before so we don’t even know where everything is.”
“Oh, right!” Fred agrees, seeming to realize he’d been neglecting his duties as host. “I guess have everyone take their stuff back to my room and I’ll get to work on finding those extra air mattresses and sleeping bags?”
“Okay, sounds good.” Hiro nods before looking over at his elder sibling. “Dashi, you coming?”
“I’ll help Fred with getting the stuff and catch up with you guys,” Tadashi tells him with a warm smile. “That okay?”
“Yeah, I guess so--I mean, I’m not about to stop you. You’re an adult, you can do what you want,” Hiro agrees with a slight shrug before heading back towards the kitchen.
“Hiro seems to be taking the fact that we’re dating pretty well,” Fred notes with a slight smile as they watch him go.
“Yeah, he is,” Tadashi answers, grateful that so far his little brother had been handling seeing him and Fred actually acting like a couple in person for the first time surprisingly well.
“Especially since his first time finding out about it is tonight,” Fred continues before looking over at Tadashi and adding, “I mean, unless this isn’t his first time finding out about it…?”
“He, uh… Kinda figured it out a while ago,” Tadashi admits, flushing. “I-Is that okay with you that he knows?”
“Of course it’s okay!” Fred reassures him. “I’m actually glad he does and that he’s doing so well with it. I mean, I’d hate to think of your family not being okay with us dating…”
“Well, I’m not sure that Aunt Cass knows,” Tadashi admits. “But I’m sure she’ll be fine with it. She’ll probably be less fine when she finds out what Hiro did to make me human again, but that’s something I have to worry about, not you…”
“Why would your aunt be so upset?” Fred asks, frowning in concern. “Wouldn’t she just be glad to see that you’re human again?”
“It’s… complicated,” Tadashi sighs. “She didn’t want us to use the spell that we used because of the side effects it might have…”
“Side effects?” Fred repeats. “What kind of side effects?”
“Nothing that would actually hurt me or Hiro,” Tadashi answers with a small shrug, not really wanting to talk about it. “It’s just some weird blood magic stuff, kind of hard to explain…”
“Okay,” Fred agrees, seeming to realize that he didn’t want to be pushed and so dropping the subject.
“Speaking of taking things well…” Tadashi glances over at him as they start to make their way down the hallway together. “You’re taking this whole magic thing pretty well. The others seemed pretty freaked out by it, but you didn’t even really need any proof to believe what Hiro was saying. Why?”
“I dunno.” It was Fred’s turn to shrug. “I guess I’ve always believed in magic and the supernatural? You know how obsessed with Harry Potter I was in high school, maybe that had some side effects… Plus I saw some pretty incredible stuff tonight that couldn’t be explained any other way, and besides, from what I know about Hiro he isn’t someone who would talk about having magic unless he actually had it.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Tadashi agrees with a small smile.
“So what about you?” Fred asks.
“What about me?”
“I know Hiro said only the females in your family have magic, but since Hiro ended up with it anyways, did you get it too?”
“No,” Tadashi answers with a wry smile. “Like I said earlier when we were explaining things, I can talk to cats but that’s about it. Nothing special like Hiro…”
“Hey, talking to cats is still super cool!” Fred protests. “I’d love to be able to talk to cats!”
“Thanks,” Tadashi chuckles, lightly nuzzling against his shoulder. Somehow his boyfriend always knew exactly how to make him feel better.
“You’re welcome!” Fred beams down at him before turning his attention to opening a door which turned out to lead to a closet where several deflated air mattresses and spare bedding was kept.
“We’re probably going to have to make a few trips to get enough for everyone,” Tadashi observes, trying to mentally calculate how many air mattresses and blankets they would need--would anyone want to double up, or should they bring enough that everyone would want their own?
“Probably,” Fred agrees. “I’d say we’ll need at least four mattresses, and they’re pretty bulky, even in their boxes.”
“Four?” Tadashi repeats, running his mental calculations again. He’d thought they’d need more like five, provided Fred was planning on sleeping in his own bed.
“Well, I just thought that… Y’know, maybe you’d want to sleep in my bed?” Fred says shyly before quickly adding, “N-Not that we’d be doing anything you’d have to be worried about us doing with Hiro or the others in the room! I just thought it might be nice… And otherwise I’ll probably keep getting up during the night to keep making sure that you’re actually here and I’m not dreaming all of this…” He ducks his head, looking a bit embarrassed by his admission.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Tadashi reassures him. “And yeah, as long as no one else has a problem with it, I’d love to sleep in your bed with you. I-I think I’m going to need the reassurance too that this isn’t all dream I’m going to wake up from…”
“Yeah.” Fred flashes him a grateful smile, seeming glad that he understood how he was feeling.
In the end it did take a few trips to carry all the needed bedding for everyone back to Fred’s room, plus Fred insisted on taking Tadashi on an extra trip to get something to eat from the kitchen since he hadn’t had a chance earlier. During those initial trips, Tadashi couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous as none of the others were really talking to him, and he was afraid that it was because of the anger or resentment they might be feeling towards him for letting them think he’d been dead for so long. Still, when Fred announces that they had brought in the last load and GoGo and Wasabi go about silently helping Hiro making up the beds, Honey Lemon comes over to wrap her arms around Tadashi.
“Is everything okay?” Tadashi asks, surprised and a bit concerned to feel her shaking slightly.
“It’s just--I’m so, so happy to know that you’re okay, Dashi,” Honey Lemon whispers. “We’ve missed you so much…”
“I really missed you guys too,” Tadashi answers, hugging her tightly back. “I’m so sorry for making you all think I was dead… I-I understand if you’re all mad at me…”
“Mad at you? Oh, Dashi, no!” Honey Lemon cries, pulling away to look at him. “Of course we’re not mad! This wasn’t your fault!”
“You guys weren’t really talking to me so I kind of got worried…” Tadashi mumbles, glad for Honey Lemon’s reassurances but not sure she could really speak for the others and glancing over to look at them.
“Dashi, man,” Wasabi says, finally meeting his eyes and looking guilty, “we’re definitely not mad! This is just a lot for us to process…”
“A lot for us to process,” GoGo agrees, also looking at Tadashi. “I mean, finding out about the whole you not being dead thing and that Hiro’s a witch who saved your life by sticking you in the body of a cat? I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m kinda feeling like I inhaled some chemical fumes in the Nerd Lab and passed out and right now I’m having a very vivid hallucination dream that I’m going to wake up from any minute.”
“O-Oh…” Tadashi says softly, curling in on himself with shame.
“ But .” GoGo comes over to him and, to his utter disbelief, pulls him into a hug. “That doesn’t mean we’re mad at you. And if this is a weird hallucination dream, then I want to enjoy it as long as I can, because we’ve really, really missed you.”
“Really?” Tadashi feels relief wash through him as he relaxes into the embrace.
“Really,” GoGo reassures him, and he can tell that her smile is genuine.
“Hey, for the record, the same goes for me,” Wasabi says, coming over and wrapping his arms around both of them.
“Ooh, group hug!” Honey Lemon cheers, joining the embrace.
“Oh my gosh, you guys!” Tadashi laughs, feeling slightly squished but incredibly loved as everyone gathers around him.
“I care about each and every one of you so, so much,” he says when he’s finally released, making eye contact with each one of them in turn. “And you have no idea how happy I am to be back with all of you…”
“I think we do know, Dashi,” Fred answers, lightly squeezing his hands. “Because we all feel the same way about having you back.”
Before Tadashi could start getting flustered again, the fanboy quickly continues, “Okay, guys, as awesome as this all was, I think it’s about time we hit the hay. Everyone down with me putting in Prisoner of Azkaban while we finish eating and then us all turning in for the night?”
“I don’t see any objections,” Hiro says after glancing around at the others, seeming relieved that there were no ill feelings towards his niisan after everything that had happened.
“Awesome!” Fred beams before heading over to the bookcase that held his movie collection to find the film.
Tadashi settles himself down onto the couch in front of the TV, waiting for Fred to join him. He wasn’t entirely surprised when Hiro sits down next to him on his right side, although he was a bit thrown off when his little brother nuzzles slightly into his arm.
“You okay?” Tadashi asks, looking down at him.
“I’m fine,” Hiro answers, looking up at him and seeming a bit embarrassed. “I’m just--really, really happy that everyone’s being so nice about this.”
“Me too,” Tadashi agrees with a grin. “I guess that everything turned out okay in the end!”
“Not everything,” Hiro says, a shadow crossing his face. “We still have to figure out who that guy was who started the fire and put a stop to him!”
Tadashi was about to argue--things were going so well right now that he was almost willing to completely forget about the man in the mask and just settle down into his normal life again (or as normal as things could be the way that things were)--but he could see the fiery determination in the younger boy’s eyes and he decides that arguing probably wasn’t the best tactic.
“Let’s just focus on resting right now, huh?” he says, trying to keep his tone calm and level. “We’re not going to be able to catch that guy if we’re exhausted, and we’ll be able to think better after a good night’s sleep.”
“Okay, fine,” Hiro sighs, crossing his arms over his chest but not fighting him on it. “I’ll do it your way tonight. But tomorrow we start making plans!”
“Fair enough,” Tadashi agrees, secretly hoping that Hiro would just forget about all of this by morning even though he knew it was a completely unrealistic thing to hope for.
“Hey guys! Everything going alright?” Fred asks as he joins them on the couch, the familiar score of the movie that they’d all watched far too many times to count playing in the background.
“Everything’s fine,” Tadashi answers, gratefully snuggling up against his boyfriend and smiling up at him before glancing around at Hiro and the others, feeling more at peace than he had since the night of the Expo. “Absolutely fine.”
In the middle of the night, Tadashi woke up from where he’d finally fallen asleep next to Fred in the wee hours of the morning. The adrenaline that had still been coursing through in his veins from the night’s events kept him awake much longer than the others, who had all eventually drifted off to their mattresses to get some sleep. When he’d finally passed out, exhaustion overtaking his racing pulse, he’d fallen into a deep sleep, and by all expectations shouldn’t have woken up again until the sun was high in the sky. He groggily wondered what exactly had woken him, glancing around the room for the source of the disturbance until finally he spotted Hiro sitting at the table, sketching away by the light of his phone screen.
“‘Iro?” Tadashi mumbles, his brain feeling incredibly sluggish as he sits up and not at all up to the task of trying to figure out why his little brother was still doing up. “Wha’ are you doing? You should be sleeping…”
“I’m fine, Dashi,” Hiro quietly hisses back after jumping in surprise at the unexpected sound of his sibling’s voice. “I just had some ideas that I needed to jot down before I forgot them.”
“You need any help?” Tadashi asks blearily, doing his best to remain awake in case Hiro needed him.
“No, I’m almost done,” Hiro reassures him. “Just go back to sleep, okay?”
“‘Kay…” Tadashi mumbles, too far gone to protest. A wave of exhaustion washes over him, and within moments he’s fast asleep.
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
“Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey! Rise and shine, everyone!”
When Tadashi finally regains consciousness, he instantly wishes he hadn’t. His head was pounding like he could only imagine a hangover induced headache would (not that he had any experience in that area), and the sound of Hiro’s voice, far too cheerful for this time of the morning and somehow accompanied by a metallic clanging, was making it clear that the noise wouldn’t stop until everyone in the room gave it their full attention.
“Hiro, what the freaking actual fuck?” Tadashi was glad to find that he wasn’t the only one not at all pleased by this turn of events when he finally opens his eyes and sees GoGo, not too far from the bed on her own air mattress, scowling at the younger teen who, unbelievably, had produced a pot and a spoon from somewhere to aid in producing the noise needed to wake the previously comatose college students.
“It’s morning, I don’t want you guys wasting the whole day away sleeping,” Hiro answers with an innocent smile.
“You little shi--”
“I think what GoGo means,” Honey Lemon quickly cuts in, “is that we had a really late night--”
“A very late night,” Wasabi groans in agreement.
“--and we were all planning to sleep in a bit today,” Honey Lemon finishes.
“Well excuse me for being kind enough not to wake you up at 4 am when I actually got my idea for how to stop the guy in the mask and making myself wait to talk to you until now when I was wide awake and you guys were all enjoying you sleep!” Hiro answers.
“Wait, what?” Tadashi cries, feeling much more alert. “You figured out how to--?”
“Yep!” Hiro smiles proudly.
“Well? Don’t just keep it to yourself, spill!” GoGo demands when Hiro fails to elaborate.
“But I thought you all wanted to go back to sleep,” Hiro answers with a shit eating grin.
“Hiro, so help me if you don’t stop playing mind games this early in the morning I will rip out your femur and use it to whack you with.”
“Fine, fine,” Hiro sighs, not sounding truly terrified but knowing from experience not to take GoGo’s threats lightly. “If you’ll just turn your attention to the screen--” He picks up the remote to turn on the TV.
“Hiro, what--? When did you have time to make a multimedia presentation?” Tadashi cries as he sees a powerpoint pull up on the screen while Fall Out Boy’s Immortals starts playing over the speakers.
“I had to do something with my time while you were all sleeping--I figured this would give my idea some panache!” Hiro answers with a grin.
“What exactly is your idea, Hiro?” Honey Lemon asks curiously.
“All right, so let’s starts with what we know,” Hiro says, pulling up his first slide. “We know that last night we were being chased by a guy in a mask who is apparently willing to kill to keep the fact that he has my microbots a secret. And, as Fred said last night, he’s got all the defining characteristics of a supervillain.”
“Yes, we’re all aware of that--did you really have to wake us up to go back over what we already know?” GoGo groans.
“The real question is,” Hiro continues, ignoring her, “how does one stop a supervillain? I think the answer is fairly obvious--a superhero.”
“You have a good point there, little man,” Wasabi tells him. “But where exactly are we supposed to get a superhero? It’s not like we can just go online and find listings for superheroes for hire!”
“That’s why we’re not hiring a superhero,” Hiro answers with a smug smirk. “We’re going to become superheroes!”
“Wait, you want us to do what ?” Wasabi cries.
“Hiro, in case you didn’t notice, none of us have superpowers!” GoGo protests. “You’re the only one with anything even close!”
“I think you guys are forgetting that not all superheros have to have powers,” Hiro counters. “Batman, Bumblebee, Iron Man--they all use technology to fight crime! And we have some of the best brains in San Fransokyo right here in this room who could easily put together the tech needed to become superheroes.”
“But Hiro,” Honey Lemon says softly, “even if we could build the technology to become superheroes, do you really think we could fight that man in the mask? We’re not exactly superhero material. We’re just… us.”
“No,” Hiro answers, shaking his head, a determined glint in his eyes that bordered on manic but was somehow inspiring nonetheless. “You can be so much more.”
For a moment silence filled the room, all of them seeming to consider his words. And then, to everyone’s utter amazement, GoGo stands up. “Tadashi is our best friend. If this is the way to get justice for him--we’re in.”
Honey Lemon looks uncertain for another moment and then slowly stands up too, nodding, and Wasabi, although he looked slightly terrified, does the same.
“We’re in,” he agrees before adding under his breath, “let’s just hope we don’t die in the process.”
Fred, who had been oddly silent throughout the whole discussion but had been looking more and more excited as the conversation progressed, jumps out of bed and bursts out, “Can you feel it? Can you guys feel this? Our origin story begins--we’re gonna be superheroes!”
“Uh--don’t I have some say in this?” Tadashi’s voice breaks into the moment.
“What do you mean?” Fred asks, looking at him in surprise. “Dashi, this is awesome!”
“I’m just not sure it’s the best idea,” Tadashi answers with a frown. “I don’t want you guys getting hurt on my account--I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened to any of you just because you were trying to avenge me! I mean, guys, c’mon--I’m alive, and capturing this guy isn’t going to bring my old body back, it’s long gone. I’m not sure this is worth the risk to put all of you in danger…”
Even though Tadashi was usually never one to back down from doing something he believed in, after seeing just how far the masked man was willing to go last night, he was feeling a lot less keen on the idea of actually putting a stop to him when it mean possibly losing one of his loved ones. Was the man really such a threat if all he had done was steal Hiro’s microbots? Sure, stealing was wrong, and he knew how upset Hiro was about it, but getting justice seemed a lot less important in the light of day than protecting the ones he cared about.
“Dashi.” Hiro meets eyes with him, his voice solemn now. “You know that avenging you isn’t the only reason we’re doing this. That guy hurt you, and he’s probably going to hurt a lot more people if we don’t do something to stop him.”
“I know…” Tadashi sighs, his shoulders sinking in defeat before giving his brother the most confident smile he can muster. “I guess we’re doing this, then.”
“Yes!” Hiro cheers, punching his fists in the air and grinning. “Let’s do this!”
“So, genius, where do we start?” GoGo asks with a wry smile, ruffling the younger boy’s hair. “I’m assuming you’ve already got a plan for how to turn us into superheroes?”
“Yep!” Hiro answers with a grin after batting her hands away. “I was thinking we should all use our tech--the stuff that we’ve made and are most experienced with--and use that as our superpowers! I mean, GoGo, yours is kinda obvious--you can use your disks to move around fast and give you superspeed.”
“Makes sense,” GoGo agrees, nodding and seeming to approve of the idea.
“Wasabi, you could do something really cool with your lazers,” Hiro continues. “Honey Lemon, you already make explosives and cool compounds with your chemistry, maybe you could do something with that--I dunno, make some kind of portable chemistry lab! Fred…”
He seems at a loss for a moment trying to figure out how Fred’s talents could be put to use as a superpower when the fanboy puts in, “Ooh, can I be a fire breathing lizard like Megazon?”
“We’ve already told you a million times that’s not possible!” GoGo cries.
“Maybe we couldn’t actually turn him into a fire breathing lizard,” Tadashi quickly cuts in. “But we could do something like they did in those kaiju movies back in the day--make him a suit that looks like a fire breathing lizard of some kind.”
“That would be an acceptable substitute,” Fred answers with a nod after thinking the offer over for a moment.
“So that’s Fred,” Hiro agrees, seeming glad to have the matter settled. “As for me, I would have used my microbots on top of my magic, but since they’ve been stolen I don’t want to risk making more and the guy in the mask stealing them. Maybe I can make a super suit to helps me hack into things.” Seeing the look on his brother’s face, he quickly clarifies, “Only to do stuff that will actually help us catch the guy--I’m not planning to hack into government files or anything illegal like that!”
“Mm hm…” Tadashi doesn’t look fully convinced, but he doesn’t push the matter. “So, what am I going to be doing? I mean, all my research has to do with medical procedures. It’s not like that has a lot of combat applications...”
“Hmm…” Hiro says with a slight frown. “Maybe not. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t find another superpower for you!”
“Do you remember when Aunt Cass taught me how to fly a broomstick for the first time and you were so scared of letting me fly on my own that you tried to create wings that would let you fly with me so you could be there if I fell?”
“Yeah, of course,” Tadashi answers. “But what does that have to do with--Oh. Oh! Oh man, Hiro, I’m not sure that’s the safest idea… Flying? What if something goes wrong and I go crashing into the ground from five stories up?”
“You won’t!” Hiro answers. “You’re a genius, you can make a flying device that’s fail proof! And besides, even if something goes wrong, I’ll be there to keep you from falling.”
“How? Are you planning to ride a broomstick when we go to fight this guy?”
“Well, no. Actually, I kinda started on some designs for our superhero suits and I was thinking it would be awesome if ours worked together--my suit would attach onto yours with super strong magnets so that I could fly along with you!”
“Hiro, you already designed our supersuits before even knowing that I’d agree to this?”
“I may have kinda already started designing everyone’s suits…” Hiro admits sheepishly.
“...How did you have the time to do that?!”
“I told you, I was bored last night!”
“You are insane, you know that?”
“You say insane, I say misunderstood genius,” Hiro answers, playfully sticking his tongue out at him. “So, are you in or what?”
“Why do I get the feeling that even if I say ‘no’ I’m still going to get dragged into this?”
“Because you know it’s true?”
“...All right, fine,” Tadashi sighs, finally resigned to his fate as a future superhero.
“Yes!” Hiro cheers. “Okay, let’s get to work!”
“But where are we going to work?” Tadashi counters. “Aunt Cass will know that we’re up to something if we’re working on supersuits in the garage--and she still doesn’t know about me being human again!”
“I may have solution!” Fred says with a grin.
“You do?” Hiro and Tadashi ask at the same time.
“Yep!” Fred answers, heading towards the door. “Everyone, follow me!”
Fred’s solution, as it turned out, was his family’s ridiculously large garage. Despite the amount of space that was taken up by vehicles and gardening tools and the other sorts of flotsam and jetsam that tend to accumulate in garages, there was still a large amount of empty space in which Fred reassured them they could set up a makeshift superhero suit making lab. Hiro originally would have objected to their not being the proper sort of tools for making everything that they needed, but the garage was surprisingly well stocked in the way of tools and technology and the materials that they needed, and the few things that they needed from home could easily be smuggled out without detection.
It was decided that everyone would go back to their homes to gather whatever supplies they needed and then return to Fred’s house in approximately two hours to begin work. As Wasabi’s car and Tadashi’s motor scooter were both out of commission at the moment, Heathcliff offered to drive them all, an offer everyone was more than happy to accept.
“What are we going to do about Aunt Cass?” Tadashi whispers to Hiro in between their stop at Honey Lemon’s apartment and on their way to GoGo’s dorm.”How long do you think we’ll be able to keep this from her?”
“I-I don’t know,” Hiro answers, shaking his head. “I mean, there’s probably a way to turn you back into a cat but I--I don’t want to risk it, you know? In case I can’t turn you back again?”
“I don’t really relish the thought of going back to being a cat either,” Tadashi admits. “Still, when we get back to the house--”
“We’ll hope that she doesn’t hear us going into the garage,” Hiro answers with a shrug.
“And if she does?” Tadashi presses.
“Then--I don’t know. I’ll stun her long enough for us to get out of there.”
“Stun her?” Tadashi looks aghast. “Hiro, what are you saying? She’s our aunt!”
“Who also wants to leave you stuck in a damn cat body!” Hiro hisses back, a dark look crossing his face. “She cares more about keeping the stupid family secret than she does about you! And what do you think she’s going to do when she finds out that we let our friends in on the secret? I can tell you that it won’t be pretty, that’s for sure!”
“You don’t know that!” Tadashi protests.
“Yes, I do!” Hiro fires back.
Tadashi wanted to argue, but somehow he finds the words dying in his throat, unwilling or unable come out. Finally, after almost a full minute of trying, he has to swallow them down, saying softly instead, “Look, l-let’s just hope that we don’t get spotted and leave it at that, okay?”
Hiro nods silently, glancing out the window to avoid making eye contact with him, and Tadashi frowns, wondering what exactly had gotten into his brother and why he hadn’t been able to try to talk sense into him like he usually would have. A bitter aftertaste in his mouth left him silently worrying that there was something darker at work than he’d like to admit--but no, Hiro clearly had no intention of using anything but light magic, there was no way that he’d ever be using dark magic, especially not on his own brother. And this didn’t exactly feel like dark magic--he knew what that felt like from the times Aunt Cass had demonstrated it just to teach them both the dangers of it. It must be something else that was keeping him from arguing with his brother. It had never happened before, so why now? Unless…
He frowns as a rather unsettling idea comes into his mind. Did this have something to do with the familiar bond? Hiro had said that that it could have strange side effects and that a witch could make their familiar do whatever they wanted them to do. Still, Hiro had made it clear before they’d made the bond that he never intended to use it control him in any way, shape, or form--had even said that he was afraid of even accidentally doing so, so Tadashi knew that he must be taking extra precautions to make sure it didn’t happen. Hiro would never knowingly or even unknowingly try to force his will on him--right?
Tadashi tried to keep the worrying thoughts to himself as he helped his brother load supplies from their garage workshop into the back of the limousine about half an hour later. Still, he couldn’t help but be worried by the unfamiliar and rather unsettling energy coming off of Hiro as they worked, and he found himself desperately hoping that Aunt Cass wouldn’t hear them--not so much for their safety as for hers.
Fortunately once they were driving down the street away from the cafe and back towards Fred’s, Hiro seemed to relax some, and Tadashi felt himself able to breathe properly again and, after a little while, convince himself that he’d just been imagining things. They were all just a little stressed out about their upcoming confrontation with the masked man, that was all he’d been feeling. And Hiro was completely back to his normal, happy self once he was settled in Fred’s garage working on the super suits, so he decides not to give any more thought to the strange moment in the limo earlier.
The next two days were spent in intense work mode--not just Hiro and Tadashi, but all their friends were spending almost twenty-four/seven in the makeshift lab working on their suits and testing out said suits with the rather unexpected help of Heathcliff. School, social commitments, sleep--it all seemed to have been put on hold in favor of the common goal or bringing the masked man to justice. Time and the outside world were all but forgotten, didn’t even seem to exist as they all worked tirelessly. Tadashi was both flattered and incredibly concerned by the fact that everyone was so willing to put suspend their regular lives for his sake. He would have talked them out of it if he could have, but Hiro’s zeal seemed to have infected all the others and the best he could do was try to make sure that he was that they all ate regular meals and took rests when needed.
By the end of the two days, the suits were all but completed: Honey Lemon’s in pink and purple with a purse that acted as a miniature chemistry lab to create potent chemical cocktails in the form of brightly colored spheres; GoGo’s was yellow and black, designed to be as aerodynamic as possible with maglev disks attached to her boots to help her travel with almost unbelievable speed and one on each of her gauntlets that could be tossed like deadly boomerangs; Wasabi’s was in calming blues and greens, a stark contrast to the destructive power of the lazer blades that came out of his gloves and could slice through even the hardest of substances like a hot knife through butter; and Fred’s blue kaiju costume which, with red flame details and three monstrous, yellow eyes, not only looked fierce but could aim concentrated streams of fire with almost alarming accuracy, as well as having a “super jump” ability that Hiro had built into the legs, allowing for a greater range of obliteration.
Hiro’s own suit almost seemed incredibly simple by comparison--a black jumpsuit only covered by minimal purple armor, making him seem the least intimidating of the group, probably a purposeful deception to keep their enemy from realizing that he was actually the most powerful of the team thanks to his magic.
The suit that Tadashi most worried about was his own. He still wasn’t completely sold on the superhero idea, concerned by the idea of causing harm to anyone, even someone who had almost been responsible for his death. But he’d found himself submitting to Hiro’s constant demands to try on the armor and test out its features. He could only hope that flying wouldn’t be something that would harm anyone (at least not directly), and he didn’t mind the fact that Hiro was building up his armor to be almost as strong as an fortress, essentially turning him into the tank of the team--he was glad to be in a more protective than destructive role. Still, he drew the line at letting Hiro add what he called a “rocket fist”, the two of them finally compromising on extendable claws that could slice through materials almost as easily as Wasabi’s lasers for self defence.
Hiro seemed to be enjoying teasing his elder sibling by adding a lot of cat motifs to the suit, making it almost entirely black like Midnight’s fur and, instead of the radio receiver fins he’d put on most of the helmets other’s suits, putting cat ears. Tadashi shook his head at his brother’s rather poor attempts at humor but didn’t fight it--the sooner that they finished the suits, the sooner they could catch the guy in the mask and put an end to all of this.
On the evening of the second day, both Tadashi and Hiro’s suits were finally completed and ready for a test drive--or, rather, test flight.
“You ready for this, bro?” Hiro asks with a grin as he climbs onto Tadashi’s back in the large backyard garden that had become their official testing ground for the suits, their friends eagerly gathered around to observe their first flight.
“As I’ll ever be,” Tadashi answers, running a last minute diagnostic on his suit, terrified that he’d missed something and they’d blow up on launch, or else that he’d overpowered the thing and they’d both be blasted out of the atmosphere and into space the minute he turned it on.
“It’s going to be great, bro!” Hiro tells him breezily, completely unconcerned.
“You look glorious, babe!” Fred adds, lightly pecking Tadashi’s cheek and giving him some small comfort--finally being able to be openly affectionate with the love of his life was one of the only things holding him together over the past two days as he’d grown increasingly concerned by Hiro’s almost unhealthy obsession with bringing down the man in the mask and as he’d tried to fend off Aunt Cass’ calls and texts wanting to know where they were and why they hadn’t come home in days. He’d been giving her progressively flimsier and flimsier excuses about working on a project at the Nerd Lab to keep her from calling the police to track them down, thinking that they were in some sort of danger. He wanted to tell her the truth, but he had no idea how to explain what was happening to her, and something about Hiro’s insistence that he not give her any information on where they really were and what they were actually doing was keeping his tongue and fingers tied from being able to even hint at the truth. So if he was coping by looking to his boyfriend for some much needed affection and stability in all of this? He dared anyone to try to call him out on it.
“C’mon, let’s do this!” Hiro cheers, startling Tadashi out of his rather dark thoughts.
“Right,” Tadashi sighs, switching on the suit’s power and trying to swallow down the lump in his throat that felt like the time he’d accidentally swallowed one of Aunt Cass’s homemade takoyakis whole. “Launching in three, two, one…”