“Welcome to the Lucky Cat Café. Please have a seat anywhere, I'll be right with you.”
The Lucky Cat was bustling with patrons, most of them students gathered together with their laptops and tablets propped on the tables. Conversations floated across the lobby, merging together to create a pleasant hum in the atmosphere. The clinking of dishes and clattering of spoons on the side of mugs was almost inviting, setting a busy, yet somehow calm tone. The décor of various cats made the environment seem homey, though it still held a professional appearance. It truly was a place that served as a cool down spot, for people to socialize, study and simply unwind. And yet, despite the constant buzz of sound in the background, accompanied by the faint ringing in his ears, Hiro Hamada was growing increasingly annoyed with his first shift.
Classes were stressful enough and doubling as a super hero was beginning to derail his sleeping schedule. Hiro yawned, lifting a hand to cover his mouth before he went back to work. He set a round tray down on the small table, stacking mugs on the surface, mumbling in annoyance. He had to keep telling himself that he was doing this for Aunt Cass. Brown gaze panned upward as he watched her work behind the counter, moving with a fluidity that not only required skill, but came with years of experience. Admiration was clear in his softening expression and he had to remember that she was capable of doing amazing things, even without a suit. He lifted the tray, both hands splayed on the bottom as his mood seemed to lighten. Maybe today wouldn't be as stressful as the last few trial runs.
Hiro was finding that living a double life was not as fun as Fred's comics made it seem. Sleep was almost a myth to him lately, the constant need for night patrols doubling since the disappearance of Obake. Hiro had assumed that after the collapse of his labs, the threat would vanish. He felt a lingering doubt, however, that constantly scratched at the back of his mind. He barely scraped by during that semester, which paled in comparison to the near destruction of San Fransokyo and, on a larger scale, the world. Hiro's jaw tightened as he felt the guilt rising to join the doubt, knowing that none of it would have happened if he just listened to authority and didn't follow his own reckless curiosity. Still, the past was past and he could never go back and change what he'd done, he could only relish in the fact that he had stopped it before it was too late. He was lost in thought, brows furrowing as he felt the heaviness of fatigue settling in. He had a class project due in three days, no plans sketched out for it, and a few new appearances of the Heartless once wiped from the city. Hiro was briskly weaving between tables when he heard his name.
Hiro turned his head, the tray swaying in his hands as he struggled to balance it, lifting a hand to stop a mug from rolling and throwing off his balance. He knew that voice and he was almost certain that the owner had left for home a few days ago. His eyes roamed the many tables, squinting slightly as he tried to find the incredibly unique hairstyle.
“Hiro, over here!” A hand was waving, the warm voice cutting across the café's chatter. Hiro recognized him almost instantly. He offered a small smile, weaving between a few chairs to make way to the corner table. As he neared the table, however, he noticed two other people with him. The girl flashed him a soft smile and a wave, while the other boy simply stared with a strong, cyan gaze. He quickly focused his stare on Sora, a familiar face that caused no intimidation or nervousness. He smiled, a soft huff leaving him as he moved the tray down a little.
“Hey... Sora. Hi. Again.”
“Hi! I decided to come back with my friends. They really wanted to try your drinks.”
“Sora showed us pictures of the cute little cat designs in the coffee!”
“Oh, that,” Hiro said, laughing sheepishly, “My Aunt makes those.” And he said so with such pride.
“Oh- Hiro. This is Kairi and that's Riku. They're my friends from home.”
“It's, uh, nice to meet you,” Hiro said, eyes flicking down at the tabletop, “I'm – well. Hiro Hamada.”
“How do you know Sora,” Riku asked.
Sora looked over to Riku, blue eyes wide as his lips pursed into a pout. “Riku, you can't just ask Hiro that! I told you, we're friends! We met when I was here in San Fransokyo the first time! I told you this.”
“You said you knew a hero. You never mentioned someone named Hiro,” Riku said, a hint of amusement in his voice as the corner of his lips curved in a smile.
“Oh, you know what I meant,” Sora replied, leaning closer as he poked Riku's temple, nudging his head gently, “Don't be so defensive.”
“Riku's always defensive,” Kairi added in, “Besides, you know how Riku gets around new people. He's shy.”
“What- I am not shy.”
“Totally shy.” Kairi giggled, her hand lifting to cover her beaming smile as she watched the two bicker quietly. Hiro watched them, particularly Sora, and the way he seemed to pull them both into his antics.
It was like he was a magnet, sitting between two metal pins. Every time they pulled away, Sora brought them back in, the warmth of their conversation almost palpable. When Sora had first showed up, Hiro had felt the same magnetic pull, falling in sync with him almost instantly. At the time, he had been elated to find a friend in Sora, creating the bond on his own without any outside influences. As much as he loved the nerd gang, he knew that they wouldn't have known him if it wasn't for Tadashi. While he was grateful for their friendship and valued their presence, he had felt a strong link with Sora that he never had before. Now, however, he felt like that link was severed. Hiro almost felt like he was an outsider, watching the three like he would any other set of people at a table. For a moment, he forgot that he knew Sora all together, his brows furrowing as his eyes lowered. He rocked on his feet, his sneakers making a slight squeak on the coffee stained floor. Teeth bit into the side of his cheek, nibbling in a nervous habit as his jaw grew tight. The excitement of seeing a friend was slowly dwindling down to something akin to disappointment, and Hiro felt guilty for feeling so.
Hiro was never a social person. He chose to avoid social events and, despite being interested in some, was never invited. To see Sora visiting the café more frequently was a nice change of pace and, most times, he spent a long time talking about school and his projects. Sora's endearing and enthusiastic attitude was so inviting and Hiro often forgot that most of what he said went right over his head. Still, he was grateful that Sora was willing to listen. But, doubt slowly crept up once more, leaving Hiro to weigh in on the option that Sora might be visiting for a different reason. What if he suspected that Hiro was the leader of Big Hero 6 ? The suits and ideology of hiding his identity seemed to work for everyone else and, for the duration of his first visit, Sora. What if he was showing up to try and piece the mystery together? Hiro felt the worry growing and his expression twisted into a more contemplative stare.
“-iro?” A hand waved in his face and Hiro blinked rapidly, thoughts fleeing as he looked back to Sora, a sheepish smile forming on his face.
“You spaced out,” Riku added, lifting a brow, “You feeling all right?”
“Huh- sorry. Yeah, I- right, uhm,” he shifted the tray in his arms and looked at the three of them, “What's the order? I'll put it in.”
“Oh, I'd like a hot chocolate with one of those cute drawings, please,” Kairi said, smiling, “And it's nice to meet you, Hiro.”
“I just want a coffee,” Riku said, lifting a hand in a single wave. Hiro nodded and then wrinkled his nose.
“Uh, you want anything in it? Cream or sugar?”
“You can just bring it to the table.”
“Uh-huh.” He mentally repeated the order before looking to Sora, who seemed to have the most creative streak when it came to his drinks.
“I'll take, uh, a smoothie! A mango one with whipped cream and maybe some chocolate flakes on top, oh and some strawberries there, too. Oh, and can I get an order of, uh... scones? I think? You know what, just bring us doughnuts with sprinkles and something really cool and edgy for Riku.”
“O-Okay,” Hiro said, lips twisting into a grimace. That drink sounded disgusting, but he was going to ring it in that way. “I'll be right back with the snacks.” Sora waved.
“Thanks, Hiro! You're the best.”
Sora tilted his head, eyes squinting as that bright smile radiated like the sun. Hiro felt something twisting in his chest and his face immediately heated up at the sheer embarrassment. “O-Okay, I'm gonna go do that now.” He turned around, tray in his arms. He barely made a full turn when he felt the tray hit the top curve of a chair, mugs rolling from their neat stack. He scrambled to balance the tray, but it slipped from his hands with a loud crash, glass and ceramic mugs both shattering on the ground, shards sliding beneath a few tables. Hiro winced, looking down at the ground, the sound causing a lull in all conversations, silence lingering before a few chuckles and some murmuring words.
“Hey, are you okay,” Sora asked, quickly moving to stand up.
“I got it,” Hiro said quickly, crouching down in frustration. He quickly started grabbing pieces of the fallen mugs, stacking them on the now fallen tray.
He felt so tired. Though the whole mishap had been an accident, Hiro still felt the guilt piling on. There were so many more tables that needed to be tended to and his Aunt was busy making all the drinks. He scooped up more pieces, feeling his frustration ebbing into a slow burning anger, his brows furrowing. The anger was directed at no one but himself, his internal struggles of balancing his life no one's issue but his own. His fingers brushed against another set and he jerked his head up. Sora offered him a sympathetic smile and he set the pieces in his hands on the tray.
“You okay,” he asked again, tipping his head to see Hiro's face better.
“Y-yeah,” Hiro mumbled, shifting to grab the rest of the pieces quickly, “I'm sorry- I just-.”
“No, Hiro,” Sora said, reaching out to settle a gentle hand on his shoulder, “Are you okay? You look really tired. Is everything okay? Is Big Hero 6 working you too hard?”
For a moment, Hiro froze, staring at Sora with wide eyes. His worst fear was coming to the surface – Sora knew who he was. He swallowed thickly, trying to develop an answer that might throw off the knowledge, but in all his brilliant corners of the mind, he found no liable excuse. Sora's smile slowly pushed into a concerned expression, watching as Hiro seemed to struggle to speak a real answer, sputtering helplessly.
“I-I don't know what you're talking about,” Hiro finally said, mentally berating himself for a terrible lie. He went back to picking up the porcelain pieces, clearing his throat as best he could. Sora frowned and Hiro could feel those blue eyes tracking his movements.
“Hiro, why don't you tell them that you're overwhelmed? I'm sure they can find another liaison while you rest.”
Liaison? Hiro felt all the muscles in his body loosen, their tension fading almost instantly. That's right- he had told Sora that he was the acting liaison for
Big Hero 6
, which was why he worked so closely with the heroic leader. He forced a smile and looked up at Sora, shaking his head. He almost wanted to laugh, realizing how foolish he must have sounded, sputtering for an answer he clearly didn't need.
“It's fine, Sora. Really, I'm okay.” He moved to pick up the tray, carefully balancing it as he moved to stand, “I'll be right back with your stuff, okay? Thanks for the help.” His eyes rose to Riku and Kairi. They were both looking at him, Riku almost unreadable, but Kairi looking worried. “I'm sorry ! I'll be quick!”
Sora rose and sat back down in his seat, frowning just slightly. He watched as Hiro made his way around the cafe, apologizing as he caught up with a few orders.
“Seems like he's worn out,” Riku mumbled, “You sure he's just a student?”
“He works with the heroes here,” Sora explained, drumming his fingers on the table, “I think they're overworking him and he just doesn't want to say anything.”
“Maybe he's afraid they won't want to work with him anymore,” Kairi offered, resting her chin in her hand, “He seemed really flustered, though.”
“He's not usually like this,” Sora said, his concern only growing, “I'm gonna talk to Big Hero 6 tonight. They need to ease up on him. There's no way he's just tired from school.”
“How would you know? You never even finished school.”
“Wha- shut up, Riku! Neither did you !”
“I'm the only one that finished,” Kairi said, triumphantly grinning as she leaned back. The three began to laugh again, their own little corner of amusement and happiness.
Hiro was watching them from the safety of the pastry display case, eyes peering over the rim of the top. Sora was making a joke, it seemed, and the others were amused. He felt the ache returning as he looked back down at the pastries he was stacking up for their table. The friends he had made through his brother were amazing, close and people he could never dismiss from his life. But, the truth was still there – they were all older than him by a good number of years and that meant, eventually, they would go their separate ways. Hiro knew they didn't want to be super heroes forever. Sora and his friends were more his age and, as Hiro watched them, he wondered how they managed to balance their lives so well. They seemed so happy and carefree, yet he knew what kind of life Sora was leading before, though he worked mostly from context clues. Hiro frowned, shoulders dipping as he felt the same creep of loneliness that he had once felt in high school. Left out, cast out and singled out ; pushed, shoved and bullied through the short years, reprimanded for being himself, and degraded by his peers. Friends his age was never an issue, because he had never had any friends. Now that he was beginning to branch out and at least try, he could feel the extreme disconnect.
He was starting to wonder if the life he was living was really a life at all.
What if there was something more he was missing out on?